Author Archives: Tanya

A Warm Rock

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

–Elizabeth Stone
Family's first portrait 2001
Jay and Tanya with Eli, 2001

My mother-in-law gave me a piece of advice when I was a newlywed that I have never forgotten. She said that every woman wants three things: a good marriage, happy children, and a successful career. Of the three, we must pick two. She knew this from personal experience. I took it to heart, recognizing quickly that juggling a marriage and a career that I loved was hard enough without trying to add children into the mix. So, for a few years, I focused on those two things. When I had my first child, I chose to quit my job, retiring from teaching in an Atlanta public school at twenty-six so I could spend my energy and time raising happy, healthy humans and supporting my husband so he could work hard to provide for us.

And then motherhood swallowed me whole—and I’m not just talking about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, diapers, and sleepless nights. It was the giving of my whole self to another human being: body, mind, and soul. And then giving everything to several more, spreading myself even thinner. In typical all-or-nothing fashion, I gave up my personal ambitions (for a time) to become a Supermom to four kids under six. And then we decided to homeschool…on a boat, while traveling. And then we had a boat baby. Without some very firm boundaries—an inviolable morning quiet time, date night with my husband (even if it was just sunset drinks on deck), strict bedtimes, solo kayaking, and individual time-outs to pursue other interests, I might have found it nearly impossible to relocate my identity once my kids began to be more independent.

I have begun to feel the effects of what is called “empty nest syndrome,” when a mother has done her job satisfactorily and her grown children begin to leave home. My oldest is off the boat, the second has one foot out the door, and the third is almost done with a simultaneous high school diploma and associates degree. It is at once encouraging and heartbreaking to see your children spread their wings and take flight. Though I’ve still got two kids left to nurture, I’ve already invested twenty years in this second career and I’m beginning to think about what comes next.

I began volunteering recently with my youngest daughter at the Crane Point Wild Bird Center that takes in birds from around the Florida Keys to rehabilitate and release them when possible, and to care for them long-term when a return to the wild is not possible. There is a small community of pelicans and cormorants housed in a large enclosure with their own pond, nesting areas, and places to perch.

Wild Bird Center

Living on the water, I have seen thousands of these birds in different habitats, but I had never gotten such a close look until I went into the enclosure to clean up bird poo. Cormorants, for example, have the most beautiful blue eyes. And pelicans will take sticks, if offered them, to build a nest. They also like to buzz right over your head as a punishment for entering their enclosure to clean and feed them.

Cormorant blue eyes

Some of the resident cormorants are too injured to be released, but not so injured that they cannot form mating pairs and lay eggs. This presents an uncomfortable dilemma for Kelly, who has been caring for these birds for more than twenty years. She explained that if they allow the birds to sit on the eggs, the hatchlings will be born in captivity and require care for the rest of their lives, filling up the sanctuary with healthy birds who don’t need to be there. But if they release the baby birds into the wild without the important training from their parents to be able to provide food for themselves, they quickly die of starvation, a fact she once learned the hard way.

Furthermore, if the eggs are simply removed from the nest and destroyed, which is probably the most humane outcome, the mama birds will grieve and mourn the loss. What to do?! Kelly told me that they have discovered a creative solution: smooth, round river rocks of about the right size and shape, painted blue, and warmed. Someone distracts the birds, while someone else does a quick swap, replacing eggs with warm rocks. The mama bird doesn’t seem to notice the difference, continuing to sit on the “eggs” for a while, eventually giving them up as duds, and moving on with her life.

Cormorant nest

This seems like a stroke of pure genius. A warm rock. This discovery strikes me as particularly timely for my season of life. As my kids begin to pack their cars with all their earthly belongings and drive away from our boat life, this is the question I must ask: with what will I replace the demanding full-time role of raising children when they fly the coop? I have been reflecting again recently on the advice Jay’s mom gave me about choosing carefully. I think in one sense, she was right. It’s very hard to juggle all the worthwhile goals we have for our lives; something always gets dropped when we try to do it all. But in another sense, we can have all three things—marriage, kids, career—just not all at the same time. If we view life seasonally—as in, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1), then we can find fulfillment in the best gifts life has to offer, one or two at a time.

