Part of me wants to play this cool and be all, “Yeah, it’s cool, you can pre-order my book” and the rest of me — the real me — has an almost-insurmountable compulsion to run around the house screaming “My book! MY BOOK!”
So severely conflicted on this am I that it took me 19 full days to write this post, which has to be some sort of record for something, even if it’s a record for how batshit crazy things get inside my head.
Forget all that. The post has arrived, as has the book. It feels as though I’ve lived a lifetime since I first had the idea, which I suppose happens to many writers, unless, of course, you happen to be James Patterson, because that man is a machine. And if you are James Patterson, hi. Buy my book, OK?
Technically, the book has not arrived: You can pre-order it now on Amazon (or from the University Press of Florida) and they’ll ship it to you on October 4, the actual release date. Also, if you want it as an ebook, you have to wait — I mean, not much longer, but apparently the something about metadata or other things I don’t understand and don’t you dare pretend you do, either. The takeaway? You will have the chance to buy the ebook and no, I don’t know when but soon.
When UPF offered me a book contract, my editor told me in no uncertain terms to never promise people a publication date (well, until the Press itself released one) so I would make jokes when people asked me. My favorite one?
“Well, I’m not certain but I’m hoping sometime before we elect a new president.”
I made it with a whole month to spare.
Last year, I joked that I was the official poultry reporter for the Gabber Newspaper. When the paper and I parted ways last month, I felt a twinge that my livestock days were over. But then the Universe grabbed me by the ear, twisted, and said, “Not so fast, girlie.”
This is not my duck. Honest. But I have a stake in its future.
So here’s what happened: I want chickens. Oh, I don’t want to own them. While I find poultry in general just delicious, the chicken component of that category disgusts me. They’re mean and they don’t taste that good, unless they’re fried in buttermilk. Their eggs, however, taste delicious. I love eggs in all forms: deviled, fried, hard-boiled, poached, scrambled, egg salad… You get the idea.
Now, as much as I don’t like chickens, I hate the idea of factory farming eggs or chickens, so when I buy eggs, I buy free-range eggs, which costs about $4 a dozen. For someone who loves eggs, that can get expensive, so I thought, hey, if I could get eggs from some of my chicken-rearing neighbors, I could save some money. The easiest way to make this happen was to buy two chickens myself and bribe my neighbor Leigh to raise them for me. I’ll buy her chicken food as she needs it, and in return, I get the eggs.
So last week I went with Leigh to get the chicks, because really, that’s the least I can do for my chicken surrogate, right? Before I leave my house to pick up Leigh, her husband Mike – who was in the midst of removing a load-bearing wall from our kitchen area – begged me, “Please don’t let her bring home a duck” and I thought what the hell? because ducks are illegal as pets in Gulfport and Leigh has always seemed sane. Well, sane for Gulfport. It’s a sliding scale. Also, we were getting chickens. I assume Mike is confused, and I assure him I can keep his sweet little wife from buying a duck. I tell him he has nothing to fear and encourage him to resume focusing all his energy in making absolutely certain my roof won’t collapse when we remove the wall separating the kitchen and living room.
When will I learn?
Leigh and I walk into Animal House, and she shows me the chicks and explains which ones give which colored eggs. She’s kind of an egg color expert. And then she shows me this duckling, and I feel a vague sense of alarm. I imagine it’s how men feel when the woman they love walks into a room and asks, “Notice anything different?”
The lone duckling, I note, seems to be fairly listless, and also the object of much pecking. His feet are bloody. He’s missing down from his neck, where instead I see itty-bitty, duckling-sized scabs. He tries to stand move away from the chicks, who think he tastes just delicious, thank you, but every time he stands, the chicks see the blood on his feet and go crazy pecking. I remembers one of the reasons I don’t like factory-farmed chickens is the practice of clipping their beaks, and all of a sudden I also remember why they clip the beaks. My throat gets thick, memories of this book wash over me, and I tell Leigh I’m going to look at the adoptable puppies, because I am about 45 seconds from having to explain to El Cap why I bought a duck, and right now we’re in the middle of remodeling a kitchen and I honestly don’t think he can handle livestock, too.
When I stroll back over, Leigh is passionately arguing with the 15-year-old clerk about the state of the duckling’s health. He tells her the duckling is “just fine” and that it’s “normal” for it to be bloody and pecked at by chickens. Meanwhile, Leigh is texting a coworker who grew up on a farm, asking him to please save the duckling, and he texts her back “I have chickens. Chickens and ducks don’t get along.” Leigh reads this message, shows me, looks at the duckling trying to hide his open, bloody wounds from about 20 pecking chicks, and I sigh. I feel the steel jaws of the trap close.
