Category Archives: General

Fair Winds and Following Seas

In Loving Memory of Mary Tanner Hackney 12/13/62 – 10/12/22

Mary and Bailey
Mary and Bailey (Naples, FL July 2022)

Mary, Jay’s stepmom, has been an important part of our lives for over 30 years and joined us on our sailing adventure many times. She and Jay used to crew on race boats in Naples, Florida when we were teenagers. She and Al took us on our first cruise to the Florida Keys on their catamaran when we were newlyweds in 1998. We sought her and Al’s advice when we took them with us to see Take Two for the first time in Fort Lauderdale in December of 2007. They have buddy-boated with us over the years, meeting us in their own boat in the Bahamas and Florida. We spent time with them when we sailed to Panama in 2017, where they had a house, and Mary was always up for flying wherever Take Two traveled and spending a week in an exotic location. So it is with a heavy heart that I share that she passed away last week. I spent the last days of her life at her bedside, keeping the night watch while other family and friends kept the day watch. Her last passage was a peaceful and joyful one. She lived life to the full and I feel so thankful for all the memories we made. Her obituary is posted below.

Buddy Boats
Thanksgiving buddy-boat trip, Take Two and Lovely Cruise in Pelican Bay (Charlotte Harbor, FL, 2020)

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

–Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church (Chapter 4, verses 13-14)

Mary went bravely and joyfully to be with her Father in heaven on Wednesday, October 12 in the care of Avow Hospice in Naples, Florida, after a bout with pancreatic cancer. She spent her last days surrounded by loving family and friends, hearing words of peace, joy, and gratitude. She was herself to the very end, making jokes with the nurses and smiling when words failed.

Mary worked as a flight attendant for Allegiant Airlines. She is survived by her husband Alfred Hackney II, her sister Susane Brown, and her two stepsons Jay and Jeff Hackney.

Mary was a lifelong learner, an avid reader, a Spanish speaker, a Chartered Financial Analyst, a pilot, a sailor, a Toastmaster, a Kon-Mari consultant, and a world traveler. She was a recovering alcoholic with 25 years of sobriety and a mentor and sponsor to many, a loving wife of 33 years, a friend to nearly everyone she met, and an “adventure grandma” to her stepsons’ children. Her shi-poo Bailey and cat Charlie will miss her dearly. The depth of our sadness at her passing is a testimony to the love we bore her, to her open and outgoing personality, and to her generous investment in relationships.

Mary wished to be cremated and there will be no public service at this time. The 1281 LLC will host a celebration of Mary’s life on December 10th.                                    

If you wish to honor Mary, please consider making a donation to:

Avow Hospice

1095 Whippoorwill Lane

Naples, FL 34105

www.avowcares.org

OR

Grace Center Foundation

P.O. Box 112692

Naples, FL 34108

www.gracecenterfoundation.org 

160419_6_0910
Mary with the crew of Take Two (Puerto Rico, 2016)
Panama 2017
Mary and Al with Eli and Sam (Bocas del Toro Panama, 2017)
Mary, Adventure Grandma
Mary visiting Take Two at Stingray City (Grand Cayman, 2018)
Bike Selfie
Mary with Tanya and Rachel on marina bikes during the Thanksgiving buddy boat trip (Punta Gorda, FL, 2020)
Colorado Trip
Trail Ridge Road with Tanya and Sarah, Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado, 2022)
Mary and Al Alaska
Mary and Al (Alaska, 2022)

Tweasure Your Wuv

“Mawage is wot bwings us togevvah today. Mawage, that bwessed awangement, that dweam within a dweam…”—the Impressive Clergyman (Peter Cook) in The Princess Bride

Jay and Tanya's Wedding 8/2/97

This August, Jay and I celebrate 25 years of marriage. While we try to do something special every year commemorate the beginning of Us, this feels like a milestone. I know it’s only silver, half-way to the golden 50th, but these days, that’s a big deal. And whether due to death or dysfunction, neither our parents nor our grandparents made it to the golden anniversary and so we’re even more determined to keep going!

