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  • Writer's pictureMiranda

Florida Fellowship & Good Finds

We took a break from the road for a few weeks, returning home to celebrate Christmas with family and friends. This was on the “Must Have” list when we started planning our adventure. We got our white Christmas, arriving home to a 14-inch snowfall, and had an opportunity to do all the things we love about Minnesota winters: skating, sledding, downhill skiing, and ice fishing. When we returned to Florida on January 13, it was with an additional licensed driver as Mallory had turned 16 and passed her driver’s test.


Harvey was waiting for us back in Orlando. I was having difficulty finding a storage unit for the three weeks we were planning to be gone, but then learned that some KOAs will store your RV. So that is what we did, leaving it in good hands and at a safe place.


It wouldn’t take long, just one day, before we were joined by a childhood friend of mine, from Michigan, and her family. We had rented a home together for our families to share and enjoy, but hit a snag when Harvey and our trailer weren’t allowed in the gated community. Mind you, I had verified before booking and after for any special parking instructions. We had a few stressful hours scrambling to find a place to park our RV. In the end, the person in charge of the community allowed us to park at the tennis courts while she “searched” for storage options nearby. By the time the Mulheron family arrived, we had sorted everything out, settled in and even taken a dip in the pool.


Although we only see each other once or twice a year our kids are the same ages (opposite genders), our values are similar, and we have a laid back approach that makes our time together always fun and relaxing! Sharing meals, playing basketball and mini-golf, hanging by the pool, and exploring the Kissimmee area filled our days. We also got introduced to the world of Harry Potter. For many families this has been a staple, but the Anderson’s were late to the party. With a day at Universal Studios planned that featured rides and experiences from Harry Potter, a little orientation was necessary. We spent evenings watching the first four movies in the series.



As the Mulheron family flew home, we headed south to Pine Island, near Fort Myers. The fellowship continued meeting up with a neighbor from Minnesota for a day in Cape Coral to see his 32-foot sailboat, share a meal, watch some football, and swim in the pool at a VRBO he is a care taker for in the winter. We also connected with YMCA “family” member Natalie and Terry as they welcomed us for a day in Fort Myers walking the beach, riding jet skis in the Gulf, and sharing dinner and conversation for hours.



This time spent together is good and something that our family loves. Our small group studied the book “Table Life” by Joanne Thompson a few years ago. The premise being that time spent together in fellowship over a meal is where relationship happens. Conversations can go deeper and connection occurs. The Andersons, we love people and enjoy having people to our dinner table. This is something we had been lacking on this adventure, but in Florida we got our cup filled in this way many times over!


We also had some really great finds…

  • I found that I like roller coasters. I hadn’t been on one in nearly twenty years due to being pregnant, having a little one to take to the kiddy rides, and honestly a bit of a fear of them. But at Universal Studios I joined everyone else in the weightless upside-down, stomach dropping experience. We rode all the big kid rides multiple times from park open to close!

  • At Sanibel Island we arrived at Bowman Beach during low tide to find shells and sea glass. We spent the remainder of the day visiting two other beaches for sunning, shelling and fishing. We found it interesting as we have visited beaches along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts the changing variety of sand and shells.



  • Twenty shark teeth were found using tools (scoop and hand-made sifters) borrowed from a local. It was a cool, overcast and windy day but after talking to a couple at church that morning we knew we had to give shark tooth hunting a try. We spent a couple hours at Casperson Beach just south of Venice, FL, where Ben braved the wavy Gulf waters to scoop shells, and hopefully shark teeth, from the break line. While Chuck, Kate and I sifted through them in search of the small, black pointed teeth. Mallory held the bag to keep it from blowing away.



  • Chuck found himself onstage at the KOA karaoke night receiving a standing ovation after singing Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA. After a personal invitation for a repeat performance at the Legion karaoke the following night, we obliged and dined on $4 hamburger and chili dog baskets with the locals as Chuck sang again.

  • Finally, we found a new battery for the RV in Cape Coral after ours was dead when we tried to leave the KOA. After a jump from the maintenance guy at the campground and help replacing the battery in the parking lot of the parts store, we were back on the road headed to St. Petersburg, FL, to stay with the Johnson family.


