Archive for September 2012

Today Marks Ten Years of a Commercial Fishing Marriage

One morning twelve years ago, I drive into the Fred Wahl Marine Construction ship yard in Reedsport, Oregon, underneath an overcast sky that threatens rain. A storm is blowing in off the coast, and the blustering wind warns its impending arrival.

I am a young lady of 26, living in a new city away from home for the first time, and this is one of my first big assignments as a freelance writer. I’ve traveled through the dark of night to the Oregon Coast and the ship yard, where I’ll conduct an interview for National Fisherman magazine.

The yard is quiet on Saturday morning; the welders, pipe fitters, electricians, and carpenters are all at home. I follow Fred Wahl as he strides briskly across the yard to the newly constructed fishing boat I am here to ask questions about and take pictures of. I follow about ten paces behind, bowed against that relentless wind. Fred leans over the edge of the dock, cups his hand around his mouth, and shouts something to someone down on the boat.

I halt, grab my ponytail holder from around my wrist, fight the wind to tie my hair back, then dig around my backpack for my camera.

When I look up, I see that a second man, George (the captain of the new boat, whom I’m supposed to interview), has joined Fred on the dock.

Even with his hands stuffed inside his jeans pockets, hunched against the wind, I can see that George stands over six feet tall. His eyes squint against the gusts and his long-sleeved gray work shirt billows as he peers toward me. I recognize at once that his is the face of one who has spent years in the Bering Sea. It’s one of strength, experience, and wisdom; the kind that only grows more handsome with age.

I snap several pictures of the two men with the boat in the background, and then Fred makes his exit back across the lot to the office. George climbs back down to the boat and holds out his arm to help me aboard. Once on deck, I dig around in my pack again, this time for my recorder.

I ask questions—questions I don’t understand even as I ask them—about hull plating, keel, and autoline baters. George answers each of my questions in a low, calm, patient voice. His tone is oddly soothing, like a sedative. I feel strangely at ease, lulled into a sort of tranquility, even as I struggle with my recorder, which suddenly doesn’t seem to be working properly. I fumble through my pack again, this time for replacement batteries.

“What’s your last name?” I ask.

“Schile,” he says. “S-C-H-I-L-E. It’s German.”

I look up from my notebook and say it’s a nice last name.

After about an hour, the interview and boat tour is finished. I move to the edge of the vessel, embarrassed for my muddled interview and planning for a quick departure out of Reedsport. The weather has escalated; heavy rain now accompanies the wind, and dark clouds loom overhead.

George follows me across the deck and stops midway, leaning casually against a post.

“Have you had lunch?” he asks.

I pause before I answer, knowing I should really be on my way. I recall how Fred cautioned me about the weather earlier that day.

“You really shouldn’t drive the coast roads in this weather,” he’d warned. “It isn’t safe. You should stay here.”

“No,” I finally answer George. “I have not had lunch.”

We climb off the boat and walk over to the parking lot where George unlocks a shiny new Jeep Grand Cherokee and holds the passenger door open for me. When he starts the engine, the tranquil voice of Natalie Merchant from one of my favorite CDs flows from the speakers. I’m instantly transported back a few years to my starboard-side bunk on my family’s fishing boat in Alaska, where I listened to Natalie Merchant each night to lull me to sleep after long days of fishing.

George and I sit at a table for two in the local café and talk as we wait for bowls of clam chowder to arrive. We speak of fishing, of families, and of weather.

“You know,” says George. “Fred’s right. You should stay.”

I know I should go on down the road to my next story, but I’m enveloped by the warmth emanating from both the café and the stranger sitting in front of me. It surrounds me like a shelter from the storm raging outside, pounding against the windows.

Suddenly, I realize I do not want to drive alone up the coast road. I want to stay here, with this man, in this place, where it’s cozy and peaceful.

“I believe I will,” I decide.

I’ll visit George a couple more times at the ship yard before the official launch of the boat. I’ll sit around the galley table with George and the crew, cherishing the laughter and banter as we eat and tell fishing stories. It will remind me of home, my summers fishing, and the fun of sitting around galley tables with the best kind of fishermen there are.

After a few past years of heartbreak, odd paths chosen, and questionable life decisions made, I am suddenly transformed. I am filled with joy and comfort, familiarity and laughter. Hope.

I barely know this person, but I know I am finally home. I also know I will never leave again.

* * *

Happy tenth wedding anniversary, G! The years have been long and the years have been short; they’ve been full of laughter and a few tears; they’ve included disappointments and excitement. They’ve involved fisheries, boats, dogs, illness, struggles, arguments, forgiveness, successes, children, houses, surprises, sweetness, memorable events, good decisions, bad decisions, and great friends. I couldn’t have chosen a better partner to go through life with, and I hope you still feel the same.

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September 28, 2002

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Ten Years Later.

I Won’t Live in My Car, and You Can’t Make Me.

Before I had children, I maintained that if you ever caught me in ugly sweats and driving a mini van, you could just shoot me.

I know, seriously. It’s extreme.

