Travel Tuesday: Beach chronicle

When you can’t enjoy baseball, go to the beach.

My Beloved and I escaped the dark and cold days of pre-Christmas in the northern hinterlands by making a getaway to Fort Myers Beach.

While lolling around with an unobstructed view of endless sand and sea, we counted how many times we had been to Florida over the years. There was the year of the teepee condo. The time we drove the ol’ 1983 Pace Arrow around the Gulf. Three times in the past decade, he won a trip to Florida for selling lots of insurance. The time we mingled with, shall we say, an interesting crowd in South Miami Beach before a cruise. Spent a winter in the Keys and the 10,000 Islands areas in another RV. Other visits, too. We’ve visited so often they tend to run together now.

Florida is a go-to destination for Disney World and Minnesota Twins spring training baseball, mostly, but also we conduct a little business there. If it’s March, we end up in Fort Myers to root for home runs and consume hot dogs, but last week, it was December and there was no baseball to be found. So for the first time in all the years we’ve visited Florida, we stayed in Fort Myers Beach.

In March, Fort Myers Beach is clogged with sun worshipers and spring break revelers. With one primary road running through the island, there is little escape from the traffic and lack of parking. It’s a hot destination—hot as in hoppin’ and hot as in, well, hot—but it’s not relaxing.

In December, Fort Myers Beach is a different place. Sunny but not hot. Not crowded either. Laid back. Kind of a nice break from house reconstruction and, um, snow.

endless sand

Endless sand.

shell booty

Some of my shell booty.

My Beloved found us a VRBO (vacation rental by owner) on the south end of Fort Myers Beach. The beach is extra wide there, and every morning the tide washes in a new crop of sea shells. Across big Carlos Pass, we could see Lovers Key from our deck.

I’ve lamented in the past about the lack of interesting dining options in Fort Myers (Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, where I enjoyed what was quite possibly the best tropical salad with shrimp in my life, is an exception and it turns out it is technically on Fort Myers Beach, not in Fort Myers), but being on the south end of Fort Meyers Beach, we were actually closer to Bonita Springs, where we found crab Eggs Benedict at The Garden Cafe where, soft-shell Pad Thai at Komoon Thai Sushi Ceviche, and loaded Bloody Marys and grouper bites at Coconut Jacks Waterfront Grille. A Midwesterner can appreciate some of the country’s finest sea food, as it should be on the coast.

sunset

Among the most memorable events in Florida are the beginnings and ends of days. On the east coast, it is the sunrises. On the west coast, it’s the sunsets. (In the Keys, you can get both.) On Fort Myers Beach last week, we watched the sun disappear over the horizon with a cocktail in hand most days. One can’t hurry a sunset. Or make it wait. It’s a daily reminder of time passing and you best savor it when you can.

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I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me and escape

A dozen years ago, I nervously dressed for a coffee date. Not too sexy, not too prim. It was a tall order, given the date was in December at a coffee shop in Central Minnesota when down parkas and boots were de rigueur.

I must have pulled it off though because about three sips into my soy latte and small talk, the man who would become My Beloved leaned over the table and kissed me.

I was smitten at that moment. I fell into a deep crevasse, not icy cold but warm and comforting, from which I still haven’t emerged. My Beloved is a big man with a big heart and big dreams. I disappeared, in the greatest possible way, into the whole package. He persuaded me to move away from my home state of Minnesota, he offered me the opportunity to be a mother to his children in a way I hadn’t even realized I would ever want to, he eventually lured me out of a corporate career that had consumed me and he tempts me every day with earthly pleasures like buttery popcorn, bottles—not measly glasses—of wine and juicy steaks (other earthly pleasures, too, but this is a G-rated blog).

