the best part of “our trip”

“What’s the best part of your trip?” We get that a lot.

While it’d be easy to spout off a laundry list of beautiful islands we were able to visit, the truly best part of our trip was that it wasn’t a trip.

Semantics? Maybe. But, hear me out:

Most times I’ve taken a “trip” it’s had a clear beginning, middle and end. This one didn’t – and still doesn’t.

I s’pose “The best part of my trip” is that this “trip” gave me the perspective that “trips” don’t have to end.

~

Lamar St. Bridge At Rush Hour, Lady Bird Lake, Austin, TX

©Al Braden, www.albradenphoto.com

Years ago I had a contract – a very well paying contract – that I hated. Every Tuesday I crossed over the Lamar St. bridge on my way to a weekly all-team meeting.

Inevitably, I’d look down to the water below where I’d spot canoers and kayakers spending their morning not on their way to a job they hated.

There they were: enjoying themselves. They were just there, taking time out on a Tuesday morning to be on the water. I hated them.

Like most envy-inspired fantasies / grass-is-greener jealousies, I conveniently ignored the healthy perspective of “ya never know” what’s really up for those people – or that I could have that, too (maybe?).

Instead, I just hated them. I loathed them for what they represented to me: a sense of freedom & the discipline to prioritize their own sense of freedom and well-being over contracts they might hate even if those contracts made them a lot of money.

And, I used them: The Tuesday Morning Kayaker became the reminder I needed to fuel – and fund my dreams. The Tuesday Morning Kayaker reminded me to stop buying $12 salads, keep working the contract I hated – which filled my cruising kitty – take advantage of my circumstances and put it all on the line in search of one-day becoming my own incarnation of the illusive Tuesday Morning Kayaker.

~

Back in Austin, in addition to people asking “what’s the best part of your trip?”, we also get  ”what’s next?”, “do you feel different?”.

Seriously guys, what’s with all the questions!?! Just kidding. We have them, too.

Whereas “what’s next?” (like practically), is still a mystery to us, whether I feel different is obvious: yes, of course I do; I am. But, rather than a drastic change, it’s more like the values I’ve always held are more practiced and closer to the surface.

I’ve had a lot of time to live in the world of the Tuesday Morning Kayaker; prioritizing a relationship with myself, my partner and with the natural world over the money that morning commute brought me. And, I’m very grateful for the experience of “my trip”.

But, just because I’m no longer on the water and am literally and figuratively crossing that bridge over and again while working here in Austin, doesn’t mean my “trip” is over. At least I’m trying real hard for it not to be.

Like that smartypants, Annie Dilliard, says ”How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

I’ve just got to try my darnedest to bring the practice, perspective and discipline of The Tuesday Morning Kayaker to whatever daily life we design next.

Here goes nothing!

***

Alrighty, y’all, because you’ve been so sweet to read to this point, here’s some of our fave destinations:

Making our way home

Daily weather analysis? Check.

Hulls cleaned? Check.

Provisioning? Check.

Ditch-bag stuffed? Check.

Course charted? Check.

Crew orientation? Check.

All the rest of the boat chores? Check. Check. Check.

We have a weather window and we’re leaving TODAY!

Now, all there’s left to do is . . . make our way home.

In contrast to how I’ve felt about passages in the past, I’m actually really looking forward to this upcoming 4-7 days at sea. I’m excited about my star-filled, night-time watches. I can’t wait to watch the sun light dance in white-lighting streaks of the deep blue sea. I’ve got batter & cabbage ready for some awesome fish tacos made from a nice, big mahi we hope to land underway.

In short, I’m so ready – for the 700 nautical miles between here (Isla Mujeres, Q. Roo, MX) and there (Freeport, TX, USA).

In contrast to this well-charted course, there’s everything else which lies beyond.

Like re-entry. As ex-expats.

Which is mostly (thankfully?) uncharted.

What we do know – and are very much grateful for – is that we have (short-term) jobs and housing* lined up.*a friend even offered up her RV for us to stay in, which seems like such a more normal transition for us than a “house” – I mean, it’s small and it moves, feels like home to me.

We have an amazing bevy of family and life-long friends whom we can’t wait to see. We will have an “income” again (which we are so looking forward to!). And, there are all the “little things” I’m looking forward to, like eating *all* the spring rolls, swimming in the amazing, spring-fed, FRESH water springs that abound in Central Texas, and getting a new, actually well-made, cute, supportive bra (one without rust or mildew, bo-nus!).

A few days ago, a newly-arrived, on-a-two-week-sailing-vacay crew member/guest of the boat in the berth next to us swung by to say “I here you’re going back to Texas. I’m sorry.”

What? some people, eh?

I was 100% sincere when I replied “we’re not!”.

This is our third year “on the road” y’all. We’re ready for a change. And, by “change”, I mean familiarity. A home-base. “Normalcy”. (ok, so that might be a bit of a reach)

But, you get the picture.

Shortly after arriving here in Isla, we were fortunate enough to meet up with some awesome sailors from South Africa. They were a young-ish couple, and like us, they were burnt out. Even though they had significantly more miles under their hull (they’ve been out for 8 years), we noticed ourselves nodding along to each other’s sentiments of “we’re not appreciating it anymore; we went to town today and didn’t take 1 picture” and “we’re not retired; there’s still stuff we want to do – on land”, “boat life is hard – it’d be nice to not maintain all these systems for a while”.

Could it be true? Is So Many Beaches beached out!?! Not so fast.

We’re not ready to sell our boat, our home, our MJ. But, we are ready for a change – at least for a while.

As it stands, we’re grateful to have the opportunity and excited to “try on” living back on land for pinch. We figure we’ll take our time, likely sit out next season and just experience life back home for a while.

Speaking of “life back home”, just as we know what we’re excited to come back to, we also know there’s another side of the coin. I’ll miss having so much privacy (the Dr. Jekyll to loneliness’ Mr. Hyde). I’ll miss sleeping in a swaying bed with the stars as my ceiling. I’m not looking forward to the fast-pace of the (awesome) city we’re returning to and the consumer-culture of America in general (spring rolls & new bras being obvious exceptions). I know K will miss his daily salt water swims. And, as much as I can’t wait to catch up with everybody back home, I fear it’s inevitable that there’ll be mis-communications and other awkward adjustments as my fish-out-of-water path merges with others’ on land again.

These are just a few of the things I know to expect. But, what about what I don’t know that I don’t know?

Yikes!

These little – or big – surprises are coming. Ain’t that a peach!?! ummm . . . yes?

I got a little preview today: while in the middle of final prep for our passage, I got uncharacteristically confused, indecisive and overwhelmed. And, I was angry and snappy about that. So, I was angry and snappy with D.

I stormed off down the dock to take a break – and realized, while sitting on the beach, under the palm trees, with a clear view of my boat in the gin-clear Caribbean waters, that this was the last time I’ll have this spot in the sand, in the sun with a view of MJ on the water- at least for a while. Because, of course (reality is sinking in) I’m coming home. Or, at least making my way.

And, perhaps that’s just a bit stressful. For anyone. And, anyone includes me.

Doy.

It hit me: I’m stressed. From turning my life upside-down. From going from everything I’ve known for the past couple of years to something else (familiar and un at the same time – weird, right?). Apparently, I have thoughts and feelings about that, lurking not so subtly beneath the surface. Who knew!?!

There I sat, in the sand, I literally bowled over with emotion: it came right out of the front of my face in thick, salty streams. Along with laughter.

