Category Archives: Book Review

Happier New Year      

About a year ago, I found myself in a funk. I was suffering with homeschool burnout from a tough semester of academic “catch-up” after a summer and fall of extensive travel. The return to regular life was proving to be a bit of an anti-climax. Perhaps it was actually a symptom of too much success; I had almost everything I had ever wanted, and I’d failed to set some new goals. And I’m sure it had absolutely nothing to do with the arrival of my 40th birthday.  Whatever the cause, I felt adrift. One afternoon, I found a book in the marina lounge by Gretchen Rubin called The Happiness Project (Harper Collins, 2012). By some crazy coincidence, my new friend April was listening to the audiobook, so we began to bounce ideas off of each other as we sought to be more mindful about our attitudes and goals.

The book is one I highly recommend, if for no other reason, than that it instills hope—that you have a lot of control over your own sense of contentment and satisfaction. The book helped me think through what things make me truly happy—and how to work more of those things into my life. The author helped me come up with a road map for the coming year: instead of making—and breaking—new year’s resolutions, she suggests that we set a goal for each month, with specific and achievable objectives, and let the new habits become accumulative. My plan for December was to Assess Goals and Make Some New Ones, so it seemed like a good time to evaluate and write about the outcome of my little happiness experiment.

The first thing I discovered was that thinking about what makes me happy actually makes me happy. It’s a way of counting blessings. The second thing I discovered is that measuring progress motivated me to keep going. And though I am a perfectionist, one of my “rules to live by” (a sort of personal set of commandments) is to be content with improvement, so instead of looking for failures at the end of my project, I was counting the things I accomplished, which always makes me happier. Lastly, though very little about my day-to-day existence has changed, my outlook has changed considerably. Despite my tasks being incredibly circular (cooking-laundry-dishes-school-housekeeping), I have a greater sense of linear progress. I feel like I am searching for, and finding, something I lost when I got married and had five kids—who I am outside of the roles and routines that I currently inhabit. I’m benefitting now (better mood), and putting something in the bank for later, when the kids are grown.

Here are some of the things I felt inspired to do this year as a part of my personal happiness project: I finished our DC scrapbook; helped Sarah sew a birthday quilt for Rachel; edited my cookbook; helped to plan the sailing trip we’ll take this year and started thinking about an American road trip we’d like to take someday; formed a good habit, flossing every day, something I’ve never done with regularity; made a plan to exercise every day, which meant my kayak saw a lot of use this past year; made morning quiet times and praying a priority, especially focusing on saying “thank you”; began a book project and gave myself a deadline for finishing a manuscript; went through our stuff and made donations; planned weekly date nights with Jay; made a course syllabus for each of the boys’ first year high school classes; bought flowers; did some drawing with pastels and pencils; wrote poetry; grew and cooked with fresh herbs, and started learning to play the ukulele.

It might seem like all this focus on my happiness would result in my becoming self-centered, but actually, most of the things that make me happy revolve around other people.  And, anyway, my happiness affects everyone else; you know what they say, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” In this light, I consider the experiment a success, and am planning to repeat the exact same project in the coming year, with revised objectives based on things I still really want to accomplish from last years’ list. Going into a new year, I feel happier, less burned-out and overwhelmed, and more connected with the people around me. For anyone who’s interested, I’ve concluded with my own Rules to Live By. I made ten, since the limit of my working memory consists of the number of my fingers.

I. Love is the most important thing.
II. When in doubt, do nothing. Wait until you know for sure, then act decisively.
III. Always tell the truth–in love. You can be honest without being brutal.
IV. If you need it, ask for a hug. Give one if someone else needs it.
V. If you can’t be nice, be quiet. Or, go to your room!
VI. Always do your best. Shoot for perfection, but be content with improvement.
VII. Tell yourself the truth—don’t be ruled by emotions.
VIII. Leave things better than you find them.
IX. You get out of something what you put into it.
X. Fake it until you make it: look on the bright side, smile, and be thankful even on the bad days.



