Monthly Archives: January 2012

We Interrupt This Previously Scheduled Day

I used to be very uptight about schedules. A woman with three children under three finds herself tied religiously to meal- and nap-times and doesn’t like the interruptions that make up a normal life. As I have gotten older, and have older children, I have become a little more flexible and laid back. I still have plans, but now I assume that something will come along to change them.

Today was Community Bible Study day in Sarasota, as is every Wednesday during the school year here. The kids have made friends there with other homeschoolers and I have a little time away from the kids to interact in a meaningful way with adults. But a nasty cough changed our plans—no way that we were going to go and share that with our new friends! Good thing, too, because this turned out to be one of those days that holds a beautiful surprise, not to be missed.

The weather being absolutely gorgeous, I decided we’d finish up a little schoolwork from yesterday and then go have a picnic. I am learning to make the proverbial lemonade with my lemons. So we went to one of our favorite places around here, Robinson Nature Preserve. It contains miles of hiking trails though salt marsh and scrub, boardwalks through mangrove estuary, waterways to kayak, a 70-foot observation tower, climbing trees, a small playground and plenty of interesting plant and animal life

On the way over to Robinson, I got side-tracked. Actually, I turned at the wrong place and accidentally found an organic farm co-op/CSA (community supported agriculture). So after our picnic at the preserve, a vigorous fig-tree-climb, and a hike, we headed over to the farm and investigated.

Aside from the produce they had harvested for the co-op and farm store (which included some of the prettiest red leaf lettuce, kohlrabi, beets, carrots, eggplant and broccoli I have ever seen) they also had pick-by-the-pint sugar snap peas and flowers free for the gathering with purchase of vegetables. Sarah headed off with the pruning shears toward the rows of red, orange and yellow chrysanthemums while the boys and I, with Rachel in my carrier, headed over to the row of snap peas. It was like finding buried treasure—the boys were delighted every time they discovered a plump pea pod hiding under the leaves of the plant, and they tromped back and forth in the rich black earth between the rows until they were covered head-to-toe with a fine, dark silt. Sarah returned with more flowers than she could carry, we filled the pint, and headed home for a fresh-picked snack and a swim.

Some days, despite the best planning, turn out to be a disappointment, and others work out better than you had hoped, but the best days are like this one—a gift to be unwrapped slowly and enjoyed, with just the right balance of work and play, a hint of adventure, and a memory to be made and set aside for later.

It Works

I’ve always been nervous about our EPIRB.  This is the
Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon we carry for notifying authorities via satellite that we are in distress and where we are.  When you need one, they’re worth their weight in gold.  When you don’t, they seem like a big liability to me.  If it weren’t for our precious cargo, I might not carry one at all.

Unlike the SPOT satellite messenger, an EPIRB is monitored by government search and rescue agencies including the US Coast Guard.  Like everything else they do, the Coast Guard takes EPIRBs very seriously.  I’ve heard of people setting off their EPIRBs for silly and frivolous reasons.  I’ve heard of mutinous crews decided they’ve had enough and setting off the EPIRB surreptitiously.  When the Coast Guard shows up, or a commercial ship is diverted to assist, I imagine there must be some severe consequences if the emergency is not legitimate.

We inherited our EPIRB with the boat.  I dutifully changed the registration for it, entered all appropriate emergency contact information, and had the unit serviced.  Then I tucked it away in a corner of the boat where nobody would mess with it.  No water, no magnetic fields, no little hands.  Ours is a manual-activation model which can only be activated by a) flipping up a plastic tab on the top, or b) removing the unit from its wall-mount bracket AND putting it in the water.  

Tanya’s phone started ringing at 5:42 this morning.  I was up, but ignored it at first.  I vaguely wondered if there was some emergency to cause someone to call that early.  Then I got a Google Voice message from a New Orleans area code.  It was mostly gibberish as usual, but it did pick up “coast guard”, “beacon”, and “take too”.  That got my attention.  Tanya’s phone rang again and I answered it.  It was our emergency contact that I have registered on the EPIRB.  She had been called by the Coast Guard and was our EPIRB going off?  No, of course not.  I went and looked, and it was sitting quietly right where it was supposed to be.  In the bracket, out of the water, no magnetic fields, no little hands.

I returned the call to the Coast Guard.  Was everything all right?  Yes, everything is fine.  Did your EPIRB go off?  No, I don’t think so.  I’m looking right at it.  Can you read me the Beacon ID on the side of the unit?  Sure, hang on.  I touched it, and suddenly it erupted in a series of beeps, strobes, and flashing red lights.  Well, I guess it did go off.

