In Praise of Tiny Toys

Kinsley has always adored playing with small parts. Sorting screws, bolts, and other hardware, picking up pebbles when we go for a walk, pouring dried beans, the smaller the pieces the better.

Both my kids love Legos and they play with them very differently. Owen builds vehicles, the wilder the better. I’ve been introduced to planes that fly in air and water, all terrain vehicles with detachable spaceships, and motorcycles that ignore gravity. With the same toy, Kinsley rarely puts together more than a dozen bricks. The individual pieces become characters and props in elaborate stories about family and friends. A cube can be a car, a baby, or a birthday cake.

Small pieces, for Kinsley, are placeholders in her stories. She overflows with ideas and they pour out at playtime. Her toys argue, act stubborn, get into mischief, and sort themselves out again. They throw parties, adopt kittens, and grocery shop. I’ve watched her create a vet’s office, celebrate weddings, teach school, and explore islands with nothing more than a collection of pipe cleaners and tiny wooden blocks.

There are times, looking at her play, that I find myself thinking that I should buy her something more to play with, maybe Playmobil people and animals with their realistic accessories, toys that match the stories she tells. She has a few animals and they get regular play, maybe she needs more variety? Fortunately, I catch myself in time. She clearly doesn’t need more toys. Her small parts are changeable and open ended.

She can tell any story she wants. Why would I limit that?

Slow Spring

There are years when spring bursts upon us all at once. We move quickly from winter coats, long underwear, beef stew and electric blankets, right into shorts, popsicles, pools and gardens with barely time to catch our breath. This is not one of those years. A day or two of warmth followed by rain and gray. One more day of sun and three more cold gray days. We are doing our best to celebrate the little things, regardless of the weather.

Flowers and fresh herbs on the back deck.

Stories in the hammock.

Sun warmed cats.

Beautiful views.

Frog boots in puddles.

Flowers everywhere.

Hang in there, summer is coming.

Our summer bucket list.

Are you noticing the lack of Owen pictures too? He gets to ok which pictures I post and he hasn’t been in the mood to be photographed lately.

Game Time

Books and games, games and books. If we brought all the ones we love, Goblin would be riding a few inches lower in the water.

Owen, our resident game kid, had the tough job of deciding which games to bring aboard, which to tuck into storage, and which to give away. He sorted for which games could be packed down small, be fun even after playing them over and over, good for kids and adults to play together, and could be taught quickly to new friends. Not all the games fit all these criteria, but I think he managed a good mix. Together we unboxed the games and sorted them into ziplock bags. Card games are stored in plastic travel soap boxes.

Owen’s choice for games are listed below. He started some of these as young as age four but all are recommended for adults as well. Kinsley is starting into Blink, Spot-It, Carcassonne and Labrinth, hopefully we have another game lover in the making.

Card Games

A speed game, matching colors, shapes, and numbers. You can play once through the deck in less than two minutes or keep going until one player runs out of cards.

So many ways to play. We’ve played this as solitaire, a speed game, and taking turns.

You’ll be more than a little cross-eyed by the end of this one. The directions aren’t too clear but once you get the hang of it, this makes a great game to play solo or with a group.

Fun for the geeky crowd. We play with two players but it’s better with a group. There’s lots of reading involved and some of the humor is better kept away from the younger audience. This one requires more room to spread out than the other card games.

Board Games

The most sprawling of the games which made the cut onto the boat. You build the board with tiles as you play, most often we spread across the floor rather than trying to fit on the table.

Part maze, part scavenger hunt. We play this one both cooperatively and competitively. You can set the length of the game by deciding how many treasures to find, or challenge yourselves to find them all.

An old Ravensburger game that still gets lots of play. Players trade jewels, trying to match patterns with as few extra jewels as possible. The glass jewel pieces are irresistible.

Super easy to learn but allows you to build strategy over time. Although the board is larger than anything else in the game cabinet, it keeps the pieces from shifting around and is completely worth the space. As an added bonus, Kinsley uses the board and pieces to make pictures.

Our newest find and so very much fun. You gather jewels, build mines, and try to woo sponsors to win. The rules scale for two to five players and involves very little downtime.

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On the iPad
Living on land we had these games in a traditional format. The full games had so many pieces and they wouldn’t have tolerated boat movement well so we transitioned to electronic format. All three are European games and designed for older players. The rules take a while to learn and all three rely a good bit on random chance, rather than pure skill and strategy.

