Monthly Archives: April 2020

2020 Vision: Casa Agua Azul

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” —Jonathan Swift

View of Lake Izabal
View of Lake Izabal from Casa Agua Azul

I don’t know what Gail Gordon saw or felt when she first stood on the property that is now Casa Agua Azul, a home for abused and abandoned children on the shores of Lake Izabal in Guatemala, but it must have been powerful. I don’t know how, short of many miraculous coincidences, she’s been able to share her vision with the right people at the right time to make what was once a wisp of an idea into a solid place where children run laughing through the garden. And I don’t know how God will continue to sustain it and provide for the house parents and staff, and the seventeen children in their care, but I know that He will.

Jerry, Griselda, Wally, Sofia and Otto
Jerry and Griselda with Otto, Wally, and Sofia, Winter 2019

I know how I felt, the first time I met Gail four years ago at a Wednesday morning Bible study I attend when our boat is moored in the Florida Keys: intrigued. She was asking for prayer about plans for a property she had purchased, and about the endless difficulties of getting it cleared, cleaned up, rebuilt, funded, licensed, staffed, and operational as a children’s home. I took note but had no way of knowing how important that little piece of information would be to me, or how God can multiply one small act of faithfulness. When we found ourselves sailing into the Rio Dulce for hurricane season in 2018, I thought we were coming to Guatemala get our boat painted. I guess I forgot that God’s plans are always bigger than our own.

Marina Yacoe at the Gate
My friend Marina at the Gate

In October of 2018, as I walked through the gates of Casa Agua Azul, I was incredulous. I had seen photos from when friends of ours, fellow sailors Eric and Annie, had gone to Guatemala to help clear the land—back when it was abandoned and being used as the village pigsty. The place I saw was a hive of efficient and cheerful activity: a large clean building had been renovated and was ready for its first inhabitants, women were preparing lunch in the kitchen, and a team of missionaries was building private quarters for the house parents, Jerry and Griselda. People were moving rocks, working on pathways, and creating beautiful green-spaces under the mango trees.

Jerry and Gail, construction
Gail talking with Jerry, home under construction

I remember the people I met that day, the prayers for Jerry an Griselda, and the conversations about vision. I myself had a vision that day. While looking at the house, I saw many beautiful murals and scriptures that had been painted on the walls by volunteers. An empty wall on the second floor beckoned—and I imagined what I would paint if ever given the chance. I don’t know why I even had that audacious thought—that I would paint a mural! I had never painted art on a wall before, but I got a picture in my mind of what it would look like completed.

In September of 2019, I flew back to Guatemala to visit a friend who was having a baby. I spent a day at Casa Agua Azul, playing with the kids and visiting with people who, a year before, had been strangers to me, and were now like family. I barely recognized the property as I stood on the porch of Jerry and Griselda’s finished house: there was a playground, a covered visitors’ pavilion, a boat slip (dug in part by the hands of my own boys), a lovely garden with pebble pathways. There were now a dozen children there—laughing, playing, arguing, running around, doing all the things normal children do.

View from Jerry and Griselda's porch
View from Jerry and Griselda’s porch, September 2019

I spent the day helping in the kitchen, reading stories to children, racing matchbox cars on the floor, and singing songs in Spanish and English, sharing my ukulele with small, eager musicians. During the ten months we had lived in Guatemala, our connection to this place had grown from mild interest to full-blown engagement. Our boys had been volunteering every weekend doing physical jobs around the property, digging in the muddy pit that would someday be a boat slip, hauling rocks, doing odd jobs—whatever was needed. A fellow boat-kid, Deon, often went with them, and several of my friends from the marina had come to visit, to see what it was we were so excited about.

Aaron working with Jerry at Casa Agua Azul
Aaron digging in the pit with Jerry

We became friends with Jerry and Griselda, sharing meals at the house and on our boat. We celebrated the arrival of the first children at the home, Sofia and Otto, and watched Otto grow from a small and sickly baby to a healthy and happy toddler. After sharing my mural idea with Gail on one of our visits, I spent a month of Sundays with my nose to the wall, dabbing paint, and meditating on the scripture that is now written there: “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news” (Isaiah 52:7).

Tanya's Mural (Photo by Gail)
Finished mural

In a country with desperate poverty, a history of genocide, child trafficking, and rampant abuse and neglect, a safe place for children is good news indeed. And I got to witness it happening in real time. When our boat motored slowly out of the river in April of 2019, we felt as if we had left a little piece of ourselves behind. Being a part of Casa Agua Azul changed us from estranjeros into familia and made us feel at home in Guatemala.