Sailing Promise: A Book Review

Every couple living aboard a small boat who spends any time on the ocean will recognize that there are circumstances which test the relationship. We know lots of single-handers whose spouse jumped ship after a long passage. In her book, Sailing Promise, Alayne Main tells the story of her circumnavigation with husband Alec in the 90s aboard a Prout 33 named Madeline. While the book chronicles their travels—new places, new friends, new cultures—it also tells the inside story of how the journey affected their relationship. The following is a quote which sums up, for many, what it’s like to live in close quarters on a small boat with a spouse who may or may not handle stress well.

Despite my seasickness and the uncomfortable ride, it was only three days. Although many of the same fears plagued me, I could tough it out for a short passage…I thought of a girlfiriend of mine who had spent a year backpacking with her husband, spending 24 hours a day together, every day. She had said there wasn’t one moment when she wanted to be away from him. Envious as I was, our circumstances were vastly different. All my possessions, my lover, and I were contained inside a tiny 33-by-15-foot boat, which was put to the mercy of the wind, waves, and weather. The only certainties were that things would break and the wind would change. With an added dash of seasickness, a little thunderstorm or a ripped sail, a kind of stress was created that would cause even the most pleasant of people to get irritable. Alec and I dealt with stress differently and this often aggravated things even at the best of times (from the chapter entitled "Wild Horses"). 

Anyone considering a life aboard would be wise to read the book, whether they have dreams of circumnavigating or not. It is an honest look at a side of the sailing life you seldom see in a cruiser’s blog or travel book. Most of the people who buy a boat to travel the world think long and hard about what kind of boat they want, which of their belongings they want to keep and which to get rid of, where they want to go, how they will provision, what tools and gadgets they want aboard, and so forth and so on. But less thought is given to something that may have the greatest impact on whether the people going will be happy at all.

It is important to think about what isolation might do to your marriage, how each of you responds in a crisis, how well you communicate, what kind of outlets you or your spouse needs to reduce stress, how to find contentment in a difficult setting, and how to overcome fears and surmount obstacles so that you can strengthen your close relationship instead of tearing it apart. Through Alayne’s thought-provoking inner journey, it’s possible to envision how good communication and compassion can help two people pass the tests they will surely encounter on their adventures.

Gift from the Sea: A Book Review

I was recently introduced to a treasure of a book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea. It’s one of those small volumes you might find on the bedside table in a guest room, nice to look at and slim enough you could read it through in a few hours. But looks can be deceiving; it would be a mistake to dismiss it for its size.

My first impression of the book, which consists of a series of life lessons for women using seashells as metaphors, was that it was going to be a bit sappy and sentimental. But by the second chapter, I began to see the beauty of Morrow’s well-written comparisons, and I began to pay attention more closely.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was a busy lady: besides being the wife of Charles Lindbergh, the famous flyer, she was a mother to five children, a writer, an environmentalist and a world traveler. But she was never too busy to take a step back and reflect. Both she and Charles were in the habit of taking vacations, both together and alone, and they liked islands and beaches.

This book was written while Anne was on one of these small getaways, and she found the simplicity she craved in the patterns of life one develops on an island. Every day held a little work, a little rest, and something to stimulate the body and mind—and time, plenty of time, to enjoy some refreshing solitude. I recognized it immediately—it’s the way I feel when we’re sailing instead of living at a dock somewhere, plugged into a “land life.” When we’re living “on the hook,” as we say, in an anchorage, life is reduced to answering a few questions: What’s the weather like? What should we eat? What boat chores need to be done? What should we do when the work is done? There’s no running around like headless chickens. I spend a lot of time with the kids, but also find time to just enjoy a sunrise, an afternoon kayaking, or a sunset drink it the cockpit with Jay. And when we have neighbors aboard, there’s time for leisurely conversation, no feeling of being rushed because there’s nowhere else we have to be.

