Ex-Expat 1st impressions

Well, it’s been two weeks.

We have settled are settling in. We have phones, we have jobs, we set alarms and pack lunches. We throw things in the dryer and take showers inside.

Things are familiar and strange all at once.

People keep asking how it feels to be back. I keep answering “I don’t know, ask me in a month”.

So, maybe I should wait a few more weeks and write this post then???

nah, I’ve never been one to practice patience. So, here goes some 1st impressions:

  • people are awesome! We are so blessed with and grateful for amazing people in our lives. It is so good to see you - and the little people some of you have made while we were gone (they.are.talking.now – whoa). Also, we are completely blown away by the generosity of our community. Y’all have pitched in to make our transition all that easier: just the other day, I was talking on a phone loaned to me, while sitting in a car loaned to me, with all new-to-me clothes on my body – including a “city bra” (aka not a swimsuit) and some undies (they were actually new but still gifted).
  • people are (too?) awesome On the flip side (diamond.shoes.too.tight), I had a total meltdown the first weekend in town because I was trying to figure out how to see EVERYONE ASAP with the annoying limit of the # of waking hours in the day. So, I “compromised” and stopped sleeping, basically. That was no bueno. My mood – and my social skills — suffered. I was told, kindly, that perhaps after a few years in the wild, I ought to domesticate myself a bit. My oldest, bestest friend totally busted me, “I can feel you being busy from my house”. And, then, I yelled “I AM NICE!” at my sister. Yup. It was clearly time for a break(down). No biggie. I knew this breakdown was coming. And, come it did. Once I admitted the challenges and limits I was facing, it was actually kinda funny. Perhaps it’s the way we’ve been living (9pm is known as “cruisers midnight”) or just a simple fact of getting older. Turns out I prefer my slow-pokey life of going to bed before 10pm to my old life in Austin of going out at 10pm. I’d rather visit with you in the outdoors for a walk’n'talk or swim and be able to hear what you’ve been up to than pound shots at a smoky bar. Perhaps placing quality over quantity has it’s downside: our visits may take longer to schedule or be fewer and far-betweener. But, not “squeezing in” my time with you, awesome person, is a risk I’m willing to take – and I hope you’ll understand and perhaps prefer it this way, too.
  • work is fun! aside from the awesome opportunity to hang with friends and family in Austin, we are also refilling our cruising kitty. Both of us have the good fortune to work with Fantastic Fest - where they actually pay us to create an amazing festival with super-talented and creative people. You know that cliché, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”? Well, there’s a reason people say it. And, bonus, we made the first DEPOSIT in our bank account in a very long time. That was fun!
  • Kemah is just fine. You might just be checking in because you want to know how everyone’s favorite Mother Jones crew member is doing. Well, Kemah is fine. He took everything in on his first car ride in two years from Freeport to Austin (squirrel! cow! train!). He has been loving going on walks (but I think he does miss swimming). He does have a bit of separation challenges but luckily, he loves hanging out with his Grandparents when we are out and about. Also, he had a super funny adjustment experience his first morning: in bed at about 8am, in Austin, we pulled the sheets off his face and he looked around, wild-eyed, at the walls and ceiling (!) in our bedroom. he had a look on his face like a college student the morning after a tequila binge that said “where am I? how’d I get here? and who am I in bed with?”. Luckily, he seemed to piece it together. And, that’s been the worst of his adjustments (so far, so good!).
  • walking distance is totally relative, car culture rules & it’s just automatic: I immediately noticed upon arrival that Freeport, Texas is the 1st port we’ve been in since leaving the States that didn’t have normal living stuff* in walking distance or cabs readily available to whisk you away to the local market or chandlery. We tried walking the .5 mile to the local hardware store but were stopped by our dock mate who kindly insisted upon giving us a ride. When we went to close the back hatch on his SUV, he was careful to instruct us not to do it by hand or we’d break it – umm, okay. You just push a button, of course. (because that’s totally natural) *speaking of what’s totally natural, the only thing in walking distance from our marina is the Dollar General & the “by donation” bar. Think it’s any coincidence that the cheapest, booziest spots in town are the closest thing to the saltiest, live-aboard dock (our dock) in town???
  • also relative? humidity. It feels soooo dry to us (like 3 extra ooo’s dry). Like fish out of water – we’re gonna drown from the lack of water in the air dry. But, I get that other people don’t feel this way – ’cause they haven’t had as much practice wearing a sweat-suit in the sopa that is Central America. I’m enjoying wearing my hair down, going on pleasant walks in the middle of the day and feeling the difference between standing in the sun vs. standing in the shade (there’s a difference!). Also, I’ve answered the question of “why do I have all this lotion on the boat!?!”. So, that’s a bonus.
  • also relative? problems. I know, I know: every person’s problems are unique and real. But, they’re also relative. And, I’ve been noticing some “problems” – big and small – I haven’t been exposed to in a while. Like traffic (while sitting in a car). Like how people have so much (new) stuff but complain about the mess, debt and waste. Like how you can drink the water out of the tap – but people complain about the chlorine they don’t want in it. Like how we were told “the government takes all your money here!” by someone who went to a public school, while we all stood inside a store built to code, alongside a decent road, with regular garbage service and a fire department that will come if you’re in need . . . hmmm.
  • shoes are for the birds! actually, that makes no sense whatsoever. Which is coincidentally how I feel about straightjackets for feet, which is what every store seems to sell. On a related note, apparently going barefoot for two years has made my feet really, really strong aka really, really wide. Like, I had them measured and they are measuring between a wide and DOUBLEWIDE. Lord help me.
  • we’re not anonymous any more. part of the fun of being away from home is discovering new places and people without any pre-conceived notions. In other words, things are new – and so are you! While travelling, it’s super rare and super weird to hear your name called out from down the street – after all, no one knows it. But, just two weeks back in Austin I’ve actually had a couple situations where I’ve heard my name called out from a passing car or from across a room. That’s new – and fun. And, cause for me to wear more mascara and stop picking my nose in public ;)
  • old patterns are still there. here’s a fun fact about me: I can’t sleep at night unless the closet doors in my bedroom are closed. I forgot that until I slept in a bedroom (not cabin) again. That is the tip of the Old Patterns Iceberg.
  • we are so fortunate and so grateful. my mama always said there’s a difference between being lucky and being fortunate, as in luck is random and fortune implies choice (+ luck?). I’d say she’s right (because she is most certainly reading this). We are so lucky that we have the opportunity to live the life we do: everyone in our family (including us) is in good health and supportive of what we do. In contrast, we know folks that would love to take off into the wild blue yonder but have family obligations (which they are lovingly providing) which keep them from starting – or staying – out. I also consider us to be very fortunate: we have worked hard to stretch our luck and right wrong choices (like racking up debt or yelling at sisters). We think and (try to act) creatively about how we want to design our life. Also, given our experiences (which haven’t all been good) we choose to bring a sense of adventure, optimism and play to our lives. This has made our time “out there” as opposed to “at home” not “opposed” but rather chapters in the same book. At least, that’s how I feel right now (on our boat, on a weekend away from Austin, while writing this) . . .