When I visited in September, I found a treasure on the third floor: a simple wooden cross hanging in a window with an inscription that reads: “You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, Oh God our Savior. You are the hope of everyone on earth, even those who sail on distant seas” (Psalm 65:5 NLT). It was a token left by Eric and Annie, and they couldn’t have known when they wrote on those scraps of wood how God would answer their prayers, or how He would give hope to these children, but they were a part of something bigger than themselves.

Window with Eric and Annie's cross
Prayers answered

This is what it means to have vision: to get a glimpse of what could be and act in faith so that what is imagined can become real.

It has been one of the greatest privileges in the traveling life of our family to be a part of Casa Agua Azul. On our journey, we have seen such heartbreaking poverty: the ravages of systemic inequality, greed, human selfishness, war, ignorance, and environmental damage. We sometimes feel powerless in the face of the forces that shape our world and that push so many to the edge of survival. When we can, we help in small ways, but it is in partnering with ministries like Bluewater Surrender that we see the power of good multiplied. It is one thing to give financially, and entirely another to participate personally, to put our hands to work, and to engage with our hearts. Both are needed.

Since Gail first shared her vision for that property on the lake, many have come alongside her to support the growth and maintenance of Casa Agua Azul. I’m writing this with the hopes that you too will want to participate and to help meet the needs of 17 at-risk children. Normally, there is a large fundraiser this time of year that helps sustain the children’s home—and though they can’t hold the event, the needs haven’t changed; if anything, they have grown. But the work being done in Guatemala is crucial for breaking the cycle of poverty and abuse for the kids that call Casa Agua Azul home. Investing in children by placing them in a family setting where they can experience unconditional love offers the potential for real change. I know that what gets donated to Bluewater Surrender goes directly to caring for the children at Casa Agua Azul. I have witnessed the transformation firsthand, and I have seen how the vision is carried forward: one step at a time, with prayer and hard work, and partnership.

Lunch at Casa Agua Azul
Lunchtime at Casa Agua Azul, September 2019

Vision means seeing where God is already at work, joining that work, and becoming the answer to our own prayers.

Will you join our family in supporting Blue Water Surrender and the Casa Agua Azul? Whether you make a one-time gift or offer monthly support, you’ll be a part of something bigger than yourself.

For more information or to donate directly, go to

Kids Swinging Casa Agua Azul 1
Kids swinging

Book recommendations:

  • In Pursuit of Orphan Excellence by Philip Darke
  • When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
  • Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan

Pep Talk #11: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

“One of the best ways to make yourself happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past. Photos are a great memory-prompt, and because we tend to take photos of happy occasions, they weight our memories to the good.” –Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project

First Mate Tanya & the Crew of Take Two in the Tongue of the Ocean, Bahamas, 2014

If my title holds water, I can stop right here and save you my ruminations…but of course I’m more of a writer than a photographer, so you know I’m going to say something anyway. I’ve been using some of the endless expanse of time after school and chores are done to go through old photographs. Our external storage drive is full of folders like this: “Unprocessed 2014.” That’s a photo-dump—every picture we took in 2014, un-sorted, un-edited, sometimes un-looked-at since it was taken. I’m enjoying, organizing, and labeling the happy moments in our life at a time when everything else looks like it’s heading to hell-in-a-handbasket.

There is a lot of bad news right now, and not just in the mainstream news. I have friends in low places, countries where children are dying of malnutrition faster than people in cities are dying of the new virus. Things that were bad before seem to be getting even worse. Like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, reports of disease, famine, violence, and death come riding across the internet, and even though I would like to close my eyes and stop my ears, some of these stories are touching people who are like family to me. My heart is breaking, and yet I still have to function in the day-to-day. I’ll let you know when I figure out how to get through a day without springing leaks.

I know we’re supposed to live in the present, but when the present is dark, we can also dig into the treasure-trove of the past. No matter what happens going forward, here’s something that can’t be taken away: yesterday’s happy memories. We stored them up for such a time as this.

