Pep Talk #20 Let Your Light Shine

Emily Dickenson Quote
If I can stop one heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one life the aching
Or cool one pain
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again
I shall not live in vain

--Emily Dickenson

Part I: Accidental Kindness

I was supposed to meet a friend at the park the other day to practice ukulele, but it didn’t work out. It was one of a long string of disappointments that day. Homeschool and chores hadn’t gone smoothly that morning, and when I went ashore to run two errands, both businesses had closed early. After a week of rain, we finally had sun but we didn’t make it to the beach. And then the timing for meeting the friend didn’t work out, either. As I sat in my car, wondering whether I should just go back to the boat and call it a bad day, I realized that I could keep the appointment and go to the park to practice by myself. So I did.

There was no one there. So I sat in the shade and played and sang to the trees. And when I say “sang,” I mean I sang my heart out, like I was in the shower, like no one was listening—all my joy and sadness, pent up energy came out in that music. It cheered me up considerably. I finished a song (one I recently wrote) and was dismayed to hear the sound of applause. I turned to see a man in the nearby pavilion smiling and clapping. I mean, it’s better than booing, but still, I turned bright red. I laughed and said, “Uh…thanks…I didn’t know I had an audience…” He said it sounded good and encouraged me not to quit. So I played a couple more.

After a few minutes, he came over to the picnic table where I was sitting and introduced himself. He offered me an Altoids curiously strong mint. His name is Michael. And he said that he too had been having a bad day. He had felt discouraged and didn’t even know anyone else was at the park until he heard music. We talked about the ways humans deal with sorrow; he had drowned his in alcohol, but was free of it now. I don’t always deal with mine in a constructive way, either, but one of the reasons I love the ukulele is because this small-but-cheery instrument, believe it or not, is making the world a better place (Amanda Palmer would back me up, she says so in her Ukulele Anthem).

Sound carries. I had unintentionally made his day. I wasn’t even trying. In fact, it’s better that way, because instead of being “proud of myself” or some other self-righteous nonsense, I instead felt pleasantly surprised, amused, and humbled. I let my soul shine, and someone saw it. Sometimes I have been the recipient of unexpected joy, so I was just paying it forward. When he left, he gave me his box of mints. I can say for sure that I received more of a blessing than he did from the interaction. And all I did was show up.

Part II: Random Acts of Kindness

This is a story from February. We were at the park for Homeschool P.E. and it was our Valentine’s Day celebration. All the homeschool kids were running around with pink cupcakes and cookies and swapping Valentines. Rachel came running up to me with a pink glitter heart on which she had scrawled a loving message. She said, “Mommy, I noticed that man over there seems lonely. I want to give him this Valentine I made, but I don’t know him and I shouldn’t talk to strangers. Can you give it to him for me?”  

I asked if she wanted to come with me and she said, “No. I just want you to give it to him for me.” So I did. He was sitting on a park bench, accompanied by his suitcase and wheelchair. I introduced myself and said that my daughter (pointing to Rachel) had made him a Valentine but was too shy to give it to him. He laughed and said, “that just made my day.” And then he dug around in his backpack and pulled out a small heart-shaped mylar balloon. He said he had found the balloon that morning and knew he would meet the right person to give it to, and asked if I could pass it on to Rachel. I was touched, not just by my daughter’s act of compassion, but by the thoughtful exchange of gifts between strangers—the way kindness multiplies.

Part III. Regular Acts of Kindness

We are looking at each other over our masks with suspicion these days, viewing strangers and even friends as if they are the carriers of our demise. We are limited in our communication, some feeling literally and figuratively muzzled. But we must not let the current circumstances stop us from practicing kindness. And I don’t mean random acts of kindness, but regular acts of kindness. We must form a habit, daily looking for opportunities to be kind, loving, and considerate. It requires intention, and sometimes it’s not easy, especially to those we see every day. But it’s worth it.

Five Reasons to Be Kind:

  1. Compassion takes the focus off of ourselves and our own unhappiness—it lifts our spirits.
  2. Kindness, even a small kindness like good manners or a smile (smiling eyes?), lifts the spirits of others. Something that seems small to you can mean the world to another person.
  3. Regular acts of kindness give us a sense of purpose and community. We are feeling isolated, but we must not forget we are part of something bigger. Doing something kind reminds us that we are part of the human family.
  4. Kindness is disarming. We can speak and act kindly no matter how other people speak and act. We can’t control others’ behavior, only our responses.
  5. The qualities of kindness, gentleness, and compassion are good for our health. Really. Look it up. They can produce hormones like oxytocin and serotonin which reduce anxiety and and lower blood pressure, among other things.