Thanks for hanging in there with us while we bumble around in and out of Austin, on and off the seas. I’m looking forward to keeping up with our “So Many Beaches” blog, even if we’re not so close to the coast. Y’all in?

Kemah’s Korner!


In case you missed it on our Facebook or Twitter pages, this little blog got a whole new section featuring a whole lotta FAQs answered about living with a sweet, salty dog aboard:

It’s Kemah’s Korner, y’all!

And, it’s awesome (if I do say so ma’self).

So far, info about Kemah’s life aboard S/V Mother Jones has been featured on The Monkey’s Fist. *AND*, based on yesterday’s post, Kemah’s been invited to join a spread of cruising dogs in Practical Sailor magazine’s upcoming issue (I’ll post that once it’s up in a few weeks).

Exciting, huh!?!

**update: Kemah’s a centerfold! Check out Practical Sailor’s article on “Canine Crew” (featuring Mr. K) here.**


all the exposure from his debut made someone a little bashful

Just for fun Bonus Track: Scenes and songs of our sailing dog

Remember on old recordings how there was that secret bonus track where artists would include crazy stuff?

Well, you’re welcome.

‘Cause if you’re not already convinced that we’re crazy (dog) people.

classic family photo

classic family photo

We’re pretty sure you will be now.

Here’s a whole album of the many faces of Kaptain K aboard Mother Jones:


Still not convinced?