Today I found this one: on a hot and boring passage to the Bahamas, we did what we often do, put the engines in neutral, toss drift lines off the transoms, and jump in. We were crossing the Tongue of the Ocean—1000 fathoms of indigo water. If you put on a mask and look down, it gives you the feeling of standing on the old Sears Tower lookout deck (now Skydeck Chicago), more a fear of heights than of depths. You feel like a water strider on a pond, and the next step in your imagination is the predator from the deep coming up for a snack. It’s terrifying, invigorating, and fun. I will never forget that day, and I loved having the photo to bring it to the surface.

So many times since we returned from the Caribbean in July, I have found myself expressing gratitude for our travel memories. I’m so happy that we took the plunge, sold our house, and went sailing with our children. I know you have memories of happy times, too: dredge them up and let them bring you joy.

Previous post on a similar topic:

Hummus is Yummus: A Favorite Passage Recipe

Hummus is Yummus
Spicy Hummus

2 cups cooked (or 1 can) chickpeas
1/3 cup sesame seeds (or tahini)
1-2 tablespoons water
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
Garnish: Fresh parsely, ground paprika, or cayenne pepper

Blend all ingredients on high in Vitamix (if using a food processor or blender, use tahini and mince the garlic).If too dry, add water or olive oil until consistency is thick and creamy. Sprinkle with parsley, paprika or cayenne if desired. Serve with pita, fresh veggies, or tortilla chips.

Pep Talk #10: A Tree is Known by its Fruit

Frutas del Mundo Farm, Jack Fruit
The Distinctive Jackfruit

A crisis reveals a lot about you and the people you love. When normal life and decorum are stripped away, you may be left exposed and raw, emotional and fragile, or you may demonstrate a strength of which you were previously unaware. You may be alternately strong and weak, or both simultaneously. When you are hurting, you know your friends by whether they stand by you or criticize you, or abandon you altogether. You find out how well you love others—whether you have a reserve out of which to give. Patterns from your childhood may reassert themselves, or you may find that the only solid ground to stand on rests on the healthy habits you have formed in adulthood.

I have made some observations about myself, some of which are not pretty. I have laughed heartily at all the introvert/extrovert videos circulating, at how true they are. I am married to someone who once told me “I would be perfectly happy on a deserted island.” This idea filled me with horror…I would be suicidal on a deserted island, or, like Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away, I would be making friends with inanimate objects. I am surprised at how resentful I feel at Jay’s ability to remain calm, steady, happy, industrious…so normal despite the abnormal circumstances.

We have been isolated before—I mean, we live on a boat, right? But I’ve discovered that I can handle about three weeks in paradise, surrounded by the six people I love most in the world, before I need a new face to look at, a new person to talk to. An extrovert needs people like a plant needs sunshine. Some days, I’m fine, and the two-dimensional substitutes for a real live friend (facebook, phone, Zoom) are good enough. Other days, I feel trapped and cranky—I can’t even be nice to the people I am around. What’s wrong with me?

When I have very little control over the circumstances around me, I always go back to the mirror. Not to stare like Narcissus, but to examine my responses, which I can control, and to look at who I really am. It’s the oldest question in the book: Who am I? And the second, Why am I here? These questions invariably lead me back to the bedrock of my spiritual faith; either I am here by cosmic accident or I am here because Someone put me here. Both answers require faith—no one was there at the beginning to see how it all got started, and it requires an astronomical amount of time and a stretch of the imagination to get from an amoeba to a human mind.

For reasons with which I could fill a book, I have come to the conclusion that Someone put me here, that it wasn’t an alien civilization (because if it were, I would still have to ask who created the aliens?), that I’m not part of a computer simulation (because if I were, I would still have to ask, who is the programmer?), that we are more than mere physical manifestations of the life force, and that life has meaning, and that Good is as real as Evil, and that the source of that Good is personal and knowable. If you’ve read what I’ve written before, this comes as no surprise.

But I also see the darkness in my own reflection—my capacity for meanness, sadness, selfishness—a human nature at war with better impulses. I see the choices before me: to be patient or angry, to sow peace or discord, to respond to irritations with gentleness or harshness, to spend my time satisfying myself or caring for someone else, to offer thanks or complain, to forgive or hold a grudge, to focus on the negative or the positive. And the Someone who has me in the here-and-now has given me the power to exercise the better option, according to a favorite quote, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control” (Paul’s letter to the Galatians, chapter 5, verses 22-23, New International Version of the Bible).

