Friday, November 16, 2012

Great literature makes good travel even better.

I love to travel. As an Air Force brat, I can honestly say it is in my blood. I moved every couple of years in my childhood. Although in my early years there was always the thrill of where we would be stationed next, I was more along for the ride than following a desire to experience the world. As an adult I have perfected how to get the most out of my travels. Perhaps it was attending boarding school in Switzerland for two of my high school years, where travel was a major part of our curriculum. On second thought, no. During my high school years I was too much into taking a train somewhere - anywhere - with a group of my best friends and no chaperone. It was more about the freedom.

I think it was traveling with my own children that really taught me how to travel. As a parent, I took my role as educator seriously. My two sons, bright and inquisitive, made it fun for me to provide never-ending nourishment for their curiosities. The library became one of our favorite haunts. When they were seven and nine, we had the opportunity to move to Germany for my husband’s job. I longed to show them the Europe I had fallen in love with during high school and teach them to appreciate the diversity of the planet we lived on.

Their first experience in a foreign country was not what I wanted it to be. We were having dinner with friends in a biergarten. Biergartens are such a wonderful microcosm of German life. People come together to sit outdoors under the chestnut trees, enjoy live music, eat some würst and drink some bier, and socialize while the kids play together nearby. Only my children clung to my side. “We don’t speak German,” they whined. “We can’t play with those kids.” What? When had my inability to communicate ever stopped me from exploring a new place? I had roamed our neighborhood in Bangkok at their age with only the ability to count to ten in Thai. They needed to get off the bench and get into the game. Or was it too late? Had they missed out by not being launched into the global playground from birth? Ridiculous! We could do this, and it was my job as parent to make sure it happened.

I stumbled across the path to success shortly after the biergarten incident. Before leaving on a trip to Florence, a friend recommended I read The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. It so immersed me in Michelangelo’s Florence that I was moved to read a passage to my family as we sat in front of his statue of the biblical David in the Accademia Gallery. It was a masterful telling of how the citizens of Florence, beaten down by the perennial onslaught of the Catholic church, hostile neighboring city-states, and the powerful Medici family, responded to Michelangelo’s powerful symbol of defiance. As I looked up from my reading, I saw tears rolling down my husband’s cheeks, my kids were clamoring to know what happened next, and a small crowd had gathered round me surreptitiously listening to me read. I had discovered the key to getting the most out of traveling - good literature. Without Irving Stone, David would have been just another statue.

Twenty years later I continue my quest for good literature set in places I want to visit. A couple of months ago, I read Cannery Row aloud to my husband as we drove from Reno, Nevada, to Monterey, California. Because of Steinbeck’s engaging characters, we were not disappointed by the run-down buildings and vacant lots on the real Cannery Row. The real thing, once you got away from the schlocky tourist shops and luxury spas, was just as I pictured it from the book. I could just see Mack and the boys sitting on the front steps of the flophouse passing around the jug of “leftovers” Eddie collected from his bar-tending job and hear the strains of classical music from Doc’s laboratory over the pounding of the waves. Great literature makes good travel even better.

Holiday letter survey

Okay, now's your opportunity to vent on the subject of holiday letters you receive from family, friends, and barely-acquaintances. Since my kids were young, I have annually sent out holiday letters updating friends and family who don't live within visiting distance on what my family has been doing for the past twelve months. While opting not to brag about my kids' exploits, I have limited my writing mostly to places we have traveled. This format began when we lived in Germany for two years. It was so much easier to write one letter and duplicate it several dozen times than jot the same few brief lines on a plethora of Christmas cards. Somehow it seemed more personal to give more detail about our lives than to just skim the surface in an assembly-line kind of way. I always, however, kept the text to one printed page.

I still do this even though my kids no longer live at home. I know they don't communicate with my friends and family, so I keep everyone up to date. Often our friends have kids who grew up with mine. I love reading what their kids are doing, and I respond in kind. Until this year.... I'm having second thoughts.

My husband shared with me an article from the Wall Street Journal about the incessant bragging in today's social media. While I don't have a Facebook page or tweet my every thought, I do have those darn holiday letters (and now this blog - which very few people know about) which accomplish the same thing, only not with such consuming frequency.

How do you feel about holiday letters? Do you want to know what's going on in my life, or is a brief telling of my annual travels nothing more than poorly disguised bragging?

Are you out there, dear readers?

Please comment to this blog:
a) I enjoy reading holiday letters from friends and family, or
b) no offense, but no thanks.

