Well, here in Chicago it was a little warmer than typical for this time of year (high near 40). Back on the Gulf side of Florida it was probably in the mid-70s with plenty of sun. Oh well, it stills feels good to be home. Sort of.
Snow birds on the beach
As with every trip, there were lessons learned.
Lesson 1: Florida is weird. Beautiful and sunny, but so very, very weird. Any state that puts houses on stilts or screens in entire backyards is a bit off. You have gators for cripes sakes lurking in every irrigation ditch. And as you head further south there are entire towns where it seems that everyone (visitor and worker alike) is over the age of 70. I loved Florida but man is it weird.
Lesson 2: U.S. 19 sucks. Big time. From 60 miles north of Tampa to wherever that hell hole of a road ends, it is nothing but one stop-and-go billboard loving stretch of pavement. Cousin Frank called it “Useless 19” and I think he was being kind. Avoid U.S. 19 near Tampa!
Lesson 3: Clearwater and Tampa is nice, everything south is heaven. This was the nicest discovery of the whole trip. We loved, loved, loved Venice, Sanibel Island, and pretty much everything south of Tampa. Beautiful beaches, neat towns, and friendly/ slightly eccentric people (old too) made for a cool world to be in.
Lesson 4: No reservations is the way to travel. Only before a trip do Corey and I ever tussle over destinations. When we just sit back and let the trip guide us we almost never fight. And that is what we did this winter. Lodging decisions were usually made the day of and we knew (with the intuition of a true snow bird) when it was time to head back north. We are now back in our nest but are very much restless for our next adventure. Noel, Corey, and Henna too
Yesterday we headed north to go south. That’s right, we venture back over the Sir line. The drive was long and tedious but our destination was special. We were on the hunt for yet another one of Corey’s first cousins.
Our Georgian Cousins
So much of this trip has been visiting my friends and Corey’s relatives. Last night we wandered into the lovely town of Thomasville, GA in order to visit with Krissy (first cousin on Corey’s father’s side), her husband Bill, and their children Will and Elin. What made the night different from every other night was that we had never actually met any of them. So as we pulled into the long winding driveway of the “last house before the pavement ended” (actual directions) it was with some hesitation that I left the car to knock on the door. And then it was with great fear that I backed away from the large dog seemingly guarding the house. Corey then called her cousin and we all petted the dog on our way into the house.
Bill and Krissy could not have been more gracious hosts. Bill obliged my endless questions about the masterpiece house he designed and mostly built himself, Krissy let Henna help out around the kitchen while she whipped up something tasty, and Will and Elin talked politics and theater with us. Krissy was even nice enough to let me beat her at Scrabble.
The next day was fun too with Krissy and Bill introducing us to their horses, dogs, and delectable fruits and vegetables. Later Krissy showed off her antiques that she sells at the in-town antique store (and Henna scored a wooden yo-yo) and we all dined at Jonah’s Fish and Grits. I hate grits. I loved the grits at Jonah’s.
Elivs (not a cousin)
Later that day we were reintroduced to bad traffic (Atlanta traffic is nasty) and the interstate has now sufficiently sucked us back in. It let us out a little today for lunch in Nashville and later whiskey in Clermont, KY (home to our good friend Jim Beam). Corey’s Aunt Joan, whose passing was recent, lived much of her life sipping the good water that comes from Clermont at her home on the Gulf. It is fitting that Corey and I will spend our last night on the road sipping to her memory. Noel
There is nothing like traveling to south Florida to make you feel young. We spent the day and night in Venice and after a while here one starts to see everyone under the age of sixty as younger than they really are. The fifty year old couple looks like they are in their mid-30s, tops. The teenagers look like kids and the kids like babies. And when you see a baby you think fetus. I have to say that in this age phobic society we live in, it is very refreshing to see so many elders living their lives out in the open and in such a happy-go-lucky manner. It is easy to make fun of, especially when the local paper out of Pine Island front page is focused on golf cart rules. But here one sees the elderly out and about (yes on golf carts but also riding bikes with picnic lunches stored in baskets) doing everything from strolling hand in hand around town to doing yoga on the beach. This model should be seen as a goal by everyone hoping to see a retirement.
Pine Island KOA
At the beach just south of downtown Venice, Henna found many fossilized shark teeth. She was not alone; a family near us on the beach found so many that they began to sort them by size. Venice, by the way, is not only the shark tooth capital of the world, but also has a real nifty downtown that is both tasteful and touristy. And you know seniors are not going to tolerate lousy restaurants. We chose sushi and were quite happy.
