Three Thousand Miles Away, But Just Like Yesterday. Sort Of.

Twelve years ago, shortly after G and I met, he flew us to Florida so I could meet his parents and sisters, who were all living there at the time.

We took time on that trip to Florida’s inland to drive out to the Gulf of Mexico and spend a few days at Anna Maria Island. It was my first time in Florida and seeing the Gulf of Mexico, and it was amazing.

I had been to Hawaii and California plenty of times before, but I had not been any where near Florida or to a place like Anna Maria Island. One of the things I loved about the Island is that it did not allow fast food restaurants, high-rise hotels, or enormous sprawling beachfront resorts.

I appreciated that the hotels on Anna Maria were old, rustic, and small. George and I stayed in an adorable yellow hotel right on the beach with a beachside café next door.

Our room had a romantic balcony that faced the seemingly unending expanse of the Gulf. And when the coastal weather took a turn one late afternoon, it was the first time I ever, literally, watched a storm roll in. Seriously. I watched those clouds and that rain and that lightning roll across the Gulf until it all landed on the beach right front of me.

Anyway, I enjoyed every moment of that trip. I also enjoyed every moment of the second trip we took to Anna Maria Island a little over a year later, right after we became engaged.

I remember well how awesome it felt to step off the plane and realize I was on the totally opposite end of the country. I was giddy with sunshine and freedom!

Then, of course, George and I got married, and that was the end of pretty much all freedom. We sold one fish biz, bought another, invested in new fisheries, bought and sold a house or two, adopted two dogs, gave birth to two and then three children…and we never made it back to Anna Maria.

Until now!

Here I am, twelve years later, writing this blog post from the same yellow hotel we stayed in over a decade ago. Because we have three children, we secured a larger two bedroom unit that faces the pool rather than a quaint balcony room facing the Gulf, but everything else is exactly the same.

The hotel is still yellow, there is still a beach café next door, and the restaurant at the end of the pier where a man plays the piano and sings is still open, along with the homemade ice cream shop.

Not one thing has changed on this island in twelve years, and I love it!

Just as before, I’m on the other side of the country and I’m here with the same guy. I still feel giddy and I still feel free being in a place where absolutely not one person knows me and I don’t know any of them! It’s a surreal feeling.

I am so connected to my circles and my friends and my activities at home that it feels strange to not only be away, but to be this far away!

I love the sunshine and the heat. I love the midnight rain and lightning and thunder storms and the fact that I’m reading a wonderful book instead of watching TV or looking at my computer.

The hustle and stress of the forthcoming school year and fall commitments will commence the minute we get home from vacation, so I am really going to take these next few days slowly and with gratitude for what has been….and what is to come!

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A Weekend to Remember

I started thinking about my 20th high school reunion last spring.

Should I go? Would it matter if I skipped the event? I’d just had a baby. Would I look good? Who would be there?

Indeed, I had a blast at my ten-year reunion. I was not yet 28-years old at that time, was newly engaged to be married with a sparkler on my finger, and spent the entire summer prior to the reunion traveling and sunning on the deck of my (well, okay, it was George’s) beachfront Ballard condo. Heck yeah, I was going to my ten-year reunion! What did I have to lose?

George was fishing in the Bering Sea that summer, so one of my lifelong BFFs drove from her home further south and picked me up. I was nervous, but at least I had a buddy to walk into the less formal “bar night” with, and someone with whom to attend the offical reunion. We were still young, we did not yet have children, and we were ready to party.

Flash forward ten years; none of my BFFs were attending the twentieth reunion. Panic! I contacted another dear friend. Then another. It seemed nobody was going! Oh, no.

I also did not have a babysitter for either night of the twentieth reunion, try as I’d had to line one up. I have a seven-month old who is used to me being home for each of her waking moments, as well as a five-and a six-year-old who rely on the consistency of good ole’ mom being home day and night. (When you have a husband who is gone up to five months in a row, your children become especially bonded to you.)

So, my BFFs were not going to the reunion. Still other friends were not going. I had a baby and two other children who were going to be very upset if I went.

You know what I did? I found an outfit to wear, put my hair in rollers, got into my car, and I went.