“Who do we know who can take this duckling, because I can’t, Leigh. I have two hound dogs and two cats,” I tell her, thinking to myself: And El Cap. Calypso will kill the duck, El Cap will kill me, and the cats will feast on my remains.
And so a plan is born. Leigh is going to get the duck and find a home for it. I buy my chickens, Leigh buys the duck, and we head back to her house. And then I head home, poultry-free, where Mike pauses from shoring up my roof to give me a long, hard look.
“Do I own a duck?” he asks me, quietly and (I think) a little too calmly. I am suddenly aware of the preponderance of power tools – including a pneumatic nail gun – easily within Mike’s reach.
“It’s temporary,” I say, backing away slowly.
“The bird was temporary,” he says, and mutters a few other things I choose to interpret as love for his bride.
What Leigh didn’t tell me until later was that the scrawny, indifferent young store clerk also told her that if the chicks didn’t kill the duck by the next morning they’d likely have to do it themselves. And then she promised me she would never go to Animal House again, and I decided I wouldn’t, either, because really, the small animals they sell really shouldn’t be sold, not as pets. The best thing I can do is not give them my business, and the best thing Leigh can do for her marriage is stop going places where there are mistreated animals she feels compelled to “rescue.”
Leigh and Mike are keeping the duck, even though it’s illegal, because Mike (for all his big bad talk about not wanting it) named it, and everyone knows once you name something, you have to keep it. Which is why I never suggest baby names to my friends. And, apparently, no one’s going to arrest Leigh for the illegal duck, because that is kind of a dick thing to do, and if no one’s arresting the people who own the illegal pig (true story) or the goats (also a true story), who’s sending a duck rescuer to jail?
So, you know, everyone wins, except George, because that’s not a great name for a duck. I wanted to call him Lowell, but apparently I don’t get a vote. Which is fine. And, hey, I’ll have fresh eggs from Yasmin and Foghorn P. in just a few months.
I love Gulfport, but I also love living near downtown St. Pete. I wouldn’t want to live near downtown at all, but I do love that I can be there in less than 10 minutes (finding parking may take slightly longer.) The waterfront – which is public access, every bit – is, as the mayor said recently, a jewel. When I was in college, St. Petersburg’s downtown was a place one did not go alone, or, really, at all. Things have changed, and I am thrilled.
One of the things I do – and I really enjoy – is speak to people about my work re-tracing the tours from the WPS Guide to the Southernmost State. I’ve lectured and taught at OLLI at Eckerd College for just over a year now, and I love it. There’s something incredibly rewarding about having a group of students who attend your lecture – and pay to do so – when they don’t get college credit for doing so. They just attend because they love learning and find the subject interesting.
This year, OLLI expanded its reach to include satellite campuses at the Westminster retirement communities, and last night the downtown St. Petersburg Westminster crowd (Westminster Palms), instead of heading to the Vinoy Verandah for drinks or walking a few blocks to get dinner, chose to hear me speak about eating your way across the Florida panhandle. I was incredibly flattered, so as a thank you, I made the class sour orange margaritas. Now, the sour oranges didn’t technically come from the panhandle, but they did come from Florida and who hasn’t sat through a class where the lecturer droned on and on in a monotone and you couldn’t wait to leave? Think of my lectures as your reward for those times. You’re welcome.
Read more about it here. If you follow the links you can even find my recipe for sour orange margaritas.
This is an actual conversation I just had with a dispatcher for the Gulfport Police Department:
|<Insert joke here>|
Dispatcher Nancy: “This is Nancy. This is a recorded line…”
Me: “Hi, My name is Cathy. I’m in Gulfport. Can you have the Gulfport patrol sergeant call me?”
Dispatcher Nancy: “Certainly. And what is this about?”
Me: “About a pig one of the officers lassoed this morning.”
Dispatcher Nancy: “OK, what’s your number?”
Me: “Yeah, because that’s a totally normal request.”
I gave her my number, but the point is here, Florida – and of course, by extension, Gulfport – has to be pretty high up there on “regular everyday weirdness” if that request didn’t even make her break stride.
If you’re just stopping in this blog from somewhere else, like New York or Chicago, please know that we are in no way an agricultural community, unless you count the chickens.
Also, if you think I’m making any of this up for effect, I’m not. I don’t have to. I live in Gulfport. Don’t believe me? Read the full story here.
•Originally published for the Clearwater Patch on December 1, 2012•
Sometimes the garden’s brightest colors are at night
Just outside Clearwater, the Florida Botanical Gardens lights up like a Christmas tree every December. Not just one Christmas tree, though – all of them.
