The Professional Guest: Destination Naples, Florida

naples beachI’ve arrived at my destination in Naples, Florida at last. My cousin, Beverly and husband, Tom, graciously offered their “Southern Cabin” to me to stay in until I can find my own place—or until they arrive in November, whichever comes first. This Professional Guest business is working out better than I had hoped. Three full months to figure out my next steps!

Bev and Tom’s “cabin” is a fully-furnished condo with all the amenities of home. It’s hardly roughing it. Each room is painted a different color, from rich blues to soft sage greens and, to my delight, a lavender master bathroom. The wood trim is a crisp white and so are the floor tiles in the kitchen and bathrooms. I love white tile. It’s just so…Florida! The outdoor walkways are lined with lush native flora and fauna: ferns, schefflera, palm trees and more that I have yet to discover the names of. As I walk along the sidewalks, they appear to be moving as tiny little lizards called Brown Anoles scamper just ahead of my feet. They’re funny, these little lizards. They remind me of deer in Minnesota during the rut. No sign of them as you drive along and then suddenly they dart out right in front of you.

It is stupid hot here in Naples in August. Hot and humid and I am thankful for the short haircut I got just before leaving Minneapolis. In and out of the shower many times a day requires a low-maintenance hairstyle. In the morning, I am greeted by the soft cooing of morning doves, reminding me of my years living in Hawaii. It was and still is one of my favorite sounds in the world.

Although I was exhausted when I arrived, I wasted no time finding the beach and did just as I had envisioned myself doing a month earlier. I stood on the shoreline, gazed out at the vast sea-foam green-blue water and drank in the salty air. A stingray leaped high out of the water in the distance. I have dived with stingrays in Grand Cayman and fed them conch meat but I have never seen one leap out of the water. The white, silky sand beneath my feet gave way as I walked, cushioning my feet and my soul in a blanket of softness. Brown Pelicans circled over the water from great heights before crashing into the waves and resurfacing with a beak full of fish. Flocks of Forster Terns darted along the sand, young ones clamoring for food from their parents, sounding more like squeaky bedsprings than sea birds.

Bev’s condo association has access to a private beach just off Gulf Shore Boulevard North. It is pristine, well managed, and free to me with a guest pass. As I entered the parking area, my car was stopped by a tall, stern-looking African American man named Keith. Spotting my Minnesota plates, he flagged me for a stranger and questioned me. I showed him my pass and offered him my name as well as my cousin’s. I told him I was staying in their condo until I could find a place. He, too, is a transplant from up north and smiled knowingly at my comment about “not being able to do Minnesota winters any more.”

The beach was a wide open expanse with only a handful of beach goers sitting in little chairs under umbrellas. It was, after all, 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday. Many were reading books or newspapers or checking their mobiles. How can anyone read in 92-degree heat with 74% humidity and sunshine glaring off bright white sand? Even with sunglasses sliding down my nose, I would not be able to read a headline on a paper. Squinting and sweating is not conducive to reading for me.

Not coming prepared with a beach chair, I just spread my towel on the sand and plopped my body down, my northern white skin no doubt sending a glowing signal up and down the beach, “YO SOY UNA TOURISTA!” Having once lived in California and Hawaii and being a veteran beach goer, body surfer, boogie boarder, I now felt uncomfortable with my aging, alien, overly-white, overly-ample body that used to look and feel like a local girl. How the years have changed me. How the winters have changed me.

Gulf sand is different than Hawaiian sand. It is as fine as mist and sticks to your skin wherever you come in contact with it. Good for exfoliation. When the heat became unbearable, I walked down into the bathtub-warm water, remembering to do the Stingray Shuffle on my way out to deeper water where I floated and bobbed happily in the waves. When I was younger and frequented the ocean, I had no thoughts of sharks or jellyfish or stingrays when I swam. Now, older and too-many-nature-programs later, I kept a sharp eye out for anything that shadowed the waters near me. I hope I can get back to that place of carefree romping in the ocean, that second-nature swimming that says “I was born to live at the beach.”

There were a few graphic design projects to tackle on Friday but it was cumbersome and slow trying to do them on my little MacBook Pro. The shipment of my big iMac, nicknamed The BAM (Big Ass Monitor) arrives on Monday and I have ambivalence about it. That means I have to get set up at the dining room table down here and actually do something productive. I take a little comfort knowing I will be indoors in air conditioning during the hottest part of the day anyway and then I can venture out and explore the area. There are some mighty fine homes in this neighborhood near the ocean. I cruise through narrow palm-tree lined streets, oo-ing and ahh-ing at breathtaking villas. I wonder if anyone needs a Professional Guest here? I could live happily in one of these places!

