The world is as kind as you make it: a daily practice.

Greetings from Puerto Rico! Our little boat has made it a few hundred miles since I last checked in, slowly working and sailing our way through the Bahamas, across Turks and Caicos, bashing along the Dominican Republic, and finally landing at south coast port of Salinas.

It's time for a land break while we wait out hurricane season, which has given me a chance to reflect on how this weird watery life has changed me since we left New York a few thousand miles and more than a year ago.

One thing has become clear: Traveling through the islands has made me a kinder person. That's making life, wherever I go, infinitely better. 

As I took a break from the Caribbean to visit favorite cities and friends, I noticed everyone, especially strangers, were more open to me. They were friendlier, ready for conversation, to lend a hand.

In my first few days back in the States, I was confused.

People were saying hello in the street, striking up conversations with me in lines, helping me fix and unload and arrange things... those nice things you do for people where everyone knows each other. They were offering kind smiles and human acknowledgement. 

This wasn't unusual per se -- we have passed the last seven months living in a chain of islands where this is the norm. Where everyone stops to help someone else, because you know the smallest acts can make a huge difference to someone's livelihood, safety or ability to withstand the elements. Where everyone is kind to each other because you know you'll see them again.

Except, I was in Baltimore and LA. These are places I know well, where I have spent lots of time without anyone saying hello meeting me in the eye. What was going on? My big city suspicions were raised. Why were all these strangers being so nice to me? Why was this thing or that thing being offered? What was the catch?

Then it dawned on me: The world hasn't become kinder, but I have. And when I approach the world with openness and warmth, the world returns it joyfully. 


It's not you, It's me

Stay with me here, while I get a little woo woo on you. You can't travel to as many odd places as I have without being willing to befriend strangers and roll with weird invitations and situations. 

But in terms of kindness, I've undergone my own evolution.

As a student, I learned to harden myself so that I wasn't taken advantage of.

As a woman, I learned to never hold anyone's gaze or participate in conversation long enough to encourage any undesired actions.

As a New Yorker, I learned that my best friends were my resting bitch face and a pair of headphones. 

That's not to say that I haven't been a practitioner of kindness. I've been a longtime believer in Radical Empathy, and my belief in empathy and conflict resolution has driven me to great lengths in my professional career -- to build a nonprofit that taught storytelling in conflict zones. To help grow a media startup that builds empathy through viral storytelling. To seek out 10 years of work that benefits social good.

But I've been pretty bad at practicing it in my everyday life. 

Until this last couple of years, my main approach to the world has been, with reason, one of self-defense and skepticism. I'd like to say I've always practiced kindness, but almost exclusively to the people I already know or toward causes I've felt passionate about. That left my circle of friends small and tight, and my daily interactions almost exclusively transactional.

Somehow, more than a year of cruising through small towns and seven months of living in the islands has worn down my defenses like waves on sea glass. And I'll be the first to admit that the softer-edged me is way better. 


Someone else won't do it

One of the biggest lessons I learned from traveling to remote locations is to reprogram my brain from the default big-city idea that there's always a "someone else". When you're on an island in the middle of the ocean, exposed to elements and limited resources, there are few "official" modes of help, in emergencies or otherwise. You can look around you, on land or in an anchorage and realize, this is it. These four or five boats, or this town of 500 people is all we've got to solve a problem. There is no one else. So every person who looked stuck, struggling or asked for help was suddenly my problem. No person left behind. 

That seems like a hassle, but it's actually a lovely way to approach the world. You can address any situation with the certainty that you're there exactly at there right time to help someone else. And they're there to help you.

My change in my own attitude became clear to me back in Georgetown, in the Bahamas. While hiking with some cruising friends and some other folks visiting from New York, we came across an older fellow who was clearly struggling in the heat. We asked if he was okay. He waved us off and told us he was just taking a rest.

Our New York friends continued on, satisfied that he could take care of himself. The rest of us stayed put, gave him some food and water, slowly walked him back to his dinghy, and made sure he got back to his own boat all right, where his wife was waiting for him. 

We talked about it later -- this wasn't a classic case of Bystander Effect and the New Yorkers weren't wrong in their actions, per se. He had said he was fine.  But we knew that there might not be another person coming by the rock on which he was sitting. That no EMT could be quickly called if things escalated. All that guy had was us, who happened to come across him at just the right time. 

When you know there's no one else, you have no choice but to start watching out for each other.

I've also found that moments like these always come back around.

When we returned to Luperon in the Dominican Republic late one night from a trip to the States, our pre-arranged dinghy ride to our boat was nowhere to be found. We stood on the dock with our bags, our dog and the fatigue of 12 hours of travel. It was midnight, in a tiny seaside town that spoke exclusively Spanish, and it looked like the only way to get to our boat was going to be to swim. We asked around at a few bars that were still open, but no one had a boat. So as a last-ditch effort, we borrowed a VHF radio and called, 

"General announcement to the harbor: Is anyone still awake and willing to swing by the dock to take us to our boat?" 