Now that I have three children, you may well catch me in sweats, but they’ll be cool sweats, if there is such a thing. But I did bypass the mini van for the Ford Flex, which has a ton of horsepower–the better to pass slow pokes on the freeway and be the first off the line when the light turns green.

One thing I won’t do is spend my life in my car.

I might wear sweats and drive a cross-over SUV, but I refuse to watch my life, and that of my children, sneak by from the view in my vehicle. I am firm in the belief that it does my children no good to spend all day in the car. Load up. Drop off. Pick up. Drive. Drop off. Kill an hour. Return. Pick up. Load up. Drive home. Repeat.

I just won’t do it.

This year, I tried organizing our schedule so that our drop-offs and pick-ups were around the same time and in the same part of town. Knowing baby Valerie would need her naps uninterrupted, and I couldn’t take another year of staggered schedules in different parts of town, I tried to coordinate accordingly.

So far, my plan has worked.

I got a taste of how well it is working just today. George is back to work on the boat, replacing the main engine with a new one (these engines take a ton of time, stress, and money, to the tune of about $70K). He goes to the boat each day and comes home in varying moods, depending on how the install has gone.

Replacing the main engine is a big deal and something George has decided must be done now, before the Dungeness crab gear work or season begins. For us at home, it means that he’s gone back to work two months earlier than he would have otherwise.

I’m just glad that I planned ahead so that the kids’ schedules would leave us all time and energy. We are only just beginning the school and fishing year, but so far, so good.

Fishermen Always Miss Out

Robin Blue, of the blog The Fishing Blues, has done an incredible job in her latest post capturing the schedule–or lack there of–of a commercial fisherman and a commercial fishing family. It’s an honest and beautifully written post, true to Robin’s form. What’s normal in a “regular” family is not the norm in a commercial fishing family, and her description of the missed birthdays, weddings, first days of school, anniversaries, Mother’s Days and close calls at Christmas is right on the money. Beautifully done, Robin!

Vincent’s Road to Recovery. Also, a Blog Book for the Family Archives!

I think that falling asleep holding hands with my little son, on the pullout couch in the family room, was the best way to spend a late Sunday afternoon.

How pleasant to drift off mid-day with my little one beside me, quiet and peaceful, as he caught up on sleep and continues to recover from surgery.

The “couch bed” has been set up for a week already and we’ve all taken turns resting, sleeping, reading, and watching shows with five-year-old Vincent.

Eva, six, has been so patient and respectful of Vincent’s adjustment and recovery process that I treated her to a mother–daughter pedicure over the weekend. And when she chose fluorescent yellow for her nail color and insisted I choose the same so we could be “twins,” there was no way I could refuse!

It’s been a slow, quiet, peaceful week at our house. It was hard for anyone to imagine we could keep things quiet around here for more than five minutes, but we did! I’m still processing events from the surgery and after and plan to write more about that part of it later. It has been so overwhelming to sort through and I’m trying to stay focused on continuing Vincent’s adjustment and road back to health.

In the midst of all this, I actually did something I’ve been wanting to do for years, which is finding a program that will convert this entire blog into a book. It’s not a book I will sell or make available (unless my parents want a copy, ha ha!) but I have always wanted all of my posts from the past five years bound into one volume to include in our family archives of photo albums, scrapbooks, and journals.

I looked around the Internet a couple years ago for a way to convert this blog into a book, but nothing worked. When I tried uploading blog posts, the formatting would be all over the place and so would the pictures. I stopped trying, figuring improvements would take place eventually, and I’d just wait until then.  I recently resumed my search and after sampling a few programs that still didn’t work, I found one that did! The program I chose was Blog2Print.

After uploading over 400 blog posts with pictures, the first version ended up as a 600-page volume; too big for them and for me. Instead of breaking it up into two books, I went to work cutting blog posts that didn’t need to be in the book and got the numbers down. They didn’t go down enough, though, so I cut and cut some more. I ended up creating a volume of blog posts in a hardback book of about 410 pages. I gave it the title “Highliners and Homecomings: The First Five Years.”

I can’t wait to see the book once it arrives and include it in our family history for the children!

Goodbye, Sweet Summer. You Were One Of The Best.

It pains me to no end, but I spent this weekend packing away our summer tank tops and shorts, replacing them in our dresser drawers with pants and long-sleeved shirts. What hurt the most, though, and I mean really hurt, was deflating all of our water wings, inflatable tubes, and baby floats we used at the pool the past four months and packing them into a box that I took downstairs to the garage.

20120916-145558.jpgSeriously. It was awful! We had the best summer ever together as an actual family. We couldn’t get to the pool soon enough most days, and it seemed once there that we could not stay long enough. Several guests spent time with us basking in the sun and water, too, which made it even better. My parents, sister, niece, a handful of friends and their children…we even rented out the place for Vincent’s fifth birthday party!

I wasn’t sure if we’d get to the pool again after we returned from Florida, but we did get in a couple more visits. This past Friday was our final afternoon; we even took the last hanging flower basket home with us that pool management was giving away. 

