Day Trippers

This time of year in Florida is not baking in the sun weather. We love it and so does Molly! Sunny skies and 65F is ideal for a little day trip. There’s so many interesting and quaint nooks around here.

Today’s adventure was in Winter Garden. It’s about a 30 minute scenic drive from our place heading north towards Orlando. We usually end up at the Crooked Can Brewery but today it was so temperate we decided to take Molly for a little walk off the main drag. Winter Gardens historical district has bricked narrow streets and trucks are not allowed but golf carts are. It’s hilarious to see people putting around in their golf carts. Today we saw a six seater and Rudy said there was one on the golf course that was enclosed and had AC?! Who knew.

We parked the car across from the big Baptist church. It’s a grand building and a lovely landmark in town. The neat shopping area on Plant Street is jammed with restaurants and cafes and tiny stores. There’s also a fire hall with antique trucks out front. The whole area is an interesting place.

But today we veered off the main area which was quite busy and crowded (because it was Sunday?). And we are not big on crowds. One lady we passed asked us if we were there to get shots for our dog? We didn’t know if she meant photos or vaccines. Another good reason to go off road. Everyone (apparently) has needle envy.

So we find ourselves walking towards Lake Apopka. Central Florida does not have a coastline on an ocean but it has a million smaller lakes and we have found very nice parks and trails on them. Today was no exception. At the end of the road we landed in a park on the lake and stopped to sit in the sun and enjoy the view.

You know you’re not in Canada when you see signs forbidding you from feeding the gators! The birds on the shoreline were plentiful. An Audubon enthusiast would have been a useful resource. However we still managed to spot about 5 or 6 species. Due to the chilly temperatures there were no gators to see let alone feed. There was a large sign detailing the lake and the features around it. Another man there told us about the sanctuary trail you can drive on around the lake. I see another trip in our future!

As we sat on the bench and enjoyed the warm sunshine on our backs we mused about how fortunate we are. Rudy’s mom used to say: if you have your health you have everything. As usual, she was right.

Lots of species … even a Bear 😆

Out with a Bang

So 2020 wasn’t the best year. In fact it was a wipe out for many and disastrous for some. And fatal for others. We had a few great chats with friends as the clock ticked. A quick glance at the Times Square countdown on tv made us groan out loud. We were off to bed with Molly, a movie with the volume turned up high, snuggled for the last gasp of the year. Good riddance.

Midnight is way past our bedtime normally so we were pooped. Add to that a lively round of pickleball earlier in the day followed by a seniors early bird New Years lunch (3 pm) at our friends place on Lake Van. They are swing dancers (not to be confused with swingers where you chuck your car keys into the bowl to see who you go home with) and for the past 15 years have attended the big New Years dance and conference in Orlando. It was scratched for this year like many other things. They are also world travellers; they’ve been grounded since covid started. They remarked how many roadside fireworks tents they have seen pop up. Rudy and I had noticed the same. It doesn’t bode well for our freshly groomed princess Molly.

We were ready to hit the hay.

But ….

Not so fast.

The popping and cracking and banging started early with a few random blasts here and there. By the time we hit the bed the fireworks frenzy was in full swing. It was happening all around us front, back and side. Poor Molly! she was trembling and whining. Any other time I would have enjoyed watching the show! Rudy rolled over and snoozed while I tried to comfort Molly by petting her and cooing in her ear. She was wedged between us with her head tucked under my arm.

Finally at well past midnight, the noise stopped. I breathed a sigh of relief and so did Molly. It was over. 2020 was in the rear view mirror. A fitting violent and disturbing end to a turbulent year of fear and hate.

Thing is, I’m not sure it’s really over just yet. There were six of us at our seniors New Years (the other two couples are American) and when our hosts would go inside to prep (a most yummy meal …. he’s a fabulous cook AND baker!) the other couple would sneak in conversation about politics. The two couples are a perfect example of the great divide chewing up the nation. The virus, and the handling of it, is a political movement. Yikes. We are happy to be neutral as Canadians. It’s interesting and hard to observe at the same time.

I’m hopeful of a coming year that brings renewed positive outlooks. A light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone’s tunnel has been uniquely painful (even the out of touch politician who jetted off to a posh Caribbean holiday … what a douche) and I wish them well.

Seniors trapped in loveless lonely institutions; I wish them companionship and compassionate care with the dignity they deserve.

Those with sickness; I wish them expedited treatment and the ability to have an advocate by their side as they fight their enemy.

Small business and their employees; I wish them tenacity to hold on until they can thrive again and the wisdom and ingenuity to adapt until they can.

Lawmakers; I wish them the courage to act for the people who believe in them to steer the nations into calm and gentle waters. And offer hope for the American dream.

Family; I wish for continued good health and patience. I know the love has never wavered. ♥️

“Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free. “ Stephen King – Shawshank Redemption

Jungle Life

Today we took advantage of the Florida polar vortex (temps of 13C) and went to a nearby park for a short hike with Molly. She loves this weather that makes locals put on parkas or hibernate indoors and lizards fall from the trees. We use an app called All Trails which was recommended by our hiking guru, Leo. In these modern digital times, the app lets us find a trail nearby, describes the landscape and intensity and, great for those lacking orientation skills, helps us navigate back to trails head.