Henna all business at beach
The last two days were spent traversing the various islands surrounding Sanibel Island. Sanibel Island as a winter getaway is heaven. It has all the charm of a northern Caribbean island (which it can almost be called) and the comfort of a U.S. state. Between the plentiful bike trails, the almost unspoiled beaches, and the nature preserves there really is no reason to ever leave the island. Except for in our case, we had to travel back and forth from our campsite on Pine Island.
The shell loot
The Pine Island KOA, where we spent two nights, is part camp ground and part alternative senior housing with some residents living year round and others for a season. The facilities and people were nice as well as the island itself. The one negative is that there is no beach on the island. No beach does have some benefits; one of which is the sleepy nature of the island. Another is the cheapness of our campsite (about $27). But we came for shells, sun, and sand meaning that we left our Pine Island home early each day in order to better commute to our vacation. We made the best of everything and even made some yummy tacos at the nearest beach to us on Coral Island. Oh, and we saw a gator on Sanibel Island. It might be a bit hard for us to transition back to the Chicago winter. Noel
Not that long ago I was looking through some old photos of the Grand Tetons and realized something rather big. While the granite has not changed much over the years, the people in the photos (namely Noel and Corey) have. All travel of course is a personal business and noticing what has and has not changed in the landscape is half the fun of getting there. It was with that sentiment we met our friends, Jeff, Alexis, and their three daughters for dinner a few nights ago.
Just another Florida sunset
I am happy to report that all the changes have been for the best. My beer drinking, shot downing and Sega hockey playing friend is now one heck of a dad to three wonderful little girls. Henna, who is always looking for a friend on the road, was in heaven as she palled along with three new playmates. As for Alexis, I do not think the Alexis I knew in college even wanted to be a teacher. Anyone spending a few seconds with her now probably could not imagine her doing anything else. Together they have built a fun and nurturing home in the bayous of Sarasota (where every drainage ditch is teeming with ‘gators). Thank you for having dinner with us and thank you for letting us crash at your home last Sunday night. Noel
It’s Corey here and the day before, we weathered the worst of Florida (US 19) in order to party with my cousins. Years ago, my grandparents retired to Florida, and eventually my Aunt Joan (my mother’s sister) followed them, taking my cousins with her. Frank, Cheryl, Rob, Mike, Renee and Gary are my wonderful cousins whom I only really know a smidge. After losing my Aunt Joan two years ago, being in their joyful presence brought her spirit back for one day. Also, thank you Cathy for hosting this get together and letting us crash! Corey
6 Coluzzis and 1 Corey
In between all this family and friend stuff we made it out to Clearwater Beach and paid a ridiculous amount of money to see Winter (the dolphin with the prosthetic tail). Clearwater beach was fun, in a circus kind of way. But south of Tampa is heaven for us (maybe it would feel different when the humidity and bugs come mid-summer). Tonight is New Years and we will spend it doing what we do/ love best; under the stars and with marshmallow fluff in our teeth. Happy New Years! Noel, Corey and Henna too.
Happy New Year!
Today was a tricky one to get a hold of. We left Perry and made good time to Cedar Key. Before we started the trip I found something on-line that described Cedar Key as being how “Key West used to be.” This is what I pictured: a quirky town with quirkier residents (maybe a bunch of alcoholic writers and their cats) with a nice beach and a lot of used book stores. What it was: a very pretty jumping off point for boating fishermen type. There were also a lot of pretty homes on stilts, rip-off t-shirt and other souvenir stores, one OK art store, and one amazing restaurant that served some kick butt chowder. unfortunately the small beach was closed for construction. Based on the small digger next to the police tape sequestering the beach from us, I am guessing they are in the process of adding more sand. While Henna swung on the swings the sun broke through the clouds and Corey and I caught our first quality rays of the trip.
If only the house could juggle too!
The drive from Cedar Key to St. Petersburg was a never-ending collection of strip malls and bill boards that extended for most of the way. The sky darkened and then poured an unrelenting rain over us which very much threatened our night plans of roasting hot dogs over a fire before retiring to our tent for the first time this trip. What saved the day was the KOA manager who graciously upgraded our tent sites to a cabin. We know KOAs and we have to say that this one, the St. Petersburg KOA, is one of our favorites. The people (management, workers, and snow bird residents) are cool and the facility is top-notch with a giant pool (open to 10), a giant hot tub (bigger than some pools), and a game room that features, you guessed it, ping-pong! Our cabin is nice too and has some extra touches not often seen in a KOA cabin such as reading lights extending from the wall. As the rain alternated between drizzles and something a lot harder we hooted and hollered in the pool while our laundry turned in the machine. Sometimes the road gives good. Noel
They can close the beach but they cannot shut us down!
