I swore I would never live in Florida. Too hot, too much traffic, too southern. Until the winter of 2015. Cold and seriously tired of shoveling snow, I started looking for a small house or condo to rent in Florida for the following winter. Fortunately my job allows me to work from anywhere, as long as I have good internet connection, so the idea wasn’t completely nuts. I have several retired friends who bought in a very well situated and well maintained neighborhood in Fort Myers but at the time there wasn’t an available rental for 2016. I expanded my search to the surrounding neighborhoods but it soon became clear that I wasn’t the only fed up Northerner who decided wintering in the north had lost its charm.
I was about to give up when I learned there was a house for sale in my chosen neighborhood and I started thinking about the possibility of buying. The neighborhood is close to beaches, shopping, and services, and is a short drive to favorite spots like Naples, Sanibel, and Captiva. It seemed like the ideal place to invest in property and guarantee a place in the sun for winters to come. Long story short I ended up buying the house and closed in May 2015.
There were obvious improvements that needed to be made before my return in October. I knew I had to replace the master bathroom, which looked like it was straight out of the 70s (a carpeted floor!). A good friend suggested a handyman who would gut and rebuild the bathroom and a painter to refresh all the walls, ceilings, and closets in the house. Over the summer the bathroom was completely renovated and the new paint made the house sparkle. I returned in October for a short stay to start cleaning out and making the house mine.
The previous owner, with my blessing, left everything (except personal items) but it all needed sorting and tossing. I was soon reminded of the value of friends when one morning three friends showed up with sleeves rolled up and we spend the next 4 hours going through every closet and drawer. Everything was scrutinized and sorted into piles to donate, toss, or decide later. Ultimately I ended up with a carport full of things to donate, an over filled recycle and trash container, and furniture to go to consignment. I also decided the kitchen, with it’s 70’s era wall oven, cook top, and vinyl cabinets with broken shelves couldn’t wait to be renovated. Mark the handyman was recalled to do more work before I returned for 3 months in January. Having spent the 9 days in October getting to know the house I had a long list for him!
In October I also hit the consignment shops with my good friend, and retired Interior Designer, Milly. There are an incredible number of thrift and consignment shops in this area of Florida and they all have 50% off sales during slow periods when merchandise isn’t moving. October, it seems, is an ideal time to furnish a house inexpensively, who knew! When all was said and done, with Milly’s considerable help, I replaced 95% of the furniture and the house was transformed.
Fast forward to January. I arrived early on a Saturday morning to get organized, set up Internet and desk, fill the fridge, and get ready for work Monday morning. My new internet connection was working well, the kitchen was functional, an by the end of the weekend I was ready to settle in to work and life in Florida.
Unfortunately things went downhill from there as I discovered I was not the only inhabitant of my new home. I shared it with a family, and likely extended family, of palm (or roof rats) living in the crawl space under the house. It was about that time the rain started, lots of rain, the kind of rain where you start thinking about building an ark – but that’s another story.
Prior to my arrival Milly had been in the house and heard rustling coming from under the floor. She knew it had to be either possum or palm rats, not uncommon in Florida. She decided wisely not to tell me before arrival because it would only freak me out. Instead she put a trap near an obvious entrance hole in the foundation. In the middle of the night I heard a crack and shortly after scuffling, running, scraping, and screeching which went on for hours. The next morning, out my back door I could see a possum staring up at me, hissing his displeasure from inside the trap. Over night, sensing a predator close by, the rats under the house had gone nuts – they weren’t the only ones. I came close to sleeping in my car that night (or heading to the airport!) but stayed in bed with a pillow over my ears waiting for morning.
It was time to call someone to take care of the problem. Eric from Critter Control arrived later that day to assess the situation. Hundreds of dollars later the possum was taken away and traps were set. I was to become quite friendly with “Eric the rat catcher”. He was actually a nice young man who called me “ma’am” and carried off my rats one by one!
About the same time I was arranging to have a new electrical box installed so I could hook up my new electric stove. This was another unexpected but very large expense. I also had to tell the electrician, who needed to crawl under the house to run the wire, that he would have company. Undaunted, no actually he was freaking out, he called a fellow electrician to help him. The second fellow, younger and more svelte, agreed that he would go under the house. Eric the rat catcher arrived about the same time to check the traps and assured me that the rats would stay far away from the electrician under the house. You can’t make this stuff up.
Soon I was preparing for my first overnight company, my sister Bev and brother in law Gord, arriving from the north to stay a few days on their way to see their daughter and family in Boca Raton. They were a big help and very supportive, I began to relax and stop panicking! Maybe this would work out after all.
Next came the trees. I had two large palm trees right next to my house and if I let them grow another two weeks I swear they’ll be in my house. They were touching at this point and had to go. The tree guy arrived the next day and I we decided a large clump of palm trees at the back of the shed were badly diseased and had to go as well. As you can imagine these little unexpected projects are doing damage to my bank account.
Taking down trees
Meanwhile it’s raining, and raining, and raining….. I have a swimming pool in my backyard, no actually it’s supposed to be grass and but there’s two inches of water sitting on top. I shouldn’t complain, at least it’s not snow, but my coworker just informed me that they are expecting 50° weather in Massachusetts. ….You know that place I left to get away from the cold! How can they have the same temperatures we have in Florida?
By mid February the rain torrential rain had stopped but it was still unseasonably cold and raining off and on. The house was coming along quite well and my daughter-in-law and granddaughters were coming for a long weekend. It was lovely to see them and we spent the first morning walking on Fort Myers Beach but my 5 year old granddaughter was anxious to get into the pool. Although the pool is nicely heated – the air temps were in the 50s and overcast! My daughter-in-law, good sport that she is, brought Rhian to the pool while one year old Rory slept. They were in the pool for almost an hour (likely thinking about how cold they would be when they got out!) Rhian took her first unaided swim across the pool and was thrilled. The next day (also in the 50s) we all went in! Needless to say the neighbors passing by were smiling likely thinking “they must be visiting from the north”!
A chilly walk on Fort Myers Beach
In the Pool – Brrrrrr
Rhian’s initiation to golf
First ever ice cream cone
As the weather got nicer toward the end of February I joined in on some the fun – sunset drinks and picnic dinners on the Sanibel causeway. Trips to Captiva and Matlache, drinks and music at Dixie Fish, dinners out with friends. I started feeling more comfortable with my decision and looking forward to winters to come.
Dinner with neighborhood friends
Lunch with High School friends in Naples
JetBlue field honoring Big Poppy