Friday, April 4, 2014

Former Floating Frat House Surgery and What Could Have Been

Current Location:  Sacramento, CA

A recent event at the Frat House seems to have warranted a blog entry and reminded Ben and I to be grateful for something we tend to take for granted; our children’s health. 
Although we navigated the waters of critical illness when Mickey was born, we have been fortunate to have nothing more than colds, flu, sprains and the occasional vomiting (the kids, not us….if you don’t count Ben and my college days…and mid 20’s….beer bongs will do that to you).  So as the hours progressed, we anxiously, watched our child become increasingly ill. At one point our eyes met and without uttering a word, we concurred on one simple notion.
“Dang, I’m glad this didn’t happen when we were cruising.”
Let me preface this with the fact that we would not have changed our mind about living on a sailboat and residing in foreign countries.  However, when something like this occurs, it does make us pause and reflect on the question, how would this all played out, if we were living on a sailboat?
The day began as any other, the boys woke up to their alarms, got dressed, made their breakfasts and were ready to go 30 minutes early, as their parents procrastinated, hit their snooze alarms and waited until the last possible moment to slide out of bed.  This is not an exaggeration and we have no idea how it happened, but our children are ready to go every morning before we can press the button on the coffee maker.  I know this does not present us in the best light as parents, but on this blog I try to always tell it like it is.
So the boys and I walked to their elementary school where I was teaching for the day and have been working regularly.  Apparently,  J.P. complained of a stomach ache to his big brother at morning recess, warranting the suggestion, “Go and see the nurse” (please note, their school does not actually have a nurse, but the boys don’t seem to be aware of this, since Mrs. Tracy and Mrs. Shelly are highly skilled band-aid administers).

J.P. decided to soldier on until the end of the school day, even gutting it out for his basketball practice.  Afterwards, we all walked home without incident, the Frat House mother still without any knowledge of a stomach ache. Upon entering the house, the boys found a bag of hidden Doritos in the pantry and celebrated the treasure by wolfing it down. It should be noted that the regular after school Frat House snack is blueberries, popcorn or edamame.  This is the honest truth and I’m not making it up because I sounded like a lazy mother at the beginning of this entry.

A couple of hours later those same Doritos propelled themselves out of J.P.’s stomach into our lovely stainless All-Clad stock pot. With concern and sympathy we watched the poor, young lad get sicker and sicker.  After interrogating the patient, I was concerned when he informed me that the stomach pain had now migrated to the lower right hand side of his abdomen.
Amongst his anguish and vomiting, J.P. looked over at me after I had cleaned out another pot full of orange regurgitated Doritos and said, “Thanks mom for cleaning up my puke.”

I took heart that if I had failed at all other aspects of mothering, my children turned out to be quite appreciative.
At this point, I decided to confirm my motherly intuition on Web MD and there it was in black and white, an acute appendicitis. Ugh! Ben called the advice nurse and ordered us to go to the Emergency Room where they would admit him to the hospital.  By this time it was 11:00 p.m. so we called our friend, Chris to stay with Mickey who was blissfully unaware of any drama, snoozing away in his bed. Into the night we drove with brave, J.P. in the backseat vomiting into my favorite stockpot. 

As some of you know, an ER can be a carnival ride-freak show on steroids, yet I had high hopes of some normalcy, it being Monday night and all. No such luck. However, they saw J.P. right away for which we were grateful. When the nurse asked him when the pain began J.P. answered in a serious tone, “At 7:50 this morning.”
She turned to us, winked and said, “Well, I guess that’s precise enough.”

He further entertained when he proclaimed to the nurse taking his blood pressure, “This is perfect for what we are studying in class. Medical history! I will learn a lot here.”  
James Patrick Doolittle….a patient AND a scholar!

They immediately put in an I.V., drew blood, performed an ultrasound and confirmed Dr. Molly’s diagnosis of ‘acute appendicitis’.  He was soon tucked into an ER hospital bed and given some pain medication. At this point he turned to us and asked, “Do you think I will miss school tomorrow?”

The curtain between J.P. and his new roommate, an inebriated 70 year old, provided a visual barrier, yet we were still privy to all of his verbal communication, mostly with himself.  One such conversation went like this:
Roommate sneezes loudly.

“Excuse me!”

“God Bless You”
“Thank you.”
“You're welcome!”

One would think there were multiple people on the other side, but it was just him enjoying his own company and being pleasantly polite to himself.  This got a silent chuckle from me, Ben and even J.P.
When we broke the news to our nine year old boy of the impending surgery, he cried quietly while processing his new reality. We explained that he would go to sleep and not remember the procedure and would eventually start to feel better. To this he responded, “But what if I wake up in the middle of it?”
Ooops! We neglected to inform him that it’s not like his nightly sleep! We quickly backtracked and let him know there was special medicine that keeps people unconscious until well after the surgery. Our bad!   

Middle of the night ER, waiting for the ambulance.
We brought his favorite blanket from home.

Comforted by this fact and a dose of morphine, he dozed off, however 15 minutes later his big, sweet, beautiful eyes blinked opened, looking up at me hopefully.  He then asked me a question that broke my heart, “Did they cut it out yet? Is it over?”

As night evolved into early morning, the staff informed us that he would need to be transferred to Sutter Memorial Hospital where there was a pediatric surgeon on staff.  The EMTs arrived about an hour later and were very sweet with the patient asking him questions about himself and being very kind. As they conversed with J.P., he divulged that we had lived on a sailboat and traveled for two years. This warranted a comment from one of them that made all of us chuckle, "I don't think I've ever said this to a nine year old before, but I'm so jealous of you!!"

