A Vacation from our Vacation

Stan, Pam, Laura & Fred enjoying our reunion
The Butlers and The Jollys at Anna Maria Island

Two weeks ago we left our RV, Charley, in a campground in Salt Lake City, hopped a flight bound for Florida, and took a vacation from our lifestyle that, if we’re being truthful, is pretty much a full-time vacation anyway – indeed, we are blessed to live such a remarkable life!

And in case you hadn’t noticed, I took a vacation from blogging, too – it’s quite a lot of work keeping at this every few days! – and while I hadn’t actually planned the blogging hiatus, I do think I needed a break from writing and was pleased to actually read a couple of books during my vacation.  Besides, we were having so much fun with our friends that there simply wasn’t any time to write about it; we were too busy living it!

The boys bellying up at the Blue MarlinLaura & Pam getting fancySo this ‘vacation from our vacation’ came about because our dear friends in Vermont, Pam and Stan, invited us to join them on one of their annual vacations – a week at a beach house on Anna Maria Island, just west of Sarasota, Florida.  How could we turn that down?… we couldn’t!!

The Vermont crewWe had such a marvelous time with Stan and Pam, as well as with Dana and Linda, and Peter and Kathleen; two other Vermont couples who were also happy to be escaping the snow that was still on the ground up in New England as of last week.  We all enjoyed beach time, dinners out and in, shopping (just the girls), biking, morning donut runs, and, of course, happy hours featuring Stan’s renowned Stantinis!  And as Fred’s Navy buddy, Perry, and his wife, Dee Dee, live in nearby Tampa, we got to see them, too, both at their place and down at the beach – it was fun and friends all around!

Sheila, Fran, Alicia and Carol - the newly crowned (cupped?) Women's 40+ Hockey Champions!
Sheila, Fran, Alicia and Carol, National Hockey Champions!!!

Another highlight of our vacation time was getting to know and party with some great ladies who happen to be accomplished hockey players.  This group of crazy-fun women are friends with the Vermont group, and as timing would have it, the national championship hockey tournament was taking place down here the same time we were all down here on vacation.  While we didn’t see any of their games, we sure enjoyed partying with them because THEY WON!  And boy could they party!!  These women are the Women’s Over-40 National Hockey Champions!

So at the risk of boring my readers with vacation pictures, I’m including a slideshow, below, with some photo highlights from our beach vacation.  I’m doing this primarily to share them with the Anna Maria Island party people who are responsible for us having so much fun – they wanted access to my photos.  If you’d like to see them, too, hover your cursor over the photo, below, then use the arrows to scroll through our vacation photos:  

We can’t thank Pam and Stan enough for including us in what was a fabulous, fun-filled, sun-filled, sand-filled, booze-filled week in sunny Florida.  We’re already trying to figure out where our next vacation with them will be, but no matter where it is, it’s sure to be wonderful, just as this one was….

Sunset at the beach

Farewell Florida!

After over a month of Florida’s sun shining on us most of the time, eating a lot of oranges and grapefruit, seeing lots of friends and family members, and just being happy and grateful that we’re missing out of the harsh Midwestern winter, we’ve crossed the Florida-Georgia line and are now on our way north and west for a bit – destinations: The National Infantry Museum in Columbus; the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site (and peanut factory) in Plains; the Andersonville National Historic Site (a Confederate military prison during the Civil War) in Andersonville; and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Tuskegee.  We also want to see the movie Selma in Selma, and then, something I’m really looking forward to… spending some nice time in Huntsville with a dear ol’ friend and her family – note I didn’t say old, even though Angela and I worked together over 20 years ago making us, indeed, old!  In between all that, we’ll take in whatever else we come across along the way during our stay in Georgia and Alabama over the next couple of weeks.

Fred, Dee Dee & I at Danny'sWe spent our last week in Florida just outside of Tampa at a mega-huge RV park full of monster rigs – we’re talking the 45-footers with double rear axles, two bathrooms, three air-conditioning units, and a master bedroom with a king size bed – these big rigs were everywhere!  They made Charley look somewhat shrimpy, but then again these big boys can’t pull up along a stream in a national park like we can!!!  We chose this place because of the proximity to friends Perry & Dee Dee who were a short 15 minutes away, and we happily got to see a lot of them.

Danny's DinerChef Perry preparing his Spaghetti CarbonaraOur week seemed to focus quite a bit on food and drink – what’s new?!?  Perry & Dee Dee took us to Danny’s All-America Diner, a little shack on the side of the road known for their baseball burgers – not the ingredients, the names describing these gastronomical creations… we dined at Florida’s oldest restaurant (est. in 1905), The Columbia, in historic Ybor City… and we cooked in one night – Perry made his killer-delicious Spaghetti Carbonara and I contributed my Chicken Piccata – of course, all accompanied by respectable amounts of wine.  We also joined Fred’s cousin, Stan, a local Tampa resident, at Bella’s Italian Cafe where I had one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever eaten!  You can be assured I’m going to be working in my little RV kitchen to try to re-create the scrumptious dish they call Nate’s Chicken!

