Judy at Jane’s on 3rd restaurant

Judi Travel CaricatureI’ve returned from my Florida 2023 snowbird stay in Bonita Springs and I have to say, I love Southwest Florida as much, or maybe more, than I did last year. It’s a great place to spend the winter and escape the cold Northeast. While many of the beaches were closed due to after effects from Hurricane Ian, overall my stay was as lovely as 2022.

Ooh, ooh, ooh, I can’t wait to tell you about my three months – from catching up with old friends and meeting new; to nurturing myself in the sunshine on daily walks; to playing pickleball at the epicenter of this growing sport; to navigating farmers markets and restaurants around Naples and Bonita; and to reinvigorating my inner-creative with needlepoint — there’s much to do when you have the time to do it.

Judy at Jane’s on 3rd restaurant

Being able to dine outdoors in the winter is a snowbird benefit

It’s been 10 years since I left my full-time corporate career. Now that I’m 65 I’m allowing myself to say “I’m retired.” Yep, I’m a snowbird retiree and while I wake up with aches and pains each morning and sometimes moan and groan about my age, I enjoy having the freedom, health and most of all the time to spend doing the things I like to do with the people I like to do them with.

Make new friends and keep the old

It was great to catch up with my pickleball pals and neighbors from 2022 and see our friendships blossom.  We shared stories about our families, our travels, our wellness since we last saw each other. I also had the opportunity to make new friends — in my community, on the pickleball courts and even on the Amtrak Auto Train ride down to Florida.

Snowbirds are a very welcoming bunch, especially Florida snowbirds. The questions upon meeting are usually “are you an owner or a renter,” “where are you from” or “how long are you staying?” Then at the end of the season it’s “you’re leaving already” and “can’t wait to see you next winter.”

Group having lunch outside

My BFF M and I made friends with a couple from Toronto we met on the Amtrak Auto Train

Sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy

Each morning I enjoyed 2+ mile walks around my neighborhood. Sometimes I stopped to smell a fragrant flower or gaze at the branches of a tall palm tree. Occasionally a curious bird crossed my path and made me jump.

It was during my walks that several of my senses were heightened. Happiness guru and author Gretchen Rubin says “tuning in to the five senses can provide a surprising path to a life of more energy, creativity, luck, and love. If you’re interested to know more about your senses and happiness I suggest you take Gretchen’s Quiz or read her recent book Life in Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World.

Palm trees

Palm trees on my walks

My Apple EarPods were my besties on walks. A good playlist or podcast kept my feet moving. A few of my favs (you can find them on Apple Podcasts or Spotify) were:

  • You Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle and her wife Abbie Wambach;
  • The Daily from The New York Times;
  • Smartless with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett;
  • GRUFF Talk with Barbara Hannah Grufferman;
  • Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard and Monica Padman.

Ooh, ooh, ooh, speaking of podcasts, today while on my stationary bicycle I caught up with Wiser Than Me with 60+ actress Julia Louis Dreyfus. Hot off the airwaves she highlights wisdom from women over 70. In the first episode Julia interviewed the amazing Jane Fonda who is 85. I highly recommend a listen.

Perfecting my pickleball game

With the tremendous growth of pickleball, prime court time was at a premium most snowbird weekdays and lots of weekends. Because of the crowds more of my play took place at East Naples Park (which is home to the Minto US Open Pickleball Championships) instead of Veteran’s Park in North Naples. There are 65 courts at East Naples Park. Yep, you got that correct — 65 courts. And during the morning all are full. Actually the courts were beyond full with 50 or more queuing to play.

I played with people from all over the USA. My teammates hailed from Chicago to Kentucky, Oklahoma to New York, Massachusetts to Ohio and many more states where players were escaping wintery weather.

Pickleball at East Naples Park

I played pickleball on the grounds where the US Open Pickleball is held

To improve my game I took a couple of lessons with the Naples Pickleball Center pros. I wrote down notes after each session. For my fellow pickleball princesses here are a few tips to help up your game:

  • Keep the paddle low when getting ready to return a serve.
  • Keep the paddle higher at the net. Shuffle your right foot to the right for a forehand shot and left foot to the left for a backhand. (if you’re a righty)
  • Your body should always be facing the net so you can see everything.
  • Hold your grip at 3 or 4 out of 10.
  • Lift from your shoulder when hitting the ball not from the wrist.
  • The paddle should be out front when hitting a ball not behind your shoulders. Keep your forearm out front and don’t raise your elbow or you’ll be like a chicken leg. Feel like you’re pushing the ball forward when you hit it.
  • Get back in ready position after you hit the ball. Anticipate the ball and prepare for the next shot with either a forehand or backhand stance.

    East Naples Park

    There are 65 pickleball courts at East Naples Park

Got all that? Wow-o-wow, I’m lucky if I keep both feet on the ground when I hit the ball and get it over the net. Actually my game is getting better and I’m pleased to say I’ve reached intermediate status.

Outdoor activities abound during peak winter season

There was no lack of seasonal activities in Southwest Florida. Almost every weekend there were art shows in Bonita Springs, Naples or neighboring towns. One was larger than the next with vendors showing paintings, jewelry, pottery and other handmade crafts.

Farmer’s markets with fresh produce and local products were equally popular. The best was Local Roots Farmer’s Market on Saturday’s in the Promenade at Bonita Bay. Their baked goods and ripe fruits and veggies were reasonably priced and so good, so good, so good. One Wednesday in March I drove out to Marco Island to attend the weekly farmer’s market there. It was a very large market and worth the trip.

Bonita Bay Farmers Market

Local vendors sell their homemade products at the farmers markets

There’s no lack of excellent restaurants in the area either. In a previous post I shared my favorite Naples seafood restaurants. In an upcoming blog posts I’ll tell you about more eateries and share places where I dined during my mother daughter road trip home.

Learning the art of needlepointing

“This is definitely not your mother or grandmother’s needlepoint. It’s a whole new craft,” said my BFF M, who is an accomplished needlepointer. I admired M’s work as she stitched each evening. M got me started with a small needlepoint project which I successfully completed in January.

Each week M went into Needlepoint in Paradise. I tagged along and admired the larger canvases. My eye gravitated to the artist Penny MacLeod’s artwork. They were colorful and funky designs. I so wanted to buy one.

Needlepoint canvas

My new needlepoint craft project

“You can do it,” said M.

“Really?” I responded hesitantly. “Can I really do it?”

“You should do it, I’ll help you,” said M.

On the last day before M left to go home I took the plunge and purchased the Penny MacLeod “Look Here” canvas.

Into Paradise we went. I watched intently as M and the salesperson D carefully selected the yarns one by one. There were silk, cotton, wool, thin, thick, and fuzzy — so many choices in all the colors of the rainbow.

I took notes as M and D designed a stitch guide. I stood in awe as I wondered if I will ever be able to finish this glorious artwork that totaled triple digits by the time I exited Paradise. (Excuse me but I have to say that the cost of needlepoint today is definitely not what my mom or grandma paid back in her day.) In addition to the canvas and threads were the Stitches To Go book, needles, a needle threader, a needle magnet, a thread ripper, a small scissor, and canvas stretcher  — there was no turning back, I was equipped and ready for action.

Needlepoint store

A whole new world of needlepoint

M demonstrated a few stitches and then I was on my own. Fast forward to April, and I’m proud to say I’m loving my new hobby. I keep M abreast with weekly and sometimes daily needlepoint updates and text her when I need help.

New York psychologist Lindsay Weiner says that “Mindful activities like needlepoint, which allow you to press pause on the chaos around you and focus on the here and now, help to slow cortisol production by giving the brain a soothing, inconsequential task to focus on — one in which we can control every step of the process, including the outcome.”

Am I going to complete my needlepoint before I’m a snowbird again? Same time next year. I’ll be shoveling sunshine in 2024 and hopefully my needlepoint will be framed and hanging on my living room wall.