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.

Home sweet Florida

We have finally returned to Florida. It feels wonderful to be cruising down the A1A again.

It was an interesting trip from North Georgia back down the coast. We thought the storm would have moved through the area before we made it to Savannah, but we were wrong. The eye of the hurricane was just off the Georgia coast when we passed through. There wasn’t any rain, but it was gusty outside. It was odd to see the storm we had spent a week hiding from not far in the distance.

We made excellent time driving home because there were very few cars headed east or south on the freeways. They had just opened I-16 to eastbound traffic. And most of the traffic on I-95 was hurricane response teams chasing the storm north.

It is difficult not to have an emotional response seeing the thousands of utility vehicles, first responders, and search and rescue teams who had traveled to Florida to help with what could have been an absolutely catastrophic storm. We seriously saw about 150 police vehicles driving from Lake Hartwell to Palm Coast. We saw hundreds of cherry pickers from utility companies up and down the east coast and tree experts. We saw dozens of semi trucks pulling trailers for search and rescue operations. There were fire and paramedics trucks from all over.

On the southbound side, we saw semis from Operation Blessing, Pat Robertson’s charity (now run by his son), hauling food to vulnerable populations affected by the storm. They have folks on the ground bringing water and food to residents of the Bahamas too.

Living in a developed nation, we don’t often consider the vast planning and resources that go into ensuring that we maintain a comfortable lifestyle and that minimize loss of life in even the most extreme events. But it’s impossible to ignore it when it takes over one of the busiest interstates in the country. And this is happening while our nation is sending our bravest men and women to help in rescue efforts in other countries. We are truly a blessed population.

After seeing that our house was mostly as we had left it – a lot of branches down, primarily from palm trees, and many of my plants in my gardens still had flowers on them! – we decided to grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants on Flagler Beach. We’ve been eating out a lot lately, but we figured they’d appreciate our business since the hurricane drove the tourists away. Have to support the local economy.

I ordered a dish at the Golden Lion that I had never had before (though we’ve eaten there a million times). They have ahi sliders that are seriously brioche stuffed with the contents of a poke bowl. So delicious it is unreal.

There were plenty of lunatic surfers braving the swells at Flagler Beach. No visible beach erosion, and the plants they had just put into the dunes after constructing the new sea wall were still there and thriving.

We have not found any snakes hiding in strange places since we’ve returned. But we did find this guy.

I am convinced that love bugs come out in force after crazy storms. We are getting swarmed with them post-hurricane. I am not looking forward to picking up all the debris tomorrow with them landing on me constantly. But this is a week for counting blessings, so I’ll quit complaining now.

All is right with the world. I’m looking forward to getting back to our normal routine (whatever that is). Along the way, we discovered that we only live a few hours down I-95 from Charleston, so we will be going there soon. It’s a toss up between heading there or the Florida Keys after work calms down a bit. There is no place in the world like the South. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

The maddening innumeracy of hurricane models

These are two cycles of models for Hurricane Dorian taken merely 24 hours apart. Do you notice something about them?

There is zero overlap between them. There is no mathematical way that the folks running these scenarios are representing the actual range of possible outcomes.

The consequences of these mathematical failures are huge. Yesterday, reporters nationwide were telling people in Florida that one of the most catastrophic storms in the history of the State of Florida was about to make landfall. Today, they are telling them that they are in the clear and the storm might hit the Outer Banks instead. Both claims are absolute bullshit from a quantitative perspective.

Why can’t the federal government hire a single quant from Wall Street to model hurricanes?

Hurricane memes, because Dorian

So I’ve been polling friends trying to decide how much I should worry about Dorian, which may or may not hit Florida and may or may not be a hurricane when it does. One person confessed that she had bought some water bottles while at the grocery store. A few people called me a chicken. And the server at dinner said she didn’t even know there was a storm because she doesn’t have cable. She returned later to tell us that the restaurant is now going to serve a drink named Dorian.

I’ve also been trying to find out what exactly we should do to prepare our house for a hurricane. This seems kind of important to me since our house is on the Intracoastal Waterway. So far, I have learned that we can fill our washing machine up with ice and use it as a beer cooler. And we should come up with a hurricane playlist. I’m not sure whether I should be terrified or get excited at the prospect of blaring the 1812 Overture as a storm moves in.

Anyway, I posted here about the last wicked storm that was supposed to move through the area and then it fizzled into nothing so we spent the weekend playing at Cocoa Beach. Here’s hoping Dorian isn’t much of a threat either.

(I don’t know. That last one feels a little personal.)

An absolutely magical day in Cocoa Beach, Florida

The storm was a no show, so we decided to drive down to Cocoa Beach for the afternoon (which turned into the evening too, as one does). It’s now one of our favorite little towns in Florida.

This, my friends, is a schefflera tree. I am going to find one for our backyard. The leaves are incredible, the blooms even more so. I can’t even begin to describe how gorgeous this little courtyard was in person.

This is what was left of the storm off of the coast.

Elise was in love with this sunken sitting area along one of the sidewalks. She made us keep coming back to it throughout the day.

We stopped into El Bodegon, a Spanish restaurant, for a (very late) lunch of tapas. It is now my mission to return on a Friday evening to see their flamenco dancing.

Here are ham croquettes and lamb with chimichurri.

Squid (one of Elise’s favorites).

This was shrimp with a cheese mixture, 3/4 Manchego, 1/4 some sort of bleu cheese.

Stuffed mushrooms.

The interior of the restaurant.

One block of the city was covered in murals like this. It was impossible to get an image of the whole thing. The murals highlight the diversity of the people living in Florida and the natural world here.

This is a toy store, believe it or not. Annie’s Toy Store has a lot of classic toys, including logic-based board games and figurines of mythological creatures. It put Cocoa Beach on the map for Elise.

There was a store where all the art was made from natural elements. I was overwhelmed by the paintings where the birds and other creatures were made from real feathers and shells.

Break for Cuban coffee. I had never understood why the folks in the Caribbean drink hot drinks in the middle of the day, but now I think I get it… The caffeine helps wake your brain after being baked by the sun all day.

We spent hours in the Village Biergarten, mostly due to the musician that was playing (no, really). He taught all the kids present to play various traditional musical instruments from different cultures. It was an odd, impromptu educational experience for Elise. Here she is playing a washboard with another child. You can tell from the look on her face how much she enjoyed it.

One of those crazy Nordic horns. I have to say, I was not expecting the sound that came out of it.

Spaten and enormous pretzels.

Learning how to play a saw with a violin bow.

This is one of the windows from The Dinosaur Store, which is full of fossils and legitimate dinosaur bones. It was closed by the time we arrived, but we plan to return for this store alone.

Some wisdom from the beach.

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.