Amazing Elephant Encounter in Florida

Myakka Elephant Ranch in Florida – an exciting experience to get close to elephants

Oh if only we could travel to Africa or Thailand to see happy elephants! When will COVID be over!!

With the elimination of circuses and pressure from agencies like PETA in the United States, exotic animals have had to find new homes and Florida is the place to retire for humans and animals alike.

The Myakka Elephant Ranch opened a little over two years ago as a conservation and educational program. The ranch is a nonprofit organization supporting global elephant conservation efforts. In November 2020 the owners began inviting the public in for elephant education encounters to help support the animals and work in connection with the International Elephant Foundation. Some of the money goes towards the foundation to support the preservation of wild elephants by building look out towers and anti poaching stations in Africa.

My sister and I excitedly drove the 20 minutes from our Bradenton, Florida neighborhood to the ranch. We signed up for the hands on spa encounter to spend the afternoon bathing the elephants. After the bathing portion, the 3 elephants, Lou, Carol, and Patty came out for snacks. During the one hour educational session, people ask questions and are invited to interact and pose for photos with the elephants and then we move outside to watch them in their own play yard.

Just like people, elephants each have a unique personality. In the wild, groups of elephants are led by a matriarch. Lou, the African elephant, has taken on that serious and dominant role in this trio. She was brought to the US in 1986 at 1 1/2 years old. She is now eight years retired from her work in the entertainment business. Her jobs included birthday parties, county fairs, circuses and fundraisers. She is used to being around people, so her daily baths which are important to moisturize her dry skin, give her additional enrichment. Her big trick is to reach out and use her trunk and the “two fingers” at the end of the trunk to accept a banana and apple from someone in the audience. Lou purrs when she gets her bath and happily poses with tourists and people willing to pay to bathe her.

Carol and Patty are both 49 years old and came to the United States from Thailand when they were two. They are both Asian elephants so have smaller ears, the shape of India instead of Africa. Carol was a movie star in her younger years and had a role as a youngster on Smokey and the Bandit 2. Patty doesn’t really care to get up and personal with humans but is devoted to her trainer of nearly 40 years. The elephant’s skin is very sensitive and they can feel a mosquito bite. Their hearing and smell are better than a hound dog. The Asian elephants do have tusks, but they are small and covered. In the hot weather, they stay cool with water and mud.

Two months ago, Myakka Elephant Ranch was able to install a new waterhole for the three elephants. It’s been a bit cold this past week in Florida, so they did not go swimming but instead enjoyed the electric heaters in their stalls.

Young Lou who is the son in the family visited Africa to learn more about elephant conservation efforts with the International Elephant Foundation. They work to support actions to eliminate the illegal killing and poaching of elephants. I was surprised to learn that only 300,000 African elephants now live in Africa, down from 10 million in 1930. 100 are killed every day. Additionally, only 40,000 Asian elephants still roam freely. Due to a loss of habitat, last year elephants killed many natives in Sri Lanka, and the natives killed elephants as well.

Raising awareness of the importance of conserving elephants and their habitats is what Lou and his dad Lou hope to achieve here at Myakka Elephant Ranch. Expanding their property to include more elephants and possibly breeding in the future is something they would be interested in. The White Oaks Conservation center in Northern Florida has taken a herd of 12 elephants with plans for an additional 20 retired Ringling Bros. elephants to it’s 17,000 acre property. Plans for breeding there are hopeful as is a trip for me to visit!

Lou, Carol, and Patty are bathed daily and minerals are painted on their toe nails. We took turns using a hose to wet down the pachyderms and then scrub their bodies with brushes. After the bath, and the hay, we had a hands on opportunity to pet their trunks and take photos. Then, the bathed ladies had a chance to ignore us and head out to the paddock to roll or toss dirt all over their bodies. They will be ready for tomorrow’s spa treatment.

