What makes you unique? I was asked a variation of that very broad, daunting question as my prompt for a recent guest post. After much soul searching, I listed as many creative influences about my life as I could. Soon, I noticed a pattern, not only in my life, but in my personality. I’m quite the study in contracts. A delicate balance of Yin Yang, if you will. For my post, I chose to write about 5 unique life lessons among those that shaped me most.
Here’s the beginning…
Professional worrywart. Dedicated dreamer. Introvert. Adventurer. Stickler for details. Dancer to her own tune. Basically, if Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood had a love child, she’d be me.
5 Unique Life Lessons
Baby of the Family/First-Born: I’m the baby girl in a family with five children, five-and-a-half years younger than my parents’ third child and the older of two youngest children by two-and-a-half years. In effect, I was bossed around and cared for by older siblings, while I alternately envied and ignored my little brother. The dynamics changed when I was twelve. With the older ones off at college, I grew into his responsible, caring older sister.
Loving Family/Mean Girls: As the fourth kid in a large family surrounded by oodles of aunts, uncles, and cousins in a ten minute radius, I grew up with love and built-in friendships. Then there was my school life, a haven when my family encountered a rough patch. At other times, thirteen years in class with the same thirty kids could spell trouble…
There’s more to the story over on Eri Nelson’s blog. Hop on over to “What Makes Me Unique as an Author,” where you can read the article in its entirety. Then be sure to stop back here and tell me what you think.
What’s one life event you feel plays a significant role in what and how you (or others) may choose to create?
NCC BOOK SIGNING What a fun evening at Nassau Community College Foundation’s annual Ladies’ Night Out, “Cocktails and Couture.” I enjoyed meeting so many great people and chatting books, chocolate, writing, and relationships (ha!) as one of the event’s vendors providing exclusive shopping opportunities.
For those of you visiting here now for the first time–either because you met me at the event or elsewhere, feel free to take a look around the site. On my books page, you can read sample chapters, listen to readings of selected excerpts, and locate buy links.
I love to connect with readers online as well as in person, so don’t hesitate to find me over on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. In addition to my passion for writing, I’m a voracious reader. Please connect with me on Goodreads if you’re there!
VLOGGING FUN Here’s a scene from ONE MORE TOUCH where Willow makes good on her vow to shed her inhibitions. Figuring it’s now or never, she wears the itty bitty thong bikini bottom she finds inside her magic suitcase…and nothing else. Before she can change her mind, she steps outside her resort suite and onto the Wild Side Beach. Watch this short video to discover what happens when she realizes the hottie billionaire she’s fantasized about the past few months back home and just kissed earlier that morning is one of the people welcoming her into the Wild Side hot tub…
10+ of the most unique tropical plants you’ll ever see just might be located all in one place. As much as I enjoyed learning the history of the famous Old Town home, I was even more fascinated about the Audubon House’s surrounding flora. (If you missed my last blog post, you can check it out at Audubon House: 3 Surprising Facts About This Popular Attraction.) I’m so excited to finally share these beauties with you!
Tropical Plants: The Flowers
Tropical Plants: Two Cool Trees
If you’ve ever wondered where limes grow, look no further. The Audubon House grounds have two types of lime trees. There’s the Spanish Lime and the Key Lime. The fruit above is the same kind used to make one of Key West’s famous Key Lime Pie. Yum!
I thought it was cool to see this banana tree plant, too. Us northern types don’t often get to see a plant like this in person.
So, that’s the end of my little tour of some of the most unique tropical flora you’ll likely ever find in one locale. I hope you enjoyed. Feel free to share your pretty flower and plant photos in the comments section.
A Few More Audubon Tropical Garden Photos
If you love photos of pretty flowers and want more, follow me on Instagram where I post all my best pics from my outdoor explorations near and far. All photos are taken with my Samsung Galaxy 6 Phone Camera. And in case you’re curious, most are cropped but few are filtered. Nature is beautiful enough without me messing with it. 😉
Before You Go!
In book news, I’m thrilled to announce that Book 1 in my Mystic Escapes series has re-released as of today, a light romantic suspense with a dash of magic. Check out One More Sunset, this Key West-set short novel, or any of my contemporary romance books at my Books Page.
John Audubon never lived at the Audubon House. In fact, none of his relatives ever resided there, either. It turns out that the home was built by John H. Geiger. He lived in it with his family, and it was handed down through the generations to their descendants until the mid-1900s. At that time, the house was sold to a Key West native, and it was they who decided to convert it into a museum honoring the famed bird naturalist.
