Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Little House in the Marina: A Boat Load of Space

Ruminating upon personal space and community lately, as I have been
reading Little House on a Small Planet.
Sitting in this small home we have made, looking out at the clouds and the signs of wind or absence of it, listening to the rigging of neighboring boats, I feel enlarged not cramped. My abode is as big as I want it to be: our boat, the marina, our small town, the entire peninsula . . .

We watch our neighbors come and go. The delicate etiquette of the marina provides for privacy and community both. People wave as they go by if they are feeling gregarious, or keep their heads down if they want privacy or need to get somewhere. Rick has remarked more than once that we are many times more social here than we were in Miami, and comfortably so. It is so easy to welcome others into our home, perhaps because there is less physically separating us from them. It could be because we all share a way of life, but I think that's not entirely so, as we have entertained landlubbers as well, with almost as much ease (there is less spontaneity, as we have to invite them into our world).

Despite our heightened social activity, our small personal spaces are womb-like, protective. We feel snug and serene in a cabin the size of many "normal" bathrooms, in a way one never does in the yawning rooms of modern insta-mansions. It might be hard to fathom if you have never experienced the comfort of an enveloping "hobbit hole", or gnome-hole, as my girls call their cabin, but a small space has a way of wrapping around you like a shawl, providing just the right amount of security.

Some say that finding this ease is a matter of developing one's interior space, of becoming mentally calm and oriented. With the richness of an inner life, it is easier to take or leave the physical stuff we tend to accumulate. This is definitely an ongoing process, not a goal to be attained at once--or ever. It is something to practice daily, finding the interior which is so huge that it frees us from attachments to things and outcomes.

My sweetheart and I have conversations about the stuff. We got rid of a lot of it before moving, but it seems we kept quite a bit as well. We have tools, things we use (clothes and kitchen items fit here as well). We have books, which are mostly tools, but some are entertainment. We have artifacts, for pleasure, for memories. Some things are all about potential: art supplies, fabric, things that "might" prove useful.

Where do we draw the line? I gave away so much fabric, buttons, art supplies, but still have much left--it is in storage. The storage dilemma caused an argument last weekend. If everything is crammed into the storage, it is essentially unusable--because you can't find anything when you need it. So you might as well get rid of it. Or organize it, which may call for a bigger space. And, is that what we want? How will we use it? Will it just amass more stuff? Or can it be a complement to our lifestyle, allowing us to keep the boat relatively uncluttered, while still being able to use the snowshoes when we like?

And that brings me back to community: part of what we are able to do by keeping a small home profile is to utilize our larger surroundings for Living. Instead of pacifying ourselves in a home theater or exercise room, we can and must get out: biking, playing on Hollywood Beach, snowshoeing, exploring tidepools, just walking around town. Or we have people in, and create community here.

Here, we are together more than we are apart. Rick "comes home" from his sailboat office for a snack, for lunch, and finishes work at 3:30. We work together on fixing and maintaining our home. We rise and sleep more in rhythm with the sun. We all have the freedom to come and go, but we tend to do that together or in pairs, preferring each others company over absolute solitude.

Maybe I was always meant to live this way. I grew up in an enormous apartment in a tall building in New York City. I gave my parents fits because I was prone to hiding and really did not want to be found. I would hide behind or under furniture or in my walk-in closet. My favorite spaces for playing were the tiny maids' rooms (the building was built in 1926 and we had 3 rooms intended for live-in help) or my card-table play house, a screen-printed fabric tent that showed an idyllic country cottage with green shutters and white picket fence. The opulence that surrounded me was unfathomably large to a tiny girl, a place of adult parties or enormous silence when my father was at work and my mother off shopping. I used to fill it bouncing a rubber ball against the walls of the foyer, or roller skating down the long hallway. I had all the privacy I ever wanted, but no community.

As I write, the kids are working on projects in the salon--the space that is part library, part dining and living room, part galley (kitchen). They are singing Irish drinking songs taught to them by Captain Gary over many nights of cozy dinners in our snug space that is truly a "family" room. They called me in to see the Maritime Maid, a neighbor on the pier pull out of it's slip on the way to the fuel dock.

We are both in our space and of the larger world around us, and it is effortlessly fluid.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fermenting and End of the Microwave

Now that we are settling in on our boat-as-home I want to share some of the ways I will be making real food here. At first glance, it might seem that I am operating under some disadvantages on the boat: our galley is small by kitchen standards (though quite spacious compared to other boats), my equipment is necessarily limited, and it can be quite cool here (no insulation and we are in the Pacific Northwest) which can make fermenting tricky. Over time I will share tips and strategies that I believe are making me more creative and resourceful as a cook, things that are applicable anywhere and might especially help any of us who have small spaces or limited resources.

