Absinthe, early auto racing, and John D. Rockefeller’s house

Our family loves serendipity, and today was quite full of it.

We had to drive down to Ormond Beach this morning to check out a posh place for boarding dogs. We are planning to drive down to Fort Lauderdale for the International Boat Show later this month (a weekend full of yachts!) and we can’t take our Jack Russell terrier, Sherlock, with us. In a fit of guilt, we found a puppy amusement park to put him up in.

It’s a little amazing to see what pet hotels have become. This place has private indoor-outdoor suites for dogs, with a swimming pool in the shape of a giant bone and several puppy playgrounds that look like agility courses. Some of the rooms are equipped with webcams so concerned parents can check in on their furbabies anytime they like. The suites also have air conditioning, televisions (so your dog can watch Animal Planet), grooming appointments, daily bowls of ice cream and other treats. Frankly, Sherlock might not want to come home.

The Rose Villa Restaurant in Ormond Beach

We rarely end up in Ormond Beach during the day, so we decided to check out a restaurant I have been wanting to eat at for weeks. The Rose Villa restaurant is in a Victorian house off of Granada Boulevard that was built in the 1800s. It became a bed and breakfast in 1901 and was an adjunct facility for famed industrialist Henry Flagler’s luxury hotel. Celebrity guests who wanted more privacy than Flagler’s hotel could provide stayed there.

The Rose Villa now.
The Rose Villa a century ago.

The walls of the restaurant are decorated with portraits of all of the famous Gilded Age personalities who frequented Ormond Beach, including Flagler, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, Willie Vanderbilt, Glenn Curtiss, Will Rogers, Alexander Winton, Barney Oldfield, Sir Malcolm Campbell, Harrison Olds, and Fred Marriott.

You can always tell an interior from one of Flagler’s establishments. This place has some of the same Charles Lewis Tiffany flourishes that you see at Flagler College or the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine.

One of the dining rooms of the Rose Villa.
A portrait of the great Henry Flagler.
John D. Rockefeller, Flagler’s business partner.

A Digression on the Great Industrialists of the Gilded Age and Florida History

Because the Gilded Age is my favorite period of history, I love Florida history. And I have a minor obsession with Henry Flagler.

Henry Flagler was sort of the Donald Trump of his era, with a similar affection for Florida real estate. Flagler was born into poverty and started his life off as a commodities trader (before commodities trading was cool). Along with Rockefeller, Flagler ultimately founded the Standard Oil Company, America’s first true corporation and the largest monopoly the world had ever seen. Flagler and Rockefeller were not immediately successful, as there was not yet an immense market for oil and petroleum products in the mid-19th century. Then the automobile was invented, and the two men became far and away the richest men on the planet. Rockefeller had so much money later in life that he passed out money to strangers and children he met on the street (and, of course, became a legendary philanthropist). This made him very popular with the kids in Ormond Beach. If you ran into Rockefeller or were his caddy on the golf course, you inevitably got a dime.

Nowadays, corporations have platoons of pathetically overpaid lawyers producing documents the size of phone books to manage legal concerns. Standard Oil’s articles of incorporation fit on a single sheet of paper. From this simple piece of paper, a multinational financial empire was constructed.

Standard Oil Company articles of incorporation.

Flagler literally built the State of Florida after the Civil War, linking a series of luxury hotels from St. Augustine down to the Keys with his railroad and “bridge over the sea.” Then he brought down every filthy rich friend he had from the north, and their friends, and their friends’ friends, and their staff, and their interior designers, and their architects. Without his vision, Florida would still be a tangle of jungle with some burnt-out sugar plantations. Flagler was seemingly a swell boss to have, too. He paid relatively high wages to the men willing to work on exceptionally rough construction sites – with sometimes brutal tropical weather and mosquitoes – many of them the descendants of freed slaves, and provided them with housing and food.

Every major city you see on the eastern coast of Florida exists because Flagler was able to recruit both the labor and consumers necessary to have a sustainable economy. He is truly a giant in American history.

