An Appointment With Adventure

Don’t get excited. We’re still at the dock. In fact, we are still going back and forth between house and boat so we have not yet escaped Tacoma. But we HAVE set the trapped spirit of Harry Houdini free by working through all the puzzles in a locked-room adventure called ‘The Last Escape‘. And we didn’t have to leave Tacoma to do it. If you don’t know why that excites us, then you haven’t been compelled to drive from Tacoma to Seattle.

‘The Last Escape’ is a puzzle room located in the very cool old post office building downtown in Tacoma on A Street, just up the street from the marina. Rather than buying a lot of useless stuff for Christmas we decided to give our family the gift of adventure and the anxiety implicit in having a time limit to unlock puzzles and codes. It works like this: You go into a room, the staff locks the door, and then you have 50 minutes to figure out how to get out. There’s a story line, and that makes it interesting, but that takes second place to the puzzles, codes, and mysteries you have to solve in order to get the clues you need. The clues lead to keys that go to locks and if you are successful in a ‘DaVinci Code’ sort of way, then you free yourselves, and, in this case, also the spirit of Harry Houdini, from the room. We managed to do it with 3 minutes to spare. Whew!


Photo credit to Adventures By Appointment

I have never participated in an activity like this, and frankly, the idea of being in a locked room with no way to get out for an hour filled me with a little bit of irrational dread. No bathroom? No food or water? I can live without food or water for way more than an hour. But if you tell me that I can’t use the bathroom for an hour, then I immediately have to go. Plus,  I kind of like my doors to open and close at my bidding. This would be outside of my usual comfort zone.

I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t even worry about that locked door once inside because this puzzle room is so cool to look at that it took me right in. It’s staged like a Sherlockian 19th century library.  We were greeted by Madam Dana, a ‘medium’ who reads Tarot and is gifted with the ability to contact ‘the other side’. She begins by doing some Tarot readings (and yes, she really did read the cards!) and setting up the story line. Then she hangs around as part of the experience. Maybe she might also give a little tiny hint here and there as well, and a good thing, too because these puzzles are puzzling! The beginning minutes of the experience are like being cast in a play on a stage where only one character knows what’s going to be happening. I loved it and was disappointed that Mike was the only one who got to have his cards read. It was an uncannily accurate reading!

Our first puzzle involved looking for clues that would give us the secret code to unlock a special cabinet. After the first success, I was kind of hooked. This was way better than those cheap decoder rings we used to order from the back of cereal boxes! I’m not going to spoil the fun by telling you anything more about the room or its puzzles. But I am going to say that you should hurry and buy tickets for this before it’s discovered by all the hordes of puzzle lovers in the South Sound area. You buy your tickets on line for 25$ a person. There can be up to 10 people in the group, and you may be placed with other people if your group is smaller. We were pleased to have our group of 8 in the room to ourselves. The room is not large, and as you have to solve one puzzle at a time, 8 adults were plenty in the room.

This is Tacoma’s first puzzle room, but it’s not its last. Adventures By Appointment is working on a new room to be called “Red Scorpion: The Extraction.”  I’ll bet it’s also going to be great. In addition, they are working on a room to go along with the Tacoma Ghost Tour. This one will be historically accurate and it sounds like another winner. Tacoma could make a name for itself in puzzle rooms!





Merry Thanksmas, Everyone!

Ah, Thanksmas! That time of year when people put giant blow up snowmen in their yards,  string sparkly ornaments on trees,  bake festive treats, and contribute their share to our shopping economy by reaching deeply into their wallets.  It sure is a special time of year; one special day when families get together to eat too much, play games, exchange gifts and generally just have a hoot and holler. Just the way we like it.

This year's Christmas Cave. Yes, the bar is pretty high in terms of gift wrapping at our house.

This year’s Christmas Cave. Yes, the bar is pretty high in terms of gift wrapping at our house.