Beyond cheering someone else up, lightening your own heart, and adding something beautiful to the world, there is one more reason why you should practice kindness. It reflects the love of God. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” –Jesus in the sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:16

Dry Tortugas 2015: From the Unposted Archives

Eli turns 19 this week and officially graduates from our homeschool when I send in his last evaluation. There won’t be a big party, or a family trip, but we’ll find a way to make it special. While circumstances limit our present opportunities, they can’t take our happy memories. Five years ago, we celebrated Eli’s birthday with a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park with friends. During that fun and busy summer, the photos never got posted.

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

It was an amazing week to share with close friends. Max and Mia joined us on the boat for the overnight passage from Marathon, and Amy and Kai joined us on the ferry from Key West. We spent several days touring the fort, playing hide-and-seek, snorkeling, diving and swimming off of Take Two, eating good food, and playing games. During this trip we adopted Amy’s expression, “take a cookie when the plate is passed,” meaning, “grab the good in life whenever you can because you don’t know what tomorrow holds.” I’m so glad we took the cookie!

Sunset Sail 2
Motoring into the sunset toward Key West with (L-R) Aaron, Max, Sarah, Mia, Rachel, Sam, and Eli
Sunset Sail
Gathering for the sunset on a passage is a long-standing tradition on Take Two…it was fun to share our travels and boat life with friends
Seaplane, Dry Tortugas
Upon arrival the next morning, the seaplane landed in the channel just ahead of us
Sooty Tern, Dry Tortugas
Sooty terns nest in large (and noisy) numbers on Garden Key…this one came for a short visit
Fort Jefferson, 2015
Kids entering Fort Jefferson (Civil-War-era fortification)
Junior Rangers, Dry Tortugas National Park
The kids got their Junior Ranger badges by doing an information scavenger hunt all over the fort
Cannon, Fort Jefferson
The obligatory kids-on-cannon photo opportunity
Hermitage, Dry Tortugas
Outside the fort, a palm tree stump made a perfect hermit-crab habitat
King of the Island
King of the Island
Rare Picture of Jay Relaxing, Dry Tortugas 2015
Rare photo of Jay, relaxing in the hammock
Kai and Rachel 2015
Two cuties: Rachel (4) and Kai (3)
Sunset, Loggerhead Key
Sunset over Loggerhead Key…we did a lot of snorkeling on the reef from the beach and on the Windjammer wreck nearby
Fun with Friends, Dry Tortugas 2015
Spaghetti dinner with Friends…eleven people in the cockpit!
Game of Risk
Game night
Birdmore
Upon returning to the dock, we found a tiny sea turtle that had been dropped by a bird, and we took it to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon…we will forever remember him as “Birdmore”

Pep Talk #19: Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water

Rachel after a bath

Have “We the People” lost our ability to think clearly, behave morally, and govern ourselves? We seem to be falling apart at the seams, the general public divided into disparate camps: so gullible that we can be persuaded to believe anything or so cynical that we can’t believe anything.

GullibleCynical
The pastor/pope said so, so it must be true.God cannot exist because priests abuse children and believers are hypocrites.
I heard it/read it on the news so, so it must be true.All journalists are liars because they are biased and don’t check facts.
The guy with letters after his name said it, so it must be true.We don’t believe in science because scientists are paid to find certain results and keep changing their minds.
The leader said so, so it must be true.We don’t believe in government because leaders are corrupt and dishonest.
He was wearing a uniform and a badge, so he must be in the right.We reject all law enforcement because police officers take justice into their own hands.
My teacher/history book said it, so it must be true.History books are biased and full of mistakes, so it’s pointless to study the past.

I know there is a middle ground, but I’m not seeing it very often on social media! Why is that? Have we lost our ability to think logically and critically? And to argue respectfully instead of fighting when we disagree? I have been mulling over the various conflicts and wondering what about American culture and education has resulted in this polarization of opinions, lack of discernment, and general antipathy. As a homeschool mom/teacher I think I’m onto something.