Like Trump, Flagler was a lightning rod for controversy and jealousy, and he was a near-constant topic for the hyenas in the media (who were just as bad then as they are now) during his lifetime. Flagler threw over-the-top parties designed to make his self-righteous critics clutch their pearls. He’d make the world’s greatest industrialists dress in drag, for example. Flagler was hauled before Congress a billion times and he did not give two shits about it. The hyenas were going to hyena, but they’d go home to crappy New York apartments and he’d take his personal train to paradise. That was his attitude.

It’s actually something of a useful lesson for current events: History remembers Henry Flagler. It doesn’t remember the people who wrote about him. I’m sure Trump wakes up and reminds himself of this every day.

(Rockefeller, of course, was the diametrical opposite of Flagler, which is probably why they made great business partners. He kept notebook after notebook full of every penny he spent, how much money he gave away, every tiny little thing he did each day and how he could improve. Rockefeller was consumed with self-improvement and extremely religious. It was like he planned to audit St. Peter’s books when he reached the pearly gates. Well, my notes say…)

A Digression on Primitive Auto Racing (That Was Still Freaking Terrifying)

Unsurprisingly, the oil barons’ best friends were automobile industry tycoons. It was this fraternity who brought the sport of automobile racing to the Daytona area. They built the first generations of supercars for giggles, racing them on the packed white sands of Ormond Beach and Daytona. And the people in the town loved it.

There is a replica of Flagler’s supercar garage in the middle of a park on Ormond Beach with the first race cars in them. They pretty much look like someone attached rockets to a Barcalounger. And, boy, did they go FAST:

J.F. Hathaway, a wealthy manufacturer from Massachusetts and a frequent guest at the Ormond Hotel, came up with the idea of racing cars on the beach.

According to two Volusia County history books, A History of Volusia County and Ormond-on-the-Halifax, Hathaway attended bicycle races held on Ormond Beach between 1900 and 1902 while vacationing at the Ormond Hotel.

Hathaway, who drove a Stanley Steamer, noticed that bicycle tires did not sink into the hard sand along the beach. He suggested to John Anderson and Joseph Price, managers of the hotel, that the beach would be a good place to race cars.

From 1902 to 1935, auto industry giants such as Henry Ford, Louis Chevrolet, F.E. Stanley and Ransom E. Olds brought their cars to race down the beach.

In April 1902, two early auto pioneers met for the first race. Olds, founder of Oldsmobile, and Alexander Winton, creator of the Winton automobile, both bolted down the beach at 57 mph – well short of the existing 77 mph world speed record, set the year before by a Frenchman.

No matter. Word got out in Europe and America that Ormond Beach was an ideal speedway. In 1903, the races were sponsored by the American Automobile Association.

Several land speed records were set in those years. Because long distances were needed to set speed records, the course often was extended south to Daytona Beach.

Ormond and Daytona beaches remained a top draw for speed demons until the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah became popular in the late 1940s.

On Jan. 23, 1904, William K. Vanderbilt set the first world record on the beach when he drove his four-cylinder Mercedes at just over 92 mph. The next year, Arthur McDonald drove a 90-horsepower Napier to 104 mph.

In 1906 a Stanley Steamer driven by Fred Marriott was clocked at 127.6 mph. Marriott later was crowned “Fastest Man on Earth” by the Florida East Coast Automobile Association.

Cigar-chomping Barney Oldfield, perhaps the most famous race-car driver in the world at the time, set a new world speed record on the Ormond-Daytona course in 1907. Driving a German-made Benz called the Blitzen, Oldfield flew down the beach at 131 mph.

From 1908 until the end of World War I, racing faded somewhat in Ormond and Daytona. The beach wasn’t in good shape and the war drew attention and resources away from racing. In the 1920s, the racing world turned its attention to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But in 1927 beach racing came back in a big way when Major H.O.D. Segrave ran his Sunbeam Mystery S race car from the Daytona Beach Pier 13 miles south to Ponce Inlet. Segrave, for whom a street in Daytona is named, reached 203 mph as a crowd of 15,000 watched.

