Florida Trip

The Christmas trip to Florida came as quite a surprise to us, as well, no doubt, as to those who recognized it as a radical (if temporary) departure from our normal life style. The instigators of this unlikely event were Debbie's parents.

Joe and Elsie indicated to us in the fall that they were planning to spend Christmas with us on the farm again, something which had become almost a tradition. Then, at the beginning of December, they wrote that they had decided to go to Florida instead of coming north, where the weather is even colder than what they have in Urbana. By then it was rather late for us to make any other plans, especially for inviting anyone else here. Debbie phoned them and pointed this out, and they invited us to join them and arranged the same day for airline tickets for the three of us from Chicago to Fort Myers. Debbie has always hated the winter cold of Wisconsin, and it was Robin's first chance to ride in an airplane and see the ocean.

It was a matter of luck that several other factors combined to make it possible for us to accept the invitation. The goat we were milking had already dried up for the season (so we didn't have to hire someone to milk her and throw away the milk). The kitchen oil space-heater which we need to operate to keep kitchen and laundry room pipes from freezing has run more reliably this winter than previous winters. This is because last summer I took down the old cracked chimney to which it had been connected and installed a new, higher one. (The old chimney also would have been in the way of the new picture window I put in which now gives us a view down into the valley and provides winter heating from the sun.) And finally, contrary to earlier plans, I still had most of my vacation time for the year unused (and it had to be used by the end of the year).

Part of the agreement with the Dept. of Natural Resources by which I worked only half time during the summer was that I would save my vacation time to be used when I needed time off to study for the Professional Engineers exam which I planned to take in November. However, as the time approached, I was asked to postpone the exam once again because of the press of urgent duties in our chronically understaffed unit. One job in particular which I wanted to do, which had a deadline in this time period, was to prepare several energy conservation related grant proposals to our Office of State Planning and Energy. Hence the vacation time didn't get used.

Another factor which was very handy was that Robin was now toilet trained and only needed diapers at night and during nap time. Also the tubes had come out of both ears and he could wade in the ocean without danger that he might get water into his middle ears. (Swimming is out while these tubes remain in the ear drums.)

There was no good connecting flight available from Madison to Chicago, so we arranged to spend a night with an aunt of Debbie's in Wheaton, Ill. and drove down. From there it was no problem to drive the remaining 15 miles to O'Hare field to catch our early flight the next morning. Robin was impressed with the big airplanes, but once inside was more interested in things inside than outside the window. After a brief stop in Atlanta, we arrived in Fort Myers and took a cab to our ultimate destination, Sanibel Island (shown below).

We and Debbie's parents had reservations at the Blue Heron Resort Apartments, which turned out to be a pleasant little motel with only four rental units, the rest of the one-story building being occupied by the family of the young couple who ran it. The motel formed a "U" shape around a screened in swimming pool. (As the pool was unheated, I was the only one who tried it.) The motel also featured a talking parrot in an outside cage. Robin and the parrot seemed to especially enjoy each other. The parrot was always most talkative when Robin was around.

The three of us were the motel's only customers until Joe and Elsie arrived in a rented car 3 days later. Unlike us, they had a unit with a kitchen. A third unit was rented about the time we left. (Joe and Elsie stayed on through New Years Day.) As the Island has no public transportation, we got around the first three days by foot (it was one block to the beach), by rented bicycle, and on the first night by borrowing the managers' car. Debbie and I took turns going on bike excursions during Robin's afternoon nap, both for sight-seeing and shopping.

We had good weather on most of the days we were there, with temperatures in the 60's and 70's during the day and clear sunny weather at least part of the time. Various trees, shrubs and cacti were in bloom. We waded in the ocean, collected sea shells, and dug in the "sand", which seemed to be made up almost entirely of ground up shells. Seagulls were always plentiful on the beach. The gulls rapidly collected from considerable distances up and down the beach when someone fed them. They were expert at snatching food out of the air, and would sometimes even snatch it out of your hand if you let them. We saved our apple cores for them.

Mixed with the gulls on occasion were some Royal Terns, and various types of sandpipers were also common along the shore. Little Blue Herons could also be seen sometimes wading near the beach and an occasional pelican flew by. The pelicans, which seem to be Robin's favorite bird, were much more plentiful around fishing docks, especially when a boat came in.

After Joe and Elsie arrived we toured the Conservation Center and the "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. At the former we saw red billed Gallinules, and Robin impressed staff people in the gift shop by naming some of the birds pictures on stationery being sold. At the wildlife refuge we saw numerous birds including several Anhingas drying their wings in the sun, Black Vultures, a Snowy Egret and a Great Blue Heron.

With the rented car available, we also got to see Captiva Island, to which Sanibel is connected at the end farthest from the causeway to the mainland. Debbie and Joe did some fishing there and we collected more shells. The unbroken shells were larger and more plentiful there, probably because they were less picked over. We were disappointed to learn that we couldn't drive to the far end of this island because it is all a privately owned development with a guarded entrance gate. While fishing and shell hunting on the beach here we were delighted to see a school of dolphins jumping (surfacing) in the water off shore. At least one came within about 30 feet of the shore. The fishing didn't result in anything large enough to be worth keeping for a meal, but we enjoyed the seafood at restaurants on both islands. And we did try making soup from some of the small edible shellfish we found.

On our last day, when Joe and Elsie drove us to the airport, we stopped briefly in Fort Myers Beach, and spent some time in the large shell factory near Fort Myers. The vacation was too short to see and do everything we would have liked to on the islands, much less other parts of Florida, but we enjoyed the change from our snowy Wisconsin winter.

Our return to the north was a rude one when, in temperatures barely above zero, we ran out of gas on a Chicago tollway and had to wait more than an hour for assistance despite a call to the Highway Patrol which truckers radioed in for us. We finally arrived at Debbie's aunt's place around 2 a.m. We spent some time visiting there with mother and daughter (6 years old) the next day before driving home to the farm.