Category Archives: General

A Tough Pill to Swallow

“The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”  –Morpheus, The Matrix (Lana Wachowski)

Nature's Pharmacy
From our medicine locker: ginger, Beeyoutiful’s Ultra Immune Booster, oregano essential oil, Fever Tea (peppermint, yarrow, elder flower, elder berry)

Do you feel some days like the character Cypher in The Matrix, wishing everything could go back to normal? “Why, oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?” What wouldn’t you give to put everything back the way it was in January, at the start of 2020, when you were full of optimism and plans for the new year?

Careful…that’s a loaded question. Maybe “normal” wasn’t working as well as we thought. The suddenly-clear skies over big cities seem to agree. What is revealed by a few weeks of shut-downs is that our society, our government, our financial system, our families, our very health—these things are a lot more fragile than we like to think. They may even be built on illusions.

But unplugging everyone simultaneously is dangerous, too. Unless you were already free-thinking, self-sufficient, and counter-cultural, simply removing the construct isn’t going to make you so. In fact, it’s more likely to put you into shock. Sending children home from school if there is an abuser in the family puts them more at risk. Removing income from an impoverished family places them in an even more precarious place. Isolating addicts and mentally ill people makes them more desperate. We may be saving thousands from immediate death by pandemic at the cost of millions from slow death by pandemic response. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t obey orders put in place to protect the vulnerable or to limit spread of the disease, but we should do so carefully, considering the collateral damage. We must lay aside our rights as a free people for the good of many, but only temporarily. The founders of the American Democratic experiment feared loss of liberty more than loss of life. Do we?

I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist (unless you consider the cosmic force of evil conspiring against good). But while we’re in the middle of this pandemic, I am asking some questions: Who is in control? Who is telling the truth, and who is not? Who decides what happens next? Where is the flow of money and power? What will happen to our democratic republic if this goes on indefinitely? Looking forward to the “after” of this pandemic, I’m not feeling very optimistic. (This was supposed to be a pep talk, but I’m a little short on pep at the moment. Bear with me.)

Since this is a health crisis, I’m probably going out on a limb by stating that I do not believe that more “healthcare” is equivalent to more “health.” We have been confusing these terms for a long time, and unless we change the paradigm, we will continue to make decisions as a species that erode our future wellness and that of our planet. If we are looking for a quick fix—a shiny new medicine, a vaccine that will make all this bad go away, then we will get what we have been getting from the Pill Pushers: dependence on costly medications that treat symptoms instead of processes that promote wholeness in our bodies and minds. (And don’t forget the side effects…)

I have long been a proponent of slow food, fresh air and sunshine, exercise, quality rest, holistic remedies, good relationships, and spiritual well-being. These things require lifestyle change and sacrifice, but they result in improved overall health. I am not discounting the need for medical care or life-saving drugs; even healthy people get sick sometimes. I am not shunning expert advice about how to be well. I am not saying that those who care for patients every day are not heroic and life-saving (they are!). And I am not ignoring the needs of the most vulnerable people in our society: the poor whose choices are limited by their station (one could argue that I live well because they live in poverty—who grows my food? Who converts raw materials into my fuel? Who makes my clothes?)

I am only saying that at the top levels, the healthcare system as it exists now is based on power and money, and not compassion for the ill. No one benefits from dead people, and no one benefits from well people who don’t need a doctor. What the system needs to remain in place is a large population of people who are a little bit sick all the time. And to sustain itself, it preys on fear and ignorance. And don’t forget laziness, because, honestly, even if we know what’s best for us, it really is easier to take a pill than eat right and exercise, and natural remedies require a lot of time and diligence.

As we wait, and as we slowly crawl toward recovery, let us not forget the lessons we are learning. Ask hard questions, think deep thoughts, search out the Truth. You may find that the world as you knew it was “pulled over your eyes to blind you” (Morpheus again) and even though it’s harder to go forward with that knowledge, it’s better than selling out to go back to a false sense of security.

Cassiopeia: the Surprising Life of an Upside-Down Jellyfish

Upside Down Jellyfish

Rachel caught a Cassiopeia in a net Saturday morning and put it in a bucket. She named it “Bob” and asked if we could keep it (not forever, just for a week). I told her it wouldn’t be happy in the bucket long-term, but that she could keep it for a few hours. To identify it, we looked it up in our beautiful reference book, Caribbean Reef Life: A Field Guide for Divers by Mickey Charteris and also read a few articles on the internet. We see these Upside Down Jellyfish all the time where we are in Florida, but today, we learned some surprising facts about them:

They photosynthesize and they eat. Like their fellow invertebrates, the corals, they have symbiotic algae (Zooxanthellae) that provide a food source and color. They also have many small mouths on their “arms” and ingest zooplankton…I guess that makes them omnivores!