It’s one of those rare Florida nights when it actually feels like winter feels in most of the country. I’m not complaining; I love that I can wear shorts on Christmas. But when we do get a cold burst, I feel brilliantly alive out in the elements, wrapped in a scarf and breathing the cold air.
That’s what I’m doing tonight, and I’m doing it at the Florida Botanical Gardens. There’s no snow, but it’s a Florida wonderland all its own over here.
Everywhere I look, lights sparkle against the rich backdrop of green fringe and brilliant blossoms. I walk across a long bridge to reach the sparkly, shiny brilliance and am not disappointed: everything glitters here, even the stars high above me tonight.
I make my way through the throngs of people and towards the popcorn tree. I’m pretty sure it has a scientific name, but to me, it’s the popcorn tree. That’s because it smells like buttered popcorn, and when I stand directly under its perfectly round balls of blossoms, I feel like I’m awash in a vat of movie theatre popcorn.
As much buttery delight as I take in the tree, I realize I can’t stay under it forever. The Gardens, always enchanting to me, offer up one festive treasure after another. I rub my eyes, afraid I cannot possibly hope to take it all in tonight. A breeze ripples down my sweater-clad spine; this is Florida winter, and I want to suck it all in and breathe out frosty, steamy breath. I wrap my arms around myself and, alone, I am content to wander the garden.
George Eliot said, “It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses we must plant more trees” and as I stroll through the gardens, I sense the truth in these words. I feel it when I rub my thumb over the slick palm leaves; I smell its heady honesty under my beloved popcorn tree. When I sit by the pool and watch people stroll by, I feel the chill in the air as the breeze blows through. I hear the wind over the foliage, and if I close my eyes and try only to listen, I can hear the air singing over each leaf, every petal, and individual blossoms. My senses understand, somehow, a symphony of the gardens, and I am reluctant to leave.
Plenty of people have joined me tonight – after 12 years, it is a tradition to come out to the garden to see the lit sprays of palm trees, the two-dimensional lit birds, the walkways illuminated with a thousand tiny bulbs – and I have again the sense of being alone in a crowd. Unlike so many other times, though, I am alone in the crowd but feel a thread pulling us all together. It’s not the Christmas spirit, no exactly, but it is something greater than all of us.
It’s the spirit of the garden itself.
So we have these awesome bookshelves in our living room. They stretch almost to the ceiling from about mid-thigh height. It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with the place.
|If you read my earlier post about my mom, look closely.
You can see wood shavings in this photo.
The problem for book lovers is that if you give us bookshelves like these, we try and fill them. Actually, there is no “try” – filling them with beloved manuscripts happens organically. For me, that means that, 17 months after signing the lease on the bookshelves, they’re overflowing with books about Florida. When you factor in the past year spent pulling books off to find the (seemingly) random fact to add in to the spicy goodness that was (I hoped) my master’s thesis, then pushing them back on the shelf again in no particular order, you have a mess. Or, at least, I did.
So yesterday, I decided I would put things right. Part of it was to blot out the 9-11 coverage on Fox “News” but mostly, I couldn’t take the dust and disorganization anymore. Also, I’m looking for my underwater camera (that’s another post) and I’d arrived at the quirky part of the search that we all come to when we’re desperately looking for something we simply cannot find, where bizarre ideas seem possible. I thought perhaps the camera was behind a book.
|No, the Emmys aren’t mine. I wish they were.|
- Early History through Explorative Narratives (also called “Lies told to the crown about Florida and one cool Bartram book”)
- Essential Florida (The WPA Guide to the Southernmost State, Florida Poems, Cross Creek, Everglades: River of Grass, and Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams)
- Everglades and Keys Fact and Fiction
- Tour and travel guides
- Hiaasen, MacDonald, and Randy Wayne White
- Books about Florida for which I don’t have enough to make a category
- Jimmy Buffett’s fiction and not-really-about-Florida-but-still-written-by-him books
Also, I’m wondering if anyone’s seen my camera….
I used to work by the oak tree. I never thought much about it until someone pointed it out to me, even though I walked by it at least 10 times a week.
He’s a beast of a tree – there’s no way you’re wrapping your arms around his bumpy, gnarled trunk. Don’t even think about climbing this tree – the first crook is a good 20 feet above your head. Looking up, it’s a just a wrinkled collection of bark, not much use to anyone for anything but shade and spiders. Up top, the frilly dressing explodes in a hundred shades of green, from gloomy spinach colored leaves to cheerful kelly green ones. I cannot see but am certain that a careful society of squirrels, birds, anoles and snakes make good use of the frills and, as needed, each other. This is not Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree; no little boy runs to her and collects her leaves. No one dares carve his initials into this tree’s stately trunk. In fact, I’d guess that most people who drive or walk by this tree don’t think of the tree at all.