Thomas Jefferson said that “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and will never be.” If we are concerned that our country is descending into chaos and anarchy, we might ask ourselves how we have failed think and behave reasonably, and whether we have fostered in our children a sense of common morality, decency, and respect for life, or whether our idea of freedom has shifted to mean, “to do whatever I want.” I think that we are on thin ice, and that the way back to solid ground involves a return to the teaching of morals and logic.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are the thoughts of two famous Adams:

“If we continue to be a happy people, that happiness must be assured by the enacting and executing of reasonable and wise laws, expressed in the plainest language, and by establishing such modes of education as tend to inculcate in the minds of youth, the feelings and habits of ‘piety, religion and morality,’ and to lead them to the knowledge and love of those truly Republican principles upon which our civil institutions are founded.” –Samuel Adams, in an address to the Legislature of Massachusetts, January 16, 1795.

“…We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” –John Adams, in an address to the Massachusetts Militia, 1798.

Social breakdown results when people fail to govern themselves, to live by a set of agreed-upon rules, either because they were not taught to do so, or because they do not see the benefits and consequences of following or failing to follow these rules. Our culture has communicated to a generation of people (or two or three) that life has no discernible meaning or value beyond pleasure-seeking, and we are facing the unpleasant consequences of people acting according to that belief. We may want to blame religious institutions and schools for failing to uphold morals and instill logical thinking, but the most important influence on a human being, and the most basic unit of any society, is the family. It is “we the people” who have failed to raise our own children, to teach them right from wrong, and to think logically instead of reacting emotionally.

COVID19 and its aftermath have exposed our weaknesses as a people and as a country. But we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater. It may be time to rethink what we want for the future of our country, what it means to pursue “life, liberty and happiness.” But the structure of our government, the wisdom and forethought of the Constitution’s framers, which took into account fallible human nature, should not be abandoned. Their ideals of a God-given ability to reason and to choose right over wrong should be reaffirmed.

The opportunity to do so is knocking now. We can reinvest in the future by modeling good character for our children, by developing healthy coping mechanisms for our families during this difficult time, and by filling educational gaps. We don’t know what the upcoming school year will hold. Some children will go back to brick-and-mortar schools, but in a very different way. Others will be schooling virtually. Many will be homeschooled (at least temporarily) for the first time. I have even heard of small communities hiring a teacher to start a co-op school. None of these options will be easy.

As a homeschool parent, I can attest to the challenges of providing for all of a child’s needs from home. But “no school” does not mean “no education.” Home education means the family has the freedom to choose curriculum, structure learning time organically, integrate religious or ethical principles into academic material, and foster learning in accordance with brain development and learning style.

However children go back to school in the fall, with love and logic, we can shepherd our families through this difficult time, find peace in the middle of chaos, fill our days with purpose and meaning, and raise a new generation of responsible and caring citizens.

Logic and Reason

Some materials I recommend:

  • The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer
  • The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper (children’s book)
  • The Fallacy Detective and The Thinking Toolbox by Hans and Nathanael Bluedorn
  • Educating the Whole-Hearted Child and Our 24 Family Ways by Clay and Sally Clarkson
  • The 5000 Year Leap (28 Principles of Freedom) by Cleon Skousen
  • Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline

Atlas Pasta Machine

Atlas Pasta Machine

We love this Italian-made pasta maker. It is made of high-quality stainless steel, durable, and easy to use and clean. We have several attachments; pictured is the combo spaghetti-fettuccine cutter. The secret is to use Durum-Semolina flour and to knead the dough well by sending it through the rollers (set to #1) a couple dozen times, folding after each roll, then rolling it successively thinner (#2, #3, #4, etc.). A basic recipe can be found below.

Fettucini

Pasta for Eight:

• 3 cups Durum-Semolina flour
• 1-2 cups white flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 egg
• 1 ½ cups water
• 2 tablespoons olive oil

Mix 3 cups of Durum-Semolina with salt. Make a well in the center of the flour. Crack egg into the water, add oil, and whisk. Add the liquid ingredients to the well in the center of the flour. Stir well, mixing until a dough ball forms. Knead several times with hands, adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Dough will be firm, but not dry. It should not stick to the hands. Break off small balls of dough and begin to send it through the pasta roller to knead, folding each time it goes through. When stretchy and smooth, roll it thinner and thinner, until it is ready to go through the cutter. Send it once through the cutter, separate the pasta strands and dry slightly before cooking. Drop into boiling water and cook for 5 minutes, or until it reaches desired doneness.