They reproduce sexually and asexually. The adult males release sperm into the water that fertilizes ova produced by females. The larvae float in the sea until they find a place to land, where they become polyps, which reproduce asexually by budding. The adult phase is a medusa, which can sometimes be seen swimming, bell upwards, but…

They usually live upside-down, tentacles upward in warm shallow water. They make look like plants or underwater flower bouquets (the mangrove variety looks like it has seagrass growing out of it), but don’t be deceived, they are animals. They live in shallow water so that the sunlight can reach their zooxanthellae symbiotes. They come in a surprising variety of shapes and colors.

They sleep! A 2017 study discovered that even though these simple invertebrate life forms do not have brains or neurons, they have a nocturnal sleep phase. It has the researchers at Cal Tech scratching their heads.

They produce poisonous mucous that makes you itch! We discovered this firsthand, unfortunately. A recent study finally explained why swimming near upside down jellyfish can cause an itchy rash. They release a slimy substance that contains stinging nematocysts.

Even the simplest creatures on earth are surprisingly complex. The more I learn, the more I realize I know virtually nothing.

Upside Down Jelly 1

For more information on Cassiopeia:

https://www.livescience.com/upside-down-jellyfish-make-venomous-mucus-bombs.html

https://animals.howstuffworks.com/marine-life/do-jellyfish-sleep-brain.htm

Practical Homeschool Ideas

This is a follow-up post for those who took me at my word and are interested in the nuts-and-bolts of creative homeschooling. These are real activities that I did with my 8-year-old daughter Rachel in the last few weeks. They could be altered for younger or older students, or for different areas of study. I tried to include something for every subject. They would be perfect for a unit study—all activities centered around the same topic.

For what it’s worth, I got my certificate in early childhood education from Middlebury College (class of 1997) and taught kindergarten in Dekalb County Schools (Atlanta) before I started homeschooling in 2004. While teaching in a public school helped me a lot with curriculum planning and purchasing materials, it was surprisingly poor preparation for teaching my own children at home. It’s the hardest and most rewarding job I’ve ever had. Shoot me an email if you have any questions.

Science/Writing: Acid Base Indicator/Reaction and Lab Write Up

We used red cabbage juice (which I made in my blender) as an acid base indicator to test different household substances in separate test tubes/jars: lemon juice, baking soda, dish soap, and vinegar. We observed the color change as we added each substance and determined which were acids and which bases. We then mixed the solution containing vinegar (pink) and baking soda (blue) and watched the fizzy reaction turn the liquid back to a neutral (purple). It was dramatic, and fun.

acid base montage 1

Then came the not-as-fun part: writing up the lab report. I wrote six headings (based on the scientific method) on a piece of paper and I sat with Rachel as she worked through each section. In addition to scientific inquiry, this activity offers writing skills practice in the areas of grammar, punctuation, penmanship, spelling, and vocabulary. Sometimes getting her to finish the write-up is like pulling teeth, but it’s a required part of every fun experiment we do. Here are the six headings of the lab write-up:

  1. Question
  2. Hypothesis
  3. Materials
  4. Procedure
  5. Observations
  6. Conclusion
7. Write up the lab report!

Reading: Illustrated Classics (Charlotte Mason method and coloring pages)

Rachel recently made the leap to reading chapter books independently. She likes these condensed versions of classic literature, and asked me if I could copy some of the illustrations for her to color. The Charlotte Mason method has your child retell the story (either aloud or written)…so why not have the conversations about the book over coloring?

Use illustrated classics to color your own characters from literature.

Spelling: Flashcard Memory Game

Use spelling flashcards as a memory game.

We took Rachel’s word list—22 words from Adventures in Phonics List 22 and turned them into a matching game. We wrote the words on 22 cards, illustrated them on 22 more cards, then put the words in two grids. She had to find the correct word for each picture. Other ways to use the game: put the cards in alphabetical order, match the homonyms using pictures or words only, make sentences using as many words per sentence as you can, and spell each word aloud when shown a picture.

Make illustrated flash cards for spelling word list.

Math: Skip Bo Math Facts

This is a fun card game (cousin to UNO), but we’re not playing by the rules! Rachel is working on her multiplication facts to 12, and this is a fast, fun way to do it. The wild cards (Skip Bo) have a value of 0, but every other card is taken at face value. We shuffle the big deck, split it into two piles, and I flip the cards two at a time. She calls out the product of the two factors. If she doesn’t know, or takes too long, I keep the cards to review later. If she gets the answer correct, she keeps the cards. Could be used for adding if your kid isn’t ready to multiply, or even for simplifying fractions if they’ve moved beyond multiplication.

Use Skipbo to practice math facts.

