Reflections on Florida

Florida was wonderful! I’m so grateful that we had the chance to get away for a while and enjoy sunshine, warm temperatures and a much-needed break from our daily routines. It was amazing being able to wear shorts and flip-flops. It felt wonderful to shake the chill from my bones for a little while. I hardly gave work or the office a passing thought.

The house we rented was more than we could have hoped for. It was spacious and comfortable. Our bedroom was huge, with a door that led right out to the patio and pool. We could have held a party in our bathroom; the shower alone was as big as one of my entire bathrooms at home. The back of the house was full of big, glass doors, with a beautiful view looking out over one of the many canals. And the pool and spa were gorgeous. We spent every possible free moment in the water.

Pool

There is so much I will remember about this trip, like the utter luxury of not having to abide by time. We went to bed whenever we were tired and didn’t feel rushed to get up in the morning. We ate breakfast if and when we felt like it and sipped on coffee by the pool while listening to the calls of the birds swimming in the canal. Lunches and dinners were so completely off-schedule that on any given day, we typically only had one or the other. And the food! The food we ate was so good! We enjoyed it all and without worrying about calories, fat or portion sizes. We just ate with abandon and it was wonderful.

There were the humorous aspects of our days – like how Mark became Ramone the Pool Boy after learning how to maintain the pool and spa temperatures. And how every time we passed a BB&T Bank, Paul required one of us to quickly come up with a string of words to fit the acronym, the naughtier and more nonsensical, the better. And how for some reason, it was hysterical to us, the number of Walgreen’s and CVS pharmacies that populated the area.

The people in Florida were so much friendlier than I’m used to. Grocery store employees were welcoming and helpful, and not in the forced kind of way that tells you it’s store policy for employees to offer assistance to customers. The owner of the pool supplies store where we bought floaties for our pool not only introduced himself by name, but asked our names, whether we lived in the area or were just visiting, and then proceeded to introduce us to another customer. Maybe this kind of friendliness is just the way it is in places where tourism is such a major part of life. Maybe the sun and warmth really do make people generally happier. But it was refreshing to interact with strangers in a way that left me smiling.

We had fun in Florida. We spent relaxing days floating in the pool and evenings soaking in the hot tub.

We watched the Minnesota Twins lose a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles. The game was pretty uneventful, but the people-watching was fun.

We spent time on the beaches, first on Captiva Island, then later in the week, on Fort Myers beach. I loved the laid-back atmosphere and the idea that anyone can wear a bathing suit, no matter their shape or size. Sure made me lose any sense of self-consciousness about parading around in my swim suit!

I found time to take quiet walks in the morning around the neighborhood. My fellow early-rising exercisers were all quick with a smile and a good morning! I’d work up a good sweat, then go back to the house, slip into my swimsuit and go for a morning swim. I read most of a good book. Mark, Paul, Megan and I played cards and cribbage. Paul and Megan were so fun and easy to be with. We started talking about next year and whether we’d come back to Florida or go somewhere new and different.

It was an amazing week. This was the first time Mark and I have taken a vacation to a warmer climate since our honeymoon 26 years ago. I loved it, but have to admit that I felt a little bit guilty for leaving the kids behind. About halfway through the week, I was missing them as well as Lucy Pie. Still, it was hard to say goodbye to Florida when it was time to go. And maybe somewhere down the road, we’ll figure out how to get away again, all of us together.

As our plane traveled back north toward home, I realized how lucky we were to be able to take this break. Having a real vacation taught me how important it is to get off the merry-go-round now and then, and just celebrate life, even if we can’t go far or even leave home to do it. I tried new foods, saw new scenery, met new people and remembered how to let go. I don’t think I’ve really relaxed in a long, long time. Florida was good to us and good for us and I brought a little bit of it home with me. Which is good because even though we came home to a relative heat wave…

snowbank

 

I’ll need a little Florida to help me get through the weeks (or months?) until this snow is all gone!

