Category Archives: General

A Warm Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Bird Center

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

Cormorant blue eyes

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

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

Cormorant nest

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

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

Eli with kitten
Eli, 20 and independent

The Weary World Rejoices

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

Christmas Eve

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family at Christmas 2021

The Best Gift Ever*

Starbucks 1

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

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

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

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

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

Starbucks 2 (2)

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

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

Morning coffee

What We Left Behind

I was reminded recently of a time in our lives I don’t think about very often. We were once yuppies in Atlanta–we had a house with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a weekend car.

Angels Lane House Exterior
Angels Lane House Interior
Porsche

I still get teary when I think of that first home we made, the place where we became a family. It was a safe, wonderful life, but we felt unfulfilled. We ditched the American Dream for a Big Adventure, and I’m so glad we did it, though leaving that home was incredibly hard.

Eli, 2, and Aaron, 1
Eli, 2, and Aaron, 1
Christmas 2003 (baby bump is Sarah)

The following is an excerpt from Tom Neale’s Book, All in the Same Boat. It was something we framed and hung in our house–daily inspiration when we were just crazy young dreamers.

People often ask us why we gave up a comfortable home ashore, and successful careers…to move aboard and cruise. They also wonder why we did it with two babies. And then they wonder why we are still doing it, more than 17 years later, with around 5,000 miles per year passing under the keel.

The answer doesn’t lend itself to cocktail party quips.We do it because it’s fun. We do it because it’s beautiful. We do it because we love nature and the sea and the winds and the sky. We do it because it allows us to raise a family the way a family should be raised—and to know our children. We do it because it gives us more control over the way our family lives and survives, over the education and nurturing of our children, over the air we breathe. It gives us more control over our lives…

I frequently talk to people about our life on Chez Nous. They say,”Oh, I wish I could do that.”

“But you can,” I say.

“Oh, no, we don’t have the money.”

“But you probably do. It doesn’t take much money; it takes something else. It takes wanting to do it bad enough and making sacrifices; and you have to do things yourself, not pay someone else. You can do it, but you have to work hard and give up things you don’t need anyway.” Their eyes glaze, they smile wanly, and they change the subject.

But you can do it.

You can take control of your existence. You can start doing things for yourself instead of for a “system.” You can be a family instead of a splintered group. You can raise your children to understand responsibility, to know self-discipline, and to appreciate real values. And you can know the children you raise. You can breathe clean air. You can see the stars through clear skies. You can fill your days with adventure, and you can walk on white sands and share beautiful sunsets. You and your family can go cruising. But you’ve got to work at it.

Take Two delivery, May 2008
Crew of Take Two, 2008

I talked about this life we left behind, what it’s like to live aboard and cruise with children, and how we faced our fears to follow our dreams in a podcast, Living Louder with Chauncy Renay. Follow the link and have a listen! https://www.buzzsprout.com/1287464/9200894

living louder podcast

Stationary but not Stagnant

This is the longest we have ever lived in one location since we moved onto our boat. We returned from the Caribbean in July 2019, picking up a mooring in the Florida Keys with hopes of reconnecting with old friends and helping our kids figure out the next steps toward independence. And here we are, still in the Keys, doing exactly that, two years having whizzed past at record speed. For those who have been following our journey over the years, you know that we often take breathers between sailing trips to work or fix the boat. And just because we’re in one place does not mean that we’re not making progress.

Sunrise at the dock

Travel has certainly taken a back seat, though we took a month-long Thanksgiving cruise last year, buddy-boating with Jay’s Parents on Lovely Cruise. We also spent more than two-months driving across the country on a road trip this year, plus lots of small trips to visit family, something we do not take for granted after being gone for several years. Assuming humanity figures out how to deal with the novel Coronavirus (or that it runs its course), we plan to set sail again with Sam and Rachel after Eli, Aaron, and Sarah are off on their own adventures, but for now, most of our journeys are metaphysical.

Since we’ve been back, Jay has rebooted his career, working long hours on multiple projects. He somehow balances consulting, building a side business, maintaining and upgrading Take Two, and being a husband and father. It is no easy task! Take Two got a new galley last year, and a major water-tank renovation project is underway while we’re on the dock this summer. Jay is also installing an electric winch to make raising and lowering the dinghy easier.

Utah Dinosaur National Monument 1
Jay with Rachel at Dinosaur National Monument (April 2021)

I finished a book manuscript in 2020 that is in the process of being published now, with a release date of October 31, 2021. I have dreamed of publishing a book since the first grade, so when I received the first paperback copy last week, I was over the moon! Not only that, but I also recently won an International Impact Book Award (“Family” category), something I never expected to happen with my first published work. Hopefully our story will find an audience and inspire others to live life to the fullest!

