My parents are here and took the boys down to Charleston for a few days. They all had a great time and I was able to get some final work projects (reading a dissertation) and some paperwork done. After a number of delays, the engine was put in a few days before Christmas (Santa’s gift to us – well, that and not bringing the boys a real dog). Matt has been working with the mechanic to hook everything back up to it. They tested it Friday afternoon and it sounded pretty good. On Saturday, they took the boat out. It was running a little hot and making some noises neither of them liked. Hence, the work continues. Regardless of when it’s ready, we need to be out of this luxurious condo by the end of December. I told Matt that if the engine is not ready, at least all of the major work is done and we’ll just move back on the boat (we did break down and buy a small space heater to add some warmth while they were working on the boat). If I need to keep the boys off the boat during the day, we can figure out things to do. Matt’s back has been really bothering him so it will be nice when all the heavy work is done. We would like to be moving again before 2014 – if only for the symbolism!
Christmas was wonderful. My parents came down and the boys had a great day. The trick to keeping the Santa myth going (beyond taking your children out of school where they can’t hear false rumors about his existence – or lack thereof) is consistency. The gifts from Santa need to be wrapped in different paper than the gifts from family; the gift tags need to look as though they were written by an arthritic, over-worked old man with very cold fingers. There needs to be a note from Santa explaining why, although he had considered it, this was just not the year to deliver a real live puppy dressed in an elf outfit (as they had requested in their letters to him). The carrots left out for the reindeer need to thoroughly gnawed, and most of Santa’s cookies need to be eaten. Of all our Christmas traditions, the only one I really missed this year was the Playmobil nativity set (complete with Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, animals, star angel, etc.). We would set it up a few weeks before Christmas and I would put the three wise men and their camels on the opposite side of the room. Miraculously, each night the wise men somehow journeyed a bit closer to the manger. The boys would race downstairs each morning to assess their progress. “Why,” Malachi asked suspiciously, “do we never see them travel during the day?” “Well,” I said, “the wise men don’t have very good eyesight. They can only go at night when they see the light from the star angel.” Rather than repeatedly asking when Christmas was, the boys knew that once the wise men reached the manger, it was here.
Matt spends every day on the boat working on some project (cleaning the bilge, pulling out wires, etc.). The boys and I occasionally stop by the marina to see how things are going. From there, we walk a ways to a playground and, if the boys are up to it, walk farther to a small beach beyond that. There is a bridge that leads over the water to the beach. One evening, we could see the moon on the east side of the water and the sunset to the west. It was such a gorgeous and contrasting sky.
Technically, we were supposed to be out of the condo on December 17th. It became clear that the engine would still not be in the boat by then so we were able to extend the apartment until the end of the month. I was thrilled! I wanted just a little more time on land and it was lovely to know where we would be for Christmas.
Since we expected to be on the boat, Matt’s sister had given us an 18” rosemary tree as our Christmas tree. She said a previous one had died due to overwatering. I think I went to the other extreme. I looked at it today and the tiny and overly decorated little thing is completely brown. I started thinking that, since we will be on land, maybe we could get a small tree and surprise the boys. Have you ever seen one of those Christmas scenes where the person is really late getting the tree and there is almost nothing left? Yes, well…, that was my experience. I went in and there were three neglected trees left. The person in charge said, “I’ll give you all three for $20.” Why, I wondered, would I possibly want three of them? I picked the smallest one because the store was out of tree stands and I’d need to figure out some way to prop it up (a small ceramic pot and some gravel did the job). It kind of looks like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree – very thin and scraggly. The boys were delirious with joy when they saw it. The whole thing is kind of hysterical.
Despite it being Friday the 13th, at the end of today Joshua said, “This was the best day ever!” (the great thing about children is how many ‘best’ days they have). We got up in the morning and went to the beach. When we left the house it was 37 degrees. It might have been 40 degrees when we got there. The boys wanted to take off their shoes and socks. Being the responsible parent I am, I responded, “Of course. Walking barefoot on freezing cold sand and putting your feet in freezing cold water is the only logical thing to do on a beach.” We all went barefoot and raced down the beach. Within an hour, Joshua was freezing. I held him for a while to try and warm him up but he, the boy who never gets cold, stayed cold. I gave him my jacket and we all walked back to the car.
That afternoon, the tiny local movie theatre (only open Fridays and Saturdays) was showing It’s a Wonderful Life. I have never seen the movie although it is a holiday classic (this fact comes up every year. Matt invariably mentions the movie, I say that I’ve never seen it, every year he then expresses great surprise about this fact and says I must see it. It’s our own little holiday tradition). It was a great movie. We went back to the apartment for dinner and then decided to go to Brookgreen Garden for their annual display of Nights of 1,000 Candles. We had not been yet but it is listed as one of the top 10 public gardens in the US. All I can say is that it was absolutely amazing – tens of thousands of lights hanging down from massive trees covered in Spanish moss, hundreds of candles in the recesses of brick walls, candles perched on tiny platforms every few feet across huge pools of water, candles in lanterns hanging down from huge archways. And, throughout the gardens, massive stone sculptures and smaller marble ones. The whole effect was astonishing – I could have walked around there all night. (Below is a daytime photo of the same place).
