Like An Old Blind Raccoon

I’m not sure where I read it or heard it or thought of it, but there is a saying that lives in my brain that goes: “If you don’t leave this world looking a little weathered, you haven’t lived hard enough.” I think about this all the time. I see it in the wrinkles of my elders, the water lines on the trees that mark the coming and going of a big flood, and in the charm of an old (boat)house. They all have stood through some shit, and I am here to admire.

Social media is weird. It is often filled with snapshots of “pretty” parts of a life. People love to use filters that take away their perceived flaws. I’m not here to tell anyone how to be, but I really miss seeing wrinkles and scars.

We have an old blind raccoon on the island. One eye is missing and the other is opaque. She still knows her way around. She goes to my neighbor’s boathouse every night to find a little food. She seems resilient and industrious and wise. If that raccoon could talk, I would happily sit down and listen.

Tomorrow is my birthday- the final day of 2020. I love this about my birthday, that my new age also marks a new year.

As I walked the island a few days ago, I took note of all the pieces marked by time: the beaver chewed trees, the exposed roots from erosion, the water lines from flooding, the way trees grow slanted from years of wind patterns, and the brush piles of invasive buckthorn.

I thought about how everything that’s good gets marked up by time and experience- the trees, long relationships, your favorite pair of shoes. I wondered about the experiences of the blind raccoon and how she has had to adapt. I thought about us, the humans, how we have had to adapt. I wonder how we will move forward in the coming years with the experiences that 2020 has brought us.

I see that people like to look past the reminders of hardship. The evidence of erosion, floods, and invasive species that I see on a routine walk are often ignored. I wish we could all step forward without the filters- embracing the wrinkles and scars and flood lines, talking about them, learning from them, and honoring them.


Tomorrow, I will have lived on this earth for 32 full years. More and more, I am appreciating the weathered parts of me, even the breastfeeding boobs that have inevitably developed some sag; they’ve earned it. Cheers to another year of living full and hard and wearing the wear and tear like a badge of honor, unfiltered and honest, like an old blind raccoon.

Board But Not Bored

In times like these, a person does one of two things to stay sane. You keep your mind busy or you keep your hands busy, and often, these coincide. My husband has the busy hands. I have the busy mind. Mine feels a lot less productive. Since the busy mind is a bit of a weird place, we’ll stick to the topic of Michael’s busy hands.

The first thing I have to say about Michael’s hands is that, thanks to my relentless but warranted nagging backed by CDC guidelines, they are usually well washed. He tends to leave the sink prior to the 20 second mark, but I’m sure to remind him.

In the last four months, a lot has happened. We finished out our boathouse. We had winter. We birthed a baby. We had a flood in the winter (strange). We finished our bathroom and finally have a working shower. The snow melted, and spring came (kinda). We fell in love with being parents. We finished out our kitchen. The pandemic came. I started work again. We had the spring floods and have to boat everywhere, a lovely or treacherous portion of my commute depending on the day. The snow came again (classic Minnesota). And most recently, we (Michael) built our deck and established entry by means of a spiral staircase. Michael’s hands have been busy. Mine help intermittently when my boobs aren’t busy but breastfeeding is truly a full time job.

I bet you wonder why I talk about floods so often. Well, we base our activity around the rise and fall of these waters. We adjust the ropes that hold our home to shore accordingly. We plan if we can walk our asses to the parking lot. If we can walk there, we debate wearing knee high boots or waders. If it’s a job for waders, perhaps we just go by boat. We park the boat in different spaces according to the river level.

We like to park at “LIPS”- Latsch Island Phone Service, where the one phone for the whole island once existed. It was the island’s central station for socializing. It still is as Neighbor Ernie greets us with a smile and stories whenever we dock, and on sunny days, multiple boathouse dwellers cross paths as we navigate our boats around each other (six feet apart of course).

The water is high enough now that we boat through “Bathtub Slough”, a cut through a cluster of boathouses tucked behind the ones that line the channel. We duck under a communication line at the entrance and greet Pirate Pat on the way. We have to raise the motor in the shallows and navigate around the cement bases that used to hold up the railroad bridge. As Neighbor Polly explained this route to us, she said, “It’s actually pretty fun.” It really is… except in the sleeting rain at midnight.

Back to the busy hands that built our deck. Knowing the flood was coming, a few days were spent schlepping boards for our top deck: 146 to be exact, some as long as 26 feet.

The twelve posts sticking out of our roof were scaled, cut level, and long boards spanned the whole way to connect them. More boards were attached to connect those boards. Finally, the top deck boards were applied. (Insert “bored” during quarantine joke here.)

As we wondered how to best access the deck, Michael consulted his trusted friend Craig. Craig has this list that Michael is very fond of. On Craig’s list is where we bought a boat, perused for fire towers, found this very boathouse (well, the former one that lived here), purchased our land up north, found the van that we outfitted into a moving apartment, and now, we found the answer to our deck access dilemma- a steel spiral staircase. Craig, you slick son of a gun, you’ve done it again.

As does everything in this lovely flood season, the staircase needed to travel by water. To make this happen, we would use our boat as a pusher and our neighbor Polly’s dock as a platform to carry the stairs. Michael strategically attached a few boards to the front of our boat to protect it and keep everything straight when pushing the 8ft x 20ft platform. Michael connected the platform with rachet straps that spanned from the boat’s two front cleats to the platform’s back two cleats.


Michael navigated this 40ft caravan through Bathtub Slough and up to shore where the spiral staircase was waiting on a flatbed trailer.

Before the 1000lb staircase was tied down to the trailer, Michael laid sheets of plywood underneath so when the dock met the trailer, he could use more rachet straps as winches to more easily slide the staircase onto the platform.

As he pushed the platform downstream toward our end of the island, Michael’s floating spiral staircase was a site to behold.

Erecting the staircase was the sketchiest part, and like many sketchy endeavors, the most fun.

 On the deck, we (Michael) used a 15 to 1 pulley system with a rock climbing belay device as brake. With the dock butted up to the downstream corner of the boathouse, we (Michael) tied the pulley system to the far end of the staircase and started pulling.

When the staircase was at 45 degrees, we were able to funnel the base in place with some strategically affixed scrap boards. After plenty of pulling and lots of lines tied off in every direction to keep the 1000lb mass from swinging side to side, the staircase was finally home.

Boathouse living is certainly made for busy hands and for busy minds too. There are always ropes to retie, barrels to replace, unexpected weather conditions to navigate, floating trees or other surprises to dislodge, off grid ideas to bring to life, or creative solutions to maximize small spaces. This 24ft x 24ft space is no barrier to busyness or joy or fulfillment or intrigue; it provokes and nurtures all of these.

At the end of the day, it is time to put busy hands and busy minds to rest. This little floating home is especially good for this. It’s 7pm as I write this. Michael is making a ruckus on the deck as he works on the railings. He’s been at it all day. A boat zoomed by and left a wake that makes me feel slightly tipsy. I admire the bold and distinguished colors that fill the feathers of the neighborhood mallards. The ducks fly west from John’s house; they make a splash as they settle on the water in front of me. The water rhythmically flows in the other direction as if to bleed off the colors of the setting sun. I let my busy mind settle down on these simple things.

Alright, it’s time to get Michael off the damn roof. Stay busy if you must but stay rested too. This is a weird time. At the end of the day, settle down on the simple things. (If you say this final paragraph twice, you’ve washed your hands for 20 seconds.)