For me, my writing has become my warm rock. I spent several years keeping my writing skills simmering on the back burner, writing for our blog, and dreaming of a time when I could write for a living. As my kids have gotten older, I’ve begun to find myself again—my voice, my goals, my value as its defined by my skills and not my relationships. At the same time, I have begun to feel pulled in multiple directions, as early success with my first book has temporarily shifted my focus from my husband and children. I’ve realized that although I’m glad I wrote Leaving the Safe Harbor and hope that I set an example of dreaming big for my own children, I am not ready to be a full-time author. In just a few short years, the children will be grown, Jay and I will be enjoying a second honeymoon, and I will have lots of stories to tell. Until then, I will sit on this warm rock and keep writing whenever I can, plugging away at projects without losing myself in them.

Eli with kitten
Eli, 20 and independent

The Weary World Rejoices

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”—from the carol “O Holy Night” (a poem by Placide Cappeau, written 1843, set to music by Adolphe Adam in 1847, and translated to English by John Sullivan Dwight)

Christmas Eve

We have all suffered losses this year—loved ones, friendships, jobs, opportunities, travel, a sense of freedom—and many are weary of the pandemic and its cascading repercussions. There has been a bittersweet twinge to even joyful events and successes as we feel compassion for people we know are suffering. But this is nothing new: joy and heartache have always traveled hand-in-hand on planet earth.

In fact, that is sort of the point of Christmas. In the darkest part of the year, we light our homes and bake sweet things, open bottles of wine made from summer’s grapes, invite others in to enjoy the warmth of our homes and fellowship. It is what we celebrate despite sometimes bleak circumstances.

I know that Christmas has nothing to do with Santa Claus and a sack full of presents—I prefer the story of the real St. Nicholas of Myra (270-343), who was famous for his generosity and became the patron saint of sailors and children. (It’s where our tradition of hanging and filling stockings comes from.) I also know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th and that many of our traditions are recycled from pagan celebrations. But these truths do not change our need to celebrate joy, hope, love, and peace.

Christmas is central to the narrative of Christianity: we have a God who understands, who chose to experience life as a human, who walked among us, who knows our needs, and who loves us despite our failures. Though I have little use for the institutionalized trappings of Christian faith, this holiday has stuck around in our home as a reminder of what’s really important. Though we celebrate without presents, we use it to make memories with our children, to keep traditions, to pass on our faith, and to gather with extended family.

I hope you have a merry Christmas, that you can find the silver linings of dark clouds, that you can focus on the good things in the middle of hard times, that you can find reasons to be grateful and joyful this holiday season. My hope is not mere wishful thinking, but rather a faith in the unseen source of Love in the universe, a confidence that “all things work together for good” when God is present in our lives and when we find our higher purpose (Paul’s letter to the Romans, 8:28).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Crew of Take Two.

Family at Christmas 2021

The Best Gift Ever*

Starbucks 1

*This blog first appeared on the Ingenium Books Blog as “The Best Way to Support an Author” and is reproduced here with permission.

My romance with coffee goes back to 2007, when Jay was commuting to Pennsylvania for work and I was staying at home with four kids under the age of six. It was challenging, of course, but we were thinking of it as a short-term-loss/long-term-gain situation. The money he made that year enabled us to buy our catamaran, Take Two, so we would ultimately be able spend more time together as a family, traveling with our children. And coffee made that sacrifice possible. I used to be mostly a tea drinker, but a cup of Earl Grey just wasn’t enough to get me out of bed in the morning to face those little people alone. I bought a Mr. Coffee with a timer so my nose would drag me out of bed before the children got up, and I had a peaceful hour to myself to breathe, pray, read my Bible, write in my journal—whatever was needed for my own sanity. I taught my second son, an early riser, to tell time by purchasing a clock with construction vehicles on it and telling him to play in his room quietly “until the little hand is on the seven and the big hand is on the bulldozer.” It worked, and we survived that year, thanks to coffee.

