Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

After departing from the Naples Pier, we weren’t sure what to do next in order to kill off a few hours. And even though three of us were searching our smart phones for tourist attractions, no one was really offering up much in the way of suggestions. Truth be told, Mark was probably just playing Bejeweled and only pretending to the search for fun, entertainment, or education.

By the way, it occurs to me that this ongoing litany of sight-seeing experiences and typical touristy photos is maybe becoming slightly boring and doesn’t really describe the level of fun that was had in addition to the expected activities in Florida. But there is no photographic evidence of such things as Dori executing beautiful dives into the pool. In her strapless swimsuit. With me wondering out loud how her top stayed up when she did that. And her breaking the surface of the water again, laughing and shouting, “It doesn’t!”

Or on our last night, Paul and Steve, two fifty-something men chasing my husband throughout the main level of our rental home like a bunch of little boys. Attempting to catch him and throw him into the pool. Because he was the only one of the six of us who had not jumped into the cold water the entire week we were there. They didn’t catch him. He’s apparently faster than the other two. He never did end up in the pool, but the three of them were giggling like little girls by the time it was all over.

Or any number of us, upon losing a game of pool, kneeling at the opposite end of the pool table from the winner(s), howling and barking like dogs. Because howling and barking like dogs was the consequence of losing a game of pool.

Or Steve standing up on the bedroom balcony in his swimsuit and Megan’s bra. (Actually, there is a picture of that, but he would never forgive me if it made the internet!)

Instead … I give you pictures from the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which is where we ended up after leaving the Naples Pier. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is two and a half miles of boardwalk weaving through a swamp filled with massive trees, impressive plant-life, and a host of birds and other creatures. And my first impression as we began our trek through the swamp amongst a steady stream of other visitors? Was camera envy. Some of the zoom lenses around me were enormous! My biggest lens didn’t even compare. Still, I wouldn’t have wanted to lug around ten or twenty pounds of camera and lenses, and I got some decent pictures in spite of my amateurish equipment.

In the sanctuary, we were protected from the wind and chill. We enjoyed our stroll amongst huge, hundreds year-old trees, with sunshine warming us from above. We searched below the boardwalk for a glimpse of a gator … and finally spotted a few of them, one sunning himself nicely in view on a log. By the time we’d reached the end of the trail, Steve and Dori were done golfing and ready for us to come pick them up. It was a good day of sight-seeing. And Steve’s famous Thai shrimp pasta dinner awaited us back at the house.

Naples Pier

On Wednesday in Florida, the temperatures took a little dip. Hanging out by the pool didn’t sound so appealing. Steve and Dori had made plans to go golfing with a friend of theirs who lives in Florida over the winter months, so we all piled into the mini-van to deliver them to the golf course. Once we’d dumped off Steve and Dori at the course, Paul, Megan, Mark and I headed for the Naples Pier.

Megan searched directions on her phone and got the GPS set up to take us to our destination. Thanks to a slight typo, we first ended up in a mobile home community with no body of water in sight. We all had a good laugh, and caught some odd stares from a few residents as we pulled over and Megan searched for the appropriate address and corrected her GPS. Soon we were cruising the streets of Naples, Florida. (And what a beautiful place it is!)

We spotted the pier and found visitor parking nearby. As the four of us spilled out of the mini-van, we pulled on extra jackets and sweatshirts. The sun was bright and the sky was clear, but there was a good wind and a slight chill in the air. It was only a short walk to the pier entrance and the closer we got to the water, the stronger the wind felt. We stepped onto the pier and began to walk toward the far end along with many other visitors. The waves rolling in onto the beach were much higher and faster than the ones we’d seen the day before at Lover’s Key and we were impressed to see a surfer out in the cold water!

When we’d reached the far end of the pier, there were a variety of birds to entertain us. I don’t know most of their names, but they were very tame and fun to watch. I’m sure many of them were hoping to catch a few crumbs of food from one of the human visitors on the pier.

I noticed something pink seemed to be stuck to the pelican and wondered out loud what it was. Paul said it looked like a fishing lure was stuck in its neck. Poor thing!

We did our best to document in pictures our visit to the pier, but I was finding it hard to maintain any sort of photographic pose thanks to the cold wind and my chattering teeth. (Yes, I know I’m being a bit dramatic, but I’d traveled to Florida with plans to dress in shorts and t-shirts every day. My body could not seem to acclimate to weather that required long pants and layers of clothing!)

Naples Pier4We’d spent maybe a grand total of ten minutes on the pier when we all agreed it was just too cold and windy to enjoy it. The view inland from the end of the pier showed just how strong the winds were that day. It was a beautiful place and on a warmer day, we’d probably have stayed longer and wandered up and down the beach.