The last speed record set on the beach came on March 7, 1935, when Sir Malcolm Campbell drove his car, the Bluebird V, to a speed of 276.82 mph. The car is displayed at Daytona USA, a motorsports museum and entertainment complex under construction at the Daytona International Speedway.

In 1936 the American Automobile Association sponsored the first national stock-car race on Daytona Beach. One of the entrants was named Bill France; he later founded the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR. Several other races were held from 1936 until the start of America’s involvement in World War II in 1941.

The first stock-car race after the war was held in the spring of 1946. France was one of the drivers, and during the race his car overturned. Spectators flipped the car back on its wheels, and France finished the race. The next year, France was again involved in the race, not as a driver but as the sponsor. Then he began planning the construction of Daytona International Speedway 5 miles east of the beach; the track opened in 1958.

The first Daytona 500 was run in 1959 and was won by Lee Petty, father of Richard Petty.

Also in the 1950s, the racetrack in Sebring in south Florida became one of the world’s most famous auto racing venues for sports cars.

Most of the world’s most famous sports car manufacturers – Triumph, Austin-Healey, MG , Jaguar, Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Maserati, Ferrari and others – competed at Sebring.

One of the first race cars in history. Like I said, someone attached rockets to a recliner.
(We’ll just call this guy the original Florida Man. He needs a bottle of bourbon and an alligator in his seat with him though.)
America’s richest men racing primitive supercars on the sand of Ormond Beach.
I’m not sure what this is, but it looks like fun.

This is Ralph DePalma, who restarted the competition for land speed records after the upper crust took a break to deal with World War I. He was also responsible for the founding of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1911. DePalma broke the land speed record that year in his Packard V-12 at almost 150 mph.

Rodney did not believe me that they were building cars that could go over 270 mph before WWII. I had to show him that article on my phone in the restaurant. (Don’t underestimate the history nerd!)

The downstairs bar at Rose Villa.

Okay, So Back to the Rose Villa

I cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough. The restaurant serves haute Southern food. You can get fried green tomatoes with lobster, a croque madam, and so forth. This is combined with a menu of proper cocktails.

Since it was still brunch, we started off with deviled eggs, served with pork bellies and chow chow. Elise ordered avocado toast. I ordered a “biscuit benedict” served with freshly made lump crab cakes. Rodney had jambalaya. All magnificent.

The Green Fairy

We started off with a round of Sazeracs. Then we moved on to a round of candied bacon old fashioneds. Also all magnificent.

Then… We learned about the upstairs absinthe bar. The only thing that could improve such an awesome restaurant was a speakeasy.

The upstairs bar.

We’ve had the green fairy before at home, but without the ceremony. Rose Villa really gets into the ceremony. They pour the absinthe, dip a sugar cube in it, set it on an absinthe spoon, light the sugar on fire, and then use an absinthe fountain to drip water over the sugar until the absinthe turns a cloudy white. It is wicked fun to watch.

It cracked me up that the bartender felt the need to warn us that absinthe is a sipping drink and not a shooting drink. We explained to her that we understood that shooting 140-proof liquor is probably a bad idea. You’d be surprised, she said. She had a businessman do it once, and it made him violently ill. He barely made it to the bathroom. (This story is even more hilarious when you eventually learn that the restaurant has a traditional water closet for a bathroom, complete with a rope you have to pull to flush. It’s in a Victorian house, after all.)

For the uninitiated, absinthe is a licorice-flavored liquor that is derived from anise and various botanicals (including wormwood). The drink developed a bad reputation in the early 20th century among social conservatives and prohibitionists, who claimed that the drink was addictive and had dangerous psychoactive properties. They mostly hated the drink as it became a symbol of bohemian culture, being loved by such troublemakers as Vincent van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway. Absinthe was banned in the United States and Europe in the 1920s. Since then, the claims about its dangers have been discredited, and it became popular once more starting in the 1990s. It’s a very, very strong liquor (well, the good stuff is, anyway), but it’s pleasant when prepared properly and will leave your mouth tasting like licorice for hours.