Morrow writes: “Here on this island I have had space. Paradoxically, in this limited area, space has been forced upon me. The geographical boundaries, the physical limitations, the restrictions on communication, have enforced a natural selectivity. There are not too many activities or things or people, and each one, I find, is significant, set apart in the frame of sufficient time and space.”

Just as Anne discovered, we’ve learned that life finds a nice equilibrium when you are living simply, and closely with the natural rhythms of sunlight and seasons. She talks about finding that simplicity and balance, shedding the unnecessary, both in the outward patterns, but also in the inward spaces. Living life with grace, with an inner stillness, will help when we find ourselves, as we inevitably will, busy again with childrearing, working, cooking, cleaning, volunteering, and caretaking. Stepping away can help reset the priorities, so that going forward, we can make choices that keep us from feeling fractured and frazzled.

She uses the shells she finds on her morning walks to illustrate the various facets of a woman’s life. The characteristics of each shell are looked at closely and analogically—each one representing a phase in life or in a relationship. My favorite chapters were those that illustrated the stages in a marriage. When the relationship is new, she posits, it is like a Double-Sunrise shell, two people in love, a perfect, unclouded union. As life changes for a couple, and they begin a family, the relationship shifts into one of teamwork and functionality, not unlike an oyster shell. It’s not necessarily pretty, but it is efficient at growing and changing to meet the demands of its environment! Jay and I are knee-deep in the oyster beds at this point, so I wasn’t sure where she was going to go next. I had always thought that after the kids left, we would simply go back to being who we were before we had children. Not necessarily so, according to Mrs. Lindbergh. I found her illustration of the possibilities of the empty-nest stage to be so compelling, so exciting, that I actually can’t wait to see what the future holds. It completely inspires me to live and love well now, in this time where we work so often in separate spheres, so that we will come into the post-child-bearing years ready to be something entirely new, having come fully into our own, but also reaching new depths of inter-dependence.

Being a beach-lover and shell-picker myself, I found this book to be so refreshing and eye-opening that I will probably never look at a beach or a shell in the same way. I feel more than ever inspired to live fully in each day, and to seek contentment in the now.  If you’re looking for a gift to give a mother, sister, daughter or friend, I would heartily recommend Gift from the Sea for a woman at any age and stage of life.

The 20-Minute Vacation

Marina laundry rooms and lounges are great places to find free books. If you’re willing to look hard, underneath the stacks of paper-back murder mysteries and romances, there are literary gems.  That’s how I found Life of Pi and Love in the Time of Cholera, for example. And, somewhere in between, there are books like Judith Sachs’ 20-Minute Vacations: Quick, Affordable, and Fun “Getaways” from the Stress of Everyday Life.  In a book store, it would probably be in the self-help section. It is neither frivolous nor profound, and I have largely forgotten the contents of the book itself, but the guiding principle has stayed with me and formed the basis for self-rejuvenation in the midst of my dizzying life of homeschooling five children on a boat.

I was reminded of this book today when I lay prone in the darkened yoga studio, rhythmically and deeply breathing incense-infused air. One of the principles of that practice is to be “in the moment” or “fully present.” And, I have found, that if I can simply find, say, twenty uninterrupted minutes, I can tune out frustrations, chores, noise, and stress and focus completely on relaxation. In essence I can take a twenty-minute vacation and return to previously-scheduled, organized-chaos feeling refreshed. The principle in Sachs’ book was similar: we have limited time on this planet, so we must make the most with what we have. We must not take our lives for granted, and we need to give ourselves some undivided attention, especially when many demands are placed on us, so that we can live thoughtfully, joyfully, and intentionally. And, thankfully, this only takes twenty minutes, which is about all I can find these days.

Sachs’ book seemed to be written for the modern American working woman: someone who spends a lot of time working in an office or commuting, struggling to balance work and family time. Two things I realized when I read her book were that I don’t fit that category, and that many of the things she lists as possible ideas for mini-vacations are things I consider part of my “job:” playing a board game, rolling down a hill, creative cooking, reading poetry, swinging at the playground, stargazing, playing with Play-Doh, kneading bread, writing in my journal, and reading to a child. On the one hand, it makes me feel lucky to have such an enviable job, but on the other, I have to be even more creative to find refreshment.