Recently, I have been contemplating what this relationship means to me. I watched a young couple get married on a quiet beach one morning in June. It was just the two of them, barefoot, with an officiant and a photographer for a witness. I was remembering my own wedding, the promises we made before we knew what they meant, the giddy feeling that is equal parts joy and terror, and how far we’ve come in the intervening years. What we did with our family—leaving the beaten track to follow our dreams and live an adventurous life—would not have been possible without the stability our marriage, the partnership based in love, teamwork, good communication, and hard-won problem-solving strategies. What is this “dream within a dream” we call marriage, and why is it worth fighting for? Though the global divorce rate hovers around 50%, we all know that a good marriage is more than a flip of a coin. These are my reflections after spending a quarter of a century with the same person.

  • The promise I made on my wedding day was not only to Jay, but also to God. Marriage is not merely a contract between two people, but a covenant made before and with the Creator. It is a promise to stick it out and treat each other with love and respect regardless of changing circumstances, and not merely a legal arrangement between two people that can be easily broken when one person doesn’t uphold their end of the deal.
  • Because we have children, this covenant involves them, too. By promising to work out our difficulties and stay together, we provide stability for our family. We are also setting an example, and we want our kids to be in relationships where mutual respect is the norm, where they feel safe to be themselves, and where conflict can be resolved.
  • The benefits of staying are things you can only learn by staying. Romance is magical, honeymoons are wonderful, and early marriage is full of both mountains and valleys, but “middle marriage” is when maturity happens, when (ideally) you have stopped trying to change your partner, stopped expecting the impossible, and have even begun to appreciate the things about him or her that you might have complained about at the beginning of the marriage.
  • Love is not just a feeling, it’s also a choice. We may describe love as something we can fall in or out of, like an accident, but the kind of love that makes a marriage work is purposeful. It involves a lot of hard work and forgiveness. Unconditional love is demonstrated only when challenges are faced, when potential conditions present themselves. Sometimes, love is how you act toward another person despite the way you feel at the moment.
  • Sex is important, but it’s not everything. Our culture celebrates sex before marriage and makes fun of sex after marriage. But a good sex life in a committed relationship is a rare and beautiful thing. It can promote bonding, build trust and communication, encourage selflessness, add fun and pleasure, prevent infidelity, and create new life. Over a lifetime, a couple’s sex life will go through many transitions, but if intimacy and communication are at the center of the relationship, sex complements the emotional bond, but doesn’t make or break it.
  • Love is like your favorite pair of old shoes. At this point, our relationship is comfortable. We have begun to take our marriage for granted and can finish each other’s sentences. But comfort can lead to complacency, so we still have to do the little things that say “I love you.” We need to take care of the old shoes so they last a long time.  
  • Love never fails. That’s what it says next to the date engraved on the inside of the gold wedding rings we exchanged. And I still believe it. I may fail, Jay may fail, but love itself—the Eternal Source of love, the power of love, the feelings that follow the choices to love—these things do not fail. When we pick ourselves up after a failure and try again, we witness the power of this kind of love that doesn’t quit or walk out. It is, perhaps, the best demonstration of the gospel: we have a God who loves his people unconditionally, a God who forgives, a God who is faithful. The fact that we survived and stayed happily married despite raising five kids on a boat is a modern-day miracle! By the grace of God, we still love each other.

I read a book with a group of friends this year by Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? His observations are timely and echo my own sentiments: “I love marriage, and I love my marriage. I love the fun parts, the easy parts, and the pleasurable parts, but also the difficult parts—the parts that frustrate me but help me understand myself and my spouse on a deeper level; the parts that are painful but that crucify the aspects of me that I hate; the parts that force me to my knees and teach me that I need to learn to love with God’s love instead of just trying harder. Marriage has led me to deeper levels of understanding, more pronounced worship, and a sense of fellowship that I never knew existed.”

I don’t know what curve balls the next few years will throw at us, but because our love is based on something transcendent, something that lasts even after we are gone, we face the future with optimism and hope. In the immortal words of Westley (Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride), “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for awhile.”

Click here to listen to an interview with Elise Peck on her podcast about how a stable love relationship helped us fulfill our dreams, break negative patterns, and stay in love in different seasons of life.