History/Geography: Map Labeling

We’ve been reading about the Age of Discovery in A Child’s History of the World, so in addition to adding a card to our illustrated deck of world history, we marked the voyages of Columbus on a map, color-coded by year. If your kid loves maps, it’s a great way to learn history. This year, we also learned about the Iditarod sled race and labeled a map of Alaska, showing the race route.

Label a map for history/geography.

 Art: Beer Box Butterflies and Beer Box Monsters

This is an activity invented by Rachel herself! She turned the inserts in Jay’s Heineken beer cases into butterflies for today’s art project, but in the past, she’s used the inserts to make monsters. They had names and she made food so we could feed them. Pretty much any cardboard in our home is fair game for repurposing. All kids need to be creative are some art supplies and a little boredom.

Recycle your beer box!
Beer Box monsters

Breaking Bread Together

Comfort Food for the Soul
Comfort Food for the Soul

How was last night different from all other nights? It was the first time in a long time that Jewish families all over the world could not gather with relatives and friends for the annual celebration of Passover. To all my Jewish friends, despite the disruption to normal life, I say “shalom, and chag Pesach sameach!”

On our boat, we are often just the seven of us at the table for Passover—we are a bit of an oddity as a Christian family celebrating the Jewish holiday instead of observing Easter. Our problem with “Christian” holidays like Easter, Christmas, and Halloween is that they are a conglomeration of pagan practices—basically, a small Jewish sect from the first century rolled like a snowball down the hill of history, collecting gods and traditions from every culture it passed through. But at its heart, Christianity is the offshoot of one of the world’s oldest religions.

While the word Easter originates with Eostre, a pagan goddess connected with the spring solstice and the season of fertility, Passover is a Biblical holiday fraught with meaning, symbolism, and fulfilled prophecy. Why shouldn’t those who claim as their Messiah (mashiach) a Jewish carpenter embrace a holiday he celebrated? As a student of the Bible, my curiosity has always drawn me toward the Jewish roots of Christianity; after all, the first students of the Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) continued to hold sacred Jewish law and practice, while adding “grace” to their understanding of “redemption” and claiming that the promises of the prophets had been fulfilled. I argue that you can’t understand the gospel of a Jewish tax-collector (Mattityahu/Matthew) or the letters of a Pharisee convert (Sha’ul/Paul) in the New Testament without attempting to grasp the history and culture of the Old Testament (the Tanach: the Law/Torah, the prophets, and the writings).

My personal connection to Passover started when I was a kid. I have always had Jewish friends and been exposed to their traditions and holy days (and did I mention the food? Who doesn’t love latkes?). I even felt solidarity with Jewish classmates required to go to religious services every Saturday—I was raised Seventh-Day Adventist. Though I no longer identify with that denomination, keeping the Sabbath (Shabbat) sunset Friday to sunset Saturday has become pivotal to my weekly routine (God said, “take a 24-hour vacation once a week” and I said, “OK, sounds great!”). I even have Jewish ancestors on my mother’s side (the Stearman family), though I’m not sure it counts for much.

I had celebrated Passover with Jewish friends, but it wasn’t until I attended a Messianic Seder at Congregation Beth Adonai in Atlanta (with Rabbi Scott Sekulow presiding) that I began to understand the significance of the holiday in relation to Holy Week. While I was working as a water aerobics instructor at the Jewish Community Center in Atlanta, I came across a children’s Seder in the library and decided to teach my young children the significance of the holiday. I combined a simplified service for families with the messianic service, and voilà—the goyim began to celebrate Passover!

Seder Plate
The Seder Plate

These are the main elements of Passover, and how they relate to Christianity:

Slavery: The twelve tribes of Israel were once slaves in Egypt, but God promised to free them and bring the people back to the land he had promised them (Exodus 6:6-8). Humans have a natural tendency towards sin (an archery term that means “to miss the mark”) or the breaking of God’s laws, a moral code for human behavior. He gave the Ten Commandments to Moshe (Moses) as basic guidelines for loving God and loving one’s neighbor—but without divine help, we humans are hopelessly inept at keeping them. God’s promise in prophetic writings to send a savior—Yeshua—extends the hope of freedom to everyone, not just the descendants of Israelite slaves. “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Gospel of John 8:34-36).

Miracles: This part requires some willing suspension of disbelief (a.k.a. faith). The story of the Exodus is recounted during the meal, the way God commissioned Moses from a burning bush, the way He sent ten plagues to convince Pharaoh to give up his cheap labor force, the way He brought the Israelites out of Egypt and to the shore of the Red Sea, and the way He saved them from Pharaoh’s army (after he regretted freeing his cheap labor force and went after them). The ministry of Yeshua is reliant on miracles as well: on his healings, his control over the elements, his ability to reverse death: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Gospel of Matthew 11:5).

