the adventures of a girl, her dog, and two cats.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


Being a hoarder and a liveaboard are not particularly congruent lifestyles. I've had a problem with hoarding for a long time. And I'm not just being facetious when I use that term. Anyone who saw my various homes before moving aboard can vouch for that. Why do I still have unopened mail that is a decade old? Why do I have every little random knick-knack or pair of spare shoe laces or two-year-old grocery store receipts? It's a sickness and it is unbelievably easy to get so buried in "stuff" that it seems impossible to dig out so you give up and learn to live among piles and stacks and towering clutter.

But I have been on a mission to get organized, clean up the boat, and downsize. I gave away beautiful, expensive shoes but it was very, very hard. I gave away six pairs of shoes in one fell swoop a few weeks ago. That's more pairs of shoes than a lot of guys even own. Along with them were sweaters, some running tops, and a cute sundress. Just an hour after taking the deep breathe and putting it all in a box marked "free" by the recycle bin at the marina, some friends dropped by for drinks. One of them said to me, "Hey, there's a whole bunch of great stuff someone gave away and I thought you would like it!" He proceeded to try to hand me back half the things I had just painfully let go. I yelled at him "Oh my God, what are you doing?! Get that stuff off the boat; it was soooo hard for me to let all that go, don't bring it back in here!" We got a good laugh out of that.

I think a lot of the saving every little thing is that I have never had any financial security in my life. Things are boom or bust, usually bust. Every year I am more broke than the last. So to toss out a sweater because I don't have space for it right now is as if I will never have another sweater. Many cruisers have plenty of money, even if they talk as if they don't. They eat out, they buy sails when they want them, and they don't worry about having enough money to do laundry. That is not my life. I can't buy a space heater for the season and then just toss it and buy a new one next year. Not only is that wildly wasteful, I simply can't count on having the money next winter to buy another $30 or $50 or $120 space heater. So I tend to hold onto every little thing lest I need it tomorrow or next week or next year.

I am definitely past the sentimentality of having things. They really are just things and getting rid of the things does not mean getting rid of the memories that went with them. But I still struggle with keeping things out of financial fear of not being able to replace them. I don't know that I will ever be able to cure myself of that. But I need to be free of all the clutter and unnecessary stuff. I keep reminding myself that having a peaceful, uncluttered environment will help me in my efforts to have a peaceful, uncluttered mind and spirit.

So, what's the impetus for this post right now? I need cash and could save myself $57 today (and each month going forward) by bugging out of my storage unit. So, I had to light a fire under my ass and make it happen.  Here's the time-lapse of the storage unit each day before I started sorting, tossing, and hauling on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. (Huge thanks to my dockmate Stan for letting me borrow his car to get this done!)

I bartered away my big printer/scanner/fax for lunch, dinner, and drinks. I donated nine pairs of designer shoes, a Litter Quitter, and a couple designer silk blouses to the local Lutheran Mission Society (don't even get me started on how Goodwill is evil and unworthy of your donations or business). Cardboard boxes were emptied, broken down, and put in recycling. Four big black garbage bags were filled and put in the trash. Below is Saturday, start and finish, and a shot of the ninja who apparently stole all my stuff. 

At the end there was a cardboard box with three Christmas ornaments, a set of mantel stocking hangers that spells "J-O-Y," and a spritz cookie gun. They will either be donated or given to my friend who is letting me store the last boxes in his basement. (Big thanks, Karl!) He also gets the laundry basket, the car clothes-hanger, and a beautiful mirror I kept telling myself I could find a way to mount in the boat.  That leaves me with an inflatable mattress, a box of CDs, a dinette cushion, a box of files and office supplies, and a box with an old-school film camera, diplomas, and all my running medals. That's it. Everything else I own is aboard. Well, my dodger frame is being stored by a friend and there is a box of all my photographs from childhood onward, but that is missing-in-action and may be gone forever. That would be a shame, but not much I can do about it. (Fingers crossed it's in the back of a closet at a friend's house but he said the closet is too packed with stuff to see.)

As for the boat, I have been making a bit of progress. I think a week ago was the first time a couple of my friends came for dinner and were actually able to sit and eat at the newly uncluttered dinette table. I had gotten down to a short-list of more manageable organizing projects I planned to tackle day by day: nav station (a biggie), bookshelves, clean the head and better organize toiletries, organize and stow the huge bag of clean clothes. Unfortunately, I just added two boxes and five shopping bags of stuff to the mix from the storage unit. Sigh. Just over a week before I start training for the new job so every day will have to be productive. I was getting used to my new de-cluttered living space and I cannot go back to what it was like before.