 

It Takes A Village

Belonging. Love. Acceptance. No matter what human you come across, that human desires each of these things. We all do. The crabby coworker, the drunk uncle, the friend who never returns your calls, the introvert, the extrovert, that guy in The White House who tweets nonsensical criticisms, and everyone you love or despise, they all want these: belonging, love, and acceptance. I will refer to these three desires as “a village”.

In 2018 until the spring of 2019, over 300 tents accumulated in a small area alongside Highway 55 in Minneapolis. These tents became a village of homeless people who now made a place they could call home. I drove past this community on my way to work and often pondered the good and the bad of a place like this. Of course, living in a tent in winter was unsafe, drug use was prevalent, and sanitation was challenging. However, people who once felt alone and vulnerable to dangers on the street now had a village- people nearby that would support them, check in on them, or simply accept them. I get it.

After passing the hundreds of tents and pondering a life experience outside of my own, I get to work. I’ve been a nurse for eight years now and four of them have been in the area of rehabilitation- rehab of trauma, stroke, burns, amputations, spinal cord injury, etc. I have found that the two factors that most contribute to quick progress and good outcomes are these: the patient’s health prior to injury (the healthier then, the better they heal now) and their village or the amount of support and involvement that surrounds them now. Do they have a horde of family or friends or at least one or two tried and trues that check in daily, bring food, decorate their room in photos and cards, make them laugh or let them cry in company? Without doubt, that patient will heal better and faster.


Belonging. Love. Acceptance. Having a village and contributing to one too. These are human necessities. Forget our modern society’s idea of necessities- a big house, new car, or big paycheck. I’ll take my little floating home, rusty old truck, and part time schedule any day. It’s the village I can’t live without. I need my family, my friends, and my neighbors to stay sane, healthy, and quite literally afloat. My baby boy needs them too.

I gave birth to Hutch on January 9. On the evening of January 11, it was time to go home. I fed him at the hospital as Michael packed up our stuff and brought in the carseat. After Hutch was fed and bundled up, I put him in the carseat. Eager to get on the road, Michael quickly fastened the carseat latch at Hutch’s chest, and the plastic latch broke. Michael tried to repair it to no avail. He showed the nurses. After they asked why the latch looked melted (part of Michael’s repair attempt), they told us we would need to get a new one. Michael drove to WalMart (a store we recently vowed to boycott which is a whole other story) to get a new carseat. An hour later, Michael was back. We opened the “new” carseat and put Hutch in it. It wreaked of cigarette smoke… WTF. We ruefully continued with our departure, hurrying home to get Hutch out of this cigarette basin as soon as possible.


What Michael and I did not know is that the river level had risen two feet in that single day. Our life on the water revolves around the attitude of the river and for the last five days, our focus was diverted to meeting and loving our little boy. We forgot to check in with Ol’ Man River. The river height was 10.8 feet this day when it usually sits around 7 feet.

Ice dams had caused the rise. As we carried Hutch across the island in the dark in 12 degree weather, we came upon the flooded center portion of the island. One of our neighbors had left a canoe for himself and the other islanders to traverse this section. Hutch very quickly had his first canoe ride. We came upon another flooded portion. We didn’t have our headlamps but the moon was full. We thought we could walk this part. I had my knee high boots on; Michael did not but felt fine getting his shoes and pants wet. We went separate ways, each believing one way would be better than the other. We both got soaked. The water went past our knees, into my boots, and after this, we could not wait to get into our warm little home.

Another unexpected circumstance greeted us as we opened the door to our boathouse. The batteries had drained down to nothing, and the usually cozy boathouse was sitting at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. I wanted to cry. I was exhausted and holding my bundled and hungry baby while feeling like the worst mom to ever walk the planet. First, he had to ride in that disgusting carseat. Now, we didn’t even have a warm home for him.


It was 7pm when we got to our cold boathouse. It would take the rest of the night to charge the batteries and reheat our home. In that moment, we were wet and without warm shelter, but we were not without our village. We could have traversed the island again to stay with our land-dwelling relatives or we could walk the 30 feet to our neighbor John’s house.

We called John. As always, he was there for us. He happily put us up for the night- a night that involved many instances of baby cries, lots of breastfeeding- something I was still getting used to and was quite the process, and a full takeover of his main room with a bassinet set up, diaper supplies, etc. We were welcomed and warmed.

I recently read a book by Sebastian Junger titled “Tribe”. It discussed the value of a village and the detrimental effects of not having one. As always with books read, I wrote down some of my favorite quotes.

The following two quotes ring true to me as I recall comfortably sitting on Neighbor John’s couch feeding Hutch as he watches the Tennessee Titans upset the Ravens in the divisional playoff game:

“Some people are generous. What made him different was he had taken responsibility for me.”

“Robert Frost famously wrote that home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”


In an increasingly individualistic society, I choose to rebel in small ways. I choose to be vulnerable and allow others to do the same, to keep my door open and lack hesitation in entering the open door of another, to live minimally and buck the culture of consumption, and to share experiences, stories, and life with a village of people both similar to and different than myself.

I choose to raise a son in this ever-growing village of love, belonging, and acceptance. I hope to allow him the priviledge of knowing a plethora of human experiences outside of his own. It takes a village. It always has.

Moving Port

It is 6:45am on Saturday, August 24, 2019: Day #2 of driving Neighbor Girl down the river to her new port of Latsch Island, Winona, MN. We beached our sturdy steel houseboat on a sandbar last night near Mile Marker 810. One lock and dam down, four to go.

The river treated us kindly yesterday. Perhaps she feared that I would flood her with my tears. We left our home yesterday. More specifically, we drove our houseboat out of her home port. We left Watergate Marina in Saint Paul, Minnesota- our home base for the last four years.

We bought our houseboat there five years ago, left the country to travel to 13 others assured that in six months, we would have this 142 square feet of living space to exist on for the summer. One summer of living aboard turned into a fall, a winter, a spring, and three more years just like that. Michael and I joyfully resided on this tiny floating home together tucked away in a quiet park marina along the floodplains of Saint Paul where even the locals don’t know we exist. (Trust me, getting an Uber pickup had about a 45% success rate.) We continued to exist there purposefully and peacefully with eight other boats year-round and countless more during the seasonable and vibrant summers.

During these last four years of life, I worked at Hennepin County Medical Center at a job that I loved for challenging every part of me and showing me the hardest and most beautiful parts of humanity. Michael and I spent weekends building our cabin up north. We got married. We made a baby. We made a whole family in this marina and some very best friends; I’m looking at you tugboat and sailors. So, as we leave port with Ken and Roger tossing our lines, it’s no wonder that the Mighty Mississippi fears I may flood her waters with these unsupressable tears that well up from the pit of my gut and burn my heart on their way up to my pathetic sniffling face.

Watergate Marina is beautiful on this day- a sky as blue as I’ve ever known it and a sun that casts down an easy 70 degrees.

Video: Leaving Port

As we slowly leave the marina, I hand the wheel to Michael and spend a minute on the stern (slightly embarrassed by the puddle I’ve become) as our home harbor disappears from sight. Michael joins me, and I tell him, “I’m not sad, I’m just so so grateful.” He hugs me and says, “me too.” We agree that there is nothing more we could have wanted out of these last four years. For us, they were perfect. When I finally clear my eyes to look up at Michael, he has two big tears living on his cheeks- a rare sight on his typically cheerful and mischievious face.

Now, on this Saturday morning, we revel in our first day of river boat journey success and last night’s very primal joy of sitting along the river’s shores with our feet in the sand and a warm campfire glow across our faces. Today, we are fresh-faced and confident going in to the biggest test that trusty Neighbor Girl has had to face in her last four years with us and likely in her 49 years of existence: the Lake Pepin crossing.