I’m such a type-A dork, I thought. I’m totally adept at the practical, list-making side of things: if I can excel-it, I can do it! But, turns out my emotions don’t fit so well in those little cells – I don’t care how much you “wrap text”. (told you I was a dork)

After some deep breaths and a great call home to an old friend, I surrendered to the full circle of the choice I am making (for everything it is and everything it isn’t – including the  stress of change). All of the sudden, the freedom to just own my stress was funny: I signed off “love ya, thanks so much for listening. but, I gotta go . . . cry on my boat some more!”. And, he, my amazingly wise friend, didn’t hesitate: “Good for you. You’re not gonna get to cry on your boat for very much longer. So, live it up.”

~~~

As we make our way home, across the Gulf in charted waters, you can follow along here: http://www.somanybeaches.com/where-in-the-world/where-we-are-now/. See y’all in the US!

That time I was pregnant in Guatemala

with twins. What!?! yes.

And, then, one IUD removal, many weeks, one emergency room visit and a whole lotta awkward Spanglish later, we weren’t pregnant any more.

This really happened, although it’s kinda hard to believe. Even for me. And it happened to me. Well, it happened (and is still happening) to us, the crew of Mother Jones.

While this post isn’t the usual sailing or travel post, it is about what really happens to real people (us), who happen to live on a boat in foreign waters (yep, still us). Because even though it might seem sometimes that we live in a postcard, it’s not every day that “life’s a beach”.

I’ve struggled with whether to share this info as it’s, clearly, highly personal. I realize the way I’ve chosen to write this (my) story may seem flip at times. And, I understand many folks may know someone or be someone who has experienced loss.  Everyone has a way of dealing with it. This is my way (goofy syntax and all).

Additionally, as the title might imply, this post does contain discussion of lady parts, bodily fluids and other potential TMI moments. So, if that freaks you out, just come back later. We’ll return to our normal programming of sunsets and wacky stories (sans lady parts) soon enough.

~~~

Still with me? Great, I knew you could do it. Welcome aboard, strap in and get ready for one hell of a ride, y’all. Hell, if we can do it, so can you. This:

At the end of February, we arrived in Guatemala. Shortly after settling into our new home on the Rio Dulce, Damon and his brother Dylan took off on a four-day overland adventure: taking the long way across Guatemala to visit Tikal on Dylan’s way to the airport in Guatemala City. While the guys were gone I stretched out on a tidy, man-free boat, treated myself to a home sparty (that’s spa-party for the layman), played “I wanna dance with somebody” way too loud and generally enjoyed my alone time. And, I got my period – or so I thought . . .

It was weird: Aunt Flo was super-duper light, with no cramps – and my boobs had been sore for a couple of weeks prior . . . hmmmm. Given I had an IUD (for the past 8 years), this felt unusual (copper IUDs tend to make periods and cramping heavy, and this has been my experience). But, given I had an IUD, I just rolled with it – it’s not like I could be pregnant or anything—the possibility didn’t even cross my mind.

But, a few days later, while talking to Damon after he got back from his short trip, about my “weird period this month”, I started listening more carefully to my body. Yep, you got it, I was talking and listening at the same time. It was like one of those movie scenes where the actor is talking, but it sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher (“waa waa waa waa”) and the actor’s thoughts become visible and start to add up like some ethereal arithmetic problem:

Hmmm, couldn’t be, right? I mean, my breasts are tender, my “period” is not really like any period I’ve ever had – in fact, it’s more like spotting. Wait a second. Maybe I’m pregnant . . . nah, that would be crazy!  I mean what are the odds of that!?!* Wha? Really? Nah! I’m being dramatic. But, just in case, let’s go get a pregnancy test just to rule it out from whatever is going on.

*apparently the odds are .06% -  as in decimal POINT 06% not even whole number six percent, but less than 1/10th of 1%! Here on S/V Mother Jones, we really know how to beat the odds, eh!?!

So, off we went, in a taxi to a pharmacy. Like two skippidy-doo-dah lovers playing “pregnancy test”. I mean it was sooo unlikely that it was kinda fun to “just see”. (nevermind any thoughts about what could be going on if I wasn’t just having a “weird period” or was pregnant; I mean really? me pregnant? no way – I have an IUD, as in all-CAPS, FOOL-PROOF IUD).

I remember feeling a bit embarrassed talking to the taxi driver and the abuelita behind the pharmacy counter about my need for a pregnancy test. I mean it was proof: we do it – *IT* people! – and, people know. Yes, I know I worked in sexual health for.ev.er but that was *other people* right? And, I know I’m talking to the whole world of strangers three people who read this blog about my ‘gina but that doesn’t change the squeelly-feeling I had about other people’s thoughts of what was going on with me and D – like I could tell our taxi driver was excited for us, but was also being super polite and respecting my “privacy”.

Anywho, here comes more stuff that’s totally not private any more:

We got back to the boat with *the* pregnancy test (*the* as in *one* because there was no way I was pregnant so it was really silly I even got *one* to begin with) and I promptly went to the head to dispel the silliness. D stood in the doorway while we watched the little line on the stick go from one to TWO (as in TWO = pregnant) and then the WTFs and OMGs started. Our eyes were as big as saucers and we just kept nervously laughing – I mean, come on, really?

So, off to google we went to learn about the odds of pregnancy test false positives: apparently super low. So, having learned from google, a pregnancy test and more importantly, my body, that we were indeed pregnant (with an IUD in, to boot), D and I just kinda sat around the boat in excited disbelief, like this:

bridesmaids-movie-quotes-64

Given I’m 32, and he’s 39, and we’re not getting any younger, we had actually been talking a lot about getting my IUD out in the next couple of months in order to start trying* (*as in: won’t it be fun to get pregnant in the hypothetical “future”). But, I had also been going back and forth about getting on that rollercoaster – after all, it’s a HUGE decision to start a family. So, naturally, I was hemming and hawing, knowing I would eventually get on board, but definitely doing my best backpedal on the way. I even had an intentional conversation with a dear friend with two small kids about what it is *really* like; during which I actually uttered “You know, with this IUD I have to make a super-conscious choice to start. It’d almost be easier if I could just get pregnant ‘accidentally’”. Umm, be careful what you ask for!

So, here we were, with “the hypothetical future” upon us: excited but also 1,0000% shocked! We just kept looking at each other with stupid grins, saucer eyes and repeating: “.06%, huh?”.

I mean, it all made sense but it was sooo unlikely.

Like two generals caught completely off-guard in battle we grasped at a semblance of a plan to make some sense out of our *little chaos*:

  1. given it was about 7pm, we’d have to wait until morning to get a blood test at the local clinic our taxi driver mentioned;
  2. then, if we were “still” pregnant (ha!), we’d have to find a place with an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy was not ectopic* – which is a super serious concern, although not very likely (ha! like odds apply to us!);
  3. then, there was the *small matter* of what to do about the IUD.

*apparently women with IUDs experience more ectopic pregnancies than women without. As far as I can tell, it’s not causal, in that the IUD doesn’t make you have an ectopic pregnancy. But, rather, that the IUD prevents implantation in the uterus so if a pregnancy occurs, it’s more likely not to be in the uterus, but elsewhere (like in the fallopian tubes aka an ectopic pregnancy). Further, the risks of ectopic pregnancy include infertility and death (because once the pregnancy reaches a certain point too big for the tubes, it bursts and the woman can bleed to death). So, while I figured I was too early in the pregnancy to bleed out from the pregnancy burst, I knew I definitely had to figure this piece out. In other words, we were shy a couple of important hurdles before we could throw ourselves whist-fully into pregnant bliss.

I don’t remember how we got to sleep that night but soon enough morning came.

We got to the clinic before it even opened. Standing outside were four Guatemalan women in traditional clothes and next to them, a foot taller, was me and ginger-bearded Damon – the only man there. Needless to say, we were a curiosity. When the clinic finally opened, we entered a small waiting room with a paper-thin partition where they drew blood on the other side. It was simple and clean.  From my background as a sexual-health educator, I was happy to see government posters eschewing the importance of getting tested for STDs and AIDS (SIDA en español). But, given the following practice of the administrator/nurse/super-nice woman responsible for both the front desk and the blood draws asking each of us publicly why we were there, I’m sad to bet not many folks get tested for SIDA, et al given the lack of HIPAA standards.

When it was ANNOUNCED that I was there for a pregnancy test, all of the other women looked at me and smiled; I blushed. They offered up joyful well-wishes but I wasn’t convinced.

I know pregnancy is (supposed to be) a blessing but I was still in shock and also nervous about the potential for serious health problems given my IUD. Self-consciously, I wondered if it seemed I wasn’t as excited as all the other women were for me.  I caught myself chiding their blind faith ala “in a perfect world, yeah, I’d be totally excited. But, they don’t know the half of it. I mean, I have a few more hoops to jump before I can breathe easy”.  Then, hot on my judgment’s heels came sobering assumptions about their circumstantial standing in Guatemala’s maternal-child mortality statistics. It was more than likely that these women had seen their fair share of pregnancies where blessings were in high demand.

Standing side by side, shoulder to (much shorter) shoulder with these women got me thinking that perhaps I should think twice about (dis)counting any of my own blessings (before they hatch). It was also the first moment of my pregnancy where I felt like I had joined The Club. An auxiliary to the global sisterhood of women, the Pregnancy & Motherhood Club felt similarly universal. And, here in this rural clinic in Guatemala, regardless of any superficial or significant differences, I was being welcomed.