It was a big decision. There was a lot of stress leading up to this weekend; Vincent’s hearing loss diagnosis, particular difficulties surrounding writing and Jazzercise, and the on-going transition upon George’s return home from Alaska into a family of five from a family of four.

But you know what? I am so glad I made the choice to go.

From the moment I walked into the first night, I spotted friends I’d lost track of and many of the “kids” I grew up with. I found the people with whom I was in clubs (Junior State of America, anyone?) wrestling cheerleaders, and youth group. Boys I had crushes on in eighth grade. Former neighbors, elementary school friends, people with whom I also attended college, and individuals who remained dear to me after college.

On the second night of the reunion I got dressed up again, put Valerie in her jammies (after her first night without me, it was clear I’d need to take her with me or not go at all!) and headed back out for another night of festivities. A friend and his wife, who were also attending the reunion, were thoughtful enough to bring their daughter to town watch my older two children so that G and I could both go to the reunion.

For a couple who does not go out (or go out together) because of his fishing schedule and the ages of our children, this was a huge gift. A night out! With G? Sweet!

The second night of the reunion was even better than the first night. The sun shone bright, it was hot, and the setting was festive and fun. Everyone came to have a good time. The planning committee produced a top-notch event complete with cool name tags, balloons, and souvenir drink glasses. I took a picture with my elementary school friends, talked and laughed with other friends, and reacquainted with people I’d either never known well or with whom I’d lost touch.

I also had a handful of beautiful, warm, giving, and loving girlfriends (along with G) who held and snuggled baby Valerie so I could relax and enjoy myself.

And I know that while everyone came to the reunion to have a good time, not everyone has had a good time of late. The last twenty years, and especially the last ten, have been hard on a lot of people. There have been divorces and custody battles, and classmates who have lost parents to accidents or illness. There are classmates who have lost their blessed pregnancies and babies, their brothers, and their sisters.

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Still, these people came. They came to connect, to talk, to kick back, to reminisce as well as look forward.

We have a very special class and we come from a very special town. Admittedly, I was one of the first who was ready to leave this town behind after I graduated. I was never happier than when I moved to Portland and then Seattle. I never planned to move back here.

But then—I became pregnant with my first child. With a commercial fishing husband (and of course, being raised in a commercial fishing family), I knew that I was going to be by myself a lot as I raised my children. I knew I needed to be where I was comfortable, and where I had history, and where my friends were.

Not all of the people I went to school with are my friends, and I don’t see most of them except every ten years. However, this town feels like home to me. And whenever I see the people I went to elementary, middle, high school, and college with, I see “home” in their faces. Whether or not we see or talk to each other at any other time, and whether or not they even still live here in the town where we all grew up, they are home.

Hey, Even Conservatives Need a Village.

George is the card-carrying Republican in our family. I fashion myself as more of a right-leaning Independent. Back in the day, before I met George, I was more liberal. However, after over a decade of elections, managing a family business, child rearing, and health issues….one of the left-leaning philosophies I remain faithful to is “It Takes a Village.”

Today, we celebrated my sweet Vincent’s 5th birthday party at our neighborhood pool. We had two uninterrupted hours of friends, family, swimming, food, cupcakes and a pinata to enjoy, plus take-home gifts of pirate treasure gift-boxes, eye patches, and swords.

I am so grateful for each and every person who came to celebrate with us. It wasn’t easy for everyone; one dear parent was recently diagnosed with cancer. Another travels to Korea for several months per year. Another is in the middle of a commercial fishing season. Still others just returned from vacation and others had spouses just leaving for business.

Each of these individuals is special and important, and they also make us feel special and important. They are our village. They come together, they show up, they respond, they come bearing smiles and good energy.

My Vincent has had a tough two weeks. He was recently diagnosed with childhood deafness and hearing loss. He has undergone testing, more testing, diagnosis, and x-rays. He has surgery, recovery, speech therapy, and a year of “catch up” ahead of him.

My little buddy fell asleep the other night next to me, holding my hand, tired from all of the appointments, confused, and asking questions.