My Beloved is a traveler, too, and together we’ve visited so many places. As an international marketing executive, I thought I was well-traveled before I met him. He took me to South America on a cruise; I’d been to every other civilized continent except Antarctica. We marveled at the beauty of the coasts of Croatia, truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. We drove around the Gulf coast from South Padre Island to Fort Myers, Florida, in a 30-year-old RV, and another winter and in another camper, we made our way north from the Florida Keys to Fort Myers over the course of three months. I never spent so many winter days in 80-degree weather as I have since I met him; cold makes him achy, and I benefit when he finds ways to escape it.

More recently, My Beloved used his lion-like fearlessness and beaver-like busyness to rebuild a 127-year-old former Methodist church into our dream home. Renovation projects might spell the end for some marital relationships, but ours is only stronger for persevering through those long dusty days of living in flux and financial juggling.

Back on that first date 12 years ago, we had planned to meet just for coffee, but we ended up walking around the nearby mall, cuddling at a showing of “Casino Royale” and then sharing a table of Thai food. A half-hour commitment turned into a whole day. That great date just flowered without a whole bunch of nail biting and planning and dancing around each other’s predilections.

Our mantra during those early days of our relationship was “If it ain’t easy, it ain’t meant to be.” By easy, I don’t effortless. I mean finding the path with the least hurdles. An extravagant meal, an epic vacation, a whole-house remodel requires effort, for sure, but together, the path has fewer hurdles because we’re headed in the same direction, we bring individual skills to the project and we have each other’s back.

Twelve years ago, I didn’t know I was about to meet a soul mate but I surely did.

And I’m so grateful.

T and me

Practically glowing.

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Todays’ headline is a line from Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” Who needs a designer coffee; I think I’ll celebrate the anniversary today of our meeting with a pina colada. 

Transplant is back, growing in a new garden

Does one still qualify as a transplant if she moves only one state away?

Looks like I’ve found my footing after two years as a vagabond, but in the way life works, I didn’t move far. I’m now living in a 127-year-old former Methodist church my Beloved and I renovated into our home. It’s only about an hour north of our former home in Illinois, just over the border in Wisconsin.

Most people outside the Midwest can’t remember the difference between Minnesota and Wisconsin anyway. Both are far-north States, suffer from long winters and filled with people who like to fish.

Now if you’re from Minnesota or Wisconsin, you know very well the differences between Packers fans and Vikings fans, but the rest of the world, not so much.

I’ve changed the name of this blog back to Minnesota Transplant, and I guess I’ll spend the rest of my life marveling about the differences and similarities. I’ll try to check in more regularly than I have during the past year (let’s be fair, I was busy sawing logs, filling the eaves with insulation and choosing home furnishings for Church Sweet Home, but life is not an episode on HGTV.

You betcha.

Bearded lady breathes her last

Minnesota Transplant hasn’t been hanging around here recently. She’s been busy with another project. But she’s popping in with a sad report.

Poopie Girl died this afternoon.

chloe with stuffed toy

Chloe: 2007 – 2018

Poopie Girl is my little nickname for Chloe, the bearded lady, the cutest little miniature schnauzer you ever would meet. She packed a lot of spunk into her 8 pounds, and even as recently as last summer, strangers who saw us as we walked a neighborhood would ask me if she was a puppy.

Regular readers may recall occasional pictures of her cuteness and health reports (click on “miniature schnauzer” in the word cloud on the right to reread the stories in which she starred). Chloe was tough customer who persevered through a dog attack and several years of epilepsy.

She came into my life 10 years ago when my Beloved and I gave her to my stepson for Christmas. No one else in the house had the follow-through to house train her, so I did. My stepson grew up and moved away, but the little dog stayed with us. I became responsible for most of her care and feeding, and her daily walks forced me to take much needed breaks. My Beloved and various guests she could bully into it became responsible for playing fetch with her. She never met a stuffed platypus she didn’t like.

Last August, she came down with what we believed at the time was pneumonia. After months of treatment and tests, including a lung biopsy, the veterinarian determined in December she had lung cancer.

We’ve been keeping her comfortable for two months, knowing the end was coming soon. Today, we decided her breathing was so labored and desperate, we needed to take action to let her go. I visited the vet, and an hour later, my sweet girl was gone.