With that, J.P. was loaded into an ambulance and taken the 2.2 miles to the facility where he would have surgery.  Ben rode with him and asked the EMT’s if they could turn on the sirens and lights to which they obliged. Oh, boys and their toys!

As I followed in the car, appreciating a moment of solitude, thoughts blazed through my brain.  Would J.P. be ok? What if there were complications with the surgery? Could he have an allergic reaction to the medicine and anesthesia?  The damn broke and I was soon in tears driving through the empty streets of Midtown Sacramento.  Noticing that the hysteria was building, I said a prayer and calmed myself down. Sailing 10,000 miles taught me many invaluable things. Perhaps the most significant was that hysteria is not a great strategy when all hell breaks loose.

As a side note, we received a call a couple of days later from the ambulance company who informed us that the 2.2 miles ambulance ride cost $2,000. We are covered for it, but WOW!! For that amount of money, shouldn’t it have been tricked out with gold rims and staffed with a butler serving cocktails???

After arriving at 3:00 am, J.P. was brought to the pediatric ward where we awaited confirmation of his surgery time. When the pediatric nurse came in and informed us that the surgeon was on call and would be in at 6:00 am, I wasn’t concerned. However, she then proceeded to tell me, “The hospital will fit him in sometime later today because the schedule is quite full”.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Mama Bear had been awakened from hibernation and she was NOT happy!  <Enter GROWL here>

Ben had returned home to get some sleep and stay with Mickey, so I’m sure he was concerned when I texted him at 5:30 am. Before I print below the text exchange, please note a few things about Ben and myself as husband and wife.

Molly -  The Irish one, tends to be easy going until pushed too far, turning quite hot headed (especially when someone messes with her children).  In addition, she has an endless desire to get things out in the open and tends to express every emotion as it bubbles to the surface. Let’s just say I’m not a woman who says to her husband, “No, I’m fine” when I’m upset. This can be a blessing and a curse.

Ben – the ultimate example of an easy-going guy and truly lives by the philosophy, “It’s all good!” . He tends to avoid confrontation if possible, but will put up a good fight when needed.  The text exchange went like this:

 Molly: How r u guys doing? I’m ready to start kicking some butt here if they don’t get him in there (surgery) soon. He’s been awake off and on and keeps asking me when. What’s your plan?

Ben: No plan here. Explain to JP that they will need to fit him into a full schedule.

Molly: Yes, but I’m not ok w/ that. It’s been 7 hours since diagnosis and really don’t think we should be waiting any longer. U may want to get down here to play peacekeeper.

Molly (cont.): Scratch that, get down here and be my back up. I think it would be good if u were here sooner rather than later. I can send Kathy if u want (to take care of Mickey).

Ben:  You tell me. Shall I check w/ chris or is Kathy on her way? Or I can b there in about one hour just dropping him off a little early….whatever you like.

This is where I terminated texting and made an actual phone call to my husband. With the conversation that ensued, I came to realize that I was looking for Ben to be at the hospital to make sure I didn’t get hysterical with the medical staff. With no sleep and a stressful night behind us, I was feeling extremely emotional, tired and anxious.  We were also at a difference of opinion, in that Ben was not seeing the urgency about getting J.P. into surgery, and I was. So if that was my deal, why the heck was I waiting for him? It was time to put on my big girl pants and take care of business.

So I hailed the amazing, nurturing, kind night nurse to our room and asked her to meet me outside in the hall. As I expressed my concerns about the timeline of the surgery, she was an attentive and active listener (Honestly, I really don’t know how these people do this job…it takes a strong and wonderful person).

When she reached out her hand and rubbed my arm, telling me everything would be alright, Mama Bear stormed out of her lair and this nurse now became my prey.

It went something like this….

Molly:  Thank you for your kindness, but this is what I want you to do (pointing a finger… I know soooo bad, but I couldn’t help it).  Pick up the phone, call the pediatric surgeon and tell her that I am NOT ok with this timeline of fitting him in where they can. I don’t know if this is a communication thing, but I want it to be known he needs to be in surgery ASAP. Here’s my point, if they have diagnosed him with appendicitis…the only next step in this scenario is that it will burst and we all know that’s NOT good.

I looked into the nurse’s eyes to see the horror of “Oh, crap this mom is seriously on the brink of an emotional breakdown”…which made me even more angry.

Molly (in a hauntingly calm, quiet voice): Look, I know you think I’m being emotional and I’m telling you not make that mistake. Let me be very clear with you. This is what I want you to do:

(Molly holding up 1 finger)  “One. Call the pediatric surgeon.”

(Holding up 2 fingers)  “Two. Tell her the mother of this patient has serious concerns about the timeline for this surgery due to the decline of this child’s health which includes a high fever and increasing pain. Also there is the growing anxiety by the 9 year old patient about the impending surgery. He is waking up every 30 minutes asking me ‘When mom? When?’.” 

(Holding up 3 fingers)  “Three. Then take a pen and write down in the file my concerns,  that you made this call and the surgeon’s response”

(Holding up 4 fingers)  “Four And if there is no response, I want some doctor down here to explain to me the health benefits of waiting.….understand….me?”

To her credit, the nurse squeaked, “Yes.”