Sacrifice: The Passover lamb forms the centerpiece of the meal (or, in our case this year, the Passover chicken…). At the time of the exodus each household slaughtered a lamb and marked their doorway with its blood, as a sign of faith so that the Angel of Death (the tenth plague) would “pass over” their home. In every house without this mark, the first-born died (chiefly among the Egyptians, thus prompting them to let the people go). In Christian observance, Yeshua himself is the Passover lamb, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Gospel of John 1:29). His sacrifice is the once-and-for-all payment for the collective mistakes of humanity, his blood spilled so that God’s wrath at our wrong-doing would “pass over” us. This is how the most degenerate among us can find redemption and relationship with God (though not necessarily release from legal and relational consequences). This “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Gospel of Matthew 26:28) is symbolized during the meal as wine.

Deliverance: On Passover, we eat unleavened bread to commemorate the Israelites coming out of Egypt in such haste that they didn’t have time to let their dough rise. It is eaten with bitter herbs and a sweet mixture of apples and honey to symbolize the bitterness of slavery sweetened by the hope of redemption. In Messianic traditions it is said that the matzo, the traditional flatbread eaten during the meal, is bruised, striped, and pierced, like Yeshua at his death: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). This is the bread that was broken at the last Passover which Yeshua shared with his disciples, a symbol of his sacrifice now celebrated as the rite of communion: “this is my body broken for you” (Gospel of Luke 22:19, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 11:24). There are three matzos on the plate; a Christian interpretation is that they symbolize the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, with the middle matzo broken—part of it hidden away, and brought back at the end of the meal. It is the “afikomen,” Greek for “that which is to come,” reminiscent of the way that Yeshua was broken, resurrected, and returned to the Father, where he awaits the “end of the age”(Gospel of Matthew 24) to come back and usher in a kingdom of peace without end.

The first night of Passover is an evening of story-telling, laughter (the Seder requires the drinking of four glasses of wine…), delicious food, and good news (something we could really use at the moment). Paul sums up a gospel truth hidden in the Passover in a letter to the Romans, “For it makes no difference whether one is a Jew or a Gentile, since all have sinned and come short of earning God’s praise. By God’s grace, without earning it, all are granted the status of being considered righteous before him, through the act redeeming us from our enslavement to sin that was accomplished by the Messiah Yeshua.” (The Complete Jewish Bible, Romans 3:22-24).

Resources:

For the kids, Dreamworks’ Prince of Egypt is a succinct retelling of the Exodus story.

For more about the history of Easter: https://theconversation.com/why-easter-is-called-easter-and-other-little-known-facts-about-the-holiday-75025

For more about a Messianic celebration of Passover:: https://www.jewishvoice.org/read/blog/how-celebrate-passover-messianic-jew

For more about how archeology supports a historical exodus from Egypt: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/exodus/exodus-fact-or-fiction/

Twelve Years of Take Two

We bought Take Two in Fort Lauderdale twelve years ago this week. We had gone to look at her in December of 2007. These are photos from the time of purchase compared to now…we made our floating house a home! I’m feeling incredibly grateful for twelve years of memories, for the way living on a boat has changed us, and for our family of adventurous kids.

Cockpit Then and Now
Cockpit Then and Now
Galley then and now
Galley Then and Now
Salon Then and Now
Salon Then and Now
Eli Then and Now
Eli (6) the first day we saw the boat, December 2007 and
Eli (almost 18) the day we returned from the Caribbean 2019
Crew 2008 and 2020
The crew of Take Two 2008 and 2020
Bottom L-R: Rachel (8), Sarah (15), Aaron (17), Sam (13), and Eli (18)
The Original Ship's Bell
One thing that hasn’t changed: the original ship’s bell
TAKE TWO OFF T’WAAR
BOUWJAAR 1991

Plastic Surgery

Note: I’ve written about this before, but prompted by friends who are participating in Plastic Free February, I’m making some practical suggestions for reducing our use of plastic, especially the single-use variety.

Trash Island

Living on the ocean, we see firsthand the accumulation of plastic waste. Shorelines on windward sides of islands can be completely buried under a confetti of plastic bottles, toys, fishing gear, shoes, forks, packaging and other waste. We have always tried to do our part, but it is hard to live without compromise. So often, our choices are limited by what’s available, by our budget, and by the time and energy we possess to do things the old-fashioned way.

IMG_1888

For example, when the kids were younger, I used to bake everything my family consumed from scratch, from wheat berries that I ground myself. They came in five-gallon pails that were re-purposed after they were empty. So we had bread without plastic packaging. But right now we’re on a demanding school-work-activity schedule with four teenagers and an 8-year-old on the boat, which is moored in the Florida Keys. I am unable to keep up with the consumption—teenage boys eat a lot and I am not home long enough between drop-offs and pick-ups to prepare everything from scratch. So store-bought bread in a plastic bag has replaced home-made bread. We used to be in a veggie co-op in the Tampa Bay area, where we got a box of produce each week. But now we live on an island where the choices are limited. Even though I bring my washable mesh bags to the store to buy produce, a lot of our food—even the organic varieties—is packed in plastic.

