Milestones and Friends

Several momentous events occurred in my life in 2005, beginning with a month-long trip to Italy with my daughter, newly graduated from college. When we returned home, I moved to St. Augustine, ninety miles away, as a newly divorced fifty-year old, beginning life in a new city with a new job.

Feral cats roamed the neighborhood where I lived in St. Augustine. One of them remained aloof from the rest and began making her home on my patio. I eventually adopted her into my life and crowned her “Abby.” Abby, a long-haired black cat with green eyes, followed her own rules. She jumped on furniture, book shelves, and tables and didn’t flinch when pillows, books, and glassware went flying. When I moved to Tallahassee, I couldn’t take this still half-wild cat with me, so my friends, Joy and John, became her foster parents. Abby took over their home and Nico, their black lab. Nico lives in fear of Abby after seven years of cohabiting. I recently visited them, and noticed Nico wouldn’t go near his food dish when Abby was in the room. Today, my friend Joy discovered that Abby definitively declared herself the Queen of All Things. This photo says it all.

Abby

Abby in Nico’s food bowl

Another friend came into my life in 2005 as well, and she has achieved a milestone today by publishing her new cookbook, Cuban Rice Classics, on Amazon. Marisella Veiga is an accomplished author, journalist, and professor. When I moved to St. Augustine, I went to a woman’s networking luncheon. I was running late and thought all the seats were taken in the room full of one hundred women. There wasn’t an empty seat available, except next to a friendly woman with dark hair and welcoming smile.

“I’m Marisella Veiga, and I’m a writer,” the woman said.

“I’m a writer, too,” I answered. Out of all the people in the room, we were the only writers, and I’m certain something other than ourselves created that one empty chair next to Marisella that day.

I knew we’d be great friends. We were both new to St. Augustine. She’d recently married for the first time, and I’d recently divorced for the first time. We shared some of the same sarcastic, yet loving, views on life, despite our different backgrounds. She and her family left Cuba when she was very young, and they ended up in Minnesota, where the nice, but isolated people in their community thought the Veiga family were of African-American descent.

But what sealed our friendship that day was when she told me she’d just joined a group of women called, Vintage Surfers.

“But I don’t surf,” I said.

“I don’t either, but it’s a blast to watch the others try,” she answered. “I use a boogie board.”

I joined her, and we’ve “boogied” together ever since by the bonds of mutual respect and a weird sense of humor at life’s sometimes funny and sometimes bitter ironies.

So today, I celebrate the milestone of my fellow author and vintage surfer and friend. Using the traditions of her heritage, Marisella has pulled together a book filled with more than recipes. It contains the legacy and history of the Cuban people and their food, which ties together a culture torn apart by the tragedy of exile from one’s homeland.

Click on book cover for purchase link

Here’s to milestones and friends and laughter.

And here’s hoping Nico will one day regain his food bowl.Nico

Snow Inspires Florida Writer

DSC03106I woke to a fairyland of snow-covered trees and lawn on a day when I thought I would be waking up to the marsh and swampland of the Everglades.

I’d planned a writer’s retreat while my husband attended a conference in Reno. We began by spending a week with my daughter and her boyfriend in St. Augustine, after driving there from Pennsylvania the week before Thanksgiving. We played in the surf, walked the beach, walked across the Vilano Bridge to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth site. And then we shared a Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends in Flagler College’s dining hall, replete with one of the largest collections of Tiffany glass in the world. The college is housed in the former Ponce de Leon Hotel, Henry Flagler’s showpiece of grand architecture, art, and opulence during the Gilded Age. My daughter graduated from Flagler in 2005, so it was a grand setting with a bit of nostalgia. The food was tasty and the company even better.

wood stork

wood stork

As our week progressed, the weather warmed. But my husband’s condition that first surfaced in Mexico returned, and we were forced to cancel our plans and come home five days earlier than planned.