That’s right, we’ve invented a new holiday that is dead useful for people who have found that celebrating the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays so close together has  become too much of a good thing. Sometimes as families grow, the burgeoning calendar of social engagements, family gatherings, and myriad expectations around the holidays begins to be more of a burden than a celebration.  It’s one thing to add new families and traditions to all the celebrating. But when you start adding other countries into the mix, as we must do in our family (since our daughter divides her time between three countries), expecting to have everyone together for the ‘holidays’ is not realistic. All that stress takes its toll on the ‘specialness’ this time of year.

When holidays are ‘too much’, it’s time to do something different. We wanted to be able to celebrate with our kids and their partners and also with my extended family without having people dividing their time between households on one specific day. Thus, Thanksmas was created. Thanksmas is celebrated after Thanksgiving, but before Christmas. And here’s the brilliant part: YOU GET TO CHOOSE YOUR OWN DAY!

Plenty of wrapping paper amusement for Boots, all day long.

Plenty of wrapping paper amusement for Boots, all day long.

On Thanksmas, you get the best of both Christmas and Thanksgiving. Okay, it’s mostly Christmas. But really, Thanksgiving is all about the food anyhow. Well, plus giving thanks, which you should be doing every day, right? So really, when you think about it, EVERY day is Thanksgiving Day…so what’s the problem with combining the holidays if it makes life less stressful for everyone?

At this point you might be asking, “So, Melissa, how do I know if it’s time for my family to combine holidays and have one big celebration filled with gifts, food, drink and games with prizes? What are my criteria? What’s my motivation here?”  Well, I’m here for you to make this easy.  Take a look at this handy  list of symptoms that may indicate an overly stressful holiday season is upon you.

  1. You consider store bought pie to be just as good as home made pie. (It’s not.)
  2. You consider a brown paper bag to be gift wrap enough. ( It’s not. Please see photo of appropriate technique above.)
  3. You’re planning to roast only a turkey breast, not the whole bird to save time and trouble.  (If you are vegetarian or vegan, just go directly to Thanksmas because you’ve already messed with tradition so you may as well go all the way.)
  4. You are starting to rely on Pillsbury sugar cookie dough and all its variations for your holiday cookies. (See item #1. If both are true…well.. you know who you are. I don’t want to embarrass you in public. Just do Thanksmas and make real cookies.)
  5. You get irritated at stores who put Christmas decor out before Halloween is even over. (I know, right? What is wrong with them?)
  6. You start reminding people that Christ wasn’t even born on Christmas Day, actually, questioning out loud 2000+ years of tradition.  (Or however many. It’s a lot.)
  7. You turn down invites to parties where you have to bring a gift because you just can’t think about that right now. (If it’s a White Elephant gift party, subtract one point because you just get to get rid of something from your closet and that’s a bonus.)
  8. Getting all of your family members to do things together at the same time is about the same level of difficulty as herding cats so you can bear to do this only once.
  9. You really look forward to that week between Christmas and New Year’s eve; you know, that time when all the stress is over and you are going to lay around in your pajamas and eat leftovers with impunity, watch bad television, and gain a lot of weight. (Why wait? You could be doing that all season!)
  10. You toy with the idea of being the only house on your street without Christmas lights and that seems a reasonable idea to you. (Really? Do you see how dark it is out there?)

Old school Munsters Dvds. For the Rumpus room on Galapagos. . I wonder if it’s as great as I remember?

If you recognize yourself in over 3 of these symptoms, you might opt for Thanksmas in the next few years. If you have over half of them right now, well, I’m sorry you’ve missed your window of opportunity for this year. Lay low, get plenty of rest, drink lots of water and consider combining your holidays next year.

When you decide on a Thanksmas celebration, it’s a strange but freeing feeling. There are all the trappings of Christmas, some of the foods of Thanksgiving, but no one else is celebrating. It’s like your own private holiday. Then, when you are supposed to be gearing up for all the stress of the season, it’s all over and you have nothing to do but enjoy all the holiday goodness without the muss and fuss. Don’t worry. You can still put up your holiday lights, keep your tree or cave up all month, go to Christmas parties and drink too much. It’s just more leisurely because the big part is already done. Plus, all those Christmas sales where you wanted to shop for yourself in previous years but didn’t out of guilt and fear that someone else would buy the same thing for you? Guess what you get to do? Yeah. Now you get the picture.