Return to the Safe Harbor

Take Two on Passage to Florida

Three years ago this week, we returned to Florida after a 5000-mile circle of the Caribbean. We have never stayed in one place so long, and due to my incurable wanderlust, I am itching to go cruising again. We came back to the U.S. to pursue some important goals–many of which have been crossed off our list. Our three oldest kids completed two years each of college, and have their own vehicles, jobs, activities, and plans for the future. Jay rebooted his career. I published a book. Sam competed in his first Jiu Jitsu tournaments. Rachel participated in her first dance recitals. We’re taking care of some much-needed boat projects. We took an epic road trip. We adopted kittens. We have gotten to see our families a lot more than we did while traveling, even though we miss sailing and island-hopping.

The emotions I feel when I see this picture from three years ago are not merely nostalgia and longing, but also deep gratitude and a sense of accomplishment. We did it! When we were teenagers, we dreamed a dream that we never gave up on. We left a comfortable life in suburbia for a harder, but more rewarding, life on a boat. We have paid the price and also reaped the rewards of that choice. We homeschooled our kids, we learned new languages, we made friends from all over the world. We saw the incredible beauty and diversity of nature. That we were able to do these things is an incredible privilege, one for which we are so thankful.

In a world that sometimes feels like it’s falling apart, in the middle of grieving losses, amid illness and disruption and disappointment–I am so grateful. I wrote a blog post many years ago called “Store It Up” , documenting a beautiful day, a snapshot of words, if you will, that I could take out and savor on a rainy day. I have hundreds of these memories stored up. In retrospect, there is nothing I would trade for these days–no amount of money, spacious housing, comfort, or luxury. It was worth every sacrifice.

I say this not to gloat, but to encourage. If you are in a position to buy an experience instead of a gift, if you are considering doing something different with your life, if you want to go on an adventure with your family but are feeling uncertain: do it. There may be risk and difficulty, it will most assuredly not go exactly according to plan, but if you “collect verbs and not nouns,” you will never regret it.

These Boots Were Made for Walking

These Boots

The crew of Take Two is setting off on their own adventures. Aaron graduated from high school in December and applied to Universal Technical Institute’s Orlando campus to study automotive and light-diesel repair, as well as doing some Ford-specific training. He moved into an apartment with roommates from the school, transferred to an Orlando Advance Auto Parts store, and started classes at the beginning of April. It’s an intensive, hands-on, one-year course that will give him an Applied Sciences degree and have him well on his way to being a master mechanic. He’s feeling enthusiastic about the program–he was not enjoying the academic track he was on at the College of the Florida Keys. We are not surprised, as he was always the tool-kid, the take-your-toys apart kid, the I don’t-want-to-read-and-write kid. He’s finding his own path to success, which is what we always wanted for each of our children.

Aaron graduation

Sarah is in Colorado for the summer, working at Wind River Ranch, a dude ranch outside of Estes Park. It is her first time away from home, and she is loving the work and the social aspects of the ranch.

Wind River Horses 2

We are now just four aboard—Jay, me, Sam, and Rachel. As we have noted before, every time someone joins or leaves the family, the chemistry changes. I find it strangely quiet. The two youngest crew members used to bicker like crazy, but they are suddenly getting along great. There’s not even conflict over the chores, which now have to get done with fewer helpers. Then again, there’s less laundry, fewer dishes, and less clutter. We are finding a new rhythm, and I am realizing that as our kids get older (and move out), I will have plenty of time and energy to write.

Diamond Painting

Below is an excerpt from my journal, written while I was in Colorado with Mary and Sarah, during our weeklong stay in Estes Park, before we dropped Sarah off and flew back to Florida without her. I shed a few tears as I hugged her goodbye but managed not to be embarrassing. Even though you prepare yourself for the day your kids leave, it is still bittersweet.

Sarah and Mom

May 16, 2022

In my life before children, as a kindergarten teacher, I remember the weepy moms in the hallway on the first day of school. As a homeschool mom, I have been able to delay this day of “dropping off” for about eighteen years, but still it must come, as inevitable as time itself. Now I am the weepy mom.

We have spent a wonderful week together, my mother-in-law/best friend Mary, and my oldest daughter Sarah. We rented a little cabin on a hilltop with a panoramic view of the mountains, and have made the most of our time here—hiking in gorgeous spring weather in Rocky Mountain National Park, shopping for necessary items like boots, jeans, and a cowboy hat in Fort Collins, making fires on chilly mornings, watching chick-flicks, working on jigsaw puzzles or playing games, and sharing good meals.