Shivering a bit on the beach
No time on the interstate and our first trip to the beach made today a good day. The drive from Montgomery to Georgia felt right too as we sped past barns and thickets of woods. A lot of the trees were covered with Spanish moss with that moss appearing greener as we headed south. Georgia to Tallahassee and then the coast was tedious and involved a lot of stop lights and strip malls although Tallahasee’s downtown area seemed pretty nice. For some reason, I thought it would be easy to find a beach. I was wrong and the locals were not much help either. One person I asked thought the nearest beach might be two hundred miles away. At a gas station about five miles from the beach we eventually discovered someone else suggested we drive to Pensacola (which was about a hundred miles away). Another person thought the nicest beaches were back in Georgia. I was not sure what to do with that information. So we looked at a map, used our GPS device, and headed to “Seashell Beach” which actually was a small collection of mansions and time share looking condos. The sun was getting low at this point and we tasted defeat. Luckily we asked one more person (a lady walking a dog) and she pointed us to a small but, for us, perfect beach a few hundred yards away. We did not mind the slight chill (it was about fifty-four degrees by this time) and Henna found some mighty big shells. I snapped my first few photos of the trip and we breathed in the salt air. It felt good to be on the road again. Noel
There is one more thing about Montgomery I forgot to mention. It must have the highest percentage of Koreans of anywhere in the United States. Or maybe that is just true for our hotel. There are two free Korean papers offered at check in, signs everywhere in Korean, a ping-pong table at the pool (not sure if that is really a common Korean or Asian thing, but this is the first ping-pong table I have ever seen at a hotel pool), rice offered at breakfast along with some kimchi, and the television in the breakfast area was tuned into a Korean television channel. By the way, Corey’s Hennacornoeli gift to me was a portable ping-pong net; most of our games thus far have been on the kitchen island.
Last night there was a floating party of Korean business men who wandered from room to room and alternated between yelling loudly in the hallway and slamming doors. At around 1 AM I shushed them (picture angry Noel in his boxers standing in the hallway and asking a man in his early 50s wearing a tie to keep it down). They apologized and then I heard nothing more from them again. Wikipedia told me that Montgomery’s Asian population is a mere 2%, but Hyundai does have a plant here. One more thing; the pillows here are half-size. I am pretty sure that is not an Asian thing, but I think it is worth noting. Noel
Day 1: Sikeston, MO
Corey just posted a few minutes ago about tradition and I know she is a little bummed at missing out on spending Christmas day with her mom and Ogrentz family. Henna and I are too. But today actually felt like a traditional Christmas day to me. We had the traveling on Christmas day (which as a kid we did often, it is the best/ cheapest day to travel), the trying to scavenge a meal out of something when all the diners are closed (and even my choice of meal, Dinty Moor stew, reminded me of past childhood meals), and the watching of the local news. The latter was the funniest part of the day as we watched kids just a few years older than Henna report on the great blizzard of 2012. That blizzard is why we are here tonight in lovely Sikeston instead of leaving tomorrow morning in the direction of Chattanooga Sikeston is directly south of us and we thought we could outfox Mother Nature. Not! The storm actually moved south of its original projected pattern and is now hovering over Memphis. So we will have some possible rough roads ahead and a lot of miles to make up. Oh well, such is the making of a new tradition.
Day 2: Montgomery, AL
Well we finally made it past the Sir Line. The Sir Line separates the south from the north with everyone south of line a compulsive sir-er and ma’am-er. You ask someone where the nearest gas station is, and they might reply “Down Jefferson Davis street and across from the gun/ liquor store/ bible store, sir.” Now, if the person giving the answer is, say, twelve, it seems kind of cute. But when the responder is an older man walking with a cane, it just seems downright weird. I of course have no idea how to respond. Should I sir the person back? If I did, would that then negate the original sir which would force him to sir me once more? And am I being rude whenever I fail to use sir when talking to a stranger? Corey talked to Henna earlier today and made sure she knew to really thank people when they say something nice to her; maybe even throw in a ma’am or sir.