Captiva Island and Manatee Park

Monday was a beautiful, warm, sunny day in Cape Coral, Florida. We decided to head to the beach. We thought maybe we’d try Sanibel Island, but instead, we drove on through and on to Captiva Island. There were only two parking areas for public beach access and both were full. We stopped in to a resort and asked if there was any other public beach access. The bell man told us that the beaches on Captiva were mainly private, owned by the resorts and inns. But we could buy a pass and park at this resort. Perfect! That’s what we did. We then only had to walk across the street to get to a spacious, beautiful beach spot that wasn’t crowded by any means.

016We watched others stroll the beach and play in the water. We saw people parasailing which looked amazing from down below, but I don’t think I could handle being up that high. I snapped a couple of pictures of a pretty sail boat. Paul remarked that the people on it were naked. I insisted they weren’t and besides, he couldn’t possibly tell from that distance. Later, when I downloaded the pictures, I suspected maybe he was right!

005bMegan and I took a walk up the beach, through the water, about waist deep. We startled a school of fish, realizing this only when they all leapt out of the water in unison and dove back in. They were about the size of my hand and I caught a glimpse of silver and blue. We squealed, then laughed at ourselves, then watch in awe as the pretty little fish moved away from where we were standing. Another amazing thing we saw was a group of dolphins! They swam right in front of us and put on a little show as they moved up the beach. I didn’t manage to catch one mid-air, but you can see how close they were to us.

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We swam, played catch with a frisbee ring, and lounged under an umbrella all day long. I was careful to cover up with sunscreen, but I forgot how quickly the effects of water, reflection of the sun and a slight breeze can take effect. By the end of the day, we all felt crispy, sticky and dirty. But we were happy! It took us forever to get off the island, (almost two hours!) It seems everyone else wanted to go at the same time. Afterwards, we discovered a fantastic little bar and grille near our rental. I ate what was probably the best pasta dish I’ve ever tasted – a seafood and asparagus dish in a creamy marinara sauce. Delicious!

Tuesday, with all of us feeling much cleaner, but still crispy, we decided to avoid the beaches for the day. Instead, we headed to Manatee Park in hopes of seeing some manatees. Unfortunately, this was the only one we saw. A park employee explained that it was too warm in the park waters and the manatees were probably out where it was cooler and they could find food to eat.

Manatee Park 1But we did see some other interesting things, such as these cute little crabs.

005cAnd some colorful lizards.

016bThere were lots of little fish to watch.

013bAnd there was an impressive old tree!

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It was after three o’clock before we realized we were hungry for lunch. We have no sense of schedule, and I love it! I love the way food is such an adventure when we’re on vacation. I’m trying new things and seem to love it all. After leaving Manatee Park, we stopped at a restaurant called Iguana Mia’s. The margarita’s were amazing and my shrimp tacos were incredible!

Iguana Mia 1

Iguana Mia 2Today we’re having a pool party! Two of my coworkers are vacationing in the area and are coming over with their daughters this afternoon. Later on, we’re going to catch a Twin’s baseball game. Baseball, outdoors, where it’s warm! I can’t wait!

A Visit to Outer Island

In all the years we’ve been vacationing in Bayfield, Wisconsin, we’ve visited almost every one of the Apostle Islands that can be accessed by boat. This year marked our eleventh annual trip to Bayfield and Captain Bill informed us that there was only one island we hadn’t visited – Outer Island. It would take forty-five minutes to get to Outer Island by boat, and since it was such a long distance away, the weather had to cooperate if we were going to go. Lucky for us, we had perfect weather every day.

040bWe were good and windblown by the time we arrived at Outer Island, but no one cared because the scene that greeted us upon our arrival was so amazing. The Outer Island lighthouse stood proudly before us, framed by a spotless blue sky. And there were no other boats docked at the pier. We had the place to ourselves. We all climbed out of the boat and began the long ascent up a huge flight of steps to reach the lighthouse.

In years past, when we’ve visited some of the Apostle Islands and their lighthouses, there were often volunteers stationed on the islands to provide a bit of history and a tour of the lighthouse. Not at Outer Island. I would imagine that being as far removed as it is, there are few visitors to Outer Island and therefore no need for volunteers. We couldn’t go inside, but we could look in the windows and wander the property. It was amazing. What a lonely, rugged life it must have been for the lighthouse keepers.

