Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It was a Gulf-coast Christmas

I spent the week of Christmas on the Gulf coast of Florida, which - like any place - has its very own character. Where i was visiting is the central Gulf coast between Sarasota and Ft Myers, specifically Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota Counties. For those of you who have never been there, it is a mixture of lush swamp and palm forest

interspersed with areas that are completely overdeveloped

All along the landscape there are deed-restricted, age restricted, gated communities with names like Harbor Isle, Pelican Perch and Herons Glen that try to lure homeowners with beautiful walls, gates, fountains and even waterfalls at their entrances.
My mom lives in Holiday Park and my dad lives in Tara Woods.
These places are like tiny enclosed college campuses without the classes. There are pools, shuffleboard and tennis courts, boccie and horseshoe pits plus bingo, bridge, pinochle, poker, canasta, yoga, pilates, water aerobics, ceramics and computer classes. Happy Hour is nearly required. You can be in the Men's Club, Women's Club, Grandmother's Club or the Activities Board. There are clubs and events to celebrate different states and regions of the continent (i say that instead of country cause there are lots of Canadians) since no one is originally from Florida - they are either snowbirds or permanent retirees. I mean my parents have WAY better social lives than me; there is always something going on. You don't have to leave the park except to buy groceries or go out to eat at 2pm for the Early Bird specials.
Most people get from one side of the park by walking, biking, riding these awesome giant tricycles or driving golf carts.
In fact it isn't uncommon to see this in a parking lot Both of my parents resisted the golf cart phenomenon, but after Dad shattered his hip earlier this year his girlfriend Shirley insisted on getting one.
These communities are the kind of places where everyone waves at everyone else and there is more gossip than high school. Plus i have never seen as much yard art anywhere else in the world That would be frog lovers on a bench, 2 single frogs, a frog in the back sitting on something i can't quite see and of course a frog playing croquet all under one stand of palms.
It is mind boggling.
The residents put the same sort of effort into decorating for the holidays; i think that they really throw themselves into it since the weather doesn't feel like Christmas at all. It is funny to see light-up polar bears nested in the greenery, santas tucked behind pink shutters and snowman everywhere:

Not only do the residents go whole hog, so do the parks. They light up their entrances and roads. At my mom's place there are these crazy lights and sticks that look ridiculous in the daytime
but are really cool at night

At my dad's place the park floats similar trees (though much larger) in their ponds.
Of course, since it is Florida if you try to photograph the decorations during the day you just might catch a glimpse of an alligator sunning itself
Celebrating the holiday is still pretty much the same in my family (besides having to do it in 2 different houses now), but the location does manage to exert its influence on traditions like smaller artificial trees and perhaps the gaudiest stocking ever made.

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