Spring south and north

I write this blog in two places. When I am in Florida, I write in a shared den/office with Charles and I look out a window at my bird feeder, where there are usually cardinals gathered, and a wonderful vista of a nearby hill. Although we sit side by side we often send emails to one another. Go figure! In Toronto, where I am now, my office is on the top floor of our house on a large landing, and I also look out a window. A giant maple tree is in my eye-line, which I love. Watching it fill out with leaves around the third week of May in the most delicious light, fragile green color is pleasing, and a sure sign that spring has arrived. While I am working I watch people walking by on the sidewalk in front of our house or groups of cyclists riding on the bike lane. The foot and car traffic is continual. Young children in prams and on little trikes and of course lots of dogs on leads go by. I like both views.

I have been home recovering from surgery thirteen days ago and counting up to the four week mark when I can get back to golf, pilates, lifting, swimming and shopping without my personal bag carrier, Charles. I am not going to go into the details of this surgery, but it resulted from my fall in Florida when I broke my wrist. Turns out I also did some other damage elsewhere. But I am happy to report I am on the mend and walking the dog, with whom I made a deal: he was not under any circumstances to pull on the lead. So far he has been exemplary. Charles also has been pretty terrific, first as a night nurse when I came home from my day surgery at one of Toronto’s finest hospitals, and he has helped in a myriad of ways, including flower sender.

I am cooking and planning menus which always pleases me and our garden is simply lovely at this time of the year with many flowers, perennial and annual, and our patio heater and little fountain are used often. Dining out in the garden has been a pleasure, and now Toronto has allowed finally for the patios of restaurants to open and we will visit a few in the next little while. Indoor eating is still closed, but shops are open and things are getting back to some sort of normal. Beautiful weather with a nice mix of rain and sun really helps the lush gardens.

first roses of summer in my front garden

We arrived back on May 4, but there are still a few events that I want to share with you that we enjoyed in Florida before we dashed away. Both fun gatherings took place at the wonderful Howey Mansion in our little town of Howey in the Hills. One was called Founders day, and it was an old fashioned out door picnic on the lawns of the mansion sort of event. There were some stalls that sold crafts, old fashioned cars from the era of the early days in Howey, lots of kids, a food truck, where if you had a great deal of patience you could order some lunch and sit in the shade with free lemonade and watch the families enjoying themselves. It was also blisteringly hot, but a nice break from packing, which we accomplished that morning. There was a long line up of folks waiting to tour the mansion, a few at a time, and of course music floating in the air. I had visited the mansion and seen the incredible renovations of this special home built in 1925 by William John Howey who basically put this tiny town on the map in the twenties. Not so well known now!

historic vehicle at Howey Mansion
grounds of Howey Mansion at Founders Day
in the back garden of the Mansion

The other event was part of The Howey Mansion Music Series. It was originally supposed to take place outdoors, but the weather was iffy so they moved this indoors and we all were masked. When I heard that Quartet Rimmamici was performing, I booked tickets. They are core musicians from the Orlando Philharmonic and the last time I heard them before the Covid shutdown, I was impressed. Remember the town of Howey is tiny, maybe 2,000 residents, but Orlando is a 45 minute drive away and the musicians were scooped from there. Although the concert was billed as ‘Under the Stars’ I was glad it was in the great hall of the mansion where the acoustics are stellar. This group cleverly only plays excerpts from longer works, so you got a little Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel, Schubert etc. Sort of a greatest hits treatment that worked well with the audience and showed off the virtuosity of the performers. It was a superb concert, and it was a LIVE concert in a stunning hall. Unique in these times and very appreciated. Charles and I kept marvelling how wonderful it was to be there. Booked at the same time in our resort, was a farewell party for the members and we planned to go there after the concert about 8:30. When we arrived at the pool, where it was held, there was no one in sight. Apparently the mosquitoes had driven everyone home.

wonderful quartet performing while Mr. Howey presides

We visited our favourite oyster bar a few days before our departure to enjoy the fabulous offerings from Alabama at a ridiculously low price and some yummy fried clams. Tiki West is kind of a dive, but we love it, and the oysters are always fresh. I also went to the Villages with my friend, Lynne, for lunch. The Villages is a trip in more ways than one. It is a retirement group of communities where people over 55 drive golf carts to get around. There are some really good restaurants like the one we ate in, and lots of shops. But there is something creepy about it. It seems that women wear certain colored shoes to let men know they are ‘looking’. I believe the folks that live there are happy. They smile a lot, but it is not for us. A few years ago, Charles and I went there to hear a favourite band, did I mention that they have lots of concerts in the town squares? This group called the Smokin Torpedoes were blues based and terrific. I went to the washroom and I found Charles surrounded by women after I got back, not only that, but the band played line dances all night, no blues. Lunch at BlueFin Grill and Bar. was delicious at one of the Village sites called Brownwood complete with country and western themed town center. Lynne and I ate outside and had a really delicious lunch, then wandered around and checked the shops.

shucking oysters at Tiki West note placement of the mask
eating at the Villages
you too can buy your own transport at the Villages

We spent Charles’ Birthday in Florida and I gifted him a flight in a Steerman, owned by one of his pals at the glider port. For one reason or other it was delayed until just before we left. This by-plane was used as a trainer in the Second World War. It has an open cockpit and the engine smells of oil that it burns. It also takes off on a grass airstrip. It is a nostalgic flying experience. He loved it, although his true love aside from me, is gliding. After his exhilarating day he came home and we were listening to the CBC radio news at 6:00pm, and learned that the Premier of Ontario was considering changes to the rules for returning Canadians who arrive by car.