My romance with writing started when I was six. As soon as my fingers could hold a fat pencil, I was enchanted with the magic of writing—thoughts made visible and transmissible over time and space! I wrote poetry, letters, journal entries, stories, essays, book reports and school assignments with relish. I wrote and illustrated a children’s book when I was in first grade, binding it with a cover made from a cereal box, paper, glue, and staples. I knew someday I would publish a book, even then. I majored in English at Middlebury college and studied literature and creative writing. I wrote a thirty-page paper on the Brontë sisters and liked it. I went to the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference the summer before my senior year to workshop poetry (under the guidance of poet Garret Hongo) and wrote a chapbook of poems for my senior thesis, a collection of sonnets, sestinas, ballads, villanelles and haiku, for fun. I love writing.

These two love affairs came together just before we bought our boat. Since we had become parents, Jay and I had always given each other the gift of solitary time. When we lived in Atlanta, he joined a crew on a sailboat for Wednesday night races on Lake Lanier. When we moved to Florida to pursue our dream of sailing and possibly living aboard a boat, he put the kids to bed on Wednesday nights and I would sneak out with my laptop to go sit in a nearby Starbucks coffee shop to write, something that brought me joy and had nothing to do with my daily tasks of cooking, cleaning, nursing babies, changing diapers, potty-training toddlers, and otherwise dealing with small, irrational humans. It was something that kept my brain from turning to oatmeal.

To support my coffee-and-writing habit, Jay’s dad, Al, gave me the best Christmas gift I have ever received: a bottomless cup of coffee, a Starbucks card that automatically and endlessly re-fills on his credit card. I wrote my first blog post in a Starbucks in January of 2008, right after we had gone to look at Take Two for the first time, while we were still just dreamers and planners. I wrote the first chapter of what would become Leaving the Safe Harbor in a Starbucks. I drank coffee, and wrote, with reckless abandon.

Starbucks 2 (2)

That Starbucks card is looking a little worse for the wear, but still works. I don’t use it as regularly as I used to (most of my writing is done in the morning hours at my salon table with a cup of coffee I brewed myself), but it has made a lasting impact on my life as a writer. It might seem simple—this gift of an aromatic beverage brewed from the roasted seeds of an exotic plant—but it was also the gift of time to just be myself in a season of life that could have swallowed me whole. Without the early support for my writing habit, I don’t know where I would have found the time or energy to write more than three hundred blog posts or finish an entire memoir.

I have often expressed my gratitude to my father-in-law and I hope he knows how much I love that gift-that-keeps-on-giving, but it’s hard to adequately convey how much that little rectangle of plastic has meant to me. Support for one’s writing can take many forms—encouraging feedback, a partner willing to wrangle toddlers to give you a break, a writing buddy who keeps you accountable, friends who cheer you on, and even the simple gift of a cup of coffee.

Morning coffee

Books Available for Christmas!

Book for Christmas

Little by little, we have been whittling away at the ‘Hallmark Holidays,’ rejecting the commercialism of our culture and trying to find an authentic way to celebrate what is really holy: life and love and faith. It is hard to convince children that ‘money cannot buy happiness’ when we have showered them with presents on every birthday and holiday of their short lives. Our own inconsistency has sent mixed messages. But moving onto the boat has forced us to minimize and reject the ‘more is better’ mentality. Quite simply, we don’t have space for more stuff.“–From Leaving the Safe Harbor: the Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat by Tanya Hackney

Do you know anyone who would like to “collect verbs instead of nouns” this Christmas? How about a book that chronicles the adventures and life lessons of a family of seven who gave up the annual pile of presents to go make memories instead? Leaving the Safe Harbor reveals the risks and benefits of daring to leave the commonplace behind.

Available NOW! Paperback copies of Leaving the Safe Harbor, signed by the author and shipped anywhere in the U.S.A. for $20. If you are interested, click the “CONTACT” link on the menu and send us an email. Happy holidays from the crew of Take Two!