Fruit of the Spirit, by Rachel
Fruit of the Spirit, by Rachel

Just like grapevines need rocky soil and harsh conditions to produce good fruit (in better conditions they produce only foliage), I myself grow spiritually during hardship. Circumstances may grow worse, or they may get better. But whatever the environment, I want to be the tree producing good fruit. Nothing could be simpler…or more difficult.

Because love is a choice I make, not a fleeting emotion, the small decisions I make every day become essential. To choose loving actions, I must make a connection with the Source of Love. I must learn to love myself—to accept that I am loved—in order to love others. Then, maybe then, I can “love my neighbor as I love myself.” Right now that means loving well the people in my direct environs, and the people with whom I have contact because the gift of technology brings humans together in an unprecedented way.

Paul warns the Galatians, just as he would warn us now, in an age when a person can hide behind a digital persona and say ugly things to his fellows with impunity, “if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature…the one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians chapter 5, verse 15 and chapter 6, verses 8-9).

I had a rough week, and maybe you did, too. I’m struggling to discipline myself and keep us in a routine that fosters productivity and positivity. Even if I limit the news coming in, I know things are bad—I am hearing from friends around the world about horrific circumstances that put my petty complaints into perspective. And so I write these pep talks as much for myself as for someone else who might benefit. I must wake up every morning and tell myself the truth: “God loves you. He has a plan. Don’t live in fear, but in love. Choose kindness. Be thankful. Don’t give up. Be the tree that bears good fruit.”

Pep Talk #9: Feeling Blue


Despite the fact that I live on a boat and homeschool my kids, I’m not the kind of person who lies around in my PJs all day. For my own mental health, I have gotten up every morning for the last 18 1/2 years (as long as I’ve been a stay-at-home mom) and started my day dressed for success. For me that means a sundress or skirt/skort and top, or maybe blue jeans if it’s cold, and a matching necklace. If I’m having a really rough morning, I might put even put on a little makeup to spruce myself up, but those extreme measures are rarely necessary.

This quarantine has probably pushed all of us to the edge of our emotional comfort zones, and maybe over the edge in some cases. For people who have never been at home full-time with their kids, it has probably been extremely challenging. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are single people suffering from isolation and wishing they had family around to keep them company! Though I am more accustomed than most to being in a small space with my family, having nowhere to go to get off the boat even has me struggling a bit. I woke up Saturday feeling so blue I didn’t bother to get dressed. I wasn’t able to pep-talk myself out of my funk by the first cup of coffee, so I took the second cup down to my cabin and wallowed. When my youngest kid came down to see what I was up to, I responded this way:

“You know when you’re having a bad day, when you have a bad attitude and everything that comes out of your mouth gets you into trouble, and I have to send you to your room to get control of yourself? Well…I sent myself to my room. And I’ll come up when I have control of myself.” She accepted this explanation and did a great job of entertaining herself the rest of the day.

Later, Jay came down, worried, and tried to snap me out of it by offering the old “we have a lot to be thankful for” speech. I acknowledged that he was right, assured him that I was feeling grateful…but that I still felt sad. That I could both realize what I have (food, family, health, home, love) and grieve at the same time (suffering of others, loss of normalcy, missing time with friends, loss of freedom, ruined plans). To make matters worse, the weather had turned hot and buggy for a few days and the mosquitoes and sweat had lowered my sleep quality. Nothing like physical discomfort to enhance the experience of wallowing. And hormones, don’t forget hormones.

So I spent the whole day just being sad. In the afternoon, I reached out to a friend, whose elderly mother lives with her. I had just read some news about how nursing homes are death-traps right now, and I got outside myself long enough to send a message saying I was so glad her mom was at home with her, even though I know that care-taking has been hard sometimes. She responded, and asked how I was doing. I answered honestly, and she called. Bless her—she’s no stranger to anxiety and depression—and she seems to have a knack for speaking kind words and making me laugh. We had a long talk, and by the end of our conversation, I no longer felt like crying. When we hung up, she sent me some photos of her daffodils, which are blooming, and it made me smile.