I promise I will not hold your heartfelt opinions against you. This is a search for truth. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Laugh until your heart overflows

This is the quote on the inside of a Dove chocolate wrapper that is wedged under a ribbon on a message board that hangs over my computer, where I see it every day. It’s not the kind of sentiment that I usually hang on to. Normally I would think it’s kind of a cheesy platitude, like “Have a nice day!” or “Live, Laugh, Love.” But this quote, or more precisely, this wrapper, reminds me of two chocolate-loving buddies I used to work with.

It was an unlikely relationship. Not between Marilyn and myself necessarily. She is ten years older than I am, almost to the day. My birthday is two days before hers, so I kid her that I am two days older than she is. And I feel we are the same age. Twins separated at birth. Two very different lives, but we think alike. We bonded very quickly. I started out working with her and eventually moved on to other jobs within the same company, but my desk was always across a narrow aisle from hers. At one point the guy who ended up being my boss suggested he move me downstairs to sit with other people in our group. I told him I would chain myself to her desk if he tried. Nothing more was said about it.

Lue started working with us three months after I started working for the company. She was a college student working part time while she finished her degree. Marilyn and I were... well, we hadn’t been college students for quite some time. But the three of us clicked right off the bat, and I give a lot of the credit to Lue. She may have been 21, but she had wisdom well beyond her age and did not flinch at befriending two women old enough to be her mothers. Lue was an immigrant from Kosovo. Her family won the lottery at their refugee camp after the Kosovo War ended in 1999 and landed in Fort Dix, NJ, courtesy of Bill Clinton and NATO. (Despite the bad press, Lue was always Bill Clinton’s biggest fan. Her country reveres him for his efforts to end the genocide in her country.) She arrived at the age of 17, not speaking a word of English, but she picked up the language much faster than her parents or older brother, thanks to an ESOL program at the Hartford, CT, high school she attended. She rapidly became the grown-up in the family, having to handle everything from employment applications to insurance issues because of her ability to communicate. None of this phased her. She is one of the strongest people I know.

Lue, Marilyn, and I had many good months working together. We worked steadily, and we worked hard. We shared a strong work ethic and a love of laughter. Lue shared stories about Kosovo, her boyfriend (now husband) whom she met in the refugee camp and was still over there, her struggles to learn to live abroad, and her triumph at becoming an American citizen.

Three women, unlikely friends thrown together by a work relationship and strengthened by laughter. It’s been nine years since we worked together. I miss them.

Laugh until your heart overflows.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The California

Growing up in the 60’s, I thought California was the center of the universe. I didn’t live there. I had only visited once or twice, but one of those visits was to Disneyland. Back in the days when it was the only Disney Land. California was a magical place to me; the entire state was Fantasyland. 

As I came of age, some of the best music from the rock era came out of California: The Mamas and the Papas, The Beach Boys, Crosby Stills and Nash,  Linda Ronstadt, America, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, to name a few. Even the singer-songwriters who did not hail from California congregated at The Troubadour nightclub in LA: James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Van Morrison, Dusty Springfield. 

Didn’t almost every TV show I watched as a kid take place in California? The Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Julia, The Big Valley, The Rockford Files, Barretta, CHiPs, Emergency 9-1-1, Columbo, McMillan and Wife, Sanford and Son?

So unique and quirky and diverse and living on the edge of the San Andreas fault, California is where everything happens first. I came to think of it as "the California." Not THE California, as if it were the original in a slew of wannabe states claiming the same name, but a name that requires a definite article in front of it, like the Mona Lisa or the David. Everyone knows it; it defines itself. The California.

I recently spent a week in the California. Just driving from Reno, Nevada, to Monterey I saw towns on the road map whose names I knew: Livermore, Petaluma, Mill Valley, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Salinas, Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur. How do I know these names? They were featured in countless news stories, homes of research centers, universities, computer manufacturers, celebrities, and surfer dudes. This is where it was all happening while I was growing up, and still is.

Did you know that if the California were its own country, it would have the fifth largest economy in the world? (Okay, Wikipedia says eighth, but fifth is the ranking I’ve heard being tossed around.) In the world!!! That alone requires a definite article. Salinas Valley produces 80% of the lettuce eaten in the United States. The California has an ocean, several mountain ranges and deserts (it is home to both the highest and lowest elevations in the lower 48 states), volcanoes, and some very big-ass trees. It is an amazing state. I am a fan. Would I want to live there? Not really, they also have one of the highest costs of living in the United States. I couldn’t afford to buy a house there - or, more likely, I wouldn’t want to live in the kind of house I could afford there.