A woman immediately hopped on the radio and, without knowing who we were or any details, said she'd be out in five minutes to pick us up. And just like that, we were home.

I have stopped asking myself: Is there anyone else coming that would be better equipped to deal with this?

Instead I step forward with good intentions and the best I can do, and hope that other people around me will follow. They almost always do. 


Make time for kindness 

These moments of kindness aren't always ones of trauma or emergency. Most of the time, practicing kindness is being generous with your time: taking an extra five minutes to lean into a conversation instead of shut it down, to compliment people and get to know them a bit better, or to offer or listen to some advice. 

Part of adjusting to a tropical clime is learning to slow down. And in that slowness, you finally have room for those little niceties that make the world so much more pleasant.

That's hard to do while working, where people don't understand that even if you're not in an office that doesn't mean you don't have a full workday. I've put it upon myself to schedule in that time.

I no longer schedule back to back calls if I'm in a new public place, as I'll need to have time to get to know the people who run the restaurant, bar or coffee shop I'm in.

I leave an extra five to 10 minutes to get anywhere, as I know I'll probably get roped into some kind of conversation along the way. 

I can't schedule my days with the precision I had in New York or LA, but getting through the day is so much easier and more fun, knowing that I can spare the time to get to know everyone around me and explore the places that I'm in. 


The more you give, the more you get

By opening myself up to help and leaving more space in my day for kindness, I've also found that I've become less suspicious around new people.

I haven't lost my skepticism toward other people's intentions but I have forced myself to stop assuming that strangers are a threat. Men aren't always there to catcall me, vendors aren't always there to hustle me.

This manifests in my attitude in small ways: I make eye contact with everyone I meet, and I greet them with a hello and a smile if they choose to make eye contact back. If you're from a small town, you're probably rolling your eyes right now, and I get it. But for those of us who have spent most of our lives in big cities, eye contact with strangers is a radical move! 

I've lost my automatic "no to the universe" vibe, and in return, I think my good intentions come back around more often. I think my openness shows on my face and from it, I've been party to a million small interactions that have made my days more fulfilling.

I'll never be good at improv, but I like to think of my attitude as shifting toward a "yes, and" mentality that allows me the space to better understand the people around me and my place in the world.


Karma is a boomerang

Traveling basically full-time means that I can't get deeply involved in one community, but I can make myself available for a thousand small interactions that can make a difference to someone else. I also try to participate as much as possible in online groups for people asking for help and advice, trying always to give more than I get. 

That phrase, "Karma is a boomerang" is one of my favorite phrases. As a teenager, I wrote it on a post-it and stuck it to a mirror in my bedroom. I used to love it because I knew that anyone who did me wrong would have their negativity served back to them, with sprinkles on top one day. I took great delight in imagining the cosmic revenge of the bullies and mean girls of my earlier years and how much better off I'd be. I brought a lot of that attitude into my adult life, with the underlying intention of "not being mean, rude or awful" instead of actively and intentionally practicing kindness.

But as I've gotten older, I've come to think about karma far less in terms of retribution, and instead in terms of all the good energy I can put out into the universe and the myriad ways I can do it.

It's not always easy. But even objectively, the time and effort is worth it. Studies have shown that people acting generously toward others find more happiness in their own lives than those acting in their own self interest

Generosity can take a lot of different forms, and I've really enjoyed exploring what generosity means to me, especially in the time and love I reserve for others. 


“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

- Winston Churchill




7 sanity-saving products that make tiny homes infinitely more livable.

It's been just over a month since we've moved aboard full time and we're settling into the swing of things. People keep asking me whether Jon, my husband, and I are ready to kill each other yet. But we've lived in fairly small spaces for awhile now, particularly after a year in downtown Manhattan, where we had even less storage and counter space in the kitchen. 

We're no stranger to making do with the square footage we've got. But there are a few things that we've collected along the way that consistently make our small spaces more lovely and comfortable, that may also have a place in your home, little or not.

1. A beautiful magnetic spice rack.

I love to cook but have realized over time that it's not the size of my kitchen that matters, it's the ease of pulling things out and putting them away that will make or break my joy of creating a meal. I get frustrated REALLY quickly when things start falling on top of me or out of cupboards as I'm searching for something to add as a meal simmers or bakes. 