The gardens outside Rose Villa.
I thought this was neat. This is the wall of an alley next to the restaurant. They put a series of mirrors on the wall, and let the vines take over the rest. It gives the alley a creepy fairytale vibe.

The Casements

As we were in the neighborhood, we decided to pop over to see John D. Rockefeller’s house on the Intracoastal Waterway. His house – named The Casements, a reference to its heavy, hurricane-proof storm windows – is a museum now.

The Casements
Rockefeller handing a child a dime. He loved giving his wealth away so much that he gave coins away to random people and strangers he met out in public.

After that, we decided to pop over to the beach and stick our toes in the surf. The waves have been incredible lately, but there were many locals wading in despite the red flags flying from the lifeguard stands. And many crazy surfers.

Florida child.
Nope.

All of this grew out of a trip to a dog hotel. I love living in Florida so much.

It has been a great week

I took this picture tonight, waiting for Elise while she was at her equestrian 4H program. Not a bad view, eh? This is Florida in autumn.

After her 4H program was finished, we drove down to Daytona Beach for dinner. We ate at Caribbean Jack’s on the Intracoastal Waterway. I honestly think this is the best seafood place in Daytona, and that is saying a lot. You are eating outside right on the marina, with live music and a fire pit. We had a bright moon with a beautiful halo (but no rain, thankfully).

We had the coolest live music that we’ve heard since listening to Irish troubadour Harry O’Donoghue in Savannah, Georgia like 15 years ago. This was some old biker dude who was playing Santana and Dylan, with ten-minute riffs that were absolutely intoxicating. We gave Elise $100 to put in his tip jar. A lesson for her in supporting truly great art.

The killer for me was the bananas foster for dessert. Dear lord. The waiter told us that he once saw a man eat two bananas foster in a row. If I were crossing something off my bucket list, that would be it.

Over the weekend, Elise went to the first birthday party that she actually enjoyed, for a kid she does karate with. His parents are super casual and just had cake and presents at a neighborhood playground, letting the kids do their thing. Rather than dealing with the cliques and drama from girls’ birthday parties, the kids at this one played all-inclusive games and even enlisted random children who were not there for the party.

I have seen so many parents go all-out renting exclusive venues for elementary school-aged kids’ birthdays, only to have every child staring into a smart phone or getting into some primadonna bitch-fest. This was an immense relief and restored my faith in youth. Kids just being kids.

One of the challenges of having a daughter that never had a princess phase has been trying to get her to play with other girls. They want to talk about mommy-daughter pedicures and she wants to talk about catching lizards and snakes. I’ve sort of embraced that she wants to hang with boys instead of girls now.

It’s okay, I was the same way. I was one of a handful of women in my department in college. I was the only girl on a trading floor at an investment bank. I’ve been there too.

Oh, and the birthday boy wanted a Christmas-themed birthday in October. His parents let him have it, and so did the other children. That’s Elise in a Santa hat in 80-degree weather.

On a totally unrelated note, I love seeing these in public parks. Not everyone is blowing their one precious life on Facebook.

Counting our steps

We bought pedometers for everyone in our family a few days ago. I’m not generally into exercise gimmickry. I have been shocked, however, by how much the simple act of counting your steps can transform how you spend your day. I’ve also been shocked by how many steps our daughter takes in the course of a normal day. The kid is about as active as a hummingbird (with an equal enthusiasm for sugar).

We started off with the goal most people have of walking 10,000 steps a day. We quickly realized that all three of us were going to hit that goal with little effort. So then we bumped it up to 20,000. Then it turned into a competition to see who could get the most steps in. Suffice it to say, we’ve all been extraordinarily active this week.

Elise seems to love her pedometer more than anyone. She shows it off to everyone she sees. And a ton of people have whipped out their own pedometers to compare steps with her.

She was so accustomed to being the stepping champion of our household that comparing steps with her riding instructor completely devastated her. At 9 am, her riding instructor had already amassed over 4,000 steps just from mucking out stalls. Elise wanted to go to work on barn chores to level the playing field.

