Lessons From The Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle. It’s a place I know well. It is a place that is near and dear to my heart.

My daddy, his siblings, and all my first cousins grew up there. I was born there. My grandparents lived there. My daddy is buried there, and my mother’s ashes are there.

When I was five months old, my family moved to Brewton, Alabama, and I never lived in the Panhandle again, but we visited family there regularly. We also vacationed at the beaches along the gulf coast in the Panhandle. I learned a lot in the Panhandle.

This past week, I took my teenage daughter on a road trip through the panhandle. Neither of us had been there since 2007, and she had no recollection of that visit. I also showed her some places she had never been. She didn’t act particularly interested in all my stories, but maybe she will remember some.

Maybe she will remember my telling her about doodlebugs in the Panhandle. Nope, I’m not talking about VWs. I’m talking about antlions, insects whose larvae dig pits to capture prey. If you’re not familiar with them, this will be as confusing to you as it was to my daughter. But doodlebug pits look like tiny holes in the ground with a small crater around them. When my cousins and I were little, our Granddaddy showed us how to get doodlebugs to come out of what we thought were their homes. He told us to put a tiny stick down into the hole and stir it while saying, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out and get a cup of coffee. Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire.” After a few stirs and a few chants, the doodlebug would emerge! We thought it was because of our chanting, but as an adult, I know it was because of the stirring. I think Granddaddy was just giving us something to do, so we wouldn’t bother people, but we spent hours bothering doodlebugs…and we had fun and made memories!

I also learned about biddies in the Panhandle. Nope…not gossiping old ladies or hot girls (urban slang). Biddies…young chickens. I must have been about six or seven the first time I heard young chickens called “biddies” by my cousin, Patti. I think we were visiting her house when she suggested we go see the biddies. I followed her to someone’s barn…I have no idea who it belonged to. I don’t remember much about the biddies, but I do remember there were cats there…and hay. I also know my mother must not have known where we were. She would have been worried about snakes. I don’t think we stayed long, but I learned that some folks call young chickens “biddies.”

When my Granddaddy died, a family friend took some of the cousins to get a milkshake at cousin Patti’s other grandparents’ store in Sneads while the grownups talked. They didn’t have a chocolate shake, so I ordered a strawberry shake. I feel sure the folks at Patti’s grandparents’ store knew how to make good milkshakes, but on that day, I learned I don’t like strawberry milkshakes.

On the beach in Panama City Beach one year, when I was a teenager, I learned that tar sometimes washes up with the tide. There had been an oil spill in the Caribbean, and the jetstream pushed a lot of the tar into the Gulf of Mexico. I knew nothing about it, until I was walking the beach near the Fontainebleau Terrace and got some tar on my white sneakers. Had to throw those away…tar doesn’t just wash out easily.

Also in Panama City Beach, at Miracle Strip Amusement Park, I learned a Scrambler amusement park ride is a lot more fun when it’s enclosed in a giant building shaped like an abominable snowman with loud music playing and mirrors on the walls…and bright lights flashing. I also saw a chicken play a piano at Miracle Strip and rode the Starliner roller coaster.

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Miracle Strip Amusement Park in 60s or early 70s

And everywhere in the Panhandle, I learned that gnats will congregate around your eyes, your nose, and any cuts or scrapes you have. Natural springs are naturally cold (Blue Springs Recreational Area). And more info here. I learned that Spanish moss is beautiful, even though it’s not a moss at all…it’s a flowering plant. I learned about stalactites and stalagmites at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. In Quincy, I learned about a banker who loaned folks money to buy Coca Cola stock….eventually making them millionaires. Many years later, I became friends with that banker’s great granddaughters purely by accident, after meeting one of them at a party in Charlotte! From my daddy and his siblings, I learned what life was like in the rural Panhandle after the Great Depression. I learned about peach trees right outside the door whose limbs were used as switches. I learned about the one room schoolhouse in Bascom and Faye Dunaway’s being a student there. Yes, that Faye Dunaway…of Bonnie and Clyde fame. I listened to speculation about how a community called Two Egg got its name, and I ate as much pound cake as I could when I visited a great aunt in Two Egg. In my grandmother’s house, I learned what an antique sewing machine looked like, and I heard stories about my grandmother and aunt playing organ and piano at folks’ weddings and funerals…oh, one funeral story I’ll have to share another time. At the beaches in the panhandle, I learned how much fun it is to bunk with all your cousins in one house on vacation. And I used my first crosswalk button to cross the beach road in Mexico Beach when I was six…it was malfunctioning and shocked the stew out of me. On that same trip, I learned about wading out into a bay to catch scallops on the same trip. And I learned that fireworks are pretty on the beach.