Pep Talk #18 FRAGILE: Handle with Care

Mason Jars

We store a lot of non-perishable food in mason jars. Visitors receiving the tour of our home are often surprised to see so much glass on a boat. But we have very little loss, even in rough weather and big seas. The jars are stored tightly packed so they can’t move, and we’ve added bungees to keep them from falling off the shelves, so we don’t lose the precious contents.

I have been feeling very fragile recently, and I know I’m not the only one. We are in some rough waters, and we need to make sure we are bungeed in emotionally and spiritually to keep from cracking! Here is one of my coping strategies when I am struggling: I open a new page in my journal and use the left-hand side to write down all the things I’m feeling. I then read what I wrote, weigh it against what I know to be true, and use the right-hand side to correct my thinking and be encouraged. I call it “telling myself the truth.” Sometimes it works, and sometimes I need someone else to give it to me straight. So many people have called “out of the blue” and done this for me when I needed it most it that I have ceased to call it coincidence. And I pay it forward whenever I can.

Here is a glimpse from the left-hand page of my neurotic inner life, fueled by summer heat, a cramped space shared by seven people with strong personalities, poor sleep, isolation, and global crises:

“I’m so tired I can’t think straight. I don’t even trust my own emotions in this state. I feel so utterly alone in this crazy world, and yet I realize that sinking into self-absorption/self-pity just makes everything worse.

It feels like we have been cut to pieces—each to his lonely sphere. The old and the sick are dying alone, all the important celebrations of life (graduations, weddings, births, holidays) have been cancelled, and people are trapped—like musical chairs, wherever they were when the pandemic hit, that’s where they stay, if they were lucky enough to get a seat.

Inside our boat, everyone is merely coping, but the loss of activity and friendship is painful; there’s little to offer as alternatives to screens. And we are the lucky ones with work, food, shelter, health (for now), and each other.

Outside the family, each household is cut off from the others, each group picked apart by conflict, fear, race, sex, disagreements over ideology or politics, loss, loneliness, and suffering. Even the body of believers seems to have been dismembered—a hand here, an eye there, a lonely foot.

I am so tired of hearing this at the grocery store: ‘Please remember to stay at least six feet away from other shoppers…We are all in this together.’ Can anyone else see the irony there? We are all in this alone—a friend across town might as well be on the other side of the planet. Digital substitutes for real people just make things worse. I’m longing for community: common + unity.”

And here is the result of my morning Bible reading from Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, written on the right side:

“You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)

“Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8)

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Sometimes we forget that our bodies house an eternal Spirit and we lose our Big Picture thinking. Nothing terrible lasts forever. We do have to withstand a lot right now—but our resilience does not come from what’s on the outside. Our strength is not physical, but spiritual.

We are fragile, with bodies that age, sicken, and die, hearts that can be broken, minds that can become unstable, relationships that can be damaged. But on the inside we possess something powerful—King Solomon said “God has set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:10). If we can hold onto the knowledge that “the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53), if we can remember that despite our loneliness we are not really alone, then we can find our stability like the jars in my pantry: pressed but not crushed, standing firm, and holding the imperishable inside the fragile.

Mangoritas

I recently returned from a week-long trip to Naples to visit family. With the restrictions of COVID-19, I didn’t know if it would be possible, but I also see how fragile life is right now, and didn’t want to lose an opportunity to see our parents. We calculated risk and benefit and decided that I would go with some of the kids for the week before the 4th of July (Eli and Jay stayed to work). With things looking bleak in the state of Florida, it may be another long while before we see each other again.

4th of July

We have a quiet and comfortable place to stay while in Naples, as the family home, bought in 1955 by Jay’s grandfather, is kept as a place for family visits and holiday gatherings. We spent the time hanging out with Jay’s parents Al and Mary, my mom, my dad, my siblings (my brother and his wife who live in town and my sister who drove over for the day from the east coast of FL), and my nieces and nephews.

Kiddie Pool

Even the crew of Abby Singer came for a short visit. Summer drove down with Sky and Paige and made all of us deliriously happy.

Crew of Abby Singer

We shared meals with family members, we puzzled, we celebrated Independence Day, and we generally re-filled our love tanks after feeling so isolated during quarantine in the Keys.