As has been the case for the past two winters, we have thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent in Florida this winter, but now it’s time to move on – there’s so much more of our great country to see!  So farewell, Florida – until next time……..

Another Navy Reunion

Fred, Nancy, Pete & Perry
Fred with the Polsinellis

January 24-25 — It was another reunion affiliated with Fred’s Navy days; this one not with more buddies who had served together, but rather with proud Navy parents – Mr. & Mrs. Polsinelli.  Over the weekend we joined friends Perry & Dee Dee for a little roadtrip from Tampa to Daytona where we visited Perry’s parents who are snow birds down from Pittsburgh for the winter.

When Fred, Perry, and his other Navy buddies sailed the USS Albany back from Gaeta, Italy, to New York City in early 1980, it was Perry’s parents who met all the boys in NYC and treated them all to their first dinner  – at Mama Leone’s they all recalled – back in the States.  Fred had seen Nancy & Pete a few times over the decades at important Polsinelli family events, but it had been years – too many years – since the last visit.  I had never met them, but immediately they welcomed me in as family, too.

We couldn’t have had a better time with Pete & Nancy!  We enjoyed lunch out, then cocktails in on Saturday, and all the while, both of these octogenarians regaled us with tales from their pasts.  My favorite of the stories was actually the sex talk Nancy’s mom shared with her children.  For the one son, Nancy’s brother, the sex talk went something like this:  ‘when the canary starts to sing, don’t let him out of his cage’ … and for Nancy and her seven sisters, the advice was ‘keep both feet in the same shoe.’  Hilarious!  Nancy delivered this, and her other stories, with impeccable timing.  Another favorite moment was Sunday when we went out for brunch.  Coming out of the restaurant, Pete, also a Navy man wearing his Navy cap, saw a guy with an Old Navy hoodie on and acknowledged the guy with a “Go Navy!” shout out.  Priceless!

Sorry we are that we are leaving Florida for parts west and won’t be back here any time soon.  If we were staying in Florida longer, we would surely be heading back to Daytona to share in more joy, laughter, and love with the Polsinelli’s.  Thanks, Pete & Nancy – our time together was very special…!


De Soto National Memorial

De Soto National MemorialA short hour drive from where we’re now staying in Tampa is another of our fine National Park Units.  De Soto National Memorial remembers the life of Hernando de Soto, a Spanish Conquistador who came to La Florida in 1539 under an agreement with the ruler of the Spanish Empire, Charles V, to “explore, exploit, and colonize Florida, bearing all costs.”  If successful, de Soto would get to share in the riches he plundered** and he would get to govern this new colony.

Camp Uzita
Camp Uzita – a replica of the camp de Soto and his army set up when they set foot in La Florida on May 30, 1539
Living History demonstration by an NPS park ranger
Living History demonstration by an NPS park ranger

De Soto arrived in Havana, Cuba, in June 1538, then added to his expedition’s ranks with enslaved followers including several women, artisans and priests, 200 horses, a herd of pigs, and fierce hunting dogs which were used as weapons against the Native Americans who crossed him.  He and his five ships landed near what today is Tampa in May 1539, and left a temporary colony of 100 men here while he and his army spent the next four arduous years exploring the interior of the American Southeast.

A replica of the base camp that de Soto set up when he arrived here, Camp Uzita, serves as this National Memorial’s primary exhibit, and as is par for the course at these wonderful national park units, the exhibits on the property were outstanding, and the lessons to be learned here remain relevant.  We were treated to a movie in the Visitor Center which told of de Soto’s doings and reenacted his journey, and the resident NPS ranger gave a living history lesson about de Soto and why it’s important to know about and commemorate his activities, even as he was a ferocious brute!

Coming back to de Soto’s story… motivated by glory and wealth and looking to claim additional land for their kingdom, de Soto’s army soon found themselves dependent on the local Indians to guide them on their trails and help them survive off the land.  But as de Soto became more impatient for the gold he was seeking [that the Indians kept promising was just a bit farther away to move this brazen army further afield], his journey became more difficult.  Indians, catching on to the explorers’ brutality and not wanting to assist de Soto in these efforts, inflicted great damage to de Soto’s troops, and in May 1542, the exploratory journey was over.  De Soto was dead by fever, and the remains of his army aborted their plans.  They buried their former leader in the Mississippi River, spent one more winter on the riverbanks, then built boats, abandoned some 500 Indian ‘slaves’ in alien country, and in July 1543 they floated down the river to the Gulf of Mexico.