We received one of these as a gift for the tiny kitchen in our New York apartment and it was the most complimented thing in our house. When we moved to the boat, we adapted the spice set with a sheet of metal tooled perfectly to serve as a backsplash behind our sink. It's functional, pretty, and even my wilder spices are at hand at all times. Protip: If you want to make your own magnetic board to fit your space or have spices ready at hand, just buy the empty jars from Gneiss and DIY your own set -- but don't bother making the set from scratch, it's not worth buying all the parts separately unless you want to do it in bulk. 

2. A super smart cutting board and colander. 

I found this on a tiny house article awhile ago and ordered it out of curiosity. I've loved it ever since. The colander is the perfect size for almost anything you have to wash for two people and takes up no space to store. And the board, while annoyingly awkward to wash, legitimately turns your sink into a real counter space. You can use the colander to catch scraps or hold food as you chop and it still allows you easy access to the sink if you need it. It's doubled my workspace for cooking and other counter needs in both our old apartment and our boat. 

3. A safe, romantic lantern. 

This little guy, dubbed the Candelier, is a new addition to the boat and so far we're really digging it. We were in need of some kind of lantern that didn't run off electricity and the beautiful old brass ones are out of our price range. I was afraid of candles getting knocked over and burning the place up. But the Uco has spring-loaded, drip-free candles that burn for 9 hours and are surrounded by a protective, windproof case. The lanterns come in different colors and even smaller sizes and cast a bright but romantic light. And the top can serve as a warmer for your coffee, which I haven't tried but nonetheless seems like a win.

4. A tiny, delightful fireplace. 

This was originally a boat-warming gift from my supportive parents, who resigned themselves to the fact that my husband and I would die of cold over the winter in New York. It has since been the coziest part of our winter evenings, both on land and off. Most fake fireplaces are loud and cheesy, but this one has form, function and vintage flair. 

It kicks off a nice heat and cozy glow. It also barely takes up a square foot of space. You can order it in white and black too. 

5. A set of unbreakable cups.

We foolishly went through an entire set of Ikea glasses before deciding that we had to invest in something more sturdy. These enamel cups look great and are impossible to mess up. Even drinking red wine out of them is doable (if you forget to rinse them out, just give them a quick Clorox spritz before your normal washing.) That being said, we're still on the hunt for the perfect unbreakable wine glasses.

I've seen these all over the place in difference colors and in much fancier locales since purchasing ours. We always get compliments on them when we have people over. 

6. A mess-free decent coffee maker. 

A tip from a coffee aficionado colleague two years ago turned me onto the AeroPress and I haven't looked back when making boat coffee. It takes about four minutes to make a super concentrated, delicious espresso or coffee with this press. It's a fun process to make a cup and the easiest clean up of any coffee maker I've used -- by the time you've squeezed out your coffee, you've already cleaned the entire device. And there's very little filter waste.

So. much. better. than shoveling out the grounds of a french press into a trash bag. Ugh. The bag is cheesy but I find it makes the whole set easier to store and travel with, so I've come to like that too and would recommend just buying the whole set for the price because you end up using all of it. Stow the bag and the ugly plastic parts when you have company over and you'll show off your super cool tool that I recently spotted at a Manhattan coffee joint at a $50 markup.

7. A reliable battery-charged vacuum. 

I was recently asked what product changed my life more than any other recently, and for the last two years, it's been this vacuum. It charges quickly, has an extendable hose, vacuums wet and dry substances, and goes after everything -- pet hair, spills, errant adhesive -- with zeal. It can handle any boat project or wayward dinner party we've thrown at it. I love this vacuum the way you love a family pet and it's small enough to stow away without a second thought. Every house, of any size, should have one of these. And the charger is the same for several of our tools, which makes it a space-saving win. 

8. Bonus -- A really good stain remover.

We're a wine-drinking household, which means inevitable spills. This stuff has saved our cushions four times over when we've splashed wine across our cabin -- because one spill means our entire house gets covered in wine. I live in fear of not having this at hand during a crucial spill moment. Which is why I buy two whenever I stock up. 

What are we missing? What can't you live without? There are great new products coming out every day for small living, so I'd love to hear your secrets. 

Finally, a little disclaimer and FYI: All of these products are things we love and use. If you click through on our links on Amazon, we do get a little referral tip for telling you about them. 

A faster, foolproof thank you note.

An adventurous spirit is naturally incomplete without gratitude. It’s not possible to stand in front of a wide expanse of ocean or open time without thankfully considering the people and decisions that have led you there. 

But there are lot of people who are full appreciation and full of dread for thank you notes. At their worst, thank yous can feel inauthentic, inefficient or a little anachronistic to write or receive.

Slate recently argued that thank you notes feel moot in a time of instantaneous feedback. What can you say in a card that you can’t text or email back days or weeks sooner? It’s true that a handwritten note is no longer necessary for actual proof of receipt. And because of that, it’s become even more of an art to write a decent one.