Lake Pepin is where the Mississippi River becomes it’s widest and deepest for a stretch of 22 miles. Lake Pepin widens to a distance of two miles and has an average depth of 21 feet and a maximum depth of 60 feet.

For those of you who have not done much river travel, I will enlighten you on the treachery of wing dams. The Mississippi River is lined with them. Wing dams are human constructs that were built during the 1930s and ’40s with the purpose of crafting a deeper and more reliable navigation channel. These wing dams were built prior to the present day lock and dam system as a means to control the flow of the river. Wing dams extend partway across a river channel and often go undetected depending on the depth of the water at that time. If the water is low enough, you will see a line across the water that delineates a smooth water surface upstream and a choppy water texture downstream of that wing dam. It takes a practiced eye to identify these.

Now, on to the treacherous part. Wing dams are unmarked. Boats and boat engines are frequently wrecked by these shallow lurking structures. The good news? Wing dams do not exist within the main channel which is marked by red and green steel buoys. “Red, Right, Return” means that the red marker will be on your right as you return north. Since we are traveling downstream, the green is on our right and the red is on our left, or so we expected…

At the head of Lake Pepin where the water widens considerably, the reassuring red and green channel markers suddenly become non-existent. Things had been going very well so far. With a high level of confidence, I thought, “no big deal, the whole width of the river must be open for business.” We didn’t bother to check the river charts that Michael had downloaded on his phone. Within 15 minutes of cruising cockily along the Minnesota shore, I blazed our little houseboat right into a submerged sandbar. The engines grumbled as they tried to process the run-in with sand and thick weeds. My relaxed mood shifted to “shit, shit, shit.” This was not the spot to lose an engine.. or two. Thank God we have two. I inched out of this disaster and let the engines relax. They sounded gruff for ten minutes before regaining their deep calming purr. We lucked out. Michael checked his river charts and sure enough, the elusive submerged bar was marked on there. “What the f***. If that’s been known long enough to include on a chart, why isn’t there a frickin’ marker by it?!” I exclaimed this in defense of my sweet old boat and dented captain’s pride. Michael laughed, and we chugged on.

We had 22 miles of Lake Pepin ahead of us; three hours of white crested waves beating our steel hull from all sides. We were fortunate that the day’s wind came from ahead as Neighbor Girl does not fair well in a side wind. A side wind of today’s speeds would have forced us to sit this day out, but with a head wind, we pressed on. We quickly learned that both of our bilge pumps were in working order… whew. Water was leaking in from somewhere, or everywhere as the decks were fully rinsed with each wave. Thankfully, our pumps had no trouble keeping up and expelling this intake. Neighbor Girl was doing great.

What I did not expect from our Lake Pepin crossing, besides that disruptive submerged sandbar at the start, was that the main channel crosses through the middle rather than along the shoreline; this caused us to be nearly a mile from shore for most of the venture. With the wild wind splashing from ahead, mysterious dark waters for a mile on all sides, and migrating birds overhead, we felt like true river nomads now! We cranked the music, danced at the helm, and celebrated feeling free and dry in our little moving home.

Later that night, following a celebratory dinner at Slippery’s Bar in Wabasha, we ran our boat aground once again in an attempt to beach up for the night. Neighbor Girl made it out of grounding incident #2 unscathed, and we found another, more perfect spot to make dinner and watch the sun set behind the distant bluffs.

Video: Beach Camping

As night fell, a beaver played near our boat. We did our best to keep quiet and observe his antics, but he caught a glimpse of us, slapped his tail, and dove smoothly away.

It is now Day #3 of this river boat adventure. We wake just south of Alma, WI to find that we have no maple syrup for the pancakes I have been dreaming of all night. These are the things that matter at sea- a good warm meal in the morning and a cold hard drink at night.

Since my little growing fetus disallows me from the cold hard night drink, I am living for these warm morning meals. My husband must love me or something, because we backtrack a mile to Alma’s city dock with the mission of maple syrup acquisition and a propane tank refill. We get distracted by good conversation and fresh pretzels at The Alma Bakery where we are introduced to a 50% off closing sale at The Junk Market down the street. Two hours later, we reboard our boat with propane, fresh pretzels, four wooden folding chairs, a canvas painting of a ship, some sort of antique cutting tool, and with the baker himself for more conversations on scheming and dreaming. The baker didn’t end up departing with us. I suppose he had more pretzels to make after we cleaned him out. The syrup never made it on board either. We are far too distractable to ever become pirates, at least productive ones.

We left Alma at 11:15am, made it through Lock and Dam 5 at 1:12pm, and through the final lock, Lock and Dam 5a, at 2:35pm. We were greeted on the other side of the lock by two boats- one with my parents and the other with the Brandon family. It was a lovely welcoming. We made a small parade to my parent’s cabin where my sister and more family boarded for the final stretch to Latsch Island.

We arrived at The Wheel House, our future floating home under construction, at 4:45pm. We docked with a bang… literally. Michael drove flawlessly up until this climatic point when he made a small but very audible dent in the side of our new boathouse. The excitement got the best of him. I’m taken back to over four years ago when we took Neighbor Girl out for her first trip. With a fresh coat of paint, newly placed engines, and not a bit of knowledge on how to drive this big box of steel with twin engines and no keel, we enthusiastically headed for open water. As brave as ever, we felt like two free birds exploring a world of new possibilities; it was a very familiar feeling that resided in us throughout these last three days. Eventually, on this day four years ago, Neighbor Girl’s maiden voyage came to an end; it was time to dock her back in the slip. Michael took the wheel, used both the wheel and the two throttles to steer (We later learned that this was the beginner’s mistake. You must only use the throttles and no wheel if you hope to park without incident.), and not-so-gently rammed in to the bowsprit of our neighbor’s much nicer boat. Luckily, only ours came out with a scar- a four foot gash through the cabin’s port side. Neighbor Girl’s beauty scar still remains today.

The Wheel House now has an upstream scar to match. These two little river homes now live side by side, each with an imperfection to remind us of the joy in our wildest ideas and new beginnings. May we never be ashamed of these scars or scared to make new ones; they each tell a great story. May we continue to live our lives being too novice, unintimidated, a little stupid maybe, and much too eager in all the new and unusual waters that come our way. May we sometimes forget the syrup and come home with pretzels and a new friend instead.

Video: Celebratory Champagne

When You Have To Boat To Your Boat

“Whatchya writing about?”, says my husband as he shaves his face over the sink while sitting next to me on our bed. There are no distinguished spaces here. It is one room containing all the aspects of a home… except for no laundry machine or any sort of closet. I tell him, “the flooding”. He says, “whoa, that’s a biggins.” “I know; where do I start?”, I say, “at ten feet, twelve feet, eighteen feet?” Michael says, “Start at the bottom of the river.”

I still didn’t know where to start so here we are. I began by giving you the visual of Michael inches away from me at 1:12 am while I sit cozy in bed tip-tapping away on the keyboard. We have three candles lit because our power is out. It’s been out for 22 days now. We’re borrowing Neighbor Mike’s generator because ours fell in the river last night at 4am. I know it was 4am because I wake every time the generator turns off. I’ve turned in to one of those people that has to sleep to the sound of a fan, except in my case: a generator. The whole dock hums of them at night. I met a neighbor for dinner on the dock yesterday and we yelled across the table to hear each other over the loud drone- it was lovely. Anyway, here we are. We’re off grid. Our generator is in pieces to “dry out” on our boat’s floor. There is six inches of snow on our dock. We have to kayak to and from our boat to traverse the flood waters. And Michael shaves his face at 1am while I try to process these last few weeks of Minnesota madness.

