70 Degrees in FL

With apologies to our Northern friends who are experiencing the coldest winter in recent memory, I must say we are enjoying central Florida.  Everett and I are not so far south as to be in tropical territory, but not so far north as to be cold.  As a matter of fact, Monday was a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun was shining brightly.  I decided to run a couple of errands in town while Everett was out golfing.  I pulled on a pair of capri slacks, a short-sleeved top, and my flip flops, gave Tyler Dog his “you’ve got to stay in the RV” cookie, and headed to the local Winn Dixie for some groceries.

After finding what I needed – there’s a level of compromise when hunting for familiar ingredients in regions of the country that aren’t “home” – I headed for the checkout.  As the friendly cashier scanned my items, I noticed the woman in line behind me.  She was a few years younger than I am and dressed completely different.  SHE was wearing a vest over a thermal, waffle weave, long-sleeved Henley-style shirt, heavy sweatpants and sneakers with thick socks.  She looked me up and down a couple of times.  She smiled.  And said, “Y’all one of them snowbirds, ain’t ya?”  She then proceeded to try to sell me a couple of acres of swamp land along the Withlacoochee River that had been in her family “for generations without doing us much good.”  I believe I was lucky enough to experience the rare sighting of a native Floridian!

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Northerners Anonymous

“Hello, my name is Ethel.”

Chorus:  “Hi Ethel!”

“Umm, yeah, my name is Ethel, and I’m a recovering Northerner.”

Chorus: “Welcome to Florida, Ethel!”

Look, I was born and raised in New England.  I believed to the bottom of my warm woolen double knitted socks that if you didn’t have the fortitude to stick out eight or nine months of cold and snow, you didn’t deserve to enjoy the short but perfect New England summer.

December in Maine

December in Maine

We used to joke about it:

“Say, Everett, what do you want to do this summer?”

“Gee I’m sorry, Ethel, I’ve got to work that weekend.”

But I was SOOOOOO sick of shoveling snow.  Again, I realize this is sacrilege to a good Northerner.  It’s healthy exercise, warms one up, clears paths and decks for winter use.  But we were tired of it and decided to winter down south after retirement.

So here we are in central Florida.  In December.  In the sunshine.  75° Fahrenheit.  No jacket.  Flip flops on my feet for crying out loud.  And BLOOMING FLOWERS!!!  No one ever told me there would be winter-blooming flowers!  I mean, I’d heard of Christmas Cactus and Poinsettias, but those are indoor plants that sit in your grandmother’s dining room.  Everett and I went to the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville this Monday and there was COLOR!  Outside!  We even saw a blooming BANANA TREE!

It IS winter.  It still gets dark around 4:30, 5pm down here, just like up North.  But the locals call anything below 70° “freezing”.  And I can walk my dog 3 times a day without spending 20 minutes getting bundled up before and unbundled after.  And I can stop to smell the flowers EVERY time.

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Fall Projects 3

It isn’t just people preparing for winter as the seasons change.  We’ve apparently got a black bear at the campground – I haven’t actually seen him, just the footprints in mud, claw marks on trees, and evidence of his forays into the dumpsters (i.e. trash bags strewn around and emptied of anything edible).  The night security man says he’s had to use his car horn and headlights to drive the bear away from the campsites and that the thing’s a menace.  But I ask you, if you were trying to get in a little last minute shopping to prepare for a long trip (like hibernation), wouldn’t you get a little irritated by store personnel trying to push you away from the best bargains?  And it’s not like there are a lot of campers at the moment – who wants to be in a tent when it gets down to 40 at night . . . and there’s a black bear wandering around looking for protein?

Everett and I are finalizing our plans for the 2013 snowbird trek to Florida.  We expect our workamping gig to be over shortly after Columbus Day and have mapped out our 1st day’s travel south to end in one of the few (very few) campgrounds in Connecticut.  We’ve agreed to not travel more than 5 or 6 hours on any day, thus decreasing our chances of death by spousal assault or tired-driver-syndrome.  Our goal is to spend a few late October days in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with a guided tour of Civil War sites and monuments.  It’s something neither of us has ever done and we feel drawn to do so.

Our next “real” stop (not counting the overnight stays every 250+/- miles) will be at Lazydays RV in Tampa, Florida, where we have an appointment November 4th for a general overhaul of our 6-year old 5th Wheel.  We’ve got a list of things we’d like them to check out and hopefully settle a minor difference of opinion between me and Everett.  I think we bought a used beauty of an RV with tons of life left in her and all she needs is the mechanical equivalent of a mani-pedi to feel fresh and ready to tackle the next 5 years.  Everett says no amount of make-up is going to turn an old sow into something you’d take to the prom.  I suspect he’s already shopping for another RV and, by extension, probably looking for an updated Ethel as well.  There should be lots of them in Florida.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

We have a winter rental agreement with the nice folks at the central Florida park where we spent last March & April, and will use that as a home base this year.  I’m especially looking forward to riding our fold-away bikes on the trails there and to spending Thanksgiving with Everett’s aunt & uncle who live nearby.

Our biggest plan is for Disney World in early December.  We’ll camp at Fort Wilderness and put Tyler Dog into Disney’s Doggie Daycare and act like kids every day for a week.  With luck, this may rekindle some sparks and lessen my concerns regarding the potential updating noted above.  Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if I were to get my own mani-pedi overhaul in the meantime . . .

Give Peas a Chance

first peasI know, my title today has been sooo overused, but … it’s coming up on the Fourth of July and this is the time of year when New Englanders get all giddy over the first fresh, locally grown, vegetables of the year – PEAS!  If you’ve spent a long cold winter eating canned and frozen veggies – or even home preserved veggies from last summer – the thought of early peas is overwhelming, almost orgasmic (with no offense intended and in spite of our normally reserved nature).  We start to see the signs on farm stands – “fresh peas.”  We stop and run our hands through the bins of pods.  We select a pound or two and cart them home almost furtively.  The first sniff of summer comes when we start popping open the pods and use our thumbs to push the plump and precious peas from pod to catch bowl.  Children are drawn to the ritual and can always be counted on to help – there’s something primal about it.  There’s the baptism of rinsing away the bits of field debris and “bad peas” under the faucet.  The peas are covered with cold water in the pot and a touch of salt added, along with just a smidgeon of olive oil.  We step away to allow the pot to come to a full boil (a watched pot never boils, remember?) then hover nearby for a few moments, carefully watching the peas rolling in the boil, ready to take them off the heat the second we see the subtle transition from raw green to bright, not too hard, not too soft, just right GREEN.  In haste now, barely restraining ourselves from digging in, we drain our perfect peas, toss ’em back in the pot to melt butter over them, shaking the pan to be sure each little globe is coated.  Just a pinch of salt and pepper and the peas are ready to be dished out.  The first batch is always eaten in appreciative silence and rarely as part of an actual meal – these are the reward for making it through another year.

Everett and I were ready to retire, but didn’t take off on our RV adventures until March – well after the worst snows and freezes of the winter.  We earned our 2013 peas with hours of snow shoveling and slippery roads and bundling up with coats and scarves and gloves and boots.  This year’s peas were shucked at the picnic table on our campsite instead of our own back porch, but there was something even sweeter than usual about them.  THIS year, we don’t have to rush back to work after the holiday.  We don’t expect to ever have to shovel snow again.  Oh, I get butterflies in my belly thinking of that, but I do wonder – will we still appreciate the first peas of summer 2014 without the winter experience?  I’m willing to give the peas a chance.