This idea of taking a twenty-minute vacation has completely transformed my day. People are always asking me how I do what I do, and assuming that I have more patience than the average person. The truth, however, is that I don’t always do it well—I do snap at the children, I do feel overwhelmed and underprepared, and I do need to take a step back sometimes to prevent myself from feeling trapped or burned out. If I find that I’m getting upset about little things, I know it’s time to take a vacation. Sachs makes more than 100 suggestions for ways to reduce stress and enjoy life more, things like the “beach getaway”—sitting with your bare feet in a basin of sand under your desk on your lunch break, or touring a world-famous art museum from your computer. I don’t actually remember most of her recommendations, but her book got me thinking, and I’ve figured out how to carve out my own mini-vacations.


Some of my favorite getaways include:  lying in my hammock between the hulls of our boat in the afternoon sun, brewing a good pot of afternoon tea, reading for pleasure in my cabin while Rachel takes a nap, turning the music up loud and dancing with the children, going to the marina to take a hot shower, watching the sunset from my favorite perch on the arch while drinking a glass of wine, going kayaking, taking a walk on the beach, sewing a quilt square, taking a Yoga class, getting a pedicure, and listening to music by candlelight in the cockpit after the kids are in bed.

Anyone can afford this kind of vacation. It doesn’t take money, and it doesn’t take much time. It takes a measure of creativity, and a desire to build more of what you love into your everyday life. Real vacations are wonderful—a change of pace and scenery, a time to make memories, and a way to shake things up. But when you can’t take a long trip, you can always find a way to escape for twenty minutes to relax and find refreshment.

Book Review: An Embarrassment of Mangoes

Jay thoughtfully bought me a new book recently. At first, I didn’t think I was going to like it. It looked like another sailing saga about middle-aged Canadians who escape the frozen North to “find themselves” in warmer climes and bluer waters (which it was) but it also possessed that rare and genuine quality that I like in a cruising story: a willingness to really explore native cultures and make friends with locals along the way. A bonus: the author loves to cook and includes recipes at the end of each chapter which use local ingredients.

In An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude by Ann Vanderhoof, the author traces her journey from stressed-out big-city editor to relaxed world traveler and confident sailor. She takes her passion for cooking and eating to all the local markets along the way, meeting islanders who take her under their wings and show her how to use local produce and seafood to create recipes that really reflect the cultures in which she and her husband Steve immerse themselves. By contrast, I asked a cruiser recently returned from Panama about his provisioning experiences, and about what the locals eat. Much to my disappointment, he only shopped at the American-style grocery and had no idea or interest in what the locals eat.

One of our criticisms of the cruising community at large is that they don’t mix with locals. We understand the tourist/local dichotomy (being raised in a vacationland ourselves), but what we don’t understand is going half-way around the world so you can spend all your time with people who look and speak just like you, eat the same things you always did, and listen to the same music you always did. That seems strange to us. A quote from the book sums up this observation: “To our surprise, though, we’ve discovered that not all cruisers are as determined to get involved in island culture. Some aren’t only ignoring local events and music, they’re still eating much as they did back home. ‘They’ve got bigger freezers and more money than we have,’ Steve says, ‘but I’ll bet they’re not having as much fun.” The book inspires me to dig even further into local culture while we are traveling—especially with young, impressionable children who really should see what the rest of the world is like.

Along the way from Toronto to the Caribbean, the author makes several discoveries about herself and about life in general. For example, that thing called “island time” really exists in tropical climes. When Ann and Steve show up at the advertised time for a concert they are told it will start “jus’ now,” a phrase which Steve translates literally as “jus’ throw away the schedule.” It is the perfect island phrase—they adopt it wholeheartedly, and it reflects a new awareness of time for two people who had lived religiously by Daytimers and deadlines. They learn to slow down, to appreciate every moment, and to simplify. They realize at Christmas, for instance, that “only by sailing a couple thousand miles away had we succeeded in gracefully escaping the usual competitive celebrating.” They left the rush and stress and stuff behind, as we did this past winter, using holidays to really focus on what is important, and to just be with each other.