The blood draw was simple enough and the administrator/nurse/super-nice woman advised us to return in 2 hours for the results. She also informed us of that there was an OB/GYN in town who could offer further medical services should I need them.

So we went to brunch. Again wide-eyed and seemingly walking on air, we stammered exclamations of “what if?”, “what THE!?!”, etc. for a very long 120 minutes.

As we made our way back to the clinic and turned the corner, there was the administrator/nurse/super-nice woman, waving down a bus to get someone’s sample to the hospital in the next town (via a public bus driver, of course). She looked at us with a BIG smile and informed us our test results were positive: we were pregnant.

(this space intentionally left blank for dramatic pause purposes)

 

 

 

 

(and we’re back . . .)

Once we caught our breath and collected our “you’re officially pregnant” paperwork, we headed off to see Dr. Chang, the OB/GYN in town. The next immediate hurdle was to find out whether the pregnancy was in utero or ectopic. dun dun duuuun

After an ultrasound, Dr. Chang was happy to report it wasn’t ectopic. But, he also had another surprise in store for us: “It looks like twins”.

um, what?!?

(this space intentionally left blank for another dramatic pause)

 

 

 

 

(and we’re back, again)

He went on to say he “couldn’t be sure” about the twins because I was so early (4 weeks) and perhaps the IUD was in the way/casting a shadow on its womb-mate(s). But, I was definitely pregnant, it was in utero, and I had the complication of the IUD.

Laurie Ultrasound warrows

So, yet another hurdle cleared but another yet to go.

“What should we do about the IUD?” we asked.

“You should take it easy. Bedrest until you stop spotting. No Sex. Let’s get you on pre-natals and progesterone.”

“But, what about removing the IUD?” we asked again.

“You should leave it in. It’s God’s will. If you have it removed it will cause an abortion and I will not be a party to that”.

Got it.

(for the record, I think the term “abortion” and “miscarriage” are often times interchanged, especially in a medical setting and especially so in a foreign-language medical setting – not so much in a political setting, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.)

Still, it was made very clear by Dr. Chang that if we were looking to terminate, he was not our guy. We assured him we weren’t (after all, we had been planning this  . . . in the hypothetical “future”). But, we weren’t sold on not removing the IUD. I mean, I read WebMD internet forums. That’s as good as gold, right?

Plus, I don’t really like it (to put it mildly) when someone else attempts to mix their politics with my reproductive health care. So we left; scripts in hand, grateful to know the pregnancy was in-utero, but seeking no more of Dr. Chang’s services.

Not having a second option in town, we went in search of one online. Specifically, I wrote a couple OB/GYN gal-pals back home with my details, and they both recommended removal if the pregnancy was less than 12 weeks (like mine). Sure, they said, there’s a 50/50 chance of miscarriage if the IUD is removed. But if the IUD is left in, there’s also a risk of early labor (and all the complications associated with that). Additionally, if the IUD is left in, there’s also a high risk of having a unicorn baby*. *not true at all

Armed with the professional recommendations of trusted friends (and definitely not wanting a unicorn baby), I decided I wanted to find a doc who would remove the IUD.

Luckily, while I was chatting with my gal-pals back home, Damon was combing the internet for OB/GYNs in Guatemala who might be able to help us out. Most were in Guatemala City, most had receptionists who did not speak English, and most were not able to help us at this late hour (Friday afternoon). But, we did manage to get through to a couple doctors who recommended the IUD come out immediately – which they could only do in Guatemala City, as soon as Monday.

So, we’d have to wait out the weekend. Me, on Dr. Chang-ordered bedrest with a side of prenatal vitamins and progesterone injections (which leave you sore and full of weird oil balls in your injection site – it’s how they suspend the hormones, I guess). Damon was on “everything-else” duty.

(by the by, and in case you’re keeping track, this was not the first waiting period to have passed and, as it would turn out, many waiting periods were still to come. if you know me, you know how patient I am . . . not. apparently, Nature and I keep different schedules – the nerve!)

From the boat, we occupied our weekend mainly with the logistics of our upcoming trip to Guatemala City: which doctor would we see, what bus would be take, who would look after the dog, would be need a hotel, what next??? And, of course, how much everything would cost was on our minds, too. But, given Guatemala’s medical tourism industry and the fact that an IUD removal really isn’t that complicated a procedure, we figured it couldn’t be much: maybe a couple hundred bucks for the whole trip, considering the 5 hour-bus ride each way, a night in a hotel, meals and medical services by a private doc* in the City? (*given the unusual nature of my pregnancy, I thought it best to not show up in the public hospital or a local clinic)

Luckily, a fellow boater in our marina offered to watch the dog for as long as we needed (he didn’t know why we were going to the City, he just offered, ‘cause cruisers are awesome like that).

Finally, at 2:30am on Monday morning we took off on the redeye bus for Guatemala City armed with a contact list of US-Embassy-recommended-OB/GYNs and a custom-made map of their offices in relation to our bus stop, our hotel and supposedly the best Thai-food place in Guat City (c’mon, would you really expect any less from me?).

We arrived around 7:30am and after a quick bite, we worked the contact list. I secured one appointment at 9am with one Dr. Edmundo Guillen and another with at 11am with another doctor just down the street– just in case (yep, still Type-A me).

I had made the back-up 11am appointment in case I didn’t like Dr. Guillen’s vibe. But as it turned out, he proved a wonderful, warm doctor, father and grandfather who took great care of me that day, and in the weeks following, both during and after my pregnancy. He had actually been one of the doctors we spoke to on Friday – when he was off work, on his cell – who recommended an immediate removal.

And, by “immediate removal”, he meant it. (I find it funny how, in situations like these, even though I know what’s coming, I’m always like “now? You wanna do it now? Oh”, as if I thought “immediate” meant “later” as in “never”)

After about 15 minutes of background, I was in a paper dress making full acquaintance with the good doctor. I specifically remember during the “short” procedure, how Dr. Guillen mentioned it was all going along so “gently”  – turns out “gently” and “short” are relative terms dependant directly on which side of the speculum you’re on . . .

Within a few minutes I was back in my civvies but not before Dr. Guillen showed me the culprit: something about the black oxidation of the copper. He remarked that’s a sign of age and I should have had it replaced (even though it was only 8 years old and supposed to last 10-12). Umm, okay. How was I supposed to know to change it? Oh, riiiight: XRay vision, psychic powers or better yet, just get pregnant and then you’ll know yer dadgum IUD don’t work no more! Silly me.

Re: Dr. Guillen’s show-and-tell, I know what you’re thinking: “grody!”, right? Me, too. It was grody. But, it was also fine – I actually really appreciate it when a professional shows me the problem like I’m an actual, capable, adult woman-person, instead of just patting me on the head and telling me not to worry about it, little lady. Still, I don’t think a whole lot of people look at stuff that was in their body for EIGHT years and don’t think “eww, that looks like an old radiator hose or something”. Or maybe that’s just me.

ahem, moving on . . . .

Dr. Guillen was pleased to hear we had booked a room in Guat City for the night, just in case. There was no sight-seeing allowed; my orders were straight to bed. If I didn’t have a miscarriage/abortion from the removal within the first 24 hours, Doc said the chances were good I’d have a normal pregnancy.

He explained my spotting should clear up in about a week; I was to be on bed rest for TWO MORE WEEKS – “no strenuous activity”. Further, Dr. Guillen prescribed “No sex. No thinking about sex. I don’t want your hormones changing or uterus cramping because of an orgasm”.  Ummmm, okay. “Got it. Sure, no problem,” you wanna say all casual like, knowing full well the good Doctor knows how you got into this predicament in the first place . . .

We scheduled a follow-up, hopefully an all-clear into the 2nd trimester, for a few weeks later on Monday, March 18th (the day before my 32nd birthday).

March 18th. It became a magic day; one of those days circled in red on the calendar with every day leading up to it another big, black X of hurdles surmounted and progress made.

With each black X we got more and more excited. I didn’t miscarry within the first 24 hours of the removal = big black X. I stopped spotting seven Xs later. So far, so good, eh?

Sure, we were reluctant to throw ourselves fully into the possibility that this “whole pregnancy thing” might work out. But with each black X on the calendar, we inevitably slid further down the slippery Hope slope.