De Soto's route - 1539-1543
Hernando de Soto’s route in search of treasure — May 1539 – September 1543

In all, de Soto’s army traveled some 4,000 miles in the southern United States – from Florida north through the Carolinas, then westward to Texas.  His expedition was the first of any Europeans to go as far west as the Mississippi River.

Spanish Conquistador garb
Spanish Conquistador garb

De Soto’s chroniclers recorded their observations about the landscapes and societies of this New World.  Published in four narratives, these recordings, along with archaeological artifacts, helped scholars retrace de Soto’s route and gain an understanding of the now-obliterated native populations that once flourished here.  A nice guy he was not as he and his vicious army killed and enslaved thousands of Indians in their relentless pursuit of gold and riches.  Interesting to note, as well – the pigs that were introduced in this land carried diseases to which the natives were not immune, and this, too, contributed to the decimation of the Native American people.

In the end, de Soto found no gold, nor did he establish any colonies, so his expedition turned out to be inconsequential for Spain.  And it was disastrous for the Indians it encountered, leaving behind disease and social dislocation.  De Soto’s acts of inhumanity are not celebrated here, but the chronicles created by his men are a rich store of information about the American land and its first people, and in this is the value of remembering de Soto at the De Soto National Memorial.


** De Soto had already had a taste for plundered riches.  For those familiar with the history of the Inca empire, it was brought down by another Spanish Conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, and none other than a young Hernando de Soto assisted Pizarro.  De Soto used his wealth from that pillage to to finance his journey to La Florida.  Isn’t history awesome…?!?


Staying warm in Florida, and staying a little while longer….

Tamiami Village - our Florida digs for a couple of weeks
Tamiami Village – Charley’s digs (he’s the one straight ahead) for nearly a month here in Florida

We’ve been hanging out here in Florida for a while now – in fact, it was a month ago that we pulled into this state.  At the suggestion of someone we met way back in August up in Pennsylvania, we chose to stay in the Tamiami Village RV Park in Ft. Myers for a few days over Christmas.  We then left Charley in their back storage lot for a couple of weeks while we met up with the Jolly family in Ft. Myers Beach for the big wedding and then gallivanted around the ocean side of Florida and in St. John before coming back to Tamiami for another week.

Active shuffleboard league
Like a scene out of Cocoon, shuffleboard!
The schedule at Tamiami Village RV Park
This is an active group!

Tamiami is a large RV park with trailer homes in one section and snowbirds in RVs / motor homes in the other.  There is an active, very friendly group of folks that seemingly come back year after year to this place, and we can see why.  We were greeted almost immediately by our ‘neighbors,’ Bob & Nancy, who couldn’t have been nicer.  They helped us all week long with tips and suggestions on what to do while in the area if participating in Tamiami’s weekly Euchre, Texas Hold-em, and other card games, or shuffleboard, the spaghetti dinner or ice cream social wasn’t enough activity for us.

Cycling out on Sanibel Island
Cycling out on Sanibel Island

One of their suggestions for us was to take our bikes out to Sanibel island.  We biked some 20 miles all over the well-laid-out bike paths, visited the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, had a delicious lunch – we can’t have too much seafood while we’re down here! – and finished our afternoon with a visit to the beautiful old Sanibel Lighthouse, then a dip of Sanibel’s famed Pinocchio’s homemade Italian ice cream topped off with an animal cracker – yummy!

11-mile bike ride to Mel's Diner for breakfast
Mel’s Diner – we earned our big breakfast after cycling 11 miles to get here

Another great suggestion from Bob & Nancy was to bike over to Mel’s Diner.  While this one was a lot fancier than Alice & Flo’s Mel’s Diner, the breakfast we had after biking some 11 miles to get there was delicious – another great activity while in the area.  Throughout the week we also took in a couple of movies which we have only done one other time in these last eight months, enjoyed another visit and delicious dinner with Aunt Carolyn & Uncle Bob, and generally just relaxed and enjoyed our stay at Tamiami Village.

We are sure enjoying the weather down here at this time of year – but then again, who wouldn’t?!  When we do bother to look at a weather map, we often see that we’re nearly 70 degrees warmer than back up in Chicago – not a bad place to hang out for a little while longer….

Birthday with Bob at the Beach

Bob's birthday - with Darlene
Happy Birthday Bob!

January 9-12 — We must have been good house guests last year, for we were invited back again this year to visit our Chicago friends, Bob & Darlene, at their Palm Beach, Florida, condo.  And as a special treat, this year we got to help Bob celebrate his birthday!