Spring isn’t always like this. We usually don’t get flooded out of our parking lot. Our power has never been turned off. We’ve never received an email from the city to evacuate our floating homes due to major flood levels… how strange that none of us checked our email that month.

One month ago, the marina started buzzing with the information that this would be a year of historic flood levels. Would it be something like 2014- a river crest of 20.13 feet? Many neighbors were familiar with this year and smiled as they shared stories from it. It was one year before Michael and I made the marina our home. Could it be something akin to 1965, the highest waters here in recorded history? The river crested at 26.01 feet then.

I’ll quickly brief you on the river levels. The river depth here in Saint Paul, MN is about 9 feet deep. There’s a ton of history on how the 9 foot navigable channel was established. The Upper Mississippi River was not always navigable, not even close, but humans have knack for manipulating nature to suit our wants. I read a book recently that brilliantly goes through the history of our local river: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I highly recommend it: “The River We Have Wrought” by John O. Anfinson. Anyway, back to river levels. The action stage is 10 feet, the flood stage is 14 feet, the moderate flood stage is 15 feet, and the major flood stage is 17 feet.

In the week leading up to the river’s rise, the harbor’s waters remained frozen, and the summer’s boats lined the parking lot just waiting for the spring thaw and eventual release to their dock slips. This year, this transition from dry dock to water would not happen naturally or smoothly. It would require a 65 foot barge pushed by a tug to break up the frozen ice. It would require volunteers to chip away at snow and ice surrounding the stands that held the seasonal boats on land. It would require hundreds of different maneuvers to get the seaworthy boats (boats that can float) in water and the not so seaworthy ones on high ground. The parking lot was going to flood, maybe six feet high. This meant that all the boats safely stored on the lot for winter would not be so safe anymore; they would be floating away… and fast.

This year’s flooding was already different from that of 2014. In 2014, the flooding happened in June- a rather pleasant time of the year to hassle with extra water. Now, it’s March; it’s cold and everything’s frozen. We are understanding these things: we’ll soon be off grid as the power will be turned off before the water reaches the breaker box, we’ll be kayaking to and from our boat as the parking lot is sure to flood significantly, and if all the boats on shore can’t get in the now frozen harbor, they will float away, sink, or surely be damaged. I’m not sure we’ll be telling stories of this flood with a smile on our faces.

Letters were written to the city officials, and the marina acted quickly and with minimal rest. They got that barge to come in and break up the marina’s main channel. Volunteers came forward in impressive numbers to break up the ice within the dock slips and where the barge could not reach. The marina employees worked tirelessly to slip in 48 boats in a span of three days. The boats would be safe.

The water rose quickly, and when we arrived from a weekend away, the liveaboards were in full flood mode. A dinghy dock was established, Neighbor Sam purchased a new motor for his dinghy while Neighbor Mike purchased a new generator, Neighbor Roger lended me his neighbor kayak for the flood season, Neighbor Sam gifted us gimbaled oil lamps for the weeks of power outage to come, and Mystery Neighbor delivered my rain boots directly to Neighbor Girl’s door. As evidenced over and over again, lots of looking out for each other seems to happen here when conditions aren’t fabulous.

Weeks have come and gone now- more than three of them. We are still off grid. Roger’s still letting me use his kayak. We’re getting our day time warmth from the sun (if it’s out that day) and our night-time warmth primarily from candles or our solo propane heater that kicks off frequently for no good reason. We gave up trying to power our fridge, so we’re consuming a hardy amount of dry goods and making more frequent trips to Mickey’s Diner.

We are caught up to the present now. Just when we got settled in to this off-grid flood life, the 5th biggest April snowfall on record blasted us with nearly 10 inches. As temperatures dropped in to the twenties and the wind picked up to 20 knots sustained and 51 gusting, our generator landed in the river at 4am. Michael retrieved it, but it hasn’t been able to be revived. We woke up to one cold boat being tossed back and forth by the unrelenting winds. With my winter coat on, I packed a bag with three days worth of clothes. I impulsively determined that I would find somewhere to stay until this wintery spell seceded. I stormed off the boat in my knee high rain boots in to the snow and across the flood waters. In that moment, I thought I’d be gone until summer.

My rage did not last long. That night, I was back on the boat with my three days of belongings put away and a borrowed generator for heat. It is now 1:12 am. I’m cozy in bed, loving this boat again in all her resilience and charm. “Whatchya writing about?”, he says… I write without really knowing I guess. I start with one small thing, event, person, and I wring it free of all the sensations it has to offer. I write to understand this life all over again; to feel it fully. It goes too fast otherwise. I write to share the beauty in life and the funny in it. I write to honor the very essence of living stripped from all the extras. “The flooding,” I say. I’ll start there. Of course, I start the story talking about him. I can’t help it; it’s just where I feel the most.

If you’re wondering how we (Saint Paul, MN in the year of 2019) ended up in the historical flood contest. The river peaked at 20.19 feet. Yes, 20.19 feet in 2019; I bet you won’t forget that now. It’s the seventh highest in recorded history. The river was higher (and colder!) than 2014, but not as high as in 1965. What a year to have two floating homes on this mighty Mississippi.. uffda. We’re not out of the woods yet, but so far, both are surviving. I wouldn’t say thriving but definitely surviving; I’ll take it.

Since I started this story with Michael, I’ll end with him too. I like to bring things full circle. Since Michael and I work evenings and not always the same evenings, the commute home during flood season has involved a kayak trip from dinghy dock to boat between the hours of midnight and 2am, either alone or together. At first, I though I would dread this after a tiring shift at the hospital. It morphed in to one of the favorite parts of my day (except when that April blizzard hit; screw kayaking in that mess). The water was the most calm at night. It looked like glass, and the moon shine would light our path home. On my nights alone, Michael would always text me things like, “wear your life jacket” or “paddle over the parking lot; it’s more shallow there”. We also debated nightly on which was the best exit point at the dock. I liked to venture straight to our dock finger where a ladder dipped in the water to meet me. Michael preferred to go up the walkway at the dock’s end; it was a gradual slope up and one he insisted was less risky. The water is still icy cold, so any fall in could be dangerous.

One morning, I woke up to Michael blasting through the boat’s door in only his underwear. I didn’t have my contacts in or glasses on, so this was just a strange, blurry vision at first. He had fallen in the water, swam to the dock, got assistance from our neighbors to fish the kayak out, and then stripped his wet clothes off and hung them outside to dry. (The clothes were later found to be frozen stiff.) I couldn’t help but to laugh at him as this blurry image shared his story. “And you always tell me to be careful,” I said, “how ironic.” So, for the official record of Mississippi River fall-ins over four years of life aboard: you can tally Michael’s at a whopping three, while I sit cockily here at zero.

April 2019 Stats To Remember:

  • The 7th highest river crest with a height of 20.19 feet.
  • The 5th largest April snowfall in history.
  • An astounding jump in the river fall-in count with Chelsi securing a 0-3 lead. Booyah.

The Real Deal Winter

As Minnesotans, we’re known for winter. We’re also known for Prince and “uffda” and lakes. That’s about where the list ends. I’ve come to believe that we’re on to something here: keeping our state low-key-cool. We don’t tell them about the perfect summer temperatures and the kickass small town festivals that go with it or the stuff heaven is made of in a Boundary Waters getaway. We don’t clue them in on the magic of the North Shore, that our cheese curds are better than Wisconsin’s, or that people are, like, super nice here. We’ll just let them (whomever “them” is?) go on believing that we’re all Grumpy Old Men with unbearable winters and sports teams that suck.