I taught my children never to walk by a piece of trash, but to pick it up and dispose of it properly, as part of a bigger philosophy: leave the world better than you found it. But what can we do when it accumulates faster than we can clean it up? How can we prevent its ending up in the environment in the first place?

Trash Salad

We must be savvy about our storage and waste because we live on a boat, but a lot of our tips and tricks could be tried anywhere! Here are some ideas that we have implemented:

  • We drink tea or fresh juices made in a washable pitcher instead of buying soft drinks. We never use straws. We carry our own water in stainless steel bottles. We vote with our dollars and send the message to bottlers that we are not interested in their products.
  • We purchase a single, natural, multi-purpose cleaning product in a gallon-size container (ECO-Orange is a good one) and dilute it in our own re-usable spray bottles. I have even experimented with making my own laundry soap. Cleaners are often made mostly of water and use a lot of packaging, in addition to being toxic.
  • We carry cloth bags to the store and use washable mesh bags for produce (Purifyou).
  • We store food in washable silicone bags instead of single-use plastic bags (Rezip and Sungwoo).
Plastic Alternatives
  • All our babies wore cloth diapers. Because I was a stay-at-home-mom, I had the time and energy to wash and hang them. I’ve used the Bummis and the Indisposables brands.
  • We don’t use disposable razors.
  • We wear sun-protective clothing instead of buying sunscreen.
  • We don’t shop at dollar stores. Almost everything in there will end up in a landfill.
  • We store food in washable glass jars (which can be vacuum-sealed with the Foodsaver jar attachment) and Pyrex Snap-ware containers.
Mason Jars
  • We use washable shop towels instead of paper towels as much as possible. That saves paper use as well as plastic packaging.
  • We buy bulk when it’s available. I buy eggs in biodegradable packaging instead of in plastic.
  • We take our own dishes and cutlery to picnics and potlucks.
Portable Picnic
  • When our kids were little, they played with wooden blocks, trains, and dolls with magnetic clothes instead of plastic toys. We try to use things made from natural materials/renewable resources as much as possible.
  • We make as much of our food from scratch as we can. Convenience foods=plastic packaging.
  • As much as possible, we try to collect verbs instead of nouns—spending money to make memories instead of buying stuff.

Adventures in Landlubbing

I’m dusting off the blog after a short leave of absence. Let’s just say that I’ve been learning how to stay busy without becoming frenzied…and I haven’t figured it out yet! The first semester of community college classes just ended and we’re trying to catch our collective breath. We’ve never been on a schedule like this before, and I’m realizing what a blessing that was. If I try to explain to a landlubber how crazy I feel running around like a chicken with its head cut off, they don’t understand. I feel foolish seeking sympathy for the normal pace after homeschooling in our swimsuits while anchored off a palm-fringed beach. I’m realizing how lucky we were to have had that time as a family to explore life and learning at our own pace.

But the new adventures are good, too, if a little dizzying. Three mornings a week, I’ve been getting up early, taking the three oldest kids to school (or, technically, they take turns taking me as I act as driving coach), then stopping at the grocery store or coffee shop for a writer’s meeting or taking a yoga class before heading back to the boat to do an hour or two of school with Rachel and check in on Sam, who’s doing most of his work independently. I then go back out to pick the kids up. After lunch, it’s more school, another trip ashore to go to the park, do laundry, take kids to youth group, music practice, or basketball practice, and then home for dinner and bed. On Tuesdays, I teach a high school U.S. Government class at the library before homeschool P.E. and then basketball practice in the evening. The kids all have friends ashore, too, so there are random drop-offs and pick-ups which add busyness. Aaron has a job but gets himself there and back on his bike. Eli has a job lined up for the spring and is about to get his driver’s license. He test-drove affordable used cars at CarMax with his grandma during Thanksgiving break; a second driver and vehicle will hopefully reduce my taxi-driving.

Deon comes to visit
Deon on the morning school-boat

We’ve also had a visit from our South African friend, Deon, a boat kid we met in the Rio Dulce last year. He came for the last week of November, and we tried to give him the whole American Experience. We took him out for BBQ on the way home from Ft. Lauderdale airport, drove to Key West for the Conch Train Tour…

Conch Train, Key West with Deon
Conch Train Tour

and sunset at Mallory Square (where he was pulled out of the audience to help in the final act of a street acrobat’s performance!)…

Mallory Square, Key West
Street Performer, Mallory Square

and did a road trip to Everglades National Park…

Everglades National Park, Deon
Deon at Everglades National Park

and on to Clearwater for Thanksgiving with the grandparents. It was a fun week, and he seemed to fit right into our family.