052We walked around and marveled at the old structures before heading back down the stairs to have a picnic lunch on the pier.  It was a perfect day to sit out in the sun and I seemed to have worked up a serious appetite. (Must have been all that stair climbing!) After we finished eating, everyone went off to explore. We climbed over the big rocks on the shoreline and made our way to the beach on the other side. We walked barefoot in the hot sand and dipped our feet in the cold water of Lake Superior. We collected rocks and took in the beauty of the majestic lake. Such a beautiful place, Lake Superior. I never get tired of looking at it and never cease to feel in awe of its size, depth and sparkling clear waters.

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098After exploring the lighthouse side of the island, we all piled back into the boat and headed to the other side of the island to hang out at the beach. The water was so clear and sandy that Bill could beach the boat and we could all just hop out into the water and wade to shore. It was beautiful there. It almost felt as if we were on a tropical island. If the water wasn’t so cold, I might have believed I was.

The beach itself and its views were spectacular. Mark trekked to the far end and made his way out onto a sandbar.

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I played in the sand.

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We marveled at the driftwood scattered all over the beach.

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And laughed at the surprises other visitors left for us to find.

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No one was in a hurry to leave, but we’d been out in the sun too long. Our faces were showing signs of sunburn and there was salmon marinating back at the condo for dinner. It was time to go.
206bWe all look forward to another year and another island adventure!

Just Ducky

One thing we can count on each year when we return to Bayfield is the ducks. Just outside the back door of the condo is a deck that looks over a quiet little bay. Beyond the bay is a spectacular view of Lake Superior, but inside the bay, there are herons, turtles and sunfish. One year there was a family of otters. This year we saw geese. And always, there are the ducks.

006bWe always make sure to have plenty of food to share with them. The ducks only need to hear the sound of the screen door sliding open to know that food is on the way. They paddle in the shallow water below the deck, racing each other for bread crumbs, pretzel bits and handfuls of cereal that we toss down below.

014bMama duck had babies with her this year. She hung back when we broke up slices of bread and she allowed her little ones to enjoy all they could eat. Julie walked down the deck stairs to the dock and laid down on her belly, holding hunks of bread out to Mama. She was hoping that Mama duck would eat from her hand and if she’d had a little more time and patience, it may have eventually happened. But Julie gave up and joined us in the side yard for a game of bean bags instead.

As we tossed our bean bags back and forth, talking and laughing at our lack of bean bag skills, we noticed movement in the grass along the shore of the bay. Mama duck and her babies had come up the bank into the yard, looking for Julie. If they could talk, I’m sure we would hear them ask, “Is there more bread?”

Julie set down her bean bags and looked at the little duck family. “Wait right there,” she said. “I’ll be right back.” Julie hurried into the house and quickly returned with an enormous bagel which she began to crumble and toss toward the ducks.

012bMama duck was getting comfortable with Julie, enough to bring her babies up into the yard where all of us “girls” were playing the game. We all stopped to watch the duck family come closer and closer to Julie and the big bagel. They were so cute!

024bWhen the bagel was gone, Julie returned to the game. Mama took her babies back into the water where they all swam in circles nearby, probably hoping that another bagel or slice of bread would be brought out. In a last-ditch effort, they made one last trip up the bank into the yard, but when no more bread was produced, they waddled back to the water and swam off to wherever home is. We knew they would be back the next morning.

Back from Bayfield

Mark and I have just returned from our eleventh annual visit to Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands by way of beautiful Bayfield, Wisconsin. The weather was sheer perfection. We couldn’t have asked for better days.

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Mark walking along the beach on Outer Island

Shortly after our arrival, I stood on the deck of our rental and took in the stunning view of the lake. The shimmering sun glinted off the water and a feeling came over me, as if my whole body had been wound into tight knots and was now relaxing in a way I’d forgotten I was capable of.

It was good. I needed a break. It gave me a chance to step back from everyday life and remember what’s important. And I came home with a new resolve – to make it a point to relax more often and generally, to try to get back to doing the kinds of things that fulfill me, like writing, reading, exercising, photography and cooking. (Did I really just say “cooking”?)

More pictures to come after I’ve had a chance to do some catching up…

Relaxing in Bayfield, Wisconsin

We’ve just returned from our tenth annual vacation to Bayfield, Wisconsin with Bill and Tammy, Dennis and Julie, and Dave and Julie.  Lake Superior looks the same, so beautifully intimidating, so majestic. The time away was nice.