First Copy!
Leaving the Safe Harbor, on pre-order at Amazon

Eli, now a young man of 20, got a job, bought a truck, and moved off the boat in January 2021. He is now working full time, living in a house with a cousin and a co-worker, and finishing his AA degree. He is still interested in a career in aviation and is in the process of finding the best way forward. Navigating the transition to adulthood in the middle of a pandemic is tricky and requires an amount of courage and flexibility. As much as we had hoped to spare our kids the angst and heart-ache of young adulthood and shorten the time spent “finding oneself,” I am beginning to think this is a vital part of growing up. As is letting go…I miss my kid every day.

Eli and Titus building a desk
Eli and his cousin (building a desk)

Aaron, nearly 19, has a job at an auto parts store, which is convenient, since he’s also fixing an old Ford truck. He took the summer session off from college classes in order to replace the transmission and do other major projects—a real-world, hands-on education! He graduates in December and is almost finished with his AA at the college of the Florida Keys. He’s hoping to head in a more technical direction, and with a shortage of skilled labor, he’ll never want for work.

Aaron, driving
Role reversal–Aaron giving me a ride

Sarah, now 17, just purchased her first vehicle, a 1997 Jeep Wrangler, which she bought with her own earnings from work at the Art Studio and a book-keeping job. She took a break from college classes last spring so she could go on the road trip, but she’s back at school and working toward a double graduation next year, getting her high school diploma and AA degree simultaneously.

Family vehicles

Sam, 14, started high school at home this year, and works odd jobs fixing/cleaning boats, including our own. He’s now over six feet tall, and still growing. Of all the kids, he probably misses our traveling lifestyle the most. He loved the road trip we took last spring, the main benefit being the improvement in his relationship with Sarah. The two of them hung out together on the slopes when we went skiing in Utah. Sam broke his arm on the last day—snowboarding at night on a well-lit terrain park! (He healed quickly and was very proud of his injury.)

Sam's broken arm 2
Broken arm, March 2021

Rachel, 10, is now in fifth grade. She made new friends last year with two other boat-kids, and that has been wonderful during COVID, when our community has experienced so much disruption. She loves music and has an amazing imagination. She took part in the kids’ summer program at the Marathon Community Theater, playing her first role on stage as a sassy cat.

Three amigas
The Three Amigas

Several times I have started (but never finished) an exhaustive blog post about our road trip in March and April, but in the words of Inigo Montoya, “There is too much. Let me sum up.” When we decided to take the trip, Eli had already moved out, and Aaron had just started a new job, so with one gone and the other keeping the boat afloat, the rest of us rented an SUV and drove eight thousand miles. We were on the road for more than two months—long enough to see some amazing sights and figure out the new family chemistry.

Arizona painted desert
Tanya and Kids, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ

We stopped to visit the crew of S/V Abby Singer in Jacksonville and get hiking boots at REI, then took a week to drive west, staying in Airbnb houses in out-of-the-way places. I reconnected with my best friend from elementary school in Little Rock, AK—someone I have known for forty years now! After a long drive across Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, we spent an afternoon at Petrified Forest National Park on our way to the Grand Canyon, where we broke in our new boots hiking the Bright Angel Trail. We enjoyed several days with old friends from S/V Jalapeño near and on Lake Powell, which was gorgeous and empty of tourists in March. We then hiked our way through the five National Parks of Utah—relishing indescribably beautiful scenery and gorgeous weather.

Bryce Canyon Fairyland Loop 4
Fairyland Trail, Bryce Canyon NP, March 2021

Taking advantage of the last of the season’s snowfall, we spent a week in Salt Lake City, getting a great deal for spring passes at Brighton to do some skiing/snowboarding/cross country skate-skiing. In early April, we stopped at Dinosaur National Monument before crossing the Rockies and heading to Estes Park. Donning micro-spikes, we hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park in the snow and ice, an unforgettable experience.

Colorado Rocky Mountain NP Dream Lake
Dream Lake, frozen, Rocky Mountain National Park

Chasing spring, we crossed the Great Plains, drove through St. Louis (saw, but didn’t stop, at the Arch), and spent an afternoon at Mammoth Cave National Park. Our last few days were passed enjoying spring days in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, where the red bud and dogwood trees were in full bloom. We reconnected with the crew of S/V September Winds, and Pam, who grew up near the park, was able to guide us through some of her favorite places. It was with full hearts that we returned to Florida, and though I enjoyed our road travels, I realized that I prefer boat life, where you can change locations without packing and unpacking!