2000-piece Star Wars Puzzle

We also kept a Naples family tradition: the opening of margarita season. Last year, I shared mango margaritas with Aunt Lisa, and this year, I plucked fresh mangos from the low-hanging branches of the tree in the backyard and made some for Summer and myself.

Mango Season

I don’t know how long the hard times are going to last, but the love of family and friends (whether together in person or in spirit) makes them bearable. I came home with some fresh-frozen mango and a happy heart.

Here’s the recipe for two large frozen Mangoritas, the taste of a Florida summer:

Mangoritas
  • 2 ounces Jose Cuervo Gold tequila
  • 2 ounces Cointreau
  • 2 limes
  • 2-3 large fresh mangoes (or 2 cups frozen mango)
  • Splash of orange juice
  • ice

To a blender, add alcohol, the juice of 2 limes, peeled and seeded mangoes (about 2 cups), and 2 cups of ice. Blend until smooth, adding more ice if too runny or orange juice if too thick. (If using frozen mango, add orange juice/water until you can blend smoothly.) Pour into margarita glasses, clink, and enjoy!

New Wheels

When I first returned to the United States, I felt a bit like a fish out of water. It seemed like I had been left behind by all my friends. I didn’t have a job or driver’s license or car or phone or computer, and they were all busy and connected. I also missed the life of relative freedom and adventure we’d left behind. Well, exactly one year has passed since then, and I still miss the travel, but I now have all the above-named things. Including the car. Especially the car. That’s right folks, Eli has wheels now.

Eli's truck

I’ve had a driver’s license for a while. I was almost 18 when we came back to the U.S., so I could get a license as soon as I could pass the test. Of course, mastering the use of a 5,000 lb. Chevy Suburban was no easy task for someone who had never driven before. Staying between the lines on the road was a delightful challenge, but parking was a dreaded ordeal. None of the three student drivers in our family was allowed to take the wheel when both parents and/or Rachel and Sam were in the vehicle: too many eggs in one speeding metal basket. So I had to schedule driving practice.

Eli Driving 2019

But I eventually got the hang of it. After a few months, I passed my driver’s test and got my license. I started being allowed to take the beloved family car to work (yes, I have a job now), to friends’ houses, and generally wherever I wanted to go. That is, as long as nobody else needed the car. In a family with seven different schedules, it wasn’t often.

I started shopping for a vehicle. Something durable, something that could haul cargo and people, something that looked cool and manly, and something that was not too expensive. A truck checked all the boxes. I was mostly shopping on Craigslist and Facebook, and Dad helped me find some good ones. I called people. Dad and I drove down U.S. 1 and looked at a few trucks. I eventually found one that looked sweet for my price range: a 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 with about a hundred thousand miles on it. We drove down to Key West, looked it over, and then bought it. Simple as that.

Eli's truck 2

I drove home with the radio (my radio) blaring the whole way. It was an interesting experience. On the one hand, I was several thousand dollars poorer. On the other, I was one Dodge Ram truck the richer. That was too weird a thought to get used to in the hour drive back to Marathon. It still seems strange.

The next day, Aaron and I went down to the DMV to get our plates. Aaron had all his paperwork in order, but I didn’t. After sitting in the hot sun with a mask on for an hour or so, it turned out that the guy I had bought the truck from had forgotten to sign the title. He was good enough to meet me halfway and save me an extra hour’s drive. I met him in Big Pine Key that afternoon and got the signature, cursing myself for not noticing the blank dotted lines the first time around.

I went back to the DMV to get my license plate. (Seriously, do they pay those people to be unpleasant? Granted, I can understand how sitting inside all day dealing with the endless procession of befuddled morons like me with only half their paperwork can be taxing.) The whole ordeal was an exercise in patience. But beyond that, it was actually kind of a cool experience. There I was, signing an application for a vehicle title like a real grownup. There I was, whipping out my debit card and paying hundreds of dollars in sales tax like it was nothing. Big boy stuff.

So now I’ve got wheels. It’s funny how it can take only a few months for the totally alien to become second nature. Parking was like that for me. It used to take me at least six tries to get the Suburban right where I wanted it. I practiced parking maneuvers for hours in the weeks preceding my driver’s test. Now, I just pull in like a boss and shift it into park. The same goes for a lot of the things I do now. Phones, cars, jobs: all that seemed like another world a year ago. Now they’re a part of my everyday life. The truck may be just another step towards the scary adult world, but it’s a pretty sweet one.

