This month marks four years since we returned to the Florida Keys from our circle of the Caribbean. Had you told me in July of 2019 that we would still be in Marathon in 2023, I would have laughed, and then promptly turned the boat around. We didn’t buy this boat to sit in one place; at the same time, we recognize that there are seasons of life when you need to hold still. Shortly after arrival, Jay and I went on a date to the Barracuda Grill, a place we enjoy, not just for the good food, but, oddly enough, for the paper-covered tablecloths. When you walk in, the host hands you a menu and a pack of crayons at the door and then you can go to town making table graffiti or sketching out life plans while you wait for your appetizers.
We were feeling overwhelmed with the decisions facing us. We had just accomplished a major life goal (to go cruising with our kids in the Caribbean), but we had teenagers and aging parents with needs that superseded our desire to keep traveling. So we sat with our crayons in three colors and sketched out what we thought the next few years might hold, and what direction we might head.
The questions: Where should we settle to give the kids some consistency and the teenagers a stable platform from which to launch? Do we need to be geographically closer to our parents? How are we going to afford groceries? (After living in Central America for two years, coming back to Florida instantly doubled our grocery bill.) What are our family goals, career goals, and personal goals? We wrote them down in three color-coded columns: One Year, Five Years, Ten Years.
With Eli turning 18 later that month, we knew he would probably be out of the house by the end of one year. Aaron, almost 17, and Sarah, having just turned 15, would be independent at the end of five years. All three would need their drivers’ licenses and we would want to find another vehicle or three. They also had education goals beyond our homeschool that would demand immediate attention to take advantage of Florida’s free dual enrollment program at the College of the Florida Keys. Sam and Rachel would need a homeschool community and activities to find new friends. Jay needed to rebuild his consulting career in the short term, but for the long haul, he wanted to grow his side business so that it provided recurring income to set him free from the “time-is-money” model. In addition to homeschooling the kids, I wanted to write and publish a book.
Our boat needed some immediate repairs, but there were other projects we had been putting off, like repairing and repainting decks, redoing the water tanks, upgrading the galley, and buying new sails, which would take longer than one year to complete. Our parents, in their seventies, would be needing more support from family, and we wanted to make some memories with them before we had to address end-of-life issues. At the same time, we didn’t want to abandon travel, so we wrote down “sail to the Bahamas” and “family road trip out west.” All of these goals went onto the one-five-ten chart on the tabletop. By the end of the evening, we had visualized a few possible scenarios for the foreseeable future.
And here we find ourselves, four years into our mid-term plans. So, how did we do? In the first year, we settled in Marathon, reconnected with old friends, and rebooted Jay’s career. Our teenagers got drivers’ licenses, jobs, and started college classes. Our oldest son, Eli, finished high school during the pandemic, got his AA degree, and took flying lessons. He bought his own truck, and made an exit plan. We replaced the galley appliances and countertops in a 2020 galley refit, and even squeezed in a Thanksgiving/Christmas buddy-boating cruise with Jay’s parents before Eli left for a job at my brother’s painting company and a rental home with his cousins on the mainland.
Aaron graduated high school a year later, about halfway through an AA degree before deciding he wanted to go to technical school. He acquired a mid-90s Ford F150 that he slowly rebuilt, buying parts with his employee discount at Advance Auto Parts. He moved to Orlando and now works at Sunbelt rentals, where he occasionally gets to work on heavy equipment. He will graduate this August and then head to Jacksonville to train and work for Mercedes Benz for a couple of years. He’s very happy with the choices he’s made and we are pleased to see him fulfilling his own short- and long-term goals.
We took an 8000-mile road trip with the three youngest kids in 2021, one I had always dreamed about, allowing us to hike the Grand Canyon, all five National Parks in Utah, and Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as doing some spring skiing in western powder, catching up with old friends along the way, and even seeing springtime in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the way back to Florida.
Sarah spent six months at a dude ranch in Colorado before graduating in December of 2022—receiving her high school diploma and AA degree simultaneously. She bought a 1997 Jeep Wrangler which she works on herself, and had a job helping a fellow homeschool family successfully open an ice cream shop. She’s considering joining the Coast Guard, which will help her further her career and education goals, and likely take her back out on the water.
Sam and Rachel are still homeschooling, pursuing their own activities like competitive Jiu Jitsu and dance, and enjoying time with friends in the Keys. Sam just returned from a mission trip to Cuba, where he had an opportunity to use the Spanish he learned in Central America. We’re watching him grow from a boy to a man; he’s now almost as tall as Jay. By the end of our ten-year goal post, our sailing crew will have shrunk from seven to three, and, for the first time, we will have empty cabins on Take Two.
After Jay rebuilt his consulting career, he decided to take a break to make his side business his main gig, something he hopes will help us plan for further travels and, if we’re lucky, retirement. I wrote and published my first book, and am about 25% into a second manuscript, with a third outlined and ready when the next book is finished. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in Greece last year, a trip of a lifetime.
Take Two is doing well, too, with new galley appliances and countertops, new starboard water tanks, repaired bulkheads in the starboard head, repaired and repainted cabin top, and deck work in progress. The dinghy got a new electric winch to make lifting it easier, and discussions about going sailing have started up again, with a trip to the Dry Tortugas planned for this summer, Lord willing and barring hurricanes.
As we suspected, our parents are happy to have us closer for this stage of life. I am so happy I got to spend the last year of Mary’s life making good memories with her, and that I was there to hold her hand at the end of her journey last October. My mom also had a medical emergency last year which prompted some changes to her living situation, and I’ve been glad I could just hop in the car, drive over a few bridges and across the Everglades to be there when I’m needed to help out and spend time with family. And I’m always relieved to return to our little island home, just far enough from civilization, but not too far. We have a wonderful community of friends around us, and we are seeing the benefits of our intentional dreaming and scheming, with the one-year goals checked off, the five-year goals almost complete, and the ten-year goals a little clearer. It reminds me of the saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…”