The park is Shingles Creek and the trail is Steffee Homestead. A meandering walk partly dirt, partly paved and partly boardwalked through the jungle. I always channel Jurassic Park because of the huge plants and dense moss that drips from the trees. This park also includes some interesting historical sites and a watercraft launch if you dare paddle the creek. Today would have been ideal since all creatures of swampland were well hidden to keep warm.

On the drive over we FaceTimed with my sister at my folks. That’s a whole other jungle. I could sense that my mom was a bit agitated and that’s usually amplified by her dementia demons. Evil Baby, as my sister calls mom, was lashing out in her passive aggressive way. It’s a scenario that my dad is used to, but it gets on everyone else’s nerves after a day. I’m not sure how my sister tolerates for several days. Maybe that’s why they call her The Tin (wo) Man. In any event, we were the diversion. Since I was driving, Rudy was on phone duty. It is easy for everyone but me to forget that my Bluetooth is programmed to my hearing aid unless I manually turn it off. I had the gps lady chirping in my ear while trying to talk to the gang. Makes me feel like a celebrity with an earpiece listening to instructions while attempting to speak coherently. Some are better at it than others.

Once we arrived at the parking lot for the park we picked a parking spot at the end. It’s another thing we have to be mindful of with Molly as she needs a big gap between vehicles to make her leap into the backseat. She hops out and barks excitedly. I’m not sure what her reason for barking is since she had a 318 in our neighborhood before we left. Rudy’s convinced she has to go again. He was right. Within minutes of starting the trail, Molly is dropping a deuce. We call it Double Dutch; if anything her constitution is functioning at its peak!

The trail is quiet. We are the only ones weathering the freezing (ha ha) temps to be outdoors. Molly is mesmerized by the smells; she is exuberant in her fuzzy fur coat trotting along and sniffing. It’s an in and out trail which means you walk to the end and back again (versus a loop which, naturally, loops around). Back at the car Molly’s ready for a drink and Rudy pulls out her water bowl. Sniffing is hard work.

Since we are really close to historical Kissimmee we take a drive to the downtown. It’s very interesting (albeit deserted) and we make a note to come back on a hot day for a bike ride around the lake.

Two jungles ticked off the list. It’s a good day.

Merry Christmas 🎄

The year 2020 has been one for the archives. And perhaps it would be best to seal it in a vault for good. Good riddance. Stink. Stank. Stunk.

This Christmas is part of the puzzle now too. In an effort to make me forget that I’m miles apart from my family (of course not including Rudy and Molly), Rudy has been bending over backwards and sideways to divert my attention. I didn’t realize I was outwardly displaying my inner sadness at missing my sister and my folks so much. I realize that many people are in the exact same situation but not by choice. perhaps that’s what is so sad.

We’ve done all the Christmassy things and I’m trying to buff up the efforts. But they are falling a bit short of expectations and just don’t fill the void. Covid has shrouded the magic of the holiday with a dark cloud.

The usual twinkling of lights and festive mood is wearing a mask. Hugging and kissing is verboten; it’s hard to do from six feet away. Celebration (Disney’s perfect town) was a somber place with less Christmas spirit and energy. People wandered aimlessly fearful of one another. The main attraction was Molly! People even asked to take her photo! I know she’s adorable in full fuzzy splendour, but in past years the buzz in Celebration has been carriage rides and skating (on fake ice) and snow falling (foam) and carollers all in a perfect village with every inch decorated with garlands and lights … we joke that all Hallmark movies are filmed there. It’s a perfect Christmas place. Until 2020.

We went to church. I’ve always wanted to attend a service with a rock band and high energy. So we found a service close to us for some holy roller inspiration. When we sat down (apart from others and with masks) the band instruments were sitting on the stage. As I had expected there is no ornate altar and fancy podium, it’s a stage like at a concert or school play. But when the program started it lacked the energy and inspiration that I envisioned. We sang carols and listened to scripture, but it wasn’t the message of hope and joy that we needed.

During the day Rudy laid out the plan for the afternoon and evening. I like a good game plan and Rudy was determined to bring some connections to our distant Christmas. So I addition to church we would have a grazing meal and call family and friends. In particular Rudy wanted to call a good friend who had moved away some years ago. We’d lost touch a bit and since I’m not on social media the connection was almost nil. Rudy insisted and persisted.

He called from his iPad using Facebook (he’s still a user) and there was no answer. I was ok with that. What would we talk about “face to face” after years? But Rudy was not dissuaded; he called her daughter. And she answered. Rudy thrusts his tablet in front of me and I say hi. She’s surprised and I explain the Christmas calling plan. Then she asks if I’ve talked to her mom? Did I know? I feel a knot starting in my gut. Then the bombshell: mom would rather tell you herself … she has cancer and had another chemo treatment today. As the words spill out, my friend is calling Rudy back. It’s a technological hurricane matching my swirling mind.