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

It’s the little things that count—especially on a boat, and especially when they save water or space, and keep things cleaner and drier. I have four product recommendations to make more efficient use of a galley sink. Depending on your boat, the size and shape of your basin(s), and the configuration of your counter tops/cabinetry, you may not be able to implement all of these products, but they might give you some new ideas to try in your galley.

Dri-Dek
  1. Dri-Dek in the bottom of the sink.  We have a standard, stainless-steel, double-basin kitchen sink that Jay purchased at Home Depot or Lowe’s several years ago and mounted to our custom counters (plywood with teak veneer, coated with polyurethane). I like having separate places to wash and rinse/drain. Dri-Dek, which we also have in our cockpit, water-maker locker, food/drink lockers, and under our mattresses in the cabins, does an admirable job of creating airflow. It lasts forever and cleans up well with a spritz of bleach and a scrub brush. Made in Florida, interlocking tiles can be purchased directly from Dri-Dek or from Amazon ($4.76 per tile at Dri-Dek, with a minimum purchase of 12 tiles or $78.59/dozen at Amazon). They can be cut to whatever size you need.
  2. Water faucet with a pause button. We love our Ambassador Marine Trinidad Head/Shower Combo Faucet with Classic Sprayer (about $200 from Defender). It is expensive, but incredibly well-made, durable, and water-saving. We have three on our catamaran: one in the galley, one in the small port head (used mostly for hand-washing), and one in the large starboard forward head (providing daily showers for a crew of seven). We’ve had to order some replacement parts for repairs, but they have survived heavy use for about ten years.
Faucet with pause button
  1. Liquid soap dispenser. We added LDR 501 6520SS Deluxe Soap/Lotion Dispensers ($21 each at Amazon) to our galley sink and to the heads. They can be filled from the top and help keep the area around the sink tidy and dry. To save soap, we often water it down (2 parts soap to 1 part water).
  2. Filtered drinking water faucet. Whatever your water source or storage tank material, this faucet, along with an accompanying under-sink charcoal filter, improves the taste and purity of your drinking water. This is a stainless steel, lead-free ESOW Kitchen Water Filter Faucet ($36.90 at Amazon), and what I love about it is the shape of the swivel-spout and the single-lever handle. Its high profile and variable pressure control make it so I can quickly fill a stock pot sitting on the counter or slowly fill an ice cube tray without splashing and wasting water.
Drinking water faucet and liquid soap dispenser

We provide a harsh testing environment for all sorts of home and boat products. Take Two has seen a lot of different household solutions implemented in the 12 years we’ve been aboard, and our testing team has ranged in age from newborn to adult. It is not made up of gentle, mild-mannered, careful people, either. One thing we’ve learned is that it’s better to spend a little more to get a quality product instead of wasting resources and leaving cheap, broken junk in our wake.

Pep Talk #17: Fish Out of Water

Flying Fish
Sam with a flying fish found on deck during a passage.

Have you ever observed a goldfish in a bowl? It swims in circles, it examines (and sometimes nibbles at) the colored pebbles on the tank floor, swims in and out of its little plastic cave, eats food flakes off the surface and generally doesn’t seem to mind it’s surroundings, as long as someone keeps the bowl clean and feeds it. To me, it looks like an inane life—a fish can only be content with this small world because its brain is tiny and houses no ambition. And yet…

I am married to my high school sweetheart (together 27 years now), creative problem-solver, father of our five children, captain of our boat, database engineer/consultant…and introvert. His “office” for the last twelve years has been a 3’ x 4’ x 6’ shared pace in the fourth cabin on our boat—office by day, kid’s bunk by night. It’s not air-conditioned unless the generator is running or we’re living at a dock, but he seldom complains. He rarely leaves the boat, since the work he does for fun is in the same place as the work he does for a living; when he gets up from his computer, he might pick up a sander and go to work on our decks, or a screwdriver to rebuild a broken pump, or do something with one of the kids. He meets many of the requirements for happiness in a solitary life and fitness for living aboard a boat. He’s no brainless goldfish, but he is content with a self-contained life.