Sarah Hiking

It is mid-May, but there is still snow at the top of the trails we have hiked in the park. We step over slushy ice, muddy patches, and the dribbling brooks of snowmelt, the remains of winter. These drips and dribbles gather into brooks and streams, which gravity takes trickling over rocks and tumbling over waterfalls down into the valley, delivering rushing water to the Big Thompson River that runs through town, and then through a mountain gorge with flash flood warning signs, to the base of these majestic peaks. This water, which once fell as tiny ice crystals from a cloud, ends up hundreds or even thousands of miles away, some of it eventually making its way to the salty ocean at the mouth of the Colorado River.

Alberta Falls

Sarah has just turned eighteen, the same age I was when I left for Middlebury college in Vermont. How callous I was then, hugging my parents goodbye outside my dormitory! They unloaded not only my stuff, but also a part of themselves, and until now, I had no idea what that must have felt like, how devastating it is to say goodbye to a daughter’s childhood. But just as a droplet of water runs to the ocean, only to be picked up and dropped again on a distant mountain peak, so goes the cycle of life. It is a joyful, painful experience, not unlike childbirth: watching my children become adults and begin their own adventures.

Sarah in Cowboy Hat

Why is the Rum Gone?

Why is the rum gone?

I finally did it. I took my Caribbean rum collection to a Mom’s Night and did a tasting tour of the islands. The bottles have been sitting half-empty in the bottom of our pantry–the oldest ones since 2016 and the newest since 2019. It wasn’t exactly a temperature or humidity-controlled environment, and some had decidedly not improved with age. Then again, some were not particularly good to start with! Did the Puerto Rican Don Q Limón always taste like Lemon Pledge polish? What happened to our favorite St. Lucian rum, Admiral Rodney, that made it taste like cheap cologne? It was worth a few laughs, anyway.

After tiny sips of rums from a dozen places, we finished off with my favorite, the Guatemalan Zacapa 23. And then had Bahama Mamas, my favorite fruity cocktail. It was fun to relive, by taste and smell anyway, the 5,000-mile voyage we took on Take Two.

Today I sorted the remaining bottles by drinkability. Some got stored away and others got poured out and recycled. It was cathartic to clean out that space. I realized that we have these wonderful memories, and I don’t need to keep all the detritus around to remind me. You would think that someone who lives in a small space would know better than to store souvenirs, but I admit that I am a sentimental fool. I bought necklaces, tiny art, and artifacts at open-air markets, and picked up shells, seaglass, and rocks on countless beaches from the Bahamas to Bonaire and from San Blas to Belize. I am now asking myself: “Am I keeping this stuff because I am afraid of forgetting?”

artifacts

Those who make travel a lifestyle, as we have, are like gluttons at a smorgasbord of new places–we feast on new cultures and languages, new sights, smells, and tastes. We collect new friends like mementos. When I’m traveling, I may have a pang for the familiar occasionally, but the thrill of exploring pushes it out of my mind. When I come back from a long sailing trip, it feels so good to slip into comfortable old habits and visit old friends and old haunts that the opposite happens. The longer I stay, the more it feels as though the travels were just part of a nice dream from which I have awakened. A souvenir is like a talisman that can magically transport me back to a place I have been, a hint that jogs the memory and reminds me it was very real.

I felt a little melancholy when I poured out the Marigot Bay St. Lucia Coconut Cream, because it smelled so good, almost as if the place itself was going down the drain. On the other hand, it had turned a funny color, and I was using precious space to store something I will never use. Perhaps this is indicative of the stage of life we are in. Every time I clean something out, like the cabin my son Aaron inhabited until he left a month ago for a new life in Orlando, I have to admit that nothing lasts–that travelers must eventually come home, that children grow up and leave on their own adventures, and that everything in life is, ultimately, ephemeral. As with rum, experiences must be savored and enjoyed as much as possible, in the moment. Their very fragility is what makes them precious. I have come to the conclusion that is fine to keep some reminders–humans are forgetful, after all–but not to be weighed down by them, or to attempt to live in the past.

tiny art 2

Roads go ever ever on

Under cloud and under star,

Yet feet that wandering have gone

Turn at last to home afar.