As the years go by, we find ourselves reminiscing more about past years.

“What year did Dave’s tongue swell up after eating walleye,” someone will ask?

“Remember the year we rented mopeds and did a photo scavenger hunt on Madeline Island? How long ago was that?”

“When did we … tour the fish camp? … climb the lighthouse on Raspberry island? … go on the ghost tour in town? … start visiting all of the apple orchards?”

“How long ago was it that the boat engine quit and we had to get towed back to the marina by that family with the huge boat?”

We should have started writing these things down from the very beginning, but honestly, I don’t think any of us thought this would become an annual thing. We started out as mere acquaintances, our only common bond being Bill and Tammy. We’re not sure why they chose three couples from different circles of their friends to spend several days together on vacation with them, but we’re glad they did. It worked out so well the first year that we did it again a second year, and again and again. And now it’s been ten years that we’ve done this together. We are all very different people, but each year when we return to Bayfield, we have the best times!

Every year when we travel to the resort, the guys ride together in Bill’s truck and tow the big boat. The girls all ride together, behind the guys, keeping an eye on the boat and trailer. This year’s trip started off with a bang as we watched a trailer tire blow and fall to shreds on the road ahead of us. Bill managed to safely pull the trailer on to the shoulder and within twenty minutes, the guys had the tire changed and we were back on the road. Not long afterwards, we stopped at a small-town restaurant for lunch. We had the best burgers I can remember in a long while, with buns soaked in butter and then toasted. YUM! This is when Tammy pulled out a sheet of notebook paper and we started to jot down memories from years past.

Every year when we go on vacation, each of us has a partner for games and activities. My partner is always Dennis. Mark is always with Tammy. And then there’s Bill with Julie W, and Dave with Julie G. Dennis and I, both being somewhat the quiet type, have a quiet and respectful partnership. Dave and Julie G are the ones to watch. They poke fun at each other and make like they’re mad at one another. On our last night while playing cards, Dave was making fun of Julie’s allergies, mimicking her and inserting loud, obnoxious SNIFFS between words. She, in turn made fun of the way he held his cards. They kept at it, scowling and scoffing at one another until the rest of us were crying with laughter!

The weather this year was cooler than last year. The sky was overcast much of the time, and sweatshirts were necessary attire. But we got a little sun too. We made a trip out to Stockton Island, docked the boat and had lunch and walked the beach. Bill and Julie W braved the water and actually went for a swim despite the cold. Not me! No thanks!

We visited Madeline Island, as we do every year, and paid a visit to Tom’s Burned Down Cafe, as we always do. We shopped in town, where Mark and I bought “Bayfield” sweatshirts, as we always do. And we visited several apple orchards, one with a quaint little gift shop and a bakery that filled the place with the delicious aroma of warm apple donuts!

The mornings this year, though, were my favorite part of this trip. I tend to let up on my morning runs while I’m on vacation here, but am often joined by one or more of the girls for a good walk to start the day. This year, Mark, Tammy and Julie G felt the draw of the local casino each morning. And it was worth it. Mark won a couple hundred dollars one morning. Julie G won almost five hundred the next. And while they were busy gambling, Bill, Dennis and Dave were out in the boat, hoping to catch some fish. (They never did catch any this time around.)

With everyone else otherwise occupied, Julie W and I would take off for a walk. Last year, we discovered the The Brownstone Trail not far from the condos where we stay. It’s a beautiful trail that meanders through the trees along the shore of Lake Superior and it is filled with beautiful scenery. We stopped to marvel at the beautiful mansions and quaint country homes along the way. We paused where the trees opened up, finding ourselves speechless at the majesty of Lake Superior before us. We greeted friendly strangers along the way. An older couple, each walking a dog, stopped to wait as we approached. As we came upon them, the man nodded to his dog and said, “Friday wanted to say hello. Her name is Friday, as in TGIF, thank God it’s Friday.”

We paused to show Friday some love, and give some to her pal, Sophie as well, whose leash was held by the man’s wife. We continued along the path for several miles until we reached the town of Bayfield, and then turned around to go back. On the return trip, we again ran across the man and his wife.