All the while “waiting until the 18th”, we exchanged knowing glances. We floated ideas for names. We imagined.

We surprised friends and ambushed family with Trojan Horse Skype calls disguised as routine check-ins.  We swore them all to secrecy and got random congratulatory emails from others nonetheless. We explored many possibilities about whether we would return to the States or become expat/boat mama and papa like those we’ve met along the way. We got unsolicited advice from our neighbors on the dock. We made jokes about how Titos Vodka was gonna go out of business until the little one came. We felt blessed to know my 93-year-old Grandmother (who Skypes!) was excited to meet another generation. We were totally curious to know how our old, grumpy salty dog was gonna interact with his new “puppy”. We downloaded pregnancy apps and we ordered hippie books from pioneers like Ina May Gaskin.

Damon got a little more protective and paternal as his responsibilities on the boat expanded with our little family.

I had normal 1st tri-symptoms of a touch of nausea, tender boobs and general fatigue. I also had a weird symptom of burping – a lot (apparently it has to do with hormonal changes effecting your digestive system) – all things I was happy to complain about. I had half-serious “complaints” about our already drama-filled and high-maintenance little Scorpio. I ate way too much ice-cream for a lactose-intolerant lady on bed rest. And, I drafted an excited blog post (which turned into this one).

All this is to say that, while we were “waiting until the 18th” we just couldn’t help ourselves but be excitedly cautious very-newly-pregnant cruisers.

Sure, we had normal reservations about the big stuff: where to have the baby, where to raise the baby, how to pay for the baby, etc. But, in general, the whole experience was such a series of “if we get through this then we’ll be in the clear” situations. So, we figured we just better roll with it and have fun with whatever we got.

Like digging up these old pics of what our babies might look like:

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Thing 1

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Thing 2

perhaps the way things turned out was a good thing???

~~~

Soon, the Xs on the calendar reached into the double-digits and approached the big red circle of dun, dun, dun THE 18TH!

On yet another trip to Guatemala City, we hoped for an easy turn-around: get the early morning bus, visit with the doc at 11am, get an all-clear, then hop back on the 1pm and be back – with baby – by supper. It was not to be.

Our first sign of trouble was from Nurse Bad News Bears, who administered my sonogram. In a stark contrast to our light-hearted, silly Spanglish exchange a few minutes prior, she silently squinted at her screen and soberly pressed “how far along are you?”; she followed up “are you sure?”. Switching from the “jelly on the belly” to a much more intimate sonogram, we joined her in scanning the screen for an image – and the sound – of what we expected.

Something like this:

12weeks_2

Or, good heavens! Maybe even this:

sono 11 weeks twins

But, instead, there was this:

baby joneses

baby joneses

And, no more Spanglish jokes.

There they were (yes, “they” as in “two”!). But, there were no heartbeats. There was no pointing out fingers and toes. There was only “the doctor will explain everything to you”.

By a scheduling mix-up, we had to wait two hours. Two, long hours, filled with knowing but not wanting to know; filled with as many google searches as we could bear (one); filled with more waiting.

Interesting how the mood of a hospital waiting room can change dramatically with the temper of a diagnosis. Suddenly I noticed sick – perhaps dying – people and their families in chairs once occupied by mothers and their infants (“like the one we’ll have soon”) getting routine check-ups.

There were no other (visibly) pregnant women in His waiting room. I wondered what they were there for – it hadn’t occurred to me earlier, when I was stealthily stuffing my purse with old issues of Pregnancy magazine. Damon took a silent cue and discreetly put them back.

And, then, they called my name.

It was so cliché: doctor on one side of the desk, two young, expectant parents on the other side, bad news and questions being exchanged between. The words “no hope” anchored the conversation. Then, “surgery”. Then “as soon as possible”.

We took a long moment.

We let ourselves feel what we already knew and we let the tears fall.

Soon, in another “I’m totally not ready for this, but here we go anyway” moment, I was admitted to the adjoining hospital where Dr. Guillen would perform my D&C in just a few hours.

I called my mom. I think she had joined me in placing a big red circle over the 18th and was expecting my call. She answered cheerfully, launching into an excited story about how seeing some kiddos out and about gave her Grandma-to-be flash-forwards. Of course she didn’t know. I told her. Then, Damon told his dad. Both gave us bolstering words and sentiments which loved us through.

Nurses came and went; doctors, too. People explained things, took vitals. My anesthesiologist (I was to go fully under) proved remarkable: she was about my age and somehow struck the perfect balance between chipper and responsible; rode the perfect line between “I do this every day” and “I know you don’t”. She sat on the bed with me, talking to me at eye-level, casually asking me about my medical history and stumbling, apologetically through practicing her English (which really wasn’t bad at all!).  She apologized “I’m sorry, I’m no good at English”. To which I playfully tested, “but, you’re really good at anesthesia?”. Her smile opened wide to let out a laugh; she held her thumb way up, winked and said “Yes!”. I was in good hands. (indeed, it was she who noticed my nerves an hour later under the OR lights and without a pause, took mine in hers. and, she who snuck D into the recovery room against all rules but compassion.)

That night was a bit of a blur for me: nurses came and went, changed my IVs, helped me pee (awkward!) and changed my dressings aka “sumo-wrestler undies” (yep, still totally awkward).  Dr. Guillen explained to Damon everything went as expected and I needn’t worry about any complicated aftercare. He had only these words of caution: because of the amount of tissue removed, we needed to allow my body multiple menstrual cycles to build back up any uterine lining, should we want to avoid another improperly implanted pregnancy, and the all-too-familiar potential consequences.

“Huh?” must’ve been the look on our faces.

He simplified it for us, “Use condoms for three months. Don’t get pregnant”.

“Oh, right, ‘cause the IUD-twin couple is super good at beating the pregnancy odds.”

We all laughed.

“Well, just use two condoms and then it won’t be any fun and you won’t want to do it”

We laughed again, until the awkward silence started.

Yep, more abstinence and/or reliving the condom “fun” of many years past, was apparently the latex lining on this dark cloud. (ba-dum-bum ching!)

~~~

By noon the next day (my 32nd birthday) we were discharged, we paid our bill, and after a 4 hour ride back to the Rio, I wrote the following letter to the handful of family and friends “in” on our expanding crew list:

“I apologize for the mass email, but wanted to share with you all the latest: yesterday we had our 11 week checkup and found out we had twins (!) but, unfortunately, they had not developed and had no heartbeat(s).

Because there was no hope for what was to be the newest Jones to keep up with, and there was a potentially serious risk of infection for me, I was immediately admitted to the hospital in Guatemala City for a D&C. The procedure was performed by a team of really great providers (led by my OB/GYN) and went really well. Early pathology confirms the pregnancies would not have progressed.

My doctor strongly suspects the reason the pregnancies didn’t progress was due to the IUD (I had in place when I got pregnant in January) preventing proper implantation (and therefore nourishment of the ovas). Otherwise, he confirmed that I am in great health – his comment of “when you were in surgery, I checked out your hips and when you want to get pregnant again, you should have no problem giving birth vaginally” made me feel a little bit like a prize breeding sow, but I appreciate the Doc’s intentions.

I was released this morning and we are now comfortably back on the boat. Other than being a bit tired and sore, I feel great – I’m not nauseous and my boobs don’t hurt for the first time in weeks!

We find the following series of well-known clichés, to be in line with our own perspective:

  • “Miscarriages can be a blessing in disguise”;
  • “You don’t just want a baby, you want a healthy baby”;
  • “Everything happens for a reason”;
  • “It wasn’t meant to be”;
  • “When it comes to womb-mates, three is a crowd”*;
  • and, “Shit Happens”.

*perhaps not as well-known as the other clichés

Even so, we are pretty disappointed and find ourselves grieving the excitement we shared with all of you over the past couple of weeks.

It has been really fun to share the possibility of expanding our family with all of you. Thank you for all of your kind words, for fielding our many (sometimes weird) questions about pregnancy and childbirth and for razzing us (mainly me) about getting my just desserts from the little ones.

At this time, we’re just really thankful for the love and support of our community (all of you) and for the great health care I’ve received. And, of course, us being us, we’re definitely taking the opportunity to laugh at a bunch of stupid and (mostly) inappropriate jokes that run through our heads.