There is another secret tucked in to the upper Mississippi River valleys; one that even the locals haven’t heard of. No, it’s not the ancient paddlefish (as I’m sure you all were thinking). It’s the little pockets of liveaboards who dot the river’s shores. There’s not a lot of us but bye golly good gosh molly, we’re here alright- rain or shine, snowy or fine… (that sentence got weird). Anyway, the cat’s out of the bag: Minnesota has humans that live on boats all year; yes, winter included.

If there is ever a winter to look back on and think “man, that was the real deal”, it was this one. Winter of 2018-2019 was a beast. It had it all: the week-long negative 40 degree stretch and the record setting snowfall in the month of February. Then, out of nowhere, right before the spring equinox… boom, the melt! FYI: record setting snow one month and a fast melt the next = major flooding. More on that next time.

As far as weather goes, it takes a lot to shock a Minnesotan. We’re a hardy bunch that have bonfires in the winter, sit on buckets on frozen ponds with a pole in hand for fun, and shovel the driveway in shorts as soon as 30 degrees hits. In December, Michael observed a group of five die-hards surfing along the icy shores of Lake Superior…that’s some next level hardiness.

However, somehow, I never fail to surprise a fellow Land of 10,000 Laker when I tell them, “I live on a boat.” There’s always a strange pause like they’re trying to gauge if I just made a weird joke. The most common follow-up question during this winter season: “but you can’t live there now?” In an almost scripted way, I rattle off a cliff notes version of answers to all the questions I know will be asked next. Those include: is it actually in the water, does it freeze, how do you stay warm, is it warm enough, do you have water, do you have electricity, do you have a bathroom, and always, always, always, at the very end of the conversation: “huh, I didn’t know you could do that.”

Yesterday, I frantically helped my neighbor disassemble his ice rink and warming huts when he told me “The city got a barge to come break up all this ice; they’re coming within the hour.” They came in twenty minutes.

As we watched this barge demolish two-foot-thick ice, a woman named Linda came by. She wore a canvas vest like mine and was about thirty years my senior. I liked her instantly as she was curious and candid with an obvious wealth of river knowledge. She did puff hard on a cigarette as we spoke, but hey, no one’s perfect. As we talked, I found out that she lived aboard her boat year round in this marina for ten years. She still comes by to walk her dog and see how things have changed, or haven’t. We talk about the change of seasons, and we exchange the same ideas about the peace and calm of winter and the slightly overwhelming feeling that takes over as the boats get slipped back in for the summer. I laugh when she says, “You have to allow an hour for the five minutes it should to take you to walk to your car.” I had said that exact sentiment to a friend of mine that morning. I had explained to her that “yeah, summer is great with all the people back and all the energy, but as each boat drops in, a bit of our winter serenity leaves with it. In the summer, you have at least half a dozen people to talk to between you and your vehicle; you need to allow an extra forty minutes to walk down the dock.” Summer is a blast, but in the winter, the vibrant human energy leaves for land, and the marina belongs to the wild of Mother Nature again. Linda gets it.  

So, this winter had it’s usuals: the motley crew of ten boats that house thirteen people, three dogs, and one cat. We saw each other only rarely as we scuttled from boat to car to bathroom to boat to grocery store to boat to work to boat. We mustered the occasional outing: a bonfire on New Year’s Eve or a walk in the woods. Neighbor Eric was the star of getting out in the elements with his pond hockey team lighting up the far side of the marina on even the coldest nights. The winter wildlife sightings also included the usuals: beavers playing above and below the ice shelves, a coyote’s deer kill in the middle of the river’s frozen main channel, and bald eagles perched in the cottonwoods. There was also this big debate: was that a coyote or a wolf that Brody (Neighbor Mike’s German Shepherd) was playing with in the woods? As we eat chicken pork seafood gumbo on Ben and Pam’s boat after an icy sunset kayak session, a consensus is made. It was either a robust coyote well fed from easy dumpster food or a young wolf lost in the big city. So, the consensus was that there was no consensus.

This winter also had many unusuals. The unusuals included a morning so icy that Neighbor Sam couldn’t get his truck up the hill to get out of the marina. He had to walk up the hill and Uber to work. Then there was January’s polar vortex deal that handed us wind chill temperatures down to 60 below. February brought us the snowiest February to date with 39 inches falling on Saint Paul. It was the fourth snowiest month of all months in recorded history here.

So, how does boat life fare in these conditions?… perfectly alright. A small place has small needs. We have two electric heaters and one propane heater aboard. We used all three once on the very coldest night, but one or two of those usually did the trick. Eight of the twelve windows were covered with Reflectix, a double bubble reflective foil that works to keep the heat where it belongs. The other four single pane windows were left as is so we didn’t feel like cavemen. Mental health matters when you exist within ten feet of your spouse for four good months.

The most popular questions regarding winter life aboard revolve around intake and output: do we have access to water and how do we expel that intake. In other words: how are we drinking and where do we shit. Before the freeze hits, all water sources are turned off except for one hose or series of hoses that lies deep below the water’s surface where it won’t freeze and runs across the whole of the marina to reach us. It would be about three hundred feet of hose.  The hose runs up to the middle of the dock to meet the needs of all thirteen humans, three dogs, and one cat. The hose must be left on to trickle just enough water through to prevent the hose from freezing to a stop. There are two things that can and have gone wrong with this one and only hose, the hose we all depend on for our sole life-giving water source. The first of these happened last winter when someone turned the water completely off after use and left the hose to freeze shut. Just like that, the whole community was waterless until the spring’s thaw. The second thing that can go wrong with our precious well is that someone can simply drop the hose in to the dark abyss of the Mississippi waters never to be recovered. We had a close call like this in November when I came home to four of my neighbors gathered around a dock finger fishing around with boat hooks. I walked in to a tense situation in which someone had dropped the hose in. The group knew approximately where the drop occurred and had been fishing around for some time. One neighbor asked why it was moved in the first place when it was originally secured tight elsewhere. Others were in quiet desperation, hoping this wouldn’t end our water supply already when winter had hardly even started. In a moment of good fortune, the hose was recovered and tied tight again with a pact amongst us all not to move it. The boat owner’s own hose must be brought to the anchored hose and connected there rather than detaching the precious anchored hose which would risk another drop-in and result in a community-wide water famine.

So, having a working water source, that is step one. We have a twenty gallon holding tank under our bow that we fill with this water. A water pump transports that water to the five gallon water heater and to our sinks. To get the water from the holding tank to our mouths or dishes or wherever also has it’s problems. If it’s less than ten degrees outside, the water pump does nothing. If it’s above ten degrees but below freezing, the pipes might be frozen as the water pump tries to push water through. We’ve had a pipe bursting incident twice this way. If we do get water from the sink but the ice or snow is frozen around the through hull were the sink water exits, our sink fills with water until we break the ice and unfreeze the water sitting in the exit pipe. Basically, we have a fully operating water system for about 35 percent of the winter months.

Alright, next question. “How do ya shit?” It’s a common liveaboard practice to avoid poops aboard altogether. It’s ideal to have a system that can handle all butts and everything that comes out of them, but even if you do, it lands in a contained system that requires a pump out. If you have a moving boat, pump outs are a breeze. You go to the gas dock, buy a touch of gas so you’re pump out is free, and get the pump hooked up to your holding tank’s deck fitting to suck out all the good stuff. In the winter, it’s not as accomodating. Our marina offers pump outs that come to you every few weeks but that pumpout date might not land on or near the date that your holding tank is full and starts to smell, and it costs two hundred dollars for the season.