Like all my other interactions with the Coast Guard, I found them courteous and efficient.  They received signals at 5:32 and 5:40.  I was up at that time, the boat was quiet, and I did not hear any beeping from the other room.  They had tried to call my cell phone, but got a strange busy signal and could not leave a message.  My phone was right next to me and it did not ring.  Likewise, it did not ring when they called Google Voice.  I imagine our emergency contact tried to call it as well.  

The process appears to have worked pretty well.  There's no telling how long the EPIRB was going off, but it took 10 minutes from the first received signal until Tanya’s phone rang the first time.  Why these things have to happen at night, I don’t understand.  I wish my phone had rung, and I’m sorry our contact had to be awakened.  I’m just glad I was awake.  We generally don’t hear or get up to answer phones, and it’s a rare morning when I’m up at 5am for no good reason.  If I hadn’t been, I might have woken up to a man with boots and a gun knocking on the hull.

As for the EPIRB, the transmitter portion clearly works, but I'm not a big fan of the whole "out of the bracket and in the water" thing.  Seems totally superfluous for a manually-activated unit and less than failsafe.  I’ll be calling the manufacturer when they open this morning.  I’m not sure what they can do to make me trust this unit again, but I’m not wild about spending about $700 for a new one either.  In the meantime I've secured it by removing the battery.


I believe all the medical bills from Rachel’s recent adventure are now in and we can tally the damage at $4,733.55

We do have health insurance, but it is a high deductible plan and covers very little until that is met.  We very rarely seek any medical care, so don’t really have much cause to use it.  It does re-price charged amounts based on negotiated network agreements, and I think it also covers an annual checkup for everybody, but we don’t do that.  The insurance would really only pay for itself if something really bad happened and we sought treatment in the U.S.  Otherwise, it just sucks $650 out of our monthly budget.

While we would prefer to pay directly for medical care, we find it very difficult to do so.  In our experience, cash discounts are paltry or not available.  The only time we really felt mildly successful with this tactic was when Sam was born.  No, our insurance does not cover maternity costs.

The discount offered by the hospital after Rachel’s recent trip was only 10%.  We gambled that the negotiated network price through our insurance company would be better, and it was.  The insurance company re-priced that $4,733.55 down to $871.15.  That’s an 80% reduction.  Am I happy about that?  Sure.  But the $8,000 I spent on insurance premiums over the last year tempers my enthusiasm somewhat.  I’d be much happier to get that kind of discount directly and not pay for the insurance at all.

I’ve been threatening to drop the insurance for years, but I’m afraid to do it.  There are no guarantees in life, and I’m slightly uncomfortable with the unknown.  I’m not paralyzed by it, but so far I’ve been willing to pay $650 a month to feel better.  That’s probably about all the good it does.  

What are the odds we’ll ever need the insurance anyway?  Apparently, better than I might have thought.  My 4-year-old nephew was diagnosed with cancer last year.  My brother’s family coincidentally has the same insurance as we do and it made a huge difference in the financial burden of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.  I have no idea how it might have turned out without the insurance, but he’s once again a happy little boy.

When we think about it logically, continuing to pay for health insurance is inconsistent with the other lifestyle decisions we’ve made.  One of our mantras is “safety does not exist.”  But by paying for health insurance we're keeping one foot in a system we despise in the hopes that it might someday save us from something terrible.  Just as there are no guarantees that something terrible won’t happen, there are also none that modern medicine and insurance can save us if it does.

A Shiny New Head

The kids’ bathroom renovation is complete.  We call it the kids’ bathroom because the adults abandoned it immediately upon making the master bathroom operational earlier in the spring.  No adult wants to share a bathroom with four kids.

The renovation was a prolonged project involving demolition of the old floor, replacing it with teak grates to match the other heads, painting the walls, and installing a new toilet.  For three weeks, the kids had to huff it up to the marina pool to use the bathroom there.  There were several nights when the Eli, Sam, and Rachel had to sleep in alternative locations due to fumes from various paints or epoxies.  They’re now rewarded with an electric toilet of their own: a Raritan Sea Era fresh water.  