I am a writer, and I process things by writing about them. I am aware Chloe was no more special than any special dog, but I appreciate you reading about my girl. If you have a pet, I know you will give him or her an affectionate scratch behind the ears, and I will wish for you the mindfulness to be grateful for the opportunity to hold your beloved one close.

Advent is a season of preparation

Not only do I now own a church, I own a church sign. In the first days of clean-up and demolition, my Beloved found the box of letters to create a new message in the sign so I did what I do best and that’s write.

church sign advent

Today, if you didn’t already know it, is the first Sunday in Advent, and I was inordinately pleased with myself to post this message. Its meaning applies literally to the church season and to the process of cleaning up corners and tearing down walls inside our 119-year-old Methodist church as step one in our renovation project.

In homage to the season (and the double message with new meaning for me this year), I’m reprinting this post from the Minnesota Transplant archive, publishing originally a year ago.

Glory be

While the secular world recovered from a Thanksgiving dinner-induced food coma and then leapt loopily into Black Friday-Small Business Saturday-Cyber Monday (which for many overeager online retailers began on Friday), Christians rang in a new year.

Today is the first Sunday of the liturgical year which is to say the First Sunday in Advent.

Advent is the run-up to Christmas, a liminal season of expectation. But to describe it only as a time of waiting sells Advent short, just as the days between Thanksgiving and Dec. 25 are more than simply an out-of-breath sprint to be endured.

For me, it’s not this time of year without spending some time in church. Sitting (and standing and singing and praying) through a worship service slows down time.

This is not a post about why you should go to church. That’s your call. This is a post about why I go to church. For me, Advent is the best time of year to spend some time in church, to be observant to the reason for the season. Christmas is all crowds and gifts and traditional-in-the-extreme music (let’s just say I’m not a fan of “Silent Night, Holy Night”). Lent, too, is a run-up season, preparing Christians for Easter, but Lent and Easter are solemn. The messages are heavy on crucifixion and death (yes, and rising again, I know, but rising from the tomb).

Advent, though, is news about pregnancy and babies and angels and birthdays. (That Advent also coincides with the countdown to my own birthday is just happy coincidence.)

I went to Catholic Mass last night for the first time in years, maybe even a decade. It was a beautiful quiet service in an enormous church where hundreds of people were doing the same thing I was — celebrating the new church year. I was reminded how lovely is the ritual of Mass, so familiar and universal.

I was once Catholic, but when I got divorced, I reverted to my origin religion, Lutheran. A week ago, I read the scripture lessons for the last time at the Lutheran church where I am a member. I resigned my position as reader in anticipation of moving away. Coincidentally, it was also the last Sunday of the church year.

Serendipity.

I kind of felt like I was throwing off the bonds of responsibility and the old year and the old way of worshiping all at once. Celebrating the new Christian year for me meant Mass in a big, beautiful church. Which is how I found myself last night in church I’d never been in before soaking up Bible readings about waiting and preparation and expectation.

It is the perfect message on which to meditate for a woman waiting (and waiting) to sell her house.

Advent is not an empty time, I was reminded. It is a season of fullness. Because preparing is just as meaningful as celebrating. Anticipation should be as joy-filled as the hullabaloo for which we’re waiting.

Pondering Advent and the imminent celebration of the birth of Christ, I was reminded of a scene I appreciated earlier this year.

nativity-facade

This is the Nativity Façade at the Sagrada Familia, aka the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona, Spain. The church was designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. The structure is so elaborate, it has been under construction since 1882 and remains incomplete. This is the entryway to the church, and I snapped this picture when I had the opportunity to tour it in June. As you might expect, the Nativity Façade is dedicated to the birth of Jesus.

