Apple Annie’s

On Saturday, I went on a little excursion with two friends, Lori and David. We decided to drive a few hours to Apple Annie’s Orchard for … guess what? No, not apples. They aren’t ripe yet. We drove all that way for PEACHES!!

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We took the scenic route up, stopping briefly in the town of Cochise.

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It is called a ghost town, but don’t tell that to the 1500 or so people who live in the area. There’s a Post Office, a school, and a closed inn. The Cochise Hotel was built in 1882 and was a rooming house for railroad worker. I believe there were only four or five rooms and I imagine the rooms each held two or three men back in the late 1800s.

As late as the mid-1990s, the last time I stayed there, it was a wonderful B&B operated by an older woman who cooked my breakfast wearing her worn robe and fuzzy slippers.

After visiting Cochise, it was on to Willcox then north about five miles, down a farm road and then a smaller farm road and then there we were: Apple Annie’s.

The mountains around it were rugged, rocky and beautiful!

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The parking area was nearly full of cars, pickups and even a few RVs. People streamed into the area where there were several vendors including, of course, the big area full of peaches.

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We were too late for the peach and pancake breakfast (all you can eat) and just a bit early for lunch (burgers grilled over apple wood). But we were just in time to wander through the orchard searching out the best, juicy peaches.

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That part was a bit disappointing. The early birds had nabbed all the ripe peaches, so we had to pick some nearly-ripe ones. Frank, below, swears he was accompanied by a few other people, but I never saw them and firmly believe he alone stole all my ripe peaches.

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Below, David and I are in the orchard.

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And of course, what’s a visit to Apple Annie’s without a visit to the store?

Sauces, salad dressings and salsas! Fresh butter! Peach vinegar! And then there were samples: I had some yummy fudge and so did Lori.

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IMG_1178Lori caved and bought a peach pie. Thankfully, she invited me to come over the next morning for a pie breakfast. How could I say no?.

I passed on the ice cream, too, but had a sample and it was killer.

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On the way home we went a different route, through the farming area known as Kansas Settlement. It hosts a pinto bean plant, Bonita Bean Company, that processes locally produced beans.

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Down the road there is a ranch that raises calves for veal – not for me, thanks.

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There are also many, many fields of corn. Hooray! The corn along with the water in the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area is what lures thousands of Sandhill Cranes to our area each winter. They’ll be arriving in late October.

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The Kansas Settlement area has gorgeous views every direction.

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We stopped for a huge yard sale where Lori picked up several items and I bought a welcome sign to hang on my gate.

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We watched the storm roll in as we headed home. It broke over us when we had about fifteen miles to go.

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Worth the drive, worth driving in the rain. My breakfast tomorrow will be another peach smoothie!

The Garland

I’m in Louisville, Kentucky, it’s the first weekend of May, and that means just one thing: the Kentucky Derby a.k.a The Run for the Roses a.k.a the greatest two minutes in sports.

I am not a sports fan and not a horse racing fan – I can’t stand it that each year a horse’s fragile leg will break and the beautiful animal will have to be put down. Not each year at the Derby, but each year during racing season.

That said, it’s exciting times here. There have been festivities for two weeks now – parties (think women in BIG HATS),

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gatherings, alternative races (including the very alternative Run for the Rosé, as in wine.) local waiters and waitresses have to run a half-mile obstacle course carrying a tray holding six glasses of wine and not spill a drop.

But back to the Run for the Roses.

For the last twenty-eight years, the Garland of Roses, a beautiful garland 122 inches long and 22 inches wide, has been custom made not in a fancy florist shop but in a local Kroger grocery store. I found the Kroger was located just a few miles down the street, so I decided to go watch it being made.

Mob scene!

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Hundreds of people streamed into and out of Kroger to watch the garland being made. They lined up for group and individual photos. The place was truly jammed.

I saw one harried worker and said, “Whew!” to her.

She nearly growled. “This is my fifth straight day.”

And it’s almost over.”

She grinned.

The first thing I noticed was the store was specially decorated for the event.