Awaiting surgery. Who wouldn't fight for this bear cub?
Jon bravely stood by J.P! The nurses even gave him his very own hospital bracelet.
I felt momentarily guilty that I had just shot the messenger, but was proud that I didn’t go all “Shirley Maclaine” from Terms of Endearment on the woman.  BUT-if I had to, I would have!!  The movie clip actually played through my head as I talked to the nurse.

The scene I am referring to, takes place in a hospital, where a daughter is dying of cancer and receiving pain meds to keep her comfortable until her impending death. Her mother is quite persuasive when the nurses are late administering the medication. If you haven’t seen it, here you go:

I remember watching the movie with my mother when I was in high school. The scene moved my mother to tears and at the time I did not understanding why. Now having my own children, it is crystal clear.

A few minutes later the nurse returned and reported that J.P. was scheduled for surgery at 7:00 a.m.  With her duty done, growling Mama Bear now retreated back to her lair.

Ben returned to the hospital just as the surgeon arrived to explain the procedure to both us and J.P., answering all of our questions patiently. She chuckled when the charming patient informed her in a morphine induced haze, that he had a medical research report due in a couple of weeks. He hoped to choose appendicitis as his topic. Much to his surprise, Dr. Graf offered to take a photograph of his appendix during surgery.

They soon prepped him for surgery and he was whisked off to the operating room. Unlike 35+ years ago when I had my appendix out, they catered to J.P.’s emotional needs quite beautifully. For instance, they allowed him to have his beloved teddy bear, Jon with him during surgery and put him to sleep while we were still by his side. I remember crying hysterically when they told my parents to leave the room while they prepared me for surgery.

They were able to do laparoscopic surgery and all went well much to our relief. Later, as J.P. recovered back in his hospital room, the surgeon dropped by to check on him and delivered the photograph of his now defunct appendix. We were tickled by the gesture and J.P. proclaimed, “I’m totally going to get a good grade on this!”

Yep, we took photos in the recovery room. Don't judge, the nurse suggested we take them!

Now that's a selfie!

He spend the next two days recovering in his private hospital room complete with his own television, adjustable bed, food delivery and people catering to his every need. J.P. was in heaven!!  When they informed him he could go home the following day he said, “Do I have to? I really like it here.”

Who would want to leave this place??

As we posted updates on Facebook on his recovery, we were thankful for all of our family and friends well wishes. One such comment made me chuckle and to again ponder the question, “What if this happened while we were cruising?”

Our fellow cruising friend, Heather, posted a comment which makes me laugh because of the truth in it!  Background; the “Perlas” are the Las Perlas Islands. They are a series of small islands a day sail away from Panama City, Panama.  A “head” is the toilet on a boat.

“Can you imagine if this had happened 10 months ago, while in the Perlas? We ALL would have been looking at him like a boat project, similar to taking the head apart. This way is MUCH better. Speedy recovery!”

I know it may not make sense to you land living mothers, but every time I read this it still cracks me up! A ‘normal’ mom may feel terror or shame, but when I reflected on this, I felt relief!  We would have figured it out and while it would have been challenging to get him to a hospital and communicate in a foreign language, I have no doubt we would have received the necessary care. 
There would have been a community of cruisers milling around figuring out if we could take care of this ourselves. After reaching the conclusion it was outside our expertise, we would have banded together and got him to a hospital. That’s what I learned while cruising, the balancing of self sufficiency and not hesitate to get the help when you need it.

And now another edition of the…..


Part #1: 
While recovering from surgery, J.P. was complaining of increasing pain. The nurse suggested going pee since a full bladder can create pressure on the wound.
He then urinated into the bedpan, filling it to the top.

J.P. (clearly relieved):  Oh God! That was my second most favorite thing so far.
Nurse: What was your first?
J.P.: The I.V.
Nurse:  Why the I.V.?

J.P.: Because you can give me all sorts of medicine and I don’t have to get a shot or take that nasty tasting stuff through my mouth.

Part #2:

After learning about our sailing trip, a nurse asked J.P., “So do you like to travel?”
The nine year old J.P. replied, “Yeah, but I think I’ve had my fill of it.”



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ben Doolittle Makes the Evening News....Unfortunately Not For Sailing!!

Let me start by saying, the blog entries of our time cruising continue to brew and bubble in my writing mind, but I have been unable to put fingers to keyboard to publish them here on our blog. The transition back to land living seems to be relatively complete, although we have found that our children have adapted way more easily than their parents. Kids truly are more resilient than us crotchety, stuck-in-our-ways old folk! 

This current post is simply to publish the video of Ben on the Sacramento evening news tonight, talking about (insert 'yawn' here......) the new California Covered Health Insurance. 

Let it be known that we were indulging in a lovely al fresco lunch near our house sans Doolittle children (I am substitute teaching and Ben continues to work on his insurance business so our schedules allow this indulgence). We walked over to the restaurant since our tired, old van was in the shop getting maintenance and we basked in the warm, California sun on the outdoor patio.  Ben took a call that just happened to be the local news reporter looking to interview an insurance broker for her story on the new California health insurance coverage. 

Now, I'm sure Ben has dreamed of being on television as a salty sailor (20,000 + miles and many countries), but alas his 5 minutes of fame came as.........wait for insurance broker. Which reminded me of a story he once told me about his father.

"I remember my dad one day telling me that I could be ANYTHING I wanted to be when I grew up....and then he added, 'except an insurance broker'.  

So there we sat and when Ben hung up the phone he informed me, "We need to get our food to go! A reporter is going to be at our house in 30 minutes to interview me for the news."