Lou getting a banana from visitor
Lou giving educational program
Scrubbing Lou with special soap
Rinsing soap off Carol the elephant
Lou outside near new watering hole

What do you do in the First Year of Retirement?

“Anything I want”

Haha. That’s the smartass answer, but what do you really do in retirement?

For someone like me who worked steadily out of the home 40 hours per week, all this time at home is a significant change. Back when I had a busy family and house to run, I felt like I was never home. In retirement, you spend more time around the house. This is only my first year, so I am not an expert on anything. This is just what I’ve done so far.

It has been a peculiar time for everyone. We had the pandemic that never left. That caused many activities to cut back, especially international travel, which I have enjoyed over the past few years, and I hope to continue soon. I managed a few getaways this past year, but like most people, I haven’t left the country.

I moved. That was a full-time job. Going through all that stuff. Selling big items. Giving things away. I thought I really purged until I moved to Florida. Now, unpacking and settling into a new home is a full-time job. We both brought too much stuff, and we need to set up our home with new furniture. It takes a little while, and it is coming together nicely. Not sure when the dining table will arrive, but we saved a folding table and chairs for now.

With time on my hands in a new town, I have been actively seeking ways to keep busy.

I must admit, I enjoy sleeping in these days. Pete and I got up early for work for years, so the luxury of getting up when you feel like it has been nice. After my second cup of coffee and breakfast, I take Harry for his morning walk around the pond behind our house. We pass a dog park, so we will stop for a quick visit if someone is there. Harry smells his new friend, then basically ignores the other dog. I am starting to see repeat dog owners and I try to remember the names.

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19 Awesome Things to do near Sarasota

Amazing things to do in the Bradenton – Sarasota – Tampa area. Outdoor fun for the whole family

My sister moved to Bradenton 15 years ago and after many visits, and a new home on the horizon, I can’t wait to share some of my travel highlights from this area. So much to see and experience in Florida, but within one hour from Bradenton, between Tampa and Sarasota, here is just a sampling of some of my favorite things to do.

1. Dine outside

Because you can. So many dining establishments are located outdoors on the water. Pelicans soar as dolphins pop up between jet skiers and fishing boats as if cued for posing.  Fish is fresh and tasty so indulging in fish tacos, grouper sandwiches and conch fritters are some of my favorites.  Drinking a margarita with fresh squeezed lime juice is also highly recommended.

Some outdoor dining restaurants we love are:

Woodys River Roo in Ellenton, dining outside on the Manatee river with live music and sandy outdoor dining with thatched roof coverings. Very tropical and tasty Old Florida Style food.

PIER 22 Restaurant in downtown Bradenton on the Manatee river.  Upscale delicious food yet still casual dining indoor and outside.

Daquiri Deck on Anna Maria Island – although they have 5 locations nearby. Casual dining, frozen drinks, happy hour specials and beautiful views from the top floor on busy Bridge Street.

Whiskey Joe’s on the Manatee River

2. Rent a bicycle on Anna Maria Island

Bike rentals are $12/day and well worth it for a fun time exploring the streets of Anna Maria. Sidewalks are plentiful as are bike lanes. People rent small cars (they look like bumper cars), golf carts and bikes. We even had fun taking Harry, the spoiled pup, in a back pack for ride around town.

Biking with dog back pack – Harry loved it!

3. Wash Elephants at the Myakka Elephant Ranch

Encounter 3 elephants up close and personal. My sister and I spent a few hours washing 2 elephants followed by a photo shoot. We were encouraged to interact by talking to and petting these beauties. After visiting with us, the elephants head out to their grassy fenced in field to dig and toss dirt onto their freshly scrubbed backs. Recently open to the public by reservation only, definitely a great experience if you love elephants like I do.

Continue reading “19 Awesome Things to do near Sarasota”

Life After Loss: Moving Forward after Year 1

Moving Forward after death of a spouse, runaway widow year 3 travels, challenges and new adventures.

Travel, travel and more travel.  That is how I have been moving forward.

