3. Happy Birthdays!…1.2017

I woke up early & sat on the porch…just feeling so grateful to be in a beautiful place & getting to travel with my friends.  The morning was quiet, the water still & just wonderful!

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We knew we had a long day of driving ahead, but so much to see along the way!  We left the Keys (sad face) & drove into Everglades National Park.  We didn’t have a lot of time, but toured for a little while.  I still have a valid NP pass…I think this is the 15th National Park I’ve been to within the year!  I’ve been here camping once before, but refuse to hike here.  I don’t like alligators! I’m way more afraid of them than bears! (big teeth!)

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We hiked on a short paved path, saw the terrifying gators, birds, lots & lots of vultures & cars in the parking lot draped with tarps???  We later figured out that was for the vulture poop.  It’s Florida!  Nothing is surprising in this…I rank as the qUirKieSt state….EVER!

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I stopped by the Visitors Center to get a postcard (yes, I’m still working on the Claire-postcard project) & Jill found a treat!  I’m trying to be better at eating more often (Doctors orders this time) but I get distracted a lot.  Jill brought a bunch of food with her to Florida  (because she knows me so well & has the exact opposite eating habits & snacks frequently), but she spied a frozen chocolate banana & called it breakfast!

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We left the southern part of the park, drove north (super slow) then headed west (super slow) across the top of the Everglades & through the scenic Big Cypress National Preserve (a lot of tall grass!)  It’s big time open space in Florida, which is so opposite of the rest of the state which seems filled to the brim with huge hotels & condos, acreages of theme parks, lots & lots of outlet malls & shopping centers.  It’s also gator space.  A canal follow alongside the entire length of the road.  We could see egrets & other birds along the banks & in the trees.  All of sudden, Jill said…”WOW…there’s like a dozen egrets all in one place in the grass”…followed by an excited..”Oh My Gosh!  We just past about a dozen alligators on the bank”.  Then…”look there’s a bunch more”…& it kept up that way, until she figured she’d seen about 40 or so alligators along the canal.  I was driving…so I saw ONE.  But, I’m okay with that….I really don’t like the creatures!  But, it was funny & awesome listening to her excitement!  

We eventually were out of the Everglades & drove into Marco Island.  Id tried to find a place to stay here for the three of us tonight, but no go.  It was about 2pm by now, & I WAS hungry.  Jill Googled diner, dives & drive ins  found us such a yummy place to eat; Doreens Cup a Joe. Wed talked about earlier how we hadnt been out for breakfast this whole trip yet & she found the perfect lunch spot that served breakfast all day!  I rarely drink juice, but I loved fresh squeezed juices.  I marked another thing of my “Florida list” & sipped the bursting with flavor orange juice!

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Wow!  That was good food!  We needed to hurry, we had places to be & time frames!  The first stop was in Naples at a tiny gallery called The Clay Place.  Saras mother in law had given Danny & me a welcome gift when we came to Naples for Sara & Kevins wedding.  One of the things in the basket, was a ceramic one of a kind fish made by a local artist.  We both loved the fish.  When I came home from one of my long trips in 2015, after a couple of weeks, I noticed the fish was gone (Im known for how un-observant I am!.)  Someone had accidentally broken it (it wasnt the dog or the cats.)  Hed tried to get another one, I also tried to have one shipped, but we were unable to get one.  Id looked up the hours & thought theyd be closed by the time I could get there & theyre definitely closed on Sundays (wed be back in Naples late Saturday night; leaving Sunday).  So I called, talked to the artist who said hed be staying late today.  

Wow…what a fun place to have an office!  Several tiny buildings made up the place & we found the artist on a ladder working on some hand carved joists on one of the buildings.  FUN to visit with him!

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With my one of a kind fish purchase, we waved good bye to the artist & headed north to Ft. Myers.  We buzzed through the airport & picked up Sherri where she had returned her rental car.  I’d found a ‘bay side’ hotel in downtown Naples for the night, so we back south, checked in, then headed out to walk the fancy-shamcy shopping district & grab some dinner.

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We all chose the shrimp from Pinchers at Tin City…a strange little shopping spot in a town where most everything is HIGH END SHOPPING!  It was delicious shrimp.  We all were educated in “Travel Jewelry”…me thinking it was going to either be fun jewelry with travel quotes OR jewelry from around the world.  It was neither & no wonder I was clueless about what it really was.  Evidently if you wear super expensive jewelry while traveling, you can lock the real stuff in a hotel safe (guessing those type of travelers aren’t campers) & wear the glitzy FAKE stuff.  I like both of my ideas better, but the jewelry world in Naples, as well as Sarasota, likes this concept better.  We must have walked by at least 4 other ‘Travel Jewelry’ stores on this trip.  Why don’t they just leave the good stuff at home?  

The sky had grown dark by the time we walked the few blocks to 5th Avenue.  The streets are lined with shops & restaurants & the sidewalks were filled with people.  But the trees & stores were covered in twinkly white lights & the architecture of the buildings were really pretty…together it was nice.  