Shiny New Head

Like the Raritan Marine Elegance in the master bathroom, the Sea Era uses a centrifugal pump.  I assume the pumps are equivalent, and hoped it would be the Marine Elegance’s equal in terms of uncloggability, but in fact I think it might be better.  I plumbed the Marine Elegance with 1” hose since I wanted to reduce the volume of stuff standing in the hose.  With the kids’ bathroom I had several compromises already made for me, and the Sea Era’s discharge was going to use the 90 degree elbow option and 1.5” hose.  I don’t know if it is the shapes of the bowls or the difference between the discharge line diameters, but the Sea Era has a much more powerful flush.  I prefer the Marine Elegance’s smooth one-piece ceramic shroud to enclose all the parts, but that just wasn’t going to fit.

Our goals for the project were to make the floor easier to keep clean and dry, and improve access and air flow to sump area underneath.  To accomplish that, we tore the old solid floor out completely and replaced it with a pair of teak grates.  The toilet sits on a solid teak shelf and one grate slides beneath it.  The other grate drops in place in front of the toilet.  We also ground down, faired, and repainted the walls and sump area to improve the appearance and overall cleanliness of the area.

While it must seem that we get excited about very mundane things, this bathroom has been on the wish list for a long time and we are very happy to have it addressed.  While we still have work going on, this bathroom is probably the last big interior improvement we’re going to make.  It got pushed way down the list because our original concept involved removing thru-hulls, which requires hauling the boat out of the water, which requires an act of God.  In the end, we decided just to keep the thru-hulls for now and retain the option of flushing directly overboard.


A few things that happened today…

Sarah has successfully taught Rachel how to play “How Big is Rachel?”, whereupon the latter squeals with delight and obediently raises her arms above her head.  Rachel's other recent trick is to grab at anything in reach.  Like she’s suddenly discovered she has hands.

Sarah ran on the dock today for the first time since she turned her ankle on the library stairs last week.  I say she’s healed.  Running on the dock is strictly forbidden, but yet somehow deeply ingrained into children.  I was cured of running on docks when I was about her age.  My younger brother and I were sent late one night to use the facilities up at the bathhouse of some marina in the Keys.  We were very well-behaved on the way up, but on the way back it seemed necessary to race.  In the heat of the race, my brother took a short cut and ran straight off the sea wall.  It was about six feet down to the water and he came up hollering.  My only real memory of the incident is an image of my poor dad hanging three-quarters over the wall and my mom holding onto his feet.  I shudder to think we may have to do that someday.

Sam tried to choke on a Life Saver.  Of course he failed, but it was still interesting.  I always wondered.  During the melee, Rachel, who was riding on Tanya’s back at the time, grabbed a big knife off of the kitchen counter and held it Psycho-style behind Tanya’s head.  That was the missed photo opportunity of the week.

The carpenter has finished replacing the floors in our port bathrooms, and a new Raritan Sea Era electric freshwater toilet arrived today to replace the old Jabsco.  This toilet is a different footprint from the Marine Elegance I have already serenaded, but I expect it to be equally uncloggable.  To start with, we’re skipping the fancy programmable flush buttons and going with simple momentary switches.  That’s the most effective way we’ve found to manage tank capacity in the starboard forward head.

Our marina is getting a new dockmaster.  We’ve been through this before, but it always gives me a bit of anxiety.  Which rules will he choose to enforce? 

Given all her daily activities, Tanya often leaves an unfinished load or three in the laundry room.  Protocol is for anyone who needs the machines to remove the offending articles and leave them on the folding table.  Occasionally a kind soul, usually a grandmotherly type, will move the clothes to the dryers or fold them.  But today Tanya returned to the laundry room only to find our curmudgeonly Irish friend folding Rachel’s “f*****g” diapers.  Apparently he drew the line at folding my underwear, which suits me fine.

Winter Weather

The temperature this morning is 45F degrees and the wind is blowing 22-28 knots.  We recorded a gust of 44.5 knots sometime during the night.  That might be a personal record.  The forecasted high today is 52 and the low tonight is 24.  The little voice in my head is doing a Sam Kinison impersonation.

The fact is we’re here by choice.  Maybe not a conscious choice, but it was our own decisions that caused us to be here.  This weather is a disappointment, but not really a surprise.  Two years ago it was a surprise.  We’re still hoping, perhaps in vain, that it will be a mild winter, but also wishing we were somewhere else.  I feel a resolution coming on.

We know some people are abandoning their boats and heading to friends’ houses and hotels tonight.  We're going to stick it out.  We’ve learned that we can get pretty good results from four 600W space heaters spread around the boat.  It’ll still be cold, for sure, but hopefully tolerable.  At least there isn’t supposed to be any wind.