Our holding tank recently had a particularly stinky issue with a malfunctioning venting system. Basically, our toilet burped up every smell that went into it. So, Michael and I made the decision to avoid boat poops altogether, and instead, hike our butts to the port-a-potty or to the marina’s shop to take care of business. Basically, our daily deliverance require much more forethought these days. After a stint of peeing into a pickle jar (I don’t want to talk about it), we changed our output system altogether. We didn’t want to rely any longer on the bi- or tri-weekly pumpout, and we were not loving the poorly ventilated system that burped back at us. We decided on a more primitive but less dependent situation. We got a five gallon portable toilet with a flush feature for seventy bucks. When the waste compartment is full, it’s emptied in to the port-a-potty up the dock: easy peasy, cheap, and no stink. Perhaps it’s the pickle jar experience talking, but to me, this is luxury.

Well, now that we got the intake and output talk out of the way, where do we go next? I mentioned Neighbor Eric’s killer ice rink within the marina. I’ve never been a hockey player nor can I really skate but his pond hockey situation makes me think that I’m missing something. He’s got lights that surround the rink and a warming hut that has beer and the ambiance of a cozy Irish bar. He skates from boat to rink every night. Sometimes, I fall asleep to the sound of hockey which I love. Other nights, I fall asleep to the sound of someone chipping ice around their boat. Fiberglass boats can’t freeze in or their hull would be done for, so winter requires a bubbler that keeps the water moving and an ice chipping tool (a 2×4 with a rope tied to it is a popular one around here) to augment the process. We are fortunate to have a steel hull on our boat which means we freeze right in; no problem.

So, here’s the conclusion. Winters in Minnesota suck and are also awesome. They make us hardy. They make us grateful. Minnesotans can surf Lake Superior in the winter, and, if we so desire, we can live on a boat in the winter. We can live in a house too, with a driveway that we shovel while wearing a pair of shorts. We can cheer on sports teams that suck and have a good time doing it. We can be nice but sometimes grumpy. We can say “uffda” or whatever word we want in whatever language we want when we wake up to a foot of snow on our car. We can always find a river or lake, but sometimes, it will be frozen. We’ll fish on it anyway. We might have a real deal winter like this one that brings days where we sleep with a scarf on or pee in a pickle jar… am I losing you now? Anyway, let the world believe we’re Grumpy Old Men with shitty sports teams. I like it that way.

Stay low-key-cool Minnesota.

Love Always, Your Neighbors Aboard

About That Boathouse

Oh, hey there. I do realize that my last post was on June 27, 2018. As my GrandPapa Larson would say… Uffda. If I had fans of this blog who knew me in no other way than as dedicated online readers, those readers might believe that Michael and I abandoned the boathouse project, got swallowed by the unforgiving current of Old Man River, or decided “ya know what, forget about this little life on water and woods, let’s move in to a high rise and focus our energy on interior design and the Food Network”. Well, all my loyal online fans out there, breathe easy. None of the above have occurred, although I do really enjoy the Food Network. It’s really less about the network and more about the food; I love food. Anyway, I guess it’s good that I don’t have a horde of assuming internet fans but rather real life friends and family who take a moment of their day to see what little old me and crazy Michael are up to now. Well, my dearest humans, allow me to tie up some loose ends and update you on where we landed on the five month old cliffhanger from June 27, 2018- that boathouse.

Boathouse Build Month Two (July) looked something like this: rain, rain, rain, water rises, island floods, no progress. Easy recap there.

Boathouse Build Month Three (August). I kick myself now for not writing notes as I sift through my brain catalog of memories that happened five months ago. It’s funny what your brain holds on to though- less about the construction materials, the building plans, whats, whens, and hows, and more about the feelings, the sore muscles, the visitors, the joy. Actually, I guarantee Michael’s brain processes this month entirely differently. His rendition would include a bunch of numbers and timelines, and I just do not have the right energy to be transcribing that kind of concrete information right now, so I will proceed with my less useful version:

I vividly recall how the feeling of the Mississippi River air changed from dawn to dusk. It was so crisp in the morning- energizing and cool. It paired nicely with the hot coffee that radiated through the thermos I held tight to my chest as we darted downstream via boat to misty Latsch Island.

The cool morning air settled over the warm Mississippi water like it was trying to shake it awake it from it’s deep slumber. The river resisted, staying calm and centered. The water only livened with the weekend boat traffic many hours after our start time. Boats would cruise by mid morning eager to find a sandbar on which to spend a fine summer’s day. The waves would frequently rock our construction site and a small piece of me would get frustrated, like “hey, can’t you see we’re working here!”, but then I’d laugh at myself (internally, because lol’ing would just be weird) for expecting the boats to know that there’s a little construction site over here dealing with their waves. Interruption by waves- a unique factor indeed.

As the sun heightened, it saturated the sky before it permeated my skin. With the sun high in the sky, the day’s hunger would kick in, and we always forgot to pack food. Over and over though, Mom to the rescue with some good sandwiches and cold drinks.

In the afternoon, the work would become more playful, like we had settled in to who was doing what and now we could afford the energy to be goofs.

Boathouse Gymnastics

Hank At Work

The summer afternoons carried youthful nostalgia for me. A brief touch of wind, obscure smell, or splash of the river could easily transport me back to dirty kid Chels climbing trees, swimming in the creek, playing in the woods, and running barefoot everywhere- grass-stained from head to toe. I look down at my bare feet here, tanned by the sun and as dirty as ever. They are happy to be like this again- useful, playful, strong.

In the evenings, the river carries the warm air like a heavy blanket, tossing it across me as I move around the floating platform. The air became lighter with each passing hour until it feels cool, the day’s heat stripped away with the sunset. The sun would set fast at night. On many days, too fast. On other days, I would thank the sun for rushing us as my dear husband would never stop working until every inch of it had had dipped beneath the upstream horizon.

Our eyes adjusted, and finally, when we could see no more, we hopped in the boat to head home. It was then that we saw our progress from the river, from the eye of a jumping fish or a hungry eagle. This moment, looking back at the now sleepy island where our hard work and dreams lived, was my favorite part of the day.

I reminisce on the long day of attaching deck boards with Pops. It was a tedious task and something that I thought would only take a couple of hours. It took all day. It was a test of patience, something my dad excels at and something I have no business pretending I have. I loved this day with my dad though. We talked about small things, funny things, thoughtful things, and sometimes we didn’t talk (that’s actually his specialty). We were simply content and just really happy in this beautifully mindless pursuit of deck board application.

I delightfully recall a finished platform (barrel racks attached, insulation in, plywood over, deck boards on), and Michael and I’s celebratory jump in to the river. It was particularly hot that day. It was a long day that included cold drinks, fishing breaks, and music to keep spirits high and dehydration at bay. Brother Sean jumped in too and took little nephew Hank in for his first river swim; he hated it or maybe he hated the very over-sized life jacket. Like it does for his aunt and his mama, the river will someday evoke all the good feels of a childhood summer.

River Jump (includes life jacket swag by me)

I remember neighbors stopping by- Gerty bringing us cold La Croix in his runabout. Friends and family stopped by to work or laugh with us, and strangers stopped by to ask what the heck we’re doing (always a great question). The visitors were fun. They gave us a chance to take a break, share ideas, and have a chuckle.

Latsch Island News Report

It was a month of long and sweaty days back to back on a floating construction site that relied heavily on at least okay weather and good-to-the-bones people. It was hard work. It was laughing, arguing, saying a lot or saying nothing at all. It was planning and improvising. It was mistakes and accomplishments. There were minor injuries, sketchy maneuvers, second guesses, lots of Menards stops and boat trips, and some of the best times I’ve ever had.