As I looked out at the snow-covered yard, I was struck by the beauty of the whiteness against the stark background of naked tree limbs.

We spent those unexpected days at home with no plans or deadlines and delved into keeping warm and getting my husband well.

In the week since we returned, I’ve completed the first third of my new novel, Native Lands. It might be true what writer Harry Crews always said. He needed to write about growing up in Georgia away from there.

Perhaps being in the setting of the Everglades would have distracted me from the work. As the wood storks, great blue herons, and snowy egrets foraged for food in the swamp, my eyes would be glued to them and not to the laptop screen. The gators sunning on the edge of the water and fish slowly swimming by the dock would have occupied my time instead of the writing. The kingfishers, pelicans, and ibis might have forced me to photograph them rather than working on my manuscript.

ibis roaming in a yard in Tarpon Springs, Florida

The warmth of a November day in the Everglades would make me sit with my feet up, a beer in my hand on a lounge chair overlooking the mangrove and cypress trees dripping in Spanish moss. It’s much easier to write when I’m forced to stay inside.

I’ll go back, hopefully in February, for another try. This time I’ll have more of my novel done and during  my time in St. Augustine and Everglades City, I’ll spend time on plenty of porches and sandy beaches warming my toes in the sun checking my facts on whether the surf is stronger at sunrise or sunset and determine whether the pelican or the great blue heron fascinate me more on a lazy afternoon.

That’s good research in any book I write.dsc00466.jpg

Remembering Extinct Humans

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

As the forty-third anniversary of the first Earth Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about endangered species – those species on the brink of becoming extinct. Extinct. Such a final word we apply to the animal kingdom.

But did you know there’s a group of humans who lived in north Florida who became extinct in a mere 200 years? It’s true. The disappearance of an entire nation of people could be a story from the pages of a science fiction book. However, in the case of the Timucua, the story leaps from the pages of history.

When the Spanish landed near St. Augustine, Florida, in the sixteenth century, the Tumucua occupied several hundred villages in one-third of Florida. Most historians agree they lived from St. Augustine to west of Tallahassee, and south to Tampa Bay. Much of what we do know about this group of Native Americans comes from Fr. Francisco Pareja, a Franciscan priest who served at a mission north of Jacksonville. Some estimates put the Timucua population at 100,000 in 1500 A.D., according to Florida’s First People by Robin Brown.

However, by “1800 A.D. all aboriginal Floridians were gone,” Brown states.

The artist, Jacques Le Moyne, left behind his renderings of the physical description of the Timucua, which actually consisted of many different factions, according to Lars Anderson’s book, Paynes Prairie. However, from the paintings and drawings and written descriptions a common picture emerges of a people who no longer exist.

Accounts show the Timucua to be tall and sturdy. The women wore their hair straight, but the men drew their hair up into knots on the top of the head. Anderson writes, “This was considered not only attractive but also a handy place for the warriors to stick their arrows for quick access during battle.”Timucuan

A striking feature of the Timucua comes from the scratches or tattoos etched over the entire body of the male. Le Moyne’s paintings depicted a male warrior’s body covered with pricks in the skin made with a sharp point.

Despite their ability to withstand such a tortuous practice as poking holes in the body, the Timucua could not withstand the onslaught of the European invasion and the disease it brought.

Within 200 years of the Spanish explorations into northeast Florida, the last vestige of the Timucua strain had vanished. Some folks suspect the few remaining by 1763, the year the Spanish turned over Florida to the English, fled the state for Cuba.

Thanks to the writings and artistic renderings, the history books can recount the lives of the original Floridians whose name most likely meant “enemy.” When the Spanish asked about this tribe of tattooed natives, another group of Native Americans used the word Timucua, which may have meant “enemy” to describe the large group of people who spoke the same language but had separate tribes. The Potano and Utina tribes of Timucua were the most prominent ones.