“Why don’t people understand me?” “Do I talk funny?” “Why don’t I hear?”

I am so grateful to our friends and family—our village—who were able to spend Vincent’s 5th party birthday with us. All important, all special. We had a great morning together, and then G and I took the kids home to rest before returning to the pool for the late afternoon and evening.

So many friends and family are having a tough time. That these families responded and made it a priority—in spite of their circumstances—to come celebrate Vincent’s 5th birthday, means so unbelievably much. Thank you!

I love our village.

Eva!

My Sweet Pirate

The Cozi Family Calendar: Perfect for Commercial Fishing Families!

I recently found out about the most awesome family organization tool: The Cozi family calendar, designed for busy families.

And, as I’ve also discovered…amazingly perfect for commercial fishing families!

Scheduling in my family up until now has consisted of me writing each appointment on the wall calendar in the kitchen and the calendar on my desk. I’m usually able to keep track of everything that way, but George has a little more trouble keeping up, especially when he’s at sea or far away in an Alaska or Westport harbor.

So, our conversations about the family schedule and activities usually go like this:

“What? When is the ballet recital?”

“Hold on. The gymnastics show is today?”

“When did they sign up for soccer?”

“When do swimming lessons start again?”

“Vincent has a doctor appointment?”

“Where is the doctor?”

“You’re going where with your friends? When will you get home?!”

Ah, but no more! Now, I can keep G informed of each bit of family business with the world’s best tool, Cozi. I can send him text alerts and e-mail messages directly from the app about upcoming appointments and activities with a simple click of a button, or even set them up to automatically go to his phone.

With just one account that the entire family can share, and color coded buttons for each family member, I can create shopping lists for specific stores, create personal to-do lists for George and me, and send them on to him. Each week’s agenda can also be delivered right to his in-box so he can review our week all at once and see what we’re up to.

Or, if he’s so inclined, he can simply access Cozi himself via his iPhone or computer and review the calendar, shopping lists, and to-do lists all on his own and stay current on our goings-ons, whether at sea or on shore!

Say, for example, George is out running errands and decides to swing by Costco. Instead of feeling frustrated that he forgot the Costco list at home or calling me to find out what’s on it, all he has to do is push the Cozi button on his phone and look under the heading “Costco.” There he will see my list of diapers, organic baby food, Vodka, and bread. You know, the essentials.

Cozi has come in especially handy for me lately. Sadly, over the course of the last two weeks, our sweet little Vincent was diagnosed with childhood hearing loss along with a few secondary issues. Needless to say, in addition to swimming lessons, Vincent’s birthday, and a trip to Florida, our summer calendar is now also filled with consultations, testing, speech therapy, surgery, and meetings with doctors.

I’ve pulled out my phone and scheduled these appointments on the fly while standing at front office desks without overlapping any of them, and George and I can keep track of them all so we don’t miss any.

The Cozi app was voted the #1 Productivity App for Moms and the #1 iPhone App for Moms. I can see why. (And no, Cozi isn’t paying me to write this blog post about how much I love the app!)

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. :)

Captain of Her Crew: The Commercial Fishing Mom’s Guide to Navigating Life at Home, Has Launched!

My e-book, Captain of Her Crew: The Commercial Fishing Mom’s Guide to Navigating Life at Home, is now available!

This is an e-book that has been long in the making and involved the expertise of many people.

First and foremost, it was you, the readers of this blog, that set the book in motion. I have received so many thoughtful and pertinent questions and comments over the last five years since starting Highliners and Homecomings that it seemed like a great idea to put my best advice to navigating life within a fishing family into one place. Thank you to you all who have read my blog, shared your experience and frustrations, asked questions, and offered encouragement and support to me and others just like us along the way.

A special thanks goes out to my fishing family. My husband, George (“G”) whose infinite patience and encouragement towards me helps make everything happen. My commercial fishing parents, Jack and Peggy Karuza, who set a phenomenal example about how a fishing family should operate and now help me hold the fort down when G is at sea. My sisters, Stephanie Dyer and Cassandra Wright, with whom I grew up, fished alongside of in Alaska, and laugh with and treasure to this day!