Even with all this sir nonsense, I still love talking to people down here. Everyone is so very nice and genuine, kind of like Canadians (only with guns). After awhile we started to treat each pit stop like a social call. “Hello there sir and by sir I mean wizened old man working the teller.” I never actually said that, but you get the idea. The one thing that is really maddening me is all this driving we are doing. Back to back 400+ mile days really wears one down. It saddens me to see all these rolling hills and mounds (otherwise known as Alabama) and not be able to take a stroll or even a few pictures. The 30 something degree day kind of stinks too. Oh well, tomorrow we plan on making a break for the beach and I think there will be a few less shells by the time we get through.
As we left Chicago this Christmas morning from Mormor’s house, on our first winter road trip, it was with a heavy heart. Not a sad heavy heart mind you, just heavy. One heavy with memories of past Christmas’s, heavy with thoughts of people no longer with us, and heavy with thoughts of weather patterns south of us. Without any reservations to speak of, we were able to leave a day early in the hopes that we would stay a day ahead of the blizzard that is going to be plaguing the south eastern portion or our trip to Florida. But it is not easy leaving tradition, especially when the idea of tradition has weighed heavily on my mind this year. Traditions are the back bone of our existence. They hold us sway; they take all the ordinary days of our year and make one moment stand still, and that moment is captured in time. What was happening in our lives. Who we are. Our culture. Our ties to everything we hold dear. And as that tradition is replayed year after year we find ourselves. We remember. We feel.
To new traditions!
So during these holidays, we try to make sense of what it means for Henna to light candles in our secular home at Hanukkah. We also make sense of what our own Hennacornoelidays holiday means as we put presents under the table and wait for a half Indian half coyote boy to play some trickes; and what x-mas at Mormor’s means, with our smorgasborg dinner and Santa’s gifts. I try to find a place to give it all meaning-but I now realize how much the simple tradition means; just by being tradition. It is so important to Henna, the ritual, the sameness. She, as we all do, find comfort there. Traditions’ accomplishment is that it infuses meaning into whatever we choose.
Henna jamming to a book while knitting away at our hotel in MO
So, as we head to Florida on X-mas day, leaving our traditions behind I am struck by their importance and their place. But with all that said, today is a happy day. We love to travel, as we also find comfort and tradition in looking at a map and heading out into the unknown. Today Henna hugged family, sad to leave both family and the snow that was falling, but sat back and sighed and was ready for our next adventure.
Hope everyone had a wonderful Holiday, whatever your traditions may be.
Pocachanee really outdid himself last night. For those of you who do not know, Pocachanee is a half-Indian/ half coyote boy who loves to tell stories and play tricks on people. He especially loves to work his magic on Swedish Jewish children and does so each Hennacornoeliday eve.
Last night Pocachanee snuck into our house, had some coffee, watched a squirrel, and then played with various toys and stuffed animals down in the basement. We know what he did because he told us via Bananagram letter tiles (for example, he spelled out “had coffee” next to Henna’s bed). Pocachanee also tied a piece a yarn leading from Henna’s room, to the kitchen, and then all the way to the basement where a certain half coyote/ half Indian boy left behind a series of overturned blocks and seemingly happy stuffed animals. What a mess! Hennacornoeliday occurs each winter usually sometime between Christmas and Hanukkah. It involves a lot of laughter, good wine and food, and the traditional placing of the gifts under the table. In our travels we strive to live that well hence the name of this blog.
Besides telling everyone about our wonderful family holiday, I also wanted to give everyone a heads up about our new travel adventure. Grab a seat, hold on to your hat because we are going to……..Florida (Gulf side)! OK, not the most original plan but we will are so very excited to meet and reacquaint ourselves with cousins and old friends (in between some serious beach time of course). We were going to plan out our trip in the more conventional manner (i.e. make reservations) but the closer the trip got, the more stressful that became. Instead we are going reservation-less into Florida during what has to be its most popular tourist time. Of course we are also bringing our second home with (the tent) so that should open up some options. Add a few couches to the mix (cannot wait to see you guys!) and you have the making of a very fun trip. To everyone reading this, we wish you and your family a Happy Hennacornoeliday!
Oh, one more thing. Check this out: http://resto.newcity.com/2012/12/21/kitchen-table-confidential-the-last-word-on-charlie-trotter-for-now/ This is also in print (New City) and is a rewrite of an earlier post. Thank you again Glen and Jean for inviting us out to celebrate Jean’s birthday. I hope this article does not get you banned from any of his future endeavors.