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Also, right at the entryway were craftspeople selling Derby items.

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But the garland.

It takes over 450 roses to make the garland. Each rose is in its own vial of water and is hand-sewn into the garland. The roses are bordered by greenery.

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The backing is a forest green material with the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Great Seal embroidered at one end and the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs embroidered at the other end of the fabric.

In the garland’s center is a crown of roses, and each corner of the finished piece is decorated with red ribbons. Below is a replica of the finished garland.

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It takes eighty hours of prep work and then a team works another ten to twelve hours on Derby Eve assembling the garland. Those of us who came to watch were given some rose petals, too, from roses that hadn’t made the final cut.

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Only perfect roses are stitched into the garland.

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Shortly before the race, a special van carries the Garland of Roses to Churchill Downs with a full police escort.

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At the end of the race, the winning horse (and the lap of the jockey) is draped with the beautiful garland.

And on to Key West

After spending the night in Key Largo, I walked across the street to the Cuban Café in the early gray drizzle and downed some great coffee and breakfast.

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Shortly after, I headed south on Florida Highway 1, across the Keys.

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I realized again how absolutely flat Florida is. I swear, the highest point is an overpass.

I drove the length of the Keys, over all forty-two bridges connecting all forty-three islands. However, there are another nearly seventeen hundred not connected by the road.

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Most of the Keys have the word “Key” in their names. Of those, all but two have the name of the island first: Plantation Key, Conch Key, Cudjoe Key. The two that have the word “Key” first are Key Largo, at the far northeast, and Key West at the far southwest.

In and out of rain, on and off of bridges. Some bridges were only a quarter mile long or even less but one was seven miles long. Some of the Keys are so narrow I could easily see water on each side of me. They were maybe fifty to sixty feet wide. No room for houses, stores or anything but the highway running down the center.

Others were much larger (relatively), a mile or two wide and several miles long.

Concrete power poles marched through the Gulf waters all the way south, occasionally hopping the road to the Atlantic side.

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Gas prices marched with me too, going up almost fifty cents in less than one hundred mile – about half a cent per mile of roadway.

Key Largo today is just a strip of stores, restaurants, and motels. Traffic is heavy all day long. However, once a few miles south of Key Largo, the pace slows and it’s not all commercial. That held true to just north of Key West.

I passed a sea turtle hospital, a dolphin rescue center, a manatee rescue center. The more humans in the Keys, the more wildlife that needs rescuing.

On Deer Key, I decided to stop in at the local library. I turned at the sign but couldn’t spot it. I asked several people where it was but no one knew. All tourists? I surely hope so. It would be horrid to think the locals had no idea where their library was. I stumbled around until I found it myself.

There’s an odd thing about the Lower Keys: roosters. Roosters roam the side roads and the sidewalks and strut about on people’s front porches. I asked many about the roosters but no one could tell me their story, just that people aren’t supposed to feed them – but everyone I spoke to did feed them. Just a little, they all said.

It’s odd to wander about and hear roosters crowing and to run into them repeatedly. And they all look pretty much the same.

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Some of the 1700+ islands in the Keys – with no roosters.

I did some research and found the roosters were brought by Cubanos for cock fighting. After it was outlawed, the birds just went wild. There is now a major battle going on between the pro and anti rooster groups. Some want them rounded up and either contained or killed. Others say hey, that’s just the way it is down here. Part of the culture.

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I arrived in Key West in the early afternoon. The sign said this:

Welcome to Key West

Paradise USA

Highway 1 split at the entrance to Key West – Highway 1 to the right and A1A to the left. Highway 1 went into town, A1A to the beaches. Guess where I headed first?

At the southernmost point on Key West, I stood in the water and faced Cuba, just ninety miles away. I couldn’t spot it, but on a clear day from a second or third floor, can people see the island? It was particularly interesting to gaze toward Cuba knowing that in just a few weeks it will be legal to travel there.

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Havana Daydreaming (thanks, Jimmy Buffett!)