Thanks again for everything.

love,

Laurie & Damon

Ps. We expect that some of you, in your excitement, may have shared our initial Jones-expansion-plans with others. If so, thanks for your burst of excitement and for spreading the love, but  . . . now that there’s this (less than exciting) news, we’d really appreciate you following up with anyone “in the know” who’s not addressed here. Thank you so much for your help.

~~~

“After” words

I wrote in that birthday letter that I felt better than I had in weeks – I think I was high. Sure, physically I felt better: like not pregnant with first-tri symptoms. But, that high wasn’t to last. In fact, the bottom fell out a few days later when I started spotting again.

It was physical proof I was in recovery. Physical proof that everything did, in fact, just happen. Physical proof that I lost what was, in fact, inside me – in my uterus and in my heart (cheesy, I know).

Since discovering we were pregnant (with an IUD in place), we knew there was a higher-than-normal risk that “it could go splat” (to borrow an outlook held lovingly by a good friend when she was in her first tri). We thought we were prepared for that and would take it in stride, like no big deal. Right? wrong. I get it now. At least my version of “it” – pregnancy & miscarriage.

For weeks I felt trapped in a no-woman’s-land between not-pregnant-anymore and not-yet-normal. My membership in the super-fun-time-sister-hood-of-the-Pregnancy Club had been terminated. When my prego-boat buddy and I went out – and only she — was congratulated, it stung. When another, far-flung boat-buddy announced she was pregnant, my first thought was to laugh with her about how crazy it was that all three of our young-people-buddy-boats got pregnant in Panama ala “there’s something in the water, eh?”. But, then I paused; what excitedly expectant mama wants to hear about pregnancy not working out? “I’m sure you’ll be fine, though” Ugg. Way to take the fun outta that pregnancy announcement, Debbie Downer.

Of course, I’m over-the-moon excited for them; truly I am. It’s just that their excitement (and the familiar question of our child-less status from well-meaning strangers), has, at times, painfully reminded me of the excitement I no longer have. The Club I’m no longer in. And, of the Other Club I joined by default. “Other”, like a box checked on a form between “never been pregnant” and “mother”.

I didn’t want to be in this club! (stamping feet!) I wanted to be in the other club! (even when wasn’t expecting to be!) Or, maybe, could at least be in the normal club? (like a “normal club” exists!)

Having moved so quickly from the (publicly-congratulated) Pregnancy Club to the privacy of Other Club felt very isolating. Other than my wonderful partner, I was thousands of miles away from anyone who knew me well and knew my status (had changed, and then changed again). Like the pregnancy itself, this time was filled with more waiting and wondering; the un-expected unexpecting. It was really hard. I cried almost every day: tears of frustration, tears of disappointment, & I’m sure tears full of hormonal cocktail served straight-up and on-the-rocks. I had been personally introduced to a new shade of grey which colored everything in my view. I was not happy.

Of course, even though I felt totally alone at times, I was not. There are lots of women in this Other Club who’ve hosted a whole range of similar experiences. Some of them don’t get pregnant so surprisingly, some of them don’t get my sterling prized-sow diagnosis for future pregnancies and some of them even hold cards in a combination of clubs (Pregnancy, Other and Mother).

Through this experience, many women who I didn’t know held memberships in the Other Club have reached out. And, I’ve grown closer to those in this club I already knew held a card. I’m grateful for the generosity of sharing and listening – and especially for the laughs and opportunities to talk about the fun times, too. It’s been nice to know that even though I don’t get to keep the babies, I get to keep the experience and share the stories. Of course, I know that what I have experienced isn’t the worst of all – but I also know it’s not nothing.

Training wheels. These two little whatevers, joining us on the boat, against all odds, thousands of miles away from my support system, have provided us a peek into a possible future. They’ve given us a pass – at least for now – on what another pregnancy – or even a baby – on our boat might be: the possibility of finding great care outside the US medical system, as much recovery time as I want away from work and with my partner, and also the trappings of having only virtual, long-distance support from dear friends and family.

I spent six weeks in that no-woman’s-land between pregnant and normal (having a period again). Then, early last week, I got my period. It’s had a way of shifting the stasis of my present into my history. It’s turned out to be the yin to my spotting’s yang: another physical reminder of my recovery, this this time gently telling me the cycle continues.

leaving Fronteras

Our little family (of three), with Guatemala behind us

~~~

A few thoughts on sharing this:

It occurred to me that this could be just one more sad story on the internet. That’s not my intention. Like every post on this blog, this is a snapshot into our lives out here on S/V Mother Jones. Something private, which we chose to make public – it was never a secret (there’s difference, so says my mama, between Private and Secret).

I also happen to think context matters, and I would have been remiss in not mentioning something so significant on our journey: “How was Guatemala?” “Umm, freaking crazy!”

Additionally, because I’m so far away from home, and because we were so early on, there are also a lot of folks we know and love who would probably be “in” on this news given another week or so. But, given the circumstances, we weren’t really keen to tell this story over and over again. To all you folks we love, and (we hope!) love us back, we trust you’ll forgive us for sharing this important context of our lives in such an impersonal way.

Another reason I decided to post this to The Internet is that throughout my pregnancy I got a ton out of referencing other women’s stories – in online forums, through personal emails and dockside conversations. Perhaps this share will be helpful to someone reading (I know it was for me in writing – thank you all for listening).