Vision of dust bunnies and unpacked boxes danced in my head as I remembered that we were a 20 minute walk from our house.  This left just a few moments for Ben to shower, shave, dress appropriately (suit and tie versus the sweats and t-shirt he was in) and me to quickly cram all of the crap into closets! So we called in our good friend, Chris Link, who picked us up and drove us home saving us precious time!!

And in true Frat House form, we were able to accomplish the task and were greeting the camera crew 45 minutes later.

For full disclosure, the pictures and photos that were laying on the dusty floor were flung up on the walls just seconds before they arrived.

So here it is......Ben's 5 seconds of fame!

This is what Ben was REALLY wearing during the interview....

I believe the above entry qualifies as a Floating Frat House Follies entry!


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Big Fish, Little Pond-Traveling Up the Eastern Seaboard

Current Location: Annapolis, Maryland


Unfortunately my attempts to update the blog recently covering our adventures in the San Blas Islands, Portobello and other beautiful destinations in Panama have been futile.  Again this will have to wait for a later date or the publication of the book I intend to write. Like our meandering travels on a sailboat at an average of 5 knots, writing this book may prove to be go slow going, but by God, it will be done!

The previous blog entry left off in Key West, Florida where we began our sail up the Eastern Seaboard of the good, old U-S of A.   I had forgotten how different cruising is here versus foreign countries.  One huge obvious difference is that well...…life is EASY!!  Excuse the baseball metaphor, but in terms of convenience and luxury, it's like going from the minor leagues to "The Bigs", "The Show" get the picture.

Our time sailing up the Eastern Seaboard was a mixture of sailing "on the outside", aka in the ocean and meandering up the Inter-Coastal Waterway (this resembles the California Delta with inlets and small rivers).  I am amazed at how different this coastline is from the West Coast.

While sailing offshore we were often in 30 feet or less and soon got in the habit, borderline obsession, of watching the depth sounder.  Having a fin keel means that we draw 6 feet 9 inches which seems to be a lot for this coast line.  The challenge was navigating back onto shore in the many inlets.

Unlike the Pacific side, there are very few wide open bays to sail into and drop the hook.  Of course, Knee Deep captain and crew chose many stops that were labeled "do not attempt to navigate without local knowledge". This problem was resolved by making a quick phone call to Tow Boat USA who would inform us of the depths and areas to avoid or the occasional, "Nope you're not going to make it in here. Keep going to the next inlet. We found that there were plenty of places to stop and the inlets having enough depth for us.

 With that said, when navigating the ICW ("on the inside"), we were in anywhere from  7 to 15 feet and ran aground at least 3 times. There's nothing like puttering along in a sailboat and having that sinking (not literally) feeling that you are now at a complete stand still, perched atop a sandbar or muddy shoal. We managed to get ourselves off time and time again, which usually entailed me jumping up and down on the boom which was swung out over the side of the boat. This is a strategy used to tip the boat over and extract the keel out of the mud (and what you resort to when you don't have a Tow Boat USA membership...the equivalent of AAA for cars).

However, when we were REALLY stuck, Ben would enact the "We Need More Tipping!" strategy.
This involves using a line from the mast, tying an anchor to it and use the dinghy to drop the hook in the water well off the side of the boat.  At this point, Ben recruits a power boater into our shenanigans and requests they pick up the line with the anchor and DRIVE! Sure enough, Knee Deep pops out of the mud and we are on our way again.

In the above scenario, we were traveling with some fellow cruisers who attempted to tow us off to no avail, yet hung around for emotional support.  Thanks Buddy!

Now in the deeper Chesapeake Bay, Knee Deep has hopefully found a new home amongst a population of people who LOVE to sail!  Ben is dying to go out and race her having complete confidence that she would kick some East Coast butt!!

Navigating the ICW can be quite picturesque and at times quite boring!!


There are many beautiful homes along the way!
Another issue with navigating the ICW are the many bridges. Many swing open on a schedule or upon a request when you radio the bridge tender. Our first bridge (not this one) was fixed and in true Floating Frat House form, we weren't quite sure of our mast height. When we inquired with the bridge tender he replied, "Looks like you'll make it. I think you've got at least 3 feet". We held our breath and sure enough we cleared it!! 

As we meandered up the ICW, we were joined by my niece, Gaby, who had just graduated from Cal, Berkley. I'm still questioning my sister's decision for funding her visit as a graduation present for her hard work.  In addition, I question Gaby's sanity for accepting it!  The boys were ecstatic to have their cousin aboard! We visited many little, tiny po-dunk towns on our way up to Annapolis and she was a trooper to tolerate the boring ports of call we showed her.  As we docked in the thriving metropolis of Coinjock, North Carolina, she looked down at her colorful Hawaiian shorts and said, "I think my pants are the most exciting thing happening in this town!"

Welcome to Coinjock, NC! The owners of this marina were so nice! They let us watch the NBA finals in one of their unrented cottages (the one restaurant was closed that night).

No traffic jam here in Coinjock!

As we anchored off of Yorktown, VA we were able to visit the "historic triangle" made up of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.  We had a great time learning about America's past, which covered, war battles, the Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers, archeological sites and cannibalism. Needless to say the boys found these sites more interesting than their history books.

A historic home in Williamsburg, VA. Inside we found....soda vending machines!

Williamsburg, VA
Trying on some tri-cornered hats.

A re-enactment of the reading of the Declaration of Independence (see guys on balcony).

Boys marching off to war. I got a bit weepy thinking about my boys heading off to battle

Jamestown settlement. An active archeological dig is currently going on.