If you have any doubt that this is an awe-inspiring state, make the drive from Monterey to Big Sur sometime on the Pacific Coast Highway. But be prepared to stop every few minutes to take photos. I’ve traveled all over the world, and I’ve never seen coastline like that.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Soundtrack to my life

I had a life's soundtrack moment yesterday boating and snorkeling on the intracoastal waterway when the Foo Fighters' "Ain't It the Life" came on.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Reason #4: Viva la difference!

When I lived in New England, I didn’t mind the winters. The longer the cold, gray months of winter dragged on, the more resplendent the spring, summer, and fall. I think I was the only New Englander who loved snow. (I had to be careful who I confided that bit of information to; my mental health was often held in question after that confession.)

Summer is Florida’s winter, and I mentally prepared myself upon moving here two years ago to spend the summers indoors just as I would spend the winters indoors in New England. Only I had two aging dogs to walk two years ago. In the middle of the day. Approximately five times in the middle of the day. In the heat and humidity. So much for staying indoors.

The first summer was brutal. I know I wasn’t acclimated to this climate yet, but I still contend that the summer of 2010 was an exceptionally hot one. I get a lot of blank looks from the natives when I say that. Delineating hot, hotter, and hottest has no meaning to a Florida native.

Last summer we had the great benefit of spending the summer in Reno, Nevada. Like jumping from the frying pan into the fire? Not exactly. It’s a dry heat. Even the dog (we were down to one by then) noticed the difference. Life on the desert provides some deliciously cool nights and early mornings. We slept with the windows open.

This summer I had to reconcile myself to a second summer in Florida. Small consolation that we don’t have any dogs to walk this summer. When my sister-in-law asked if we wanted to meet her and her family in the mountains of Colorado for a week in July, I jumped at the chance. Dry air, highs around 70°, lows in the 50’s; perfect respite! I packed sweaters, sweatshirts, jackets, jeans, closed-toe shoes - things I hadn’t worn in two years. We hiked without sweating (much). And when I blew my hair dry, it actually stayed the way I styled it! But by the end of the week, the cool temps had penetrated to the bone. The house didn’t have an opportunity to warm up to my satisfaction during the day before the evening temps started to cool it down again. I would go outside to warm up, and even then I was moving from patch to patch of sunlight to stay warm. I was beginning to long for the deep Florida heat. I wanted to be warm again. Go figure!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Declaration of Independency

I thought retiring would be like falling off a log. I mean, how hard can it be to stop working? You stay up watching movies later than you have in decades, smile smugly at the alarm clock when you finally turn out the light, and wake up whenever you feel like it. In fact, you do everything when you feel like it. For the rest of your life.
I discovered, but only after a year and a half, that just moving through your retirement days is shortchanging yourself in many ways. Some downtime is needed at the onset to unwind from the stress of working; the more stressful the work, the more downtime required. But when the days begin to melt together to the point when you don’t know which day of the week it is, you might be ready for a little more structure in your life. 
Firstly, let’s get rid of the word “retirement.” It is way too sedentary. I prefer to think of it as “independency.” No longer are my husband and I dependent on a paycheck to get through life. We have reached the point in our lives where hard work and careful investments over the years have allowed us to come and go as we please, with the emphasis on “come and go.” Independency requires activity. I will retire when I am no longer active.
So a year and a half in, I came out of my independency daze long enough to remember the bucket list. Actually my sister was the one who administered the smelling salts by bringing up the children’s story I had written and never published. She discovered through her genealogy research that we are related (by marriage) to the family at the center of my historical fiction. Did I think this new angle could help me get the book published, she wondered. Published? I’d written the thing ages ago, just before I’d gone back to work full time, but I vowed then that when I retired and had more time to myself I would go back to it - or, at the very least, to writing in some form or another. As the fog cleared, I recalled the other items on my independency bucket list.
How is it that I am so busy in my independency that I don’t have time to accomplish anything on my bucket list? Well, perhaps it is the hours I spend writing long, detailed emails to my friends and family. Or paying bills as they are received. Or filling in at my volunteer job whenever they need someone. I was being reactive, not proactive, and the lack of some kind of structure was eating up my time.
Structure? In independency? The two concepts seem contradictory. I balked at the idea of scheduling my hobbies into my week, but at the same time I knew that I would never find the time to accomplish them if I didn’t make the time. So on my weekly calendar I wrote in all the things I wanted to accomplish, along with all the things, like doctor and dentist appointments, that I had to accomplish. 
It’s working like a dream. No longer do I feel like I should be sorting through insurance paperwork when I’m out on the boat, or scrubbing toilets when I’m reading. Unpaid bills go into a folder until Monday. Thursday is dedicated to boating. (And if Thursday’s weather is not conducive to boating, I can be flexible in my independency and switch things around.) Cleaning is done on Fridays. Reading is my reward after bills are paid on Mondays and I’ve checked off the at least three items on my never-ending To-do list on Wednesdays. And if I want to go to lunch with a friend, well maybe I don’t scrapbook that week. Some might think it obsessive, but I’ve never been more productive or satisfied. Or less stressed about fitting everything in. Everything in its own time.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Reason #3: Slow spin in the pool