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Blue Springs Recreational Area and Park, Marianna, Florida

The coastal Panhandle looks different now. There are planned communities and high rise condos where beach houses and roadside motels used to be. The original Miracle Strip Amusement Park is long gone from Panama City Beach, but there is a new Miracle Strip located near Pier Park on the beach road. Shipwreck Island waterpark and Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant are still there, and even the old Fontainebleau Terrace is still standing…it was a beauty in its heyday.

A little farther north, along Highway 90 in Jackson County, one big difference is that most motel/hotel accommodations either closed or moved over to I-10 after it was completed through the area. Well, that and the Hurricane Michael damage that is everywhere from Panama City to Jackson County…lots of devastation. In Marianna, lots of the downtown businesses were damaged and/or destroyed. I have lots of memories there…getting my first Florida State University sweatshirt at Daffin’s, seeing the RCA dog on top of one downtown business, and watching Mary Poppins in the old movie theatre there. The theatre has been gone for a long time, but I remember. Say a prayer for the folks who are still affected by that terrible storm. Lots of people are still suffering, including my aunt, whose house in Panama City was badly damaged by the storm.

The Panhandle taught me a lot. All this, and I didn’t even mention Tallahassee, Destin, and other places yet! Whew! I’ll share stuff about those places soon. Big lessons from all over the Panhandle. Mostly, it taught me my aunts, uncles, and cousins are keepers. Maybe we need to plan another beach vacation for the whole bunch!

I hope my daughter will remember some of it…

***Some friends asked me about the planned communities along the Gulf Coast. You can find lots of rental information here.

 

 

 

 

 

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UFO Houses

Driving through Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach last week (lovely beaches on the Gulf Coast), I saw three houses that reminded me of spaceships, so I took pictures of the “UFO houses.” OK, I know…it’s not actually an Unidentified Flying Object if it’s a house, but it just doesn’t sound as intriguing to call it a “spaceship house.” So I choose to call them UFO houses. With all the attention Area 51 is getting these days, it seems fitting to talk about UFOs again anyway. No…I’m not planning to storm Area 51.

I’ve written before about how I love automobiles shaped like food. Well, I love houses shaped like spaceships too. And who knew I’d see more than one on one tiny little island on Florida’s Gulf Coast?!?

Last week, I visited the Alabama Gulf Coast with my husband, our teenage daughter, and one of her friends. After a few days, my husband stayed behind while the three of us went for a little road trip. Our destination on the first day was Panama City Beach, but I opted to take the scenic route. If you’re a teenager, you’d likely call it the “slow route.” My daughter moaned and groaned a little about it, but she perked up when we saw some things she’d never seen!

We were on the main road through Pensacola Beach, about three miles east of Three Mile Bridge on Santa Rosa Island, when I spied something I’d seen before but forgotten! If you are even remotely close to my age (52), you know our country was crazy for UFOs in the 60s and 70s. I was born in 1967, so I don’t remember a lot about the 60s, but I remember the 70s pretty well, and I remember all the chatter about UFOs. When I was a kid and saw the UFO house, it frightened me. My child brain couldn’t differentiate between the real thing and something that looked like the real thing.