I start each new year with a reflection on the past year and maybe some goals and challenges for the upcoming 12 months, should I be blessed enough to enjoy them.

Thank you for reading my thoughts and travels this year.  I have really enjoyed sharing my travels and memorable moments from the past and this year with you.

In February my then boyfriend and I visited my mom and sister in Florida.  We had fun looking at houses and imagining a life together in retirement that doesn’t have to be too far ahead in the future. 10 ways to have an adventure while visiting family in Florida.

In March I skied with my sons and nephew and proved that I am not too old and I can still handle those black diamonds.

In April, we took our first overseas trip to England.  Pete drove on the opposite side of the most narrow roads ever and I bit my nails but had the best trip!  We visited London and small towns in the Cotswolds.  I was overjoyed that he is up for anything. Road trip in England: Stonehenge, Cotswolds, Bristol and Bath

In July I felt it was time to have a memorial for Mike.  We had settled the wrongful death lawsuit.  That chapter was over and the memory of my dear husband is what I have always wanted to focus on.  The stories of his sense of humor, his good heart and his love for his family.  We held a small memorial brunch on his 4th of July birthday to give friends and family and opportunity to say his name and embrace our loss. It’s OK to say their name

Last summer I went to an education conference in Las Vegas.  One of my colleagues had won a trip because her student won a handwriting conference.  She was unable to go so I volunteered! Pete met me and we indulged in shows, dinners, a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon and yes, a little gambling.  This man is a showing huge potential by now!

Flying solo to Japan was my big adventure for the summer of 2018. After a long flight and several train rides I met up with my son in a hotel in Tokyo.  We had an amazing 2 week tour of Japan and made some amazing memories along the way.  12 Days in Japan: Tokyo-Hakone-Kyoto

School started again for me in September and my students are adorable and learning so quickly it makes my head spin.  I love my job but I am not so fond of the cold winters.

Just before Thanksgiving, Pete invited me to dinner one Friday night.  We were having appetizers when I read aloud the riddle on the blackboard: “What joins two people but touches only one?” I had no idea, but when he placed the little black box on the table, I knew the answer.  My engagement ring. Moving Forward During the Holidays. My Journey: Widow – Dating – Fiancé

Christmas this year was spent back in Florida. We looked at future retirement neighborhoods and stayed at a quaint bed and breakfast at the beach in Anna Maria Island.  I am looking forward to my future with this man.

Do I still love and miss Mike.  Of course I do.  That will never end.  At times I will talk about my late husband and Pete has always been very supportive to me.  He understands  loss and will hold my hand when I need it.  I keep moving forward and try not to need it too much.  Sometimes we just hold hands because it feels good.

Overall I am happy with this year and am looking forward to many exciting adventures this year.

Not only will I be getting married, but both my sons are graduating; one from University of Mississippi and one from Cornell Law School.  So exciting.

My trips this year are all beginning to form into the best adventures ever.  A week in Iceland with my sister in February chasing the Northern Lights in celebration of her 50th Birthday.  A fairy tale honeymoon in Greece in July and an African safari trip with girls from my book club later next summer.

We only get one life and I am determined to live it well.  Traveling adventures have been my goal and I love that I am living my dream.

life after loss year 3
life after loss year 3

10 ways to have an adventure while visiting family in Florida.

During a sales presentation for time shares near Disney World, we were scoffed at for saying that staying with family was how we intended to enjoy our vacation.

“Surely you want more than a visit with FAMILY” the woman sneered.

Mike responded, “well, we like our family.”

After the third time when we supplemented our family visits with a 3 night complimentary stay in a plush resort equipped with pools and 2 bedroom suites, I think they started to catch onto us.  We had no desire to purchase a time share, but we did enjoy taking advantage of these generous offers and sometimes even shared our suite with my sister and her family!

The sunshine state welcomes people of all ages, especially during these cold, dark months in the north east. Having family in Florida makes it a no brainer to visit when the SAD (seasonal affective disorder) starts to creep in.  My sister and mom both live in Bradenton which is about one hour south of Tampa and is a perfect destination for a winter getaway.