He’s a beast of a tree – there’s no way you’re wrapping your arms around his bumpy, gnarled trunk. Don’t even think about climbing this tree – the first crook is a good 20 feet above your head. Looking up, it’s a just a wrinkled collection of bark, not much use to anyone for anything but shade and spiders. Up top, the frilly dressing explodes in a hundred shades of green, from gloomy spinach colored leaves to cheerful kelly green ones. I cannot see but am certain that a careful society of squirrels, birds, anoles and snakes make good use of the frills and, as needed, each other.
This is not Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree; no little boy runs to her and collects her leaves. No one dares carve his initials into this tree’s stately trunk. In fact, I’d guess that most people who drive or walk by this tree don’t think of the tree at all.
After a long (well, it felt long to me!) hiatus during which I finished my thesis and took my comprehensive exams, I’ve resumed writing the Destination Clearwater pieces for Clearwater Patch. They make me happy.
I’m taking my new paddleboard out for the first time today. I brought it out a few months ago, but I didn’t use it, just let my professor’s Tom Hallock’s kid use it as kind of a “thank you” for helping me with my thesis and my writing. Tom, not his kid. See, this is why I needed his help – my modifiers are all wrong. Also, I tend to use passive voice a lot, which is weird because I had that bitch of a teacher my sophomore who failed me if I used on “to be” verb in a paper. For years I obsessively edited out passive voice, but apparently I got better. Yay me. Now my writing isn’t as great as it should be.
But back to the board. I bought it for myself as a graduation present, but I bought it early because I found a great deal. Since I haven’t used it before I finished everything, that totally isn’t cheating. Today, though, I’m taking it out.
This post really isn’t about paddleboarding. It’s about me being done with my Master’s, which is definitely cool and I am so glad I did it. Now, though, I have this thesis that’s actually a book and it just needs some work before I send my introduction and some sample chapters to a publisher. I also want to set it up as serial installments on a blog as I go (that idea comes courtesy of Tom Hallock, and it’s one of the reasons he’s totally worth letting his kid use my paddleboard before I did. The other is that he’s a kick ass writing teacher and has mad editing skills) but I’m still fleshing out the details.
That, however, can wait. See, Calypso’s bored. She’s been waiting for me to finish my damn thesis so we can go have some fun. I don’t blame her a bit. I feel the same way, except my thesis was fun. For me. For a while. Until I got sick over it. Anyway, I’ll post the link to the Finding Florida blog as soon as it’s ready. For now, I owe a little dog some fun.
When I was a kid we would drive to the bluff and watch the fireworks. The bluff, back then, was a verdant expanse of sloping grass. Two statues stood sentinel: The Spirit of the American Navy and The Spirit of the American Doughboy. On July 4th they watched families crowd their tri-fold beach chairs and aluminum-framed redwood chairs side by side and wait for the fireworks. Kids ran through the crowd with sparklers.
That was my sole interaction with the bluff, although I drove by it on the regular on my way to the beach. When the city of Clearwater started talk of changes downtown and a new bridge, I privately grieved for the loss of that stretch land that gave all of us not lucky enough to live on the water public access to one of the most stunning waterfront vistas in the city.
The Doughboy and the Navy took a vacation south to Sarasota to get some restoration work done, sort of a spa for statues. The construction began, and life downtown changed forever. The bluff surrendered its scratchy rough blades of grass for smooth, clay-colored ribbons of road leading to a massive bridge that better connected the beach with the mainland. I assumed the bluff was gone forever.
Today, though, for some reason a patch of malachite catches my eye as my vermilion Volkwagen rolls down the bridge and onto the mainland. I hit the brakes and smash the clutch just in time to make a sharp right turn into the parking lot of the Oaks. I pick my way through landscaping and find myself amidst an albeit far tinier but still lush bluff. It still affords a breathtaking panorama of the bay, the bridge and the beach. I can still look down and see the deceptively soothing froth of the whitecaps on the water; I can still stretch my neck to see the upright soldiers of development over on Sand Key. I can still hear the distant rumble of traffic over the bridge, although the distinctive tinny rattle as cars grate over the midsection is now gone, as is the metallic center span that held me up so many times.
The bluff is still there. It is smaller, less accessible, and a little sadder for its new neighbors. The tree at the bluff’s edge stands alone against the silhouette of the new bridge, the reason for the bluff’s demise.
That doesn’t make this little patch of public paradise any less sweet. If anything, it evokes happy memories and reminds me that no matter how much things change, there is always a small part of them that remain the same. I run my fingers over the itchy green grass and get into my almost-certainly illegally parked car and drive towards downtown.
As I go, the doughboy waves me on.