Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Julie Cali Austin, Tavernier


I met my husband down here on vacation in 1999. Actually my Mom had met him a few months earlier when she and my brother were down here. They went to Bud & Mary’s and met this guy, and she brought home pictures of him, and I told her to leave me alone because I was dating someone. So she left me alone for a while. A few months later she offered to take me on a trip for my college graduation. She asked where I wanted to go, and I had this whole plan for going to Australia. But she said “Reel it in, we’re not going to Australia.” So we came to the Keys instead. I had never been, but she had been down here a lot. Of course, she took me straight to the dive shop where the guy, Scott, worked! Yes, she had ulterior motives!
Our actual first date is a pretty funny story that a friend of ours, we call him Uncle Woody, likes to tell. My mom had set up a snorkel/dive trip with Scott that week while we were here. When we got back in and I went to tip them for the day, I asked if there was a good place to go see live music that night. They said we had to go to the Lorelei. I said that sounded good, and Uncle Woody said, “Great then, we’ll see you there.” I hadn’t realized I was making a date! So, we go back and I’m trying to get all cute, and I’m so nervous because I can’t believe I agreed to meet this guy. We were late, and by the time we got to the Lorelei they had gotten tired of waiting for us. They had a table on the beach, but had gotten up to leave so we met on the bridge, just as the sun was setting. I had my mother with me, and her sister who is a Dominican Nun. Uncle Woody says it was like a scene from a movie, with the mother and the nun handing off the virginal daughter in white, right at sunset! We went back to the table, and right away everyone was sharing food off each other’s plates; it was just so comfortable, like family, immediately.
That was June of 1999 and I moved 3 months later. I moved to Cudjoe Key first and worked at Wyland Galleries down there. I wanted a little distance from him at first; I was just checking him out! But, it didn’t take long for me to move up to Islamorada. And now 2 kids and several pets later, here we are! We got married in 2001. When I found out I was pregnant with Dominic, Scott dropped down on one knee and proposed. We had gotten pregnant while in the Dominican Republic for my sister’s wedding. That’s why we named our son Dominic. He’s our souvenir!
When I had decided to move down, we had planned for Scott to drive up to Ohio and then we would drive back down together with all my stuff. I was packing and quitting my job…I had a lot to do! Well, a hurricane was threatening the Keys so he called and said he was coming early. I wasn’t ready! But he came and everything was fine. We had a wonderful drive back down, stopping in Savannah. Our daughter is named after the city and our time there on that trip.
Scott had traveled a lot before we met, and he always said if he ever got married it would be in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. He said it was the most beautiful place on earth. So, when he popped the question, I said, “Only if we do it in the Cook Islands!” It was amazing. We did things very traditional for the islands. There I was, 5 months pregnant, and we were on the beach wrapped up in sarongs made from local fabric. We had 8 guests that went with us. The people there are so friendly. They speak English; it’s a New Zealand protectorate. The people treat us like family, because we’ve been twice now. We renewed our vows there after 10 years so the kids could see where we got married. We had 20 guests for that one. We had 3 villas right on the lagoon. There were purple starfish everywhere. It was so beautiful. I want to go back! We sealed our vows by planting the “uto” or coconut palm tree when we got married, and we got to see it when we went back 10 years later.
I have my own photography company. I photograph weddings so I am around this crazy happy love all the time, and it carries with me when I get home. I’m just so happy to have my husband and my family. It really helps me keep it all in focus. Dom is 14 now. He plays soccer. Savannah is 12, and she’s the ballerina. They go to Treasure Village Montessori. They are great kids. They are interesting, smart, funny, sarcastic…just good kids. And they still like me! They still want to spend time with me, for now! I’m proud of my kids and I’m proud of my marriage. It will be 15 years in October!
I teach photography too. When I met Scott I was working in Ohio doing etchings on headstones; people’s portraits, or their John Deere tractors, or their dogs; whatever they wanted on their grave stones. So I’ve been working as an artist for a long time. My degree is in art education. I work at Ocean Studies School and it is wonderful. We have a photography program. It’s been 4 years, and this past year, I got my students work exhibited at the Everglades National Park for the Centennial Celebration. The kids do writing along with their photos; that’s part of the assignment. They were so impressed at the gallery. The curator came up to me when we had the opening and said, “You know, the photos are great, but I keep finding myself coming back to read the kids poems.” I was thrilled! Yay! That was the whole point. The photos inspire them to write. The whole thing was actually a writing exercise. The last 2 years, their end of year show has been at Ocean Sotheby’s. It is so beautiful in there! These kids are so lucky and spoiled! But, they all get dressed up, the boys in their bow ties and the girls in nice dresses; it is a really nice event.
It really was easy just to pack my stuff and move down here. I just did it. If there is something you want to do, you just have to do it. Do what makes you happy. I love living in the Keys. This is home. I used to get so excited that there were palm trees in the parking lot of the grocery store! Every day, no matter where I go, I see the ocean. The sunsets are amazing… even the thunder storms down here are beautiful. Some days after dropping the kids at school, I’ll drive down to Harry Harris Park and just sit and look at the ocean. I never regret moving down here. For the most part, I’m very positive. I don’t get hung up on the negatives, it takes too much energy. Being positive is so much easier. If there is anything that you want to do in this life, just say it out loud, make a plan and do it. You’ll never regret it. Like packing my car to come down here; I never thought I would move away from my family, but when the time was right, it was so easy. Just do it!

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