Sherry’s Mom turned 90 years old on April 28! We were lucky to be able to spend the month of April with her in Shreveport, Louisiana. To celebrate her birthday we took her and her friend Kyoko out to dinner.
Of course being 90 and living on your own presents challenges even if your mind is clear. Mom tires easily and doesn’t have the strength she once had. We were able to talk her into getting her almost bare roof replaced. Since her house is small, it only took four hours.
Sherry’s brother Glenn who lives in Houston came for a visit. We had not seen him since the start of the pandemic.
Besides helping Sherry’s Mom weed her yard, plant a few tomato plants and take her shopping, we were able to take a few day trips on our own. We made a visit to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage, TX and the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, TX.
Having aging parents that want to continue to live independently is challenging. The conversations we have with Sherry’s Mom about moving to a safe and care-free retirement village or moving in with family result in anger and frustration. She wants any decision to move to be on her terms. So we hope to honor her wishes as long as it is safe to do so and continue to make frequent trips to Shreveport.
Our friends Jim and Brenda suggested that we visit Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida. It is a National Historic Landmark created in 1923 by Edward Bok, an author and editor of The Ladies’ Home Journal. Bok who had a winter retreat in Lake Wales purchased land on nearby Iron Mountain to transform into a sweeping landscape of lush gardens featuring a majestic Singing Tower housing a 60-bell carillon. He commissioned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead Jr, famous for landscaping of the White House and many of the memorials in Washington, D.C. to design the gardens. The results are a beautiful, peaceful sanctuary for both humans and wildlife.
Bok commissioned a Philadelphian architect, Milton Medary to design the carillon tower. He in turn selected a skilled sculptor, metal worker and tile maker to create an art deco and neo-Gothic tower built with a steel frame structure encased in beautiful coquina stone from St. Augustine, Florida, and pink and gray marble from Tate, Georgia. The Tower features sculpted finials, balconies, an arched entranceway, and elaborately carved screens, friezes, tiles, metalwork and sundial.
We were fortunate to visit the garden on a day that featured several carillon concerts. Here is one performance.
During our travels we have visited several homes and buildings built by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Our favorite is Taliesin the home, school and studio Wright built near Spring Green, Wisconsin where he grew up. If you are ever in that area, Taliesin is worth a visit.
When we learned that the largest collection of buildings on one site created by Wright existed at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, we had to visit!
The 90 minute guided tour first took us to the Usonian faculty house. Usonian is an architectural style created by Wright to provide a simple, stylish small house of moderate cost designed especially for the American middle class.
Located in the heart of the campus, the Pfeiffer Chapel – with its iconic, 65-foot-tall bell tower – would be the nation’s first college chapel with an architecturally modern design, its interior defined by massive vaulted skylights framing the natural heavens above.
The Danforth Chapel, a smaller meditation chapel was built later.
Other buildings designed by Wright are the administration building, library, science building, the circular Water Dome and industrial arts building. Because Florida has a rainy season, he designed a system of covered walkways connecting his buildings known as The Esplanade that winds one and a half miles through campus.
Wright designed a building system using tapestry blocks made of concrete mixing in native sands and crushed shells. The concrete blocks had colored pieces of glass embedded that sparkled like jewels in the sunlight.
Geometric thematic elements echo throughout the campus such as cutouts in the roof of the esplanades that resemble butterfly wings and columns that resemble abstract citrus trees stamped in poured concrete.
For many generations the wealthy made Florida their seasonal home so the state has many historic mansions that are open to the public. We were able to visit a few.
In Sarasota the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art is a 66 acre complex that includes the State Art Museum of Florida, Circus Museum, Ca’ d’Zan mansion, and Bayfront Gardens.
John Ringling was one of the five brothers who owned and operated the circus rightly called “The Greatest Show on Earth.” His success with the circus and entrepreneurial skills helped to make him, in the Roaring Twenties, one of the richest men in America. In 1911, John and his wife, Mable, purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota. In 1912, they began spending winters in what was then still a small town. They became active in the community and purchased more and more real estate. In 1922 they built a Venetian style mansion on Sarasota Bay that has 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms. It was named Ca’ d’ Zan which means “House of John” in the Venetian dialect. You can only tour the first floor.
