The following is a fairly concise version of the last 10 years of our lives. We did a lot of preparation for our journey to come, even while daily life went along with all the normal activities, challenges and joys, there were many small and large sacrifices that were made. At times it seemed like every day was lived with our final goal in our minds.
Cameron and I were married in August of 2004 in the Napa Valley. We had a few attempts at making and sticking to a plan to sail away. But…we wanted kids and I felt a bit timid about having them while en route. I also didn’t want to wait many years to have kids. On the work front, I wanted to get some years under our belts in our chosen field of Winemaking so that we had something to come back to. In truth I had a full-on panic attack about it and therefore our plans were pushed a bit.
We sold our starter home (shotgun shack) in Sonoma for what seemed like tons of money at the time and bought a small house on two acres in Napa at the height of the market. When the market slowed, this pushed our dream off even more. In the mean time, we had two beautiful girls, one in 2007 and one in 2008. Life was full and a bit scary with two horses, two kids, a flock of chickens, the winery dog and a house we really couldn’t afford and what seemed like constant work. In early 2010, I was diagnosed with a very unusual type of aggressive cancer. BOOM! Thanks be to God we got through that with a clean bill of heath and had a nice little come-to-Jesus about the whole “life” thing. We decided to prioritize our dream and make things happen. At that point we had our two girls, 6 years of great careers under our belts and our health which seems fleeting after the scare we had.
Around this same time, we had an amazing chance at a new living situation that would make all our plans fuse together. We moved onto Blossom Creek Farm, a beautiful horse boarding facility in the northern Napa Valley town of Calistoga owned by some great friends of ours. At the time, Cameron was working full time for Dana Estates, an extremely well regarded
winery in St. Helena, and I was working as a winemaking consultant for a few small brands while at the same time, managing the boarding facility in return for a beautiful place to hang our hats and house our horses. Our two daughters, Adelaide and Elizabeth, loved living on the farm, riding ponies, chasing chickens and collecting bugs. This living situation provided us a unique opportunity to squirrel away as much dough as we possibly could.
Post cancer, the real plan was put into motion. We did our math, set goals and decided we could comfortably, if frugally, live and save each month toward a life at sea. As I mentioned before, every day and every decision was about sailing away… whether or not to buy that cup of coffee (usually not), what school to send the girls to (public), where to go on vacation (most often to our favorite camping spot in the Sierra).
We purchased our kids clothes from the second hand store, raised our own
meat chickens, purchased grass fed beef by the cow and bought ALL the rest of our groceries at Trader Joe’s. We were really just living on less.
For Cameron, saving is a game and he revels in every penny not spent. For me, it has been a bit harder and a tad oppressive at times. Finding the right balance for our family that will work for our goals and still allow us to enjoy our time and not be stressed has been a journey… that will be for another post…
But still we lived a fabulous life here in Calistoga, mainly due to our great home and horse barn surrounded by friends, outdoor space and animals. I was fortunate to find a place where having horses (normally a very expensive lifestyle) was actually a net positive for our family. Cameron kept working hard at Dana, moving up the ranks and becoming more valuable to the company as the years passed. I was able to ride my horses and manage the barn as well as work as a winemaker for a grand total of 8 small premium wineries in Napa and Canada as well as start my own brand, Red Mare Wines, by the end of our time here. All this was done on a flexible schedule so I was able to be there for our kids at school drop offs, pick ups, holidays and more. I have to give a huge shout out to all my mommy friends (Sharon Suhr in particular) for all their help when I couldn’t do those things and especially to Cameron’s parent’s, who live with us during the very busy harvest season. They basically take care of us, feed us and look after our children’s needs for three to four weeks straight and I don’t know how we would have done it every year without them!
Biting the bullet was a tough decision in itself. Timing is everything they say. We put together many a spreadsheet and talked to many a financial manager before we took the plunge. Finally, we decided in the summer of 2014 to go for it and “disappear” as Cameron says, in the spring of 2015. This prompted a cascade of fast decisions and preparations that have brought us to where we are. And we could not be happier.