Finally, for any of y’all reading who think this subject matter is gross, TMI or otherwise impolite, 1) why have you kept reading this far!?! and 2) it’s just life, y’all, get over it.

~~~

A few words about medical care, insurance and payment in Central America (and maybe a little bit of a rant, too – hey, the personal is political):

We don’t carry health insurance. We pay out of pocket and generally that’s meant $5-50 worth of medicines or treatments. We’ve received brand-name antibiotics, had our teeth cleaned, and our moles checked by excellent pharmacists, dentists and doctors – most of whom speak English, because most were trained in the States or Cuba. Because of the low cost of routine care, our relative youth (32 and 39) and because we’re relatively healthy, we haven’t carried insurance. Of course, insurance isn’t there for the routine. It’s there for the emergency you don’t plan for – like a pregnancy with an IUD, removal and then a D&C – or worse, waaay worse.

Our emergency cost about $2,000 all-told, including everything from my initial pregnancy test, three visits to a first-class OB/GYN in private practice, travel to and from Guatemala City twice and an overnight stay in a private room in a private hospital (which took VISA). Believe you me, I recognize how lucky, persistent and privileged we are to have had this access to quality care.

Ironically, $2,000 was the deductible we were negotiating in a policy that didn’t include maternity care (for 10 months) a few weeks prior to our emergency.

Adding to further irony, on the same day of my lecture-free, safe asind legal abortion in the explicitly Catholic country of Guatemala, my home state of Texas (which explicitly protects religious freedoms???) was debating several laws to restrict access to abortion care. One of these measures includes subjecting women like me to an unnecessary (vaginal) ultrasound and state-mandated badgering (under the guise of “informed consent”). All this in a thinly-veiled attempt to get us to change our mind about abortion. As if we had the luxury.

We got our window

It’s funny how it feels sometimes to get what you say you want. Like all of what you say you want. Like not just the fun parts of what you say you want, but also the unsaid scary parts of what you say you want.

Like how I say I can’t wait to get to Guatemala. And how little patience I have left for sitting here waiting in Portobelo. But how, when we just got an amazing weather window for a straight shot to our next destination (650 nm and 5.5 days away) how I don’t feel excited. I feel scared. Not just scared but terrified. Full of nervous energy about the upcoming passage.

I realize I live on a boat – that’s the part I love. Traveling with your whole house is awesome. Coastal cruising is okay. But sailing over blue water hundreds of miles – or even 50’s of miles – from land just isn’t for me and I ain’t afraid to say it. Which would be totally fine, except I’m about to *do* it. Ugg.

I once read a comment in a sailor’s forum from a guy who was hanging up his bow lines for good: “Sailing is either completely boring or terrifying” he protested. “Huh” I thought. Now I know how he feels. But here I go.

I’ve also read time and again that it’s the men who love the sailing and the women who love the anchorages. We definitely fall into that stereotype and I appreciate the honesty of other partners – mostly women – who share their discomfort on the seas with me. (I also respect and applaud the skill, interest and love of all the Skipperettes out on the water who love being there – that’s just not me)

Or, maybe I’m just throwing a tantrum . . . feeling all the things that make up the whole picture of what it means to be a cruiser. Sure, not every sailor is “terrified” of multi-day, blue-water crossings – some even love them – but all honest sailors I know clearly understand the risks of what we undertake: once you’re out there, there ain’t no pulling over and getting off the ride. And, I suppose we all know the payoffs, too: going where there is no one to bail you out has meant we get to experience some of this planet’s most scenic wild places.

A fellow Skipperette, who’s an admittedly proud fair-weather sailor, recently reminded me of the old adage “there are old sailors and bold sailors, but there are no old, bold sailors”. Well, I’m a proud coastal-cruising, anchorage-loving, fair-weather, day sailor . . . who is about to stretch her white knuckles over five and a half days of (putting good energy out there) fair winds, following seas, new sails, good fuel and a beautiful new steering column.

I can’t wait until it’s over.

The grass is always greener?

It’s almost 1 year since we moved on the boat (and two years since we set out on a “3 month sabbatical” – plans change, eh?). It’s that time of year when folks are posting pics of family and friends gathering and reflections of the passing year. And, it’s got us thinking of all the things we miss about life on land and the things we love about life aboard.

So, here’s a quick ‘n dirty list of what we love aboard/what we miss about “home”:

  1. Organic, in-season fruits & veggies/the huge variety of produce available year-round (strawberries, apples!)
  2. Fruit & veg without pesticides/not worrying about whether produce in restaurants is “safe”
  3. Cheap, basic healthcare/specialized medicine (dermatology for skin cancer, etc)
  4. Sleeping outside in the breeze/air conditioning when there is no breeze
  5. Spending so much time together/spending time with life-long friends and family
  6. Adventure/stability
  7. Not having a work schedule/having an income
  8. Not ever having to wear shoes/wearing all kinds of cute shoes
  9. Wearing a bathing suit every day/wearing different kinds of clothes
  10. Tropical weather/Getting off mold watch
  11. Peace & Quiet
  12. Having time to cook delicious and nutritious meals/having someone else cook, wash the dishes and eating out!
  13. Moving our house/Not having to worry about our house moving! A host of interesting people from all over the world/seeing life-long friends & family!
  14. Self-sustainable resource management/unlimited fresh water and power
  15. Clean water from the rain/not worrying about dirty water
  16. /wearing my hair down
  17. /salads without slugs
  18. Simple pleasures/simple pleasures
  19. The *stars*, bioluminescence and being in so much nature all the time/Being protected from the elements
  20. The sense of self-sufficiency that comes from being ever-vigilant about your safety/Not having to drop everything and do boat projects or worry about sinking, dragging, collisions, reefs, other boats, sea-monsters, etc
  21. The humbling effect of leading a “weather permitting” lifestyle (aka the constant reminder that we are not in control, it’s not always healthy or appropriate to “make it happen” and much more pleasant to just surrender to things as they come)
  22. The slow pace
  23. /Nail polish! (Laurie)
  24. /Fresh water swimming! (Laurie)
  25. /Hot showers (Damon)
  26. /Making music with my buddies (Damon)
  27. /Spring rolls, cheeseburgers, BBQ, hot wings, & other comfort foods made by someone else ;)
  28. Barking at pelicans, dolphins, and other boaters/chasing squirrels (Mr. K)

I’m sure there’s more to add to this list and, perhaps like many of you, we have a fantasy of what it’d be like to be on the other side of the coin. But, in the event you were getting way too jealous of our yachting-in-the-Caribbean lifestyle we thought we’d share a little bit of our grass-is-always-greener thoughts with you.

L,D & Mr. K

Entering 2013 with Intention

Because I’m a big ol’ hippie, every New Year I continue to rope D and friends into joining me on my “Entering the New Year with Intention” tradition.

It’s simply a way for me to mark moments in the year past and powerfully welcome the year to come. It’s also contains a bit of goal-setting which appeals to the Type-A hippie in me. Oh joy!

In fact, way back in 2007, D and I used this exercise to make our way out of debt and create a path to our 2010 sabbatical.

I thought I’d take a few moments to share this tradition with you and invite you to join in.

Our tradition is a bit of a mash-up of what we’ve found to work over the years and suggestions from others. If you’d like to add anything or tweak it to best suit you, please do (and please share!).

Here goes:

Generally, I ask friends to gather at a quiet place, preferably in nature, with some yummy snacks and non-alcoholic drinks to share for a picnic lunch. I also recommend bringing some unlined paper and colored pens to list/draw the year past and the coming year.

Here is the flow (a detailed guide for each piece is below):

  1. Find a nice spot to share or your own spot if you’d like to go it alone
  2. Offer introductions for anyone who doesn’t know one another
  3. Create the space – thank everyone for coming, participating, give the lay of the land
  4. Guided meditation: 1) Ground yourself, 2) Review the past year, 3) Imagine the coming year
  5. Share, if you wish
  6. Closing, including a toast to the time past and time to come and our fab community!
  7. Nosh!
  8. Leave at your own pace.

Below are some things to consider for the flow.

You may wish to create your metaphor or story-scape to set the stage
One example is of a woman whose stage was a train boarding platform, bags that were to be left behind, trains with destination signs to be filled in as part of the meditation.

Release – What are you no longer willing to carry? What no longer serves you? What will you leave behind?

I asked: What bags will you leave behind on the platform?

Intention – With what do I want to fill the space I’m creating for myself?

Where do I want to powerfully point myself?

I asked: Where is the train, you are boarding, headed?

Follow-through – What is one action I will take to give support to my intention?

*******************************************
3. Creating the Space – Lay of the Land

  • What would I like to acknowledge, celebrate, accept and move on from about the past year?
  • What would I most like to have happen in my life between now and the end of next Year?
  • Save room for being surprised by what shows up in the moment, a bit of improvisation and play
  • Set ten (or as little or many as you would like) new intentions for the upcoming year, taking into account all areas of my life – health, relationships, work, spiritual growth, etc.
  • In some way, demonstrate your commitment to your intentions: declare them out loud to your surroundings or to your circle, create a line you will step over, write them and put them in a jar on your altar, whatever comes to you.

Guided Meditation

Ground Yourself

  • Ground yourself and become present, with yourself, your surroundings and each other
  • Call in whatever unseen help you like through invocation and invitation

Review the past year

  • If you have it, review the prior year’s intentions (written in an old journal?), and write about whether or not they came to pass and how they’ve affected my life.