We switch devices and get my friend (and her husband) on the tablet. She’s wearing a toque. They both look tired. After a minute of “what a nice surprise “ etc. I ask about the elephant in the room. She tears up and explains that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because of covid her initial testing and diagnosis was delayed. But now the treatment plan is chemo, surgery, radiation. The outlook is good. But the process sucks. We move on and talk about other things. Her husband goes on and on about a range of topics and I’m grateful since I feel like I’ve been knocked out by Mohammed Ali. I’m in shock and my friend is beat up by fate. We talk for almost an hour. Promises to connect in person in better times ….

I really feel like crying or screaming. But I know that would tip the scales into a really deep dark hole. That phone call took my low Christmas spirit into a slimy ditch. And then, like a thunderbolt of awakening, I realized that the phone call was, in-fact, divine intervention. I needed perspective and I got it in spades. Christmas wasn’t about glitzy lights and bling. It was being grateful for the blessings and joy in life. Good health. Good family. Goodness all around.

My intention will be to focus on the goodness.

Merry Christmas from us to you.

Love me. Don’t feed me.

Little nuggets of wisdom from my brother; he might have been three or four years old at the time. Some of his sayings are now woven tightly into the fabric of the family archives. But yesterday, during a conversation with my sister, the food theme took on another meaning. It’s the evolution of nurturing in our family.

It made me wonder if living through years of near starvation during the war made food such a focal point in their lives. Even my grandmother, when she would visit from Germany, made food her concern. I think one of the very first words in English she learned were “are you hungry”. As though fulfilling this basic need was a key to happiness. Clearly, when there’s little or no food to be had, the comfort of a full belly is a big deal.

My mom carried that tradition and mindset on, too. Over the years food was often the main event. And she strived to ensure our diets were nourishing and delicious. It was a way for her to show caring and love. I totally get it. Food is a pleasurable sensation for us. We live abundantly and enjoy the life of plenty.

I recall as a youngster how our palettes were very different from others. Just like language, food is cultural. While our friends were eating lasagne and sloppy Joe’s, we were eating rouladen and spatzle. School lunches for us were Kaiser buns laden with Black Forest ham while others munched on PB and J. I’m sure it’s a whole new scene out there now especially since peanut butter is verboten.

In grade school we used to walk home for lunch and eat our dinner at noon. Dad would also get a lunch break and come home. That in itself is almost unheard of until covid of course. We would gather around our kitchen table (which had only four chairs as my mom busied herself with serving) and await our meal. One of the best meals was minute steak. A very thin cut of beef that my mom would pan fry in butter (never margarine!) with onions. When the meat was gone mom put the empty frying pan (a big square electric thing) on the table and we took pieces of bread to sop up the bits left in the bottom.

It’s funny that my career revolved around food for the final stages. I recall one of the chef instructors answering the question “who, in your opinion, is the best chef”. His answer (oddly that most chefs in the beginning were men) was: mothers. He explained that mothers took lean budgets (mostly they didn’t work so there was only 1 family income) and limited equipment resources (tiny electric stoves) and had to feed a group three meals a day. There was no such thing as convenience foods like we know them today. If you wanted a snack it was a piece of fruit. I remember going to a friends house and having “hamburger helper” and thinking it was amazing.

Rudy and I reminisce about his mom and her kitchen a lot. Now that I think about it, they had a tiny kitchen with a table and four chairs (they were also a family of 5) and even up to the end of her life, Rudy’s mom had a puny electric stove, one sink (no dishwasher) and a small fridge. Yet she produced the most delicious meals. We try to emulate her recipes frequently. It’s comfort for the soul and enriched with so many good memories.

So yesterday I was talking with my sister. She is the primary babysitter for my mom and dad while I’m away. It’s a decision that still weighs on me heavily as travel is so restricted these days; I’m hopeful that will change sooner than later. I would love to be able to make a visit back to see my folks in person. Alas, it’s a wait and see scenario. My sister is in the same geographical situation; she’s a two hour drive to my parents place. Plus my sister is still very much employed. Her position requires her to work many hours everyday and now she’s doing her work from home. Her office in New York has been shuttered since covid began and won’t reopen until at least May 2021. She’s had to create a home office and zoom in like so many others.

She tried “working from home” at my parents place. As she described it, I could see in my minds eye what the scenario looked like. Mom and dad sleep in our (me and my sisters) old bedroom set up. Two single beds made by our former neighbour, Mr Deiterding, who was a woodworker. Nice pine beds with single foam mattresses. There was also a desk and chair to match. Now it’s the master bedroom suite in their two bedroom condo. And the only place to sit and work other than the dining room table.

My sister has been visiting my parents every other week since I returned from Florida earlier this year (for a while it was weekly! as she did their shopping too). To make it feasible with a two hour drive, she and Frank will stay for a few days at a time. Therefore she has to squish work in there, too.

There she is, set up at our old desk (which was plenty big to hold a binder and pencil case but computer gadgets not so much) with her zoom meeting in full swing. In the middle of the meeting my mother enters the room and in full view of the meeting camera asks if my sister is hungry. “Can I make you a sandwich?” My sister says that some of her colleagues have kids so there’s often a blooper. They view my mom as a kid. They understand.