I can’t even talk about how the box that George shipped home from Florida with our beach towels and souvenirs inside arrived last week…when I opened it up, there was sand from the beach scattered within, and I inhaled the beautiful scent of beach, sand, and suntan lotion. The last scent of an incredible summer.

Of course, I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating. A little over–the–top. Dramatic. I am those things, honestly. But I am serious this time. George is not around very often due to his fishing schedule and the never–ending work of boats, engines, gear, permits, taxes, regulations, and planning. When G is home, he often is not actually “home.”

But—for the first time in about a decade, he was really “home” this summer. I treasured and savored each moment of the sunshine, George, the children, my parents, my friends, and all that was good. And there was lots of good. I got to watch G forge a relationship with his infant daughter, whose first five months of life he missed. I love watching the way Valerie smiles at George now when she sees him, rather than crying and looking frantically around for me.

No, we didn’t adopt two new puppies. We’re just holding them.

Today I am vacuuming the house, filling out PTA paperwork, and getting ready for Vincent’s surgery tomorrow. I’m doing what I always do when I have a “patient,” which is pull out what the kids call the “bed couch” (hideaway bed) and fixing it up with fresh sheets, blankets, sleeping bags, and lots of pillows.

Vincent goes in tomorrow to have some work done on the matter of his eustachian tube dysfunction, and he’ll have two weeks of recovery ahead. They have warned us repeatedly that the first week will be painful for his ears, nose, and throat. Lots of milkshakes, popsicles, smoothies, and jello to come for my sweet buddy! Movies and reading books, too.

We hope that this surgery goes far in fixing a lot of damage that has accumulated over the past five years. We set all of this up earlier in the summer and then set it aside until fall, choosing to focus on enjoying the blessings of sunshine and family that were at hand.

Now, even though I’m dragging my heels in saying goodbye to sunshine and the luxury and rarity of having G and his attention around, I know that now is Vincent’s time. We’ve been waiting for this a long time.

Wish us luck tomorrow and please keep Vincent in your thoughts and prayers!

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What does this picture have to do with this particular post? Nothing. But it gave me a smile, and I thought it might give you one, too.

The First Week of School

I was not looking forward to the start of school for a variety of reasons.

For starters, I like creating my own schedule. I don’t like someone “else” determining what I do with my own children and at what time. I don’t care for inflexible rules. I love summer, sunshine, freedom, and easy days and nights. I don’t respond well to other adults telling me much, least of all, what to do, and when to do it, especially with my own children.

Hey, I’m the descendant of commercial fishing captains. We do our own thing.

However, I also live in the real world. I’m familiar with reality. Realizing that reality, and taking into account each of my children, I made the best decisions I could going into this next school year. So far, everything has worked out well, and that has made the start of school so much more pleasant!

Eva entered first grade, and we made the decision to enter our Vincent into (private) kindergarten—in spite of his summer birthday—because we felt he was ready to progress to the next level. It was a hard decision; I didn’t think Vincent was ready for public kindergarten, but I did not want to see him in preschool for another year. I did not want him with 3-and-4-year olds; I really wanted him learning alongside children his own age.

Vincent has been at a disadvantage due to his late summer birthday and because of his hearing and speech challenges which were recently, and finally, diagnosed after five years.

However, just because Vincent does not hear perfectly well, or does not speak perfectly well, does not mean he does not know his colors, and letters, and numbers. He does know how to follow directions, even if he doesn’t always hear the directions. We felt that just because he has specific challenges, it didn’t mean Vincent needed to be held back from progressing in his learning and socializing with children his age.

Therefore, we made the choice to enter Vincent into a small, private kindergarten. I brought Vincent to kindergarten each day this week and stayed for a while each morning to observe his manner, his interaction with others, and the interactions of others with him.

Nobody is more vigilant, sensitive, or alert to the needs or challenges of my Vincent than me, and I wanted to be sure we’d made the right decision and that Vincent was in the right place.

Each morning, I watched Vincent’s teacher interact with my sweet boy. I observed the way he would gently rest his hand on Vincent’s shoulder and make sure Vincent was looking right at him before he began speaking. He made sure Vincent could see his mouth as he spoke, and he spoke in the direction of Vincent’s left ear, which is the better of Vincent’s two ears, before he continued.

I watched Vincent smile, nod, and respond to his teacher.

When I felt comfortable to go, I gave my sweet boy a big hug.

“Have the best day ever,” I said each day. “I love you so much.”

Then I’d go home and figure out what to do next. (Fortunately, baby Valerie helps dictate that plan of action.) I returned every afternoon to pick Vincent up and was so pleased to see him playing in the big field underneath a blue sky and making friends. I received a note from his teacher telling me how much Vincent enjoys the Listening Center and that his favorite part of the day is reading books.

I also walked the baby up to Eva’s school this week in the nice weather to see if I could catch her at recess and give her a hug. Eva wasn’t at recess, but she just happened to be outside working on an art project, and it was so much fun seeing her with hands covered in red paint.

I’m so proud of my two big kids. They melt my heart with their backpacks and their joy. They are each in the place that is perfect for them, and that has made all the difference.