Here’s a little video of us getting punchy as K helps us chart a course (for chips):

And, finally, the cherry on our kooky Kemah kake, this series of wacky “Kemah the Sailing Dog” songs courtesy of Capt. D, who makes music on the high seas.

Kemah’s Wild Kingdom: animals encounters while on board

caption this?

Those chompers are intimidating! (the hat? not so much)

Kemah has what you call a high “prey drive“. In layman’s terms, that means that quick movements from other animals intrigue him. And by “intrigue” I mean quick movements from other animals make him want to chase said animals. If, he were to be so lucky as to actually catch one of those animals (it’s never happened*, but we hold the faith for you, K!), I’m 100% certain he would “catch” that animal with his big ol’ mouth.

*so far, he’s only caught my tushie on a swing – youch!

Knowing this about Mr. K, we normally limit his interaction with other animals by keeping him on the boat, in remote areas or in the case of areas likely to have other dogs, he is always on a leash and highly-controlled.

However, nature being what it is, there have been some interesting surprises, including:

  • the time on a Bahamanian sand bank where K took off for half-a-mile after a trigger fish (so glad it wasn’t a poisonous fish!)
  • the time we were in open ocean on passage from Jamaica to Providencia, were being followed by a pod of pilot whales and Kemah – who happened not to be harnessed in for some strange reason – decided to investigate from the lowest swim-step on the hulls, inches away from the 6-foot seas!
  • learning that K can actually smell dolphins causing him to bound into the cockpit to “sniff & scan” the horizon for his flippered friends (FYI – he is obsessed with dolphins! So much that’s he lingers on the bow during passage potty time compromising all of our safety. Thanks, dude!)
  • learning that K’s sensitive skin would rather tolerate jellyfish sting than the vinegar commonly used to neutralize the pain
  • K’s dis-interest in fish we bring aboard – What is it about a huge, thrashing fish within reach that he could care less about? But, show him a whale and forget about it: he’s giving up his ghost!
  • K trying to teach a visiting swallow about it’s namesake

Click here to jump to the next section: Heat, Seasickness, Hair & Stink: some random Q&A’s about life with a dog aboard

Or, click here to jump back to the Kemah’s Korner homepage.

Shore leave? Limited freedom? (for us & him)

Some folks ask us if Kemah ever gets to leave the boat.

The answer is “yes”, but it’s very limited.

Because of Kemah’s particular personality, he does not get along with other animals. Specifically, much like Lenny, he wants to love them way too much – with his mouth. Even if K were well-behaved, I’d still have reservations about the behavior and health of other dogs on shore.

But, don’t go feeling bad for Mr. K: while his time off the boat is limited, it’s limited to deserted beaches, remote caves, dinghy rides, swimming and SUPing.

Not so shabby, eh?

Also, when we’re at anchor, he has run of the boat and goes on his own to sit out on the top row of cushions in the cockpit and watch the clouds, stare at the stars, etc (what is he thinking!?!).

a dog's life

a dog’s life

As you can see, he loves to keep the cushions down outside. And, if a tropical shower interrupts his peaceful slumber he’s been known to turn a snarl upwards and growl at the sky . . .

When we’re underway and it’s calm, he’s free to wander inside or out – up to the first seat/row in the cockpit. At night or in weather, K is always “harnessed” in by a tether to his Ruffwear lifejacket.

When we leave the boat to do errands, he’s always locked in the cabin (with hatches open and fans on). Why? Because he has swam after us once when we were at a nearby dock (we thought he was a beaver at first!) and, most conservatively, “why not?”. I don’t want to worry about his safety – or anyone else’s – while we’re away. So, this is the strategy we employ.

Should anyone have doubts about Kemah’s security presence on board, even while locked in the cabin, they should consult our resident giant prairie dog:

Prairie Dog
Finally, it should be stated that while we love having Kemah aboard – he’s our family, our friend and our security guard - there is one huge drawback: your loss of freedom.

We know some cruisers with small dogs that tote their four-legged friends to beach-bars and potlucks; some fly their dogs to and fro when commuter cruising or smuggle their pooches in huge purses on long bus rides when taking trips overland. But, because of Kemah’s personality and size, we can’t easily take him with us when we want to go exploring overland.