But how do you go from visiting family for more days than you may be welcome to having a fun adventure? I’ve got some experience on that one.

 1. Rent a car (or drive yours to Florida)

Having your own transportation is a great idea in Florida as the public transportation system may not have been developed yet.  We saw train tracks in Sarasota but I was told it is for a freight train that appears on occasion.  Having a car gives you the freedom to take off for the day on adventures while the host family goes about their usual routines.  They can join you or not but you are not dependent on the folks driving you around.

You can also stop at a store and pick up groceries which you may want to consume or share with family when you decide to make one of your specialty meals, if you have one.

2.  Bring a friend.

Your family or friends may already have a life and are likely not on vacation the week you happen to be. Just because you are a widow, doesn’t mean people need to stop their lives to entertain you. Bringing a friend along gives you an instant playmate while still visiting and enjoying everyone’s company. Your friend and you may have different ideas about what is fun but that just adds to the adventure.

3. Dine outside

Because you can. So many dining establishments are located outdoors on the water. We visited John’s Pass near St. Petersburg and enjoyed walking along the boardwalk. Cute shops selling turquoise painted starfish nestle between restaurants and ice cream shops with signs warning us of hungry birds. Pelicans watch as dolphins pop up between jet skiers and fishing boats as if cued for posing.  Fish is fresh and tasty so indulging in fish tacos, grouper sandwiches and conch fritters are some of my favorites.  Drinking a margarita with fresh squeezed lime juice is also highly recommended.

Some outdoor dining restaurants we loved this visit were:

Woodys River Roo in Ellenton, dining outside on the Manatee river with live music.

PIER 22 Restaurant in Bradenton, also on the Manatee river.  A bit more upscale than Woodys yet still casual dining.

Sculley’s Restaurant  in John’s Pass, Madeira beach.  Waterfront dining with birds swooping overhead.  Live music during the day and easy to walk around and see some shops, dolphins and the beach after the meal.

3. Visit model homes

Florida real estate is booming again. Everywhere you look, especially inland developments like Lakewood Ranch, construction is underway.  Everything is new and the communities are building such nice pool and snack bar areas to accompany golf resort style living.  Some homes are about 20 years old, but there is so much new stuff to look at that it is fun to stop by open houses and check out all the flashy light fixtures, and odd decor.  You have to envy the outdoor living areas with pools and spas, t.v.s and fireplaces too.  One bathroom had an enormous car wash sized shower and a jar full of toothbrushes as a decoration.  It actually looked good. Weird!



4. Try to golf

I thought I could do it – I had played with my kids when they were first learning years ago at the town course but I haven’t really played or taken lessons since.  My mom let me borrow, and then adopt, her club set that she had purchased a few years back when she moved to Florida.  After a few OK shots at the driving range I hopped in the cart and we followed the French Canadian couple to the first hole.  There we were greeted by about a dozen eager golfers waiting for us to go so that they could walk the course.  I had not expected an audience.  My first swing moved the ball about 7 inches.  I tried again and got about 12 feet.  I was told to pick up my ball and start at a spot where the others had landed their balls.  I knew this was going to be fun after that!  I did ship the clubs home so I plan to keep learning this sport.  It could take some time.


5. Take a walk

This is a sporty activity that I am actually pretty good at.  It is nice to take a walk in a park or on the beach but even in the neighborhoods where my sister and mom live it is so quiet and safe.  The sidewalks are not in disrepair like the ones in New York.  Sighting different exotic birds is almost a given on any walk and it is not unusual to spot the sleeping alligator in or near a pond as well.  Another bonus is that the roads are flat.  My neighborhood is quite hilly, so while I do like walking, it is something you need to psych yourself up for.  Just remember to wear a hat and sunscreen as that Florida sun is strong.