Tennessee Smokey Mountain National Park hike 2
Sam, Great Smoky Mountains NP

 After our return from the epic road trip, we decided it was time to re-visit the pet question. Sugar and Spice had been gone for more than five years, and we really missed having boat cats. Stella and Raya, two kittens adopted from the Humane Society of Naples, came home to the boat in July and have adjusted nicely. So, now we have boat kitties again, and they bring us a lot of joy.

Boat kitties
Stella (black) and Raya (gray)

As for the future…who knows? Should we stay or should we go? We have always held onto plans lightly because tomorrow was never guaranteed. If nothing else, living on a boat has taught us that we must be flexible when things don’t go the way we expect, something for which we are very grateful. We are counting blessings in a year that’s been hard all over the world: our family and our parents are healthy, we are able to continue work and school from our boat, and we have a supportive community of friends, nearly all of whom have had a bout with COVID and recovered. We are praying for our leaders, whose decisions will have far-reaching consequences, and we are trusting that God knows what’s best, so we’ll follow His lead as we always have—whether our journeys are ones of the body or the spirit.

*For more photos, check out our Flickr photostream by clicking on any photo in the blog post. Also, find us on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

New Feline Crew for Take Two

New Kittens

We have an announcement! We brought home two kittens from the Naples Humane Society. It’s been more than 5 years since Sugar and Spice passed away, leaving us catless. I had said that I didn’t want pets until after we took our long road trip. But since we returned from our 8,000-mile jaunt out west in March/April, there’s been a lot of serious talk of kittens. When we went to Naples for the Fourth of July, we decided to stop in at the Humane Society before heading home. Turns out, it’s kitten season!

Humane Society Kitten Room
kitty closeups

These two females, named Stella (the black one with a “star” on her chest) and Raya (“stripe” in Spanish for the gray tabby), are about 2 months old. They are already well-adjusted and have found lots of interesting things to do on Take Two. We have yet to take them sailing, and I’m sure that will be another adjustment, but for now (at the dock for the summer), we are soaking up the kitten cuteness and everyone seems happy.

Kittens sunshine

Charted Waters

Eli, with contacts

I’ve been homeschooled all my life, and I’ve never had reason to complain. Before our return to the United States from our four-year jaunt to the Caribbean, I’d never even set foot in an actual school building. However, when we did return, I was finishing high school and looking to start college. There is a local college nearby, College of the Florida Keys (CFK), so my younger brother and sister and I, along with a few friends, started attending as dual enrollment students. Dual enrollment is a pretty good deal: as long as you can pass the PERT tests to show that you are ready for college-level work, Florida allows you to take classes for free. So essentially, we were finishing our high school requirements by going to college and pursuing AA degrees in general education, instead of merely seeking a high school diploma.

It looked good on paper, at least, an economic use of time and effort. It was also my first experience in an actual classroom, and it was a pleasant change. During my first semester, the two classes I took were on the small side, with maybe 30 people. Most of the students were around my age, some were dual enrollment students from the local public high school, and a few were older. We would sit at tables facing the professor and the whiteboard, notebooks out and phones away, and take notes while he talked. I found I liked the classroom setting. You could ask questions and receive a knowledgeable answer, unlike simply learning from a textbook. You could engage the professor in debate and listen to intellectual arguments. You could achieve recognition for your work.

It was also intensely uncomfortable for the first few weeks, because I’m an introvert and I don’t like large groups of people. I got the hang of it though, and life settled into a rhythm. The two classes I took held sessions early every other weekday, so it was a bit of a runaround to get to the college from our boat in the mooring field every morning. The workload was heavy, and the material challenging, but I found that I was actually enjoying school. I was getting As. However, it could have been a lot easier. I had no real idea what I was stepping into with the whole college thing. So even though it wasn’t significantly more difficult than homeschool (at first, that is), it threw me off because it was different, and it took me a while to figure everything out.

Well, I’m finishing my last year of classes, and I would say I’ve done pretty well. Recently, my English Composition II professor gave the class the assignment of creating a college handbook, something to give to new students so that they aren’t completely lost. Below you will find the link to mine (you can read it in a browser or download the PDF). It contains anything I could think of that I would have wanted to know going in. Hopefully other homeschooled high school students will find it useful.

Crossing Over

Tree Trek, Boquete

I spent more than 18 years preparing my son and myself for this crossing, but it still feels surprising. After our thanksgiving cruise, Eli packed a bag, hopped in his truck and drove to Naples to work for my brother during his break between college semesters.