“You should have seen me before we had the new fencing installed,” she said. “I walked over 15 miles a day retrieving horses from the woods!” I imagine that would have been less fun without a pedometer.

Our neighbor sent me a text message at 10 pm last night with a picture of her pedometer. “Show Elise that I beat her 22,000 steps.”

A couple on our street who recently moved here from New Jersey pulled out their pedometers to show Elise. She probably has them pushing up their daily goal now too.

The only member of our household who does not like the competition is our rough-coat Jack Russell terrier, Sherlock. As you can see, he found a patch of shade while we were out walking in the intense Florida sun (yes, it is still hot and steamy here in October) and put the brakes on. We had to pick him up and carry him home because he was not budging. It reminded me of that line from Amadeus. What’s wrong with this hike? Too many steps!

It’s good for the soul to get outside.

Our piece of the Intracoastal Waterway

We are blessed to live on the Intracoastal Waterway here in Florida, and moreover to have a several mile long esplanade to walk along every day. We try to make it out there in the early mornings or evenings (or both), and enjoy seeing a lot of wildlife. Dolphins and manatees are regular visitors. Fishermen catch snapper, sharks, crab, and many other things. We’ve met people from all over the world while out on our walks. (Incidentally, we have a ton of people from Russia in our neighborhood.) One lady stopped me recently, screaming “I know you! You are the lady with the crazy gardens! I love driving by your house!” It made my day, to be honest. I love to joke that my garden aesthetic is Versailles. I just need to install some fountains.

I have spent a lot of time hiking in the mountains, having lived along the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and the Appalachians in the Bluegrass region. Hiking through wetlands is now one of my favorite wild experiences. I am glad that Floridians do so much to preserve the natural environment. Our daughter has learned incredible things out and about.

One of the best things about living in Florida is the state is in bloom all year long. Even in the “winter” months, plants everywhere are blooming. That’s actually how Florida got its name. Florida was first discovered by the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon on Palm Sunday on April 2, 1513. He named the land Pascua de Florida, meaning “Feast of Flowers,” claiming it for Spain. And Florida truly is a feast of flowers. This is what autumn looks like here.

Sometimes I could do with a little less wild, however. We watched this danger noodle along our trail tonight. (Yes, that’s a copperhead. We see cottonmouths from time to time too.) I took the opportunity to explain to Elise that this is why I yell when she tries to play in the palmettos.

Farm life, sporting life

One of my favorite parts of driving through the Florida countryside these days are the thousands of sand cranes hanging out in recently plowed fields. They follow the tractors as they harvest crops or turn over fresh soil, taking advantage of all the creatures the plow reveals. Somehow they have no fear of tractors, but with a single passing vehicle they all take flight. It’s mesmerizing.

While Elise was having her riding lesson today, I watched a rafter of wild turkeys wandering through the paddocks. They are very much at home on the horse farm, climbing one-by-one through the fences and pecking around in the dirt next to the thoroughbreds.

Elise is in love with the chickens, especially now that there are a bunch of adorable chicks bouncing around in the chicken coops. We signed her up for the equestrian program of 4H this year, so she’s now a little Cloverbud. Fortunately, the ag extension office is next door to her stables, so it’s all going to be familiar territory for her.

Elise has another horse show coming up at the end of October. She’s going to be competing in more advanced classes this go around, so that’s exciting.

Taking care of her pony, Chewy.

For those who enjoy hunting and horseback riding, Garden & Gun’s sporting issue is out now and they absolutely knocked it out of the park. There is a wonderful, detailed article on the historical roadblocks to preserving the wilderness in the Everglades and the great work Governor Ron DeSantis and his allies are doing to save the park, including their rebuke of Big Sugar lobbyists. There is a piece on Pat Conroy’s widow’s new memoir of their life together. There is a section on collecting shotguns and quail hunting in Old Florida. I devoured the whole thing. Oh, and they also have a lot of great game recipes to try, including duck, rabbit, and boar, all of which we have in considerable supply here in Florida.

