My Florida Part Three

When I return to Toronto many people ask me” How was your vacation?” I always answer the same thing, that it isn’t a vacation, just my normal, busy life in a warm climate, and a small town.

Aside from playing golf, which takes up a considerable amount of time and is always elusive, there is also my membership in the women’s golf association. This past year I shared the VP duties with another woman, and we planned the games and put together the pairings every week throughout the season. Next season I will be President, a role that I did a few years back, and thoroughly enjoyed. I have a wonderful Executive and it is a great way to be involved. There will be a dinner at my house in the spring to thank everyone, and I try to find a fun theme for my menus. In the past, I did an Asian meal because we had just returned from a trip to China, one of the girls even came dressed in Chinese pyjamas. I also did South American Paella because we had been to the Galapagos. That paella was unusual because I used smoked oysters that gave the whole dish a smoky flavour. Yum! I haven’t a clue what I will serve this next season.


waiting to play at wonderful Isleworth as guests, and below posing in front of Merrill, the bull



bumped into Bubba on our own El Campeon at The Mission Inn, glad I had my phone

I run an opera club that is based around the Metropolitan Opera HD performances. As I have mentioned in other blogs, I live in a small town called Howey in the Hills, and although it is close to Orlando, there really isn’t any opera company there currently. There are occasional opera concerts with the Orlando Philharmonic, but it is not the same.

So the program goes like this. On the day of an opera everyone comes to my house around 11:00, and I describe what they are going to see, this year one of the highlights was Tosca, with Sonya Yoncheva, another was a unique, fifties style Cosi Fan Tutte, based in Coney Island, complete with circus troop. Brilliant! I give a rundown of the music, the composer, the history of the performances, tell them the story, give them some gossip, and I have anecdotes about my own experiences with the opera from when I was a professional singer: See Aria : Song of a Life. I also sing for them. It may be an example from the opera, or if I didn’t perform that particular work, I will sing something of the same style. My living–room is not large, has a wooden floor, and great acoustics, so they get the full sound of my voice.

I love preparing for these lectures, and singing a little bit which keeps me mentally active, and as they say when you are older you should learn something new or flex those brain cells, and this is good for me as well as for my class. It thrills me when I am told that these sessions are the highlight of their month or the winter season. My talk usually lasts about 45 minutes and then we car pool to the theatre in Orlando, about 40 minutes away. We pack our lunches, or buy popcorn, and it is a full afternoon, as most of the operas are over three hours. We discuss the performance after the excellent intermission features that The Met provides. Nice to get up close and personal and meet the artists as they are coming off stage. The best part is that many of my group had a never before been to an opera and they turn out to love it, and I enjoy sharing my love of the art form and making it as accessible as I can.


some of the opera group in my living room

This spring our granddaughters came for a visit. We try to do something other than the outrageously expensive trips to Disneyworld. We had taken them there before to The Animal Kingdom and it was terrific, but I always look for something different. Rose is 11, and June is 8. One super adventure that we did was a visit to Gatorland. Yes, I know it sounds hokey, but we all had a terrific day, and it was not expensive. We arrived at opening on a Monday, and the park was not crowded so we could see everything easily. There were baby gators that the girls could feed, some huge ones, an albino one that is kept out of the sun. This must be difficult for these guys, as gators love the sun. There was a show where the gators were fed raw chickens, and it was quite fun to watch them jump high in the air for their food. At certain hours the aviary is open and it is filled with large budgie birds of many different colors. They fly around and you can also feed them with a little stick that has their food attached. They land on you, on your head, your feet, your arms, and it was fascinating for all of us, and we didn’t want to leave. We ate some average take out food and headed home after a full day capped off with a chance for the girls to hold a baby gator and have a live snake wrapped around their shoulders.

baby gators, fresh gator eggs, and Rose taking a picture of the gator pool
in the aviary


grandpa gator food

Our home in central Florida is not known for its beaches. The Atlantic Ocean is well over an hour away, and the Gulf a bit more, but I know how much kids love to play on a beach so before they arrived, I checked out a couple of mini beaches and found one that was perfect for our needs. And only 20 minutes drive south of us near a town called Clermont is a wonderful beach. It is right beside the Champions Splash Park and the sand is soft, fluffy and white. There is a playground with swings, you can swim in the water, and best of all there is shade for the adults. I hunkered down in a portable chair and watched the girls make sand castles for hours. The splash park wasn’t open yet, but it looked like it would be super. If you or your kids are into biking this is where the Clermont cycle path runs..

at the beach and then the pool


ready for bed time story

We also discovered with the help of our middle son, who had been visiting the week before, his favorite recreation area, Lake Louisa State Park. This is an expansive park where one could lose oneself on trails, and near water, for hours. We loved it, a great place to wander or hike, or horseback ride, or just wander and meditate.


walking through Lake Louisa State Park


me too

The girls also just loved running up and down a hill outside our house with Oscar, the dog, and they wanted to shop at Target that is not in Canada. They also spent hours in the heated pool, playing with water toys lent by a neighbour, and like many kids the water makes an excellent play ground. So their short trip was a success, and they both sent thank you notes. Impressive!