So in order to accommodate her life situation, my sister has rented an apartment in Stratford from January to May. Juggling and balancing all the moving parts requires ingenuity and will. Sums up my sister pretty well; she’s completely tenacious in problem solving. Don’t whine; fix it. And she’s super smart. No problem too complicated. Luckily Frank is indulgent. Our parents are the only ones he has left, too.

Mom is living a very simple life now. Her daily routine is highlighted by checking the mail. Knowing this we send her cards so there’s something to collect. In her former life she would handle the household finances and the mail was the delivery of bills. Now Frank handles all the bills on line. There’s very little mail. Yesterday she checked the mail three times hoping to find a piece to bring up for my dad to read. Nada. It’s her birthday in a few days and I don’t think my card will make it, but that won’t matter to my mom because whenever it does arrive will be the highlight of that day. Her other mission is feeding everyone. She forgets that we’ve eaten lunch (or any meal for that matter) and slips into her familiar mode of making something to eat. She no longer can cook food but she can prepare sandwiches.

I wondered why there’s often a plate of sandwiches beside my dads seat in the den. It just occurred to me as I type this, that my dad gets tired of telling my mom “no, we just ate … maybe later” and just lets her fiddle in the kitchen to make a sandwich. When I think of how robust their lives were it makes me very sad to imagine their humble, quiet routine. My mom is not able to do much with her disabilities (vision, cognitive, mobility) and my dad is her caregiver; a duty and responsibility he accepts with grace and kindness. He calls her his lamb (in German) as he brushes her hair or puts in her hearing aids. My sister has given her another handle: Evil Baby. There’s definitely a side to mom that’s not very lamb-like. When she hears Evil Baby, mom actually laughs and smiles; she likes it.

It’s hard to say where my moms brain has gone. There are some days that she’s very tuned in. My dad embraces these precious days and savours the company of his “old wife”. He has told me that he likes the conversations with the real mom. Unfortunately those times are fewer and fewer. I think mom knows it too. It must be so frustrating to feel out of control of your own abilities. Especially since she was so in charge her whole life.

I’m so grateful my sister is taking the reins. There’s a fine line for me between living the retired life while my parents are so dependent on help. Even though it’s only a few months, it weighs heavily on me that I’m shirking my responsibility. Luckily Rudy keeps me grounded. I better go now …. he might be hungry.

PS thinking about my brother, I have to chuckle at the memories of him and food. As a toddler he could never resist a puddle to drink from or a metal surface to lick in the winter. Icicles were a special treat! But the thought of him tucking into one of his favourites: cheese curds, captain crunch cereal, potato salad, ice cream pie … all brings a smile to my face. Now that he’s married to a fabulous cook, he’s all set. Love me and feed me. ♥️

Home Sweet Home

Yesterday we rolled into our winter neighbourhood. This is our third year in Florida as snowbirds. But our first year in this home. Our usual place, an investment property for the owners, was sold due to covid; lost incomes and zero tourism made it impossible for them to carry. We knew this in July. They were so apologetic as we had paid a deposit; they not only helped us find another place they also refunded our money. We left a box of this game behind such as a printer, frying pan, beach towels etc and they promised to keep it and meet up with us. Very decent right to the end. Luckily one of their referrals was another home in the same neighborhood.

It was a comforting feeling of familiarity when we turned into the subdivision. It has a boulevard entrance which is beautifully maintained. This time of year they plant copious poinsettias at the front “gates” and light up the palm trees. When I glanced down at my dashboard the temperature outside was 27C. Hot. Love it.

The new house is set much further back from Hwy 27 which makes Rudy very happy. The highway noise never really bothered me before but was an annoyance to Rudy. So much so that last year we started looking at other properties. We pulled into the double drive and I searched for the email from the owner outlining the entry procedure. I get out of the car and step into the coarse grass that is prevalent around here if you water religiously. Most homes here have gardeners who maintain the lawns and sprinkler systems to keep everything lush and green. Our last house the owners kept the yard themselves and told us there was a strict rule about yard maintenance or else you face fines. It’s a pleasure to walk the area and see how nice the curb appeals are. And right now they are decked out for Christmas!

The interlocking walkway leading to the covered front door is tidy and a nice wooden bench sits in front of the entry under the stoop. I unlock the door excitedly. As I enter the home I am blown away! The owners (who bought in June 2020) have beautifully updated the entire place! As you enter there is an open living room and dining area and the master suite is on the left. Beyond the dining area is the kitchen and family room with walkouts to the pool. Beyond the kitchen are two delightful bedrooms with twin beds and a full bath. At the very back of the house is another master suite with an en suite and walk out to the pool. The colour palette is a soothing pale yellow in the walls and the furnishings are new and fitting. But it’s the accents that make it all flow. The owners have chosen colourful art and pillows to highlight pops of colour. And the lamps and other accessories pull the look together. It’s what you see in magazines or flyers for Kirklands.

I was practically squealing in delight. And Rudy began the unloading. It’s the worst part of the process. Pack, stuff into car, unload, sort … luckily we do it twice in the cycle; when we were boaters we did it weekly! It’s draining and tedious. In the heat it’s exhausting. But it’s done. As quickly as Rudy brings boxes in I’m unpacking into closets and cupboards.