My first three shopping priorities were to find a grocery store, an Apple store, and Steinmart. Nearly everyone I know who frequents Florida has raved about Steinmart where good deals are to be found daily. I found one nearby and made the rounds. I can see what they were raving about, clothes marked down to scandalous prices, however not much for women my size. I wandered through the racks mourning the extinction of cotton fabrics. Today’s clothes are all made from synthetic blends which are not breathable and make my skin crawl. Call it OCD, but I have a very real aversion to synthetics. I don’t like clingy fabrics. I don’t like clingy dogs, clingy cats, or clingy people either.

I will definitely need to up my game in the clothing department here. The yoga pants and oversized men’s T-shirts will have to go. Naples is unquestionably upscale and no one ventures out without their diamonds and gold necklaces. Let’s see. Where did I put mine? Oh yes, I sold them all one time when I needed money to pay the mortgage. Okay, well, that’s one thing I won’t have to worry about for awhile—the mortgage. I’ll grab my fake Chanel purse that I picked up for ten pounds at the Bermondsey antique market in London, put on my only remaining pearl earrings, throw on a skirt and hope I pass.

I’m trying to get settled in. My spirit is alive but my mind and body are tired from the chaos of the past two months. Unloading my house and all my belongings with breakneck speed and arriving here to a place where “no one is in a hurry,” according to the Steinmart clerk, has had its physical effects on me. “That’s good because I’ve been rushing around for 40 years,” was my reply. Today is a day of badly needed rest. I need to relax and accomplish little today.

The washing machine quit on me yesterday and I called Bev. “What do I do? The washer filled up with water and then just wouldn’t run.” Bev’s a fixer, a trouble-shooter and likes to figure out what’s wrong by herself before calling a repairman. We are definitely related. We checked the fuse box—nope, nothing off there. We checked the electric outlet. I unplugged the washer and plugged in a little desk lamp. Yep, it works. I spun the washer dials around and tried starting from different points. Nothing. Bev told me where the washing machine manual was and I said I’d read it through and call her back. I also asked her to pray with me that I could figure out the problem with God’s help.

As a single woman, I’ve had to learn how to fix things myself. If I couldn’t fix it, I’d call my brother Dan, or more often my brother-in-law, Mitch, who would tell me to make my “honey-do” list and he’d be over to fix everything in one shot. Mitch is the kind of guy you could call at 3 am if you were in trouble and he’d be there to rescue you. But more often than I called on him, I called on God. “God, you said you’d be my husband. Would you help me fix this problem?” And always, without fail, He’d give me a nudge, an instinct, a thought on what was wrong and how to fix it. I feel secure knowing I have a Supernatural Fixer on-call 24/7. God is like that. He cares about every detail of our lives. And why not? He created us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. What’s not to trust? Yet it took me years to learn to trust Him. It’s part of this life of faith we have to live. We can’t see Him, but we know He’s there. We prefer relationships with “skin on” but what if this Spirit relationship is the most real thing there is?

Having read in the manual that the washing machine would not operate with the lid open (although it was closed, I had opened it a couple times to check the water levels and that’s when it quit working), I banged the washer lid closed a couple more times and, voilá, it hummed to life. It felt like kicking tires or fist-pounding a jukebox but it worked. Yay! Thank you, Husband! I called Bev and told her all was well and we were both relieved.

Lord, bless this home I am staying in. Bless my cousins who casually mentioned I could stay here and were unknowingly swept up into your plan for me. Bless my friends who encouraged me and called me all along the journey to get here. May everything I touch be blessed here: people, places, and things. May I be so filled with your Spirit that doorways swing open and lives are changed, especially my own. Like the priest at The Little Portions Monastery prayed over me when I went up for the communion blessing, “May the Lord bless you and may all your prayers be answered.” I received that as though God Himself had spoken audibly to me. Because He’s like that.

Keep me safe, O God,
    for I have come to you for refuge.
I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!
   Every good thing I have comes from you.”
Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
You guard all that is mine.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
What a wonderful inheritance!

   Psalm 16: 1,2,5,6 (NLT)

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One thought on “The Professional Guest: Destination Naples, Florida

  1. Thank you for reminding me of those sweltering summer days when it’s so hot your sunglasses slide down your nose! That’s when you jump in!

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