Charles and I visit Mt. Dora very often during our time in Florida. It is a very special town about 25 minutes from our place. It is charming, hilly, hmm Mount Dora, resembles a small New England town with boutiques, restaurants and oozes charm. Our very favorite restaurant is there, and not only do we eat there, they also have lectures from time to time. We attended one about Florida Cuisine, another with an art historian. The name is 1921 by Norman Van Aiken and is absolutely stunning with great art and creative cuisine. We love to sit at the bar and eat. They have hooks for my purse and both the bar tenders, Zack and Chelsea are knowledgeable and delightful. They also have a separate dining room when you enter the restaurant that can be reserved for 6-8 guests and have a menu designed by the chef de cuisine, Camillo, a young, brilliant Columbian. They will create wine pairings and you eat amidst magnificent art. We try to do this with friends at least once a season. It is an exceptional evening and very reasonably priced.

private dinner at 1921 yum!


lecture with Norman van Aiken on Florida food at 1921

Mt. Dora also has The Ice House Theater. There is a full season of plays and usually a musical This year we went to their reprise of a musical, Always..Patsy Cline We had seen this show before and loved it. Who cannot stop singing her tunes like, I Go Out Walkin’, or Crazy. This year the show is sold out in the 270-seat theater. I must admit we were disappointed because we had seen it before with the same Patsy, Darlin Barry, and frankly she can still sing, but is really past it in the believable department. Patsy is supposed to be young in her 20’s. And Ms. Barry is definitely not. I think she could have been more flatteringly costumed to help hide her matronly figure, and the voice is not what it used to be. This is a two hander, and the young woman, Laurie Sullivan, was riveting and very funny, and sang a few notes. Bet she would make a good Patsy.

Sometimes it is lovely to go for drinks on the patio of Pisces Rising in Mt. Dora, listen to the pop music, and watch the sunset, and then head over, if it is a Friday night, to The Lakeside Inn and catch some jazz with Johny Carlsson, a real pro. Tremains Tavern is rather old-fashioned, the chairs definitely need new stuffing, the food is passable, the AC cold enough to hang meat, but listening to the wonderful jazz, and having a drink there, more than compensates for the negatives.


listening to reggae at beach bar in Tavares, a small town near us

For my birthday we went down to what used to be our favorite resort on the Atlantic coast. It is nice to walk along the beach and to look at the ocean from our hotel balcony. The Vero Beach Resort is about an hour and a half from Howey and the weather was perfect for us to take Charles’ little 2006 sports car, a Honda S2000. Both our carry-on bags fit in the tiny trunk, and once I squeezed into the front seat, put on a sun visor, have the windows up, we headed off like two teenagers with music blasting. The resort is charming and well designed, and we know it, as we have been staying there for many years.

walking very carefully on Vero Beach

The valet service, which they say is complimentary, is just fine, and our room is ready. The view is lovely, and we head out for lunch and a walk, ending up at a beach bar, Mulligan’s for some yummy seafood and the ocean air. I have booked the Citrus Grillhouse for dinner just down the road on the beach. The food is good, I had the snapper, service attentive, and we had a lovely evening. Then back to the hotel for a nightcap, almost a morning cap as the service was horrendously slow.

Next day, my birthday, I went for an early morning swim, delightful salt water pool with a view on the ocean. Charles worked out in the gym, and then we had breakfast outside that was tasty. Finally, a long walk on the beach, and what a disappointment, as this was the year of the Portuguese Men of War invasion on Atlantic beaches. Check out the link for details, but these phosphorescent croissant shaped see through bluish venom filled creatures are not pleasant to be around, let alone be stung by. So the walk meant walking with head down so as not to step on the long string or the body. Ouch! I cringe when I think of them. After I tip toed down the beach we headed for lunch at the hotel beach bar and then went off shopping to a charming little group of boutiques, The Village Shops, about a 10-minute drive away I got a wee present at one of the stores, back to the hotel for a nap and read, then dress for dinner.

Cobalt is a beautiful restaurant in the hotel and we have had some super meals there over the years. This was not one of them. The server was diffident, the fish overcooked, etc. etc. We did of course lodge our complaints on the ubiquitous hotel survey, and eventually received an apology from the chef, but it was enough for us to rethink future visits. And when we checked out, we discovered that there was a resort fee that when pressed we were told it was for parking and covered the manager’s reception nightly in the lobby, which was also touted as complimentary. They had put my credit card through twice, once when we arrived at check in, and then again when we paid. They said we should get our refund back in 5 business days from our credit card holder. As it turns out, they refunded it. I did try my very best to persuade them to do this immediately.

It was still a great birthday, as Charles surprised me with two diamonds for my gorgeous diamond earrings, and had had them attached without my knowing. The best part was that I heard from all our sons, my grand daughters, and had a Facetime with my baby grand daughter in Vancouver. That is what really counts.


packing day with glider and Oscar waiting just in case he is forgotten

So now we are back in very cold Toronto. It has been freezing for the last week, but the sun is shining, and I love my Toronto home and neighborhood. We have already visited two of our favorite restaurants, Azarias, and Kaji, had a delicious dinner with my dear friend Liz and her man, Wouter, down the street, and are packing up to go on another adventure, our first river cruise. I will report back of course, and hope you will check out my next blog in a few weeks.


my garden in Florida, soon one in Toronto



One thought on “My Florida Part Three

  1. Enjoyed your blog, Riki. You’ve convinced me to take our grandchildren to Gatorland next time they come to visit.


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