I still have my work cut out for me getting things organized aboard, and my boat will never be austere and empty because it is my home, but being out of the storage unit is a huge relief. And in our hyper-materialistic society, declaring my independence from all those things is a defiant and revolutionary act of freedom. Nothing is left to tie me down.

Monday, January 26, 2015

counting the days

Almost three weeks after Hunter's surgery, he's healing up nicely and seems to be doing well. I started him on a daily "calming treat" with L-Theanine, the compound in green tea that is relaxing and also an ingredient in my melatonin sleeping pill. I'm hoping it will help him relax and not lick that bald patch on his back. The fur actually does seem to be growing back some. The vet didn't really think he'd let them take his stitches out, based on what a terror he was the day of the surgery. But last Thursday I gave him a little morphine cocktail to take the edge off and with me there telling him how brave he was, one tech holding his scruff and legs, and another carefully cutting the sutures, they got them all out without a single hiss. So, now it's just a wait-and-see on whether the cancer is still lingering there and flares back up.

I've been making some progress aboard on interior organizing--and even found the duffel that I searched high and low for the night before I left for the Cooks last summer--but never quite as much progress as I feel I "ought" to be making. When the days are cloudy or rainy I don't want to do much but curl up and vegetate in front of the television. I'm trying to replace that with reading. An interview on a new-to-me podcast I started listening to, The School of Greatness, suggested having a "screen curfew" (yep, smart phone, iPad, and TV) of 8pm if you want to get to sleep at 10pm, and a "caffeine curfew" of 2pm for a 10pm bedtime. Not easy, but I'm trying. I don't usually drink coffee in the afternoon, but the green tea tends to flow all day so now I'm overdosing on the one herbal tea I have right now. Can't wait to have some moolah and stock up on rooibos at Capital Teas.

Of course I've been applying for jobs day in and day out, walking around town handing out résumés at restaurants and applying online for various legal and other "professional" gigs. As usual, I've hardly had any nibbles. But miracle of miracles I went to open interviews for a restaurant slated to open late next month and within a couple hours of my interview they offered me a full-time bartending position. If I make the cut through training and all goes well, I would be able to get benefits after a few months. I'm excited to have a job on the horizon, to be part of something new, and to be behind the bar. Now I'm counting the starts in two weeks, and it will likely be another two weeks before making any tips.

While I'm grateful to have the job, I am sad that it means I won't be able to cast off the lines in April and sail away. But all I can do right now is take things day by day to try to get on my feet. Batteries and solar panels are at the top of the "to do" list, but I also have to save enough for fuel and dockage while I head down the ditch and there are myriad other projects, large and small, that I need to tackle aboard. Right now I have a whopping $14, (unless I can save myself $57 and get out of my storage unit by Saturday), but bills are paid until about a month from now and I've probably got enough food aboard to get by, even if it eventually means eating pancakes three meals a day. I've done it before and I'll find a way to pull through. (Fingers crossed my last jewelry that's worth anything sells on consignment quickly and nets me some decent coin.)

I am certainly tired of just surviving instead of thriving, but life has its ups and downs and I just have to ride the wave back up. Actually, that sounds far too passive. Some people just let life happen to them and others act upon the world. I'm definitely in the latter camp. But sometimes knowing how to tuck your head and fall safely is critical to being able to get back up and dust yourself off. Anyway, despite all the crap life has thrown my way lately and being broke, I'm not broken. I'm building my running mileage back up, 20 miles week before last, 23 last week, targeting 25 this week, and then 28 the next. Once I'm back to a solid 30 miles a week my energy will be up and my figure will slim down and I'll be feeling better all-around. I'm working on some freelance writing that won't pay much but will be something and help me build my portfolio. I'm trying to get focused on some bigger writing projects, as I've had a couple of book ideas swirling around for years but never forced myself to sit down and focus. If I'm going to tend bar to cover the nut, then I need to be focusing on moving other projects forward for the long term, like finding ways to support myself through writing and support myself working remotely. I do not want to live my life in one place or tied to the dock. I ordered the passport with extra visa pages for a reason--I want to fill it before it expires.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

trying to beat the odds

I'm not going to sugar-coat it for all the dreamers: winter aboard really does suck. Low tides. Precarious climbing on and off the boat. The poor dog trying to get on and off without falling in or breaking a leg. I don't mind the cold as far as comfort goes. I can always bundle up and I manage to keep it between 55 and 65 degrees inside with the space heaters. But the water line froze up between the tank and the pump. I had bought some foam for insulating the line but hadn't managed to climb down into the engine room to do it before it froze. So I had to wait for it to thaw. (And fill bottles of water in the bathhouse in the interim.) I aimed a 60 watt halogen bulb as far aft toward the line as I could; yes, I duct-taped a work light to a pink and black umbrella, don't laugh too hard. I've been running a space heater part-time aimed into the engine room. It finally thawed... and then froze again. Between freezes I did manage to climb down and put foam on the line but realized once I was down there that the line I was seeing was actually the one from the pump to the sinks, which wasn't frozen. I insulated that line, which I could reach, and then traced my way to find the culprit section. Naturally that segment is smushed between the batteries and the hull and I could barely reach any portion of it. I wrapped as much as I could, which was not much, but when the old batteries come out for replacement I will have to use that opportunity to squiggle down there and fully insulate that hose.  

