Friday, 24 April 2015

Happy Place

It's a well-known rule amongst bloggers that requests for a specific topic should never be fulfilled -- allegedly it robs the writer of his or her authenticity and voice and ends up looking staged. That is why thus far I haven't subscribed to any ads or other monetization avenues. With a blog name such as “Friend Like Me”, I can only imagine what kind of businesses it would attract – possibly an escort service? Ouch!
However I do have two particular fans who, whenever they see me on my Mac, ask in unison: "Are you writing a blog?" I know they are not reading this blog let alone even really know what a blog is, but they still keep asking. Every photo I've recently taken, especially ones of the two of them, is followed by: "Are you going to put us in your blog?"

Recently, as we lazed away our days in sunny Florida and I kept snapping photos with my phone, my two devoted fans approached me: "Mama, you need to write a blog about how much we love Florida! And put our picture in it! Here!" and they posed for yet another photo on a beautiful balmy afternoon (see the photo AFTER below!).

So I am ready to break the blogging rule and also to put aside paranoia for a second and neglect all that advice that we parents get about limiting the on-line exposure of our offspring. Here and now, for my two most avid fans I call Thing 1 and Thing 2 aka DaDa and JoJo (what they call each other) I will tell the world why South-West Florida is our literal and proverbial HAPPY PLACE. Here you go, "midgets"!

The concept of a Happy Place has always been a part of my life. My parents were big on planning our family vacations: Serbian mountains, Slovenian lakes, Bosnian villages, Croatian coast. Greek islands. 
I became painfully aware of the importance of having a Happy Place in my life one afternoon while in high school. The funniest yet the fiercest of all our professors - Biljana, our physics teacher – had just called my name. This involved me dragging myself from the third row to go stand in front of the blackboard while she dictated a problem I had to solve and would be marked on, in front of some 30+ students. "Multiple choice" has never been a part of my schooling and the 45-year-old me is grateful today: stuff I know - I know. But the 17-year-old me dreaded it. The problem had to do with fluid dynamics - there was a fountain of sorts with various diameters of pipes and water pressures and I was supposed to calculate how high the middle stream of the fountain would reach -- something I have never even attempted to understand. As much I try now to forget the profound discomfort of struggling in front of our otherwise charming teacher and my classmates - most of them hoping I take my sweet time so she wouldn’t have a chance to pick anyone else before the bell rang - I remember standing there, knowing only the first few moves, like in beginners' chess. I wrote some formula I knew kind of applied to a question like this. Then, while my hand was shakily scribbling with a chalk on the dry green painted board (I still get shivers thinking of that scratchy sound!) my mind suddenly jumped a track and I started calculating: it's April 20th... May 20th, June 20th, July 6th... in 77 days I would be in Parga! Double digits! Way under 100! Whoa!
Parga - a little village off the coast of Greece's Ionian Sea had been my personal first and favourite happy place. My parents prepared months in advance both financially and logistically for a 1400km road-trip from Belgrade, via Macedonia, through Thessaloniki (the quick gyros and shopping-laced sleepover) only to continue early the next day over the mighty Pindus mountains, testing the best homemade cheeses in the high altitude village of Metsovo (the memory of one with whole pepper seeds in it still makes my palate tingle) in hope that by 4 pm we would be rolling down the hills towards Ioannina and then pleading with our dad, the second he finished the famous cold Café Frappé, to go full throttle in that non-fancy yet durable LADA Samara so we could get to Parga just in time for a quick shower and a stroll on the boardwalk and an exciting first glimpse of who was there.  Oh, the sweet teenage memories!

The bell rang, jolting me out of my happy place and straight back to the front of the blackboard. Our teacher Biljana looked at me with disappointment yet also with a touch of humour: "I have no clue where you were, but you managed to finish 2/3 of this problem. You can't earn more than a skinny B minus for this work. Do you want to stay in at recess and complete it or take the mark as is?"

"I will take the skinny B minus!!!" - I sounded way too enthusiastic for a very mediocre mark as I shook my head in disbelief that I even got that far!
Welcome to SW Florida!

That is the definition of my happy place. The spot on the map where it is always sunny. Always fun. Always no physics. Or math. Or tests. The place where I get to be the best version of me – and in 1987, that meant me + make-up + getting to go out with her older and very popular sister every night to a disco club! Careless Whispers. Eighties rocked!!!

Growing our brand-new roots in Canada, for the first few years I forgot about the importance of my happy place. Life has been way too intense for me to remember the sweet afternoon siesta time when my only task was to put enough sunscreen on and slurp a Coca-Cola with all its 33g of sugar without a care in the world, and chill out with a group of internationally-assembled friends in the bamboo shade of the Tropicana Bar on the Valtos Beach. 