Daffodils (courtesy of Kimberly Ward)
Kimberly Ward’s Daffodils

I got up, took a shower, got a haircut (thanks to my teenage daughter’s newly-acquired hairdressing skills), watched the sunset with Jay on the foredeck, and made a nice dinner. I woke up Sunday feeling much better. And now I’m asking myself: is a day spent wallowing a waste of time? Is there something else I should have done? Does camping out in the valley sadness have a purpose? My conclusions so far:

  • Wallowing didn’t make me feel better. That’s the point. I was choosing to stay in my sadness, literally rolling in it. But there’s a fine line between sadness and self-pity.
  • It’s okay to experience the whole range of human emotions, as long as we don’t let them run the show. It’s okay to go to the edge of the lake, dip our toes in, get wet…but if we wade in over our heads, we might drown. I have a healthy fear of the deep end.
  • Crying out in sadness is a universally human thing to do. I love Bible stories with wallowing characters: Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, Elijah running into the desert to die, David pouring out his soul to God in sorrow, Hannah on her face in the temple begging for a child, Paul asking, “who will rescue me from this body of death?” Woe is me. They are not talking to themselves, though, but to God, with hope that help is on the way. We can let our grief become a prayer.
  • Sadness/grief that doesn’t move toward acceptance or healing can become simultaneously selfish and self-destructive—choosing to dwell in disappointment prevents us from caring for ourselves and others.
  • There are things I could have done despite my sadness: go for a walk, listen to music, take a shower, write in my journal, complete a task, read a book, play with my kids, practice ukulele, help someone else: any of these things could have done the trick. Sometimes, when we don’t feel like doing something, that’s exactly when we need it the most.
  • I have never battled depression. I cannot even imagine what it must be like to live with a life-sapping melancholy. I am talking about one day of sadness, something a pep talk can address. If you are depressed, if your feelings of hopelessness or despair are keeping you from being able to live your life, get help. Reach out and talk to someone who understands. You are not alone.

Pep Talk #8: Food for Worms

Dead or Alive?
All dead…or mostly dead?

I am really bad at keeping plants alive. Even the hearty aloe is not safe on our boat. The one I have kept since the last one got doused with salt water and I sent it, literally, to greener pastures to be revived, isn’t looking so good. With a tiny bit of hope (a last-ditch effort), I watered it this morning on deck, where it sat waiting to go ashore, to the top of the marina dumpster where there is a “free pile.” If the thing is all dead (not just mostly dead), at least someone could re-use the pot. This dead plant got me thinking.

With lots of bad news circulating, the death tally growing, I have been observing people’s responses and seeing very different reactions to the threat of COVID-19. There are people taking it seriously, people scoffing, people suffering anxiety, people arguing for a utilitarian response (where the ends justify the means), and people echoing the words of Revolutionary Patriots—”give me liberty or give me death!” With everyone eyeing each other suspiciously over a mask, fear is in the air.

There is a lot to fear right now: the pandemic itself—of getting sick, the possibility of interminable isolation, the loss of livelihood, the possible loss of liberty, the uncertain future—and, of course, the biggest fear: Death. We face (or run from) this fear every day as a life form on planet earth. If we have been ignoring our own mortality and the questions that surround it, the bad news all around us has probably brought them to the surface. And what we believe about life and death shapes both our responses to the pandemic and our reactions to how others are dealing with it, including elected officials.

We must face our fears, our worst fears, and we must find courage to get up every morning and do what needs to be done while we wait for whatever comes next—keep our spirits up , care for the people we love, and do our daily tasks as best we can. I want to say that I am not afraid, that my sense of God’s love and presence leaves no room for fear, but maybe it’s because death to me is still a concept, a number on a graph, or a news story. I don’t work at a hospital; I am not surrounded by the sight, sounds, and smells of death. But the first-hand accounts are harrowing, and anyone who says otherwise has their head—or heart—buried in the sand.

But I also want to say something about fear’s opposite. And it’s not fearlessness, but faith. My faith is not an ignorant, callous, blind thing that says, “let the chips fall where they may.” It is a fragile thing—fed by hope and a history of God’s goodness to me personally—and it leads to compassion: I see fear and suffering in my fellow creatures and want so much to alleviate it. I believe that how I treat people matters more than dogma and theology. I believe in a God that allows evil (without good and evil, there can be no free-will choice and thus, no possibility of love), but that there is a plan in place to remedy it. I believe that God did send his spirit here in the form of a human being, who had the power to show us what love is, and that he was given the power over death itself, so that we can have communion with our Creator, both now and in a time to come. When death comes, I don’t have to face it alone (in a spiritual sense), and since it isn’t the end, I don’t have to fear it.  