The Johnson’s were fellow 4th grade teachers with Chuck at Baxter school. They have been mentors for us as we planned for our adventure since they had done a similar trek 12 years earlier with a tow camper, five kids elementary age and younger, and three dogs! They knew the need for getting a break from the RV and welcomed us to join their family in Treasure Island Beach on the canal with a view of the Gulf coast just a block away. Our days were comfortable with school and work occurring in the mornings and beach fun fishing, skim boarding and shelling in the afternoons. Our group of 12 took to a local disc golf course where Daniel and Christopher graciously lent each of us a disc or two as we played 18 holes through the palmettos and palm trees. Evenings included a shared meal and fellowship, devotions and ice cream. Hot tubing, ping pong, foosball, cards, Wii games as well as watching and catching fish and crabs swimming in the canal. Our friendship grew during these days and connections were made that will no doubt continue when both our families return to the Brainerd Lakes area this summer.



We loaded up in the RV once again, refreshed and with clean laundry, driving north to Crystal River, FL. The area is known for the manatees that winter in the Kings Bay springs. My sister Lesa and her husband had visited the area three years earlier and offered us advice for making the most of our experience. We waited until the best weather day, 80 degrees and sunny, to rent kayaks and paddle boards to explore the bays and channels on our own. These large “water elephants”, as Kate called them, were surprisingly fast but easy to spot as the water was clear and relatively shallow. In all, we saw nearly 100 manatees including babies swimming closely to their mothers. Our close encounters took place in a sandy area away from other groups along a canal where manatee were swimming to and from nearby springs. To get a closer look Chuck, Kate and Ben floated on top of the water with snorkel masks on as Mallory and I spotted the manatee and boats (to avoid) coming and going. It was a beautiful day!



Our other days were spent in the nearby community of Tarpon Springs, a Greek settlement known for sponge harvesting as well as authentic Greek food. Chuck and Ben spent a day on a fishing charter 40 miles out into the Gulf for a successful day catching sheepshead, grouper, red snapper, grunts, and puffer fish. Ben proudly caught the largest fish of the day and the guide was delighted to have “actual fishermen” with him who could bait their own hook and take off fish.



At the campground Chuck and kids joined the morning pickle ball crowd. Kate was a favorite among the grandmas and grandpas even though she was always out for the win. Her and Chuck went 5-0 one morning. She’s got that Anderson competitive spirit.



The kids made friends quickly and easily in the pool and basketball court. One of the families we connected with amazed Chuck and I as it was single mom with six kids from Utah who had been on the road for the past three years. A year into their journey her husband passed away but they were determined to continue and finish their goal of visiting all 50 states. They have 7 states left. Mal took to the “babies” who were spunky little girls’ ages 4 and 5, Ben and Kate played with the “boys” who were close to their ages at 11 and 13, and the older girls were 16 and 18. We exchanged experiences and life hacks of living life and doing school on the road.


Seeing an opportunity to bless their family, we offered to have the younger four kids spend the evening with us for dinner, campfire and games so the mom and two older daughters could have a grown up evening out. They jumped at the offer which included taking our Explorer since they only had their Class C motorhome and bikes for transportation. We were able to enjoy “table life” conversations with the boys and fresh fish cooked over the campfire in a cast iron skillet and roasted marshmallows for dessert.



Our two final stops in Florida were in the panhandle: a campground on the Gulf in Panacea and a Harvest Host lavender farm just north of Panama City. We found our first alligators on the Jungle Cruise in Wakulla Springs State Park – we highly recommend this Park which was the filming location of Tarzan and Creature from the Black Lagoon. If you go, request the boat with the singing Park Ranger originally from Nashville!


The rehabilitation and touch tanks at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab and Aquarium was worth the four-mile bike ride Kate and I took to get there while Chuck, Ben and Mallory did some shore fishing back at the campground. Finally, Mission by the Sea Church was a small but welcoming congregation, or as they like to say family, that gave a shout out to our family from the pulpit and invited us to join them after the service for food and fellowship. This included a full brunch buffet of home-made breakfast quiche and cinnamon rolls.



We have definitely found the intentional incorporation of fellowship with others into our adventure makes it much sweeter! As we bid farewell to Florida we are headed west...


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2 Comments


bernice.rohde
Feb 16, 2022

What a great adventure! Florida is a state with a lot to offer. Glad you met great folks to share it with. 🏖

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demink
Feb 15, 2022

Thanks for sharing your wonderful adventures with all of us! Safe travels.

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