Christmas festival, Baylor football, and homemade pasta

Last night, we went to Flagler Beach’s Christmas Festival. It’s great fun living in an old-school beach town that is small enough to still have the feeling of a real community. There were a series of children’s choirs singing carols, the high school bands, food trucks from local restaurants, and tons of games and face painting for the kids.

We each got slices of New York-style pizza from a local vendor and ice cream, which we ate on the beach. I made a remark to someone who stopped to talk to us about how fortunate we were to be eating ice cream on the beach in December.

Santa has a very beachy way of visiting Flagler for the holidays (which we skipped this year, but here you go for a chuckle).

I’ve spent today in the kitchen making oatmeal cookies, snickerdoodles, and fudge. And watching our alma mater, Baylor University, lose to Oklahoma in overtime (sad face) and Georgia – LSU. Baking and some good Southern football, yes please.

I am moving on to homemade pasta. I have a years-long obsession with making pasta. Rodney gave me pasta cutting attachments for my Kitchen-Aid mixer for Christmas a few years ago. The first pasta I ever made was a batch of ravioli with my brother. I became very good at it, and it turned out to be something Elise loved to do with me. Kids are naturals at playing with dough, you know.

Elise helping make pasta in our first experiments.

Homemade pasta is quite different from the dried pasta that you can purchase in stores. After making it for a while, I came to see restaurants in a different way. I could tell how much effort they were putting into their food by the taste of their pasta. Homemade pasta has texture and a creaminess to it. It’s substantial, something you have to chew, but silky at the same time.

Anyway, the only downside to having mechanical pasta cutters (in my opinion) is cleaning them. You can’t submerge them in water and clean them like you would any other kitchen equipment. They include a little brush with the cutters, but it really does not help to clean out the inside of the machine. So flour builds up in there. I am going to have to take mine apart to fix them.

I went to the website for FG Pizza and Italian, which I highly, highly recommend for pasta equipment. FG’s is a family-owned company, and they are of the little old Italian grandmother culinary persuasion. They sell rolling pins for cutting pasta, which works for things like fettuccine and pappardelle. (You need an extruder for things like spaghetti and penne.) They also do a lot of tutorials on making Italian dishes. I will report back on whether the roller works well. With the machines, you can make pasta that melts in your mouth. This is going to be a test of my real skills, lol.

Elise’s riding instructor let her gather fresh eggs from the chickens on the horse farm. She put them in her helmet. It reminded me of when she was a toddler and we gave her mussels for the first time. She thought they were such treasures that she put the empty shells in my handbag when I wasn’t looking so she could take them home. Before bedtime, she remembered her shells and came running down to search through my bag. I had shellfish sitting in my bag the whole day! Now she’s older and I have eggs rolling around in the backseat of my SUV.

Formal gardens, new mountain bike trails, and a pristine beach

Elise had her weekly riding lesson this morning, in an extraordinarily soggy ring from all of the rain we’ve been having. Even the pony wanted nothing of it. Afterward, for fun, we decided to load up our bicycles and head to Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.

The park is located at the former winter home of Owen and Louise Young, who along with John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and many other famous industrialists of the early 20th century, liked to come stay in our area for long stretches of time.

Owen Young became president of General Electric in 1922 and then was appointed as the company’s inaugural chairman later the same year. He served as chairman of GE until 1939. Under Young’s leadership, GE transitioned into the world’s leading manufacturer of household appliances. He also drove the electrification of farms, factories, and transportation systems across the United States.

In 1919, Young created the Radio Corporation of America (you probably know it as RCA) at the request of the US government, which did not want England to control the entire market for radio communications.

Following World War I, Young also became a leading diplomat. He coauthored the Dawes Plan, which reduced the amount of German reparations. Germany defaulted on its reparation payments after financial markets crashed in the late 1920s, and Young again was the leader in working out a debt restructuring (which became known as the “Young Plan”). For this effort, Young was named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1929. (Many remark that being named Man of the Year is bad luck, and so it proved with Young. The Young Plan was shattered once the Great Depression took hold. You know what Germany turned into after that.) He served as an adviser for five US presidents during his lifetime.