There are many, many guides to the thank you note, and most focus on how to acknowledge a gift and how you’ll use it. But if penning your passion for a pair of wool socks stops you short, I propose another easier and more meaningful way to write your way through a season’s worth of gifts.

This kind of note focuses on the gift giver instead of the gift itself and allows you more ammo to share kind words that you might never get the chance to say to a person in the course of daily life. This kind of note also becomes a lot easier to write when you move your focus away from the object you're thankful for.

Got your favorite pen and stationery handy? Let’s do this. 

First, get into the right mindset. Every gift is meant to be an expression of thankfulness for the giftee. So, you’re not writing a thank you note for a gift, you’re writing a thank you note for this person being in your life and thinking of you. There are very few opportunities to show appreciation for the people you love, so make this thank you note a letter worth saving. 

Step 1: Greet the giver and acknowledge the gift. 

Pretty simple. No fancy stuff here.

Optional Step 2: Add one more sentence about how you plan to use the gift or have already used it.

Show you know how much thought they put into their selection. This is usually the hardest part of a thank-you to write, especially if the gift is impersonal. But in this recipe it's optional because you're making a meatier note. If you’re not inspired to talk more about the gift, skip this sentence and move on. 

Step 3: Share your appreciation for the gift giver. 

Your gift giver put you on a shortlist of people that deserve a physical manifestation of love. What do you appreciate about your gift giver? Share a memory of spending time with the person, related to the gift or not. 

  • What happened the last time you saw them that made you laugh? 
  • When was the last time you randomly thought of them? Why?
  • What did they do at the gift-giving occasion that brought you joy?

Step 4:  Share a hope for the next time you see each other and sign off. 


Propose a plan for getting together soon or staying in touch, and end your card warmly. 

That’s it. A foolproof recipe for appreciation that’s just as easy to write as a normal thank you card. If it works for you, write me a thank you note! 

P.S. If you were delighted by the famous thank you notes at the top of this post, you can read more at Letters Of Note.

The life-changing magic of collecting adventures, not things.

Two dear friends of ours operate by a simple philosophy: collect adventures, not things. Jon and I subscribe to the philosophy in theory, but not reality -- we have two sets of almost everything on both our boat and our apartment. In anticipation of merging our apartment and boat homes, I recently read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. 

The KonMari method, as it's called, is a beautiful short read about the philosophy, in addition to the logistics, of decluttering. 

I'm a naturally sentimental person and my default is to save everything with meaning, which means I constantly have to force myself to simplify. Jon is much the same way. But the burden of all those meaningful collected goods can weigh heavily upon the soul and I often regret what I get rid of.

While much has been made of the book's space-saving folding techniques, which are nothing to sneeze at -- I look forward to KonMari'ing our tiny boat closet -- what really resonated with me was her declaration of decluttering through joy. 

I took three things away from the book that will help me personally reach a spirit of collecting adventures, not things.

Hold each item in your hand and ask yourself:

Does this bring me joy?

If yes, well, keep it. If not address the item.

Thank you for serving me well.

I love this because it allays the inherent sense of guilt I feel from getting rid of something I once loved. No matter how tired and worn the thing you're holding is, no matter who gave it to you, it had a moment that sparked joy and has therefore done its job. If it no longer sparks joy in your heart, thank it for its service and then let it, and yourself, move on. 

Then, there's this odd and lovely practice.

Greet your home when you cross the threshold each night.

Kondo suggests that when you enter the threshold of your house after work each day, and as you put back all your things each night from wearing and carrying them, you should take a moment to acknowledge them and thank them for their service. 

I thought about this for a bit and realized that when we're at the boat, this comes naturally. Our boat feels like a family member almost as much as it feels like our protective shell.

This different mentality toward the Scallywag, as opposed to a brick and mortar home, is part of why we put so much more effort into her -- why we don't mind neatening her up or washing her down every week, when we can go a month without doing a scour of the apartment. By placing so much emotional investment in this thing, chores suddenly feel like an act of loving care. 

My one quandary about the book however, is the balance between simplifying and always being prepared. At least once a weekend, we'll pull something out from the boat that we're glad we haven't gotten rid of, that instantly saved us time or expense because we hoarded it away. According to Kondo, we're missing the adventure of replacing it and what we'll learn along the way.

But tossing things that we might need in the future and don't necessarily spark joy (tupperware full of screws, I'm looking at you) feels gratuitous when we do return back to them for help so often. Perhaps far more often than an apartment dweller would.

(Okay, let's be real, our tupperware full of screws is so useful in our boat home that I sing a song when it gets pulled out. That's its own joy, I guess. But you know what I'm talking about.)

Where's the line? How do you handle your emotional attachments versus packing light? Have you found a way to pare down while remaining emotionally charged instead of bereft? I'd love to hear about it.