In memory of my late brother-in-law, Danny Wright, whom we lost at sea during crab season fifteen years ago. I love you, still. You always accepted all of us at face value and inspired us with your joy and zest for life. Never a day goes by we don’t think of and miss you. Ever.

On the professional front, thank you to my writing mentor, Christina Katz, who showed me how to blend motherhood with writing and never fails to provide practical instruction and advice along with encouragement. And thank you to Jerry Fraser, former editor-in-chief (and current publisher) of National Fisherman magazine, who gave me my first shot at writing professionally well over a decade ago and who remains especially dear to me.

An e-book of high quality cannot be produced without the help of a variety of professionals. Thank you to Jim Thomsen, who edited the book. Courtney Bowlden, who took the family photographs. David Hills, who took the commercial fishing photographs and allowed me to use them. The long–suffering and kind Craig Lancaster, who designed the entire book and made it available as both a PDF e-book and as a print book. (I’ll not soon forget this experience!)

Thank you to my early readers with writing and/or commercial fishing expertise: Abigail Green, Dylan Klempner, Lisa Gooch, Robin Blue, Lori French, and Michele Eder.

There were many laughs along the road to producing this e-book, which is exactly the way I like to operate. I could not have asked for a better team of family and professionals to accompany and guide me on this venture!

Last but never, ever least…thank you to my three sweet babes: Eva, Vincent, and Valerie. You are precious, strong, resilient commercial fishing children with hearts full of love and laughter. Mommy loves you so much, and you make every one of my days full and blessed. You mean everything to me!

Captain of Her Crew: The Commercial Fishing Mom’s Guide to Navigating Life at Home, can be purchased and delivered immediately to your in-box as a PDF download. If you enjoy a traditional book to hold and carry around, you may also order the guide in paperback and choose your prefered shipping method at checkout.

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Creating Happier Homecomings

At long last, I’m pleased to announce that my e-book, “Captain of Her Crew: The Commercial Fishing Mom’s Guide to Navigating Life at Home,” will officially launch on Monday, July 9, 2012.  I’ve put my best advice concerning the commercial fishing family lifestyle into one place after six years of receiving thoughtful questions, comments, and concerns by attentive readers to this blog.

As it turns out, I’m my first official consumer of the e-book.

Yep, you read correctly. Me.

My husband, George, recently returned home after five months at sea. As always, the initial homecoming is phenomenal; absolutely nothing compares to the thrill of watching our fishing vessel steam into the harbor, seeing G in the wheelhouse, waving to the guys on deck, and hearing my children squeal with joy at the sight of their dad.

There is an exciting week of lunches and visits at the harbor during post-season gear work. There’s laughs with the crew and forklift rides up and down the dock for my four-year-old, Vincent. At night, I have another adult at home who doesn’t need constant direction or the repeating of instructions. Eva has another lap upon which to sit and read books. Hey, it’s a party! It’s awesome, it’s sunny, it’s everything we hoped it would be and more!

But then, the gear work comes to an end. The dreary rain returns. The crew goes home. My children, overwhelmed and exhausted by a change in routine and a new face in the house, begin to misbehave. Mom realizes that Dad can’t be as helpful as she’d hoped with an infant who doesn’t yet know him.

This is what I call the transition period, and it’s something I address in the e-book in a chapter called “Creating Happier Homecomings.”

Here’s the passage I found particularly useful:

Give each other space. Your husband needs to get used to being home and you need to get used to having him home again. Adjustment periods vary from season to season or even year to year. They can take no time at all or they may take a week or two. You might spend an entire season off never getting in sync again. Don’t agonize if this is the case; life is cyclical.

The inability to get acclimated is something that will eventually cycle through, and it will be better next time. Or the time after that.

Do your best to include Dad in the family when he comes home; he needs to assimilate back into family life. If he wants to clean or cook or tuck the kids in bed and read them stories, let him. His ways of doing things and the activities he enjoys with the children may be different from yours, but compromise and remain flexible.

I do believe this about sums it up. G has been away from our family for many months in a row catching crab, halibut, and blackcod. He’s tired and accustomed to a totally different environment and totally different people.  It must be overwhelming in so many ways. And I’m tired, too. End-of-school activities and ballet recitals and soccer camps and all-night baby feedings are exhausting.

