It is extraordinarily exciting to finish a fourteen day quarantine which was imposed on Charles and I when we returned to Toronto May 4. If you read or listened to my previous blogcast, Carpe Diem, you would know that we escaped to Florida in mid January to get vaccinations. I described our journey by helicopter, and highway and the actual day of getting jabbed, and our elation after. Although I talked about Florida I have more to share with you about our time there.
We took a few day trips which were fun and enlightening. One special one to see the Manatees. Charles had previously kayaked with them, but I had never seen them. We chose Crystal River about 2 hours away from Howey, where we live. It was a perfect day for taking his little convertible Honda 2000. I love winding small roads, feeling the wind on my face, and enjoying the views of farms and animals grazing.
We arrived in the small town and searched for a lunch place that had been suggested called The Crab Plant. The restaurant was very simple and beside the river and pretty empty. Charles ordered the winner. In fact he ordered it twice, a stuffed crab shell with lots of savoury crab. The place has its own seafood market, but we weren’t able to load up as we were touring one of the the State parks to see the Manatees. We chose The Three Sisters, where, after taking a short trolley ride, we could walk on the boardwalk and view the manatees underwater. Some people were trying to swim with them, but certain areas were closed off from these delightful creatures, to protect them, so we chose the first option of walking around them. Of course they are very large and swimming underwater and you just wait for them to rise up to breathe to get a bit of a look. They are quite enormous and slow moving and beautiful in there own huge way. They can weigh 1,000 lbs. After wandering around the town, we did some shopping, and then returned home very relaxed and happy.
Another trip was a return to Fernandina Beach. We had such glowing memories of our visit there the previous year before the pandemic hit. I wrote and talked about it in Surprise trip to Florida Beaches. We decided to take an excursion north to Amelia Island, about 3 hours away just past St. Augustine. We were drawn to the fabulous Elizabeth Pointe Lodge, that was sitting on the beach and looked like an old New England Inn. Well it was fabulous the first time we visited, but no longer. The room was tired around the edges, things needed painting and repair and the breakfast served in the charming dining room was about the worst I have ever had anywhere, except perhaps in a hospital cafeteria, well maybe worse. The scrambled eggs were actually ice cold, and the bacon was swimming in fat. The service was appalling. But most disappointing was the way the room had deteriorated. I had booked the best one, Tradewinds, separate from the Lodge, and it was nowhere up to the standard of the previous year. There are many excellent reviews on Trip Advisor, but be aware, they do not reflect the current condition on the place. The beach is still lovely and walkable and there are wonderful restaurants in the small town.
One, Joe’s 2nd street Bistro, is terrific, with excellent service, good wines and I had a particularly unusual corn husk stuffed with grouper, black beans, and salsa that was scrumptious. On our second night we ate at Burlingame, which was quietly elegant, had excellent service, delicious food, and we loved it. I had fried Brussels sprouts with mushrooms, onions, pecans and cranberries, and charred octopus with orange and peppers, two appetizers, and Charles had seabass with asparagus. We shared a mouth watering pecan pie for dessert, actually we ordered it twice.
We headed back to Howey in the Hills the next morning after that horrific breakfast, but just seeing the ocean and walking on the sand and eating great food, made it all worthwhile, and I forgot to mention a lunch at Salt Life, where we had yummy chowder outside, with fried oysters and a view of the ocean. Casual dining Florida beach style.
Despite the fact we were in Florida, that I played golf a few times a week, and Charles had some great glider flights, we still continued with our Zoom life. Charles had two meetings a week dealing with gliders and his northern club, and at that time I watched offerings from The Met Concerts Live, or the wonderful Up Close and Personal from Stratfest. Both of these series satisfied my longing for musical performances, although never as good as being there in person. The very special half hour mini cabarets from Stratford, a brilliantly simple concept of Richard Ouzounian, with personal stories from the artists, highlighted one performer each show. Every episode was excellent, unique, and intimate.
I watched a Master Class from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, that is in my name, and that I sponsor. It was hosted by Joyce El- Khoury, a superb artist, who did an excellent job with the young singers, guiding them with kind criticism and compliments to improve their arias.
