Cape Coral Canal Tour

Friday, February 20th was our last full day in Florida. When we awakened that morning, it was chilly! And I don’t mean “for Florida.” I mean it was cold. From what we’d heard, Cape Coral was seeing its coldest temperatures in fifty-five years!

The men folk had gone to a nearby marina earlier in the week to inquire about renting a boat. They were told that no boats would be rented out during the middle days of the week due to high winds, but they’d secured a rental for Friday. I woke up that morning thinking, “I don’t want to go out on the boat! I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go…”

But of course, it never even crossed the minds of the men folk that we might cancel our boat rental. Before I coaxed myself out of bed for the day, I could hear Paul and Steve in the kitchen, making coffee and preparing to go claim our boat for the day. Once I’d showered, I descended the spiral staircase from the upper level of the house dressed in jeans, t-shirt, hoodie … and socks for the first time all week. And there was Paul, standing at the kitchen island in a pair of cargo shorts and a nylon pullover, sipping on his coffee and studying local maps.

“We’re still going?” I asked.

“Absolutely!” he replied. He didn’t have to add, but I knew he was thinking, “We’re Minnesotans. And this is not real cold.” I don’t think I’m a true Minnesotan at heart. I was cold.

I poured myself a cup of coffee, hoping the heat of it would prepare me our day out on the canals of Cape Coral. Megan soon joined us in the kitchen and the three guys left to go claim their boat, promising to pull up in front of our (newly repaired) dock to pick up us girls.

During the short time the guys were gone, I realized there was food to be used up before we left for home again the next day. So I took to scrambling eggs, cooking the remaining breakfast sausage and reheating leftover pancakes from the previous day’s breakfast. Dori wandered into the kitchen and sat at the huge island while I cooked and we ate and waited for the guys to return. And soon, they did. They tied the boat up to the dock and came across the patio into the kitchen, telling tales while they downed their own breakfasts, about how the marina workers hadn’t put the boat in the water before they’d arrived. They didn’t think we’d really still be going out on such a cold day. The guys gave them all of their boastful we are Minnesotan lines and so the boat was put into the water and released to us for the day.

When everyone had eaten some breakfast, we packed up a cooler with some drinks and bagged some snacks for our day on the water. Megan borrowed some blankets she found in various closets around our rental house and I slipped my jean jacket on over my other layers. The boat awaited us and so we all piled in.

Even though the air was cool, the sky above us was clear and blue. Rays of sunshine danced on the surface of the water as we putted up and down the neighborhood canals. And as long as we weren’t facing the wind, the weather actually didn’t feel too bad. As the hours passed, the temperature rose to a more comfortable sixty degree range and I realized I was really glad we hadn’t cancelled our boat day. There was plenty to see – the usual birds and the flying fish, some of the rowers we’d been watching all week long, not to mention the homes, properties and boats that left us with our mouths gaping open.

Steve was dressed appropriately.

Steve was dressed appropriately.

By the time we’d passed through the lock and ventured out into the gulf, I was able to shed my jackets, shoes and socks. I rolled up my jeans and let the warmth of the sun soak into my skin. The music was turned up and everyone was having a good time, laughing, relaxing and admiring the scenery around us.

Canals 22

Mark being silly with Dori

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We saw a handful of dolphins – or more accurately – we saw their fins. None of them gave us the full show, but still, it was a thrill to see them.

Canals 14b

There was a curious floating building. (A bar? Maybe?)

Canals 16b

 

There were the ever-present pelicans and just beautiful views.

When it was time to return the boat, I found myself thinking how glad I was that the guys had insisted we go out on such a “cold” day. It was an amazing way to end our week in Florida. From the marina after handing off the boat, we walked to a nearby bar and enjoyed some frozen fruity drinks out on a sunny patio before going out for our last dinner in Florida. (I had king crab legs. YUM!)

Even though home was calling to me, I knew I’d always remember this week in Florida as a special time with great friends, loads of fun, beautiful scenery, and a much-appreciated break from the Minnesota winter.

Florida 2015 06b

Thank you, Florida! We’ll miss you! Hope to see you again sometime soon!

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.

Lovers Key4

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!

 

In Bayfield Again

Every year someone asks, “How many years is this now?”

No one ever seems to remember exactly when we went on our first annual vacation to Bayfield, Wisconsin as a group of four couples, most of whom barely knew each other at the time. But I’m pretty sure this year was our eleventh. I remember because that first year, Jake was going into seventh grade, and that sticks out in my mind because he was leaving the Catholic school our kids had always attended and was getting ready to start a new school career in the big, scary public middle school. And that would have been 2003.