They found a skeleton of a 14 year old girl in the fort's kitchen.  The markings found on her proved that the Jamestown settlers turned to cannibalism to survive. This prompted questions from the boys like., "So if you were starving to death, would you want to just die or try to survive?"  or "Would you rather drown or starve to death?" Hello Dark Side!!

This the archeologist that discovered the original settlement of Jamestown while digging for artifacts in 1994. He lives on the property to be near his work.

Who said learning can't be fun? Especially when you are loading a cannon to take out......
.....your annoying little brother!!

We pulled into Annapolis, Maryland about a week ago with the realization that our adventure is now coming to an end (more on that later).  As this sinks in and becomes reality, the boys and I continue to clean up the boat and pack up our belongings, enjoying the lovely marina where we are docked (complete with 2 pools, restaurant, shuttle and workout room...the latter of which we have yet to visit). We have found a broker and hope to sell her and head home to settle in to "normal" life on land. Ben is currently delivering a boat from El Salvador to Panama and will return in a few weeks.  He was so excited as he packed his bag, to be paid to do something he loves so much!!

Our marina is filled with recreational boaters who have massive power boats and sailboat yachts.  We are getting used to the side long glances at our little, salty sailboat amongst these fancy giants!
I came to a funny realization the other day that at one point along this coast, we were no longer little fish in a big pond.  We are now the big fish in a little pond. Or maybe you could call it "cruising weirdos".  Let me explain....

While in Panama City there were sailors from all over the world, all going in different directions.  Many of our friends chose to do the "Puddle Jump" which is the sail across to the South Pacific, sometimes with a stop in the Galapagos Islands. This voyage entails sailing on the open ocean anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks, depending on your sailboat. In addition, we met numerous people who had circumnavigated the world, sometimes on their second go around!! These people had conquered the Red Sea for God's sake!! See what I'm saying...we were very little fish in a BIG pond!

Now, that all has changed.  When people here read the stern of our boat with "San Francisco" printed on it, they inquire, "Is that where you are from?".

When we explain that we left there two years ago and sailed to the East Coast via Panama Canal the reactions are numerous and varied:

1. "The Bright Lights" reaction:  They light up like a Christmas tree and divulge that it is their dream to go cruising on their boat as well. Usually these are kindred spirits and we end up having a beer over some Q and A.

2. "Been There Done That" reaction:  These people comment with some nostalgia that they have been cruising and have their own story to tell.  They are also weird gypsy souls like us with whom we end up having a beer with and  swapping wild sailing stories.

3.  "The Zombie" reaction:  They simply nod their head and move on, leaving me to wonder if they heard the reply to their inquiry. They probably wind up drinking a wine spritzer  alone or with other Zombie like creatures.

4.  "Judge Judy" reaction;  Perhaps my favorite are the judgmental select few who react with, "You sailed on THAT thing from San Francisco?"  I actually have a special place in my heart for these naysayers, not sure why.  Maybe it is because I harbored those same doubts as we planned our trip; would the boat be big enough, sturdy enough?  Maybe I just feel sorry for their inability to think outside the box.  Who knows...but I don't take it personally. I rather sadistically enjoy it! These people are drinking whiskey sours amongst other similar boaters talking about bow thrusters and the new air conditioner unit they installed...correction someone installed for them. I am not sure if these people ever actually leave their slip (ok, cheap shot!).

In the spirit of the illustrating these reactions, here is a story from just this morning.

While in the marina office, getting my complimentary latte...yes, the marina offers tasty coffee concoctions for free...and as any true freeloading sailor would do...I cash in on it EVERY morning.

As I awaited the machine to finish my drink, a man dressed in a loud Tommy Bahama shirt, brand new topsiders and some sort of expensive wicker Panama hat burst through the door.
.....(I will admit to all of you recreational boaters who dress like this, cruisers, fisherman or any other person who has spent time on the sea get a chuckle out your wardrobe and have our own "Judge Judy" moments like:  "Dude, where are you going? Sailing or to play shuffleboard?"  or "Wow, those white pants are going to get REAL dirty when you fend off all the pilings surrounding your slip..cuz we know you don't know how to drive a boat"). But I digress......

He stomps into the vacant office and looks at me sitting on the couch reading the complimentary Sports Illustrated. I smile, he nods and frowns. I wander over to extract my free latte from the machine and he demands in a deep, firm voice, "Where is everybody?"

I reply, "I think Eric (the manager) is down on the dock helping someone."

Tommy Bahama inquires sternly, "Who are you?"

Smiling and comforted to realize I am not an employee and don't have to deal with this guy, "I'm Molly!"

"Well, can I ask you a question?"

I answer, "Sure! But I don't work here, I have a boat on the dock."

Tommy Bahama's demeanor quickly changes and says in a friendlier tone "Oh, sorry. There was a girl that worked here named Molly a while ago. I thought you were her."

Noting that my worn flip flops, torn shorts, unkept hair and coveting of the free latte could have tipped him off that I was a dockhand, "Nope, I don't."

"Ok. Well, where the heck is everybody? I need some ice!!"

I do not reply and wonder why he couldn't just grab a bag of ice out of the machine on the dock.

A conversation ensues about how he had traveled from Florida last year ALL the way up the coast with his 52 foot power boat, which mainly consists of me nodding.

Finally, Tommy asks, "What kind of boat are you on?"

I have grown quite accustomed to the this posturing and status competition about boats, so I plainly state, "a Catalina 38".