I felt a real kinship with Ann as she made another similar discovery about life aboard and a connection to the natural world. She, like me, loves the night watch for the peace and beauty it offers, and she, also like me, “realized how disconnected my daily life had been from the natural world. The weather, the wind, the moon, even the seasons—and the attendant plants, insects, birds and animals—came and went. But I was removed, at a distance.” The natural world, she writes, “is so much more immediate now. It forces me to pay attention.”

It is heart-wrenching when they have to turn north, to head back to their home in Canada. They meet folks coming south for the first time, people who don’t realize yet how “life-changing” their own “grand adventure” will be. She feels envious and doesn’t know how she’ll cope with going back to the “real world.” Steve has to remind her that their life aboard is the
real world. Aboard Take Two we have just gotten our feet wet in the “real world,” but reading books like this helps us keep our eye on the prize: to get back out there, to take the necessary risks and make the necessary sacrifices so that we can travel with our family and experience the world in all its breathtaking beauty and the colorful human family with all its joys and heartbreaks.

Book Review: Bumfuzzle, Just Out Looking for Pirates

Three years ago, when we drove to Fort Lauderdale to look at Take Two, the broker tried to draw Jay’s attention another boat on the same dock. She had a funny name, Bumfuzzle, which somehow stuck in our minds. Jay dismissed her easily, as she was too small for a family of six to be comfortable, and was missing key features we liked about Take Two. But later we looked her up, intrigued by the ridiculous name, and discovered she had recently returned from a circumnavigation, and that her previous owners had kept a blog of their journeys online at As Bum’s journey was ending, ours was just beginning.

I just finished reading the first book of which I have never owned a paper copy—having downloaded it onto one of our Kindles—Patrick Schulte’s Bumfuzzle, Just Out Looking For Pirates: A Sail Around the World (©2008, Book Bums Publishing, available at for the Kindle). I laughed out loud through the whole thing, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a compilation of the blogs he kept throughout their journey as well as his keen observations about weather, passage-making, other cruisers, places they visited and the family of the human race.

The book, and the Bums themselves, are not received without controversy, however, so I cautiously recommend the book. If you are a dreamer, one unafraid to take a few risks to live a life of adventure or excitement, to live without regrets, you will love this book. If you are a cruiser, one who has planned your whole life to buy a boat and go cruising, who has, in preparation for this plan, studied everything from knot-tying to celestial navigation, you will probably hate it. The cruiser’s forum that Jay sometimes looks at when looking for advice on how to fix some thing or another reviles the Schultes as being irresponsible and downright foolish, as is anyone who might follow in their footsteps. Their main complaint seems to be that they didn’t know what they were doing when they sailed across oceans and might encourage others to do the same thing.

I would like to point out, though I admit to being biased, the fact that they made it, changed but unscathed, should give them some credibility. Also, being young cruisers ourselves, we realize that the only way to do this thing while you’re still young is to do it without knowing how. Although we’re just getting started, having only recently left U.S. waters, we are already frustrated at not finding anyone younger than our parents out here sharing anchorages. We have seen only two boats with children—one a charter that sailed away the same day it dropped the hook, and the other we met yesterday, which looks promising. I know why the Schultes felt that they did not fit in with the cruiser crowd, and am beginning to understand some of Pat’s criticism, which he does not hide in the book.

Still, anyone who likes a good sea story, sailor or no, would enjoy Bumfuzzle. If you think that sailing around the world is an impossible journey, but you’d like to do it anyway, reading this book could inspire you do try it. Reading his opinions has certainly opened our minds to a different way of thinking, and while they are strong and possibly offensive, they do have merit and the cruising community would be a better place if we were all a bit more like the Bums.