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I tore myself away from the almost-warm water and headed back to Highway 1 and into the historical district. Parking is at a premium, so I paid to leave my car in a town parking garage and roamed.

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Many tourists checking into inns and motels had to do the same, so I saw many dragging their suitcases along the sidewalks.

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Beautiful old homes.

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Some were still decorated with holiday wreaths or lights, and the remains of Christmas trees lay in the trash in a few spots. How out of place it all looked in the warm (80 degrees) balmy weather!

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People rode bikes and scooters. Others sat on their front porches. Roosters roamed.

I ran into one traffic jam comprised of cars, bikes, scooters, pedestrians, a tiny two-seater electric vehicle, and a man on a bike attached to a small vending cart. And a dog.

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One more odd thing: The main road into the historical area is Roosevelt Avenue which closer to downtown becomes Truman Avenue. Most main cross streets also had two names, one going each way off Roosevelt. The most interesting one to me was the one that had Eisenhower Drive going one direction, and in the other direction, the road was named for Cuban revolutionary leader José Martí!

I returned to Key Largo just in time for a fabulous sunset.

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And oh, yeah. I got the bumper sticker.

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To Key Largo

Today I left Everglades City early and headed east on the Tamiami Trail. As usual, I noodled around, arriving at Clyde Butcher’s gallery around 10:15.

First, a few of the sights along the way.

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Smallest post office in the US.

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A sign we don’t see in Arizona!

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Another anhinga drying its wings.

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A bird I don’t know, but I love the way he could twist his neck.

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More alligators!

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Hungry bird.

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First, let me say this man (Clyde Butcher) is a wonderful photographer. He uses film, shoots in black and white, and mostly photographs the Everglades area. I’ve been looking forward to a visit to his gallery for months. However, I was somewhat disappointed.

I do have to say that when I stepped inside, it was stunningly wonderful. One of his prints, about four by six, hung on the wall facing the door. Four by six. Feet, not inches. Absolutely stunning.

What was disappointing, though, was how little of his work hung in the gallery. Yes, he had many photos. But there was work by other artists and a gift shop containing t-shirts, work by others, and his books, calendars and notecards all in a small space.

Most of his photos, rather than being on the walls, were matted and in bins with price tags. I had expected more gallery and fewer bins. Though the majority of his prints were under $80 or so, prices ran to nearly $900.

A second disappointment was the nature trail behind the gallery. I’d looked forward to it but it was quite small. I could have very easily walked it in about two minutes. Also, I’d expected educational information, but none of the plants were labeled.

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Another thing. As I left, I gazed over at the water fountain on the front porch. It had an “out of order” sign on it, so anyone who was thirsty had to purchase water or soda.

Finally, the parking lot bothered me. There were numerous signs telling visitors what not to do and announcing fines levied. No feeding alligators, no parking here or there, no putting trash in the gallery’s dumpster. Now, that information is good and maybe even important, but it made the place feel unwelcoming. I mention this last, but it was the first thing I noticed. To me, it seems the visitor should feel immediately welcomed rather than warned and threatened. It was very off-putting.

Bottom line, though, I loved seeing his work.

On from there, into driving rain that stopped, started, then stopped again for the next hour. South through agricultural land and more off and on rain.

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Migrant workers

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Sign in the field across from the workers. Too poisonous to touch, but not too poisonous for them to pick and us to eat?

Then across a few bridges to Key Largo.

Key Largo is, of course, the largest of the islands. The name “Key” actually came from the Spanish word “cayo” which means little island. The road from Key Largo to the tip of Key West is about one hundred miles long and has forty-two bridges!

Key Largo is about twenty-four miles long and is often referred to as the Dive Capital of the World because of its beautiful natural reefs (the only coral reefs in North America). In addition, there’s a huge variety of marine life and even sunken ships for divers to explore.

And more signs we don’t see in the desert.

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After roaming a bit, I settled into a great lunch at the Key Largo Conch House. It was right on the highway but nestled into trees, making it almost invisible from the road.

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Café Cubano, black bean-mango salad, and lobster bisque. Perfect choices all.

