Friday, February 02, 2007

Looking Back

I've been home almost a week now but as usual, my mind often drifts back to Florida where I now have my 2nd home......literally.

The news here goes on about the mild weather but of course it's still a big change for me. For all it's talking points, thankfully we rarely get extremes of weather in the UK and I've been reminded of that again today as I see reports on tv and on the internet about a severe storm which swept across central Florida from midnight last night. Tornados hit the Lady Lake area (50 miles north west of Orlando) and 14 people are reported killed and there has been a lot of devastation to homes in the area.

Thankfully Buttonwood Bay has been spared the worst of it and currently it's only raining there right now but it reminds me that I need to keep an eye open for the weather there as well as here. Not only are my friends still there for another 2 months, but I've property to think about !

Looking back on my 6 months in the US last year, they were certainly much different to any of the previous ones. We didn't travel that much as the major trip was down to Florida in late October. If I fly directly to Florida next time for the full 6 months, then I've no idea when I'll be seeing Houghton Lake again so it was good to spend those first 3 months of my trip there last year.

But Florida will now be the state for me and it's ironic that we'll now be based in a state where we still have to drive several hours just to get into the body of the country. It's not even a picturesque drive as being the flatest state in the union, stunning Florida scenery is hard to find (not sure it even exists) and certainly none of it is seen from the main interstates.

So what did I like about my time there ?

Well the obvious first thing has to be the weather. It's awesome and makes it just about acceptable to put up with the worry of tornados and hurricanes and whatever other extremes of weather that can hit the region from time to time. Yes it's easy for me to have this opinion as I've never experienced extreme weather and I may feel differently if I do. I'm not going to worry about the house either as not only is it something I've no control over, but we have insurance cover.

Who am I kidding - of course I'll worry. It's in my nature.

I also loved Florida senior discounts. I'd been using this 'scheme' for a while in the US to get into movie theatres and eat out on the cheap but until we went to Florida, I'd had to ask for it and then stress out for the few seconds while the ticket guy or the waitress looked me over and thought about challenging my claim to seniority. No such problems in Florida and I'd be given the discounts without asking in most cases. Now this might upset some other 54 year olds who wouldn't like to think they look old enough to qualify for a discount but I'm not that vain and I'm too much of a skinflint to care less. Bring it on.

A bonus of getting the senior discount in restaurants is that not only is the cost of the meal a lot less, but so is the portion. I'm trying to eat sensibly and healthily when in America and it's very hard with the cheapness of eating out (even without the discounts) allied to the huge portions on offer. My weak willpower gets a good helping hand when I order off the senior menu as normally this means a more sensible, yet still very filling, plateful. However I did notice that one of the myths of getting older was being debunked on many occasions and that was that oldies eat less. Don't you believe it. I saw many a 16oz steak (plus all the fixings, as they say) vanish down many a wrinklies throat - even if a son or grandson had to cut it into bite sized pieces first !

Man, some of them could eat like horses and there was no ordering off the senior menu for them. I think that when you get to 80+ you pretty much don't care about your cholesterol levels or the amount of trans fat in your food. If you still have enough intestinal length to feed it along, enough stomach acid to process it and bowel movements regular enough to poop it out, then at that age you should just enjoy your food and damn the consequences.

I can't wait !!

But back to why I like my part of central Florida; the town of Sebring is just about big enough for me - a town big enough to have most of the stores I like and need and yet not big enough where you need to think about traffic at peak times. It's about the same 24/7 really which suits me just fine. Maybe it's no tourist trap and yes, maybe it's typical of most nondescript US towns with one main route through it and little to cause you to stop for more than a passing meal. But I liked it....a lot. And not just for the senior discounts !!

And finally to Buttonwood Bay. As I've said before, Florida is THE retirement state and retirement communities are all over the place. They come with various names and descriptions and ours states it is an 'RV Resort & Manufactured Housing Community' and the next line on the welcome sign says it all............'An Active 55+ Community'. It's certainly blown away all my preconceptions of what such a park would be like. The list of activities is impressive and there aren't enough hours in the day to do most of them. The amenities are also first rate and if all you want is to lounge by one of the pools, then that's all you need to do.

However that could mean missing out on Buttonwood Bay's biggest selling point - the friendliness of it's residents. They are there in all shapes and sizes, all states of physical abilities and all ages from under 55 like myself to over 100 in a few cases. And are they active ? I'll say !!

They do Tai Chi, water aerobics, every kind of dancing, clogging, golf, bowling, softball, crafts, tennis, pool, horseshoes, bocce ball, shuffleboard, cards, table tennis, fishing and those are just off the top of my head. What I really like is that everyone is keen to pass on the knowledge and experiences gained over many years of life. Can't sew to save your life ? Try a craft class. Never played bocce ball before ? Pop along, join in and be shown the ropes. Want to get fit and exercise those joints ? Use the exercise room equipment or join in with the aerobics or tai chi sessions out near the lake. It's up to you. Do as much or as little as you want.

Then there are the regular events from the Christmas golf cart parade to the weekly dances, from resident produced plays to pot luck meals. I tell you, it's all go and knowing that you'll be enjoying sunshine and high temperatures during the outdoor activities helps enormously.

And it all helps with my health too. I need regular exercise and a UK winter is not conducive to going out for walks or bike rides. Both are a pleasure in BB all year round and of course there are the 2 heated pools to help when those become boring.

But I'm here in the UK for probably the next 9 months as if I'm going to spend 6 months at a time in Florida, I might as well make it October till the end of March. With a UK Spring and Summer to look forward to, I'm almost done with looking back now. Yep, I've got Florida out of my system. Really.

So what's on this weekend ? Footy of course and I can watch live games on tv now. Wooohooo.
Leeds will be losing again. The Rugby League season starts. Tiger will be hoping to keep his winning streak going amongst the sand dunes of Dubai. Oh and the Super Bowl is on this Sunday so I'll be glued to the telle for that.

Now where is it taking place ? Lemme think. Oh yea, Miami. That's in Florida you know.
Hmmmmm Florida.

Maybe I'll just look again at one or two of those photographs I took.................

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