Diane Stuemer is My Hero

The house is sold, the storage unit is full of old photo albums and baby books, Salvation Army came last Friday to pick up what was left in the house, the boat’s major systems have all been overhauled and I am exhausted. It has been one year since our successful experiment, a month of living aboard that confirmed that we were ready to make the move. That’s one year of paring everything down to nearly-bare minimum. That’s enough time to sort through things slowly, and to make the move without a lot of extra stress.

It wasn’t like that when the Stuemers moved aboard. About the time that Jay and I were graduating from college and getting married, a young Canadian family who had sailed their little boat on the Ottowa River just a few times decided to buy a cruising sailboat, renovate her, move aboard and sail around the world. Once they made up their minds, Herbert and Diane Stuemer put their plan into place with mind-blowing rapidity, selling a business and renting their house, renovating the boat and planning a shake-down cruise down the Eastern Seaboard. No poking along at a snail’s pace, waiting for everything to be “just right.”

And they made it. It took six years for this intrepid family of five to use the four winds to sail across three oceans and through two canals to make one enormous circumnavigation of our globe. But that is not what makes Diane Stuemer my hero. She was a mother of three lucky boys—boys who left a “normal” life to be homeschooled in the world’s classroom. She was a writer who lovingly documented all of their travels, adventures and mishaps in such a confiding way that she befriends you as you read. She was a wife who supported her husband’s wild dream and went along on the ride of her life. She lived her life to the full.  This is not what makes her my hero, though I do admire her for these things.

More than this, Diane Stuemer was a light in dark places. Northern Magic left in her wake a chain of friendships all over the world, and Diane tried to make a positive impact wherever she went. It is not good enough to simply leave a “clean wake,” in my opinion, to leave a place nice for others or to leave no impact at all. It is one of my life’s goals—and one that I am instilling in my children—that you must leave a place better than you find it.  If we go to the park in the afternoon, we pick up trash we find in the grass. If we play at the pool, we pick up pool toys that other children left lying around. And, on a much grander scale, this is what the Stuemers did. Their compassion for others led them to make choices that positively affected the places they went and the people they met. They made a few mistakes along the way and about those well-intentioned mistakes they were transparent and humble. 

Even if we don’t make it halfway as far as the Northern Magic, I will feel that the journey is a success if my children learn those two simple, but life-transforming lessons: leave the world a better place than you find it. Admit when you make a mistake and learn from it.

About six months after her book, The Voyage of the Northern Magic was published, cancer took Diane’s life. Thankfully, she had made memories with her family to last a lifetime, and she had not wasted her short time on this earth.  I miss her—when I feel lonely for the companionship of another woman who understands the myriad frustrations of living on a boat with rambunctious children and a man who has too many tools, I pick up her book and laugh a little. I wish I could call her up and have her tell me not to worry about the things I worry about, that it will all come out right in the end, and that we’re on the right track. For inspiring us to make the journey that started more than two years ago, and for leaving the world a better place than she found it, Diane Stuemer is my hero.

If you want to read about the adventures of the Stuemer family, join Diane on a trek across the globe in
The Voyage of the Northern Magic: A Family Odyssey.

Book Review: First You Have to Row a Little Boat

You know you’re reading a good book if the first sentence chokes you up. Richard Bode’s memoir of his youth spent learning to sail does just that. “When I was a young man I made a solemn vow. I swore I would teach my children to sail. It was a promise I never kept.” So begins First You Have to Row a Little Boat, a series of life lessons recorded by a father to his grown children, his attempt to atone for “sins of omission.” Not only does he pass on the beautiful metaphor of sailing for navigating life to his children, but to the grateful reader as well.