By the time we are done molly is ready for her afternoon walk. We tour the neighbourhood and meet some friendly neighbours. The sun is bright and warm. I’m wearing flip flops and shorts. That’s why we are here. Skip the miserable cold.

I leave Rudy and molly while I head to the store for provisions. Coming to the same area means we are familiar with the services nearby. I head to the local Aldi store and pick up staples. When I return Rudy has enjoyed a few beers and he and Molly are chilling. Under the ceiling fan. We prepare our first dinner together and toast the new winter digs. As I look around I think how easy it will be to enjoy a few months here. It’s lovely in every way. Molly eats her meal with us and we settle in the family room for a Christmas movie.

Dolly Partons new musical is just the right choice to entertain me while Rudy and molly snooze. I call my parents to give and receive the daily update. It’s icy at home and I wish they were with us. It’s the only thing from making Florida perfect.


After our adventures on the helicopter we began the road trip taking us to our winter home. Our first night in Erie PA was the start of our highway trek through several states en route to Florida. There was a fabulous Italian eatery that delivered to our room. We shared a celebration snack and wine with our travelling companion.

We left PA and travelled into Ohio for our next night. Generally driving about 4 hours per day is plenty for us. With Molly we have to be mindful of her routine and deviate as little as possible. A morning walk and feeding; an afternoon walk and feeding. Since we are in strange places we don’t walk or drive after dark. This time of year it means being at our destination by 4 pm.

Our second overnight was in Cincinnati. We have discovered the Home2 chain by Hilton. These are large studios with kitchenettes which is perfect for us. We can store food and drink in the fridge and there’s dishes for any food we might eat. The hotel was great! Super clean and perfect for us. We had some leftovers from the night before so hunkered down in our room watching … groan… Christmas movies! (Which I love) The next morning we packed up and headed for our next destination: Nashville.

I guess my geography rather sucks. I had no idea that crossing the Ohio river in Cincinnati ends up in Kentucky! There are a bunch of bridges crossing the wide river and on either bank is the skyline of a big city. Absolutely beautiful. We marvelled at the landmark stadiums (Louisville Slugger for one) and the Derby … so much to see and do if you’re not plowing through (and during covid!). We buzz through Kentucky wishing we could pull over at the countless distilleries and historic sites but unfortunately we have a timeline and many things are still closed.

As we see Nashville appear in the distance the billboards announce the obvious country entertainment Mecca. But again, lots is closed or restricted. We find our hotel in Franklin just south of Nashville. It’s an upscale neighborhood where I feel like we could bump into someone famous at every turn. We stop into a liquor store (of course) and then a grocery store. Everyone is wearing masks. I pick up provisions for the night and the next day. Since it’s Saturday the stores are busy but the hotel is nestled among office buildings which are deserted. Great for walking molly around their park like grounds. The birds were busy chirping up a storm in the surrounding bushes. It felt like spring; 10C and gorgeous sun.

We pack up and rumble to our next destination: Aliceville Alabama. Backwoods is being too kind. It is so remote and off the beaten path we wondered what we were getting into. As we pull into the wooded lane I felt like I was back in Campbellville. A winding driveway (albeit paved unlike our gravel road) going up hill and then suddenly the woods clear to reveal a sprawling cape cod style home. With about seven vehicles in the front. The welcoming committee consisted of 4 of the cutest kids, two dogs (Bella and Ladybird) and a pile of adults carrying drinks. We were ushered to the outdoor gazebo for a welcome drink and a couple more adults arrived – what a lively bunch!! We were treated to a complete southern dinner with ribs, potato and macaroni salads, beans, corn and rolls. What a feast. I’m trying to get the rib recipe. Fall off the bone mouth watering goodness. Yum!! We practically fall into bed (a huge king with a beautiful quilt) pooped, stuffed and a bit tipsy. Even molly was tuckered out from kids giving her tons of love.

We have a long drive on our fifth day from Alabama to Tallahassee. We choose to put in a longer day so that we can arrive at our final destination in Davenport at a reasonable enough time to get provisions and get settled. So today’s drive was 6 hours plus stopping time. Molly is such a wonderful traveller she takes it all as she gets it. We are up early and I walk her down the lane way and it is still damp from the overnight rain. Rudy collects our things. We say a goodbye to our wonderful hosts and we are off at 8 am (central time … so really 9am). Again my geography is lacking. We are literally 20 min from the Mississippi border and have quite a trek through southern Alabama before crossing into Florida.

The highway from Aliceville is a two lane stop and go until we hit the very southeast of the state. Once we cross into Florida the highway widens and you can see a definite economic difference. Alabama (through Troy and Ozark especially) are very depressed with many businesses boarded up. It was a bit sad to see; hopefully they can bounce back. Around Tuscaloosa there’s lots of action and the most gigantic Mercedes plant I have ever seen!

Florida is the sunshine state. The closer we got the more the sun came out. Tallahassee is the capital city and it is bustling. Our Home2 is in the heart of a busy area teeming with shops and restaurants. We are excited for our final leg tomorrow. Home sweet home.