Anyway, spring is easy. Anyone can live on a boat in the spring or the fall. It's the heat of summer and frigid, windy winters that test us. Most liveaboards don't last much past the first year, so I've already beat those odds. I know I'm in for the long haul and can handle whatever life throws at me, but if you're someone who heats their house to 75 degrees in the winter, you better head south if you ever live on a boat because winter aboard is cold, inconvenient, and frustrating. If you don't already curse like a sailor, it will inspire you to. But it's a good excuse for hot buttered rum or some peppermint schnapps in your cocoa. 

Hunter had his ear surgery six days ago. (Before and after photos that might bother the particularly squeamish are tucked away at the very bottom of this post, so don't scroll too far if you are feint of heart or having dinner. I'll put a warning before they appear).

A huge thanks to Annapolis Cat Hospital for fitting Hunter in a week early and taking such good care of my little guy even though he was apparently a terror to them. It was a pretty rough surgery and because the wound was oozing and bleeding, they had him stay overnight. When I picked him up the following day, I had to take him out of the cage because the tech didn't think Hunter would let him pick him up. Of course he let me pick him up and put him in his carrier and hasn't even fussed much when I'm putting on or taking off his Elizabethan collar. But he's a mama's kitty. It's really messy if he tries to eat with the collar on, so I've taken pity on him and given him some breaks from it when I can keep an eye on him to make sure he's not scratching at his ear or pulling any of the stitches. I kept him pretty well stoned on morphine for the first few days home. Gratefully I just had to shoot a small amount of the liquid into his mouth and it absorbs through his gums. Pup dog went to a friend's for the week since it would be almost impossible to put the litter box somewhere the cat can get to it with his e-collar on but that the dog couldn't get to it to raid it. It's sad/funny to watch Hunter trying to walk around with the e-collar on because it bumps into everything and he sometimes has fits where he bucks like a bronco trying to shake the thing off his head. Oh, the humiliation.

The bad news, though not unexpected, came today. The tumor was a malignant soft tissue sarcoma. Many such sarcomas in cats are related to vaccinations and appear at the injection site. Since this one is not vaccine-induced, it makes it difficult to sort out information online in trying to research it. The vet spoke with both the pathologist who analyzed the biopsy and with an oncologist. The good news is that we had a clean margin around the tumor. Unfortunately, that margin is only 2mm instead of the preferred 2cm. The location of the tumor at base of his ear made it impossible to obtain large margins around the tumor. Also unfortunate is that sarcomas tend to send out "tendrils," so any tendrils that went out are likely still there and the tumor has a substantial likelihood of recurring in a few months. More radical surgery is not much of an option because his eye and brain are right there. Radiation is the preferred next step, but I would have to drive quite a ways to Gaithersburg for such treatments and he would have to be under general anethesia. And, of course, radiation therapy would easily be several thousand dollars. Even if I had the money, however, I think the physical and mental stress that treatment would put on Hunter may do more harm than good. I wish he would live forever. He's one of my best friends and kept me going through very dark days. But I will not torture him with medical treatments, or prolong his suffering, just to delay my grief. I made that clear to the vet and I know that I'll likely have to have a discussion with her about palliative care if the tumor returns and he's in pain. Through it all he has been incredibly brave and his favorite place to be is still right on my lap, purring away. And with hope he will beat the odds.

Of course, I've been out of work since December 17. The total cost for the cat's surgery came to $981.50 (plus another $15 for the collar) and $775 for the dog's. I definitely don't have the money right now to pay for the vet to remove the cat's stitches, so they'll either take a few months to dissolve or I may have to figure out how to remove them myself. They let me leave a post-dated check for the 29th for the $401.75 balance for the cat's surgery, but that leaves me with just $60 to my name after paying the rest of the bills due this month, and in the hole $133 for paying the bills due on the 1st. (If anyone wants to donate towards Hunter's vet bill, feel free to call Annapolis Cat Hospital at 410-268-2287, no amount is too small, any amount is deeply appreciated, and you can remain anonymous to me if you so desire.)  