The lonely generation

Early every morning, a group of women in our neighborhood gets together to walk several miles. It doesn’t matter if it is gorgeous outside, with sunshine and the tradewinds, or the brutal peak of a Florida summer, the group still gets together. The number of women walking on any given day fluctuates, but I have seen as many as twenty women participate. Some women gossip, some talk about gardening or what they are reading. Taxes and politics come up. Everyone is a charitable audience. Vive la différence.

The entire gang greets everyone they see outside – other walkers, people leaving for work, construction crews – by name and make pleasant conversation. It’s very…. Southern. But it also seems somewhat anachronistic in the age of social media. This is not something most people do anymore.

Since some members of the group are retired schoolteachers, I get a lot of questions about how we homeschool our daughter. We talk about curriculum, about resources for gifted and talented children. We talk about different education philosophies. We talk about what’s going on in the public schools in our area. (The latter inevitably evolves into a conversation about school violence or Common Core.)

Yesterday, one of the women asked me about our daughter’s friends. Homeschoolers are accustomed to folks asking about “socialization,” as it has become something of a cliché. How will your child meet people and make friends if they do not attend a traditional school? Gee, I don’t know, through playing in the neighborhood, church, extracurricular activities, camps, park days with other homeschoolers, future jobs and internships…. Pretty much by being anywhere other people also exist?

I try to politely detail the various opportunities for meeting people, but I rarely confess the truth:

It is really, really, really difficult for homeschoolers to develop genuine friendships.

But that’s also true for all good kids these days.

San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge made a name for herself studying the loneliness and depression of generations raised on social media versus those who came before the technology. (She wrote a well-known piece in The Atlantic, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?)

Among her findings published elsewhere:

The percent of high school seniors who said they often felt lonely increased from 26 percent in 2012 to 39 percent in 2017.

The number of 12th graders who said they often felt left out also increased, from 30 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2017.

The data and study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, are from nationally representative surveys of 8.2 million U.S. adolescents between 1976 and 2017. 

The increase in loneliness might be due to how teens spend their leisure time, Twenge says. When compared to teens in earlier decades, Gen Z are less likely to “get together with friends in person, go to parties, go out with friends, date, ride in cars for fun, go to shopping malls, or go to the movies,” she reported.

….

Other statistics from Twenge’s study: 

• In the late 1970s, 52 percent of 12th graders said they got together with their friends almost every day but, by 2017, only 28 percent did.

• In 2017, teens got together with their friends 68 fewer times a year than they did in the early 1990s and high school seniors went out on dates 32 fewer times a year.

• Gen Z 10th graders went to approximately 17 fewer parties a year than Gen X 10th graders did.

The fact of the matter is that “socialization” isn’t happening at traditional schools now. Kids aren’t learning to negotiate complicated interpersonal relationships with their peers because Zuckerberg & Co. have reduced their peers to avatars – fantastical and impermanent representations of themselves, who live in realms devoid of accountability and consequences, that sometimes devastatingly collide with the real world. It’s making a lot of kids mentally ill, and it’s starting in elementary school. It makes some kids physically violent. It makes some kids harass and emotionally goad others. It makes some kids turn into hermits. It makes some kids objectify and mortify themselves. It makes some kids turn to substance abuse. It makes some kids invent weaknesses and seek out deviant lifestyles for attention in a culture that fetishizes “struggle.” Is that the sort of “socialization” homeschooled kids are supposed to covet? The opportunity to have a kid who is looking for a father figure on 8 Chan as a lab partner?

As homeschoolers, we see this unfolding from a strange vantage point. I want our daughter to enjoy the company of children from diverse backgrounds. But it’s difficult to find any children that do not have extreme behavioral issues now. The number of children with absentee parents is off the charts. And schools sort children into discrete spheres of “accommodation” now, meaning that children get to train adults to behave the way they want instead of the other way around.