Family Thanksgiving with Ames and Allison
Thanksgiving with Jay’s folks, Ames and Allison

The other reason I’ve taken a break from blogging is that I’m completing a manuscript for a book, a project I’ve been slowly working on for the last couple of years. I started partnering with my friend, Summer Delaine, who is also writing a book, and we meet once a week to set goals, discuss our work, read and edit each other’s work, and keep each other accountable. I had set a deadline to finish the manuscript by the end of 2019, and I am three weeks and one chapter from meeting it. So the combination of kids’ schedules, normal household routines, and writing means that the blog gets relegated to the back-burner. And I’m not apologizing for that.

I write for the joy of writing, because I can’t help it. I write for my family, so we will have a record of our adventures. I write for our extended family and distant friends, so they’ll know what’s going on with us. And I write for anyone else who might benefit from a vicarious sailing journey. We don’t keep track of our readers, we don’t read comments, and we don’t advertise our blog in any way. We don’t use Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram. We’re hopelessly old-fashioned. If you are reading this right now, you are probably related to us, received a boat card and were curious enough to look up this blog, or accidentally found us using a google search. But thank you for being there, anyway, whoever-you-are. It means a lot when you email and tell me that you appreciated something one of us wrote. When I finish the book, I hope you’ll read it. I’ll be posting a sneak-peek soon…

Life is Beautiful

I am sitting in the airport in Guatemala City. It’s 3:30 in the morning and the McDonald’s in the food court is beginning to show signs of life, though it may be hours before the & Café opens (“bring home the sabor de Guatemala!”)and I can get a cup of locally-grown coffee. I have never been so early for a flight, but in order to get an extra day with friends in Rio Dulce and avoid the bus-hotel-taxi hassle in the city, I opted to hire a bus privado for a middle-of-the-night ride to the airport. During the day, with traffic or construction delays added in, it can take anywhere from 6 to 10 hours. Tonight, it took less than 5, though I don’t remember any of it, since I was asleep, sprawled out across a row of seats in the back. My flight doesn’t depart for another 8 hours but waiting to drive a few hours later would have meant a risk of missing the plane.

I just opened my friend Hagit’s kind parting gift, which made me cry, of course. It was a beautiful purse made from typical Guatemalan fabric, and inside, a folio of photographs—memories to take with me back to Florida.

Tanya and Hagit, Mar Marina
Waiting for a baby…

Over the course of the last two weeks, she has folded me into her family, and I have become something more than the friend I was when I arrived. I came to help her with the birth of her fourth child, her first son, to stand in the place of her mother and sister who could not come from Israel. My last evening was spent celebrating Rosh Hoshana over apple crisp with the family and cruising friends while I held a sleeping newborn. It was a wonderful way to end the visit.

Tanya holding Cayo
Cayo, 5 days old

Planning a trip around the arrival of a baby, leaving my family for two weeks, and traveling from the Florida Keys to Rio Dulce, Guatemala: all these things are difficult. Without Jay’s willingness to take over school schedules and meal prep and drive me to and from Ft. Lauderdale, it would have been impossible. I arrived on the due date and then waited a week until little Cayo decided to join us. In between helping cook and clean, going to the doctor’s, and taking care of my sisterly duties (including being there for the birth), I was able to catch up with Wendel (and his sister Vivian), from my English class…

Tanya and Wendel (at work)
Wendel at work

Go to Anna’s ukulele class—she is a Brazilian sailor who used to be in my ukulele class…

Ukulele Class with Ana
Ana, 2nd to my left

Shop in town and play dominoes with Darelle, my South African friend…

Deon, Darelle and Tanya in Fronteras
Darelle and her son Deon of S/V Dreamcatcher II

Go visit Jerry and Griselda and the 10 kids at Casa Agua Azul…

Kids at Casa Agua Azul
Watermelon smiles

And hang out with Rudolph and Elisa of S/V Tulum III, cruising friends we met in Colombia a couple years ago. We also celebrated the 16th birthday of Hagit’s oldest daughter, Naomi, two days before her baby brother was born.

We went to the clinic in Morales a week after the due date. We took a colectivo, an inexpensive 45-minute ride on a mini-bus crammed full of people and air-conditioned by the wind. On the way, we noticed a slow-down as we passed through a village. Bystanders crowded both sides of the road, police were directing traffic, and there was a body lying on the sidewalk, half-covered by a sheet. We thought maybe there had been an accident. We proceeded to the clinic, where Doctora Ana Ruth checked the baby’s heartbeat, used the ultrasound to check amniotic fluid levels, and talked to Hagit about things she could do to speed the process along. I was there, in part, to translate. Dra. Ruth had good news: Hagit was dilated 5cm already, and the baby could arrive at any moment. She said she expected to see us again very soon, and we left. After lunch and cool drinks, we hopped back on a colectivo headed toward Rio Dulce.