Mr. Bahama says with obvious disdain, "A sailboat? How long have you been here?"

I answer, "About a week."

"Where are coming from? The South Chesapeake?"

Molly grins saying, "San Francisco actually. We've been out for about two years."

"Oh" is all Tommy Bahama can muster. He turns on his squeaky, white heel and stomps out of the office to terrorize some poor marina employee into being a pack mule for his ice.

Grateful for my complimentary latte, I settle back on the couch and try to remember what day it was, hoping it was Saturday.......when the free bagels are served.


The end of a blog entry would not be complete without documenting the Knee Deep crews antics in another installment of the FLOATING FRAT HOUSE FOLLIES....

On a visit to historic Williamsburg, VA, members of the Floating Frat House were dining in an old, authentic tavern. Complete with candles for lighting, we sat in the old, rickety chairs and  were served by waiters in 18th century clothing, using Old English vocabulary.

A fiddler played an old colonial song in the middle of the room and the House Mother smiled at the ambience and secretly praised herself for giving the Frat Brothers the opportunity to experience history in this way, marveling at how much they must be learning!!

In that moment, J.P. proclaims, "I wonder if you covered up the top of that candle holder in the middle of our table, do you think it would blow up!??!"

Well, maybe they are learning more science than history....or how to be the Una Bomber.

PART 2...Earlier in the day, the House Mother had read off the authentic rules of Colonial times regarding children's behavior.  It went something like this:

"Children shall not erupt, sneeze or cough at the table, but if necessary shall do it quietly."

"A common punishment for misbehavior for colonial children was time spent in the town square stockades (the pillory)"

During the meal at the aforementioned tavern, The House Mother observes J.P. is about to sneeze.

He turns to her and says, ""I'll try to do it quietly. I'm trying to live like a colonial kid".


The old tavern where the Floating Frat House enjoyed a traditional colonial lunch.

Observe candle instead of electrical lights. Note: Ted Kaczynski on the left.

I wonder what these guys to deserve this? Also, did they really give noogies in the 18th century?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Floating Frat House On the Move!!!

Current Location:  Marathon, FL (the Florida Keys)

Well, the transition is complete...good-bye Bachelor Pad and helloooo Floating Frat House!! Ben's manly, salty crew of Pierre, Amigo and Andrew have departed and the Doolittle family is reunited back aboard Knee Deep. We are acclimating back to sailboat life and are happy to be reunited again.  It was nice for the boys and I to take a break from the boat and miss out on the relentless pace of delivering the boat to Florida.  Many thanks to wonderful crew that helped Ben complete 1500 miles in 4 weeks, a brutal pace for sailing.  Taking a break from the crowded quarters of family living aboard on a sailboat, was a nice break and has made us all appreciate each other more.

Introducing the delivery crew...1500 miles in 3 weeks. These guys are rock stars! (The only picture I had of Andrew was of his feet so I refrained from posting it...your welcome, Andrew!).

Pierre, the Frenchman, his final moments aboard Knee Deep.  I think that's why he is smiling!!

Amigo, the Mexican wonder dog!! He was a trooper!!

What a cutie!!!! I think he's saying, "Get me the hell off this boat!"

Captain Ben. This is what you should look like after 1500 nautical miles in three weeks!
Thanks again to Deena and Rick who generously opened their house to us. We had a wonderful time enjoying all the comforts of land living along with our friends Dick and Maureen from Blue.  It really could have been a great reality show, watching seven sailors living under one roof and adjusting to all of the creature comforts.  For example, my roomies and I cheered enthusiastically every time the ice maker made a clanking sound producing the clear, cool gold that most of us cruisers cherish. Also the creations produced in that house kitchen still haunt my dreams as I sweat in my little boat galley making a simple pasta dinner (see Rick's beautiful Timpano below....just like the dish made in the classic cooking movie, Big Night). It was also common to find one or more of us sitting in the living room in the middle of the night, leading to the nickname of the "college dorm lounge".  Apparently breaking the habit of night watches and midnight anchor inspections are hard to break!!

Timpano, delicious goodness!!!

Dick, Maureen and Mickey engrossed in dinnertime conversation.  We often sat together for a nightly meal, my roomies were all amazing cooks!

Our hosts, Deena and Rick.

Deena trying to get a nibble of J.P.'s cream AND cake!! The freezer was constantly stocked with ice cream, another luxury of land living.

The boy's favorites from Trader Joe's...Orange Chicken and Edemami.

The 8th roommate, Snoball.  She did not like all the comings and goings of people, so she sat on our shoes by the door.

Once Ben and crew made it to Key West, the boys and I said farewell to our friends and drove our rent a car the 400+ miles to Key West.  I was chuckling as the locals kept telling me that it was, "a VERY long way down the Keys!!" Little did they know I had covered thousands of miles in a sailboat which average 5 knots...they had no concept of a "VERY long way".

After moving back aboard, we had some fun exploring before starting our sail up the Eastern Seaboard.  Ben played travel guide and lead us around Key West aptly naming his tour "The Trail of Tears".  This is the town where he worked for a while back in the 90's and had his heart broken by a beautiful French woman.  His tour consisted mostly of drinking establishments where he cried into his beer and places of employment from which he was fired. A truly inspiring tour guide and a lesson to our boys of what NOT to do!!

Captain Ben's former place of employment.  To quote him, "I hated working in this place!"

Little did he know, after getting his heart broken he would find this beauty and marry her!!!

Maybe I looked a little more like this when he met me??  I can dream, can't I??