Ever since we got here and found out that there were alligators, I have been wanting to see one. I called a tour company about their ‘river safari’ but the cost was prohibitive with only four of us. I then called an animal sanctuary (SC-CARES) and arranged a tour. The safari tour guide then called me back, said he was the one who did the tours at SC-CARES, and that if we wanted to show up, he would bring a small alligator. I love it when things work out this way. The place was amazing – over 170 animals and they turn hundreds away for lack of funds. We saw deer, a cow, goats, horses, tortoises, parrots, wolves, a pot-bellied pig, dogs, owls, tons of birds, and flying squirrels. You name it, they’ve got them. The founder was so clear that this is her life’s mission – to provide comfort and care in animals’ last days. It is what drives her. I was so impressed by the clarity and sense of purpose she had that I wanted to give her money just for that. We gave double the suggested donation. She gave us a calendar with a quote by Edmond Burke “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” If you want to make someone’s day (yours and hers), the founder’s name is Cindy. The organization is SC-CARES (www.sc-cares.org), 236 Abbeville Drive, Georgetown, SC 29440.
Every year Matt draws a Christmas card that is somewhat reflective of our life that year. He is not into the ‘stuff’ side of Christmas so this is what puts him in the holiday spirit. The year I was pregnant, the card was of Joseph and a pregnant Mary on a donkey. When Malachi was born, it was of two snowpeople and a little snow baby with a Santa hat on it. When I asked him about this year, he remarked that all he could think about was the wise men and their long trek to Bethlehem. “It wasn’t all fun, you know” he said. He went on to say that it was a long haul for them and that people only see the fun part of the trip (i.e., presenting gifts to the baby Jesus), but not the more arduous parts of it. When our realtor heard about the engine and what we were doing he said, “It is an adventure you will never forget but you will certainly have to work for it.” He unwittingly gave me a much-needed pep talk and showed me a photo of himself in the Abacos islands surrounded by 12-inch starfish. I told Matt that maybe the card could be about what we are working towards. Below is his holiday card this year.
The mechanic estimated a week to put in the new engine. To be safe, I booked the apartment for two weeks. We need to be out Tuesday morning (12/17) because the realtor has other bookings. Although the mechanic has the engine, some of the parts don’t fit and need to be re-worked in a machine shop. In the meantime, Matt has been cleaning out the bilge and attacking the long to-do list of boat tasks. The weather has been beautiful – mostly in the 50’s and 60’s.
I touched base with the realtor again in the morning. He said the unit should be ready in the early afternoon and that he would call me. We checked out of the hotel in the morning so I just needed to keep the boys busy until we could get into the apartment. I decided to wait until noon before I called him again. Noon came and went with no contact. I re-set the deadline for 2 pm. Matt had been saying he was tired of eating out so I decided, as an act of faith, to go grocery shopping. There is a Fresh Market about 25 minutes away that has a big organic section. After dragging the boys through the store, we had a van full of groceries. The 2 pm deadline also came and went. A 2:30 pm phone call went unreturned. Now I was panicking a bit. We went back to the marina where I bought bags of ice to try and keep things cool. Finally, I decided I would just go down to the realtor’s office at 4:45 pm and, if necessary, beg. Thankfully, he was there and said that one of the showers wasn’t working well and they had been repairing it. We were in by 6 pm.
The first order of business was getting the food in the fridge. I opened the door, gasped, and yelled to Matt, “You have to see this!” “What?” he asked. “It has shelves … and drawers … wow, and even shelves in the door. And it has lights so you can see everything inside. And there’s a freezer and even one of those things that make water and ice! This is amazing!” I gushed. It’s just a standard fridge but I was in awe for at least three days (I mean, really, … cubed or crushed ice?). I swear that putting away groceries that night was a spiritual experience. The small washer/dryer, a full size stove with 4 working burners and a full size oven also seem incredible – as does the fact that there is heat and AC. It’s a 2 bedroom condo with a wrought-iron spiral staircase to the bedrooms on the 2nd floor and has 2.5 baths. It feels like a mansion. We can actually have the kids in bed and be downstairs with the lights on and talk in normal voices, rather than be crammed in our postage stamp-sized berth whispering to each other. As Matt said when he saw how beautiful the apartment was, “Maybe we are not cut out to live on a boat.” I don’t think this is true but I am definitely going to enjoy this comfortable interlude.