Louise Young (née Clark) owned a business in the Philippines manufacturing lingerie. Artisans in the Philippines were well known for their traditional embroidery, which Young combined with her own designs.

The Youngs met travelling back from the Philippines on the Empress of Asia and were married in St. Augustine. Owen Young bought Washington Oaks as a wedding present for his wife. They carved formal gardens out of the jungle and had the A1A re-routed to accommodate their landscaping plans. No kidding. They told the state where to put its infrastructure.

(Our trip involved Elise’s first attempt at riding on mountain bike trails. She did fine, but it was hard for her riding a children’s bike that does not have any gears on sandy trails. Anyway, the hiking / mountain bike trails at Washington Oaks include a portion of the original A1A, which is now cracked and covered in moss. It was lots of fun to ride down.)

Here are some pictures of the formal gardens. There are many ancient live oak trees in the park with tangled branches sprawling out forever. (They are so massive, it’s impossible to capture their size in a picture.) I can’t believe how many hurricanes those trees have survived. Between them and the piles of ferns (and evergreen trees that look like ferns), you half expect a dinosaur to walk out onto the path. It seems primordial.

The park also has a rose garden with bushes that appear to be about 10 feet tall. It smells like heaven.

So this is a pillar made of coquina rock that the jungle is in the process of reclaiming. The pillar marked an entrance to the Young’s property from the original route of the A1A.

(Coquina is a sort of natural cement made from sand, shells, and water that is everywhere along the eastern coast. The Castillo in St. Augustine was also made of coquina, which made the fort impossible to take by force. The walls simply absorb cannonballs. The fort has only changed hands on a diplomatic basis. Coquina is quite an engineering marvel.)

We met this giant gopher tortoise on our ride. (Gopher tortoises are an endangered species. We said hi and let him continue on his way.)

The bicycle trails at the park cross the A1A and head to the ocean. There’s a wonderful, pristine beach. We would have taken a dip in the water after our ride, but the waves were nothing to mess with today.

On the history of American hiking

Theodore Roosevelt hiking with John Muir

I just finished reading the book, On the Trail: A History of American Hiking by Silas Chamberlin. If you love hiking and conservation (as I do), this is a delightful tome. I had not thought much about how hiking was an unintended consequence of the growth in industry and the introduction of sophisticated infrastructure into cities.

Before the late 19th century, nature walks were the province of aristocrats. Ponder for a second how much of Pride and Prejudice is devoted to talking about natural beauty and jaunts through the countryside, and how Mr. Darcy takes this as evidence of Elizabeth Bennett’s autodidact-aesthetic and intelligence.

In post-Civil War American society, however, the popularity of walking grew out of the anxiety of increased industrialization and the sense that “progress” might not be commensurate with certain notions about a life well-lived:

On the one hand, Americans welcomed improvements in their quality of life and took pride in innovations as mills, canals, steamboats, and trains. On the other hand, they recognized the potential for technology to create larger, dirtier cities inhabited by a class of workers with no means of escaping factory life. These dichotomous responses were embedded in the culture of the period and permeated discussions of politics, literature, and society. Nineteenth-century Americans adopted the pastoral ideal, or “middle landscape,” as an alternative, more desirable vision.

Most people will remember this from studying transcendentalists and the Hudson River School artists in school. (I was impressed that the author devoted a section to what a total charlatan Henry David Thoreau was, talking about hanging out by Walden Pond in the middle of the city as if he were David Livingstone trekking through deepest Africa.)

But walking as a form of leisure and moral improvement became a sort of national obsession during the period that was hardly limited to philosophers and artists.

Investors started funding walkways along the canals and factories they financed to ensure their ventures would be better received by residents and local politicians. (During this era, canals competed with railways as a form of mass transit, with railroads eventually winning, at least until automobiles came around.)