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Evidently, they take the lights down when hurricane season starts…no flying lights here!  It was fascinating to see all the people…some super dressed up (mostly the diners) & people from so many different places.  Jill recognized someone her & Greg knew, which started a texting conversation between her & Greg which got kind of funny to the three of us (it doesn’t take much to make us laugh!)  We only went into a couple of stores, but one was kind of interesting.  It was a jewelry store & we all joked they sold travel jewelrybut they didnt.  The owner was super chatty & had a story to tell.  His jewelry, all licensed by either the families, studios, etc. were replicas of famous peoples jewelry.  He had a case with Princess Diana & Kate Middleton jewelry; a case with Downton Abbey jewelry, & replicas from lots of Hollywood (mostly from a long time ago) actresses.  The cool thing about this was, the wall were line with black & white photographs of the person wearing the original jewelry.  It was very interesting & he was entertaining.  I’m not even a jewelry person, but enjoyed the exchange.  The only thing he led us wrong on, was a recommendation for breakfast the next morning…but of course, we didn’t know that yet.  We made a fast pass through a gelato shop then decided to walk a few blocks to the beach.  The night was beautiful & it was fun to walk by the dimly lit old homes on the way to the beach.  

The sky was pretty black, & we couldn’t see much at the beach.  I had my headlamp, but mostly we just listened to the waves.  The view behind us in the photo below is the water….like I said…it was dark.

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We walked the other side of the street on the way back to the hotel, then tucked in for the night…giggling & talking until we all fell asleep.

Happy Birthday to Me!  While I’m certainly NOT embracing getting older, I’m always up for a party (& I do realize not everyone is as fortunate to have lived to be my age….I’m truly grateful).  We checked out of the hotel….from now on we’d know where we were staying every night…this was part of the original plan.  We ate at a place in Naples called Blueberries for breakfast.  The food wasn’t good, the waitress was not that friendly, the coffee was bad (said Sherri, I had guessed that ahead of time & drank water), but we all took it in stride & moved on.  It was our first disappointing meal of the trip…not bad odds.  So, keep this hot spot OFF your list.

We rebounded with a trip to the beach…AWESOME!  We went to Delnor Wiggins State Park.  No condos line the beach here…just trees!  We walked, talked, viewed, sat & laughed (I never get tired of the laughter!)…it was lovely!  Danny called, so I was able to visit with him while looking out over the beautiful water!

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Right before we pulled out of Naples, Sara & Claire Face timed!  The connection was not great, but even glimpses & hearing them was wonderful!

Next stop…Sanibel & Captiva Islands!  Love this place!!!  We were all here 6 years ago (how time flies) over my birthday. We stayed at the Seaside Inn this trip.  It’s a cozy little spot & just a short sandy walk to the beach.

Have I mentioned Im soooo qualified to be a beach bum?

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We took a long walk on the beach before heading out for a late lunch/early dinner.

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The place I’d picked for my birthday dinner was the exact same place wed eaten my birthday dinner at 6 years agoDoc Fords Rum Bar & Grille.  (Check one more item from my Florida list .) Randy Wayne White, the owner, is one of my favorite authors.  Ive read all but one of his books (couldnt get it anywhere but now theyve reprinted it…yay!) They have wonderful mojitos!  They also have three locations, but the original location is in Sanibel.  We got seats on the deck under a beautiful afternoon sun filled sky.  Jill & Sherri had the coconut mojito & I enjoyed the regular one…luscious!  Luke called at the beginning of lunch & Pete called at the end of lunch….they are best appetizer & desert & it always makes me so happy to talk to them.  Talking to all my kids, Claire & Danny in the same day is sooooo great!!!!!

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We enjoyed a leisurely lunch eating wonderful food!  We then took a drive around town & ended up at the Bubble Room (check off from list!)  I knew Sherri & Jill had never been here before & it’s a spot of random & super quirky & I love it!  The staff is all dressed in boy scout uniforms, the decor is over the top wacky —filled with toys, moving trains, dancing dolls, bubble lit chandeliers,-- the cakes are huge & the drinks are yummy.   I was all set on having a big fruity drink, until I spotted the Rum cake.  I figured if I had both, this might be my LAST birthday (at least I would go out on this lovely island…eek!  not really), so I opted for solid over liquid.  It was super good!

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Sherri set it up so the staff all came over to the table & sang a version of Happy Birthday to me!  While some people don’t love it, I soooo enjoyed it!!  I love things like that…no matter which side your on, surprises & celebrations are awesome!

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The cake was sooooo good….I enjoyed the leftovers the next day for breakfast! (See, I can work breakfast in sometimes.)

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While Jill & Sherri tucked in for the night, I took a last Happy Birthday stroll on the beach.  I really love hearing the sounds the water makes, the peacefulness of night, the colors that still appear in a night sky & always... the moon. I felt so grateful to be here, with friends, just having spent awesome time with Sara, Kevin & Claire & Danny, talking to all my kids & happy they're all in a good space & place in their lives.  So. Very. Grateful!

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