Of course, since opposites attract, I possess other, complementary traits, like an outgoing nature, a love of language, hospitality, and creativity (especially when shared). These traits are also helpful when living on a boat—when we get to a new place, I am the one who meets new people, figures out where to get things, who acts as translator if necessary, who invites friends for dinner and arranges get-togethers and field trips with other sailors. I am the ambassador. When I’m forced to curtail these social activities—due to long passages, isolated locations, bad weather, or a global pandemic that requires social distancing, this outgoing nature is quickly frustrated. I begin to view the “goldfish bowl” as a small, uncomfortable, limiting existence.

Occasionally, a pet goldfish will try to leave its watery habitat. It usually happens when the temperature is off or the tank is unclean, or if the fish is stressed or ill. It might jump out of its bowl, hoping to discover better conditions, only to find itself flopping around on the dresser, gasping for water. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, it may discover too late that “there’s no place like home.”

Of course, I am not a fish, nor am I ready to “jump” because my social life has shrunk to a sunset happy hour with Jay on the back steps. Put in perspective with the real suffering of illness, poverty, and injustice, our mere discomfort does not merit complaint. If anything, now is the time to be grateful; we are healthy and safe, and the slower pace has been good for our family and our homeschool. But in addition to bemoaning the state of the world, I have also possessed the attitude of a spoiled brat; I confess to feeling discontented and ungrateful, to pining after something I can’t have right now, and to complaining about disrupted plans and lost opportunities. Without the normal rhythms of work and play, social activities and gatherings—some of which are, in truth, distractions—I am doing some soul-searching, and realizing that saying “God’s grace is sufficient” and living it are two different things (from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians 12:9). That verse continues: “His strength is made perfect in weakness,” but who wants to admit weakness? When the going gets tough, the tough are not supposed to act like toddlers, but sometimes they do. The verse finishes with, “therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

My main weaknesses consist of self-centeredness and a choice to focus on the wrong things. I have discovered in the last three months that the difference between a “good day” and a “bad day” is where I keep my focus. If I am using a screen as a substitute for time with a real person, if I am spending a lot of time looking at bad news, if I am giving way to feelings of loss, frustration, or anxiety, then I am heading for trouble and probably tears. Instead, if I wake up early and have my morning quiet time, if I am praying for those who are suffering, if I am counting my blessings, if I am truly present and willing to accept the gift of this day (whatever it holds), if I am investing in real relationships, then I am content. A simple change of focus makes all the difference.

Here are the things for which I am especially grateful today:

  • For my marriage of almost 23 years, for the daily sunset “date” Jay and I have set aside in order to give each other undivided attention, for Jay’s calm, steady, unflagging nature, and for his tireless patience with my ups and downs, and for his honesty and hard work.
  • For my children, who offer pearls of wisdom every time I stop to listen.
  • For my extended family, whether by blood, marriage, or “adoption,” who are encouraging and supportive, who will stop what they’re doing to talk or pray, who demonstrate what love is.
  • For the homeschool community and the sailing community—despite the curtailing of activities, there I find love and connection.
  • For the privilege of living and traveling on Take Two, for all we have learned while living aboard, and for friends from around the world.
  • For the simple things—a safe place to sleep, food to eat, fresh air and sunshine, health, time with family, the gift of life itself.

Paul, in his letter to the church in Philippi, Greece, offers this thought on contentment: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him (Christ) who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).  

Maybe, like Jay, you are a happy goldfish. Or, like me, you might be feeling sometimes like a fish out of water, gasping for community, struggling in relationships, and experiencing a mixture of sadness, fear, and anger about what’s going on in the world. Your situation might be worse, or it might be better. Whatever the case, we can all use our present circumstances to delve deeper into what it means to have faith, to be thankful no matter what, and to find strength in weakness.

Boys and Trucks

Boys and Trucks
Eli’s 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 and Aaron’s 1994 Ford F-150

We’re entering a new era as a family: our first two boys (or should I say, men?) have recently acquired their first vehicles. Both chose trucks.

Eli found a good used truck in the Keys and drove down with Jay to complete the purchase this week and bring it home. It resembles the truck Jay used to own.

Aaron has a Ford fixer-upper–something he used to talk about when he was a little boy. He’s good with his hands, loves tools, and wants to spend the time (under the truck) to make it his own.

We’re very pleased to see them taking steps toward independence and proud of both of them.