Because I am freed-up from the tyranny of fear (not that I never feel it, only that I won’t allow it to camp out in my soul), I can use my mental and emotional energy to love better. I can reach out to friends who are struggling. I can be creating instead of consuming. I can pray for healthcare workers, elderly in nursing homes, the sick and dying, my enemies, my hurting neighbors. I can give when called upon to meet needs. I can feel joy in the middle of hardship. I can focus on something other than cripplingly-dark thoughts. And I hope that you can, too.

Lastly, and because my poor little aloe got me thinking, I believe that loss and pain can serve a purpose, that my life (and yours) in all its glory and its mess, its triumphs and mistakes, has meaning, and that God can recycle all the bad and make something good of it. Maybe that little greenish spike will come back to life and my plant will get a second chance. But maybe it will die and “return to the dust from which it came,” becoming fertilizer for new life in the future. Without death—death of the selfish nature, death of a Messiah, death of organic matter—there can be no new life. It’s a hard teaching, but one that can also bring comfort.

Nature’s Pharmacy

Herbal Remedies
I recommend these herbal “cook books”

Part of being self-sufficient means going to the doctor very seldom. We have learned over the years how to treat common ailments ourselves. With doctors tied up at the moment treating very ill patients with COVID-19, it’s a good time to learn how to support your body’s immune system using plant-based remedies. (Note: this is not medical advice nor am I a medical professional. I recommend only food-grade supplements which we have found to be beneficial. If you are sick, call a doctor.)

On our boat, we carry both prescription medications (for emergencies) and natural remedies (for run-of-the-mill illnesses). Over the last 12 years, we have used far more supplements/herbs than medicines. In fact, except to prevent infection from a monkey scratch, no one has been on antibiotics at all since we bought the boat. Whether by luck or lifestyle, no one on our boat takes ANY prescription medications. Here are some of our holistic healing hacks:

For assisting fevers (not fighting them) we drink a tea made of equal parts peppermint, yarrow, elder flower, and elder berry. We want to make sure the body does its job of burning off bad bugs, so we also cover up and sweat our way to wellness.

For cold symptoms, a tea made from fresh or dried ginger root and honey seems to reduce severity and duration of symptoms. I just bought some licorice root to add for coughs.

The Beeyoutiful Company produces supplements like “Ultra Immune” which we take preventatively when something’s going around. Our other favorite products are the Supermom, Superdad, and Superkid multivitamins, the Berrywell elder berry syrup, the Tummy Tuneup probiotic, the Bone Ami mineral supplement, the Gentle-C vitamins, Cranberry Power Cleanse, Yeast Assassin, and Miracle Salve for cuts and scrapes.

Tummy troubles are treated with pro-biotics and activated charcoal, but truthfully, we don’t have many problems.

I use a wide range of essential oils to treat all sorts of ailments, from burns (lavender) to stuffy noses (eucalyptus) to skin rashes (tea tree) to oregano (infections of all kinds). Some of the oils must be diluted to be used, and some are for external use only. I dilute oregano oil in warm olive oil and add crushed garlic. After straining it, it can be used externally, rubbed around the ears and throat to fight earaches and swollen glands/sore throat. Bonus: you walk around smelling like an Italian restaurant!

A Tough Pill to Swallow

“The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”  –Morpheus, The Matrix (Lana Wachowski)

Nature's Pharmacy
From our medicine locker: ginger, Beeyoutiful’s Ultra Immune Booster, oregano essential oil, Fever Tea (peppermint, yarrow, elder flower, elder berry)

Do you feel some days like the character Cypher in The Matrix, wishing everything could go back to normal? “Why, oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?” What wouldn’t you give to put everything back the way it was in January, at the start of 2020, when you were full of optimism and plans for the new year?

Careful…that’s a loaded question. Maybe “normal” wasn’t working as well as we thought. The suddenly-clear skies over big cities seem to agree. What is revealed by a few weeks of shut-downs is that our society, our government, our financial system, our families, our very health—these things are a lot more fragile than we like to think. They may even be built on illusions.

But unplugging everyone simultaneously is dangerous, too. Unless you were already free-thinking, self-sufficient, and counter-cultural, simply removing the construct isn’t going to make you so. In fact, it’s more likely to put you into shock. Sending children home from school if there is an abuser in the family puts them more at risk. Removing income from an impoverished family places them in an even more precarious place. Isolating addicts and mentally ill people makes them more desperate. We may be saving thousands from immediate death by pandemic at the cost of millions from slow death by pandemic response. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t obey orders put in place to protect the vulnerable or to limit spread of the disease, but we should do so carefully, considering the collateral damage. We must lay aside our rights as a free people for the good of many, but only temporarily. The founders of the American Democratic experiment feared loss of liberty more than loss of life. Do we?