And then there were the regular Zoom events. Every Thursday and many Tuesdays, conversational French, which had its challenges, but was/is good for the brain. I am sure our French has improved over this last year, but sometimes depending on who is talking, and my concentration at that moment things can whizz by. Usually dinner comes after about an hour and a half of the conversation, and thank goodness the doorbell rings and the dog barks, and I can say my ‘bonsoir’ and then we eat around 8:00.
My regular Zoom Pilates Monday mornings are terrific. No matter how much energy I have, I always feel better afterwards. Alisa is very sensitive to my level of strength and works well with me. I much prefer these Zoom sessions to live visits at her studio as they really are more intensive.
The highlight of the week is my singing session with Neil on Facetime. I know I have talked about this before, but we both really enjoy the music; Brahms, Schumann, Strauss and Liszt as well as old Italian arias. We usually end with something like Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile‘, or “Can’t help lovin’ dat man ‘ from Showboat. We hear each other, but if someone were to come in my den in Florida, they would only hear me. I sing by a window where my bird feeder sits and the cardinals sing along. They enjoy it as do my neighbours up above us, or so they say.
We love our Saturday night dinners with Liz and Wouter and soon they will be live in our garden in Toronto, but it is always something we looked forward to all week, and got very used to them perched on our dining room table, albeit inside the computer screen. It seemed so normal, and we were able to keep up with our lives. Some dinners lasted well over two hours. Great friends and great fun.
Every April there are two days that are a challenge for me; April 6, my daughter Carrie’s birthday, and April 14, the day she died. It never gets any easier even though she left us 36 years ago. So every year I decide I am going to celebrate her life on her birthday, and mourn on her death day, but somehow that doesn’t work out. I was bereft on her birthday this year, so very sad, and on the 14th, I was fine. Charles always sends me flowers, and my friends and family remember, but it was definitely hard thinking about what might have been, and if she had children. A very touching thing happened though. Carrie’s best friend from so long ago was Shelley, and I got an email from her that her daughter had just given birth to a baby girl on Carrie’s birthday. A nice thing for both of us. More tears. Many years Charles and I would head to New Smyrna Beach and walk and think about Carrie, but we both were tired of driving and just went for a long walk with Oscar closer to home.
One fun thing to do on a Saturday morning is to go to a small town about 30 minutes away, called Winter Garden. I invited Lynne to join me and we headed down the pretty, winding, country road to this adorable place. There is a bike path, the West Orange Trail, that runs through the centre of the town. About 20 years ago when we first began cycling there, the town was starting to develop. Now it is a thriving little city with good restaurants, artsy stores, an active theatre, and a special Saturday morning market with sellers from many farms as well as local artists. It is a happening spot and good to go early to get a place to park, and then just wander and buy lots of goodies from fresh carrots , and I mean fresh out of the ground, to cheeses, meats, seafood. Lunch places abound, but one of my favourites is Urban Flats, especially on a weekend because they do a tasty salad with a cooked fried egg, blue cheese, and onions on top. Yum. People walk with their dogs and children, and the atmosphere is filed with excitement and joy, a very nice outing for sure.
The other events that happen every year around March/April are Easter and Passover. I like to celebrate both. This year Lynne decided she wanted to host a potluck Easter dinner. Lynne is in a new charming house, and is adjusting to a very different life since her dear husband, Jerry, died last August. I talked about him in previous blogs. This seemed like an excellent idea and I volunteered to make a stuffed pork. Others brought accompaniments and Lynne did vegetables. It turned out to be a lovely, warm, family- like Easter, extended family that is.
Passover always requires lots of cooking of Gefilte fish, matzo balls, chicken soup, and of course a main dish which in past years has been a half Cornish hen rather than brisket. My sister made delicious fried matzoh farfel, I made some vegetables, and we had all the traditional offerings on the seder plate.This was the first Passover where my sister was in Florida and it was lovely to have family at our outside lanai dinner. My sweet friend, Chris, who is not Jewish, looked up a recipe for a chocolate candy made with matzo and offered it. It was delicious. A beautiful night outside, a chance to be thankful with friends and family for all our blessings, and a chance to remember those who went before us and those who have left us.
I look forward to telling you about more of our adventures.