Doing a slow spin in the pool on my (neighbor's - thank you, David) most excellent raft while I listen to Chris Botti play "Time to Say Goodbye."

Living well is the best revenge

Living well is the best revenge (George Herbert)
I grew up in a game-playing family, and one of our favorites was a game called “Mille Bornes” (pronounced Meel Born). It is a unique card game that mimics a road race. Each player or team tries to be the first to accomplish 1000 miles or, in French, mille bornes. Accumulating mileage cards up to 1000 points would quickly grow monotonous if not for the extra excitement in the way of hazards a player can throw at one’s competition to slow them down, such as a red light, a speed limit, an empty gas tank, a flat tire, or a traffic accident. Corresponding safety cards are also included, only four per deck: Right-of-Way (which makes you impermeable to red lights and speed limits), Extra Tank (which ensures you never run out of gas), Puncture-proof Tire (enough said), and Driving Ace (the ultimate in defensive driving). Then, and here’s where it gets really exciting, they (those crafty game designers) added the coup fourré (pronounced coo foo-ray). 
The words alone are magic. (As an eight-year-old, I was throwing this phrase around like I spoke French fluently.) When a player draws one of these superhuman safety cards, she has the option of not playing it on the table right away. It can be played immediately to prevent ever having to deal with such a hazard in the future or, more strategically, retained in the hand until an opponent unwittingly throws the corresponding hazard on you. Not only does the owner of the safety card get to shout “Coup fourré!” and disrupt the normal flow of the game by playing out of turn, but also play the card horizontally (as opposed to the non-coup fourré way of playing it vertically), remove the offending hazard while rendering herself forever impermeable to it, AND take an extra turn. The coup fourré is the highlight of the game, and adds beaucoup de points to your score  when tallied at the end.
Originally coup fourré was a fencing term used to describe a fencer fending off an opponent’s attack AND counter-thrusting in the same maneuver - a twofer. I’m not sure if it’s a phrase commonly used in the French language today to describe any act of recovering from a blow by bestowing a bigger (or at least more satisfying) blow on your adversary, but that’s what it came to mean in Mille Bornes. Right back at ya, buddy!
My husband and I were making the thousand-mile journey (coincidence? I think not) from Connecticut, where we had just closed out one chapter of our lives, to Florida, where the next one was to begin. On the three-day journey we had lots of time to reflect on the happenings of the past year. My husband’s job had been eliminated, we chose to adjust to our new financial situation by selling our house and boat in Connecticut and moving to Florida to eliminate a mortgage and unnecessarily high property taxes, and my boss had arranged for me to move my job to Florida. I would be working out of our home. I was feeling pretty good about the turn our lives had taken, and I told my husband as much. He gave me a fist bump and said, “Good for you!” only I misunderstood him and thought he said, “Coup fourré!”, a term I hadn’t heard in years. The return of this nostalgic phrase with all its delightful connotations was as serendipitous as our new life. 
Our move to Florida was the coup fourré of a lifetime. Sometimes what seems like just an attempt to keep your head above water can be the perfect counter-thrust. Right back at ya, buddy!

Friday, June 29, 2012

The bottom falls out from under you, and here you are.