Strategy Lives Here

Boathouse Build Months Four and Five (September and October). It’s colder now (duh, it’s fall in Minnesota). The island is quieter. The days are shorter. The birds are migrating overhead. The weather is less predictable and often unpleasant. It’s crunch time.

Michael and I are thinking about the boathouse around the clock, and any moment we can be there, we’re there. We know the windows, doors, and roof need to go on before winter yields it’s mighty middle finger. With the impending freezing waters, we will lose our shuttle boat capability. Oh Minnesota, the constant dance we have with your tricky seasons; never allowed to play coy with the elements.

But guess what… with a little help from our village of good-to-the-bones people, we did it! The boathouse is closed in, tied meticulously to shore, and left to the wild of winter.

Stay tuned for the next post in which it is fall/winter and one of us purchases a 116 foot fire tower on an online auction for a grand total of five dollars. If any of you are thinking, “wow what a deal, great idea” (which I highly doubt you are), please understand that this steel tower must be manually removed from it’s Wisconsin ridge within 90 days of purchase and during a season when a coat of frost, or if we’re really lucky, a blast of snow settles on this big, huge, heavy, massive, overwhelming, sturdy, seemingly permanent structure. As GrandPapa Larson would say… UFFDA.

Cheers!

 

Boathouse Build (Month One)

We wake to our alarms signaling our impending 4:30am departure. I struggle with this but am eventually invigorated by Michael’s joy in a project weekend. We make our typical Kwik Trip stop right outside of the city for a large dose of caffeine.

The air is thick with humidity & it’s reminiscent of time in another more tropical slice of the world. This comparison fills me with excitement as I remember all the early morning departures we’ve had in lands far away- getting the van going in New Zealand before sunrise so we wouldn’t get in trouble with where we parked, rising before the heat in Thailand to get our morning run in, and packing our bags in the dark to catch a train in Europe. My bones are alive; my spirit is ready.

The sun rises over the dense clouds along the Mississippi River as we drive south on highway 61- my favorite drive in the world. It’s soon battered by rain, and the sound of rain makes my eyelids heavy. I lay my head on Michael’s lap as he drives. I wake as we park next to the river. My mom and dad have the boat ready. We are off.

The rest of the morning goes something like this:

1. Tie the boat to the half demolished boathouse & release it from its anchored points on the island.

2.Realize the boat has no control to actually turn the boathouse upstream. This is the first moment that I question our sanity.

3. I wonder, “How did we not plan for a rescue boat… or at least an extra anchor?”

4. We correct our course by pushing the boathouse off the boat and maneuvering it many times this way until pointed upstream toward our destination.

5. We soon approach three bridges. We narrowly miss one, bump the side of the other, and pass through seamlessly on the last.

6. Our rope begins to fray. We reinforce with a second rope.

7. Jeff approaches us on his fishing boat. I feel relief that we’ve stumbled upon a very capable and willing rescue boat.

8. We are going slowly but surely. In other words, it’s going very well.


9. I’m pretty sure the dudes get bored with our efforts moving along so flawlessly. They decide to get Jeff involved. Surely two boats will be better than one…


10. Strategizing happens. Should the boats be staggered? Where should they anchor? Mom and I, the poor souls on the boathouse at the mercy of their decisions, wonder why we’re changing what’s working here. Well Ma, let’s sit back and watch this; it’s gonna get good.

11. We pick up speed and right as Mom says, “This is actually working pretty good”, the entire right side of the boathouse gets tugged off; we’ve lost a valuable anchor point. Michael yells out, “Maybe we should just go with one boat!”… ahh, yeah dudes.

12.Scott joins the forces right as we approach our destination. We now have three boats involved; one to tug and two to rescue, watch, advise, etc. If you know river people, you know they can’t sit out on a good adventure.

13. Our ropes break just before pulling in and somehow, someway the boathouse floats perfectly in to place on shore. We’ve made it.


Our buddies show up in the afternoon and everyone is quickly put to work. We have demo to do and new frames and barrels to acquire from the farm and assemble for float. As we drive to the farm, my dad says to Michael and me, “Are you running out of friends yet?” My family has this running joke that Michael and I are bound to lose our friends as whenever we invite them somewhere, Michael is notorious for quickly putting a shovel, saw, or paintbrush in their hands. The good thing is that they know us well enough now… they’ve all arrived in their work clothes.


Have I updated you on the weather yet? Well, it’s still miserably humid and hot- a heat index of over 100. I sweat so much that I don’t pee all day. The nurse in me says a quick prayer for the well-being of my kidneys.
The demo of the old boathouse is the suckiest part. It’s full of moldy insulation, some disgusting carpet under the floor, and multiple mouse dens. My dad works crazy hard from dawn to dusk and he’s the one on the crowbar really giving her hell. He falls in the water twice. I wonder, “Is this how most people honor their dads on Father’s Day? Here Pa, lets destroy some shit together and take zero breaks in the asphyxiating heat.” He’s the best.


The treasures we find in demo include a tarot card and a rat carcass. Our friend Sam suggests we frame both. I consider framing the tarot card but I’m pretty sure it floated in to the raging bonfire… that can’t be good luck.

As if you didn’t consider the aforementioned activities super-duper fun, here comes the most exciting event- transporting the new platform (frames + barrels) in to place where the old boathouse formerly existed.

Like everything else, Michael and I spend the twenty minute drive from the farm discussing the best way to make this happen- where do we put them in the water, how many frames do we float down at once, how do we attach them, what do we use to transport, how many people are needed and where. If you imagined that it would be hard to agree on all these different variables, you are correct. We agreed on none of them at first and then compromised until we were left with one main disagreement- how many frames do we float down at once. I was adamant about one while Michael was advocating hard for three. We settled on two.


With Dan and Ang at the helm of the kayak (our tug boat) and Michael, Beth, Garner, and I aboard the barreled frames with paddles, we way too easily and quickly navigated 2/3 of our new boathouse platform in to place. We were not without a rescue boat in the distance; Ma and Pa observed in the channel with country music on blast.

If you read through this whole thing without knowing what the heck we are even up to, I’m going to rewind for a minute. In the fall of 2016, Michael and I purchased a boathouse- a floating cabin on Latsch Island in Winona, Minnesota. The boathouse had been housing bats and rats for some time now and was beyond decent repair. We’ve since made new boathouse plans and this summer is our summer to execute them.


Prior to this weekend, we got our city building permit, boathouse association approval, and various supplies. One weekend was spent acquiring 100 blue barrels (which pack the platform to our boathouse allowing it to float), prepping them with dry ice (to keep them expanded), and sealing them with silicone. Thanks to Chris and Ben for that weekend! I hear it was full of really good smells since the barrels came from Watkins and held flavors like bubble gum and caramel.

The next weekend was spent picking up LOTS of wood from Menards and building the nine 30 foot frames. Thank you Sam Henninger and Kelly Brandon for assistance there along with help from cousins Chaniah and Zoe. Big thanks to Grams and Gramps for letting us use their shed for construction and storage.

The third weekend and one I could not be there for (thank goodness because this one made me the most nervous) was dedicated to cutting down part of a dead, overhanging tree that reached high in the sky over our boathouse site. The Sams (Sam Larson and Sam Henninger) were in on this one. Some demo and oversized bonfires happened then too. I can imagine that Sam H. (or “Neighbor Sam” as we endearingly differentiate him) was very involved in the tree climbing portion and Sam L. (or “Sam Sam”) in the fire tending portion as these are their bread and butters; that weekend certainly had the right humans for the jobs.