Now, though, I’m fascinated by the house that looks like a UFO. According to Roadside America (an app you must have anytime you take a road trip), the “portable, prefabricated home design from 1968 is by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen.” It has survived numerous hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside, as it is a private home, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Doing a little research online, I found that these Futuro prefab homes were first sold for about $14000, but with the 70s oil crisis, the price of plastic went up, tripling the cost of the prefab UFO houses, and soon thereafter, no more were made. I also found there are at least 15 still in the United States and more in other countries. I found them in Idyllwild, California; Royse City, Texas; Milton, Delaware; Central Illinois; Cincinnati, Ohio; New Jersey; and even one in Frisco, North Carolina. Apparently, there are more of them than I ever imagined. I guess I’ll be planning a Futuro home road trip in my future. I hope my friend, Mary Ann, is up for that.

On youtube, I even found a video clip from a news station of the interior of a Futuro home! You can see it here.

So now, I’m obsessed with the Futuro homes and wondering if I could possibly talk my husband into retiring in one after our daughter goes off to college?! If not, there are some others on Santa Rosa Island that are not Futuro homes but still look a little like spaceships to me. See photos below.

If you’re as fascinated by UFO houses as I am, you can check out different ones on Instagram. I looked them up under #futurohouse, and I found several Instagram sites dedicated to them as well.

Of course, I know there’s not a chance my husband would even consider a Futuro house. If I could find one for my very own tiny vacation home, I’d be just as happy with that. If you hear of anyone who is listing one for sale, send me their number.

I’m Leaving On a Jet Plane (Spring Break!)

“I’m leaving on a jet plane…don’t know when I’ll be back again…”

John Denver wrote about it in 1969, but Peter, Paul, and Mary’s version of the song is the most popular. If you’re not familiar with it, you can hear the song here.

When I was in first and second grades at Brewton Elementary School, in Brewton, Alabama, we would swing as high as we could on the swingset on the school playground, and when we did, we would sing that song. Well, we sang that and Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, but that’s another story.  When I think of I’m Leaving On A Jet Plane, I think of happy childhood days.

And I think about it a lot…mostly when I’m preparing for a vacation. While I’m packing, I walk around my house singing, “All my bags are packed, and I’m ready to go…” I can’t help myself. I get excited about vacations, and I guess that song represents the joy of childhood and the joy of a vacation for me.

Our next vacation will be spring break…just two weeks away. I need spring break. I need it every year. My friends laugh at me, because I start making plans in October or November. By the time we’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve, I’m already looking forward to spring break. I count down the days, and as of right now, we will be leaving in fourteen days. Bring it on!

Before I continue, you should know I do a lot of travel research before I plan a trip. Friends also make fun of me for that, but I don’t really care, because it’s rare for me to have big surprises about hotels or destinations. My very favorite site is TripAdvisor, because it has reviews on hotels, airlines, restaurants, and places to visit. I read carefully, and if I have questions about something, I call resorts or hotels directly, or I call friends who have visited the same place before, if I know someone who has been.

We are doing a beachy, sunny vacation this year, and I need it. We’ve had so much rain this winter in Charlotte….it’s depressing. I need the warm sunshine on my face, so I can produce some much-needed Vitamin D. Aside from that, I need worry-free time. I need to be away from the city in which I live. Seriously, I love Charlotte, but occasionally, and I don’t care where you live, you need to get away from the same four walls, the same people, and the same scenery. I just need a break. I need a week of no homework, no sports practices, no cooking, no cleaning, no obligations…just a week to do whatever we want to do.

Here’s the thing about Spring Break, though. For me, it doesn’t have to be somewhere glamorous. The main thing for me is that it has to be somewhere that’s easy to get to. Because it’s just a week, I don’t want to waste a lot of time on the getting there and getting home. I want to get to my destination quickly and get home just as quickly.

This year my daughter is taking a friend with her, and I am taking a friend too. My husband is staying home…he doesn’t enjoy traveling as much as we do. I offered…he didn’t want to go. He’ll probably enjoy the quiet time he’ll have at home without us!

I’ve already arranged our airport transfers and reserved our poolside cabana. Having the cabana ensures we will have a spot by the pool every single day we are there. I don’t want to have to get up at 7 o’clock in the morning while I’m on vacation, just so I can have a chair by the pool. It also makes it easy for my daughter and her friend to find us if they need us. But who am I kidding? They will avoid us like the plague!