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As I left the restaurant, I noticed a thank you award from a place called Island Dolphin Care. I asked the waitress about it and she gave me information as well as clear instructions to get there.

Out the door I went, straight to Island Dolphin Care (see a future blog posting for more about this).

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After a visit with the dolphins, I settled into my motel where I had to wrestle with the internet before I could get connected. And for some reason, it will give me my email but it won’t let me send a thing.

On the plus side, the room is fine, the bed comfortable. And two doors down is a Cuban Café!

Wander … Wonder … Disaster … Restoration

A day of wander and wonder, of disaster (other people) and near disaster (me).

Kris, Karen, Linda and I spent a leisurely early morning. Later, Linda took the other two women to the airport and I headed off on my second adventure: the Everglades and the Keys.

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Me with Karen, Kris, and Linda.

I noodled my way back to Everglades City (truly a town – around 400 full-time residents) and points south. On my way there I stopped in a national park and went up a few roads not on my map.

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At the intersection with the highway (HWY 29) to Everglades City, there’s a visitors’ information center next to a sheriff’s department building, each accessible from both highways (41, a north-south highway that goes primarily E-W, and 29 which goes pretty much N-S), so I pulled in, got a little info, and pulled out onto 29, headed north to a birding area.

Back at the intersection, I stopped for a blinking red light as did both the woman across the highway from me heading south and the person on 41 heading west. The woman across the highway began to cross HWY 41 and BLAM!!!

The cars running along Highway 41 have a blinking yellow light, not a red light, so although the person headed west had indeed stopped – causing me and apparently the woman heading south to feel it was a four-way stop – it was actually only a stop for those heading north and south.

The woman heading south was in the eastbound lane when she got slammed into. She shot a little further forward, stopping when she was right next to me. And then her car tipped sideways onto two wheels – my direction.

YIKES!!!

My first thought was CRAP! A RENTAL CAR AND I’M GOING TO HAVE TO PAY!!

My second thought was CRAP!!! SHE’S GOING TO LAND ON ME!!!

I froze. But there was nowhere I could go anyway. I was stuck there with her huge Suburban tilted at nearly a 30 degree angle. If it toppled my way, it would land on half my car – the half I sat in.

For a very, very long second or two, the Suburban just balanced on those two wheels. Then, thankfully, the car went back the other direction and landed on all fours.

Traffic immediately moved over and I hightailed it back to the sheriff’s office. No one answered when I pounded on the door, so I dialed 9-1-1. Eventually a uniformed man slugged his way to the door while I was on with the 9-1-1- operator. “Big wreck!” I shouted at him, gesturing toward the intersection. A few minutes later, from the back of the offices came a sheriff’s SUV that shot over to the wreck site.

I gave my name and phone number to the 9-1-1 dispatcher then walked over to the wreck.

The woman who was hit (and whose legal fault the accident was) seemed okay and she said she was fine, but I gave her a long hug and encouraged her to get checked out. I also gave the deputy my name and contact information. Then I got out of the way.

That’s about when all the terror hit me. I climbed shakily into my little, tiny, squishable rental and just sat until I felt I could safely maneuver. I went back to the intersection from 41 east and headed north onto 29, trying to block it all out of my mind.

And I was moderately successful due to the wonderful place I headed.

Deep, deep swampy area. Palms, and mangroves. Bay and holly. Pale, pinkish sea lavender and yellow St. John’s wort. Great blue herons with their six-foot-plus wingspan and great white ones. Egrets both snowy and great. Anhinga and ibis. All soothing to the soul after what could have been for me a serious, serious injury.

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It took me three hours of wandering in car and on foot to feel I could head back past that intersection to get to my hotel. But return I did, just as the gray day turned to drizzle and the clay-sand road turned to muck.

I checked in at my motel and immediately headed further south to shoreline and sunset.

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Back to my motel for a glass of wine and feelings of fragility. A deep sense of gratefulness that I had been spared. Concerns for those in the accident. I never saw the occupants (I have a vague recollection of two in the front seat) of the car that slammed into the other. Their car was totaled, I’m sure. The woman I met was young. She will heal. But what of the others?