This improved the quality of life of the working class significantly, as they took advantage of new greenbelts and public parks in droves:

One of the most remarkable – and least known – examples was the canal-turned-greenway in Lowell, Massachusetts. Lowell’s canal system consisted of several short canals that provided waterpower to the city’s famous mills. The Boston Associates – the wealthy group of investors who owned most of Lowell’s mills – became concerned about the town’s stark appearance. Beginning in the 1820s, they embarked on tree-planting and landscaping projects along their canals and in their factory yards. The first plantings were adjacent to the company’s boardinghouses, home to the young women who worked in the mills. Although the land between the street and the canal had been used as an informal promenade for several years, the new landscaping evoked a parklike setting that encouraged more people to use it as a public walk. Textile workers were encouraged to publish their poetry, short stories, and other writing in a monthly periodical called the Lowell Offering…

When the Northern Canal along the Merrimack River was completed in 1847, city residents could follow the Merrimack, Western, Pawtucket, and Northern Canals in an approximately four-mile circuit of the city that took them through the rural countryside west and north of Lowell. By design, canals are relatively flat, so these four-mile jaunts were hardly strenuous, but they did offer an opportunity to experience walking in a natural setting, especially outside of town.

From such projects, a sports craze developed, with the introduction of professional pedestrians:

As a formal sport, pedestrianism emerged from the British aristocratic practice of placing bets on how far and how long their footmen could walk behind their carriages or around a circular racetrack… By 1809, the stakes, audience, and prestige of the pedestrian had grown. In July of that year, Captain Robert Barclay, a wealthy Scot with royal blood, completed his well-choreographed and widely celebrated “thousand miles in 1,000 hours for 1,000 guineas.” Barclay, who along with a small team had planned and strategized his approach for more than a year, circled a track for nearly six weeks straight, walking at least one mile every hour. When he completed the task, he earned, along with side bets 16,000 guineas, or the equivalent of 320 years of income for the average artisan who composed his audience of thousands. American newspapers picked up the story from London…

By the mid-nineteenth century, reports like these had inspired a small group of celebrity pedestrians in the United States. In the winter of 1861, a professional pedestrian named Edward Payson Weston walked between Boston and Washington DC in eight days. The walk originated in a casual bet with a friend: Weston promised to walk to Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration if Lincoln were to be elected.

In the end, Weston had gained such notoriety that he had the opportunity meet President Lincoln. Lincoln offered to pay for the man to ride back to Boston on a train. (He walked instead.)

In the 1860s, social groups emerged not only to take nature walks but to take on aggressive hikes (like climbing Mt Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire). I found this development interesting for a couple reasons: (1) you would not think about recreation being an all-consuming pursuit for people during the middle of the Civil War (it almost goes to show you how removed some northerners were from the Civil War as a political concern with a direct impact on one’s ordinary life) and (2) women were included in these hiking groups from the very beginning (perhaps because city infrastructure gave women the chance to become physically athletic too).

Nowadays, female athletes make a big deal out of “trailblazers” like Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, who had her bib number ripped off of her by organizers mid-race. But women were climbing some of the highest peaks in the Appalachians in hoop skirts a century earlier.

Anyway, the book from that point transitions into accounts of the founding of the Appalachian Trail Conference, the Sierra Club, and similar groups, along with the fights to establish state and federal parks. The further you get into it, the more it becomes a sort of directory of early members and their pet causes, and the tension between people who were in hiking for the sake of sport and people who turned it into political activism – which is interesting, though way too much for a blog post.

A fun, though very esoteric read.

Home sweet home

We’ve made it back home. As much as I enjoyed Ft Lauderdale, I feel immensely relieved to be away from the crowds, chaos, and heat of South Florida. It is fully 20 degrees cooler here right now. I can take the heat generally, but it is hard trying to navigate narrow docks with thousands of (mostly drunk) tourists.

One difference I noticed right away between Flagler and Broward counties is there are almost no open spaces or trees down there. As we are in the habit of walking or riding a bicycle everywhere, so it was hard not having spaces to wander. Sure, there is the beach, but there were a lot of people on the beach. You couldn’t really trek. I came home with a newfound appreciation of our town’s 135 miles of trails and our esplanade along the Intracoastal Waterway.