This bird sat at our window and posed.
Flowers are in bloom in Nashville!
Our fabulous hosts Dale and Glenda.

Chop Chop

What a day yesterday was. Filled with every emotion and the physical reactions to go with. And it ended with a dream that summed everything up. I’m going to start from the beginning….

One of our retirement dreams was to become snowbirds. This is our third year and covid has thrown a major monkey wrench into the mix. We drive. With both cars. And a pile of stuff. And our dog Molly. But the driving borders are closed; which in our mind makes zero sense since a plane load of people seems far more risky than a private vehicle. Anyway, a month or so ago a friend shared an article about a helicopter pilot who was determined to get his parents and their dog across the border. The article explained how he arranged their car to be shipped to Buffalo NY and he flew them on his chopper to Buffalo airport where they met their car and drove off to Florida. We were working on a bunch of schemes but this one seemed foolproof. So Rudy made the arrangements.

Our winter home rental (yes, we will be living in a private home … not a commune with hundreds of others!!) starts on Dec 15 so we wanted to leave a few days beforehand to allow for the drive. We take a bit longer so we don’t have to drive at night and accommodate Molly’s walking schedule. As it happens, the chopper people were booking up fast. All of November and the first week of December was booked solid. We managed a spot for December 10. Yesterday. Unfortunately the chopper has a strict weight restriction and we were over the limit (Molly is 55.5 kg) so Rudy reserved two flights on Dec 10 (they have a bigger chopper but it was not available).

We breathed a small sigh of relief knowing we were booked. But the stress around travelling during these times is a bit daunting. Even though we know people who have travelled by air internationally without incident it’s still a concern with all the hype. So much that most of our snowbird friends are staying put in the snow. We rent our home out to skiers and they were panicking that we couldn’t leave. So many folks are staying home there’s very few winter chalet rentals available. We have the same family as last year. They were contacting the rental agency weekly to see if we were changing our minds. They even went so far as to offer to drive our car and Molly across (the husband is American) and we could fly to meet them. The hoops were aplenty.

A new development: Rudy’s golf partner (who’s brother lives in Alabama) was turned away from the land border when he attempted to cross by car. So he would chopper with Rudy and ship his car too. The more the merrier.

So we had a month to get organized. Sort. Pack. Leave. It sounds easy enough. We’ve done it a few times and each time we do we marvel at how much s**t we have. Seriously. The stuff is crazy. But there’s also the other tidbits: wrapping and getting pjs to my folks (I ordered pjs for the family so we could take a cute photo … everyone can deliver on time except Canada Post! But that’s another story), parcel for Rudy’s daughter, small gift for our neighbour, gift for friends in Alabama who we are visiting en route (another story), vaccination for Molly (hers expire while we are away), car license stickers (also expire while we are away), mail hold … the list is literally huge.

I made a bunch of medical appointments for my dad for Dec 9 so he was up to date on everything before we left. All he wants to do when we visit is play cards and gab so we have to work the schedule perfectly in order to tick all the boxes.

A week before leaving we get the cars tuned up and checked out. We organize our documents. We pare down our food supplies. Arrange the cleaners to do a full sanitization for the winter renters. Rudy organizes the finances. It’s starting to come together.

Dec 8. We are in full on packing mode. The personal things we are leaving at home get locked into two closets which are off limits to the renters. When we get back in the spring it’s going to be scene from a cartoon when I open the closet… bam! Avalanche of pillows and towels.

Dec 9. It’s happening. Rudy loads the cars (and our bikes on his car) while I pack the remnants and get our travelling provisions in order: coffee to go, waters, granola bars. Plus documentation (there’s tons to export a vehicle) and travel ID. All this before 8 am since we have to be in Stratford by 10:30 for my dads first appointment and Molly also needs a walk (and poop). As we drive away from our house it sinks in that we won’t be back for some time. I will miss the cozy hangout and the endless waters. When we hit the Beaver Valley, the snow increases and on top of the escarpment it’s really snowy and icy. It’s a slow drive which adds to the stress. Timing is everything.

I call my dad just as we enter town so he can meet me at the back entrance. He’s waiting at the door when I pull in. I bring in only Molly’s gear and my toiletries. It’s 10:30 am so we have a few minutes to settle and review the schedule (again). New wrinkle: mom has a wicked bruise, rash, welt on her forearm. When I ask about it I get a riddle. Dad says he tried to call the doctor but they changed their number and he couldn’t understand the message with the new number. Ugh. Moving on. I leave molly with mom knowing that Rudy will arrive any minute. His drive was slowed by the bikes. Dad and I get going in our mission. First stop the pharmacy to pick up his hormones. Then the eye doctor for a full check up. Dad has mentioned his vision is “slimy” on the “Good eye” where he had cataracts removed followed by laser surgery. As it turns out he has macular degeneration. Luckily his vision is still really good so he can drive. Unfortunately his vision isn’t perfect and for an old German, perfection is key. Next stop is the urologist where he gets a biannual hormone for prostate cancer. The doctor tells us that the hormone therapy is no longer effective and the psa levels are rising. He tells us next time we need to also go to the cancer clinic for more aggressive treatment options. When we get back in the car dad wants me translate everything. I realize how imperative it is for him to have an advocate. I explain everything until he understands and suggest he not share the cancer part with mom. She’s too confused and nervous to deal with it and her reaction (countless questions and worrying out loud) will frustrate and anger dad. Dad holds my hand and through tears says thank you. I feel like my heart is going to pop out of my chest as I bravely tell him everything will be fine.

