My Florida Part 1

I have been a snowbird since I was a tot. If you have read my book see: Aria: Song of a Life at, you might remember my stories of travelling each winter down to Florida with my family for spring training of the then Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team. My father was a photographer, and that winter duty was a pleasure for all. Subsequently, as an adult I spent many holidays south, but decided that I absolutely would not spend entire winters in Florida. That was not me. However, I have since learned from experience ‘never to say never’, and here I am heading into my 15th season as a winter resident of central Florida.


Sunrise in the mountains en route and then magically a rainbow, Charles and Oscar at a rest stop

In earlier blogs, I told you that we live in a very small town: called Howey in the Hills about 45 miles north west of Orlando in Lake County. This is not typical Florida with beaches and many hotels. We live in a resort called The Mission Inn in a charming ground floor condo that I call our pied-à-terre, mostly because it is small and open aired, but certainly not like a condo in the city. I love its simplicity, and it is a direct contrast to our Toronto home, although we do pay the same taxes as the Toronto residence. Go figure! I love the view of the trees and hills. Remember this is Howey in the Hills and the topography is nothing like south Florida.


 one view of El Campeon


our PGA professional, Joe and his assistant, Otis


new home under construction for Osprey

Although the resort has many guests who stay at the hotel who want to play the #1 ranked in Florida El Campéon course, or Las Collinas our newer course, we have a club for home owners and there is a member organization. The resort is family owned and an example of their caring is the perch for a new nest for our visiting Ospreys. Their previous home was destroyed by hurricane winds, and I just noticed today that a platform has been erected at great height with some nesting materials. Apparently, the gorgeous birds have already noticed this change in their dwelling. There is a video camera that allows a viewing of the babies that will be hatched in May. So we are all involved. There are restaurants, tennis courts, a large heated pool, and many amenities that make it easy  for us if we just want to stay on property, as we are in the country,  and the nearest town is 15 minutes away. Our Margarita Bar is a popular spot for casual dinners. It is all very easy and comfortable and the sunsets over the hills are splendid.

The people here are friendly and caring and that is a real comfort. One of my activities aside from golf is the opera club that I organize around the ‘live from The Met opera’ in NYC. The morning goes like this: the group arrives around 11:00 am at my house on the Saturday morning of the broadcast. They gather around in the living room, and I proceed to tell them about the opera, the composer, the singers, director and conductor, give them some gossip, history, and then I often sing excerpts or if I don’t know the opera or haven’t sung it in my opera life, I sing something from the same era. I do this because people like to hear the voice full out in front of them and I always include some high notes for thrills.

beautiful Dora Canal near us in Florida and Charles favourite hobby, gliding

Then we car pool to Orlando to a movie theatre there, take our lunches and water, and usually something to keep us warm because there seems to be an obsession here about air conditioning even if it is only 45 degrees F/ 7 Celsius. And if it is that, the theatre doesn’t have heat because it is Florida after all, however, cold enough to freeze our plants. Some of us even take blankets. Restaurants down here are like that too. I think it is for the comfort of the staff. We have one bar here at the resort where my husband always asks if they are hanging meat in a cooler. At any rate we watch the opera, enjoy the delightful interviews at intermission, and I am around to answer questions, when there is a break.

I spend time preparing for my group and I enjoy this research, and furthermore I get to practice and use the vocal chords if only for a short time. I have men and women who attend and many were novice operagoers when I first started about 6 years ago. They are a pleasing crowd because they are open to all kinds of operas, and have no pre-formed opinions if we go to a challenging one. A few of us also attended the entertaining and informative documentary called The Opera House, which highlighted the history of the moving of The Met from its original home to Lincoln Center. It also featured Leontyne Price reminiscing about her role in the opening performance. It was quite touching and nostalgic and is definitely worth a look in case it appears on television in the future.


outside The Met at Lincoln Center

I strongly believe that as we get older we should exercise both our bodies and our brains. My husband, Charles works out at the small gym we have here, plays tennis, and he cycles with a group of guys, as well as flies his glider when the weather permits. I try to swim every other day, play golf, and go to an excellent Pilates studio at On The Run Fitness where once a week I stretch and strengthen my muscles under the watchful eyes of my trainer. I got a Trek electric bike for Christmas and now I can climb hills and enjoy long rides without stress, but I still have to pedal, so there is exercise albeit with help. I think I love it. I always enjoyed our many cycling holidays over the years, but now in my seventies was finding I was just too busy to train on the bike, too tired after golf, and it was too easy to not get on my bike. I was, however, missing that superb feeling of wellness biking along country roads and trails and enjoying the scenery up close. The e-bike makes that possible, and I can pass Charles on the hills and wave.


on my new Trek electric bike easy peddling up the hill

What ever it is you can do to keep fit, be it Yoga, many of the women here have joined a yoga class, or just walking. When I can’t swim, I exercise the dog by taking him on an extra long walk, and he seems to know by the route that it is not a ‘sniff sniff’ walk but a move along pace. There is an excellent u-tube video by Dr. Mike Evans about health and exercise; specifically walking. I highly recommend it. It is called 23 and ½ hours. If you go to this link it will be worth it, just ten minutes of watching. When Dr. Mike was in Toronto at St. Michael’s Hospital we met with him with the idea of getting him to be our new family doctor. Little did we know that he was also being wooed by Apple in California to help lead health innovation. He is on faculty, and doing part time clinic work at Stanford, and he has a big message. His website called Reframe Health Lab now states among other things that ‘they build engaging health media to make the world a better, healthier place.’


on the allegro at Pilates session..that’s a ball between my knees

Whenever Charles and I are looking for a parking space close to a store, movie etc. we often park a little farther and say Dr. Mike would be proud of us. That extra walking makes us feel virtuous or at least we are trying to incorporate exercise into mundane things like parking.