View from our esplanade.

As were walking along the ICW this morning, a very large dolphin decided to keep pace with us for about 3 miles. He’d pop out of the water right next to us over and over. I was hoping he’d try to chat, but he was quiet. Dolphins love people so much; they are like sea dogs. I honestly think the dolphins come into the ICW just to say hi to the people who live along it. It’s like they see an inlet and decide to come socialize.

Our dolphin friend moved so quickly, all I could ever get was a picture of his fin. But he was jumping entirely out of the water for miles to say hi.

Fort Lauderdale, Part One

So we are here, and we very much enjoyed our first day of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

We booked a garden suite at a hotel in Hollywood (just south of Fort Lauderdale), which is a neat place. When they said garden suite, they were not kidding. (You would totally love this place, Daryl.) There are some incredible tropical gardens right outside our door, and the ocean is right there too. The hotel itself is not fancy (compared to the resorts nearby), but it is charming in an old-school surfer sort of way. The gardens even have an aviary with tropical birds.

Being an infrastructure geek, I loved seeing all of the massive container ships in Port Everglades. Passing through the port, I was telling Elise, “Take a look, this is what makes America a superpower. We are this good at trade.” The horizon was full of ships bringing goods into the country.

Elise is in love with being a place where iguanas run around like squirrels.

We went to a great restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway here with a serious selection of crab. Elise loved tossing fish into the water where enormous (5 to 6 feet long) tarpon were swimming around.

It has been really funny watching people from around the world visiting Florida here. You walk onto the yachts at the boat show, and they have salesmen that speak virtually any language. Many folks were obviously not prepared for the fact that South Florida is still in the 90s in November.

Kanye West’s full interview with Big Boy

I have mad respect for Kanye West after watching this video. I had seen clips from it on the news that were (predictably) edited in unflattering ways, and went to YouTube to see the whole thing. I am so glad I did.

Kanye West has developed into some sort of anti-hero in the spirit of Joseph Heller – the only sane person in an insane world, who finally breaks to the point that he’s going to speak truth to power relentlessly and effectively. He gets bashed for being a black Republican who preaches about family values. He gets accused (falsely) of sharing the prosperity gospel. But he’s standing his ground. He thinks that people can relate to him more after seeing him navigate “cancel culture,” and he’s right. His testimony is no doubt helping a lot of people shift toward healthier lives.

His overall message is that people are only going to find happiness if they defy the nihilism that has taken over our culture. (We have no culture now – we are cultural orphans, he says. Our environment is swarming with “culture vultures.” So true. We are witnessing what happens to our country when people turn their backs on traditional values and start taking antisocial positions. It’s destroying entire generations, who have been taught such unhealthy habits and preferences that they can’t function in the real world.) Build families, he says. Opt out of social media’s toxic ecosystems. Stop listening to rappers who talk about prison reform and then glorify behaviors that land you in prison. Stop thanking people in politics for putting you on food stamps and providing your children with a self-destructive education. They aren’t your saviors; they are keeping you as their wage slaves.

In the spirit of being pro-family, Kanye talks about how the left’s abortion deity disproportionately impacts minority communities. And he’s right about that. White progressives like Bernie Sanders even congratulate themselves openly about how they’ve helped minority communities by making it easier for them to butcher their young. It’s not Kanye who has cracked up.

Karate on Flagler Beach

As I have mentioned before, Elise started taking karate lessons this year from a couple who moved to Florida from Peru. It has been such an incredible experience for her. This morning, her Sensei gathered the children at the pier to practice karate on the beach.

It was such a beautiful morning to be out on the beach. This is late October in Florida!

A lifeguard stopped by to watch.

We watched a squall come in as they were practicing. The kids had to hide under the pier for a few minutes as it moved overhead.

And then they played soccer. We love, love, love life in Florida.