Naples Pier10Naples Pier15As we strolled back to the pier entrance and made our way back to the parking lot, we all wondered, “What now?” Steve and Dori were planning to golf eighteen holes and would be nowhere near ready yet for us to come pick them up. Back at the van, Paul got behind the wheel while the rest of us pulled out our phones and began searching for another way to spend a few hours.

 

 

Lover’s Key

The weather on Sunday and Monday of our vacation week seemed to be as close to pool weather as we were likely to get. We spent those days in our swimsuits, lounging poolside or soaking in the hot tub, enjoying a few beverages …

By Tuesday, we decided it was time to leave our rental house and go see something new and different. Megan wanted to go to Lover’s Key State Park, so we all piled into our rented mini-van for a day trip to the beach.

One thing I’ve noticed about Florida – and I realize this is probably a seasonal thing – but it seems to take for-ev-errr to get anywhere. Or back home again. People are out and about, driving everywhere at all hours of the day. The eighteen mile drive through Fort Myers Beach to Lover’s Key took at least an hour. The drive back again took even longer!

But I will admit that it was worth the time in the car. There was plenty of parking at Lover’s Key and it was only a short walk from the parking lot to the beach. We walked across the footbridge and stepped onto an immense carpet of soft, white sand. A constant breeze whipped the hair back from my face and ocean waves rolled and lapped steadily up on the beach.

Lovers Key1

Lovers Key6

A few of us took a quick dip in the water – it was too cool to stay in for long. We noticed someone fishing down the beach from where we had settled our towels on the sand. A crowd was beginning to gather. The rest of my crew went to investigate.

Lovers Key2While they were watching a fisherman try to figure out how to unhook a stingray, I was entertained by a pelican.

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Lovers Key5I’m sure to Floridians, pelicans are as common a sight as robins and squirrels are to Minnesotans. I’ve seen white pelicans a time or two in Minnesota, but Florida’s brown pelicans were a constant fascination for me, the way their colors fan out when their wings are spread, the way they glide through the air and spot food under the surface of the water, swooping down to scoop up their prey. SO cool!

When the others came back from the stingray show, the guys took a walk down toward the other end of the beach. We girls sat in the sunshine, people-watching, (and learned you don’t have to have a bikini body to sport a bikini, nor a Speedo body to sport a Speedo!) A few brave kids romped in the water, but we were content to sit on the warm sand and just take in our surroundings.

Lovers Key3Eventually, clouds floated in front of the sun and stole the warmth we’d been enjoying. It was time to make our exodus from the beach and get some Mexican food!

 

 

 

Dropping in Unexpectedly

I managed to transfer photos from my camera – in a round-about way – so it’s on with the Florida stories!

My vacation started off with an adventure I won’t care to repeat anytime soon. We’d awakened to our first morning in the beautiful rental home that was ours for the week. Steve proved to be the early riser and had a pot of coffee going by the time the rest of us arose to greet the day. The girls – Megan and Dori and I were still in our pajamas and were enjoying a lazy start to the day and a cup of coffee each. The sun and blue sky outside looked so inviting, we decided to venture out by the pool.

Canal View

We soon learned that the canal behind our house would be a constant source of entertainment. Boats constantly puttered back and forth along the waterway. And some serious rowers put in some serious practice every day, paddling by with impressive speed. On that first morning, we decided to stroll out on the dock to get a closer look up and down the canal. I was walking barefoot behind Megan and Dori when all of a sudden …

Dock

I wasn’t immediately sure what had happened, but I soon found myself up to hip with my left leg dangling below the dock. I was freaked out by the thought of dropping in all the way through to the canal waters, and quickly scrambled out of the hole and back to safety off the dock. Megan and Dori were shocked. None of us had any clue when we’d gone out there that some of the wood boards were rotted out. And apparently I didn’t scream as I fell through. I only exclaimed, “Oh my god, you guys” as I pulled myself back up. Didn’t even lose my coffee cup in the process! And I have several impressive bruises to show for my experience.

Bruise

The handyman we’d met when we vacationed in Florida last year, Tony came by to check us in again this year and show us how to manage the pool and hot tub controls before our week really got underway. When he did, I pointed out the place where I’d fallen through the dock. He was respectably alarmed by what I’d told him and returned the next day to replace several boards on the dock.

Even though the dock was repaired, I kept my distance for the remainder of the week. And thankfully, there were much better and fun adventures ahead!

Gone South (and Back Again)

Mark and I spent the past week with a few friends, making ourselves comfortable and warm in Cape Coral, Florida.