I hope to come home rested, tan, happy, and ready to tackle the rest of the school year…a little over two months after the break is over, but we do have a nice Easter break in there. Once spring break is over, I’ll be counting down to that…for the record, that break will start 25 days after spring break ends.

Two more weeks till we get the party started! Maybe I should call now to order a bottle of champagne for our cabana…

“So kiss me and smile for me…tell me that you’ll wait for me…”

Wishing Summer Would Last?

Tonight I walked into my local Bath and Body Works for the first time in a while. My daughter was obsessed with this store for a few years. She loved their hand sanitizers, shower gels, and fragrance mists. Eventually, I started to like the fragrance mists as well, because I am not a big fan of perfume or cologne. When you have migraines, strong smells are not your friend. I ran out of my favorite fragrance mist today, so I ran to Bath and Body Works after I dropped off my daughter at a party.

When I walked into the store, a very pleasant saleslady greeted me, and as I stopped to take a whiff of a Pumpkin/Waffle scented candle, she asked, “Are you ready for fall?” What? Just sniffing a pumpkin/waffle candle makes me ready for fall? Of course I’m not ready for fall! I don’t even want school to start!

Instead, I just said, “Not just yet. I wish summer could last a little longer.”

The fragrance I usually use is Vanilla Bean scented, but after that exchange about fall, I was looking for something more summery, and boy, did I ever find it! I actually found a fragrance mist called At The Beach! Could it be more perfect? I picked up the sample bottle and sprayed some on my arm. Ahhhh….the scent of suntan lotion and sea mist! I picked up a bottle, and then I picked up another. Then I picked up some At The Beach Body Cream. Even though summer has to end, it doesn’t mean I have to stop smelling like summer! I’m walking around smelling like the beach! If you’d like to smell like the beach or purchase candles that smell like the beach, you can go to Bath and Body Works by clicking here.

Of course, I picked up some of my favorite Vanilla Bean fragrance as well, but I will put off using that for as long as I can.

In the past, I’ve extended summer for myself by using tanning oil or suntan lotion as moisturizers. If you’ve ever walked into a meeting I was attending and thought you smelled Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil, you probably did. I’ve been known to moisturize my skin with it. Nothing takes me back to high school like the aroma of Hawaiian Tropic. Or sometimes, I will use Coppertone Tanning Lotion, which immediately takes me back to my childhood and makes me think of the old ad…you know, the one in which the puppy is tugging on the little girl’s swimsuit. I actually had a beach towel with that ad on it when I was younger. You can purchase the oil and lotion in Target, Walmart, or most any drugstore.

This next summer-extending product is not something that smells like the beach, but it does taste a little like sunshine: Chick-Fil-A’s White Peach Tea Lemonade. What says summer more than lemonade? White Peach Tea Lemonade…that’s what. I happened upon this recently when I zipped through the drive thru of a Chick-Fil-A. I was waiting in the line and saw an ad on the menu board for this special tea, so I decided to try it. Normally, I don’t drink my calories, but I drank them that afternoon, and it was worth it. It has been added to the menu permanently after being tested in various markets. I know in November when I need to think of summer, I’ll turn into my neighborhood Chick-Fil-A.

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Even after school starts, I’ll be dragging summer out a little longer in other ways too. I’m growing corn and tomatoes in my backyard, and right now, it’s looking like the corn will be ready to harvest around Labor Day. Maybe I’ll be able to talk my husband into grilling some hamburgers to go with our fresh, homegrown, sweet corn. And we’ll put some of the tomato slices on our burgers. My first tomato harvest wasn’t so good earlier this summer, so I’m hoping these late ones will be better. My sunflowers are just about to bloom, so they’ll be pretty for a few more weeks too. It could all make for a lovely Labor Day, which happens to be my mother’s birthday…our first without her. She would be proud.

Labor Day weekend also marks the beginning of college football season, so that’s something to look forward to.

I plan to smell like summer while drinking my iced tea till at least November. Maybe then I’ll light a pumpkin/waffle candle, but I will still be dreaming of summer while I sip my White Peach Tea Lemonade.