Eli's truck

I thought he would be back after that, at least for a few months, but he’s decided to stay. He’s in a great place—he has a place to live, a job, classes he can take online, people to hang out with, and a support system of extended family. He was ready to go and we were ready for him to go. So why am I crying?

Tanya holding Eli in LDR

I feel the way I felt after giving birth: relieved, happy to meet the emerging person, and a little sad that the time of close companionship is at an end. All of childhood is a slow cutting of that umbilical cord.

Mountain Goat

I miss seeing Eli every day. I miss his sarcastic comments. I miss him during evening tidy-up, because he always took the initiative. I miss talking to him late at night. I miss his thoughtful comments during dinner conversations. I even miss the things that annoy me; I feel their absence. I knew it was my job to work myself out of a job. But the human heart is too small to house so many emotions—pride, joy, trepidation, sadness, longing, expectation, hope—all at once. They keep leaking out my eyes.

Volcano Descent

Take Nothing for Granted

Sunrise at Sea, Gulf of Mexico, November 2020

I’m taking nothing for granted this year. Things that would have seemed forgone conclusions in years past—hanging out with family on holidays, for example—have become special events for which we weigh risk and reward. For so many, it has been a hard year. Just like “love” and “friendship” are what we do despite differences and division, “gratitude” is what we do despite hardship. In the middle of all the losses, we look for small gains. And it gives us hope.

Despite so much bad news, we have been extremely fortunate this year. Jay has had plenty of work, we have food and shelter, we have our health, our family is intact, the older kids have been able to continue high school and college from home and take steps toward independence, and Sam and Rachel have continued with their studies and have been able to meet with a few friends despite the ongoing pandemic. I have been able to meet in person (at the beach) with my Wednesday morning Bible study—a group of true sisters for whose prayers and support I am especially thankful this year. And since returning to Florida, we have been able to spend precious time with our extended family. I have never been so aware of what—and who—is really important in my life.

I am under no illusions. Though some days I feel like the luckiest woman alive, I know how fragile life is and how quickly things can change. The ocean has certainly taught me that—one minute, you’re on the crest of a wave, scoping out the distant horizon, and the next you are plunged into the trough, surrounded by hills of foaming green water. Counting blessings is an important practice which can help us stay positive in the midst of negative circumstances—remembering and acknowledging good things can keep us afloat until we can see the horizon again.

Sunset, Gulf of Mexico, December 2020

As I approach another turn around the sun, here is my “thankful list”:

• We live in Florida, where we can be outside all year. The weather the last few weeks has been especially beautiful. Also, we survived another hurricane season in one piece!

• We have been homeschooling, working from home, and living self-sufficiently for a long time, so this year did not represent a major life shift as it did for so many. We chose to live in close quarters, and we acknowledge the privilege of that choice.

• I am thankful for the captain and crew of Take Two—for their hard work, their companionship, and the happy memories we have made together.

• We were able to go sailing in November—and experience probably the nicest overnight passage in our 12 years aboard Take Two on our way to Charlotte Harbor, where we met with Jay’s dad and stepmom, Al and Mary, and had a buddy-boating Thanksgiving. We loved our month of being neighbors with S/V Lovely Cruise.

• I was able to host my family in my home! It is a rare treat to share my floating life with my parents, in-laws, siblings, and nieces and nephews. I am so grateful for all of them.

• I got to spend time with several old friends this year—my mentor and home-school hero Mary Hines and her husband Jim (who planned our wedding and officiated, respectively, 23 years ago), my best friend from college, Heather, my friend Tarin who lived around the corner in our Clearwater neighborhood, my friend and fellow boat-mom from our first marina, Vicki (S/V Oddysea) and her niece Keren, and our friends from S/V Abby Singer, S/V Rothim, and S/V Cerca Trova.

• I even made some new friends, despite it being a year where people look at strangers like “purveyors of death” instead of “friends they haven’t met yet!” I am very thankful for the friends and neighbors aboard S/V Sputnik, S/V Must Love Dogs, S/V September Winds, S/V Tulsi, M/V Concrete Idea, S/V Watercolors, S/V Mysoun, and S/V Sweet Mary.

• We live in a quiet and relatively safe corner of the world, and we are surrounded by a wonderful tribe of homeschooling families. I am extremely grateful for this community. I can’t imagine a better place to weather these strange circumstances.

• I am so grateful for our friends in Venezuela, Providencia, and Guatemala, whose lives have been spared despite truly harrowing circumstances. We are praying for you every day.