Family
Christmas in Colombia, 2017

Holiday Cranberry-Apple Preserves

This is a holiday staple on Take Two, something we love to spread on bread (or eat with turkey!) and also give away as an edible gift. This year, I wanted to teach my kids the water-bath canning method and make some jars of preserves to give away. I thought I would share the recipe and process–if it can be done on a boat, it can be done anywhere!

Cranberry Apple Preserves to Eat and Share

Cranberry Apple Preserves

Prep time: 2 hours Makes: 3-4 pints (depending on size of apples)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups brown sugar (Rapadura raw sugar, Coconut sugar or Turbinado sugar work well)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup orange juice (fresh-squeezed is best)
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 10 baking apples (Granny Smith or Pink Lady), peeled, cored, and chopped
Cranberry Apple Preserves Combo 1

Instructions:

  1. Place sugar, spices and orange juice in large pot.
  2. Bring to a simmer and add cranberries.
  3. Cook over medium heat until cranberries begin to pop. Stir with a wooden spoon, gently crushing the cranberries against the side of the pot.
  4. Add apples and cook over low heat, stirring frequently. Cook until tender.
  5. Meanwhile, fill a large stock pot or pressure cooker with water and bring to a boil. Add mason jars and lids to boiling water. Boil for ten minutes to sterilize. Remove jars from water.
  6. Use a blender to purée the preserves or leave chunky to use as a relish.
Cranberry Apple Preserves Combo 2

7. Fill Jars with preserves to within 1/2 inch of the top. Wipe the top of the jar clean, place lids on jars and screw on rings until finger-tight.

Step 5 Cranberry Apple Preserves

8. Lower the jars gently into the pot of boiling water. The water should cover the jars; if not, add more.

9. Boil jars of preserves for ten minutes. Remove jars carefully and cool.

Cranberry Apple Preserves Combo 3

10. As they cool, a vacuum should form inside the jars and suck the lids down, preserving the contents so they can be stored at room temperature. If, after cooling, a lid has not indented, or pops back up when pressed, the canning process has failed and you must store that jar of preserves in the fridge.

Cranberry Apple Preserves to Eat and Share

Enjoy on biscuits, bread, or as a relish with turkey or ham. Fantastic addition to the leftover-Thanksgiving-turkey sandwich. Happy holidays from the crew of Take Two!

Success!

Success is fine, but success is fleeting. Significance is lasting.

–Beth Brooke

First Books

If you know anything about us, you know we have a very unusual definition of success. Several years ago, we left the rat-race, stopped climbing corporate ladders, got out of the fast lane, ditched the American Dream, and refused to keep up with the Joneses. If these things don’t define success, what does? For us, it is a sense of fulfillment, a life lived with purpose, and the hope that when it’s time to meet our Maker, we’ll die without regret. That doesn’t mean we don’t need money to live, or that we lack ambition; rather, that our goals, financial and otherwise, are in line with our principles.

What I wanted, when I first started writing my memoir, Leaving the Safe Harbor, the Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat, was to fulfill a lifelong dream of publishing a book. Beyond that, I wanted to find one reader, just one, who would read the hope and joy in my words and be inspired, falling back on my favorite Emily Dickenson poem:

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.

Because I set my expectations so low–I was just hoping to write a book that didn’t suck–there was nowhere to go but up. Leaving the Safe Harbor has far surpassed my hopes and dreams, and is experiencing unexpected success, winning awards and hitting “#1 New Release” in its category for the first two days after launch, and continuing to make best-seller lists. I mention this, not to boast (though of course I am overjoyed), but rather to encourage. You, dear reader, whoever you are, you have an unfulfilled dream. We all do. Go pursue it, or die trying. Do it with all your heart, do it for yourself, do it for your family, do it for God. Define, for yourself, what “success” would look like, and it doesn’t have to be tied to accolades or money. For me, it is enough that I finished something, that I shared my story for posterity, and that my words have resonated in one heart.