DaDa @1
With the arrival of Thing 1 and Thing 2, life became much gentler and time stretched more generously. Amazingly, when I least expected it, the happy place ended up finding me.

It all started with spending big chunks of my maternity leave in the sunny state. When every street has either a coconut or a flamingo in it, life undoubtedly gets happier.
JoJo @2

Bird lines!
Seagulls on a popcorn hi-jacking mission
Kids learnt how to walk and then swim while living the Florida life. They also experienced the gift of their parents and grandparents being around and enjoying everyone's undivided attention as they got to be kids the way nature intended it - free and naked and occupied with sand and shells and sticks. No fancy toy, electronic gadget or a smartphone app can replace what life in its organic form has to offer. 
We build castles and airports and train stations in the sand. We sing silly songs while jumping on waves. We pretend to be speaking 'dolphin' (just like Dori spoke whale in Finding Nemo) as we attempt to attract our favourite mammals. Whether the noble ones understand our calling or dolphins simply feel the purity of two little hearts beating intently, incredibly they almost always come!

Coincidentally, we get to attract  other animals too, so we have seen our fair share of turtles.There are protected nests along the beach from April through October and I love how careful my little boys are around them,
Dolphin-calling works!
understanding the importance of not disturbing the nature's ritual of the past 110 million years! We have seen angry ospreys protecting their nests; manatees travelling in a herd; pelicans' spectacular nosedives and seagulls' feeding frenzies.
Back at home, we found a snake at our doorstep and after nudging her to move away into the garden with a water gun, we named her Bella. Both Bella and Gerry provided their fair share of adrenaline rush, so forgive me for not having the photos to share. Gerry is our lizard, dark in colour and neurotic in behaviour, who managed to hitch a ride into our home in a croc-shoe one of the kids had recklessly left outside, only to send me - the responsible parent – into  combat mode with a wooden blood orange crate in one hand and a Swiffer wet jet in another.
As tall as JoJo!
It took a while, but Gerry finally obliged, darting out the front door a few seconds before I slammed it shut, sliding exhausted onto the cool tile floor. Then while power-walking my favourite trail in order to relax, I met a 4-foot alligator that moved in to our deep lakes full of fish in search of a buffet-style meal. The thing with alligators that I tend to remember is that I am 'on their turf', not vice versa - so I feel privileged that I can witness their jaw-dropping presence and feel close with nature while watching my every step. And it is much the same with many animal sightings: they simply take your breath away, like the one time a whole flock of white pelicans invaded our lake.
Albino Pelicans - photo credit P.Watkin
But animals are not the only gem. Just as Elizabeth Gilbert managed to portray the passionate love of botanics in her novel The Signature of All Things, I am in love with Florida's flora.
Ferns, moss' and palm trees
From species effortlessly coexisting to the alluring swamp habitats that are both mesmerizing and intimidating. There is something intrinsically frightening in the very aspect of swamp life.
Babcock Wildernes Park
Just try to imagine what it might look and sound like after the sun goes down should the water-bus break and one is forced to stay the night. Our favourite swamp has been featured in Hollywood - Sean Connery's thriller Just Cause was filmed where these photos were taken. Bone chilling.

Florida's spectacular sunsets are the perfect backdrop for the awe we feel for nature, and the gratitude for everything (other than the mosquitos who start their carnage about a second after the sun disappears behind the horizon!)
Naples Beach

Meditation space

The sunny state is also the only place on earth where I will by-pass my teenage propensity for sleeping in late in order to capture the rare opportunity for an early morning quiet time. My spiritual practice. Intention setting. And exercise!

And no matter how many times I witnessed the same miracle of the sunrise or the brief morning fog lifting off the ground or the dew caught on perfect spider webs, the flawless symmetry of unspoiled nature -- I feel inspired and somehow wealthy in an extraordinarily profound way.
Daily reflection time

Above all, I love what Florida is for my family. A giant playground - no matter the age!
Toddler to Teen
A welcome home-made clown parade even at meal-times and no matter the age! 
Yup, that's Grandma'!

Where we have time for fun dates...

... and romantic walks

Where kids are unaware these are their "childhood memories"

But we are aware of their BEFORE

And their AFTER

And that we are very lucky indeed
Lastly I feel relieved to have finally figured out the correct answer for that wretched fluid dynamics' question I sweated over in Grade 11. How tall is the middle stream of the water fountain?

Tall enough!

No comments:

Post a Comment