I think that giving each other space, while remaining appreciative and respectful of each other, is the way to go about it. There is a fun summer ahead and we have been waiting for months and months to enjoy it together as a family. The key now is to try and do just that.

After Five Months, Just Four More Days.

We went another couple of weeks without hearing from George. I knew I would hear from him eventually, and I did today.

After three months alone with the kids, and only one week spent as a family since January, George called bearing good news—he is on his way home.

We have only spent one week together since January. That’s five months ago!

And, that is without Skype, FaceTime, or any other “fancy” means of communication….including a cell phone most of the time. George fishes in remote areas and we do not have access to those means of communication.

And when he does come into port, he and the crew are busy unloading and getting ready to head out to sea again, and there just is never any—or enough—time.

George sounded really good when I talked to him briefly today, and I was thrilled to tell the kids that their dad will be home in about four days.

I have been telling Eva and Vincent for the past five months that Daddy would be home “in the summer.” Ironically, it now seems as though George will be home, literally, on the first day of summer.

I don’t normally toot my own horn, but I am proud. We did it. The children and I made it through. We made it through gymnastics and ballet and homework and shopping and meals and baths.

We got back to Jazzercise and learned how to cook and finished kindergarten projects. We brushed teeth and said prayers and went to sleep and woke up the next morning.

We even integrated a brand-new baby into the family.

Now, it will be time to acclimate as a whole family. Not as one mother with three children, but one mother and a father with three children.

I do look forward to a wonderful summer together as a whole and complete family of five. I can’t wait for George to get home and for the family and summer fun to begin. George has not been home for an entire summer in probably ten years.

I am excited for Vincent to get to do “boy things” with his dad, and Eva to be able to shower another someone with her hugs and kisses, and for Valerie to get to know her dad.

Whew, that’s a lot. I do believe we will take it moment by moment.

Hang On, Vincent. Daddy’s On His Way.

Last week, my four-year-old son, Vincent, came and stood beside me in the kitchen.

“You are good at cooking and making people feel better, Mommy,” he told me.

Stunned and pleased (primarily in part because he thought I was a good cook), I leaned down and gave him a little hug.

“Well, thank you, Vincent. What a nice thing to say!” I replied.

“But Daddy knows way more than you do,” he finished.

Uh…what?

Vincent went on to name all of the things that Daddy can do that Mommy cannot. I laughed and was not offended in the least; on the contrary, I was happy that Vincent remembers and thinks so highly of his dad who is away working so hard to support all of us.

Just tonight, Vincent came up to me and said he wanted to pray for all of the people who were gone.

“The people who have gone to Heaven, or the people who are just not at home?” I asked.

“All of them,” he said.

“Okay, we will pray for them at bedtime,” I said.

“No. Now.” Vincent replied.

So, we joined Eva in my bathroom where she was taking a bath. We held hands and prayed for Daddy on the boat. We prayed for Grandma and Grandpa who had been in Hawaii but were now at home.

We prayed for sweet Toby, our brindle pit bull, who died at this time last year. We prayed again for dear baby Esther, who joined Jesus within a month of her birth.

Later, I will thank God that I have a little boy who is so sweet and thoughtful. I will pray that when his daddy gets home, there will be plenty of “boy time” for them to ride on forklifts, fix things with wrenches and hammers, and go fishing together.

It can’t be easy for Vincent, who is a little boy in the middle of two sisters, the only grandson or nephew on either side, with only girl cousins, surrounded by women all the time. We are grateful for Grandpa, who comes by often in his Ford diesel to pick up Vincent and spend quality time with him when Daddy is gone.

I cannot wait for my Vincent to spend a wonderful summer with his dad, giggling and talking as they repair things at home and play together at the pool.

Only two weeks left, and Vincent’s wish will come true.

Daddy will be home.

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Waiting For The Phone To Ring

I’m feeling a little blue today. Not only is the weather gray and drizzly, but I have no idea where my husband is and I haven’t talked to him in around two weeks. Actually, I have only talked to G about three times in the last couple of months, and it is starting to dawn on me that is kind of a long time to go without communicating with one’s spouse…even for people like us, who are totally used to limited and non-existent communication.