Because John and Mabel Ringling loved to buy fine art as they travelled the world, they built a significant collection. After their mansion was completed, John built a 21 gallery museum to house the treasure trove of paintings and art objects, highlighted by his collection of Old Masters, including Velazquez, Poussin, van Dyke and Rubens.
By the time of his death in 1936, John Ringling had lost most of his fortune during the depression. Once one of the world’s wealthiest men, it is said he died with only $311 in the bank. He willed his Sarasota mansion, the museum, and his entire art collection to the state of Florida. In 1948, the Museum’s first Director used Ringling memorabilia to open the first Circus Museum. It showcases equipment, posters, historic films from the circus and there is a huge miniature model of the circus.
The museum complex fell into disrepair until 2000 when the state passed governance of the museum to the University of Florida. The state and the university raised funds to repair and restore all the buildings to how they look today. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit!
In Fort Myers we visited the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The sign gives a short history of how both men came to build homes in Florida.
Both estates sit along the Caloosahatchee River surrounded by beautiful flowers, trees and tall palms. You cannot enter either home but can look through doorways into the rooms of the first floor. The photos below are of Edison’s home.
Ford’s home, The Mangoes, is next door. It is a Craftsman bungalow and inside has a more rustic look.
In addition to the estates there is the Edison Ford Museum that focuses on the lives of these two men and their innovations that improved society.
You can also visit Edison’s Botanic Research laboratory where Edison worked to find an American source for rubber.
A very unique structure in Ona, Florida which is in the middle of nowhere is Solomon’s Castle. Howard Solomon, an artist from New York bought 40 acres in Florida and built this home by hand in the 70’s. The castle is covered in a shiny skin of repurposed aluminum printing plates, pressed to look like chiseled stone. The structure features multiple towers and turrets, a dungeon, a drawbridge, a lighthouse and a wide moat, where Solomon built a 65-foot-long replica of a Spanish galleon. The ship’s interior houses the Boat in the Moat, a restaurant. We have never heard of Howard Solomon but apparently he is world renowned for his art and sculptures made of recycled materials of all kinds. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside the castle where much of his work is displayed.
Thanks to Florida’s natural underground aquifer, about 800 billion gallons of water flow through limestone to bubble up to form more than 700 of the natural springs in the state every single day. That’s the largest collection anywhere on earth! During previous trips to Florida we saw several springs; this year we visited more.
De Leon Springs located in a state park was once a tourist attraction with a resort hotel, boat cruise, swimming area and show including a waterskiing elephant. The swimming area still exists and you can still take a boat tour.
We returned to Three Sister’s Springs where we volunteered in fall of 2019. The Manatee Festival was occurring, it was crowded with people! We saw some manatees and our friend Kim who returned to volunteer at Crystal River Wildlife Refuge this year.
Manatee Springs State Park is home to a smaller spring with a small swimming area, a boardwalk taking you through thick cypress groves to the Suwannee River.
Fanning Springs State Park, another park with a small spring once had a diving platform above the swimming area. The swimming area still exists. We saw two manatees enjoying the warm water.
We visited several springs by kayaking on the Sante Fe River with friends Jim and Lynae. You can see the springs by the change in water color from brown to blue.
With the numerous springs that Florida has to offer one can say, “So many springs, so little time”. We hope to visit them all one day.
We have switched our blog from Weebly to WordPress. We decided to do this because we were experiencing glitches, mostly with photo errors when publishing a blogpost on Weebly. We hope using WordPress will be easier to navigate. We aren’t sure what happened to all the past Weebly posts as they didn’t transfer over to WordPress. They are probably floating somewhere out there in the universe!
That being said, we are still in Florida. We left our volunteer position at Barberville Pioneer Settlement in January moving to a campground closer to Gainesville where our medical doctors are located. We are happy to say that our appointments went well! And now we are in South Central Florida exploring the area before leaving the state in early April.