So, for the few trips we’ve taken away from the boat, we’ve required a sitter. Luckily, we’ve been able to arrange for responsible folks to come stay with Kemah on Mother Jones.

But, if we were to become commuter-cruisers who leave the boat in a far-away port, we’d have some real challenges flying Kemah to and from our floating and land-based homes. For example, American & Continental both fly dogs his size as cargo, only before July 1st (because of the heat) and have breed restrictions (because of the muzzle shape of “pit bulls”, Kemah would suddenly turn into a “lab mix”). Plus, given K’s sensitivity and age, I’m not really keen to see what happens if we were to start flying him at 11.

Speaking of flying: ever wonder what it’s like when birds and other animals interact with Kemah while at sea? Click here to read about some of Kemah’s animal encounters while on board

Or, click here to jump back to the Kemah’s Korner homepage.

Chow Time: What does Kemah eat?

Ribs! Every day!

Just kidding.

He very rarely eats table-food.

rib night on S/V Mother Jones, K was so excited he turned into a warthog

Rib night on S/V Mother Jones: K was so confused by this rare treat he carried it around for a while before chowing down. Don’t you think he makes a great warthog?

He used to eat store-bought food (which is available everywhere – Islanders have dogs, too, y’all!).

But, then, a year into cruising with his diet changing from port to port, he started to display signs of a chronic allergy.


scabby skin and molting hair turned Mr. K into a little leopard

After months of antibiotics and careful environmental controls, we started making his dog food on board. Guess what happened after we switched his diet: no more infections. Our pup gets the following mix made every three days for twice-daily servings:

  • 1 ounce of olive oil
  • 2 cups of rice
  • 15 ounces (1 can) of beans
  • 15 ounces (1 can) of veggies (we don’t do corn, but we’ve used sweet potato, carrots, mixed, etc)
  • 9 ounces of protein (tuna, chicken, sardines, and once a bunch of leftover mahi mahi)
  • **8/2013 update**: we’ve since added this multivitamin supplement to ensure he gets the amino acids and minerals he needs. Our dog takes vitamins, y’all!

I received a word of caution to rinse as much canned ingredients as possible to remove sodium; we do this as we can.

K’s review of his new food is obvious as he starts sniffing the air longingly as soon as the rice starts to boil – this dog is weird, y’all!

everybody on MJ loves fish!

We’ve also taken to giving K a can of sardines every week so he can get those good fish oils for his skin and hair.

Since starting his new diet in May of 2013, we’ve experimented with recipes and portion size. We originally used more rice than we now know to use (we still use the same amount in the recipe, but we added more veggies & protein to the mix). Also, at first we were only giving him about a two cups of his new food during his morning and evening meals. This proved too little as his #2s looked like tiny, little rabbit droppings and he began to drop weight quickly (from switching from McDonald’s to a clean-burning diet). Now, we up his meal portions and his, err, other portions have responded reciprocally.

Also, while we visited in Austin this August, we took the opportunity to discuss K’s new diet with his awesome vet. She gave us a stamp of approval for our home-made regimen, but also recommended we add a multi-vitamin supplement when we were able. In other words, K will do just fine in far-flung ports of call with his basic diet. But, given we have the opportunity to ensure he gets all the essential vitamins, minerals & amino acids he needs, we choose to take advantage of our access to awesome products (while not in far-flung ports of call).

Luckily, one visit with Trevor at his Healthy Pet store and we were all set up! Trevor totally understood our needs and even offered to mail his awesome products (these multi-vitamin & glucosamine chews) to any far-flung ports of call we might be in! Amazing!


Trevor also hooked K up with this antler, which he LOVES! (and which cleans his teeth!)

Click here to jump to the next section: Shore leave? Limited freedom? (for us & him)

Or, click here to jump back to the Kemah’s Korner homepage.

Kemah + his swim step = BFF: Building a boarding ladder for your salty dog

Kemah loves to swim. He LOVES it. He has turned into the “sea pig”.

As soon as I put my suit on, he starts to whine and bark and dance around for the moment he gets* to go in the water.

*This is super important: Kemah has to wait to get in the water. We’ve experienced boaters who have real problems controlling their dog’s interest in the water. More than just being a nuisance, some of these dogs drown in high seas or get injured in anchorages by other boaters or local dogs. In case you needed another reason to control your pet, you might consider heeding this warning.