Stats November 12
Stats from November 12

Of course, I did not do any of this alone. I worked hard and made sacrifices to write this book, but I also had help. I have a family who put up with me and fended for themselves when I was buried in my writing. I had a supportive group of praying friends that walked with me through every scary step. I have Ingenium Books, a small hybrid publisher that goes above and beyond, and an editor who is now my friend. I have an enthusiastic launch team that read and recommended my book and continues to put my name out there, even convincing local bookstores and libraries to get it on the shelf. And, of course, I have a sense of God-given purpose, for which I am eternally grateful. If I never sell another copy, it was a worthwhile effort and a joyful endeavor. Whatever it is that you do that brings you closer to that sense of fulfilment and significance–go do it! The feeling of accomplishment is so worth it.

Embrace the Chaos
Photo by Debra Ferragamo-Hayes

FAQ: What’s it like to have a baby on a boat?

Baby on a Boat

“There is barely enough space for me and my growing belly in the grocery-laden dingy as I putt-putt back across Elizabeth Harbor from George Town, Exuma toward Sand Dollar Beach, where Take Two is anchored in the lee of Stocking Island in the southern Bahamas. I have grown considerably over the last three months since we left Florida, and Jay’s prophecy about my discomfort while climbing in and out of the dinghy with groceries has proven to be true. When we found out I was pregnant, I had nonchalantly said, ‘Babies are born everywhere. We’ll just stop off on an island somewhere, add a crew member, then keep going.’ He looked at me sideways and said he thought I might feel differently in six months…”

–from Leaving the Safe Harbor: the Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat, an award-winning memoir by Tanya Hackney

Nursery

Some of you may remember all my boat-baby posts from 2011. Rachel, the baby in the photos, is now ten, and learning to drive the dinghy! I can tell you this: climbing in and out of my bunk while pregnant was not comfortable, and bringing a baby to our floating home was not easy, but it was wonderful, and we now have a daughter who has a healthy sense of adventure and is at home on the ocean. She is home-grown and all-natural: I had her without drugs at a birthing home, nursed her for two-and-a-half years, used cloth diapers, home-made all her baby-food, taught her to swim, and homeschooled her. If I can do it on a boat with five kids, anything is possible…dream big!

Hurricane Sandy

Leaving the Safe Harbor On Sale Now!

Book Collage

My Dear Readers,

Some of you have followed our journey from the beginning, when we bought Take Two and first set sail with our kids. Others of you are just discovering the whole world of liveaboard sailors and learning about our life outside-the-box. Whether you are a sailor or a landlubber, I have a story for you! Leaving the Safe Harbor: the Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat tells our story from the true beginning…when we were just teenage dreamers. It follows our physical adventures as we leave a house in suburban Atlanta to go sailing with our family, as well as our emotional and spiritual journeys as we learn to live with each other in a tight space, face our fears, and find true connection and lasting joy by collecting memories instead of stuff. The book uses our stories at sea to illustrate life lessons that will have broad appeal–you don’t need to sell your stuff and go sailing to learn from our adventures! You can find the book here, available in paperback and digital format. If you read the book, please write a review on Amazon and Goodreads–reader responses make a big difference! I appreciate your support for my work!

Fair winds!

Tanya Hackney, author

Letting Go

Volcano Descent

“If a mother does her task well, she works herself out of a job. I know this, and I have been aware of the metamorphosis of my teenagers, but I am not entirely emotionally prepared to let go. It is true that I am always excited for a kid who jumps on an opportunity to be independent–to ride a public bus, to take the dinghy ashore, to go on a hike that’s too challenging for the larger group…I remember how fun it was to be free when I was a teenager. But I never considered how it made my mother feel to not be needed. And now I’m the mother…”–from Leaving the Safe Harbor by Tanya Hackney (Available wherever you buy books on October 31, 2021.)

Rocking the Boat

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“However small or large the boat, the rocking is uncomfortable. Perhaps that is why we are told our whole lives, ‘Don’t rock the boat.’ At best it means keep the peace, but at worst, it means maintain the status quo. It sends the message, ‘Don’t do anything unpredictable, uncertain, unsafe–don’t take any unnecessary risks.’ But a life without risk is a life without adventure.”–From Leaving the Safe Harbor: the Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat by Tanya Hackney