A brilliant weekend in St Augustine

We have had some hectic weeks with work projects lately. We decided that we would have a bona fide weekend and get out of the house and away from the computers. We ended up spending a lot of time in St. Augustine, which is one of our favorite cities.

Friday night, we drove up to St. Augustine to visit a bookstore there. Elise was in need of some more challenging chapter books to read. I have written before about how she’s something of a kid naturalist, so I have been trying to find books that play to her interests. I highly recommend Jane Goodall’s My Life With The Chimpanzees for children. It talks about being an ethnologist in an extraordinarily conversational and engaging tone, and she provides a lot of details about her childhood that children would love (living in a creepy old manor house, her uncle allowing her to ride his racehorses, her grandmother “giving” her her favorite tree in their backyard for her birthday, her dad’s Aston Martin). I think I am going to try to read The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle to Elise sometime, which Goodall says was the first book she fell in love with as a child. She read the book three times after checking it out from the library, and then was given her very own copy for Christmas. It was then that she decided she absolutely must go to Africa.

I also found Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, which is a story about learning to control a cholera outbreak. It should be a fun introduction to epidemiology and a transition to our next science book, which is on the history of medicine.

After we had done our damage at the bookstore, we went to Elise’s favorite restaurant on the A1A in St. Augustine Beach, which is Tide’s Oyster Company and Grill. Elise loves, loves, loves oysters, and Tide’s gets these positively enormous oysters from the Gulf of Mexico. They remember her there, the seven-year-old who can put away a dozen raw oysters on her own. The oysters at Tide’s will separate the people who genuinely like to eat oysters from the folks who ritually choke them down “when in Rome.” They are so big you have to consume them in multiple bites. Our server told us that she’s had tables get upset before because they were so freakishly large.

It was the perfect evening to sit outside at Tide’s. There were storms all around us, but they stayed away from the restaurant’s patio. We were able to enjoy the constant, cool ocean breeze and an incredible lightning show in the distance.

Driving home from St. Augustine on the A1A, we saw an amazing moonrise over the water. We pulled the car over and walked out onto the beach at Marineland, in the dark, with only moonlight on the whitecaps.

We often refer to a line from the movie A Good Year, where Russell Crowe’s character talks about how all of his childhood memories take place at or around his Uncle Henry’s vineyard in France. “Are they good memories?” he is asked. “No,” he replies, “they are grand.” I hope this is the way Elise talks about her childhood when she is an adult. She had the kind of parents who would take her to dance on the beach under the Moon at close to midnight, because that’s important to do.

We had so much fun sitting by the beach on Friday that we decided to do it again on Saturday. In the evening, we headed over to Flagler Beachfront Winery, along the A1A in Flagler Beach. To be honest, we went there with very low expectations. Boutique wines almost always taste like Hawaiian Punch to me, and seriously… a vineyard in steamy, hot Florida? But we found a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay that were actually quite fantastic. For dinner, we had plates of meats and cheeses and toasted baguettes. It was wonderful. Elise, obviously, could not enjoy the wines, but she had a grand time tasting and critiquing the array of cheeses. Surprisingly, I think her favorite had been rolled in ground espresso. I am constantly surprised by her palate.

The party behind us on the patio at the winery was there to celebrate a lady’s 29th birthday. It would seem more than a few of the people who showed up to the party were not, in fact, her friends and were simply there for the wine, based on some of their (rather loud) exchanges. She did not seem to be enjoying her birthday at all. Although I initially begged her not too, Elise insisted on walking up to the lady’s table and singing “Happy Birthday” in her sweet, little voice (albeit at the top of her lungs). Everyone around her whipped out their phones to record the kid serenading a total stranger for her birthday. The lady, who turned out to be a school teacher here, was so moved by all the attention that she looked like she was going to weep. “You don’t understand,” her friend leaned over to tell me, “your daughter just made her night. Probably even her year.” Here I thought we were going to be humiliated by the whole thing, but it turned out to be a wonderful act of kindness. We were joking that with Elise’s love of languages and her love of people, she’s probably going to end up an ambassador.

On Sunday, we kept the bona fide weekend going by heading back up to St. Augustine. This time, we went to the A1A Ale Works in historic downtown, overlooking the harbor and the Bridge of Lions. (The lions are a reference to Ponce de Leon, who is ubiquitous in St. Augustine.)

The restaurant/brewery has an upstairs balcony with ornate wrought iron like one might find in New Orleans. It’s sufficient shelter on a stormy night, so long as the storms are coming from the west and not from over the ocean. We enjoyed watching the city and the boats in the rain. (Though not as entertaining, a bride who was posing for pictures with her wedding party on the bridge ended up drenched and fled the downpour over muddy city streets. She will probably have to have her dress emergency cleaned before the big day. Summer storms in Florida are no joke, y’all. You have to watch the sky.)

We had a neat conversation about what kind of communications equipment to get for our future boat with three chaps who had sailed down from Savannah that day. They seemed to be contractors with the Coast Guard, as they were talking about their efforts to locate a missing boat.

Putting away the paella at the A1A Ale Works.

Walking back to our car, the Cathedral of St. Augustine was all lit up for a nighttime service. We had a wonderful view of all their stained glass windows in the darkness. I feel like we are constantly finding new and unusual spots in the Ancient City.

A wonderful weekend playing in the most beautiful corner of the world. We need to do this more often.

A beautiful evening on Flagler Beach

We are blessed to live on a stretch of pristine beach here in Florida. Sometimes it blows my mind that there are still places in the United States where you can walk for miles and miles along the ocean without seeing many people at all, but dozens of sea turtle nests. I love how serious about conservation this state is.