Hot Tub

Florida provided us a lovely escape from the frigid temps of a Minnesota February, even while Cape Coral saw their lowest temperatures in 55 years on Friday while we were there. Being Minnesotans, we refused to cancel our boat rental when we woke up to just over thirty degrees on Friday morning. The boat rental guys hadn’t put our boat out in the water when the three hubbies showed up to claim it for the day. They were sure we would be cancelling our plans due to the cold. Not us!  It was below zero back in Minnesota, so Florida still seemed warm in comparison. We layered ourselves in long pants and hooded sweatshirts, packed up some blankets and took ourselves out for a day-long cruise around meandering canals and out into the Gulf of Mexico. In spite of the chilly start to the day, the sun shone brightly in a clear blue sky and soon the temperatures rose into the sixties. We eventually shed some layers and let the warmth of the sun soak into our sunshine-starved skin while we marveled at sprawling mansions along the canals and massive boats, wondering what it would be like to live this way.

While the properties were impressive, Florida’s wildlife did not disappoint while we enjoyed our boat tour. As we idled through the waterways, we marveled at brown pelicans perched on docks or cascading through the air with wings spread wide, diving into the water to catch some food.

Brown Pelican

There were fish that jumped out of the water, called mullets and we were even treated to a few dolphin sightings. (Dolphins is my best guess. We weren’t close enough to know for sure, but the fins on their backs sure looked like dolphins.)

And we were grateful that the early days of our vacation brought seventy degree days. We lounged around the pool…

Pool Side

and relaxed in the hot tub.

Three guys in a hot tub

The guys self-titled this “Three fat guys in a hot tub”

The pool never really got warm due to the relatively cool air temperatures, but we took turns jumping in anyway. We just couldn’t spend a week in a Florida and not get in the pool. It was cold, but refreshing. And the hot tub was there to warm us up when we climbed out of the pool.

We ate without thinking about calories for a change. Steve was the self-appointed breakfast chef, making mouth-watering omelets for breakfast one morning, and a tasty hash from leftover burgers and potatoes another morning. Since breakfast is usually my specialty, I pitched in making pancakes one day, and scrambled eggs with leftover ham, plus pancakes and sausage on another day. We enjoyed amazing seafood for dinner several evenings and returned to a favorite Mexican restaurant we discovered last year which features enormous Margaritas.

We visited beaches and did some sightseeing, but technical difficulties currently prevent me from transferring pictures from my camera to the computer. All I can access at the moment are pictures taken with my phone. If I can figure out what the problem with my camera is, I’ll have more to share here in the coming days.

Our week was fun and relaxing. We had such a good time with our friends, laughing and teasing each other. The joke of the week was how I almost didn’t get on the plane to go to Florida. Somehow, Dori had taken my boarding pass and tucked it in her purse as we waited at our gate. When it was boarding time, I was in a panic trying to find it! Thankfully, Dori peeked in her purse and discovered it, holding it up in the air and exclaiming, “Here it is!” All week-long, whenever someone wondered out loud where a phone, the sunscreen or a book might be, someone would say, “Did you check with Dori?!” She was good-natured about it and smiled every single time she was teased again.

As beautiful as Florida was and as much as we loved our time there, a week away only proved to us that there really is no place like home. Cold temperatures or not, I was ready to get back home to my family and to Lucy Pie, who clearly missed us as much as we missed her. She crawled all over us when we walked through the door, nearly knocking us over with her enthusiasm. She molded herself into the curve of my body as we slept in our own bed last night. And as soon as she felt me stir this morning upon waking, the happy thump-thump-thump of her tail told me she was still relieved to have us back home again. Maybe one of these days, we’ll plan a vacation adventure that allows us to take her along with us!

 

Cuddle Bug

We tried for a long time to teach Lucy that furniture is for people, but lost the battle. I’m now one of those dog owners who accommodates my pet by draping blankets, sheets, towels or old comforters over the furniture in an effort to protect it from excessive fur and damage from claws.

And often, when one of us wants to get comfy in a chair or on the love seat, Lucy insists on climbing up and sharing the space. Even Dacotah isn’t allowed to enjoy a chair all by herself when she comes to visit.

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I don’t mind, really, when Lucy wants to cuddle. Sometimes, she’s really welcome. Like yesterday. As soon as I arrived at work, a thought crept into my head that I might want to go back home. I had caught the winter bug that’s been making the rounds at the office and have since been coughing to the point that my lungs felt on fire. The more I thought about going home yesterday, the less I felt like fighting off the feeling. I made it through one meeting and took care of one routine task before I called it quits for the day.