• I am thankful for every sunrise, every sunset, every day I wake up on planet earth. I am thankful to God for the gift of life itself. May I never take it for granted and let no day go wasted.

Buddy Boat (sunset)
Buddy-boating at Thanksgiving with Al and Mary Hackney on S/V Lovely Criuse

Hurricane Plan

Hurricane Plan
Take Two tied in the mangroves for Tropical Storm Eta, Florida Keys, 2020

We have prepared for and experienced several tropical storms in the twelve years we have owned Take Two, but never have we had to enact our hurricane plan, which involves “spiderwebbing” ourselves up inside a mangrove creek. That is, not until this week, when Tropical Storm Eta passed over the Florida Keys. Eta was the 29th tropical cyclone this year and passed this way after raking over Central America and flooding parts of Panama and Guatemala that we visited (2017-2019). News coming from friends in hard-hit areas is heart-wrenching and puts our encounter with the storm in perspective. We are feeling very thankful that we received the less-intense part of the storm, and also that we were able to find a quiet, secure place to practice our better-safe-than-sorry plan.

Tied to Mangroves 1

We have weathered a few named storms on the boat; some of those stories are documented here on the blog. We have been fortunate not to have sustained any storm damage yet, both by luck and preparation, though we have lost plenty of sleep. We prepped for our first tropical storm, Fay, in 2008,  mere months after we had purchased the boat.

Prep for Tropical Storm Fay, Bradenton, Florida, 2008
Take Two at Twin Dolphin Marina, first storm prep

We were anchored during Tropical Storm Debbie in 2012, which lingered over the Tampa Bay area for five days and tested our recently-purchased Manson 80-pound anchor as well as our patience. Later that year, Superstorm Sandy passed by Ft. Pierce while we were tied to a dock there.

Anchored for Tropical Storm Debbie, Terra Ceia Bay, Florida, 2012
Take Two anchored in Terra Ceia Bay for Tropical Storm Debbie, 2012

We experienced the beginning of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 while we were at a marina in Grenada, a storm for which we considered anchoring in a nearby mangrove bay, though we ultimately decided against it. Dealing with seasonal weather patterns is simply part of living on a boat—every year we make a plan for where we’ll be from June to November, and what we’ll do if a storm threatens.

Hurricane Matthew, Grenada, 2016
Mangrove hidey-hole near Calivigny Bay, Grenada

Our best strategy for storm prep is avoidance. We prefer to be outside the “hurricane box” drawn by insurance companies, in places like the Chesapeake, Grenada, Panama, and Guatemala. When we can’t avoid the hurricane zone, which is sometimes the case since Florida is our home base, we watch the forecasts carefully and try to find a “safe” place to be in August and September especially. With every storm that presents reasonable threat, we make a plan that shifts with each change in direction and intensity. If we can’t avoid a storm, we take measures to protect the boat and her crew during the bad weather. For anything more than a Tropical Storm (winds more than 74 mph), we would put the boat in a place where we can reduce the risk of damage and then evacuate for our safety and comfort.

We were in Panama during the last storm that devastated the Florida Keys, Irma in 2017. The memory is still fresh here, and locals take hurricane warnings very seriously. Those who stayed on their boats or in their houses for that storm tell harrowing stories. The mooring balls in Boot Key Harbor, a place we have now spent three hurricane seasons, are screw-type hurricane-grade moorings, but the biggest threat is the “pinball effect” when a boat in the nearby anchorage drags anchor or if a boat breaks loose from a mooring and damages others as it drifts. While we can take proper precautions for our own boat, we can’t be sure of the security of other vessels. This is what prompted us to spend August and September on a seawall up a protected canal, and why we tied up in the mangroves for Eta.

Bow Anchor
Anchored near Sister’s Creek, tied off to mangroves, Florida Keys

One of the good things about our life afloat is the ability to move, and the self-sufficiency our boat provides. Sometimes we can get out of the way of bad weather, and sometimes we can secure our boat in a safe place despite it. We can’t eliminate risk, but we can mitigate it. Because we make our own power, we don’t have to worry about electrical outages. Because we float, we don’t have to worry about flooding. In fact, the rain provides free water as it runs from our hard top straight into our tanks.

rain catching
Catching rain from Eta

We are feeling grateful a lot these days, for blessings large and small. At a time when there is so much bad news, we don’t take health, happiness, or protection from harm for granted. Seems like for every sigh of relief, there is also a sigh of sympathy: our thoughts and prayers are with those who have suffered so much this year.