Excavations by archaeologist Brent Weisman in 1989, showed remains of the mission, San Martin de Timucua near the settlement of Aguacaleyquen located near the banks of Mission Springs on the Ichetucknee River in 1608. Historians believe the Timucuans living near there helped build the mission at the spring.

To the Spanish, they may have represented the enemy, but to the Catholic priests who arrived to set up missions, evidence points to a more friendly relationship, which has left at least some form of a legacy of those who live here now.

I’ve always been intrigued to think a whole body of people could simply disappear. In the novel I’m currently writing, I’m dabbling with the possibility they didn’t disappear, but went underground in the Everglades, watching and waiting for the right moment to emerge. Here’s an excerpt from the first draft of Safe Harbors when one of the main characters discovers a familiar tattoo on two teenagers she meets on the beach when she comes to inspect a dead sea turtle (yes, I’m writing about sea turtles again – and panthers, alligators, and pythons – oh my!).

“Barbara, this is Sam McDonald and his sister Lori,” Jack said. “Their stepfather is Eric Dimsdale, another county commissioner.”

“Nice to meet you,” Barbara said as she shook both of their hands. “Daniel spoke of your stepfather several times.”

Barbara walked closer to the nest to inspect its size. She glanced back at the three young people now sitting on a blanket nearby. Sam turned toward her with his swimming trunks hiked up high on his thighs. She noticed the tattoo immediately. Her eyes drifted to Lori who sat facing the ocean, her bare back to Barbara exposing a similar tattoo.

“Are your tattoos identical?” Barbara asked.

“Lori’s has a female protector over the heart. That’s the only difference,” Sam said.

“Our mom has one identical to mine,” Lori said. “She said it was a tradition in her family.”

“What about your father? Does he have one?” Barbara asked.

“He died when we were young,” Sam said. “We don’t remember him.”

Barbara asked no more questions, but as the rest continued talking about protecting the sea turtle nest, Barbara wondered how old Mike’s lost children might be.

Mangrove Mike did not speak of years and dates. He was the age of the seasons that ruled the moments of his life.

He often said life had no beginning; life had no end. It only existed now.

“I’d like to meet your mother,” Barbara said to the tattooed siblings.

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In the Raw: The Present Moment Cafe

The Present Moment CafeSt. Augustine, FL

The Present Moment Cafe
St. Augustine, FL

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I wasn’t sure what to expect when my daughter Anna told me she would be a “cook” at an all-raw restaurant.

With fourteen years as a cook in a variety of restaurants, Anna knows her way around a kitchen. When she began working at The Present Moment Cafe in St. Augustine, Florida, she received a jolt.

“It was as if I’d never been a cook before,” she said. “I had to learn a whole new way to prepare food.”

Since nothing is cooked, there are no ovens, no stove tops, no deep fryers, and no microwaves. I assumed this meant the restaurant only served salads with lots of sprouts and raw nuts. I learned a few things when I visited The Present Moment Cafe a few months ago, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Anna ordered for us. We started with a Caesar salad with a dressing made from celery, dates, and other raw seasonings. Then we enjoyed hummus made from ground cashews.

HummusPhoto by Golden Pixels

Hummus
Photo by Golden Pixels

Both were delicious. Anna ordered the lunch variety platter for us. We chose burritos, sushi, and pesto pasta. Unbelievable would be how to describe each of these raw, vegetarian, vegan delights. In fact, even with three of us eating from the platter, we had difficulty eating all the selections.

SushiPhoto by Heather Blanton

Sushi
Photo by Heather Blanton

The Present Moment Cafe published a book this past year with beautiful photos of their offerings and recipes. Handmade in the Present Moment is available on Create Space. Owner Yvette Schindler also provides the story of how the cafe made its way into the present moment.

When she opened the restaurant in 2006, only a few existed in northeast Florida, but now there are a sprinkling of raw restaurants sprinkled throughout Florida. To find out if there’s a raw restaurant near you, visit the Directory of Raw Food establishments. They list restaurants in all fifty states and around the world.