Next stop KFC for lunch. One of dad’s favourites. I’ve texted Rudy to let him know our timing and to help mom set the table. When we get back they are ready and the two Rudys are ravenous. Dads hearing aids need a tuneup and due to covid he won’t be going in the office. We just have to drop them off for a few minutes. Dad is happy to relax at home and let me do the hearing aids since the eye drops from the first appointment of the day are still activated making his vision horrible. Rudy joins me so we can tick off a few more things. Mailing Sarah’s parcel. Getting better tie downs for the bikes.

When we return back, dad is ready for cards. And mom can wash the sheets we stripped from our bed at home that morning when we left. Everyone slips happily into routine. We have a snack and continue cards until well past sundown (at 5:30 ha ha). It’s been a long and busy day so we call it quits around 9:30 pm and hit the hay.

Dec 10. We are all up early (again). Rudy takes Molly for a morning trek while I fumble around with our stuff. We have breakfast with mom and dad and then get ready to go. Rudy leaves first so I can say bye to mom. She’s confused so it’s easier on everyone; she’s not comprehending that I’m going for a few months instead of a few days. Dad wants to walk us down and Rudy’s already in his car. I let molly jump in and turn to hug my dad. He’s crying. It’s gut wrenching to see him like this. I reassure him that we will be fine. I know his biggest fear is our safety (I silently curse CNN and the other evil media for scaring the daylights out of everyone!) I hug him tightly and say I love you. As I get into my car I hold back my tears and wave. I’m so grateful for my sister and that she will be there the next day. I drive away sobbing. Ugly cry. Which makes Molly whine.

The drive to St Catharines, where the helicopter is and we drop our cars for transport, is nice. Clear roads and the odd sunny break. We arrive at the tiny airport as the choppers are loading and taking off with passengers before us. All snowbirds with pets and vehicles. We enter the terminal building which is a neat and tidy 2 storey building with a back wall of all glass. A huge expansive view of the runway (singular) and tarmac for the choppers. We sit in the waiting area where there are groupings of seats and a coffee station. I’m impressed. And more so when I use the facilities. We meet Rudy’s golf partner there and the three of us sit in our grouping of seats. There are three other groupings there in their areas with their pets. After a few minutes some of the others start to wander around and we chat exchanging destination and other information. Everyone with similar stories of wanting to go south with their pets and their cars. Molly of course is the biggest dog by a mile. And then some!

The car transport guy comes in and collects keys and paperwork. He loads the vehicles (about 8) onto his truck and leaves.

We watch others go ahead of us. There are 4 choppers in action and all are within a few minutes of each other. When our turn to leave comes we head out to the chopper where they have set up a ramp for Molly to walk up to the aircraft. No way. She sees me in the chopper and wants to get in. They remove the ramp and Rudy and the attendant lift her in. She sits in the tight seat next to me. When our pilot gets in he pets her and explains the deal. He starts the rotor and we lift off. What a feeling!! Molly is fine. I’m trying to absorb the experience and take photos. It’s a quick 20 minute flight over the Welland Canal and Niagara Falls. We touch down gently in Buffalo and wait for the customs agent. He walks to the chopper and clears us in 40 seconds. Didn’t even ask for Molly’s documents. We walk with the pilot into the small terminal building.

We are told that the vehicles will be there in 5 minutes. Wham bam. We are in the USA in one piece and hop in our cars. First stop Erie PA where we will spend the night.

We order Italian delivery to our room and enjoy a celebration drink and food. Molly is on the bed passed out from exhaustion. I call mom and dad and send the pictures to them. The relief in their voices is a healing balm.

Whew. The hard part is over. Cincinnati here we come.

Let it Blow

Most of the time lakeside living is ideal. The sound of gentle waves lapping the shore is tranquil and soothing. In fact it can be mesmerizing like looking into the flames of a fire. You’re captivated as though in a trance.

Sometimes when people come to visit we forget how much pull the water has. Guests are immediately drawn to the water and we are reminded how fortunate we are. It’s true that the water view never fails to amaze. There’s nothing more zen than a good cup of coffee while watching the sun rise over the bay. Since we are in a shallow bay near Northwinds Beach there is little motorized water activity. Except for the d-bag who got a new seadoo and likes to parade along the shore like a peacock. Would that make him a sea-cock?? A fitting handle.

However the waters can turn quickly with the wind. One minute paddlers are peacefully gliding by on glass-like water and the next thing there’s a few ripples. The bay stallion (our neighbours weather vane… I will digress in a post script) starts to swing slowly announcing a weather change. Then the water starts to churn. White caps appear and the tempest arrives. Fasten your seatbelts.