Ticket to Ride

Settlers of Catan

Rivals of Catan

I’m sure some of these will change over time, swapping one game out for another as space allows, but for now we’re keeping ourselves entertained.

Small Boat Project

Goblin came with a microwave. The thirty year old machine has sat, unused, hulking in the corner of the galley, taking up space since we moved aboard. I stored baking dishes and measuring cups in it but otherwise, it was a dead space corner of the kitchen.

One winter day, after greater than normal annoyance at my tiny kitchen, I grabbed a flashlight and a two foot screwdriver as a pry bar and set to work attempting to remove it. A small boat project, pull out an unused appliance, add a shelf, have a new storage area. Little did I know…

Have you ever wondered how many tools it takes to remove a thirty year old microwave that was installed before the cabinetry was finished? Ever wondered how many hours it would take to dismantle a microwave from the inside out? Ever wondered how much said microwave weighs?

This beast was screwed in place from below. How did someone get below? Good question. There’s no access to below now that both a freezer and a stove are in place. Turns out they screwed it to a piece of plywood and then glued the plywood into place.

Bit by bit, with more than a little swearing, brute force began to win.

For once, I thank the corrosive nature of salt air. The screws holding it to the plywood below were entirely rusted and gave way to a proper application of leverage.

It took a dock cart to carry the remains off the boat. At least thirty pounds of twisted metal and scrap.

Here’s what used to fill the inside of the microwave. I have just a bit more room now.

The space stayed mostly empty for a month as I debated between a shelf or one large basket. What do I want to keep in the space now, what might go in later, how can I take full advantage of my new four cubic feet of space? Final decision, shelf and baskets. Time for boat yoga.

And now, with a new shelf in place, My kitchen storage has increased by a third.

Conclusion, there is no such thing as a small boat project.


My kids don’t close doors.

We visited my parents mid winter and I found myself closing the door to their garage over and over. We visited friends, again the main door was wide open behind them. That was when it hit me, these kids don’t have any practice closing doors behind them.

Goblin has only one standard door, for the bathroom. The wood has always been a little swollen and it takes a lot of effort to close it tight so most often we just pull it to the door jam and leave it. You hear anyone coming, you hear anyone inside, there aren’t issues of being surprised. City doors, they all close automatically, a great many of them open automatically as well.

I like what open doors say about my kids. They don’t close themselves in and they don’t close the world out.

On Goblin, the deck is just as much a part of their home as below. Outside and inside are part of the same.

They dance with abandon and laugh themselves over backwards both tucked away below and out on the deck. Even in the middle of Boston with the busy Harborwalk just above us, our home is open. We know the weather and notice when it changes. In the summer, we look up through hatches and the companionways at the blue sky and the stars.

So, if my kids leave your front door wide open, please forgive them and enjoy the breeze.

I adore the variety of doors in our marina, so much personality.

Coming Out of Hibernation

I hate winter. No, that’s not exactly right. I hate having to get up and go out and get things done during the winter. The gray days and cold weather drag at me. If I could get away with doing nothing more than baking and snuggling under quilts with a good book, I might change my opinion of winter. Unfortunately, I have two kids who disagree with my plan for full hibernation.

I still have to shop for food. They insist we visit friends, make plans for museums and meet up with homeschool groups. By the time the kids are in bed at the end of the day, I’m exhausted, mentally and physically, from doing battle with my least favorite season. My energy to attack boat projects, even to think about them, ground to a halt as the dark and freezing weather set in.

Then, Mother Nature surprised us with a week of warm weather, bright sunny skies, temperatures reaching the high sixties, warm breezes and the first sprouts peeking out of the ground. With the warmth came action. I stripped and sanded more of the wood work in preparation for spring brightwork. It’s too bad the toe rail is covered by the shrinkwrap, stripping that will have to wait until shrinkwrap is down. I’m hoping to have all of last years varnish lightly sanded before we are unwrapped, allowing a new top coat to go on as quickly as possible.

Spring cleaning began. Kinsley has a new fascination with chores and has taken over sweeping, vacuuming, and dusting. She’s also in charge of cockpit organization on a much more intermittent basis. We hauled mattresses up on deck to air, I scrubbed and rinsed the bilge, scoured counters, and pulled the rugs out into the sun.

More importantly, we started dreaming aloud again. There’s plenty of talk about summer and sailing. Maine is highest on list. The hope is to spend more days out on the water, heading wherever the wind points us. The Southeast Coast of North America chart of our wall returned to receiving lots of attention.

