Happy Florida Day!

That’s what my son calls it. Florida Day.

On June 1, 1998 we arrived in Florida. I was married to my first husband. We were both born and raised in Chicago and we both had a dream to move to the state with palm trees and seemingly eternal sunshine. He was “Disney specific” as I always referred to it. His family went there on vacations throughout his childhood, and he had a very specific dream of living and working there. I had grandparents that retired to St. Pete when I was seven and went on enough trips to get me hooked.

They had no winter with snow and cold. No shoveling just to get your car out into the street to go to work. There were beaches that went on forever, and crystal clear swimming pools that were open year round! Turquoise skies with perfect white fluffy clouds… It was summer every day.

I remember being thirteen and my grandma sent me a ticket for Spring Break. McDonald’s had just come out with Chicken McNuggets and we did the drive thru. I opened my box and there were seven nuggets instead of the six we always had in Chicago. I’m sure it was probably a mistake. But to my young enthusiastic mind, I thought “Wow! Florida is so great you even get seven nuggets!” Hahaha

Back in 1995 we sat at our kitchen table and discussed our future for our little family. We were really broke. We talked about giving it five years, and if nothing was any different by then we could be broke in Florida! The following year we moved back in with my mother-in-law when she got too sick to work and was scared she would lose her house. I thought we were saying goodbye to our dream. Sadly, she passed away in 1997 and we couldn’t keep her house without her. So we decided it was time. We would leave the following spring as soon as the kids got out of school.

When we arrived in Florida we had big plans. And from the moment we parked the moving truck, everything began to fall apart. Our apartment was given away to someone else and we were downgraded to a different complex. We didn’t feel it was safe for our children so we went to a hotel with our money order deposit made out to the management company. Now we had no place to live and a rental truck (filled with our belongings) that had to be returned in a couple of days. It was a test of our determination to make it work, and we did.

I can still remember standing on the curb outside the 7-11 and looking at Tom next to our little red Dodge Caravan filled with kids. I told him “This is the moment. Right here, right now, we either go back home or we figure this out. But we need to decide and commit.” We both agreed we had come too far to go back. We were all in.

It got worse before it got better. But it definitely got better. And we never regretted following our hearts. Florida was my home for 19 years before I left in 2017 to follow my heart once more. Every year on June 1st my son tells the whole family "Happy Florida Day!" and we are all reminded that it only takes a decision to follow your heart and make your dreams come true.

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Dear JoDi,

I am really proud of you. You are ever-growing, ever-learning, and ever-expanding. You do not look backwards- only forward- full steam ahead. This is a very big deal. You come from a long line of “han