Our daughter was riding bikes with a little girl her age recently, and I told them both to avoid riding their bikes into a busy street. Our daughter nodded that she understood. The other girl said “blah, blah, blah, blah” and did a mocking dance. She wasn’t upset with my suggestion. This is just what she does. There is not a single adult in her life that cares to discipline her behavior. Rude is her baseline. Rude is the baseline of almost every child in her orbit. I wish I could say this is an outlier in our encounters with other kids, but it’s actually closer to the rule.

For homeschoolers, adults and not other children are the people they see the most on a daily basis. This is especially true for our daughter, who is an only child. She spends her day with her parents, listening to her parents talking to clients and other professional relationships. She tags along on errands and eats out at restaurants. She gets personal instruction on horseback riding, and so on.

Because of this, homeschooled children generally start to carry themselves like adults very early on. They have large vocabularies. They speak strategically, trying to be persuasive and make sound arguments instead of emoting. This can create a considerable rift between them and peers who spend their days in a traditional school environment where adults often endeavor to put themselves on a child’s level. But it’s even worse now, with children being outright rewarded for immaturity or ignored altogether. There’s basically no common ground whatsoever.

I do worry about our daughter being so alienated from other members of younger generations. But I also want her to behave nothing like them.

It strikes me that the single best thing a parent can do for their children now is persuade them not to have social media accounts and to try to make that case to their friends’ parents. Learn to go through the day without asking other people what you should think about yourself or about other people. Spend your day doing something you love or expanding your knowledge or doing something spiritually valuable instead of passively shitting on the lives, beliefs, and appearances of others.

If people did this in herds, a lot of things about our society would improve, with the most important among them being a return to safe schools and bona fide friendships.

Scallops, archery, romance, koinobori, and a chameleon

My favorite opening scene in a movie is from Less Than Zero. Clay, returning home from college for Christmas break, drives through the palm tree-lined streets of Los Angeles to the Bangles’ cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade of Winter. It’s a story about luxury, and the greatest luxury in the world is not to have to endure a cold winter.

We’ve manged to pull that off in relocating to the Florida coastline. It still feels bizarre, however, to talk to friends and family elsewhere in the world or to watch football on television as the seasons change. Folks are breaking out the wool and celebrating whatever new frankenfood now comes in pumpkin spice while Floridians are watching for hurricanes. In Florida, the only real difference between summer and winter is how “cold” it gets at night. If it gets down into the 60s, people here start breaking out parkas. I’m not kidding. I once saw a guy riding on a skateboard along the A1A who was wearing a fur-lined winter coat but still barefoot.

We’ve had weeks of whitecaps here in Flagler thanks to the sequence of storms off the coast. It’s not good for swimming, but it sure is beautiful. I have enjoyed sitting on the front porch listening to the roar of the ocean. And it’s absolutely bonkers with the cooler air at night, which seems to pull everything closer.

We had dinner the other night at the Turtle Shack along the A1A (nominally in Flagler Beach, but it’s far north of most of the city establishments). I had Scallops St Jacques – several enormous, buttery sea scallops in a sherry mushroom sauce with Parmesan and green onions – which is out of this world. They also serve a pineapple poppyseed coleslaw that I am going to start making at home. I had never really considered pairing pineapple and cabbage before, but the taste and texture really works.

Thursdays have become our family sporting days. Elise has horseback riding lessons in the mornings, then we take her to the range to practice archery, which she has recently picked up.

They have archery ranges tucked into the jungle, which is a lot of fun. I am somewhat terrified of seeing a snake out there though. Fortunately for Elise, she’s coming straight from riding and is still wearing her paddock boots (and often half chaps).

Elise and I went on a mommy-daughter date to the restaurant in our neighborhood. It’s a fun place where the dining area is lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Elise originally picked out a romance novel to read (not knowing what it was) because it had a rather adorable dog on the cover. I explained to her that it was too, um, mature for her to read (though perhaps not above her reading level, haha). She did not understand why I would not let her read a romance novel. Eventually, I figured out that she thought I was saying Romans instead of romance. She couldn’t comprehend why I, of all people, would deprive her of reading Latin literature. Children absolutely redeem the world for you. (You can see she found a genuine children’s book after all.)