Tonight we saw something I have never seen before – a mother-of-pearl sunset. I have seen many sunsets, but never one that included an iridescent green color. There was a massive storm in the west this evening that I believe was responsible for colors that truly looked like the Northern Lights. (On the radar, the storm had a black-purple center. ‘Tis the season… the lightning crashes from the storms we’ve had this week would just about give you a heart attack.)

We waited until after 6 pm to hang out on the beach because the heat index has been so intense. But even in the evenings, the water feels like taking a warm bath. Here’s a shot of Elise capturing crabs.

Our rough-coat Jack Russell terrier, Sherlock, is now totally accustomed to the ocean. I figure this will be the year that he learns to sail with us. I feel like we can trust him on a sailboat now. He was afraid of the waves as a young pup, but now he wants to play in the surf.

A surprise visitor

We’ve been living in Florida for about a year-and-a-half now, and I feel like I have become mostly accustomed to the wildlife. I’ve seen dozens of alligators in the wild. I’m on my second armadillo in my garden. I’ve learned that the monkey sounds I hear at night are actually barred owls. An osprey dive-bombed our Jack Russell terrier, clearly mistaking him for lunch. (Thankfully, Sherlock got away.) I found a scarlet king snake literally climbing the stucco exterior wall of our house one morning. You wouldn’t think that was possible, but a snake can fit in the crevices of the texturing. There’s no taming Florida (or Floridians).

I think my strangest wildlife encounter happened this morning, however. I was about to open the front door to let said Jack Russell terrier out in the yard. Our front door is almost entirely glass, which is oddly useful in Florida. Apart from letting in the sunshine the state is known for, you can see if there’s a snake curled up against the door. (This has not happened to me yet, but it seems to happen to my neighbor all the time.)

Anyhow, there was not a snake. There was an ENORMOUS blue crab. By enormous, I mean about a foot wide. And he had two giant claws, which he was waving in the air, as if to say “hey, lady, let me in!” And, man, those things are fast. He sped off the porch and away into my azaleas the moment he understood he was not alone. I have seen little crabs in the saltwater marshes and bouncing around on the beach before, but not trying to break into our house!

I have since learned that crab invasions in Florida are common, particularly after it rains. Check out this chap, who had dozens of crabs take over his lanai.

Summertime, and the living is easy

Flagler Beach, FL on a summer afternoon

Oh, summer has clothed the earth
In a cloak from the loom of the sun!
And a mantle, too, of the skies’ soft blue,
And a belt where the rivers run.

And now for the kiss of the wind,
And the touch of the air’s soft hands,
With the rest from strife and the heat of life,
With the freedom of lakes and lands.

I envy the farmer’s boy
Who sings as he follows the plow;
While the shining green of the young blades lean
To the breezes that cool his brow.

He sings to the dewy morn,
No thought of another’s ear;
But the song he sings is a chant for kings
And the whole wide world to hear.

He sings of the joys of life,
Of the pleasures of work and rest,
From an o’erfull heart, without aim or art;
‘T is a song of the merriest.

O ye who toil in the town,
And ye who moil in the mart,
Hear the artless song, and your faith made strong
Shall renew your joy of heart.

Oh, poor were the worth of the world
If never a song were heard,—
If the sting of grief had no relief,
And never a heart were stirred.

So, long as the streams run down,
And as long as the robins trill,
Let us taunt old Care with a merry air,
And sing in the face of ill.

In Summer, Paul Laurence Dunbar (Lyrics of the Hearthside)

Florida’s incredible farmers markets

I love all farmers markets and seeing what local produce is available where. Nothing, however, compares to the farmers markets on the Florida coast. You can get sacks of fruit and vegetables for a dollar or two, fish fresh off the boat that morning, and all kinds of exotic tropical produce. In many states, it is difficult for people from all economic backgrounds to have access to healthy foods. That is not the case in Florida, and much of this great food is available year-round. Many of these farmers markets have permanent locations, so you don’t have to show up at a particular time or on a particular day. They are always there and always open.

We came home today with these coconuts that weigh two or three pounds each.

We also found loads of plants for our vegetable garden that we did not already have. New varieties of tomatoes and peppers, some fantastic basil, and Cuban oregano. I picked up some small sweet beets that I am looking forward to eating with a pile of feta, sinfully sweet cantaloupe, and a dozen duck eggs.

I am counting down the days until I can pick up figs everywhere. Figs are my all-time favorite thing to eat. We make a divine salad of figs, mâche, strips of prosciutto, and mozzarella chunks, with a dressing of walnut oil, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon mustard (with a pinch of salt). It is the most amazing thing.

One of the wonderful things about homeschooling is that we can take breaks during the middle of the day to run over to the farmers market down the street from us and pick out fresh food for lunch. (No mystery meat in our cafeteria!) Our daughter is exposed to the life skills of deciding what and how to prepare and food from many other cultures, as Florida is a giant melting pot of people from the US, Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. We try to frequent the many international grocers in our town for spices and curries and whatnot. We love the Portuguese folks and Thai communities here in particular and have made a lot of friends among them.

Flagler Beach on a Sunday Afternoon

Home sweet home. We picked up some poke bowls at Break Awayz and then went to play in the surf. It was a gorgeous, perfect day.

E taught a couple of children visiting from Utah how to catch sand fleas (which are what people here call a type of small crab that likes to burrow into the sand as the tide comes in). They dug a moat and made a sand flea colony.