Today, for Real Food Wednesdays (hosted this weed by Ann Marie at Cheeseslave), I want to show you what I am doing about fermenting--and what happened to the microwave.

When we took possession of Whale Song last summer it was the repository of kitschy nautical clutter, conventional cleaning supplies and scented candles, disposable and plastic kitchenware and a huge microwave. In the first 24 hours I managed to basically de-clutter, but that microwave remained, mocking me, who stands for things authentic, not rushed and nuked into submission. It was installed in a such way that removing it seemed more of a project than I had time for on a vacation, so I made myself forget about it until our return last month. Instead, we used it as a cabinet for tea.

As we were moving in and I was looking for places to put everything I might need to live, not just camp on vacation, I decided to rip the thing out. As a storage cabinet, it was a huge waste of space--not something one needs on a boat, or anywhere really. After wrestling with molding and screws and the sheer size of the hulking contraption, I followed the cord and discovered that there is an outlet in this new cabinet above the fridge that I had excavated. Hmm. Power in a large storage space? A seed was planted . . .

After a couple of weeks here my kimchi and water kefir schlepped from Miami had run out. I had gone through a huge jar of pickled turnips, a gift from Joy, my neighbor on the pier. I had bought some kimchi from the Korean woman at the farmer's market, and while it was good, it wasn't as tart as I like. It was high time for me to put up some ferments. I gathered some makings for sauerkraut and kombucha and got going. But where would I put these things to ripen? Last summer I had jars arrayed across the helm--a passable solution, but now Sammy is using this as a home for her dollhouse.

The gaping hole above the fridge called out. I put a wire shelf in it to accommodate small jars and installed the kraut (topped by stones from the mouth of the Elwha River) and my huge vat of kombucha. It was warmish (from the fridge) but would it be enough in this cool climate, next to the external wall of the boat? At least the helm in summer got sunlight during the day. Joy suggested a heat lamp for the space, plugged into that convenient outlet. My husband pointed out that there are bulb sockets that plug in, to be had for pennies at the hardware store, so off I went to
Swain's, which Has Everything. And yes, they had such an outlet, for a mere $1.38. The bare bulb threw off a lot of heat: I was in business!

I have since added a thick curtain made from scraps to keep the heat in and a thermometer to gauge the temperature--it has been quite warm, in the 80's F, so I may have to use a bulb of lesser wattage. And my ferments are SO happy! The kombucha has a healthy new mama growing (last summer it took weeks to do anything) and the sauerkraut, purple cabbage flavored with cumin and mustard seeds, may be the best I have made. In addition, I have made beet kvass (sparkly!) and spicy mint chutney (from Nourishing Traditions).

I am so excited to try new ideas for ferments now that I have a perfect setup--maybe even better than what I had in Miami. I can opt for slow, cool, fermentation, or I can add more warmth for those things that are craving it. And with the incredible offerings at our farmer's market, I know there will be plenty of material.

Join me in Happy Fermenting (and now we all have incentive to get rid of the microwave!)

Monday, May 4, 2009

So There We Were: A Sea Story

Well, if you knew the content of the many blog posts I have written out in my head over these last weeks, you would not be wondering at all what I have been up to. Seeing as I have not actually committed these words to cyberspace yet, I can understand your wondering. I truly appreciate your patience in the face of such silence. And so you are wondering still-- therefore I owe you the first of many descriptions of what has been happening and where we are now.

The story begins, according to Cap'n Gary, "So there we were . . . and then," as any good sea tale ought. So There We Were, in St. Louis, packing our things for a morning departure, kissing our grand-baby goodbye, And Then: Rick's phone rings. It's Port Security, in Port Angeles. We have a leak in our boat. After Rick's heart nearly stops, Cap'n Gary commandeers the phone from the Security Guy and explains the situation fully: Never mind that we are slowly making our way across the country to live on her, never mind that there is not a thing we can do from Missouri. Whale Song is taking on water from a failed through-hull (one of many holes through the hull for things like propellers and water intake for flushing heads/toilets) and she needs to be fixed NOW. And Gary (our neighbor) needs to get to work, so we need to figure it out from here/there. He had already exercised his inner hero by discovering the leak at 6 am after the noise from our bilge pumps irritated him out of his last minutes of sleep.

Phone numbers were exchanged, calls made, permissions given, and Whale Song was in the boatyard by 11 am. She had all of her through hulls checked, the failed one repaired, and had a good cleaning and bottom painting for good measure. All of this while we traversed the land of Winter between Spring in St. Louis and Spring west of the Cascade Mountains. There are more tales there to be told, but that is for another day. The conclusion of this segment is that we arrived three days later to our floating cottage back in the water, as if nothing had happened.