6. Visit something in nature

I always try to find a new place to visit that has something to do with animals or nature.  This time we visited the Sarasota Jungle Garden.  Here you can feed flamingos, pose with parrots, and see turtles and hawks that have been rescued.  Even some cute lemurs and prairie dogs were living happily in this tropical paradise.  Several shows are offered each day and there was a large gift shop with a help wanted sign.  I could have a future here…

7. Have lunch with an old friend

If you are like me, you probably have some friends who have moved to Florida!  Why would they want to leave the cold, crowded, expensive environment of Long Island, New York and smile daily in the sunshine state with it’s easy to enter and exit highways? Why would they want to pass up shoveling snow in exchange for using air conditioners in the hot summer? Well, while you are down in Florida find time to catch up and visit with a friend from the past. You have more time now that the kids have grown up and who knows what new adventures lie ahead.

8. Watch horses in training

During junior high and high school I spent everyday working at a local horse farm in exchange for horse back riding lessons.  It started after I fell off a horse on a one hour trail ride and ended up in the hospital with a concussion.  I knew I needed lessons and this was the only way I was going to get them.  For years I would attend the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden and several times went to see the Lipizzan Stallions.

Just east of Sarasota in Mayakka you can watch the Lipizzan Stallions train for their summer tour.  Rehearsals are open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays at 3:00, and Saturdays at 10am for a $5 donation.  These animals are beautiful and graceful and fun to watch.  Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions of Austria continues to breed this rare line of aristocratic horses and has a few rescue horses on site as well.


9. Watch the sunset at the beach

My family lives on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida which is conducive for spectacular displays of light and awe.


10. Swim outside in a pool

Again, because you can.  It is not the same as visiting the local YMCA pool in the middle of winter.  The pools are heated and you are OUTSIDE.  Also, it seems many pools come with their own hot tub or spa.  YAY!  Those wonderful jets massage your body as the heat relaxes your brain.  Then a quick or languishing dip in the pool and an hour or so in a lounge chair in the shade.  That is something not to be missed on a trip to Florida.


Don’t forget to take that photo of your polished toes to share on social media. This will insure that you have lots of takers to accompany you on your next trip to visit family in Florida.

Thanks for reading. Do you have any good ideas for visiting friends or family? What works and what doesn’t?



5 Free Fun Things to do in Florida

5 Free fun things to do in Florida as a widow traveling alone or with family and friends.

Traveling helps me to be happy in the moment. Stopping to smell the roses and notice everything wonderful in life seems easier when you are away from regular routines. I am on a discovery search for new places and adventures. So this February, despite unseasonably warm weather in New York, I spent a week in Florida.

Honestly, I have been to Florida quite a few times. I made an effort to experience some new things on this trip and as always had some fun adventures with my travel buddy. We planned to visit some family and friends during our stay.

Visit Family – Free!

One way to have a free stay is to know someone. My friend and I stayed at my mom’s place in Bradenton, Florida.  She bought a condo 7 years ago in the Heritage Harbor community. My mom met her second husband at a bereavement group after my dad passed away.  Their group became very close and continued to meet every Tuesday night for 12 years. Addie and Phil got married in 2011 and had all 16 grandchildren participate in the wedding. He still has his house in New York, and she has her condo overlooking a pond and golf course in Florida.  The pond is beautiful and home to many birds and even an alligator who we saw everyday. Addie and Phil are now snow birds since they come to Florida to avoid our long, cold winters and then return to New York when Florida gets too hot.

After breakfast, my friend and I tried out the gym attached to the club house and pool area.  We did a few weights and heard someone shouting out instructions from a nearby room.  After about 20 minutes the doors opened and a dozen fit women in their 60’s exited glowing with perspiration.  It seems they had been taking a Zumba class.  It appeared to be working for them! After we gave a solid effort on the machines, we left to spend the day lounging by the pool and hot tub.  The pool area also has a bar and we enjoyed lunch outside from the club’s restaurant.