At our house, we had a regular ‘Christmas’ morning on our Thanksmas, complete with stockings, our traditional Christmas cave, mimosas and French Breakfast Donuts for breakfast, and gift exchanges. The grandparents came, the auntie and uncle and cousin came, even some friends came over. We had a houseful of laughter and games. We sang karaoke. We ate too many cookies and pie, we drank too much champagne, we played indoor miniature golf. It was completely overwhelming.  It was great!

My collection of miniature ornaments makes perfect holiday boat decor.

My collection of miniature ornaments makes perfect holiday boat decor.

Now we get to enjoy this entire season stress free. We will go to movies, maybe a holiday performance or two, or perhaps a Messiah singalong. I have decorated Galapagos and Mike and I will spend Christmas morning there together in our new neighborhood. Thanksmas was a rousing success. We all had our day together. Now Claire and Dan can go spend Christmas with his family in Edinburgh. Andrew and Jill can do Christmas with Jill’s family. No one has to split their time on Christmas Day and travel between houses out of obligation to more than one family. Traditions are great. I think we may have started a new one.

Since I’m sorry that you missed your opportunity this year to celebrate Thanksmas, I’ll make your holiday breakfast menu a little easier for you. Here’s my recipe for French Breakfast Donuts. I’ve been making these tender and delicious muffins every Christmas morning for 34 years. They involve nutmeg, sugar and cinnamon. How can anyone go wrong with that combination?  We have mimosas and scrambled eggs with them. Mix up the dry ingredients the night before to make these easy to pop into the oven on Thanksmas morning.

French Breakfast Donuts

Preheat oven to 400F and grease a muffin tin.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 cup milk
1 beaten egg
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla

Sugar and cinnamon in a bowl for rolling the hot muffins. I use 1/2 cup sugar to about a tablespoon cinnamon.

Mix the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl whisk the milk, melted butter, and vanilla together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir with a fork just until mixed. Do not over stir or your muffins will be tough.

Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full. Bake at 400F for about 20 minutes. This makes about 10 regular sized muffins.  When done, roll hot muffins in cinnamon sugar. They are extra delicious if you brush the top with melted butter before rolling them. fullsizeoutput_20c


This year we are celebrating the holiday season in new and different ways; ways that do not include huge amounts of stressful preparation culminating in an avalanche of activity of seismic proportions. This lack of hurriedness gives me time to reflect and be grateful on this day of Thanksgiving.

Looking forward to more of this.

This is a time of deep, lasting change for us as a couple, as individuals, as a family. Anyone who is considering taking up cruising should read that sentence again and let the meaning sink in.  It’s not something to skim over.  The depth of the change is something to realize and hold; to observe and accept with as much grace as possible. We are saying ‘goodbye’ to what we know in almost every way on almost every level. While that is exciting, it also fills me with awe for the power of the hold our comfort zone has over us.

It’s very easy for people to say, ‘ Oh how exciting for you! Just do it! Go Now! Just drop everything and go! Just sell the house! Just trust that it will work out! Just…just…just.’.  But when you have worked a lifetime creating a life you already feel good about, disentangling oneself from that life is going to take time and perseverance. I get frustrated when other people minimize the physical and emotional toll this life change takes. Then I get frustrated with myself for making this harder than it has to be; at least I think I do that sometimes. This is not about complaining, or wishing we’d made another choice or not believing it’s worth it. It’s just about being real about it and not sugar coating it and acknowledging how hard it is. Want to go cruising? Have a traditional home and family life you’ve invested in all your adult life?  Don’t have 30 more good years ahead of you where you have time to regroup if you make a mistake? Get ready to ride those waves of uncertainty and fear for a long time.

