It’s the time of year when we watch the weather carefully. We’re from Florida and have experienced our fair share of stormy weather, from the afternoon thunderstorm that can pack 50-knot gusts to tropical storms with sustained high winds that can last for days and make sensitive crew seasick at anchor. We’ve managed to avoid hurricanes since we bought the boat (though we’ve experienced a few in a house), both by luck and by active avoidance. We’ve spent past hurricane seasons in “safe” places like the Patomac River, Grenada, Panama, and Guatemala. We know our limits—when to hunker down, when to sail away, or when to tie up the boat and evacuate.
Watching weather analysis videos or tracking storms with NOAA is a whole-family affair. We usually have a lot of warning before a storm threatens, giving us time to plan. Even when a forecasted track crosses our path, there is a lot of wiggle room in the “Cone of Uncertainty.” For those who do software development, project management, or live in a hurricane zone, this is a familiar concept. Those watching weather reports know that it’s that shaded patch between “where the storm is now” and “where the storm is likely to land,” fanned out to account for margin of error. Small directional changes at the point of origin result in large changes as you follow a trajectory. And just because you’re “inside the cone” doesn’t mean you’re going to get hit, nor does being “outside the cone” guarantee nice weather!
The Cone of Uncertainty is a helpful tool for assessing danger and for making decisions about risk mitigation. In some ways, the computer models that predicted spread of the new global pandemic are like hurricane models. Remember the red circles on the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 map? Even now, getting a visual picture of higher-risk areas could be a useful tool for deciding whether to travel, for example. Unfortunately, right now it feels like the whole world is living inside a Cone of Uncertainty! Even if you live in a place of relative safety, the Butterfly Effect predicts that you will still be affected by small changes in faraway places, like economic fluctuations, social unrest, global supply chain disruptions, or travel bans.
Uncertainty is nothing new. We humans may operate under the assumption that we are in control, but our lives are, in fact, fragile, circumstances can change quickly, and safety is largely an illusion. Instead of crippling us, this realization gave us the courage to leave suburbia and buy a boat. We thought, “Since we can’t know what tomorrow brings, we’d better enjoy today!”
Living on the water has helped us to grow comfortable with discomfort. On the boat, we are affected by weather changes, motion, breakage, and the whims of officials in foreign ports. I am a planner by nature, and sudden changes and a lack of predictability rocked my boat (sometimes literally) at the beginning of this adventure. But living aboard for more than a decade has helped me learn to recover a lot faster when plans change and to develop qualities that make survival inside the Cone of Uncertainty possible: patience, courage, persistence, creativity, perspective, faith, and peace of mind.
I am reminded of the oft-quoted Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” I also found a helpful article on mental health during COVID-19 that offered these five strategies and lots of practical tips (see link below) :
I love/hate being at a dock. Does anyone else feel this way? There are pros and cons to every mode of living on a boat: anchoring, mooring, docking, or hauling out and taking a trip.
It’s hurricane season and we’re in the Florida Keys. We’ve been on a mooring for a year, which is a long time for our boat to be in one place. We tied up to a seawall last weekend ahead of Laura to get out of the mooring field, where we felt vulnerable to storms (and the pinball effect of other boats dragging). We’re in a place where boats survived Irma, so we’re feeling secure for September.
We’ve got A/C, so I’m sleeping better, new neighbors who are friendly, and we’re taking evening walks. We’ll use the next few weeks to do a galley refit–appliances, sink, and counter-tops. Our older kids are able to come and go without arranging multiple dinghy trips ashore.
But…I miss the breeze, the sunsets, and the freedom and privacy of being our own island. Plus, mooring is less expensive! We knew there would be a period of time when our kids got close to independence when we would need to stay put for a while to help them get on their feet, but we certainly didn’t plan for a pandemic that would limit even opportunities to escape occasionally to the Bahamas. Being tied to a dock accentuates that loss of freedom.
So, we’ll appreciate the benefits of being tied to land for a few weeks, and when hurricane season is over, we’ll be happy to head back out!
Take Two is a custom wooden 48′ catamaran designed by Dirk Kremer and launched in the Netherlands in 1991. She was built for charter in the Virgin Islands, and we have the brochures to prove it! No, those two on the front are not Jay and Tanya (we were still in high school in 1991). And yes, that is a pretty accurate diagram of the floor plan.
We’ve been steadily improving the boat since we purchased her in 2008. While there are lots of pictures of our boat anchored in interesting places, we seldom post photos of the interior. If you’ve never been aboard, here’s a photographic tour of the inside! (Out of respect for my kids’ privacy, I tried not to take any invasive photos of their spaces.)
If I can stop one heart from breakingI shall not live in vainIf I can ease one life the achingOr cool one painOr help one fainting robinUnto his nest againI shall not live in vain
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:
Compassion takes the focus off of ourselves and our own unhappiness—it lifts our spirits.
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.
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.
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.
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
Eli turns 19 this weekand 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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
2 ounces Jose Cuervo Gold tequila
2 ounces Cointreau
2-3 large fresh mangoes (or 2 cups frozen mango)
Splash of orange juice
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!