And Then: we found that the 38 year old refrigerator had died. That is why our first day in Port Angeles was spent searching for that rare breed: an apartment-sized refrigerator. So we could, you know, put the food away. And get to unpacking everything else. After looking in six stores in two towns, we found one in the independent appliance shop practically in our backyard. Chalk one up for small town service. We navigated that fridge down the ramp in a dock cart (picture that!), over the rail of the boat (with some able-bodied assistance) and through the narrow spaces (removing doorknobs as we went). And it worked!

And all went well, as we unpacked, tore out the space-hogging settee and the 70's era carpeting. We had shelves built and new flooring put down. I painted everything rich browns and reds and yellows. We unpacked some more, shuttling between the storage locker and the dock. It was starting to feel like home, so we ventured to the farmer's market and indulged in all of the spring offerings--greens, wild and planted, root veggies from storage, oysters and halibut, orange-yolked eggs. We brought the bounty home to prepare a feast . . .

And Then: the 38 year old stove died. We went back to the appliance store and bought a range to fit the small space left by the old marine stove, wrestled it down the ramp in a dock cart and over the rail and into the galley. . . and, well, it didn't work. It was the wrong sort of power (220 vs. 110--why didn't we think to check?) Moreover, we couldn't find a 110 stove anywhere, even on the Internet, that would work for us. And you know how vital cooking is to me, to us. We bought a hot plate and thought about our predicament. We used Gary's stove--a brawny beast of a marine stove, fueled by propane. We debated propane and it's pros and cons--gas is great to cook with--I have been lamenting electric stoves for years-- but on a boat it can (due to it's heavier than air property) accumulate in the bilge and can (to quote Cap'n Gary yet again) cause the hull and the deck to forcibly part ways when ignited by a wayward spark, such as from the bilge pumps doing their job.

And so, of course, we decided upon propane--with a many layers of protection to make the setup viable from a continuing-to-live standpoint. But these things take time. The stove had to be ordered and converted from natural gas to propane. The tanks were purchased, hose fittings and connections created, housing for the whole assembly built. The solenoid that would serve as a fail-safe had to be ordered and mounted, power sourced and wired. We installed a propane detector in the bilge. All of this involved many kind people, paid and unpaid (the unpaid ones have been promised much roast turkey). All this work, and still no roast turkey. Weeks later, we are just now, maybe, going to use the stove tonight (I will let you know). It seems that we neglected to add one more fuel regulator into the system (who knew you needed two? We are learning so much with every project.) This may explain the lack of gas to the stove and the lack of food on the table (just kidding there--it's amazing what you can do with a hot plate . . . but it does explain the lack of baked goods).

And then, somewhere in there, one of our heads (toilets) died. No joke. Really. We learned a lot about "open-head" surgery (Gary's phrase, again). Rick replaced the macerator pump. Then it clogged and wouldn't flush one day when Rick was at work. It was my turn to do the dirty work. As the former owner said, since the hands that repair the head also make the salad, think twice about what you put in there--only that which has gone through your body should go into a head. Even so, there I was on my hands and knees, wedged into the tiny space, next to the rubbish bin filled with used toilet paper, taking instruction over the phone as to exactly which part I needed to dismantle. In the end, I figured it all out (it isn't the rocket science aspect that makes it a dreaded task) and got the head working better than ever. Did you know that a one-way valve/gasket on a head outflow pipe looks an awful lot like a a heart valve? Picture one of the three-part valves in black rubber and you're pretty close . . . interesting. Ok--I will cut the mental chatter out . . .

So, anyway. You'd think we'd had enough excitement in the span of three weeks to keep us yarning for years, but life, as always has a way of laughing at us when we come to such ridiculous conclusions.

We all know that Fairy Tales begin with "Once Upon a Time", and end with "They Lived Happily Ever After". Not so with a Sea Story. Sea Stories begin with "So There We Were" and end with "And Things Have Been Messed Up Ever Since . . ."

So. There We Were, unpacking, fixing, painting, eating, coping.

And Then: Sammy started coughing. And whooping. Oh yes. Cough-cough-cough-WHOOP. As in Whooping Cough. Pertussis. The Hundred Day Cough.

And we are coughing still . . .

Post Script: While all of the recorded events are indeed true (and we are coughing still) things are not messed up. We are having the time of our lives, loving the friends, the food, the weather. I will write more about the incredible food and resources we have had the privilege to enjoy, but appreciate my tale until then.
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