As in the past, we had lots of fun together – beach walks up to great little breakfast and lunch spots… strolls up & down the beach just because the weather and the beach were so nice… cocktails and dinners in, including Bob’s birthday celebration with his sister and brother-in-law featuring Darlene’s “magic pork”… pool time that was perfect for reading and napping… and football playoffs that saw Green Bay beat Dallas, much to the delight of Bob and me (me because I was happy that the Packers won; Bob because he was happy that the Cowboys got beat) and frustration of Fred because my Packers are much better than his Bears!

As we are now eight months into our two-year road trip, we have come to realize that one of the best parts of traveling around like this is doing just what we did this past weekend with Bob and Darlene – visit with and enjoy the company of friends!  So thanks, Bob & Darlene, for your generous hospitality and another terrific visit – we hope to see you next year!


The Shipmates’ Reunion

December 29-January 1 — It had been 35 years since Fred, Perry, Anthony, Bill and Steve had been together, and yet this gathering was like these old friends had seen each other only yesterday.  For the past four days, these former U.S. Navy shipmates who served on the USS Albany while stationed in Gaeta, Italy, all reunited in south Florida.  They reminisced and laughed and told stories on one another… they enjoyed some really good chow (thanks, Anthony!) and other libations, including three bottles of fine single-malt scotch… they rang in the new year while recollecting their New Years Eve celebration together back in 1979 in Italy.  And perhaps for them the most important thing – they committed to finding yet more of their former crew and to getting together again sooner rather than later for another of these reunions.

I had heard so many stories of Fred’s Navy days, particularly those while he was serving in Gaeta, so it was a treat for me, as one of the three WAGs (Wives and Girlfriends) who joined in the festivities, to put faces with the names and tales.  And I observed that while the years have naturally aged these five, it was apparent that a strong sense of camaraderie and affection was still present, and that they all just seem to be older versions of their younger selves.

USS Albany Reunion
Bill, Fred, Steve, Anthony and Perry – shipmates aboard the USS Albany


Kara & Kyle say “I do”

Kara & KyleDecember 28th — It was the destination wedding we all looked forward to, and it was finally here!  Nearly 100 guests joined Fred’s brother, Jeff, and sister-in-law, Debbie, as they hosted the wonderful wedding celebration of their daughter, Kara, to her beau, Kyle.  The immediate Jolly clan, 22 in number if I counted right, plus lots of other friends and family members took over many rooms at the beachfront hotel, not to mention a couple of party rooms at different times for other parties held in the days leading up to the big wedding day, and we all had a fabulous time living it up in the sunshine in Ft. Myers Beach!

The wedding day was a perfectly sunny one, and many beach goers took a pause when we all began to gather in the beachfront wedding area in the late afternoon.  As Kara began walking down the sandy aisle, made extra special with the flower petals her two sweetheart nieces, Lauren & Kaelin, tossed out right before her entrance, the crowd erupted in loud applause – it was spontaneously awesome!

Wedding fan/programsThe ceremony was officiated by a local officiant, Miss Betty, with beautiful musical accompaniment from cousins, Mike & Karin, and their girls.  Nine lovely bridesmaids, including sisters, cousins, and friends, and six groomsmen with two ushers, including a brother and brother-in-law, more cousins, and friends, donned blue and green wedding attire which was absolutely perfect for the beach wedding.  Careful planning and attention to detail ensured the day went off without a hitch – indeed, it was a lovely day in every way!

Hover your cursor over the photo, below, and click on the arrows to see pictures of the beachfront wedding celebration:

Note no pictures are being shared from the post-wedding reception and party.  Suffice it to say, it was another wonderful part of the destination wedding experience, complete with delicious food, funny and touching speeches (you were really in jail, Kara?!?) a first-rate DJ who kept us dancing for hours on the dance floor, and a bar tab that would do any wedding party proud!  If this wasn’t enough, rumor has it that the 20-something- / 30-something-age cousins and an I’m-not-revealing-his-age older uncle (Tom) all found their way across the street to a taco stand, then to another bar, then the beach, and that bed checks around 4:30 a.m. found that not everyone was back in them at that late, or rather very early, hour of the next morning!  A JOLLY day and night, indeed…!

So CONGRATULATIONS, Kara & Kyle!  It’s going to be difficult to top this Jolly wedding…!!!

And to all the rest of our Jolly family out there, we love you!  We are all so blessed to be part of this big, happy family….

Wedding guests are gathering… and boating

Even though the skies were a bit overcast down here in Ft Myers Beach today, that didn’t keep the Jollys and many of the wedding guests from piling onto three pontoons and having a jolly afternoon cruising the Intracoastal Waterway.  We enjoyed lunch on a sandbar and, of course, the contents in our coolers!  Thank you, Tom & Eric, for hosting this wonderful afternoon!

Hover your cursor over the photo, below, then click on the arrows to see some photos of our holly Jolly afternoon: