Ana Maria island

Judi Travel CaricatureWith the start of spring this week, winter will soon be in the rearview mirror. There are only two more weeks left before my 2024 Florida snowbird stay in Southwest Florida comes to an end. Despite a rainy and rather cold January, February and March shaped up with an abundance of sunshine and warmth.

Ooh, ooh, ooh, there is much to share about my activities including my time in Bonita Springs (BB) and Naples. Plus this year I spent several weeks further north, exploring Sarasota with my boyfriend E during his first snowbird stay at his Gulf Coast home. There was much to see and do all around.

Judy and E in Selby Gardens

During my time in Sarasota, my BF E and I visited Selby Botanical Gardens

In this post, I’ll focus on a few high points. In future posts, I’ll tell you more about the tasty culinary and foodie establishments I discovered and dined at.

Let’s get going.

January birthday celebration

My BFF M, who spent January with me, Florida friend B, and I kicked off my new year birthday celebration at Jane’s Cafe On 3rd in Old Town Naples. We toasted my 66th with Mimosas and ended the meal with Molten Hot Chocolate Lava Cake. The dense mini-confection is totally worth the calories. I made several wishes as I blew out my birthday candle and ate every last crumb.

celebrating with mimosas at Jane's Cafe on 3rd in Naples, FL

My BFF M and I toasted my bday with Mimosas with rubber duckies afloat.

Exercising inside and out

When the weather cooperated, I did most of my exercising outside. Morning walks continued to be a bestie. Being able to take walks outdoors is a prime reason I enjoy being in a warmer climate during winter months. Looking up at the tall palm trees and greeting the egrets was a good way to get my energy going in the early hours. Sometimes I walked during dusk as well to add to my daily goal of 10,000 steps.

Egrets in Florida

Outdoor walks always provided a nice view

Sunny afternoons spent on the beach were equally welcomed. I was so glad that the Naples and Bonita Springs beaches were open this winter after Hurricane Ian damaged beaches in 2023. While remnants from the storm remain, it’s safe to swim in the Gulf again.

Nancy in the water

Beaches were open and swimming was back in the Gulf Coast waters

On rainy days I exercised inside. I made my way to Club Pilates or my new routine, Pure Barre — compliments of my Renew Active Medicare benefits. Both challenge my body — strengthening my core, increasing my strength, improving my endurance and helping me stay in shape as I age. Sometimes after exercising I scheduled a stretch at Stretch Lab, another insurance perk.

My needlepoint is complete

At the end of winter 2023, I began a new hobby, thanks to my BFF M. As an avid needlepointer, she encouraged me to try the craft again –I hadn’t picked up a needle in more than 40 years. I am happy to say that I completed my Penny MacLeod piece in January 2024, almost a year later! And when I return home I will have it framed and showcase it proudly. My next project? A baby alphabet sampler for my granddaughter to be. Glad she won’t be reading for a long time since it’s going to take another year to finish. (BTW if you’re in Naples and like needlepoint go to Needlepoint in Paradise — it’s an incredible needlepoint shop. M says it’s the best-ever for threads.)

Penny MacLeod needlepoint Look Here!

My Penny MacLeod needlepoint is ready for framing

Polishing my Pickleball skills and finding places to play

Pickleball is a big time sport all over the USA but it’s especially popular in Southwest Florida. There are Pickleball courts cropping up everywhere. I usually played Pickleball at East Naples Community ParkHome of the US Open Pickleball Championships. If you’re a fan of Pickleball, there’s no place grander. It boasts 59 Pickleball Courts, 6 Pickleball Championship Courts, the Pickleball Pro Shop of Collier County and  Pickleball Academy of South West Florida.

Naples East Community Park Pickleball

Naples East Community Park offers 65 pickleball courts

I also found Pickleball courts throughout Sarasota and Bradenton. It’s amazing how many local parks are adding Pickleball venues due to the increasing demand. Manatee County now offers courts at G.T. Bray Recreation Center (14 covered  and 6 uncovered outdoor pickleball courts); Governor Ron Desantis Park (2 pickleball courts); Lakewood Ranch Park (5 pickleball courts) and University Place Community Park (1 pickleball court).

To perfect my Pickleball skills, I learned about various aspects of Pickleball paddles — from the grip size to handle length to the sweet spot and weight and thickness — it all makes a difference. I tested a few paddles before purchasing my new Engage Pursuit EX Graphite Lite with a 16 mm width, a 5-inch handle and a weight of 7.8. (Will this fancy paddle up my game? Time will tell. Of course I added a new Tee2Court skort to my wardrobe to help me look fashionable while I’m working on it.)

Burrowing owls on Marco Island

“There are Burrowing Owls. They’re nesting,” said my Florida friend D as she pointed to an open field during our ride around Marco Island. I was so excited to see my first-ever Burrowing Owl. I had read about these tiny owls that are only 9-inches tall but never seen one.

Burrowing owls on Marco Island

Tiny burrowing owls on Marco Island are tough to spot as they blend in with the grass

According to The City of Marco Island: “The Florida Burrowing Owl digs burrows and is the only owl species that nests underground.” The burrows are marked with a T-Perch and roped off near the opening for protection. The burrows are all over the island during nesting season, some are in the oddest places under a bush or near a shopping center. It’s definitely worth a visit to see these unique creatures.

Going to my first pre-season major league baseball game

Last Sunday I had another first — I went to my first-ever pre-season major league baseball game. It was at JetBlue Park in Ft. Myers, where the Red Sox have their Florida spring training camp. It’s a smaller replica of Fenway Park in Boston. Most of the East Coast and Midwest teams have spring training in Florida cities. Going to see fav players at spring training is a big-time event for baseball enthusiasts.

BTW, I’m not a Red Sox fan. The only reason I agreed to attend is that the Red Sox were playing the Yankees — my late husband M was a diehard fan and I am too. I sang “Let’s Go Yankees” whenever the guys in blue were up at bat or caught a fly ball. Despite a big Yankee loss (the Red Sox scored 9 runs in the first inning alone– ugh) it was a fun day cheering on the Bronx Bombers. (Note Yankees spring training is in Tampa.)

Goodbyes and new beginnings

Next week I will say goodbye to my 2024 snowbird stay in Bonita Beach. Another season comes to a close. It will be bittersweet as I will be moving to Sarasota in winter 2025 to be with my BF E. It’s been a wonderful three years here and I’ll always cherish the great memories with my BFF M and BB and Naples friends. I told them I promise to stay-in-touch and visit often — hopefully they will visit me too. I look forward to new beginnings with E in a new area.

For now, I’m packing and gearing up for my annual road trip home with my daughter A. We’ll be making stops in Savannah, Asheville and Charlottesville. Ooh, ooh, ooh, can’t wait to share all the details when I return. See you on the other side.

Happy Spring!