Friday, July 31, 2015

What is it really like to live in Florida?

Moving from the Midwest to Florida, I had certain expectations. Some good. Others bad.

I looked forward to throwing away my down coat and my plastic ice scraper. I worried about humidity and hurricanes. Well, I've been here for six months now - January through July - and I have a much better idea of what there is to love (and maybe not love as much) about my new home.

What you give up...

1) Grass Lawns. The grass in our Florida front yard is crab grass. They have all sorts of fancy names for it here, but it is definitely the stuff we tried hard to kill in the Midwest. This is weedy, finnicky grass. The ground is sandy. Even after what seemed like a drenching downpour, the sand appears untouched and parched. Yes, we do have green lawns - but if you look closely you can see the difference.

2) Seasons. Perhaps my biggest shock was to give up any semblance of seasons. I remember stopping at a restaurant in December and hearing a Christmas carol. Why are they playing Christmas music now? I wondered. Then I was Christmastime. Every month feels like June or July. There are seasons but they they are much more subtle. Leaves fall off trees, flowers bloom, but they seem completely random. My internal clock is messed up. I miss family birthdays and holidays surprise me. What month is this anyway?

3) Boots and Wool Jackets. Being from Chicago, I have a huge assortment of winter clothing. I love my tall leather boots and my fuzzy sweaters. I adore scarves and hats. But now, I have very limited time to wear them. They are still in my closet, but shoved to the very back. I sorted through a giant tub of socks and tights and threw most of them out. I had ten pairs of black knee highs. I had a fleece lined pair of tights - fleece lined!!! That's how cold it got during my Chicago commute. Now I wear shorts. Shorts. All the time.

4) Pizza. They will tell you they have pizza here. There are neon "pizza" signs that beckon you as you drive up and down the coast. But they lie. This is not pizza. This is soggy, floppy cheese pie. My husband is in serious Chicago pizza withdrawal - not for the deep dish kind (which I do love on occasion), but for the crisp, thin crust, cut in squares with Italian sausage type. Sigh.

What you gain . . .

1) Sunshine. I always experienced a bit of seasonal depression from January until March. It was not just the freezing snow and ice, but the gloom. I'd look at the grey cloudy sky and long for just one peek of sun. Now I've gotten my wish. Every day. It is sunny in Florida. Really sunny. It is also lush and green. For some reason I thought too much sunshine would result in parched lawns. In Chicago, my August lawn looked dead and brown. Here, everything grows like wild - all the time. It is like we live in a tropical forest. We chop things down, and they resurrect.

2) Beach. Perhaps I should say nature, but the beach is one of the main reasons that this is a very outdoorsy place. People are active. They kayak. They bike. They fish. They surf. They walk up and down the beach. They run. They have racks and racks of sporty clothing in the stores. Maybe it's the overabundance of serotonin from so much sunlight, or maybe it's the natural beauty that surrounds. I can walk to the Halifax River (one block to the west of my house) or the Atlantic Ocean (one and half blocks to the East). There is a huge state park just one mile north. Nature beckons me. The beach calms me. If I'm ever feeling stressed, just sitting on the great expanse of the beach and staring at the ocean waves calms me. I did not have this in my Chicago suburb.

3) Calm. I am used to a frantic pace of life. I had 49 years in Chicago where we "go, go, go." I commuted to my job - one and a half hours each way - by car, then train, then walking. And suddenly I reached Florida, and life slowed to a halt. It is quieter here. People don't hurry. That has its upside and its downside. Contractors are not in a hurry to get their jobs done. But people also stop to talk and smile and relax. I am gradually adjusting to this pace of life. It is small towny and quaint. There are two traffic lights and one train crossing. There is not much crime. Maybe everyone is sedated by the lapping sound of waves.

There are pros and cons of living in Florida. I was warned about cost of living and unemployment. I was warned about living in a land of retirees. But overall my worst fears were misplaced. This is a town like any other. It has its downside. It has its perks.

I'm quite happy with our move - six months in. And I'm all in. I've thrown out my gigantic, floor-length, grey, poofy down coat. I've purchased six pairs of shorts and am now sporting a persistent tan.

Do I miss Chicago? Yes. I always will.

But I am enjoying our new coastal Florida home.
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