And then winter reemerged. My blankets resumed their siren call, the oven beckoned, and I answered. Goblin and crew are still here, but we’re returning to hibernation for just a little longer.


We’re finally prepped for the winter under our bubble.


This year, reaching fully wrapped has been a process. We were framed for weeks before we were wrapped.


We were wrapped for a month before the shrinkwrap was fully shrunk.


We just finished patching holes before they let in too much rain. Kinsley helped rehang our door.


I’m celebrating dry space to hang our coats and stash our boots.


The kids are celebrating access to a giant canvas.


Guess this means it can snow now.


Sometimes It’s Hard

There are three slides at our closest playground. On our very first trip, Kinsley, at two and a half, learned to climb up the twisty slide, following her brother. Last winter, boots and all, she mastered the tunnel slide that Owen now climbs on the outside of. And then there’s the metal slide.

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It’s tall and steep. The first time Kinsley slid down she flew right off the end and landed in a heap on the ground, more surprised than hurt. She wasn’t in too much of a rush to slide down again. Going up, that was different.

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Climbing up the slide was impossible, even for my monkey girl. She would start up, land on her belly, and come right back down. She would ask over and over again for someone to help her, but that wasn’t really what she wanted. She knew how to be at the top of the slide, go up the ladder. What she really wanted was to master the climb.

One bright shining morning, not too long ago, Kinsley climbed the slide. No fanfare, no celebration, just a small smile before she flew back down it and ran off to chase Owen.

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Sometimes, we set our sights on something hard. We fail over and over again. That’s ok. Hard doesn’t mean impossible. Not yet doesn’t mean never. If it’s worth it, make it happen.

Changing Seasons

There’s no doubt that fall has arrived, all the signs are here. The air is cooler, leaves are changing color, and the kids have picked apples and pumpkins. Shorts are packed and sweatshirts are daily wear. Halloween costumes are under construction.


Marina life has its own signs of fall.

The small boats departed the marina, the dock layouts changed, and the liveaboards are moving from farthest out to closest in. Owen and Kinsley love walking past their friends on the way to and from our boat each day.


During the summer, marina staff dashed around, helping catch and cast off boats, shepherding dock carts of supplies, greeting and cleaning. As fall closes in, the staff shrinks significantly. They settle onto the docks with larger projects, running winter water lines, replacing boards, and checking power.


The parking lot always has spaces free, even on the weekends. Returning to the marina in the middle of the weekend lacks the parking lottery stress of summer.


On Goblin the sails, solar panels, and dodger are down and packed off to storage. Oddly, prepping for shrinkwrap makes the boat feel so much larger. You step right into the cockpit without needing to duck around the boom or dodger. Sunlight floods the salon when we open the companionway. Unfortunately, no more dodger also means no more rain protection. Hopefully we’ll be framed and wrapped before too much more rain falls.


The heaters are in place, comforters are on the beds, and we’re prepared to snuggle down and enjoy the fall.


School Work

Ahh school. We didn’t pick an official starting day for this school year but then, we didn’t formally end last year either. Learning occurs all the time, more authentically when we are less formal about it.


Owen has focused his energy into programming this fall. He loved creating Scratch games last year and this fall he has expanded into html. If you’d like to see play of the games Owen’s been working on, the webpage he’s designing is HERE.


On our goal list this year is visiting all the branch libraries in the Boston Public Library system. Both Owen and Kinsley have record keeping cards, to rank various aspects of the libraries. They review the children’s section, picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, toys, ease of getting there, and bathroom quality before giving the library an overall ranking. Owen has plans to take the final data and present it in graph form.


Kinsley, inspired by our reading of Ramona the Pest, has insisted on having seatwork of her own. She tucks herself into a corner and cheerfully works through her own schoolwork. She knows all her letters and many of their sounds. Pesky b and d still mix her up from time to time but she’s determined. She has also decided that she wants to learn to read so that she can play more of Owen’s games. She has such ferocity when she decides on what she wants, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she teaches herself.


The rest of our days? We read piles and piles of books on every topic that catches our attention. We play games over and over, tweaking the rules to see if Owen’s ideas are better balanced than the game designers.


Owen tracks hurricanes, Kinsley colors stacks of pictures. Both kids build with legos for hours. We wander the city, Owen leads the way on subway expeditions, Kinsley starts conversations with seatmates on the subway.


We cook, we clean, work on the boat, we live our lives at our own pace, and we keep learning.