A single figure is itself a fantastic sculpture, and here there are hundreds of them. But let’s look at the central point of interest there, right above the two doorways of entry.

nativity

You can see Jesus surrounded by his mother Mary and Joseph. Check out those two faces peeking around the corners — an oxen and a donkey. Kind of cute, if you ask me. Carved into stone above Joseph’s head are the words “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (you can read Deo clearly in this closeup). That’s Latin for “Glory to God in the highest.”

This sculptured wall is the entryway to the church (inside is entirely amazing experience in itself). But before you even get inside to see it (and, presumably, participate in Mass), this enormous highly detailed art greets you. You could spend days gazing at each sculpture, taking in the meaning, and you’re still outside the building.

That’s Advent. Days of detail, building up to the threshold of Christmas.

Don’t wish it away. Soak it in.

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If you’re interested in more from Minnesota Wonderer/Minnesota Transplant, don’t miss my new blog about renovating the 119-year-old church. Start reading here at ChurchSweetHome.com.

A new project. And as far as projects go, this one is a doozy

The day of reckoning has arrived, and I couldn’t be happier.

My Beloved and I signed the paperwork to buy a 119-year-old Methodist church this afternoon. It’s official. We’re crazy. Or crazy like foxes.

We thought this day might never come, to be honest with you. Our offer on the church was accepted nine weeks ago, but closing was delayed twice.

And yet, things work out together for good to those who love God. And a couple who buys a church surely must love God, I think.

You’re wondering about the back story here. You’re trying to figure out how (and why) we decided to buy a church. Maybe you’re worried I’m about the pass a collection plate.

If you want to know more, you’ll have to subscribe to my new blog at Church Sweet Home. I’d love it if you would (and don’t worry–no collections). My first post is already up; check it out right here.

If you’re perfectly happy hearing Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant, or whatever she’s calling herself) write about travel and the Twins and other assorted life happenings, not to worry. I’ll still post here occasionally about subjects of interest. But I’m devoting myself to writing every day over at Church Sweet Home. So if you can’t get enough of my Midwestern perspective and wry sense of humor, check it out.

Travel Tuesday: This is some hot stuff!

The chill in the air makes me long for some heat, so I thought I’d pull this out of the archives, a memorable trip from October 2014 to the home of the “finest condiment in the world.” Enjoy.

Dishing spicy details on ‘the finest condiment in the world’

Family legend posits that my brother once marveled about the business model of Tabasco pepper sauce: “I don’t know how they stay in business! One bottle lasts a lifetime!”

My family of origin doesn’t have a taste for hot capsicum peppers. I remember the Tabasco bottle in the fridge, the label faded and the top ringed with a dried spicy sludge.

We are outliers it appears.

IMG_3941

A tour of the Tabasco pepper sauce factory puts the fallacy of the rare need for the sauce to rest: Up to 700,000 bottles of Tabasco a day are manufactured here at Avery Island in southern Louisiana and shipped to 110 countries around the world. The stuff is even sold in gallon jugs! Among facts I learned on the tour was that residents of Guam are the highest per capita consumers of Tabasco in the world: “Islanders use it on everything: Corn flakes, popcorn, beer and local dishes.”

Hmm. Corn flakes. That’s Crazy Town. But then I have the taste buds of a Minnesotan, not a Guamish breakfast eater.

IMG_3942

I began to understand hot sauce had flavor not just heat when I moved in with my Beloved and Adored stepson a few years ago and learned we had to stock at least three brands of the stuff, some of it good for wings, some for Chinese food and some (lots) for scrambled eggs. My Beloved found six different flavors of Tabasco he couldn’t live without in the factory store today. We also tried Tabasco ice cream, and I discovered a cold food that left a hot sensation in the back of my throat.

IMG_3945

The factory tour was fascinating, if not complimentary to all things Tabasco. “It excites the appetite, promotes digestion and is pronounced, by connoisseurs, to be the finest condiment in the world.” But make no mistake, you of bland palates, Tabasco “is not a luxury” though it has a place on every dinner table: “A bottle lasts a long time. It is not intended to be poured on like ketchup–neither is salt to be used like sugar.”