What could possibly motivate two people, who at mid-life are not so enthusiastic at the thought of a major life change, to leave a home they had known for 23 years for the relative outback of Florida? We had lived here before, right out of college, so we had an idea of what we were getting into, at least with the weather. We got married down here, and this is where we started our family. And then we gladly moved up North. We found the heat and mosquitos oppressive, the vegetation without beauty, and the lack of cultural opportunities uninspiring. Why then did we come back?
Well, first of all, we are not back where we were in the truest sense. Martin County, where we live now, is a different animal than Palm Beach County, the county to our south where we lived when we were starting out. After we left Palm Beach County in 1987, we continued to visit family in the area. We witnessed a dramatic change in the development of the county over the years, and each time we visited I repeated my vow never to live there again. Palm Beach County has become part of the greater concrete-and-asphalt whole of Southern Florida. Martin County has somehow managed to escape the tourism trappings and stay true to its Old Florida beginnings. We love our quaint little town of Stuart. How it can reside just 15 miles north of the county line and manage to retain such a delightfully different character astounds me. In my heart they are worlds apart.
Martin County may still have heat and mosquitos, but it has more green space per capita than any other county in the country. It takes pride in its unique habitats and promotes its natural beauty. What I once considered ugly scrub I now see as part of a thriving ecosystem. The vegetation may be unusual, but so are the amazing animals who rely on it for sustenance and shelter. There’s an environmental world out there just teeming with intrigue and wonder and waiting to be explored. I’ve explored museums, theaters, and galleries around the world, and continue to do so when I travel; at home I’m exploring my own backyard. 
When I first visited and fell in love with Stuart four years ago, before I knew how close to retirement I actually was, I began to think for the first time about the possibility of retiring in Florida. Until then, Florida was to me where people go who have no better idea of what to do with their retirement  years. It was the default. Somehow the mentality of “Well, I’m retired now. I guess it’s time to move to Florida.” escaped me. Then I met Stuart and realized it is very possible to choose to retire in Florida.
Okay, I won’t lie. It wasn’t the thrill of living in Stuart that caused us to move here and retire at the age of 53. We weren’t planning on retiring so young. But suddenly my husband found himself without a job, we needed to redefine our lives, and here we are. Although I had my doubts after the first year of living here, when the dust began to settle, as to whether or not we made the right choice, it began to dawn on me about six months ago that we had. I don’t look upon it as a particularly enlightened decision. In many ways it seems more like fortunate happenstance. But one thing I know for sure: everything that happened from the time my husband’s job was eliminated until now was meant to happen. I look back now on the life we were living before that fateful day and realize we are so fortunate to be here in this wonderful place. As my husband and I always say at times of severe bliss, and with a little fist-bump, “Coup fourré!”

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reason #2: Free movies!

Free classic movies at the beautiful Lyric Theatre in downtown Stuart, complete with cocktails and popcorn.... A perfect respite from the heat!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Reason #1: Nesting Turtles