Steerman
ready for takeoff

We had planned to stay a week longer and enjoy our time in Florida, but when we heard this news we moved it up to two days away, and it was a scramble to get the place in order and get ready, especially as we had to book a Covid test 72 hours before our arrival at the Canadian border. We decided to get our test in North Carolina where we would be staying the first night on the road. A friend had done this ahead of us, also a glider pilot towing a plane like ours, and paved the way for us. We had to find accommodation that took dogs and also where the glider could be parked. The Residence Inn was perfect in Lake Norman near Charlotte as it was also near the Covid testing place in Huntersville. Before we left, I picked up barbecue at our favourite place near us, The Oakwood Smokehouse, making it easier the first night to just settle in, walk Oscar, and eat in our room, which turned out to have a full kitchen and a counter where we could sit and enjoy the wine we brought. We got our Covid tests at a place called Novanthealth which was impressive. I had made an appointment for us before leaving Florida and they were very professional. The doctor administered the approved by the Canadian Government test, and it was printed and ready to go in 15 minutes. My only complaint with this company is that although we paid them in full at the time, and have our receipts, we keep getting additional bills from them now that we are home, and you can’t reach them by email. Hmm.

sad to be leaving
ready to roll north
Charles’ little baby ready for the summer
dinner on the road
parked for the night

After a good rest, we headed north to Cranberry PA for our second night. Normally we would have stayed in a Doubletree that takes dogs and has a restaurant, but all food services in these hotels were closed so we chose a cheaper option and found a restaurant nearby, The Hampton Inn and Suites. Not all inns in this chain take dogs, but this one did, and it was quite attractive and new, and I found a terrific Chinese restaurant called Jimmy Wan’s that we could walk to, down the hill from the hotel. Walking of course is very unusual when you stay at highway hotels, but we managed it, and the food was very good. This place will be part of our travelling repertoire in future.

the big exit to Canada, most lanes closed

So after two and a half days of travelling we arrived at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie. We had already filled in our ArriveCan app with our travel details and estimated time at the border, and we were expected.There were no other cars crossing, just trucks, as of course the border was and still is closed. We were advised that if we didn’t remain quarantined at our home for 14 days we could be subject to a $1,000,000 fine or imprisonment. Guess they were serious.The border guard seemed more interested in the glider than in our Covid tests, but we were sent to the next stop for the tests. We gave them a copy of our North Carolina report and they were impressed, but as we arrived 10 minutes early they couldn’t do our test for us there!!! even though they were all dressed and ready in their Hazmat suits.They instead gave us a test to take at home as soon as we arrived, and a test to do in 8 days. They were not interested in the fact that we had our full vaccinations, but this is changing as of July 6. So off we went home.

We did the test with an online nurse when we arrived, and left it to be picked up by Purolator on our porch. Our dear friends, Liz and Wouter, had already filled our frig with food and we were ready to start the mandated quarantine. We received auto phone calls every day, two door visits, one by a charming man in a BMW who was most curious about how we trained Oscar, and a few live person phone calls to check on us that Charles wanted to answer in French. We couldn’t leave the house. I booked a dog walker for our time at home and discussed with Oscar that he should use the back yard as well. We could go outside in front and back of the house, but no visitors allowed. We both missed our walks, but as the roll out for vaccine delivery was just beginning in Toronto, we were glad we had been in Florida to get ours, and it was not all that bad being in our lovely home and garden. We got food delivered for some dinners, still kept up with our French conversation Zoom evenings, I continued singing with Neil, and Charles continued with his glider meetings. We did get antsy around the 12th day and Charles was certain that on day 14, we would get a visit, and he was right, but really we were vaccinated! This was just a punishment for going south. So be it. Of course all our Covid tests were negative, even though I worried because I had a cold briefly.

turning the trailer in the driveway
waiting to go in
garden visit with dear friends and champagne after quarantine
yummy takeout sushi
back to playing the piano

So here we are back in Toronto, moving about, golfing until my surgery took place, Charles gliding, attending to our garden and seeing Liz and Wouter in person in the yard for dinner rather than on Zoom, visiting with my dear sister for a meal here and at my club outside. It is hot and humid, but doable. I am enjoying long walks with Oscar and waiting to be fully healed, two more weeks, and then a trip out west to see our kids, who we haven’t seen for ages, except on Facetime..thanks to whoever invented that.

still cool enough for a fire
trying on my new rain slicker
waiting for the trees to bloom, but dinner in the garden great, looks like French onion soup

I look forward to telling you about beautiful British Columbia after our return.

Stay well!

Riki

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