I’m writing this so that in the future, when another middle aged couple meets us and says, ‘We want to go cruising, too.’, I will treat this wish of theirs with the respect it deserves and not short change their experience by denying the depth of it. I don’t ever want to say to someone, ‘Just drop everything (you’ve ever worked for) and go.’ Because on some level that denies how rich and wonderful the life they’ve already been leading has been; as though they have made some kind of mistake by living it that way. If your life sucks, it’s going to be real easy to say goodbye to it. But if your life is good, don’t expect it to be that easy until you get to the other side of the divide.

No life is perfect, but we’ve had it pretty good. For me, the gratitude I feel is in direct opposition to the emotional roller coaster. I’m ready to get off this thing.  I’ve never been crazy about roller coasters. They feel dangerous to me. Still,  as we near the end of our 5 year cunning plan, it sometimes amazes me how far we’ve come and all the things we’ve accomplished. I still get astounded by the prospect of actually pulling this off. Also terrified. Astounded. Excited. Terrified. Happy. Grieved. Exhausted. Ecstatic. Over and over and over.  Can I just stop already? It’s bloody exhausting having all the feels all the time.

My dad as a child, with his toy sailboat.

My dad as a child in east Texas, with his toy sailboat. He was fascinated by sailing.

As we gear up to move aboard the week before Christmas, I am soaking in the goodness that is being home with our kids for one last holiday season before the big transition to the cruising life. We have both of our offspring home with their significant others. The house is crowded, but happy. The sounds of laughter, the jokes, the cuddles on the sofa, the walks with the dog, snuggles with the demanding cat, the cooking of food, the view from the windows as late season light filters through leafless branches, the sheer beingness of togetherness… all these things and more I want recorded permanently on my soul.

That time we rented a pony to welcome Claire home from her travels.

I am so grateful we have the freedom to make this change, that we are some of the lucky few in this world who have the resources, both external and internal, to go and explore. I am grateful for my hard-working visionary husband, without whom this would absolutely not be happening. (Can I put that in all caps?) He’s a brave renaissance man. Without his sticking it out at his job for over 20 years, we would not have the money to go cruising until social security kicked in. We don’t want to wait that long. Life’s already a gamble.

To be free of jobs to go sailing at this point in our lives does not come without risk. I am grateful that we’ve both had careers that, for the most part, we’ve enjoyed. I’m trying to be brave in the face of a considerable decrease in income for some years, and trusting it will be enough. I recently let go of my professional website, which went without much fanfare but which marked a considerable turning point for me. We’re both ‘short timers’ now. It feels weird. You don’t want to be in my head on that one. I’m just sticking with the gratitude on this and ignoring the chorus in the background.


A favorite photo of Galapagos in a fjord. We learned so much on that trip.

I am grateful for my family, who is supportive and understanding of the fact that we need to do this. I am grateful for my mom, who wants us to go because she didn’t get to and she understands what drives this dream. I am grateful for my sister who also understands and has plans of her own to live on a boat some day. I am grateful for our children, already world explorers themselves, who have led the way for us and keep us assured they will be alright. I am grateful for their partners, Dan and Jill, who give them love and companionship in what is sometimes a hard world.

I am also grateful to the Universe for providing us with the lovely, sturdy, safe S/V Galapagos. She’s an awesome boat and she already knows her way around an ocean or two. Truly, when we were looking at boats, a boat like Galapagos was beyond my wildest dreams. Some days I still cannot believe it.

I am also grateful for Foss Harbor Marina, a place we will be calling ‘home’ shortly. I am grateful for the friends we already have there and look forward to being their neighbors. I appreciate so much that the marina folks have found a spot for us just at the right time. Mike’s commute will be so much easier from Tacoma, and I won’t have a commute at all since I work from the boat.


Our plan is to begin our move aboard on December 21, the darkest night of the year; the winter solstice. It’s a significant day as each day after that sees more light of the sun. I always think of this as the start of the new year, a chance for a new beginning, regardless what the calendar says. It’s fitting that we make this move on such a night, when the shadows are strong and dark and filled with possibilities.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, wherever you are, however you celebrate. I really appreciate you, the people who willingly take time to read our blog and say hello.