  • Acknowledge & Appreciate blessings – Take time to walk through the past year noticing the energy of the different surroundings (weather, people, holidays, etc). What happened in January, February, etc? What happened and how did I feel in the different seasons and places I was during the year? Did I get a new job? Start or finish school? Add a member to my family? Take care of my body in a new way? Did I take any trips that I want to acknowledge?
  • Acknowledge & Accept challenges – These may be the same as your blessings, different or both
  • Are there things you are not complete with about the past year?  you may use this moment to choose to not be complete with it and enter the next year anyway

Release:

  • Choose to be at peace with all of the past year – choose it for all that it is and all that it isn’t
  • Do something that symbolically transmutes that which you are releasing (I like fire :) Let your body feel the what you are about to let go
  • Let your mind feel the constriction of holding on to the old thoughts associated with what you are now releasing
  • Let your heart feel the gratitude for what this meant to you in the past and the sadness or joy of goodbye
  • Let your spirit feel the how challenged it may have felt and the new expansiveness about to become available to it
  • Align into the whole of you and offer up these things you are letting go to the past

Standing in a space of nothing you have created between the past year and the coming year consider what you would like to create

Imagine the next year

  • Take a moment to breathe and reground
  • Think carefully about the year ahead and the intentions you have for yourself and your family.
  • You may want to consider where you lack balance in your life. This tradition is an ideal time to reflect on what balance you may have and/or are seeking.
  • Much like you reviewed the past, take time to imagine the next year given the predictable changes in weather, seasons, holidays, work schedules, etc. What intention would you like to bring into those spaces (leaving room for the unknown).
  • What lies ahead? – realities, dreams,
  • What may be standing in my path that will support where I want to go?
  • What may be standing in my path that will detour me?
  • What do I already have that can help me get my intentions met?
  • What do I need from myself, my community, the universe to get where I want to go?
  • Can I get these things?
  • What steps do I need to take to get my intentions met?

6. Closing:

  • Standing in December of the year you have just created, illustrate (write a letter, draw a map, etc) your journey that year acknowledging the intentions set for the year. – Be in reality and be unreasonable. Acknowledging how you’ve made a difference in your life and in the lives of others.
  • Take a breath and reground
  • Let yourself be infused with the energy of the planting of this new seed of your powerful intention and know, have full faith that it will be.
  • Ask the Universe to show you the way. Reflect on the interconnectedness of all nature, human beings everywhere with the animals, the waterways, the land and everything that grows from the ground.
  • Connect with your circle if you have friends with you
  • Thank the unseen friends/Divine/guides you called in at the beginning of your ritual

Follow-through

  • Remember to take the simple action steps that you set for yourself in your meditation/preparation
  • It might be helpful for you to create reminder notes and to ask friends for support
  • Don’t be surprised if some things in your physical reality, emotional, mental or spiritual health shift as a result of this
  • Keep a journal to track your follow-through and what shows up along the way

Passage notes: Bocas to Portobelo

The last two weeks can pretty much be summed up in one word: RAIN.

Yes, December is the Rainy Season. Yes, Panama is a rainforest.  But it’s the Caribbean, right? Shouldn’t we get some sunshine on these deserted beaches and magical rivers we (planned to) visit? “No”, is apparently the answer.

We left Bocas a couple of weeks ago with the intention of stopping in some super-cool spots, which also happen to be fair-weather anchorages. Well, guess what? We’ve had NO fair weather. Everyone said we were getting a late start to this passage: “November is unpredictable; you really should’ve gone in October”. Thanks, thanks a lot. I know folks mean well, but unless you have a time machine handy, maybe not so helpful to suggest we should’ve already done something. Just sayin’

But they were right; we missed all the cool stuff we wanted to see along the way: the “secret beach”, Tobobe and the Rio Chagres. And, while we did stop at Escudo de Veraguas, it was so rainy and windy that we didn’t even get to enjoy it properly. Blarg.

So, in the interest of reporting to the cruisers (and all you folks at home) what indeed happened, here’s what we ended up doing instead:

Stopping in Bluefields for two nights. Bluefields was fine. It was fine last year. It’s a super-protected and calm anchorage which meant a nice, calm night’s sleep. But, it’s also one of those places where locals pull up in their Cayucos and hang on your lifelines and stare into your cockpit/cabin/dinghy for upwards of an hour.

While I don’t mind at all when folks come to sell or trade with us or even if they want to engage in some conversation, there’s something about someone silently looking into your windows for what feels like for-e-ver that I dislike very much.

I mean, I understand that in a place like Bluefields, which is very remote, visiting yachts can seem as foreign as spaceships and therefore certainly attract curiosity but boats have been coming to Bluefields for years, so you think folks might get used to it, right?

It seems that perhaps the good folks who call Bluefields home have come to start expecting something from the cruisers . . and, this is when I’ll get on my soapbox . . . if you are someone who likes to support an increase the quality of life for those in remote places, please do not give out hand-outs (especially to children). It doesn’t help anyone. You might feel good in the moment, but it’s not at all good in the long run. Trust me. Or, at least trust them. Off the soapbox . . .

Lucky for us in the case of the lifeline hanger-on’rs, we have a secret weapon: “el perro bravo” (a dangerous dog). Don’t get me wrong, we don’t sic Kemah on anyone, but I don’t mind that it’s not particularly welcoming to have a big dog barking at you when you’re not particularly welcome.

So, back to Blue Fields, the highlight of the stop-over was being invited over to a (new) friend’s boat for lobster dinner. Acuncion and Ivan of S/V Paloma were amazing hosts. We had loads of lobster, caramelized onion & garlic mashed potatoes (I made these!) and then capper of all cappers: flan. Yum! To top everything off, our dinner was hosted aboard a Lagoon 40 and that boat is sa-weet. Funny, though, while they have a TON more space aboard, they really don’t have much more room(s) than the Gemini and I bet their maintenance costs are much more – see, we’re fine without that fancy boat ;)

After Bluefields, we headed out for Escudo de Veraguas, a beautiful island only a day-sail away – past the two other amazing stops we meant to see (the “secret beach” and Tobobe).

Escudo was an easy day sail from Bluefields. We had been looking forward to Escudo since our stop-over here a couple of years ago. It’s a beautiful island surrounded by reefs and, after a couple of days on the boat, we were ready to get anchored and explore.

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Escudo’s hidden coves

 

D, photoshopped into paradise aka Escudo, in 2011

D, photoshopped into paradise aka Escudo, in 2011

But . . . the weather continued to be uncooperative. Even upon approach the “anchorage” seemed to be uncomfortably rolly but we snaked our way closer to the beach and quickly radio’d back to our buddies on Adamastor that they had the depth to follow us.

While they snuck up on the beach, we continued to radio them of a dangerous rock just off our starboard bow – but wait – what!?! The rock was moving – huh!?! James thought it was, perhaps, a whale, but as it got closer and closer we realized it was a HUGE rootball attached to a downed palm. It must have been the heavy rains that broke it lose. And, AFTER we used the boathook to poke it away from drifting between our hulls, we all a good laugh about the “dangerous moving rock” in the Escudo anchorage.

We spent a few days at Escudo waiting for the weather to change and even took advantage of short break in the clouds to dinghy-‘splore the coastline and walk along the big, wide beach. While there were a few highlights in the form of tucked-away coves and a cool, fresh river washing out to sea, unfortunately, the impression that was left with us from our beach walk was the horrid amounts of plastic flotsam and jetsam littering the shore. Makes ya kinda wonder what all the crap was made for if it’s just gonna end up on some otherwise-beautiful beach. Seriously, earthlings (including us, of course) we have *got* to get it together.

Despite our depressing walk along the beach and the lack of snorkeling we did manage to have one particularly entertaining – although it was alarming at first – experience at Escudo:

It was dark-thirty. Damon and I were on Adamastor enjoying a movie night with Jess and James. All of the sudden, Jess popped up, snatched our attention away from the film and called it to the flash of white light that just came through the porthole across the screen. In slow motion, we all seemed to come to the same silent conclusion: “Right, of course, we’re in the middle of nowhere, on our boats. We should definitely be concerned about those lights – which definitely aren’t headlights shining into our living rooms from a passing car. WHO IS OUT THERE!?!”

Suddenly, we were all up from the settee, out in the cockpit and trying to discern the figures and make of boat approaching us quickly from the sea. Of course, with their lights shining  in our eyes, it took us a minute to make out the five men, in fatigues, with machine guns slung over their shoulders headed towards Mother Jones – where Kemah was holding down the fort.  Relief washed over us all. It’s funny that the sight of those big men with their big guns was a welcome sight: it meant they were random pirates coming for us, they were *government* pirates, at worst.

We signaled them to come to Adamastor, where over the next hour they checked Adamastor’s paperwork and did a cursory inspection of the vessel. When it came time for our turn of the government check, the men opted not to move over to the Kemah-stronghold of Mother Jones, instead asking us to take our dinghy, get our paperwork and bring it to them, which we happily complied.  God bless that terrifyingly ridiculous dog.

While El Jefe worked on our paperwork, I offered the group some refreshments which they accepted tenderly while explaining clearly they did not expect, and could not accept, any gifts – amazing!