So this being 2014 would be our eleventh year. I don’t think any of us thought this would become an annual event. It was kind of weird that first year. The only thing three of us couples had in common is that we were all friends with Bill and Tammy. But we had fun. And the next year, Bill and Tammy proposed we do it again. And so here we are, eleven years later and it’s become something kind of special.

This vacation is steeped in equal parts tradition and new adventures. We always take turns cooking a couple of dinners. There is always a Sequence game tournament during which Dennis is always my partner because once, long ago, Bill assigned game partners and they have remained unchanged ever since. We always visit Madeline Island at least once and while there, we always spend some time at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe. This year, there was an awesome band on stage, the Buckthorn Brothers. It was a quiet night at Tom’s, and one of the Julies first noticed the lead singer before we knew he was the lead singer. He had come into the bar presumably from the beach, wearing only a pair of board shorts. He disappeared into a trailer and came out fully clothed and sat down at the bar to have a drink.

“He’s good looking,” one of the Julies noted.

“Mmm hmmm,” the rest of us girls agreed.

“…even though we’re all old enough to be his mother,” I added, a little embarrassed that we were admiring the young man purely for his physical attributes.

“He has good dreads,” one of the Julies remarked and we all contemplated his hair style. I don’t usually care for dreadlocks, but she labeled them “contained dreads” and I had to agree. They suited him. Not long after, he stepped up on the stage and began tuning a guitar. A guy with a cello (I think) joined him. And they rocked!

Bill thought we should call it a night. It was getting dark and he still had to drive us all back to Bayfield in the boat. One of the Julies said not yet and we ordered another round of drinks while Tom’s began to fill up with people wanting to hear the band and dance. A few songs later, we left… reluctantly.

We had dinners out. The guys fished in the mornings while one of the Julies and I walked the Brownstone Trail along Lake Superior. I ran it alone one morning, just to see how far I could actually go. When downtown appeared in front of me, I knew I’d made it to the end and I turned around and ran back to the condo. Five and a half miles. Didn’t know I had it in me. Now I do!

Tammy, the other Julie and Mark went to the casino a few times. Mark came back with more than he contributed and was gleeful! We boated over to Ashland for an afternoon, checked out a car show and had a few drinks on the deck of a huge, old hotel with a view of Lake Superior.

I read a book. We hung out in downtown Bayfield. Visited several apple orchards. We boated to Stockton Island, hiking across it and cooling our toes in the cold water of the lake.

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We went to Big Top Chautauqua to see a show. Didn’t really know what we were going to see. The other Julie had bought the tickets, telling us only that it was a sort of season-end show. There was music. There was comedy of the pants-peeing variety. And there was this guy telling funny stories and talking about a new book he’d just published. I’d never heard of him before, but he’d said book so I was interested. He said that during the intermission, guests could visit the gift shop (a smaller tent) and buy his books if they’d like and he’d even autograph them. I was interested, but the crowd was thick and I didn’t make it before the comedy act began. After the show, after having had a fabulously fun time, we all eight of us piled out from under the big top into the cool Wisconsin night. Hovering outside the gift shop waiting for the crowd to thin before we headed back to our cars, Mark nudged my arm and nodded into the open doorway. I saw the stacks of books and he suggested, “Let’s go look. You want one, don’t you?”

I did want one. The gift shop was now wide open and I could go peruse the selections without battling the crowd. But I was embarrassed because the author, Michael Perry was standing there and I had no idea about his writing whatsoever. Didn’t know if I liked it or not and I didn’t want this to be obvious. But his stories on stage had been funny, so I was pretty sure I wanted one of his books. So I picked out the first one I saw with intriguing cover art and gladly accepted Mr. Perry’s offer to autograph it for me.

I began to read my new book back at the condo that night when I went to bed. And I quickly realized that it was the kind of book I’ll try to force myself to read slowly because the words are woven together with such artistry that I find it hard to put down and won’t want it to end.

Once again, our Bayfield days proved to be memorable, fun, unwinding and rejuvenating with a side of gorgeous scenery. Aside from Bill and Tammy, we Bayfield vacationers don’t spend much time with each other outside of the annual trip and maybe a dinner date once or twice throughout the year. One of the Julies and I were discussing that fact this weekend. She’s the kind of person with whom I think I could be really good friends. We get each other. But for some reason, we stick to connecting only these few times a year, particularly connecting during our morning Bayfield walks. It’s families and work and schedules and life that we claim as excuses for not making more of our friendship, but the reality is, our friendship and this vacation just work as is. Julie was the one who first said it. It’s something special. And I imagine I’ll be telling fond stories about it for years to come.