Hagit and Peter
Lunchtime in Morales

Immediately, I knew this was going to be an adventure. Hagit and I squished into the front seat, where there was room for her belly, but the passenger door wouldn’t stay closed. Actually, I don’t think any door on that ancient Toyota van closed properly. Hagit took one look at the driver and whispered that she thought he had a crazy look in his eyes. And then I overheard the chatter between driver and money-collector. The road was closed because of a shooting (remember the dead guy?) and the bus was running off-schedule because they had to take the long-way-round. He began to make a series of rapid, jerky turns around sharp corners, bouncing over tumulos (speed bumps), and passing cars in narrow lanes. We implored him in Spanish to slow down—unless he wanted a baby born on his bus! When that didn’t help, we asked to be let off at the next esquina. Not wanting to lose the fare, he promised that we were almost out of the city and the ride would be smoother. Against our better judgment, we stayed on.

I have been on a lot of beat-up buses in the Caribbean with a lot of crazy drivers, but until that day, I had never really thought I might die on one. I was praying like crazy, trying to do yoga breathing to stay calm, and holding onto Hagit, who had a death-grip on the bar above the passenger seat. I suddenly found the situation comical and started to laugh hysterically—how did we get here, an American woman and her pregnant Israeli friend, hurtling down a pot-holed road past cattle trucks in Guatemala? Hagit joined me in my hysteria. And then something went clunk and fell onto the road behind us. The driver was forced to slow down. The chatter changed from how late they would be to la cruce (the turn to Rio) to how they were going to get the passengers onto other buses, and where they should stop. I breathed a prayer of thanks as the bus slowed dramatically. Thankfully, the driver chose a place to stop where we could sit in the shade. We clambered out of the front seat and waited for Peter to get out of the back. He had to climb out over a guy who had slept through the whole thing.

And, in the end, we did not die in a mini-bus on the road to Rio Dulce, and I did not have to help deliver a baby on said bus, or on the side of the road either (with nothing but hand sanitizer, a bottle of water, a clean shirt, and a pocket knife). We had time to make it home on another passing colectivo, take a shower, have something to eat, and pack a bag before heading back to the clinic that night. Perhaps that nerve-wracking ride was the straw that broke the camel’s back— a healthy 8-lb boy named Cayo was born at 2:30 in the morning after a 3-hour natural labor.

Healthy baby boy: Cayo

Having done it myself a few times, I can say with authority that Hagit is a childbirth champion. I accompanied the nurse when the tiny new human got his first bath and had the privilege of handing him to his happy mama. It was all well worth the wait.

Tanya and Hagit, bringing Cayo home
Bringing baby Cayo home
Family on S/V Rothim
Roth Family of S/V Rothim

The sky is beginning to pale behind the volcano, the coffee shop is opening, and in a few hours I will be returning to my home and family, heartful and happy.

Keeping Cool in the Keys: Summer Heat Survival Guide

It’s summer in Florida, and that means heat and humidity. Most (normal) people survive by turning on their air conditioners and hiding from the great outdoors. I don’t blame them…it is HOT! But here on a boat in a mooring field in the Florida Keys, we are intentionally living a little more simply, a little less expensively, and a little more closely to Nature.

Bobby the Viking
Summer 2010 in Boot Key Harbor, Bobby the Viking

In the summer of 2010, we spent our first season in Marathon, and didn’t have the boat set up to handle the heat. Boot Key Harbor is notoriously murkey, warm, and full of moving dinghies and fishing boats, making it unswimmable. Afternoon thunderstorms meant that we couldn’t always have the boat open, so it would get downright steamy inside. That summer was particularly bad for mosquitoes as well. We quickly developed some coping strategies.

We had a large blue canvas rectangle, which we tied tent-style over the trampolines, ice, and a blender. I would make frozen lemonade every afternoon, take a good read-aloud selection, corral the kids, and we would have a siesta out under the tent until the heat abated. Every night, we’d give the kids a cool-down shower in the cockpit and send them to bed wet, with a fan over each bed. We would seek cool places, like local restaurants with pools, the beach for a swim, or the air-conditioned library. Jay made some Velcro-on bug screens, and we bought wind-scoops and better fans. By the next season we spent in the Keys, we had shade awnings for the decks and cockpit.

Family
Boot Key Harbor 2013, shade awnings and cockpit shades
Tent Nap
Breeze Booster and Window Shades (background)
Shade Awnings
Bird’s Eye View of Shade Awnings and Breeze Boosters

The summer of 2015, before leaving for the Caribbean, we got really smart: we stayed at Marathon Marina and plugged in and turned on the new air conditioners Jay had installed. We were there between May and November, the hottest part of the year, but that was expensive, and we felt a little trapped, both inside the boat, and tied to a dock.