All-in-all, their impromptu visit turned out to be quite pleasant as we ran through the rigamaroll exchanging Spanglish with each other. We were also happy to have them anchored next to us for the next two nights – although we were very happy to be sleeping in our cozy berths rather than under a tarp in a panga like these commandos.

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Making friends at Escudo

But, our luck with the friendly pirates was not to rub off on the weather. We had enough of the rain, enough of a rolling anchorage and so it was time to head off to Portobelo on our first overnighter since this.

The afternoon we left was fine. We had a little excitement as a few swallows came aboard for a rest – which is totally fine unless Mr. K sees them. Then, it’s pandemonium whilst he scrambles about giving it his all to give them their namesake.

1-kemah swallow

Once night fell, the easy afternoon turned.

“Once bitten, twice shy” was I as I listened to a familiar sound of the halyard clanking, felt the familiar motion of pitching into the seas ahead and watched the running lights cast its eerie red glow on the deck and dark waves. Ugg. We shot towards Portobelo at the quick pace of eight knots in high seas. It seemed all-too-familiar.

I was uneasy. I white-knuckled my shift. When D got up for his we had a come-to-Jesus. Turns out I wasn’t the only one “remembering”.

“Why do we do this?” was the question de nuit; both of us remembering the last time we asked each other *that* question on *that* passage.  It was sobering. And good. We were on the same page: we love cruising; and, we have a healthy respect for the ocean; we have fear; and, we have the where-with-all to acknowledge it, make corrections and keep moving forward. So, we reefed.

Just like that, it seemed the sea exhaled. Mother Jones settled into a comfortable lob and we settled into ourselves again.

*******

The rest of the night and into the morning we gently pushed forward. We had the engine on ever-so-slightly just to help us maintain course against the current and winds pushing us towards the coast. (To other sailors out there heading this way this time of year in Easterlies, I’d strongly recommend you head north at least 15 or so miles off Escudo and then tack back towards your Colon or Portobelo destination)

Like other missed destinations, I was disappointed to have to pass on visiting the infamous Rio Chagres.  But I knew it was the smart move: two years earlier we had stood at Fuerte San Lorenzo and witnessed a yacht washed aground (and then picked clean) from an unscheduled discharge of the Rio Chagres dam by the Canal authority. As a matter of fact, the Canal Authority apparently does sound an alarm to give anyone on the river – including Panamanians fishing in Cayucos or working on the shores of the Chagres – a WHOLE 15 MINUTES prior to opening the damn so folks can safely remove themselves from the path of MILLIONS OF GALLONS OF WATER FILLED WITH DEBRIS. Ummm, thanks?

washed ashore during rainy season dam openings

S/V washed ashore during a dam opening during the rainy season

But, due to us having at least one good idea a week (ambitious aren’t we?), we opted to keep moving towards Portobelo. Soon past the Rio, we were smack-dab in the middle of the Canal zone dodging the huge tankers waiting for transit or resting at anchor just after.

Even still, I can’t get over how HUGE these ships are, how much cargo they transport and, sadly, how much of it is probably disposable crap we – yes, I’m including me in the “we” here – consume all over the globe. And, how I’d be willing to bet a (literal) ton of it ends up on beaches just like the one we left less than 24 hours ago.

Or, maybe instead of one million pen caps and lighters, those ships are full of life-saving medications, fresh water, food and shelter destined for our planet’s sick, thirsty, hungry and homeless. Aww, a gal with a bleeding heart can dream, right?

Moving on to more selfish thoughts, we spent the last leg of our overnighter wet and squinting in the white-out rain happy none-the-less in part because: 1) if we *had* to be in white-out rain, we were glad to be in white-out rain PAST the tanker minefield; and 2) we were dreaming of our first stop in Portobelo: Captain Jack’s, our soon-to-be-latest stop on our Cheeseburger in Paradise tour.

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Portobelo in a break in the rain. Cheeseburger dead ahead

A love letter to my Captain

 D,

It’s late. I’ve just got back to the boat after finally taking the night off to have some fun with the girls. The last two weeks of single-handing non-stop work on the super-steep learning curve (and the wine) have got me waxing poetic about everything you do aboard, that I didn’t even know you do aboard, that now I have to do aboard, to keep us in ship shape.

Just in the past two weeks aboard by myself, it’s been a flurry of activity: we’ve had over 15 inches of rain here in Bocas reminding me of every place that’s not sealed up just right and how low the batteries can get. Suffice it to say, I’ve been busy! I mean, it’s not like I don’t know how to use a screwdriver, but I’m now keenly aware of how I haven’t had to use one in about 10 years since you’ve been in my life. And, how our teamwork makes all the difference: after a day’s worth of sweating, grunting and using all your “fixing” words, I can understand how a nice, hot meal, makes all the difference. On the phone today, you mentioned, “I miss your cooking,” – well, I miss my cooking, too! Afterall, when taking on everything at once, I’m too tired to fix anything more than oatmeal or a peanut butter-banana roll up!

Simply put, I’m grateful. I’m grateful when there are four hands on the boat instead of two. And, while I’m been fortunate to have help from friendly cruisers now and then, just to be clear, I’m particular to the other two hands on the boat being yours!

So, Captain:

  • Thank you for all the lefty-loosey-righty-tighty jobs,
  • Thank you for doing all the gross, dirty and down-right disgusting jobs,
  • Thank you for checking to make sure we have enough gas/water/propane/batteries/parts/things I don’t even know exist/that we need,
  • Thank you for sorting and labeling them in boxes in the “garage”,
  • Thank you for being the one who gets up in the middle of the night to check on our anchor/that weird noise/the wind/etc,
  • Thank you for being the Chief leak-source-tracker-downer and caulker;
  • Thank you for always doing the dishes,
  • Thank you for always believing in me when I think I can’t do it – or just plain don’t want to,
  • Thank you for going to work, in a building, not in the Caribbean, with shoes on to refill the kitty so we can continue to do this,
  • Thank you for Skyping with me twice a day,
  • Thank you for walking me through every project, knowing I can do it just fine,
  • Thank you for taking this crazy adventure with me,
  • Thank you for not letting me break up with you 5 times during the first 6 months because I was scared,
  • Thank you for everything over the last 10 years that has me missing you so much and so grateful to be able to spend so much time with my best friend,
  • And, finally, thank you for coming home. In 55 days.

love,

L

ps. Capt. D, here’s a pic of Capt. L getting a carburetor cleaning lesson (for the price of a coffee mug) while single-handing.

77 days

D left on Tuesday morning to go back to the States to work. He’ll be gone for 77 days. And, yes, I’m counting.

 

The past few days have been hard. In addition to the general malaise of missing someone I’m 100% in-like with, I’m sore. I’ve lifted the anchor three times, single-handed for the first time and generally been doing four-hands worth of work with two – it’s tough! It seems everything on the boat weighs (at least) 40 pounds and when I’m done with one project, the next one is just waiting for me.

I have a renewed appreciation for my wonderful partner and all he’s done (and is now doing) to keep us afloat.

And, I have a renewed appreciation of myself.

The last time I was on my own I was in my early 20′s. While I have always had an independent spirit, at that time I was recovering from some trauma which left me distrustful of the world in general and most people in particular. I was hell-bent on doing everything on my own. It was also when I delved headfirst into political work – like “do my best swan dive into shark-infested waters” delving.

It was at that time I was interning for political women’s organization and my boss bestowed upon me the nickname “lauradical”.

lauradical and the woman who named her

While I’m not sure she always meant it this way, I considered it the highest compliment – more than a badge of honor, an identity.

lauradical, with her rad hair, behind the wheel of Gussa, a ’73 IH Scout

It wasn’t that lauradical wasn’t afraid to do things on her own; she was and she just did them anyway.

When lauradical didn’t know how to do things and she figured them out.

fixing the carburetor on my ’59 Ford Custom, custom painted of course

Now, lauradical is visiting me yet again. It seems she showed up just in time to her to help me remember that I can totally do this!

Afterall, we’ve done some pretty rad things together. Maybe things some would even consider radical.

Like, maybe this:

Little lauradical thinks like this

 

or this:

lauradical speaking on the steps of the Texas State Capitol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

or perhaps something as radical as even this:

lauradical gets hitched!

So, for all those who worry about me being out here alone on the boat. Don’t you worry. I’m not alone. I’ve got friends I check in with daily. I’ve got a handsome blond keeping me company.

Chief Security Officer Kemah Jones

And, I’ve got lauradical.

I can never sleep before a big day

So, here I am again, restless in the middle of the night with only this blank page waiting to record the spiderweb in my head.

To say the last couple of weeks have been a trip would be an understatement.  I’ve been in so many different worlds at once:  days spent in the NICU in the world of wondering what will happen to the little Baffler and my dear friends, his parents; stolen nights and lunches catching up, tossing back and trying to relate to what is happening or has happened to friends and family; internet searches for plane tickets, weather patterns and ports of call trying to get back to his loving arms; and the excitement, nervousness and preparation of a job opp, proposal and interview.  Did I mention I organized housing, wheels and a phone while I’m here?  Oh, and I successfully negotiated filing my taxes, our wills, Wanda Sykes, a new (repaired) wedding ring, and both Eeyore’s and Andy Keating’s birthdays.  Pfew.  No wonder I’m tired.

I’ve swung the pendulum here: should I stay or should I go?  I’ll be where I said I wanted in a week – what next?  How will I ever leave her?  How long can I stay away from him?  I’m glad I’m not doing that anymore, oh wait, here I go.  And, thank you for being a friend, I’m still me.

I’ve not missed my house, enjoyed some of my favorite things and driven to things shut down.  I’ve been happy for friends, missed my man and fell all over again for my life.

In two short days, I’ll be back, but gone again, too.  hrmpf