I realized we have taken these stupid cut out photos in many foreign countries! I'm so cultured!!

Panama City, Panama!!

Barra Navidad, Mexico
We departed Key West a week ago, making the day sail up to Marathon, FL, a beautiful spot right in the middle of the Florida Keys. The City Marina offers moorings and has been a wonderful spot to clean up our boat.  The boys will have to say good-bye to their newfound friends aboard Sea Mist IV since we plan to leave tomorrow for the overnight sail to Fort Lauderdale. From there we will scurry up the coast since we are required by our insurance company to be north of Georgia by June 1 due to hurricane season. 
We have listed our boat on a couple of websites as we prepare to sell her and head home (the link is below).  She has been one heck of a boat, seeing us through Mexican tropical storms, large Caribbean ocean swells, Cotsa Rican Papagayo winds and an El Salvadorian microburst.  It will be sad to part with her, but we hope her new owners will enjoy her as much as we have! She sure does LOVE to sail!!
Hard to believe our time is almost up and we will be returning to "normal" life.  We plan to buy a camper and make our way across the good, old USA this summer and reunite with family and friends in California. Mickey has been planning our "American Baseball Park Tour of the US" for a while now, however, his evil boat school teacher will be incorporating some US history amongst our travels (insert evil laugh here).
And now another edition o the Floating Frat House Follies:
One important piece of equipment we added to Knee Deep has been Mr. Word (a.k.a. The Swear Jar or the Douche Bag Jar).  The crew were inspired by the sitcom, New Girl, in which the three male roommates and one female roommate reside together (sound familiar).  One of the characters, Schmidt,  is constantly spewing inappropriate comments causing his fellow roomies to set up the "Douche Bag Jar". 
Inspired by this idea, the crew of Knee Deep have adopted Mr. Word, a plastic piggy bank purchased in Panama.  The boys with great enthusiasm took him down below and set up a strict penalty system for the use of foul language. They disappeared for several minutes to decorate and document each specific fine.  Ben and I were chuckling to hear our sweet, angelic children down below have the following conversation:
Mickey:  So, the F word is a really bad one so let's charge 25 cents for that one.
J.P.:  Yeah, fuck is a bad word! (Grabbing a permanent marker) How do you spell it?
Mickey:  F-U-C-K
J.P.: How about the S word?
Mickey:  That's easy S-H-I-T
At this point, Ben turns to me and says, referring to Mickey who has a form of dyslexia, "That kid can't spell the words 'they and 'which' correctly, but apparently swear words are no problem??! Unbelievable!!"
I guess inspiration can strike at the most unexpected moments!!
We both quickly agreed that the true losers in this scenario was us and any sailor adult stepping on board our boat!! 
For the past six months the boys have been collecting some cold, hard cash and Mr. Word is now filled with pesos, colons, balboas and American coins. To quote our friend Heather from s/v Sundancer, "Some of my money is in that pig!! College Funding!"
And I can't think of a more appropriate way to send the residents of the Floating Frat House to college other than on a Swear Jar Scholarship.  I think their college application essays will be VERY interesting and at least we know that the swear words will be spelled correctly.
Our fifth roommate, Mr. Word:

Please note, "dick" is free! To quote Mickey and J.P., "Well, it's a part of our anatomy, why would that be wrong?" Not sure why crap is free?

Some fellow cruisers we met from Spain taught us a VERY BAD Spanish swear word, hence the steep fine!!



Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Escaping Panama City, Las Perlas Islands and Life on Land

Current Location: Venice, Florida (Molly, Mickey and J.P.);  Isla Mujeres, Mexico (Ben, Pierrre and Andrew) en route to Key West.

As I write this, two months have passed since we were able to extricate ourselves from Panama City and it’s sticky, intricate web of discontent.  It was a place from first landfall that challenged our philosophy of positive thinking and the ability to see the best in our fellow man.  As corny as it sounds, the Doolittles usually attempt to find the positive in every place and culture we visit, but our experiences and encounters in Panama City seemed to challenge our intent to execute this every day.

As a testament to it’s stronghold and altering affects on us, the usually easy-going, genial, fun-loving Captain Ben transformed into an irate, frustrated complainer.  I spent many afternoons listening to him spew his disdain, all the while wondering if the that bulging vein in his forehead would actually burst this time.  My duty as a devoted wife and first mate was to inform him quite frankly, “You are turning into an angry, bitter man…we need to get you the hell out of here!!!”   

Don’t get me wrong, I morphed into a ranting, lunatic whiner as well, which deeply disturbed me!  Just ask any store employee, cab driver or crew member aboard Knee Deep.

Crooked immigration agents charging bogus agricultural inspection fees, bullying cab drivers and the general rudeness/unhelpfulness of Panama City’s inhabitants indicated it was time to escape before our optimistic philosophy of our fellow man became irreversibly altered.  In short, we needed to bolt, before we permanently crossed over to the Dark Side.

As we waited to transit the Canal, we attempted to spend as little time in Panama City as possible.  Fortunately, only a day sail away were the lovely Las Perlas Islands.  There we swam in the cool, blue waters and discovered, not surprisingly, that island life suited us much better.   After provisioning and running errands in the big city (a.k.a. Gotham city), we would sail out to the Perlas.  The moment we tossed the anchor overboard, I felt my blood pressure drop and my body relax.