I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist (unless you consider the cosmic force of evil conspiring against good). But while we’re in the middle of this pandemic, I am asking some questions: Who is in control? Who is telling the truth, and who is not? Who decides what happens next? Where is the flow of money and power? What will happen to our democratic republic if this goes on indefinitely? Looking forward to the “after” of this pandemic, I’m not feeling very optimistic. (This was supposed to be a pep talk, but I’m a little short on pep at the moment. Bear with me.)

Since this is a health crisis, I’m probably going out on a limb by stating that I do not believe that more “healthcare” is equivalent to more “health.” We have been confusing these terms for a long time, and unless we change the paradigm, we will continue to make decisions as a species that erode our future wellness and that of our planet. If we are looking for a quick fix—a shiny new medicine, a vaccine that will make all this bad go away, then we will get what we have been getting from the Pill Pushers: dependence on costly medications that treat symptoms instead of processes that promote wholeness in our bodies and minds. (And don’t forget the side effects…)

I have long been a proponent of slow food, fresh air and sunshine, exercise, quality rest, holistic remedies, good relationships, and spiritual well-being. These things require lifestyle change and sacrifice, but they result in improved overall health. I am not discounting the need for medical care or life-saving drugs; even healthy people get sick sometimes. I am not shunning expert advice about how to be well. I am not saying that those who care for patients every day are not heroic and life-saving (they are!). And I am not ignoring the needs of the most vulnerable people in our society: the poor whose choices are limited by their station (one could argue that I live well because they live in poverty—who grows my food? Who converts raw materials into my fuel? Who makes my clothes?)

I am only saying that at the top levels, the healthcare system as it exists now is based on power and money, and not compassion for the ill. No one benefits from dead people, and no one benefits from well people who don’t need a doctor. What the system needs to remain in place is a large population of people who are a little bit sick all the time. And to sustain itself, it preys on fear and ignorance. And don’t forget laziness, because, honestly, even if we know what’s best for us, it really is easier to take a pill than eat right and exercise, and natural remedies require a lot of time and diligence.

As we wait, and as we slowly crawl toward recovery, let us not forget the lessons we are learning. Ask hard questions, think deep thoughts, search out the Truth. You may find that the world as you knew it was “pulled over your eyes to blind you” (Morpheus again) and even though it’s harder to go forward with that knowledge, it’s better than selling out to go back to a false sense of security.

Cassiopeia: the Surprising Life of an Upside-Down Jellyfish

Upside Down Jellyfish

Rachel caught a Cassiopeia in a net Saturday morning and put it in a bucket. She named it “Bob” and asked if we could keep it (not forever, just for a week). I told her it wouldn’t be happy in the bucket long-term, but that she could keep it for a few hours. To identify it, we looked it up in our beautiful reference book, Caribbean Reef Life: A Field Guide for Divers by Mickey Charteris and also read a few articles on the internet. We see these Upside Down Jellyfish all the time where we are in Florida, but today, we learned some surprising facts about them:

They photosynthesize and they eat. Like their fellow invertebrates, the corals, they have symbiotic algae (Zooxanthellae) that provide a food source and color. They also have many small mouths on their “arms” and ingest zooplankton…I guess that makes them omnivores!

They reproduce sexually and asexually. The adult males release sperm into the water that fertilizes ova produced by females. The larvae float in the sea until they find a place to land, where they become polyps, which reproduce asexually by budding. The adult phase is a medusa, which can sometimes be seen swimming, bell upwards, but…

They usually live upside-down, tentacles upward in warm shallow water. They make look like plants or underwater flower bouquets (the mangrove variety looks like it has seagrass growing out of it), but don’t be deceived, they are animals. They live in shallow water so that the sunlight can reach their zooxanthellae symbiotes. They come in a surprising variety of shapes and colors.

They sleep! A 2017 study discovered that even though these simple invertebrate life forms do not have brains or neurons, they have a nocturnal sleep phase. It has the researchers at Cal Tech scratching their heads.

They produce poisonous mucous that makes you itch! We discovered this firsthand, unfortunately. A recent study finally explained why swimming near upside down jellyfish can cause an itchy rash. They release a slimy substance that contains stinging nematocysts.