Heritage Harbor Bradenton Florida

wood stork Florida

Robinson Preserve – Bradenton

I went on a solo adventure to the Robinson Nature Preserve.  This 487 acre waterfront preserve has biking and hiking trails as well as kayaking along the river.  The Osprey Loop is a 3 mile loop that is either on a packed sand trail or a boardwalk.  The trail goes along Tampa Bay where the Skyway bridge is visible.  I saw quite a few birds including Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Egrets, and Osprey. It was partly cloudy and 70 degrees which made for nice walking weather. It was free to park here and no cost to enjoy the preserve.

Robinson Nature Preserve Bradenton FLimg_0062Skyway bridge Tampaimg_0051

Palma Sol Botanical Park – Bradenton

This 10 acre park is also free and has a variety of different plants and fruit trees all equipped with small wooden signs labeling the flora.  The park has quiet paths around three small lakes and bridges.  My sister met me at the park after my hike across the street at the Robinson Preserve.  She has an extensive garden in her yard and was impressed with the variety of fruit trees, however this was not the season for them to be bearing fruit.  We met 2 cute little donkeys who the owner told us like to pose for photos, so I took one.

As we were heading toward the parking lot, we saw what looked like a baby Great Blue Heron who was stuck in the weeds of a pond.  We located the woman who worked in the office and she called wildlife rescue.  They were happy that we hadn’t tried to save the bird ourselves since a vet would be needed to see if the legs were damaged. The woman showed us a new flower that had just bloomed on the Shaving Brush Tree.  My sister spotted a female cardinal and then, sure enough, I spotted a Blue Jay.  I feel that Mike likes to send them to me and I usually see at least one every day.  My sister said it’s unusual to see Blue Jays in Florida.

Bradenton Botanical GardenPalma Sol Botanical Garden, Bradenton FL

Lido Beach – St. Armands Circle- Sarasota

I drove south from Bradenton to meet up with my friend and her college roommate at Lido Beach.  Parking is free at Lido beach public lot.  There is a concession stand and a very short walk to the water once you step onto the sand.  The waves were bigger here and some people were surfing or using their paddleboards to surf. We had lunch at a Tiki bar in a nearby hotel.  The shops in St. Armands Circle are fun to browse around in, especially if you are looking for art, jewelry or warm weather fashions. The restaurants and ice cream shops are also quite popular.  My only complaint would be the traffic getting to the beach during February break is really slow.


Siesta Key Beach- Sarasota

Voted the #1 Beach in the U.S.A., I made two day trips to this beach during the week.  The Beach is beautiful.  The walk to the water is quite long and they even have some type of rug  path to make it easier for people with wheels to access the water.  The sand is extremely soft and fine.  The texture is a mix between sugar and flour.  It sticks to your skin, but comes right off in the clear, salty gulf water.  The waves were not big at all on the days that we visited.  I walked 3 miles the first day and started coughing.  I soon realized that quite a few people were coughing too.  It seems they were experiencing “red tide”. The water looked turquoise and when I waded in I could see my feet. When the red tide is in the air people may experience respiratory irritation causing people to cough.

The second day I visited was sunnier, not so windy and very crowded.  Parking is free, but the public lot was filled by 12:00 noon.  We had lunch in the Siesta Key village and I enjoyed an oyster Po’ Boy at The Old Salty Dog.

imageSiesta Key Beach Florida

After a visit like this it is interesting to think about what my plans are for the future?  Can I imagine myself retiring and moving to Florida?  I have family there.  The beaches are nice.  I could probably teach in Florida, but maybe my next chapter in life will be different.  I think I could be happy renting out umbrellas or lounge chairs from a shaded cabana at the beach.  I would just need to live closer to the water since the traffic seems to be an issue.  Although the amenities in the gated communities are nice too. Well, I probably won’t be retiring for a few years anyway – so I’ll keep working and so that I am able to afford more travel adventures.  Sounds like a plan!



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