In warm weather watching a storm roll in is a natural wonder. The sky changes colour. The sounds signal a frenzy as waves roll and crash. The wind arouses the scent of precipitation. It’s a sensory overload if you dare to face it.

However, December 1 means colder climes. Last weekend we sat outside on a calm evening enjoying quiet water, libations and music beside the outdoor fireplace. What a difference a week can make! The storm rolled in as predicted last night. Fierce bitter cold winds turned driving rain into frozen lashes that sprayed frosty flurries. The water whipped into a thundering blasting cannon against the shore. The roaring surf and wind letting us know that Mother Nature is on a Rampage. She’s the boss. Take shelter. I wonder what our homeless are doing and where they are taking shelter. Even our dog Molly is frightened by the onslaught.

Rudy braves the elements to tape down some flapping noisy deck thing. When he opens the door I realize how much noisier it actually is without the barrier of windows and doors. It’s howling and snarling like a pack of wild dogs on the hunt. I’m grateful for the cozy warmth of the family room snuggled under a heap of blankets. With the tv playing festive movies. Cue the holiday music and hot cocoa. Sigh.

When we head upstairs to bed on a stormy night the sounds are amplified (and there’s no buffering tv noise). Normally we would open the bedroom window for fresh lake breezes and meditative water melodies. But when the lake is angry and pounding it does not evoke relaxation. It is by its very nature agitated and mean.

Like the line from a famous tv series: winter is coming.

Good. Bring it. We are leaving.

Post script: when we were setting up our internet last year a wifi network popped up as “Bay Stallion” … immediately my thoughts swayed to the lowest common denominator as I assumed the name was for someone who had a Napoleon complex (sea-cock dude??) … I didn’t dwell on it too much at the time. But while at our neighbours house last summer the conversation turned to weather (Canadian predisposed condition) and he mentioned the weather vane fastened to his deck railing. It’s a galloping horse. The Bay Stallion. Apparently it’s an iron work of a famous race horse which my neighbour rescued from atop a chalet being torn down. He rescued the vane not the actual horse from the chalet in case you wondered. So my dirty thoughts were stymied. The stallion is in fact a horse. The end.

Last weeks sunrise.
Hello December.

All that Glitters

The holiday season is in full swing. Things really take on the festive vibe when the temperatures drop and we get a sugary coating of snow. And since it gets dark so early (feels like midnight at 5pm!) we are mesmerized by twinkling lights and candles. Funny how in July you would never consider curling up under cozy blankets with Christmas movies at supper time. Our internal clocks play tricks on us and we succumb to a form of hibernation.

It’s hard to (especially these days with no social activities) motivate yourself you leave the cocoon of comfort. It’s very appealing to snuggle into a comfortable position on the couch and get swept away by Hallmark on demand. However, as I marinate in candlelight and coziness, my mind wants to race with a blurring flurry of to do lists. As the ticker tape reel of chores and details whirs I suddenly stop in mid buzz: I’m not going to be with my family this Christmas for the first time in my life!

This year we are heading south before Christmas. We will be in Florida on December 24. I’m not sure how I really feel about that. Of course in the scheme of pure logic it makes perfect sense: better driving conditions, less packing and unpacking, longer rental periods, more outdoor activities sooner … there’s a lot on the positive side. The negatives are glaring. And that’s the overwhelming impact that jars me out of holiday bliss.

I remind myself that people spend holidays apart from family all the time. My brothers been doing it for years. My husband too. I think men are far more likely to make the concessions in these matters. As well, it’s just a date on the calendar (I tell myself) and we can improvise. Which we plan to do on the weekend. American Thanksgiving is the new Christmas for our small family unit.

In order to keep some traditional semblance, my sister is executing her annual cookie baking extravaganza. This includes putting up a tree and decorating, baking holiday cookies in German style and firing up the mulled wine.

So this year we are crashing that tradition and turning it into full blown Christmas dinner. And we make our exit dash to Florida on December 10. Rudy tries to inject a bit of comic relief into the emotional mix. He watches Christmas movies with his Santa hat on and every time they show (fake) snowy scenes he reminds me that the actors are really sweating. He’s convinced that all holiday movies are filmed in Celebration Florida.

When we were there before Christmas a few years ago (checking out our first winter rental as newbie snowbirds) we walked through the town of Celebration and marvelled at skating and snow in our shorts. It was exhilarating in a weird way. It occurs to me that no matter where you are, Christmasy thoughts include snow.

So for this year we will be channeling thoughts of snow and ice as we lounge poolside with our eggnog. The only icy cold in sight is the cube in our drinks. I’m making lists of holiday sights to see and do in Florida. Rudy has no idea. I can’t wait to see some of the light installations! I’m a total sucker for magical Christmas decorations. Each year we bundle up and make a “special” drink then take a drive around neighbourhoods to see the lights. We’ve been mostly Ho hum about the efforts but I have a feeling that people have more time at home this year and so putting in the time will result in Wow!

Lesson from the dog: be grateful for everyday and the people in it. Spread joy and kindness. Never miss the opportunity for a good nap.