Incidentally, it occurred to me that she’s not far off in assuming a romance novel would be related to Latin literature:

The story of the word romance begins as the fifth century is coming to a close, and the Roman Empire with it. The story’s key players are the inhabitants of Gaul, a region comprising modern-day France and parts of Belgium, western Germany, and northern Italy—a region one British isle short of the western reaches of the Roman Empire. The Gauls speak a Latin-derived language that we now call Gallo-Romance, but that the Gauls themselves refer to as Romanus, from the Latin word meaning “Rome” or “Roman.”

By century’s close, the Gauls have been overwhelmed by the Franks and other Germanic peoples, and the Roman Empire has fallen to usher in the Middle Ages. The influence of the Latin language, however, remains very much alive. A Latin adverb Romanice, a derivative of Romanus, emerges with the meaning “in the vernacular,” alluding to the languages that had developed out of Gallo-Romance, namely Old French and Old Occitan. What is spoken Romanice, or “in the vernacular,” is decidedly not Latin, which is what was spoken in the church and in most formal writing.

In Old French, the Latin Romanice is adapted as romans or romanz. The new word is a noun, and it refers not only to Old French itself but also to works composed in it. It’s the Middle Ages now, and the romans/romanz composed are often narratives written in verse and chronicling—what else?— the affections and adventures of gallant and honorable knights. Romans/romanz takes on a meaning referring specifically to metrical treatments of the love and times of the chivalrous, and the fate of the Modern English word romance is sealed: its close association with tales of love join it forever to love stories, both true and merely dreamt of.

(And, obviously, that’s where we get the “Romance languages.”)

Speaking of Latin, it is still very much her favorite subject. We have finished the first level of Latin already, and we are only halfway through her “school year.” (Being homeschoolers, we can have whatever academic calendar we want.) Yesterday, I caught her on the phone with my mother and Elise was trying to teach her Latin.

We have accumulated a lot of projects from our geography and history studies. This year, we are working our way through the second volume of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World, which covers the Middle Ages. Japan looms large in the book, along with discussions of the samurai and how similar their rituals and social status were to the knights of England.

As it turns out, one of our Atlas Crates (a geography / culture subscription service from Kiwi Co.) was on Japan. We made a koinobori (flying carp windsock). Carp are a symbol of strength and success in Japan, as they have the power and determination to swim up waterfalls.

We also played Daruma Otoshi (derived from the Daruma dolls and “otoshi,” meaning “dropped”). The object of the game is knock out the bottom pieces while leaving the structure of the doll intact, sort of like Jenga. It’s harder than it looks.

The drama du jour in our household is over this little fellow (see below), a chameleon in the local pet store. Elise is obsessed with getting a chameleon and wants to visit him every time we go to the grocery store (unfortunately next door to the pet shop). She has already named him Marco Polo (which stems from my recent interest in the Silk Road). Rodney will not budge on getting another pet following our Jack Russell terrier puppy, Sherlock Holmes. It’s not hard to board a dog when you travel, he argues, but who are you going to pay to chameleon-sit? And then there’s the issue that their favorite food is crickets. How lovely it would be to try to sleep in a house where dozens of crickets are chirping away, waiting to be eaten?

Elise is not persuaded by these practical arguments, however. She has been regaling us with chameleon facts for weeks. They are basically walking mood rings. Their eyes can move independently of each other. Their eggs take 1-2 years to hatch. (You can imagine how talking about pets reproducing has gone over.) Their tongue is 1.5 times the length of their body. They can hang from a branch by their tail. And then there’s her concern that the dog and the cat are probably bored when we leave and the chameleon could keep them entertained. It’s Aristotle’s Third Man Argument, but with pets.

Unfortunately for Rodney, he’s raising a kid naturalist. At least she’s not asking for a $65,000 dinosaur bone. (Yet.) Never a dull day around here.