Even the simplest creatures on earth are surprisingly complex. The more I learn, the more I realize I know virtually nothing.

Upside Down Jelly 1

For more information on Cassiopeia:

Practical Homeschool Ideas

This is a follow-up post for those who took me at my word and are interested in the nuts-and-bolts of creative homeschooling. These are real activities that I did with my 8-year-old daughter Rachel in the last few weeks. They could be altered for younger or older students, or for different areas of study. I tried to include something for every subject. They would be perfect for a unit study—all activities centered around the same topic.

For what it’s worth, I got my certificate in early childhood education from Middlebury College (class of 1997) and taught kindergarten in Dekalb County Schools (Atlanta) before I started homeschooling in 2004. While teaching in a public school helped me a lot with curriculum planning and purchasing materials, it was surprisingly poor preparation for teaching my own children at home. It’s the hardest and most rewarding job I’ve ever had. Shoot me an email if you have any questions.

Science/Writing: Acid Base Indicator/Reaction and Lab Write Up

We used red cabbage juice (which I made in my blender) as an acid base indicator to test different household substances in separate test tubes/jars: lemon juice, baking soda, dish soap, and vinegar. We observed the color change as we added each substance and determined which were acids and which bases. We then mixed the solution containing vinegar (pink) and baking soda (blue) and watched the fizzy reaction turn the liquid back to a neutral (purple). It was dramatic, and fun.

acid base montage 1

Then came the not-as-fun part: writing up the lab report. I wrote six headings (based on the scientific method) on a piece of paper and I sat with Rachel as she worked through each section. In addition to scientific inquiry, this activity offers writing skills practice in the areas of grammar, punctuation, penmanship, spelling, and vocabulary. Sometimes getting her to finish the write-up is like pulling teeth, but it’s a required part of every fun experiment we do. Here are the six headings of the lab write-up:

  1. Question
  2. Hypothesis
  3. Materials
  4. Procedure
  5. Observations
  6. Conclusion
7. Write up the lab report!

Reading: Illustrated Classics (Charlotte Mason method and coloring pages)

Rachel recently made the leap to reading chapter books independently. She likes these condensed versions of classic literature, and asked me if I could copy some of the illustrations for her to color. The Charlotte Mason method has your child retell the story (either aloud or written)…so why not have the conversations about the book over coloring?

Use illustrated classics to color your own characters from literature.

Spelling: Flashcard Memory Game

Use spelling flashcards as a memory game.

We took Rachel’s word list—22 words from Adventures in Phonics List 22 and turned them into a matching game. We wrote the words on 22 cards, illustrated them on 22 more cards, then put the words in two grids. She had to find the correct word for each picture. Other ways to use the game: put the cards in alphabetical order, match the homonyms using pictures or words only, make sentences using as many words per sentence as you can, and spell each word aloud when shown a picture.

Make illustrated flash cards for spelling word list.

Math: Skip Bo Math Facts

This is a fun card game (cousin to UNO), but we’re not playing by the rules! Rachel is working on her multiplication facts to 12, and this is a fast, fun way to do it. The wild cards (Skip Bo) have a value of 0, but every other card is taken at face value. We shuffle the big deck, split it into two piles, and I flip the cards two at a time. She calls out the product of the two factors. If she doesn’t know, or takes too long, I keep the cards to review later. If she gets the answer correct, she keeps the cards. Could be used for adding if your kid isn’t ready to multiply, or even for simplifying fractions if they’ve moved beyond multiplication.

Use Skipbo to practice math facts.

History/Geography: Map Labeling

We’ve been reading about the Age of Discovery in A Child’s History of the World, so in addition to adding a card to our illustrated deck of world history, we marked the voyages of Columbus on a map, color-coded by year. If your kid loves maps, it’s a great way to learn history. This year, we also learned about the Iditarod sled race and labeled a map of Alaska, showing the race route.

Label a map for history/geography.

 Art: Beer Box Butterflies and Beer Box Monsters

This is an activity invented by Rachel herself! She turned the inserts in Jay’s Heineken beer cases into butterflies for today’s art project, but in the past, she’s used the inserts to make monsters. They had names and she made food so we could feed them. Pretty much any cardboard in our home is fair game for repurposing. All kids need to be creative are some art supplies and a little boredom.

Recycle your beer box!
Beer Box monsters