Sure, I could try calling the satellite phone, but I always hesitate to do that because once I start calling THAT phone and he doesn’t answer, the more frustrated I become, and then I grow worried. A worried momma doesn’t do anyone any good. I’m not concerned yet; I know G is likely in the Gulf of Alaska without cell phone coverage, working hard to catch that part of the halibut and blackcod quota, and then moving into Southeast Alaska.

George loses track of time easily whether he’s at sea or on shore, and he probably doesn’t even realize how long it has been since he’s called home. I have to admit though, that while everything has been going (and continues to go) better than expected with the three little ones and me at home, time is starting to drag and I’m getting rather tired.

We are still moving forward, however; Vincent finished up one of his pre-schools, Eva’s kindergarten has many end-of-school-year activities planned, and my parents returned from Hawaii. I’ve also been at Jazzercise just about every morning for the past three weeks, working off stress and weight, which is a win-win for me! At this point, if I didn’t have Jazzercise to go and see my friends, visit with all of our children, and bust a move to up-tempo music, I’m sure I wouldn’t be doing this well at home.

Hurry up and get into cell phone coverage, G! (I know he can’t read this, but maybe if I send the message out into the sphere he’ll catch it and call.)

Soldiering on…

Three Weeks To Go!

We are down to less than a month until G gets home from this year’s blackcod and halibut season. Unfortunately, so far, the season has been painfully slow and the guys have been grinding away for not much reward.

The upside is that the annoying portion of the fish plan is now completed and they are moving on into the middle and end of season, which should prove to be a lot better fishing.

At any rate, the real upside is that in about three weeks it will all be over and the guys will be home. I know that after over four months alone with three kids aged six and under, I am looking forward to having another parent at home.

We have done very well, though! I am so proud of the children (and me!). I never imagined that we would make it this far and largely trouble-free. Eva and Vincent have worked hard to follow directions and try to get along with each other and with Mom so that we could have a nice time.

And of course, little baby Valerie remains as sweet as ever. She smiles at everyone and honestly appears so happy to be in the world with us!20120527-130923.jpg

My parents have helped me quite a bit since Valerie was born last January. George has fished two seasons since Valerie was born and he has really only spent one week at home in the last four months. When my parents left for Hawaii two weeks ago, I was nervous about how I would manage truly on my own and being solely responsible for getting everyone everywhere on time.

Although I have no energy left over at the end of each day and the kids and I are in bed at 8 o’clock each night, we are managing decently. I have also returned to Jazzercise, which was something I’d look forward to!

One of the greatest things that has happened during this time is the opening of our neighborhood swimming pool. We moved up high enough on the waiting list this year to be offered a summer membership, and I couldn’t be more pleased. While the 20120527-130844.jpgweather has not been great, anytime that the sun comes out and it’s over 60°, and the kids and I race to the pool.

I absolutely love packing our lunch and snacks and towels and suntan lotion for an afternoon at the pool. Valerie looks adorable in her little swimsuit, and it’s fun watching Eva and Vincent play in the pool and go down the slide. It is not easy juggling a six-year-old, a four-year-old and an infant all at once at a swimming pool, but it’s totally worth the effort to be outside, getting exercise, and watching the kids have so much fun.

I have been surprised how many families we know also received pool memberships this summer! I have seen families from the neighborhood, from preschool, and ballet.

My parents will be home in another week, and George should be home two weeks after that. I am looking forward to everyone returning home safely and soundly, and I am equally as happy and grateful to have had all this quality time with my little ones.

It’s tough being the only adult on duty and I’m in survival mode (doing what HAS to be done and not much more), but I’m sure the children and I will always remember the memories we’ve made and the laughs we’ve had this winter and spring.

20120527-192522.jpgI happened upon a booth recently that sold engraved rings. I bought one and had the names of all three children engraved upon it.

It’s not easy being a “seasonally single” parent, but I love my kids and there are no other three people I’d rather spend this much time with.

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