Florida was lovely.

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It’s so warm and soft around the edges, with its toasty sand and swaying palms.  Those darn pelicans, so big and cuddly sitting on their pier posts, they never let you get too close.  All I want is to give ’em a big hug.  There’s nothing unwelcoming or extreme about the Sunshine State. (Minus Miami, I’ve heard only weird things about that city.)

I’ve been going to Florida on a semi-regular basis for most of my life.  Doing so has lent itself a familiarity, making trips there feel more like visiting the summer cottage than traveling one thousand miles across the country.  In addition to the more or less consistent frequency, my destination is always the same:  my grandparents’ condo in Fort Myers.

Omi & Opa on the Lanai

They have a beautiful rectangle of space overlooking the blue.  Ten stories up, they are situated on the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River as it enters the Gulf.  An endless stream of fishing boats, sailboats, and pleasure yachts flow past the condo, dawn to dusk.  Gulls, ibises, herons, and osprey fly in V’s or solo past the lanai screen.  If the binoculars are nearby, I’ll train them on either bird or boat, delighting in my nearness to the nautical.

My mom and I picked this particular time of the year to go to Florida to coincide with my grandparents’ migration. They’re snowbirds from Wisconsin.  Since we arrived a few days before they did, we were able to pick them up from the airport, help them unpack and get settled in.

Between shifts of cleaning, cooking and organizing, my mom and I adventured out to do beachy things.  One afternoon we rented a Hobie Cat for an hour and tacked back and forth off Fort Myers Beach.  The boat never heeled over because the wind was mild, but we kept along at a good 3 knot clip.  That was fine with Mom – she was a bit hesitant about the idea at first.  You know, taking a big boat out on the high seas with her inexperienced wannabe sailor of a daughter.  I heard later that it was my Dad who persuaded her with an argument to the effect of: “Why not?”

Rigging the Hobie Cat

Ingenious.

After our sail we ate conch fritters and grouper caesar salad outside at a restaurant on the beach.  We shopped the strip.  My parents, having been there before, described the town of Fort Myers Beach as Spring Break! meets Wisconsin Dells.  Oh so true. To prove this point, in one of the T-shirt shops we found cotton halter dresses printed “Eagle River, Wisconsin”.  What?  This is Florida. Why the home-of-the-the-frozen-tundra paraphernalia? After asking the clueless foreign employee at the counter, we could surmise only this:  Some factory in China must have mixed up the addresses.  Fort Myers?  Eagle River?  Eh, just throw ’em in the same box.

Every morning after waking up, my mom and I took a brisk walk.  A nice path meanders around the grounds of the Sanibel Harbor Resort, which sits right next to the condo complex.  Following our walk we’d do sets of crunches on the living room carpet.  Then finally, breakfast.

The islands managed to steal us away from the mainland a couple days.  After shopping on Sanibel one afternoon, my mom and I had lunch – a seafood platter – at the Mucky Duck on Captiva Island.  Afterwards we walked past the palms that bordered the restaurant’s outdoor seating area to the beach and waves beyond.  I stretched out on my towel to read, and mom took to the sand to go shell-hunting.

Nights were spent taking dips in the pool & hot tub, drinking Godiva White Chocolate on the rocks, and playing a variety of games with my grandparents.  Mom played this game called “Poof” on a backgammon board with my Opa.  After that she’d wrangle me and my Omi to the kitchen table to play Würfel, a dice game similar to Yahtzee.

Most afternoons my Opa sat outside on the lanai, enjoying the view.  I’d usually join him for a while around 3pm, as the sun started to pull shadows long behind the plam trees and the resort below.  He’d ask me, “So how do you like it here?”

Being from the midwest, the summer cottage was always my favorite place to go.  But this… this is the best of both worlds.  The warm, the sun, the palms and pelicans and the home-away-from home feeling.

I’d say, “Opa, it’s just beautiful here.”  He’d reply, “Well, you have to come back more often!”

Absolutely.

P.S. Mom and I went kayaking in the mangroves, and snuck up on a big group of manatees. One’s nose surfaced right next to us, followed by his tail pushing on our kayak and lifting us up!