Here is where I am inserting an editorial apology.  Unfortunately, our old computer died due to the humidity of the tropics which is extremely hard on electronics…just ask my IPhone that decided to burst open one day. I am currently attempting to figure out how to download all of our files to our new laptop.  This has put a damper on completing my blog entry regarding the San Blas (see a tidbit from Ben in previous blog entry), which will have to wait for a later date.

The first part of this blog was entitled "Fantasy Island", but it has disappeared into cyberspace and I hope to find it soon.  Also, our pictures of the Las Perlas Islands have gone missing, so here are some repeats from Mickey and J.P.'s blog.  Hopefully a little random narrative regarding our Pacific Island stay will suffice for now.


(After visiting the main island of Isla Contadora, we ventured the 3 miles to more remote and deserted islands.....) Here is where the story continues:
................Then our island adventure continued over at Isla Mogo Mogo which all agreed we must visit for the mere fact that we loved saying it. The dialogue on the sail over went something like this:
Molly:  “Hey, Mickey! Where are we going?”
Mickey (in a deep guttural, native voice): “MOGO MOGO!!!”
I found it rolling off my tongue often and murmured to myself repeatedly, “Mogo Mogo” until the boys  told me it was getting old, which pleased me to no end. 

“Ah, Young Grasshopper….the Annoyee has become the Annoyer!!!”.  Point scored for the House Mother on the Floating Frat House!!
As always in true sailor form, Ben unattached us from the mooring ball without starting the engine and sailed out of the anchorage.  He just can’t help himself….why turn on the motor when you can use the wind??! I have grown accustomed to this over the years and have adapted to sailing into and out of anchorages…..“just for fun!”
The boys and I were down below and realized after a few minutes that we were underway.  In less than 45 minutes we were approaching our destination.   As a reminder, we had been traveling at an extremely quick pace to reach Panama City for Christmas. Our sails were long days or multiple overnight hops, which usually involved beating to weather, battling currents and hours of motoring.  As a result, we were unaccustomed to such a short, uneventful sail which only increased our enthusiasm for Isla Mogo Mogo.
We were tickled to discover a beautiful anchorage between two Islands with clear, blue water and sandy beaches, one of which contained a tree swing.  So the anchor was set and we cheered our good fortune.  In addition to the name, it was exciting to discover from the guidebook, that Mogo Mogo was the place where a season of Survivor was filmed.  So off we went in search of any remnants of American pop culture laying under the Panamanian sand.  What would we find; Immunity Idols? Hammocks? Torches? Survivor handkerchiefs worn as tube tops by those skinny, starving, emaciated tribal women? 
As we searched I chuckled at the thought of the Doolittles participating in the Survivor game.  Ben would certainly starve to death within a few days, leaving me to be voted off first, due to my sheer inability to withstand the heat.  Next to go would be Mickey who would extinguish his torch voluntarily to scurry off to an air-conditioned hotel room to catch up on his sporting events.  Thus, not surprisingly, J.P. would be the million dollar winner by using his cunning and charisma.
Unfortunately, no Survivor paraphernalia was found, but there were some pretty lavender shells spread all over the beach.  We had an enormous bonfire with some other boats and were content knowing that nobody would be voted off this island. 
We spent our days swimming, snorkeling and exploring the area, happy to do homeschooling and work in another amazing place.  Recess and coffee breaks were spent jumping overboard or floating in the inflatable boat behind Knee Deep.  Mickey also blew off some steam terrorizing the anchorage in the dinghy attempting go fast enough to plane out of the water.


Getting into the swing of winter making a sand snowman on Isla Contadora!

As for present time, they boys and I have been enjoying a month long stay with our friends Deena and Rick (s/v Talaria) in Venice, Florida.  They generously opened their home to us and we have thoroughly enjoyed our stay, while catching up with our friends Maureen and Dick (from s/v Blue). This sounds benign enough, however, putting several sailors together, who have traveled 10K miles, in a home with a pool and beer refrigerator is A LOT of revelry waiting to happen.  We all enjoyed cooking, baking and drinking much to the neighbors confusion and dismay.  Apparently, the recycling bin was quite the spectacle each week!!

The boys and I are grateful for our land time and appreciate having the break! We are now ready to hop back aboard Knee Deep and make our way up the Eastern seaboard where we are planning on selling the boat this summer. It seems impossible that we have been sailing for almost two years and our travels are coming to an end.  I am both excited and saddened about this fact.
And now another edition of the.....FLOATING FRAT HOUSE FOLLIES:
Knee Deep crew and many of our cruising friends often frequented a mini-mart (the “Shopette" in Panama City) near our anchorage to use the WiFi.  On this particular crowded day, Molly sets up the laptop and steps inside the store leaving J.P. and Mickey outside to keep an eye on the computer.  There is a children’s festival taking place in the parking lot adjacent to the store.    Molly notices a man dressed as a clown in the store, complete with face paint and large red shoes. He exits before her.
Molly returns to her table outside the store where J.P. is awaiting her arrival.  A brief conversation takes place:
J.P.  (sounding more like a 30 year old than an 8 year old):  Did you leave anything here except your computer?”
Molly: No.
J.P.:  Ok, good! Cuz the clown sat down right here next to me.  I wanted to make sure he didn’t steal anything.
Molly: Oh?!
J.P. (now giggling): Yeah…he was drinking a beer! A clown, drinking a beer, that’s so funny!!
Molly:  Yep, that’s funny   (not sure that a grown man dressed as a clown, drinking a beer at a children’s festival is at all funny).
J.P. :  Yep, sometimes you just gotta be yourself!!!
And there you have it...from the mouths of babes.....Be Yourself Everybody!!!