The philosophy behind the movement is based on the belief that when food is raised above a temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit, it causes chemical changes that create acidic toxins. Visit www.rawfoodlife.com for more information and many links to resource and reference materials.

Am I going to change my diet to only eating raw foods? Not in the present moment, but I don’t rule out the benefits of incorporating the philosophy inherent in the practice to some extent in my diet.

I’m always in awe of the pioneers, and Yvette Schindler and her crew of supporters and staffers certainly qualify in that category. I’m happy my daughter works in a place where thoughtful consideration is taken with each dish. The restaurant itself is a testament to the peaceful attitude of staff and customers.???????????????????????????????

And as always, I support any effort to live a lighter life on this earth we inherited.

Do you have any experience with eating or preparing raw foods?

The “porpoise” of life

Happy 2013. We made it past the end of the Mayan calendar, but not sure if we fell off a cliff or not. I wish for you all peace and prosperity this coming year and may you all discover purpose in your life. If that’s not possible, I hope you at least dance as free as the porpoises I saw on Christmas Eve swimming in the San Sebastian River in St. Augustine.

DSC02300

Finding the Road to Happiness

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I wrote Raising Independent Children about my daughter moving to Oregon. Here’s a follow up to that post.

I stood on the bricks of an old St. Augustine street just after dawn one Sunday morning. Tears streamed down my face as I waved to the back of a VW bug. My daughter, Anna, drove away, on her journey to Portland, Oregon.

Her roommate and I stood together crying, when I suddenly realized something.

“She turned the wrong way,” I said.

We both began to grin through our tears when I heard the putt putt of Anna’s VW. A minute later, she passed by again headed in the right direction.

That moment not only made me laugh through my sadness at seeing her depart for her new life in the West, but it also brought to mind all those seemingly wrong turns we make in life. In just the matter of a second, we can change the direction.

When I changed careers at the age of forty-six, I took one of those turns in the road, not sure of the outcome. The reactions of others to my decision surprised me the most.

On my final day of teaching, students stood in line to wish me well and give me notes of appreciation and encouragement. It surprised me that these teenagers understood why I was leaving. One theme ran through all of the messages. They expressed pride in knowing someone who decided to change course when the present road brought little happiness.

“I’ve watched my parents and my aunts and uncles work jobs they hate,” one student said as he walked out of the classroom. “It’s been awful to watch so I really admire you for recognizing your dissatisfaction, and then doing something about it.”

This profound statement came from a fifteen year old. When I made my announcement to my students a few weeks earlier, I simply told them my love of teaching no longer motivated me, and I wanted to leave before I burned out. This young man understood and so did my other students.

My fellow colleagues surprised me as well. One teacher, a burly football coach, congratulated me on my move with tears in his eyes. He said he wished he had my courage to make a change because he had not been happy in a very long time.

My alleged bravery came from the conviction that my unhappiness in my work led directly to dissatisfaction with all parts of my life. Conversely, unhappiness in our personal lives permeates into our work life as well.

When this happens, we have three choices. We can remain unhappy or we can change our attitudes or we can change the road.

I decided I didn’t want to change my attitude nor did I want to remain unhappy. I’d done a decent job as a teacher, and I left while I still had pride in my work. I had something else tugging at me that would not leave me alone. I followed that path.

More than a decade later, my journey as a writer has brought me more satisfaction and happiness than I’ve ever had in any job before. In fact, I don’t think of writing as a job. It’s as much a part of me as my arms.

We all deserve happiness and satisfaction in a life that is much too short. Following Anna’s lead, when we discover we’re headed in an unsatisfactory direction, we only have to turn the car around and head a different way.

My daughter stayed in Portland for five years. Last year she moved back to Florida. My writing life has taken another direction as well. But through it all, both my daughter and I always knew when the journey no longer made us happy, we could make a turn and change our course.