No one from the sheriff’s department ever called me.

I had a restless night’s sleep.

Airboat Tour

Today was the day! The four of us headed out early (for us) and drove to Everglades City which is not actually a city but a small town. We went to Everglades City Ariboat Tours and spent a bunch of money each on what was (for me) a once-in-a-lifetime event: into the Everglades on an airboat.

It was downright chilly and still partly cloudy when we left, so we bundled up well. We bought our tickets and sat in the newly-emerged sun to await our tour.

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Karen and Kris enjoy the sun.

Just to our right was a young woman from the Netherlands, Elsa, who was not exactly bundled up. In fact, she wore a sleeveless dress.

When it was our turn to climb aboard a boat, Josh, the airboat captain, settled us in.

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Captain Josh

I realized I was warm enough now that the sun was out so I passed Elsa the jacket I’d borrowed from Karen. We all put on our headphones (airboats are noisy)

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and off we went, into the mangroves.

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Pelican – in a tree???

Josh told us there were four kinds of mangrove trees, two that grew in the salty to brackish water and two that were freshwater varieties. The kind we mostly saw, the ones with the long, long roots hanging into the water, was the red mangrove, a non-native species.

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We saw some birds but were a little disappointed not to see any alligators.

It turns out it was the wrong season for alligators. They don’t like the brackish waters, so they only come to the area during the rainy season when fresh waters run off through the mangroves.

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Captain Josh explains about alligators.

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Our group, with Elsa.

However, Josh suggested we go up the road about ten miles and turn north. He thought we’d have success up there. We bid goodbye to Elsa (who referred to us as “the Golden Girls” and we considered tossing her overboard because of that). We headed to the alligator area.

Success indeed!

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We saw perhaps eight alligators, including a big old boy that must have been ten feet long. We stood along the edge of the road about ten feet from him and took photos.

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The Big Boy

Afterward we stopped to read a sign that told us how fast alligators move and to stay at least fifteen feet away. We were glad the old boy wasn’t hungry.

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Anhinga drying its wings

After we’d had our fill of birds and beasts, we headed to lunch. With the help of Linda’s GPS, we briefly got lost but finally made our way to Camillia’s, right on the waterfront back in Everglades City.

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Entrance to Camillia’s

We all had local fare – shrimp, grouper, clams. My sautéed clams were delish and the hush puppies were the best I’ve ever had. Sorry. No photos. We dove into our food and I didn’t even think of taking a picture.

Then, home for a walk on the beach on the gorgeous soft, white sands of Marco Island. I picked up a few shells (like I need any more – I bring some home every time I go to Kino). It was warm enough to walk barefoot in the water.

Home, rest and a light dinner of ice cream and wine.

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Another perfect day.

Lazy Day with Girlfriends

It was a lazy day with girlfriends. Girlfriends? GIRL friends? We are all in our (late) 60s. But that is what we are and have been for many, many years. Did I mention I met Karen when we were both three years old?

Friday was a day of no plans. I’d sworn to myself I’d write a post for each day, but there is so little to say for today!

We had lunch out, wandered a few shops that were far too expensive for me, and roamed the beach a bit at sunset. I even got a nap which is something very rare for me.

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A sand sculpture at the Marriott. We had lunch in one of their restaurants.

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Kris, Karen and me – lunch at a beach restaurant.

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Linda, me and Karen after (too much) lunch

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Conch chowder and sweet potato fries!

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And of course, there was a lot of chatting and reminiscing. A true day of memories. Sometimes one of us would mention something and the other three would laugh or jump into the story. At other times, one of us would mention something and the other three would stare at her blankly. But we found that the four of us together could come up with so many memories and stories! Far more than any one, two, or even three of us could.

The day of memories was followed by a light dinner, a glass of wine.

Now, Karen said this post was a bit boring, so I do have to add we also met a mermaid.

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Linda and Kris meet the mermaid.

Tune in tomorrow – we’re taking an airboat ride!