“Hello again,” we said to them. The woman smiled and continued walking, but the man paused again, saying, “Friday wanted to say hello. Her name is Friday, as in TGIF, thank God it’s Friday.”

Julie and I exchanged a quick glance, shrugged and smiled at the man again, and paused to pet Friday and tell her how pretty she was before we continued on our way.

Throughout our walks each day, Julie and I would talk. I don’t see Julie but a couple of times a year, but when we’re in Bayfield, we share a connection. A few years ago, we discovered that an uncle of hers was the brother of an uncle of mine. Her mom’s sister, Lois was married to Keith, whose brother, Ben was married to my mom’s sister, Elaine. Julie and I visited the same family farm when we were growing up, yet never knew each other. And maybe this is part of what connects us, but I think we felt a connection even before we knew we were sort of related. We’re able to talk to each other about so many things, like struggles we’ve faced with our kids and the importance of family and knowing our roots. I don’t mean to take anything from anyone else in the group. I laugh harder and relax more with these people than I do any other time of year. There’s just something about Julie W that really touches me. We’ve discovered a trust and an affection for one another that has come to the surface a bit more than that which I feel with anyone else in our Bayfield group. I cherish those walks we would take together, an hour and a half of time to really talk and learn more about one another. Those walks were the highlight of our trip this year and Julie told me she felt it as much as I did.

With all of our talk about trying to remember the events of each of our past vacations, I wanted to be sure to commit to writing all the things that made this another memorable trip. I’ve done just that since 2006 when I started blogging and as soon as I got home today, I looked back on all of our memories and jotted down what I remembered from those years, then sent it off by email to the group. Next, I need to gather all of my photo files from all of these years and fill in some of the gaps. Then we’ll remember the stories in so much more detail! So here is this year’s contribution to the collection:

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Kleiner Garten

No work for me today. I took a couple of days off, originally to have a long weekend at the cabin. That plan fell through when we realized it would be difficult to travel and be away from home with all of Lucy’s restrictions and needs right now. But I kept the vacation days. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had a mental health day.

I have few solid plans for these days off; a minor appointment this morning and dinner with friends tonight. In between, I’ll find ways to entertain myself. I’m hoping I can finish cleaning up my little garden. Right now the skies are looking as if they’re planning to rain.

I carved out my little garden in the back corner of the yard several years ago. I don’t have a naturally green thumb, but I thought I could do something with this thing. In reality, it’s been nothing but a thorn in my side. Originally, I planted a big variety of bulbs, hoping that all kinds of colorful flowers would show up in waves in the spring. A few came up. I waited for the rest. They never came. I can only guess the squirrels or some other animal dug up my bulbs over the winter and ate them.

One year I filled the garden with petunias. It was pretty at first. Then I got tired of trying to keep up with the weeds. I planted a few more perennials a couple of years ago – pregrown – not from bulb this time. Mark threw a bunch of wildflower seeds and more bulbs in. It’s been a mish-mash of flowers and weeds ever since. We try to ignore it as best we can.

This spring, I had an idea for the garden. Nothing earth-shattering. It’s just that with the quieter lifestyle that’s come with all the kids being out of high school now, I have time to think about and do more things like gardening. (Never thought I’d see the day when I’d become interested in such things! It’s official. I’m gettin’ old!)

Last weekend I went out and bought a roll of weed block and some bags of mulch. I approached the garden with a pair of gloves and a shovel. I pulled weeds and Mark helped dig out a gigantic plant that could have been legitimate, but it also could have just been a huge weed with some cute flowers on it. Either way, I decided it was taking up too much space, so it came out.

I got half done with my project last week. Before the weekend is over, I hope to have the other side done. What do you think?

Can you tell which half is done and which half isn’t?

Looks a little better this way!

Asiatic Lilies – not only thriving, but multiplying!

Just starting to bloom

Solar lantern. It’s cute!

Mark has an old 5-speed bike that’s doing nothing but gathering rust behind the shed. I have this idea to paint it and put it in the garden once it’s finished. Something like this…

Credit: Google Images

 I’m not so sure about the pink, but you get the idea!