Though an expanded metaphor could become tedious or sentimental, Bode usually avoids this temptation by couching his lessons in stories both honest and poignant. Orphaned at a young age and raised by an aunt and uncle, Bode finds his security in a self-sufficiency learned sailing a boat in a shallow bay. It is to some degree a coming-of-age tale, but also serves as reflection and advice from a seasoned sailor. Chapter titles include “The Shortest Distance Between Two Points is a Zigzag Line,” “Unfounded Fears”, “Fogbound,” and “Like a Boat Without a Rudder”. My favorite chapter was possibly “Of Knots, Loops, Bends, and Hitches” in which knot-tying becomes a metaphor for romantic relationships.

The best part, probably, is that you don’t have to be a sailor or be familiar with sailing terms to enjoy the book. You might learn some of the lingo, but it is not a prerequisite. All of us have to learn how to enter uncharted waters, go with the flow, and stay afloat because life isn’t always smooth sailing.

Book Recommendation: Black Wave

I’ve been told that sailors have a sick fascination with disaster and survival stories; it’s certainly true in our house. On Jay’s shelf are included Endurance, a story about Shackleton’s harrowing ordeal in Antarctica, Into the Wild, Fastnet Force 10,
Adrift, Deep Survival, After the Storm, and Seaworthy: Essential Lessons from Boat U.S.’s 20-Year Case File of Things Gone Wrong. I read Dougal Robertson’s
Survive the Savage Sea, about a family whose boat was sunk in ten minutes after being hit by a pod of angry killer whales, and had to live in their dinghy on the open ocean. We bought a boat anyway.

On a recommendation from a friend (thanks, Andy!), we recently read Black Wave: A Family’s Adventure at Sea and the Disaster that Saved Them by John and Jean Silverwood.  It’s a terrifying tale—though excellently told—which I wish had been written several years ago because it’s now a little too close to home. A couple from California with plenty of sailing experience decide to pull their children out of modern American culture and give them a dose of real life and exposure to natural beauty. They set off in a 55’ catamaran with their four children (sound familiar?) and head to islands and waters near and far. It is never as romantic as it seems, of course, and the adventure includes several close calls—a contentious crew, storms, pirates, breakdowns, and a near-mutinous marriage encounter.  I won’t spoil the end for you, but it entails barely surviving a shipwreck.

The book is told in two parts: Jean wastes no time in Book I and gets straight to the “good” part, interspersing a moment-by-moment narrative of their disaster with flashbacks that tell how they got to that fateful night on the reef. She writes not only of the difficulties within her marriage and among the children, but of her own shortcomings that are brought to the surface as the family experiences the shrinking pains of living on a boat. She makes me really look in the mirror—how will I handle the stress of living and working and sailing aboard Take Two?  In Book II, John gets to tell the story of what went wrong from his perspective and what happened afterwards. He combines his story with the tale of a ship that crashed on the same reef a hundred and fifty years prior (another sailor fascinated with disaster). I appreciated getting both male and female perspectives, and thought it was a good choice to write them separately, instead of trying to synthesize their stories.

On being asked why they wanted to take four children on the adventure of a lifetime, Jean might answer, as she intimates in the book, “I suddenly felt that our own kids were captives to a dull and artificial life, while the beauty of the real world was passing them by.”  She wanted them to appreciate the privileges of life in America as they saw how the rest of the world lived. She wanted to slow down enough to really enjoy her children. She shared a dream with her husband and they worked to make it happen. While we are not at the same starting point as their family was in some important ways, they went for some of the same reasons we want to go. And after the disaster, when asked, “Was it worth it?” her answer is stunning: “My husband took me to secluded beaches…My daughter and I raced each other on beautiful horses along the surf…I saw my kids become interesting; I saw two of them grow up. The answer is yes.” For his part, John chose to include perfectly-timed quotes from Melville’s
Moby Dick and an old sea-faring hymn. Their journey, as one might expect, was not merely physical, but spiritual as well, and I cannot do it justice by describing it here. Needless to say, I became quite attached to both of them and missed their voices once the book ended.

Whether you are thinking of going on a high seas adventure yourself or not, it is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it to friends who are wondering what our future life might be like. On the other hand, I do not recommend it to family members who are wondering what terrible things could happen to us in our future life!