A couple of weeks ago we went on a guided sea turtle walk on the beach and it was fantastic. We saw a mamma loggerhead lay about 50 eggs, which is a small batch, but it could have been her last one of the season. The females can lay eggs 2-3 times per season. As soon as they lay one batch, they go back out to sea and start working on the next batch. They only mate once a season, and while working on the first batch of eggs can store the sperm for the second and third batches. They don't eat the entire egg-laying season, not until the last batch is in the sand. It amazes me what some females of other species have to go through. I guess it's instinct, and they don't know any different, but I just keep thinking about the multiple servings of chocolate cake I'd have when I was eating for two.
We got to the Florida Oceanographic Society’s Coastal Center on Hutchinson Island in Stuart at 9:00pm. Michelle, an educator at Florida Oceanographic, is a certified marine turtle nesting guide. (People are only allowed to watch loggerheads nest in the presence of a certified guide.) She gave us an interesting talk on sea turtles while her scouts (four of them) were out on the beaches watching for turtles coming out of the water. At 10:15 she got the radio call that there was a loggerhead digging a nest on the beach. The leatherbacks are still nesting too, but we're not allowed to watch them because they're endangered. The loggerheads are only "threatened," so we can watch them in the presence of a guide. The green turtles will nest starting in a month or so, and they are endangered too, so, guide or no, we can’t watch them either. 90% of the loggerheads in the U.S. nest on Florida’s beaches. Cool!
We all jumped into our cars and drove up the island about a mile and parked at a public beach. Then, very carefully and escorted by scouts equipped with night-vision binoculars and red filters on their flashlights so as not to disturb the turtles, we walked a little north of the boardwalk to where the turtle was spotted. Her nest was already dug and she was already in labor when we got there. She was in “the zone", as they say, so she wasn’t really aware of us being there as long as we weren’t too loud and didn’t flash any lights in her eyes. One of the scouts, Leslie, had propped up a flashlight in the sand behind her so we could see what was happening. Ellie, as we chose to call the turtle, dropped a couple of eggs in the hole right after we got there, and then nothing happened for about an hour. Sometimes they actually fall asleep in the process, but Leslie said she was awake; she was just having a little difficulty. Leslie said Ellie’s eggs were larger than most. 
Leslie, a volunteer at Florida Oceanographic, was so knowledgeable. She talked for the full hour that Ellie was in labor, telling us so many fascinating things about turtles. It makes all the difference in the world to be witnessing the nesting with someone like that.
After an hour, the eggs started dropping at about two per minute.We expected the usual 80 to 150 eggs, but Ellie seemed satisfied with the (approximately) 50 that we counted. When she was done, she started carefully packing sand on top of the eggs with her hind flippers. They have to pack it just right so the eggs don't get crushed, but they're safe from predators. In between flipping sand onto the nest, she's packing it down with her abdomen. It is something to see. 
After about 15-20 minutes of this, she turned back toward the ocean and headed out to sea. I almost cried when she went back into the water. I had just witnessed this beautiful animal giving birth, so to speak, and I couldn’t help thinking what a hard life her hatchlings will have. The ocean and beach will be teeming with predators waiting to have a turtle hatchling meal in 45-60 days. Leslie says the sharks will be waiting offshore. (Remind me not to swim in the ocean in 45-60 days!) The few hatchlings that survive, out of every 1000-10,000 eggs that are laid, are fated to lead the same life as their mother - migrating in the sea grass beds of the Atlantic Ocean for twenty or so years, until they are mature enough to mate, and then the females returning to the beach where they hatched to make their own nests. 
Such an incredible experience. Just to see a wild sea turtle on the beach was exciting. She was beautiful - her carapace (shell) was about 2.5-3 feet long. Fortunately she had no visible scars from damage by boats or other hazards. Witnessing a loggerhead nesting is one of the unique advantages of living in Florida. When we lived here before, I never much cared for the natural wildlife, either flora or fauna - mostly out of ignorance. I guess I was too preoccupied with day-to-day life to notice what was around me. 
The habitat and climate may not be for everyone, but there are some amazing things that go on here. Florida is unique in the U.S. in many ways. It's a good thing it's attached because I can't imagine why the U.S. would have wanted it back in the early days. Not difficult to understand why it wasn't settled until the late 1800's. Understandably Americans chose to occupy the more desirable areas of the country before they mustered up the courage to tackle Florida. But those who have the fortitude to tolerate the mosquitos and humidity of summer have the advantage of such rare opportunities as this.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

In 2010 we found ourselves, not entirely by choice, retired and living in Florida. This is an account of our struggles to survive in a place in which I never envisioned us.
Okay, maybe “survive” is too strong a word, but for the first six months I felt like I was barely getting by. Everything had happened so quickly. I thought I wanted to move to Florida, and I was trying to be spontaneous for once in my life, so I jumped on the swiftly spinning merry-go-round before it slowed to a halt and everyone went home. Then one day I found myself sitting in the downstairs bedroom/office of my new home, working a job I hated, and I realized I didn’t want to be there. This is why I’m not spontaneous. I’m a little slower than most to realize what I’m getting myself into.
It was mid-summer, and the heat was oppressive. I had lived in Florida at two other times in my life and knew what I was getting into with the weather. There really should be another word for the season from June through September in Florida. Summer, a season that I relished in New England, was not an appropriate name for the abysmal soup pot outside our door. I told myself, before I moved here, that I could choose to stay indoors in summer, just as I chose to stay indoors in winter in New England. Well, my house in Connecticut had a dog door. The house in Florida, being built to hurricane standards of impenetrable concrete block, stucco, and shatter-proof glass, is not amenable to such conveniences, and we were required to walk the dogs daily - five times daily, on average. 
Our choice. We realized it when we found the house, but we also realized our dogs wouldn’t be with us much longer. One was terminally ill when we left Connecticut, and the other aging. If I thought the summer heat here unbearable, at least I wasn’t walking around the block in 95-degree heat and 95% humidity wearing a fur coat. Connecticut was rapidly becoming the place where I left behind my friends, my beautiful house and yard, and any memories of healthy and happy dogs. And Florida eventually became the place where I lost my dogs to liver disease and stroke. But as I discovered, as the silver lining of all those summer thunderheads began to expose itself, it is also the place where we found the most amazing, compassionate vet. It was inevitable that I would lose my dogs. I was so fortunate that it was at his gentle hand.
And so the tide began to turn. Stay tuned for more stories of happiness and light, as our hapless heroine comes to terms with her new life in the Sunshine State.