So now back to exercising my brain. When a dear friend decided to move to our part of Florida specifically to the Mission Inn, I suggested that she start a book club. Cathy was an English teacher, and also experienced in book clubs. It took her no time to get a small Howey Book Club up and running. We meet monthly and Cathy decides which books we will tackle. Occasionally, when one of us has read something we think worthy, we will suggest it to her, but mostly the books are her choice, a mix of entertainment and challenge. Many are ones that I would never choose, but am glad for the opportunity to read them and discuss with the other women. Cathy prepares questions, info about the author, and actually acts as our teacher at these delightful sessions that include tea and home baked goodies as well as lively conversation.

before a  Bach Society concert at Alfond Inn with the book lady, Cathy, and gorgeous art work.

I usually read the books twice. Once, after I get the list for the upcoming session, and then a second time closer to our meeting. I really enjoy this sharing of ideas and the stretch for some of the books like one this year by Madeleine Thien called ‘Do not say we have nothing, or from a previous season ‘The Orphan Master’s Son’ by Adam Johnson. We also read books like ‘A Man called Ove’ by Frederik Backman, or ‘The Light between Oceans’ by M.L. Stedman, much lighter fare.

My point is, that when we are seniors it is important to keep our minds and bodies active whether you are a quilter, a bridge player, a skier, tennis player, golfer, crossword puzzle doer, a later learning university student or an active fundraiser, you name it; we should embrace these activities and treat them as if they are our ‘work’. Of course our time is mostly our own so all this requires commitment and discipline, and results in much joy and looking forward. Because I believe it is important to wake up each day and look forward to our activities and our life. I don’t think I am telling you anything new, but I am underlining what my life revolves around. Oh, and each day I try to have a little nap, at least 10 minutes, just a stop and refresh. I am often asked how was my vacation in Florida, and I answer ‘I was not ‘on vacation’, but just doing life in a better climate’.

So, we arrived here in late October and got back into the swing of activities. I share the VP golf duties of planning games for our golf ladies, and after our opening meeting we were ready.  We were also ready for guests. We do love to invite our friends for visits and the couple that we spent a long weekend with in Prince Edward Island, drove up from south Florida where they were visiting family, for a lovely two days.   We took them to our favourite oyster hang out called Tiki West , where we devoured huge Texas oysters at a very reasonable price,and then toured them around the very picturesque Mt. Dora, a town about 25 minutes from here. It was warm enough to eat outside on our lanai and so we ate at home.


giant Christmas tree in Mt. Dora with dear friends from Toronto

Then Thanksgiving arrived. We celebrate twice as our Canadian Thanksgiving is in October. This year it was a pot luck event at our friends, Lynne and Jerry, and I offered to do the turkey, stuffing and gravy, and others brought all the apps, vegetables and desserts. It was a lovely, homey evening. The end of the weekend was the Ladies’ Invitational two day golf tournament. My girlfriend from Toronto, Vilma, came for the second year and we had a wonderful time, and I think we even came in second in our flight. It is a fun time with a cocktail party at one of the lovely homes here, where we all bring food, and then lots of play on both courses.

Charles about to carve and table waiting for guests at Lynne and Jerry’s Thanksgiving fête


Vilma and I in matching colours at Invitational

There were many parties for returning snowbirds that we attended, and then we decided to visit friends in Dunedin, a small town about 2 hours west of here on the gulf side of Florida. Charles and I had gone there last April to see the Toronto Blue Jays during spring training and enjoyed the quaint town and the sea air.


Sunday morning on the beach at Honeymoon Island

Our friends recently moved there and invited us to stay and watch the parade of boats all decked out for Christmas, from their beach.We drove over in Charles 2006 little Honda S2000 convertible and the day was perfect. There is a terrific seafood restaurant in Dunedin by the water that we ate at in the spring, called Bon Appétit, and that turned out to be the choice of our friend, Robyn, who was doing all the planning for our visit. We had a super window table and the lobster and avocado stack was simply divine, a little rosé, and we were set for a stroll back to their gorgeous home. It is a perfect distance to walk both ways, by beautiful stately older homes, and then a meander through the town with it charming shops, and ice cream stops.

view off beach and pretty home on walk


Robyn and Taylor, the music buff


Charles and Coralee find a friend

Dinner at home after the viewing of the ships in their regalia was delicious homemade lasagne, lots of good conversation, and I ended up singing for Taylor the dog who seemed to fall in love with my voice, and cuddled in so much that I just kept on serenading her. Breakfast at Coralee’s golf club, and then a walk along the superb and very private Honeymoon Island  beach ended a perfect weekend away. Nice to visit friends and also to sample different locales in Florida.

pretty nautical window treatment and the wall of mirrors

Back in Howey, I started planning our Christmas visit up north and west, to see our family. We were already in a holiday mood after a wonderful annual event at the Mission Inn called Toys for Tots, where we all bring unwrapped toys for children who are not as privileged as our own. An evening spent dancing and eating delicious food from our chefs, a photo on Santa’s lap or near it, and we headed home with a sense of the real Christmas spirit to kick off the season.


some of the toys at Toys for Tots and a welcome guest

In my next blog I will tell you about our Christmas trips, and the rest of our Florida season leading up to 2018 and beyond.

I hope you will join me.






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