Riiiiiiiight. So back to swimming (safely).

As we’ve mentioned, one of the things we considered when buying the boat was how Kemah could get on and off, both for our comfort and also for his safety. While Mother Jones does have awesome swim-steps, it requires a ladder to get from the water to the swim-steps, then into the cockpit. And, here comes the issue: Kemah can’t climb a ladder. I know some dogs do have this skill, he just never picked it up.

Luckily, when shopping for Mother Jones, one of the Geminis we looked at had a boxer/pit mix living on board. We asked the owner about his strategy for getting her from the water to the boat and he suggested a we build K his own swim-step. So, we did.

In contrast to the plethora of expensive, cumbersome “solutions” being sold in the interwebs, we followed this fellow boater’s advice and made a basic step out of simple products we found at Home Depot for less than $50.

Kemah was nervous to use it at first:


But, soon enough his swim-step became his BFF:

It’s even been a go-to safety device for the time he fell overboard: we were an anchor and we both fell overboard; it was after a Sunday at Rana Azul (’nuff said).

When we’re at anchor, his swim-step hangs off the port swim-step full time. When we’re underway, it’s stowed on the side of the boat along the lifeline. The mat does accumulate sea growth, like the bottom of the boat, but a few days out of the water in the sunshine and fresh air, all the growth dies off – you can scrub it, too, but ewwwww.

Interested in making a swim-step for your dog? Do it!

Your pup (and your back) will thank you a million times over for it.

Here’s how we made ours:


  • PVC cement
  • 3 pieces of 3” PVC with elbows and caps
  • 1 anti-slip mat with holes (like the kind bartenders use behind the bar, 20′ of line (3/8-1/2”) for the step
  • additional line for securing to the boat


  1. Glue the PVC at the joints into a ‘U’ shaped-frame
  2. Place the U over the mat and cut the mat down to a square (the mat should extend to the outer edge of the PVC)
  3. To secure the mat to the PVC frame, thread line through the holes in the mat and over the PVC arms all the way down the frame
  4. Secure the swim-step to your boat (we have a three-point tie: two from the back of the frame to the boat, one from the inside U point to the davits above so K can hang out on a suspended swim-step)

Kemah sure does work up an appetite with all the swimming! Click here to jump to the next section: Chow Time: What does Kemah eat?

Or, click here to jump back to the Kemah’s Korner homepage.

The Poop Deck: Potty-training at sea

One of the common questions we get about having a dog on board is “Where does he, uh, go?”.

The answer is simple: on the boat!

the “poop deck” being used for #1.  (note our fancy flushing system at left aka a bucket we use to wash it off )

We are very lucky that Kemah took to it super fast: within the first few minutes of being on board, on the bow, K lifted his leg right on the anchor chain. It was awesome!

Part of our “luck” may have been that the anchor chain smelled like the mucky-canal we were docked in. But, more likely our “luck” was a result of years of impatience for Kemah’s needs to go “outside”. Basically, since he was a puppy, on walks or even in our backyard he was told to “do your business”, then rewarded for a quick job-well-done. When we moved into our in-between-house-and-boat-garage-apartment with a shared yard, he got well-versed in this routine and it has paid off well.

But, that was just #1. What about #2?

We’re happy to report it’s the same answer: he goes on the bow. But, it took a few days. Don’t worry! K “went” the first few days of life aboard. But, he waited us out for shore leaves, which were readily available from the dock as we provisioned Mother Jones for our extended cruise.

Pre-cruise, we learned other sailors prepare for potty-training on board with carpets, mats, puppy pads and more. Some even follow their dogs around, waiting for them to do their “business”, then shoving a potty place under their dog mid-stream to scent it up. Just to be on the safe-side we had a mat and puppy pads on board, but after a few days on the water – with no other option – K adjusted to christening the poop deck and using it on the reg.

Now, whenever we’re not underway and he has the urge, it’s totally usual for K to take himself “out”. His telltale overhead scramble, like a giant gerbil on a fiberglass roof, alerts us to needing to wash the deck off with a handy bucket of seawater kept nearby lest the fresh sea breeze coming in through the salon hatches turn . . . not so fresh.

When we are underway, K’s needs are more deliberately tended to: twice a day, at dawn and dusk in the calmest conditions, we walk him carefully up to the bow. By “carefully” we mean K is tethered from his Ruffwear lifejacket to the harness of whichever one of us is on doo-ty, and in turn, our harness is tethered to a jack line (a safety line running the length of the boat). This whole process takes less than 5 minutes – although K often stalls using this potty break to search for dolphins riding our bow.

Click here to jump to the next section: Kemah + his swim platform = BFF: Building a boarding ladder for your salty dog

Or, click here to jump back to the Kemah’s Korner homepage.

Kaptain Kemah to the Rescue: our Chief Security Officer

We are not joking when we say that Kemah is our “Chief Security Officer”.

More than being a “pit bull” or a big dog, Kemah makes noise – and just like home security on land, opportunistic criminals choose a path of least resistance when assessing targets. In other words, between the boat with the barking dog and the other one without, the “bad guys” mostly go for the boat sans barking pit bull.

Having K on board, as our Chief Security Officer, has been awesome in the sense that we never worry about someone boarding us at night or when we’re away from the boat. It was why, when I was single-handing in Panama I felt comfortable, even though a very serious security breach had recently occurred in the anchorage.

On a much lighter note, we discovered that there is a bit of kryptonite in K’s armor: the sound of a Yamaha 15hp, 2-stroke outboard. Ya see, that’s what we have. So, he thinks everyone with one is us, returning home, to give him pets and cuddles. (shhhh, don’t tell the thieves!)

Similarly, K has recognized our habits and now associates my casual, clearly-oft-used greeting of ”Heee-eyyy” as a kind of boat door-bell beckoning him from his slumber on the softest cushion and sending him bounding into the cockpit where he barks until he whines upon seeing our latest visitors.

Click here to jump to the next, most-asked-about, section: The Poop Deck: Potty-training at sea.

Or, click here to jump back to the Kemah’s Korner homepage.

Adjusting to life aboard: Old dogs can learn new tricks

Kemah moved aboard Mother Jones with us in 2011 – when he was 8 years old.

Before that, he had always lived in a house, with a big, fenced yard – to play and to poop in.   “How would he adjust to life onboard?” we wondered.

Luckily, Kemah is an active, inquisitive dog and had joined us in a lot of outdoor activities in the past. Surely, his flexibility would prove helpful in this new area, right?

Well . . . Kemah tends to meet new experiences with suspicion – and the boat was no different.

His first-ever experience with a boat was shortly before this picture was taken on Matagorda Island on a mini-vacay (our last vacay before our 2011 life-altering sabbatical). 07-DSC01586 The boat was a flat-bottomed-bay boat and he was not at all excited to step onto a moving platform and then hear a monster (aka the engine) growling beneath him. He yelped and squealed the entire 25 minute ride out to the Island. Because pitbulls are so tough.

HOWEVER, even though he thought the water tasted gross, he found the sand of the Island to be super fun to run in, the sandpipers fun to chase and when it was time to get back on the boat a few days later, he jumped at the chance for the sea breeze to fill his ears like little furry sails.

O-kay . . . we were hoping he might remember this experience when we moved aboard Mother Jones. After all, it had been two years (that’s a decade and a half for him) since he stepped aboard. And, so much change had recently occurred: we had moved him from our old house to a friend’s 200 sq. ft. garage-apartment; then to 3 days of moving across the country from Texas to Florida; then onto a boat. I think for quite a while, everywhere we bedded down for the night, he was wondering “is this where we live now?”.

When we moved aboard, we made sure to take our time walking him around the boat. We pointed out the boundaries with a stern “NO”s at the edges, etc. At first, he was really not keen on the idea of jumping from land to a weird, moving thing on the water. But, within the first day or so, he found out there were pillows on board and he was sold!


K’s first day aboard: “There’re pillows here! I think we can work this out”

Just like us, Kemah went to work transitioning from landlubber to live-aboard. He seemed to have a lot of success drawing upon a particular skill he spent years honing on land (seeking the most comfortable napping solution)

and applied that skills to his new life at sea

Speaking of re-purposing old skills in a new environment, K also went to work picking up the slack on some odd jobs. From his old land-lubbing life:

to new jobs on the water:

Did you notice those last pics? They are for sea-rious. Really. Read more about our Chief Security Officer by clicking here.