Judy in Naples Botanical Garden

Judi Travel CaricatureI’m back from my three-month stay in Southwest Florida and I have to tell you that I’m still emanating from the positive juju I felt during my time as a snowbird in Bonita Springs.

Ooh, ooh, ooh, I can’t wait to tell you about my stay – from forming new friendships with amazing post 50 women to practicing mindfulness at full-speed on daily outdoor walks, to navigating new neighborhoods around North Naples and Bonita, to meeting and mingling within a diverse community of fellow retirees, and to playing and perfecting my pickleball game in one of the most premiere pickleball parks in the nation.

Embracing what brings me joy

One of the reasons I decided to become a snowbird this year was because as a retiree, it is key to me to be able to be active outdoors during the winter months. However, my body no longer likes the cold. When the temperature drops and the snow falls — my sixty-something joints and muscles tense up. Put my sixty-something body under the sun in 70 or 75 degrees and my mind, body and spirit become happy. Instead of stress, bliss reverberates through my blood.

Judy in Naples Botanical Garden

I found my positive juju as a snowbird in Florida

In Florida, it was sunny every day — except for the occasional rain and then it was nice to spend a lazy day indoors.

What’s that you ask? Did I ever get tired of sunny days? Let me take a minute to think about that question. Nope. Nope. Nope. I didn’t get tired of the sun. Instead, I totally embraced the sunny Florida lifestyle. After all, embrace is my word for 2022. Yep, I embraced every ray of pleasure that the sun brought into my life. And while embracing I explored more about what brings me joy during my life after 60.

Finding my tribe on the pickleball court.

One of the things I like about Bonita Springs is that it borders Naples, where there is an abundance of pickleball players. I wrote about the trends in pickleball of late, if you didn’t read my post with top senior pickleball player Eva Welsher be sure to check it out. I was lucky to find my tribe of incredibly talented post 50 women on the pickleball courts at Veterans Park in North Naples.

We met several days a week to play and during breaks would connect and socialize. While we were all from different states — California, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Vermont — and most new to the area, our bond became strong. By the end of my stay, we were such good friends that we went out to lunch and exchanged numbers, promising to stay in touch and meet again next year. “Going to miss you,” we said to each other before I left for home.

Pickleball friends in Florida

I made new friends in Florida on the pickleball courts

According to Jess Johnston, co-author of I’ll Be There (But I’ll Be Wearing Sweatpants): “Making friends as adults is not something that we’ve learned to prioritize in our culture. We look at it as a luxury instead of a necessity. But friendship isn’t an extra–it’s really important for our mental and physical health and overall well-being.”

Making new friends brings me joy and contributed to my good juju as a snowbird in Bonita Springs.

Polishing my mindfulness skills in nature.

Many mornings or afternoons I enjoyed taking walks around my community or on the beach. Occasionally I would go for a ride on my second-hand bicycle that I purchased at a local thrift store. (Note: There are several excellent thrift stores in and around Collier County that sell used bikes.)

It was easy to master mindfulness with such beautiful surroundings — the tall palm trees with their swaying leaves, the vibrant colors of the flower beds, the different textures of the shrubs and elaborate landscaping and the tiny lizards that sprang out near my feet — all greeted me on my daily walks.

Palm trees

This intricate palm tree caught my eye during one of my walks

At dusk, I found my senses heightened even more, listening to the birds chirp in the pine trees, the bunnies bristle in the grass and the turtles ripple in the pond. It was an extra special treat to go to the beach early evenings to watch the sunset over the Gulf. Click, click, click went my camera once the sun began to descend. The sky was even prettier after it disappeared into the water. It was a perfect place to stop, to breathe and to be.

Naples sunset

Sunsets over the Florida gulf bring me joy

David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah says: “Research suggests nature itself can be mentally restorative by reducing stress and enabling people to regain concentration. Going into nature changes how the brain works, with the parts associated with being mindful and in a meditative state becoming more active.

Being out in nature brings me joy.

Piloting a new neighborhood and community.

I was glad to have more time to explore Bonita Springs and Naples this winter. I can see why Naples ranks #2 on U.S. News Best Places to Retire. It also ranks #2 in Safest Places to Live, #3 in Best Places to Live for Quality of Life, and #4 in Fastest-Growing Places.

Unfortunately it also ranks #14 in Most Expensive Places to Live. That’s why right now with real estate prices exploding, my plans are to remain a renter.

When I originally decided to become a snowbird, I worked with a local realtor and also did my own online research – reviewing short-term rentals on AirBnb, Realtor.com and Zillow.

view from Florida community

My gated condo community had lovely spots to look out over the lake

I went with intention to find my condo. I knew what I wanted including: a gated community with safe walking paths and green space. a place close to the beach, with easy access to supermarkets and major highways, a screened in lanai and a large enough two-bedroom plus den to accommodate visitors. I was fortunate to find a great place and sign the lease way in advance of January 2022. (Note that a year in advance is not too early to go hunting, so if you want to spend anytime in Florida during winter of 2023 I recommend looking now.)

While getting to know my environment, I enjoyed exploring the area, meeting the neighbors at monthly get-togethers, and mingling at the outdoor pool to learn from the locals about popular restaurants, farmer’s markets, thrift stores and more. “Royal Scoops is nearby. It has the best ice cream around,” said my neighbor D. “The library is great in Bonita Springs,” said my neighbor R.

Bonita Springs Farmer's Market

Bonita Springs had a wonderful farmer’s market each Saturday

Navigating all the newness both with my BFF M during her January stay and then going solo the remaining two months, brought a sense of accomplishment and what’s that three letter word? JOY!

Feeling fulfilled and content with myself.

Looking back on my snowbird stay, I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions I made during my life after 60. I know that this retirement journey is one of constant change. For sure, the past few years dealing with the pandemic have brought stresses all around and the war that rages in Ukraine and the divisions in this country make me sad.

While I’m still figuring out what is next on my horizon, there’s a spring in my step. I feel fulfilled from the past three months and content with where I am at home right here, right now. I’m brimming with gratitude for my wonderful family and friends, my comfortable homes, and my budding relationship with my boyfriend E. I’m managing through the aches and pains with my aging body and continuing to embrace each day, whatever may come my way.

woman on mountain top in New Jersey Appalachian trail

During my Sunday hike back home in New Jersey I felt a sense of contentment

In her new book, Radically Content, author Jamie Varon talks about the need to root yourself in the present over and over to find contentment exactly where you are, rather than thinking contentment will come when you get some other thing (a job, more money, a lower number on the scale).

She says: “So many of us think, I’ll feel joy when I get there. But let me tell you: If you don’t know how to receive, accept, and cultivate joy on a daily basis when not much is happening, it’s hard to access those emotions when the big stuff happens. It’s not like, you get all of these things and suddenly you can be more present. Actually, it’s often harder because there are more things taking your attention.”

“Another question I’m always asking myself is, What’s here for me? What can I learn here? What’s coming up, and why?” says Jamie. “Taking note of my emotions, taking note of the day, and making meaning from the day makes my life feel full. That way, I’m not just waiting for something to feel happy; I’m an active participant in my joy and in my life.”

I hear you Jamie. And like you, “I don’t feel like I have to do more, be more, become more, but rather these past few months have reinforced to me how beautiful my life already is.”


P.S. In upcoming blog posts I look forward to sharing all the casual eats and seafood restaurants where I dined in Southwest Florida, take you on a tour of the Naples Botanical Gardens, and impart with detail about my fab girls’ road trip home with my daughter A, including stops in St. Augustine, Charleston and Richmond.