Take Two Marathon Marina 2015
Tied Down, Buttoned Up

This summer, in addition to all those stay-cool strategies, I made a list of menu items that don’t involve heating up the galley of Take Two. We’re also testing a single-burner induction plate that works with our cast-iron skillets, Oxo teakettle, and Kuhn-Rikon pressure cooker. It takes electric power, but doesn’t create as much heat as cooking over gas. And because it’s portable, we can cook in the breezy cockpit.

Even with these coping mechanisms, we sweat. If there’s a breeze, it’s more comfortable. But when the wind dies, the perceived temperature goes up and we find it hard to concentrate on school and work. Sleep is disrupted and tempers flare. Unless we decide to head to a marina, our only option is to start up the generator and run the air conditioner. This is a real luxury, as many boats have neither. On hot, still evenings, we can close up, run the air full-bore, then turn everything off just before bed. If we wake up hot, we open the hatches above the beds and usually it’s cooled down outside. The exception, of course, is when it’s raining. Not much we can do about that, but I guess that’s what it means to live closer to Nature!

Marathon Sunrise
Boot Key Harbor, 2010

Seven strategies for staying cool

  1. Shade awnings: Phoenix Square Sun Shade, from Amazon
  2. Window Covers/Cockpit Enclosure: Sunbrella Phiftertex/Phifertex-Plus mesh
  3. Wind Scoops: free-standing Breeze Boosters
  4. Good Fans: Fully adjustable Caframo 3-speed fans with timers
  5. Ice/Blender: Vitamix and Oxo silicone-covered stackable ice cube trays
  6. Generator and A/C
  7. Go to the library, find a place to swim

Summer Menu for a Cool Galley

  1. Grilled Cheeseburgers, with cole slaw and canned baked beans on the side
  2. Italian Pasta Salad, with tri-color rotini, broccoli, olives, and salami
  3. Shish Kebabs, with steak-mushrooms-veggies and chicken- pineapple-veggies
  4. Barbecued Chicken Salad Wraps
  5. Grilled Italian Sausages with green peppers and onions (in the grill basket)
  6. Tuna Pasta Salad
  7. Make-your-own Sub Sandwiches
  8. Black-and-Blue Steak Salad with blueberries, walnuts, blue cheese, & balsamic dressing
  9. Grilled Pizzas
  10. Make-your-own Chef Salad with ham, turkey, cheese, egg, cucumber and tomato
  11. Barbecued Chicken Legs with Caribbean Slaw
  12. Make-your-own Taco Salad
  13. Grilled Ribs with cold sides
  14. Fried Chicken, take-out with cold sides
  15. No-Press Cuban Sandwiches
  16. Chinese Chicken Salad with snow peas, red cabbage, carrots, and mandarin oranges
  17. Grilled Chicken and Portobellos with Marsala wine sauce and creamy parmesan orzo
  18. Fried Chicken Salad, with egg, tomato, and honey-mustard dressing
  19. Grilled Fish Tacos with chipotle sour cream and cabbage in wheat tortillas
  20. Sushi Night! Take-out Japanese or Local Ceviche
Caribbean Slaw
Caribbean Slaw

Head Out on the Highway, Looking for Adventure

Q: What’s scarier than teaching your teenager to drive a car?

A: Teaching three teenagers to drive at the same time!

Eli Driving 1
Eli Practicing at Lego Land
Eli Driving 2019
Eli practicing in a local neighborhood
Aaron Driving 1
Aaron Hot-Dogging It at Lego Land
Aaron Driving 2019
Aaron Playing It Cool in a Parking Lot
Sarah Driving 1
Sarah at a Lego Land Intersection
Sarah Driving 2019
Sarah Parking at IHOP

We’ve merged into the fast lane. Having arrived in the U.S. one month ago, we’ve made a lot of progress toward re-integration. Eli turned 18 and registered to vote. The three teenagers got phones and learner’s permits. At the end of the month, assuming they’ve jumped through all the right hoops, they’ll start their first dual enrollment classes at the local community college. Eli and Aaron are dipping their toes into the wide world of work this week as they join a construction crew with our friend Andrew (remember the captain of s/v Abby Singer?). Sarah sailed in her first regatta as crew on a Hobie 16. Sam is taking his Florida boater’s safety course to operate the dinghy solo. And Rachel checked out her first library books!

I’ve joined a Wednesday-morning Bible study, a yoga class, and committed to teaching high-school home-schoolers a U.S. Government class this fall. Jay has been fixing broken things on our boat now that we have access to parts and shipping, and working like crazy using unlimited high-speed internet. We’ve been having weekly date-nights to organize all these new adventures and support each other so that we’re ready for whatever comes our way.