If I can get everything out of my storage unit I could save $57 a month so I'll probably have to figure out a way to make that happen in the next two weeks. I've been applying online for jobs as well as hoofing it around trying to find restaurant work. The challenge there is that if you show up any time other than between 2:00PM and 4:00PM Monday through Wednesday or Thursday, the odds are good they will just toss your résumé for not coming at the deadest time; I get it, but it adds an extra logistical challenge. And of course it is winter, so many of the restaurants are slow and people are fighting for shifts, so not many spots are in hiring mode at all. Fingers crossed something shakes out very, very soon. But, hey, I need to go on a radical diet to lose that last 15 pounds anyway!

As I think most of my readers know by now, I'm not about sugar-coating my life or the liveaboard lifestyle. It is the right thing for me, but it's not all palm trees and fruity rum drinks and it is especially challenging with pets. Having pets aboard is something I had to do in my particular circumstances. I made a commitment to my pets for their lifetimes and I have sacrificed many opportunities so that I can keep them and keep them all together. The opportunity for me to buy a boat came along and because of my very challenging and unstable financial situation, I had to seize that opportunity and move aboard and have a home of my own. It was the right thing for me, but my pack didn't get a vote in the matter and it probably wasn't the best thing for them. I know there are readers who will be miffed at my saying this, but, honestly, I truly don't recommend having pets aboard. I'm not casting judgment or trying to make anyone feel guilty, but unless you absolutely cannot put off moving aboard until your pets have passed on, it simply adds an extra layer of strain to a lifestyle that isn't exactly easy for human, canine, or feline. I admit that perhaps down the line I will have a boat cat again to take care of rodents and provide a little companionship, but I would get a kitten who never knows anything but boat life and has sea legs from the beginning.

Pup dog hates the boat. Or at least hates getting on and off and getting inside and out. I think she was equally bored hanging out in a house all day as she is hanging out on a boat all day, and her preference would be if I could stay home and play with her, go swimming, go hiking, and just be together all the time. (As one friend told me "Having a dog is like having a three-year-old that never, ever grows up.") Unfortunately, the kibble doesn't just magically appear and I have to work. We haven't even tackled the utter hell that will be trying to get her in and out of a dinghy to go ashore for potty breaks when I head south or if I end up living on a mooring ball or on the hook since I probably can't afford marinas anymore. That will take our shared misery to a whole new level. As much as it would break my heart to let her go, if I had a friend with a farm where pup would be loved in abundance and could run around all day and then snuggle up by a fireplace, I would probably let her move ashore because it would be a happier life for her.

I think my cats do love being in the boat while docked since it is full of interesting little napping spaces. And they enjoy sunning on the decks, smelling smells, and hunting marina mice. And since cats hate change, when we move, all their stuff goes with them and stays in the same place, so that puts less stress on them than moving from house to house did. But they hate the boat in motion. Max lays down and just has the most pathetic queasy, terrified expression. Hunter pukes exorcist-style even for a mild motoring trip from one creek to another around the Eastport peninsula, and for longer, bouncier rides he really loses it.

When you have pets aboard is that really what is best for them, or just what is best for their human? I hate to say it, but I think it's the latter. I know a lot of people have pets aboard, and I don't doubt that they are loved and better off than in a shelter, but it definitely makes cruising more difficult and costly. Many islands are rabies-free and simply no-go zones without very lengthy quarantines. Even in countries where pets are allowed to enter, there are often complicated hoops of paperwork and veterinary certifications and fees to jump through. If you have a purse dog it is certainly easier than if you have a breed than isn't easily carried aboard. And other than the sizable footprint a litter box takes up, cats are simpler and don't ever actually need to leave the boat for anything other than vet visits. 

As with most things, folks tend to remember the easy parts and get amnesia about the hard stuff. Anyone can live on a boat in April. Springtime is a cake walk. But in a place like Annapolis, the cold of winter and sweltering heat of summer last a lot longer than the mild, easy days of spring and fall. Sure, if you have a dog that weighs less than 30 pounds you can just lift it on and off by hand. If you have a younger dog who can jump on and off, it all may seem simple. Until the dog gets old and arthritic or has an injury and isn't allowed to run, or jump, or climb stairs. Then, getting a 60-pound dog three feet from point A to point B may take hours, and tears, and risk life and limb. (It took all of those last week and I think pup and I were both at our wits' end.) No one wants to think about or tell anyone about those days. So that's why I'm saying it. Just go in with your eyes open. And if you're doing a better job of having pets aboard than I am, I envy and applaud you, because it is not easy.

OK, here's a photo of my beautiful boy Hunter with big green eyes and enormous scooper ears. If you keep going past that forewarned. I don't think the photos are overly gross but if you can't handle seeing stitches and such, you may want to stop here.