Eyes that fire and sword have seen

And horror in the halls of stone

Look at last on meadows green

And trees and hills they long have known.

–J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit)

Beauty from Hardship

While we’ve been “holding station” and busily working on Take Two’s water tanks, launching our teenagers, homeschooling, and making a living, I’ve also been writing something new. My morning routine (based on Hal Elrod’s book,The Miracle Morning) has been so beneficial that I want to share an entry from my daily journal, which is slowly becoming a new book of daily readings, Deep Calls to Deep (working title). Here’s a sneak peek:

Sea Glass

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.—Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthian Church (chapter 4 verses 7-8)

I have a jar full of sea glass that I have found during our travels while walking on the beaches of various Bahamian and Caribbean islands. I have collected the pieces one at a time, meandering slowly while looking down, searching for anything that stands out against the sand like a colorful gem embedded in rock.

The collection is a mixture of beautiful earth tones that borrow their hues from the sky and ocean: the frosty white of clouds, the turquoise of shallow water, the green of mangroves, the brown of sand, and the cobalt blue of the deep sea. It is a treasure made of up of broken, but not crushed, glass. The edges have been worn smooth by the tumult of wave motion against sand.

And this is the lesson I take from sea-glass: we too can be made beautiful by hardship. Our rough edges are sanded down by mistakes from which we have learned, by trials we have survived, by pain we have overcome. If we find the grace to forgive and change hurt to compassion, even the suffering we have undergone can round our sharp corners.

Everything in God’s kingdom can serve a purpose: not just the joys we experience, but also the adversity we face and the burdens we share with others. It is the ultimate trash-to-treasure recycling program—the wonderful upside-down nature of God’s love that makes “all things work together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 8 verse 28). Without the hope that our suffering will serve a purpose, many of the hard things in life would be cause for regret, bitterness, or despair. Knowing that good can come from bad is a source of peace in a turbulent world.

What mistakes or hardships have you experienced that later brought you wisdom or led to something good in your life? Are you experiencing regret, bitterness, or despair? What would it look like to let go of it and see God use it for good? Write down one hard thing for which you can give thanks-in-advance and revisit this journal entry later to see if anything good has come out of it.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Stop and Smell the Roses

I was on a mission this morning to get something out of my car, which is parked in the driveway at my in-laws’ house where Rachel and I have been visiting. I woke up this morning, as I often do lately, feeling troubled. I filled my gas tank yesterday and it cost $114. This was a reminder of the horrible conflict happening in Ukraine, and how something seemingly far away has an effect on everyone, because we are all interconnected. I have a friend whose marriage is collapsing, multiple friends whose teenagers are struggling, and a family member beginning cancer treatment this week. And yet–I was stopped in my tracks by a rose, it’s glowing face turned to welcome the morning sun. I could not walk past it; it demanded attention. I needed to know if it smelled as beautiful as it looked. It did not disappoint. And then I chuckled, because stopping and smelling roses is something I often advocate, at least metaphorically, but rare is the rose in the subtropical climate where I live.

Here’s what it means to stop and smell the roses: to be arrested by that which is lovely; to think, if just for a moment, about something other than war and cancer and teen suicide. It is not to deny or ignore the loss and pain happening in and around us, but to acknowledge that even this dark and broken world there are moments of clarity and delight, things that seem absurdly out of place sometimes. It is to change our focus. Amid some hardship, we may be told to look at the “big picture,” to see a rough time as a chapter, and not the whole story. This isn’t bad advice, but we can also zoom in on the details, and know that even when everything looks grim, there is breathtaking beauty—it reminds us that there are always things for which we can be grateful.

Stopping and smelling roses becomes a kind of prayer. Despite the horrors I see on the news, despite the gaping pits of sadness around me, despite the inevitability of death: thank you! Thank you for this freshness, this loveliness, this reminder that all is not lost. Thank you for growth, for a new day, for life itself.

Stop and smell the roses. Do not be overcome by despair. As long as there is life, there is hope.

(If you have not read it, I recommend Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, a book that helped me form a gratitude habit.)

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.

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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