IMG_2354

IMG_2362.TRIM

This weekend brought Dan, Ang, Beth, Garner, and Rachel to the river for a perfect Mark Twain-esque adventure story.

Jeff and Sara Brandon and Scott Yess, three neighborhood river gurus, also helped to streamline the disgusting and difficult demo process.


After weekends like this, Michael and I wonder what we could ever accomplish without our village- our family and friends who are willing to fall in the water, climb uncomfortably tall trees, inhale bubble gum scented air all day, navigate a kayak with 30 feet of timber attached to it, and take evening swims in the river in lieu of a real shower. I wouldn’t be surprised if our friends visit for the free food- brunch at Grandma’s house or dinner by Mom, but whatever keeps them coming, we are thankful.


And finally, Michael and I talk incessantly about the blessings we have in each of our parents- the backbone to our village. On Sunday (Father’s Day), I woke up to my dad cutting up wood from the demo the day before. He had been up since 4am working on this project. He goes and goes until sunset. He doesn’t say much and at one point I turned to Michael and said, “Has Dad said anything yet today?” Michael says, “I don’t think so.” Shortly after, I hear Dad unintentionally mutter, “I’m exhausted”. As much as I ask him to rest, he never does. He also never drinks water which I find absurd. In every project or dream we come up with, he’s right in the trenches with us- always doing the dirty work, the heavy lifting, the early morning jobs, and the late night grind; he smiles at the end of an incredibly long day and I know he loves this as much as we do.

Mom is there too, every time. She’s keeping us fed, keeping our spirits high, contributing logical insight during stressful moments, and getting her hands as dirty as the rest of us. Within this process, Michael’s parents are cheering us on from out of town. They’d be right here with us if they could- before sunrise or after sunset; they know hard work and love a good project. I see them in Michael throughout all of this.


As we drive home on Monday morning, we’re exhausted but happy. Michael points out the tan lines on my shoulders and for the first time all weekend, I look in the mirror. My hair is all over the place, and I can’t believe I didn’t pack more than one headband to tame this mess. I have dirt stained legs from work this morning and sore shoulders and scattered bruises from the days before. I’m happy to carry these pieces of the weekend home with me. I look over at Michael who is coping with the idea of a work week indoors. “Make it fun,” I tell him as he drives away to work. “I will”, he yells back.

Tonight, I read Michael all of this and he tells me that he remembers what the tarot card was- the one we found in the boathouse wall. It was the “Ten of Wands”. We google this and find the following on www.tarot.com: “The Ten of this suit represents an all-out effort, an obsessive commitment to a task which demands everything you’ve got. The person shown in decks with pictures is in no position to rest until he makes it inside the stout walls of the well-defended castle in the distance. If he fails, he will become prey for the highway robbers after dark. It doesn’t matter that he’s overloaded and underfed. With this card, you have to do whatever it takes to get to completion — nothing can be allowed to interfere.”

This page goes on to say, “The Ten of Wands in this position advises you to remember the true, simple heart of your youth and all the idealism it held. Now may be the time to reach deep into yourself and identify your purest, most wholesome impulses. As you do this, allow your optimistic and honorable side to see what’s good about the world.”

“Make it fun,” I tell him as he drives away to work. “I will”, he yells back.

 

Not Too Little, Not Too Much

Lagom. It’s a Swedish word meaning “not too little, not too much, “in moderation”, or “enough”.

My birthday is on New Year’s Eve. There are certainly perks to this. For example, I pretend the whole world is partying in my honor- the ball drop, the dressing up, the good food, the midnight kissing, the whole thing- my elaborate birthday party. Because NYE is a holiday and I’m a nurse, I’m destined to every other birthday with my patients; this year was one of those years. I still pretend that the world is partying for me; I just don’t attend the party, and you know what- it’s awesome. I get to wear scrubs, I don’t eat or drink too much, I laugh a lot, there are no expectations, and most importantly, I get to celebrate life in the rawest form.

As a nurse, you know a patient’s whole story. You know what they like to eat, their bedtime routine, who their favorite family member is (and their least favorite), what gets them through the hardest of days, and what their shit (figuratively and literally) looks like. I know… TMI. Welcome to nurse life. In every patient, I see a bit of myself, my family, or a friend- in the homeless guy who got hit by a bus, the woman my age who is now a paraplegic, the grandpa who had a debilitating stroke, and the mechanic who suffered extensive burn injuries, these people are my people. My patients remind me that life is incredibly precious; quite simply- today is all you get; so, on my birthday, I am ecstatic to be with these dynamic individuals who have faced tragedy prematurely and face this day, my day of birth, with such grace, strength, and inevitably true joy because for all of us, today is a blessing.

To be honest, I got distracted back there. I was going to talk about lagom which made me think of the book that Michael bought me on my birthday, which made me think of my birthday, and then made me realize, “damn, that was a good birthday”. Okay, back to lagom.

The book I read is titled “Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life” by Niki Brantmark. The book touches on de-cluttering, the art of listening, eco-friendly living, the morgondopp (morning dip), work-life balance, fika (a break with coffee and a treat), sauna, and even foraging. As I often do with books I love, I read it aloud to Michael during our morning fika. We come to realize that lagom is really life as we know it. It is perfectly enough… except we need a sauna.

You guessed it. He built a sauna. Alright, you probably didn’t guess it, but it’s true. In the days leading up to a big project like this, Michael is a much quieter presence in our little boat. His mind is working on the logistics, notes are being scribbled, Youtube videos are being watched, and Craigslist is being scoured through for discounted materials. Michael is truly a student of the process. I adore him for this. Michael is thinking of measurements, materials and timelines while I’m like “can’t we just get a day pass at the YMCA sauna?”… not the same.

It’s two days of obtaining materials, two trips to Hutchinson where Michael has his dad as a mentor and his shed as tool heaven, six hours of constructing the perfect jig for dovetail joints, twenty minutes per cedar board dedicated for dovetail carpentry, and multiple nights of staying up until midnight with the coolest and kindest welder at work who helps complete the homemade wood stove. With only wood, stainless steel, a small amount of stone, and lots of gained knowledge, a sauna is made.

What is next on our lagom to do list… the morgondopp (a morning dip in the local swimming hole)? I step outside the boat and shiver at the thought of falling off the dock in to the thick dark mass of nearly frozen river water. While a good chunk of my winter neighbors have experienced this fateful event and come out looking like scared, wet cats, I’ve walked carefully along the dock to avoid such disaster. My heartbeat quickens, I tighten my scarf and decide that on the scale of “not too little to not too much”, the morgondopp is simply too much. I’ll just fika instead.

So, how to live a life of lagom? Live a life of “enough”. It’s living for what matters and not indulging in what doesn’t. I possess eight pairs of pants and twelve shirts but enough books to sink our through hulls. I love work but spend more time not at work. The process is what makes you; a sauna does not build itself; the food you eat does not grow itself; a maple tree will not tap itself; the process matters more than the outcome so enjoy every moment of every process you can be a part of.

Be a contributor, a listener, and a lifelong learner. Dedicate time to activities that enrich you, not distract you. Be outside; remember that you are a part of this world and this world is a part of you. You are not superior to the trees that give you air.

Spend your birthday doing small things with great intent; in fact, spend every day that way. Give, give, and give. Please, stop taking so much. You will be happier with just enough. Finally, be yourself wherever you are; understand that you are not too little and you are not too much; you, just as you are, are exactly enough.