At home, I stole Kacey’s fleece blanket from her bedroom and settled in for an afternoon of Netflix movies and M*A*S*H episodes. I had the chills, so I was happy when Lucy climbed up and snuggled in on top of me. She can be so sweet sometimes, when she’s not acting like a wild dingo! It’s hard to want to teach her that furniture is off-limits when she’s being such a love!

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Lucy and I dozed away the afternoon and hopefully all that rest gave me a jump-start on kicking this cold!

Old Pictures, New Pictures, Glimpses of Our Lives

In our foyer, above the front door, there’s a decorative collage frame full of photos. Surrounding the photo frames are words like live, laugh, love and family. And until just now, it held a couple of photos that were long overdue for replacing, considering events of last year and people who have stepped out of our lives. While those people might always have a little spot in my heart, they no longer hold a place our family’s photo frame about love and family.

Luckily, this particular piece of decor is so familiar to those of us who live here that we rarely notice it or give the photos much thought any longer. Occasionally, I’ll glance above the door and really see those pictures. I wonder if the fact that they haven’t been replaced means that deep down, I’m having trouble letting go. A little wave of sadness sweeps over me sometimes when I look at them and I ask myself what I’m waiting for. And every once in a while, someone will ask if I’m planning to swap out two particular pictures anytime soon. I guess it’s just one of those things that I keep meaning to do, but never quite get around to. Changing them requires just enough effort that the task keeps falling to the wayside.

Brad came home for a visit this weekend. On Friday night, he casually mentioned that he’d taken a girl out for drinks recently… and that he planned to ask her out again. While my heart did cartwheels of happiness  at the realization that he’s picked himself up and is most surely moving on from a broken relationship, I tried to act casual and not ask too many questions. But the conversation reminded me once again that there were pictures that didn’t belong on our walls.

Technology is a beautiful thing sometimes. While Mark and Brad were off running a couple of errands yesterday, I opened my laptop and browsed through picture folders, picking out the ones I wanted to frame. I uploaded them to the Target photo website and received confirmation before my boys were even back home again that my prints were ready for pick-up at my local store around the corner.

I had taken the opportunity to find and print recent pictures, ones that will remind my kids of happier moments than the photos that were being replaced. There were some of Brad from recent fishing trips, looking like a champ holding trophy-worthy catches.

And there was a great picture of Kacey with her cousin and my mom. I don’t have enough recent pictures of my mom looking as happy as she does in the picture from this past Christmas. And the smile on my daughter’s face tells me that she is just fine, right here at this place in her life today. A particular door closed for her last year too, but her face shows the certainty that her life’s road holds good things ahead.

002And as long as I was printing pictures to display around the house, I took the chance to print a few oldies too. After my father-in-law’s funeral in December, one of Mark’s siblings scanned all of the photos that had been collected and displayed at his wake. A CD of the scans was burned for each sibling to keep. What an amazing gift! I’d never seen most of these pictures because, as I’d long ago learned, most of my in-laws’ old family photos were on slides. There were never any on display around their home. I’d never seen the slides, so the photos that surfaced when Bob passed provided a window to a past to which I’d never before been privy. The story of Bob’s life came alive through the pictures displayed in memory of him. And I was fascinated to learn another side of this man, one that I’d never known before.

Mark’s parents’ wedding photo, showing a young, beautiful, hopeful couple is now displayed alongside those of my own parents and grandparents in our living room. And there are some military photos of my father-in-law from when he served in France during the Korean War. One was a formal portrait of Bob in full uniform. Another was more casual, but so handsome. Bob didn’t trust the internet, but I think he would forgive me for displaying just one old photo of him here. Everyone who saw this picture at the wake agreed he looked rather “Hollywood” in it. I can’t resist sharing.

scan0005

And then there was that one snapshot of Brad and his grandpa, taken when Brad was just a baby. I’m not sure who took the picture or contributed it to the collection for the wake. I don’t recall it being in any of my photo albums. It’s one of those poorly framed shots with a messy background, the kind that until just recently, I may have dismissed and tossed in a storage box, deeming it unworthy of framing. But when Brad saw it, he decided he had to have a copy of it. My father-in-law wasn’t much for posing and smiling in photos. Many of the pictures we found were taken spontaneously, where someone was lucky to catch a glimpse of Bob laughing or smiling. This particular picture caught him in a rare moment of playfulness with my son, with Mark driving the riding mower, and Bob riding with Brad in the trailer behind it. It’s one of those moments we probably thought little of at the time, but now seems so precious. I printed it for Brad and picked up a frame so he could display it in his own home.

scan0081 with BradI’m relieved and happy to have finally refreshed the photos in the house. The sad memories will be tucked away.  They’ve been replaced with happier visions of the past and present, showing where we come from, and what’s really important. And the common thread, we’ll be reminded, is love.