Flamingo tongue was a delicacy served to the Geiger’s house guestsupon their visits. However, the black cormorant was likely the meat they feasted on the most, since it was said to be “the best bird to eat, much like the black duck of the north” according to Henry A Patterson’s diary. I found that historical tidbit a tad ironic, considering the Audubon Society’s mission has always focused on the protection of waterfowl populations. But I can’t be too upset with the Geigers for that particular transgression. After all, they did serve their guests wine from a really cool wine chest.
Women who lived at the Audubon house enjoyed a life of luxury. According to a letter written by Ellen Anderson in 1849 and later published in Echoes From a Distant Frontier, she woke up between 6-7 AM, ate a leisurely breakfast made by her servants, then taught the children for about an hour before she sewed. Dinner was at 2 PM. After her meal, she would go out and return at 6 PM for the family’s last meal of the day. Of course, her day wasn’t complete without another stroll around the piazzas.
Perhaps Mrs. Anderson’s description shouldn’t have caught me by surprise, but it did. Key West was isolated during the 1800s, but apparently the wealthy family managed to create a pampered lifestyle. Of course, their servants’ lives were a harsh contrast, and it struck me that Key West hasn’t always been known as a proponent of their present-day “One Human Family” motto. Then, too, I was reminded of Hemingway’s novel, To Have and Have Not, which featured prominently in my heroine’s adventures in One More Sunset. (Scroll down for One More Sunset‘s big cover reveal in anticipation of its re-release October 3rd.)
Next time we’ll trek outside the property and explore the flora of the Audubon House’s Tropical Gardens, my absolute favorite part of the grounds.
Final Winner of Summer of Love Giveaway
Congratulations to Denise H.! You’re the winner of my fourth and final Summer of Love Giveaway. Contact me to receive your autographed copy of Jennifer Gracen’s paperback book, Someone Like You and assorted Jolyse Barnett swag. Thanks again to everyone who entered. I enjoyed spreading a little summer love and I wish you all a wonderful autumn.
One More Sunset Big Cover Reveal!
I’m so excited to share the first piece of my romantic suspense’s brand new, beautiful cover! What do you think? Eager to see more? I promise there are more pieces to reveal throughout the day. See you later!
“She drank him in like the first sip of caffeine on a groggy morning, sunshine filling her soul. If she were greedy when it came to Dylan, then so be it. She wanted him. “
“I’m here for you Abby. You’re not going to scare me away.”
Was that a catch she heard in his voice? She opened the truck door, plopped onto the leather seat, and promptly burst into tears. Great, he’d totally ruined everything. He was too damned sweet. With her luck, she’d fall for him like she had from that infernal machine. Hard.
“The elevator stopped, and the doors slid open. She stared at a man running down the hall toward her. Her hair stood on end, and she held her breath, unable to think, unable to look away. Was it him? She jabbed the elevator button again and again, each press of her finger using more force than the last. Close. Close. Close. Should she have walked the three flights instead? She shuddered, recalling another stairwell in another building not long ago… No, the stairs weren’t any safer.”
Abby trailed her hand down his tan, muscled back. Manual labor agreed with him. Dylan was even more gorgeous in the early morning light, his hair mussed and face scruffy. She gazed at his peaceful expression, tempted to kiss the freckles on the bridge of his nose but unwilling to wake him.
Now it’s your turn. Did you experience any surprises during your travels this past summer?
Wedding idea needed for you or a loved one? If you’re thinking about a destination wedding, and the bride adores books and cats, then Key West might be a great option. There are many pros about choosing the Conch Republic for this special event, such as:
it’s within US
it’s known for its embracing, inclusive view toward marriage
it has a variety of venues, lodgings, and activities for guests
it’s also a great honeymoon destination–saving on travel expenses and time
Wedding venues galore!
Over our many getaways to the westernmost Florida Key, my Honey and I have met many newlyweds who married on the island. Most planned to celebrate their entire honeymoon there, too. I always tease my husband that I want to get married to him again, but say that this time we’d do it in Key West. I even promise, er, threaten, to wear my original wedding dress. I know my daughter wouldn’t consider wearing it in a million years. So, why not?
Wedding in Key West
We’ve observed sunset weddings on the Southernmost Beach while we lounged in our swimsuits, and witnessed brides and their entourages as they gathered at the Key West Historic Seaport. Later, we’d see the festive groups depart on a rented yacht while we dined in our T-shirts and shorts nearby at Turtle Kraals.
We’ve been celebrating the sunset and enjoying the free entertainment at Mallory Square with the rest of the crowed while a couple tied the knot at one of the waterside resorts. Their celebration would be separated from non-guests by a satin rope.
Perhaps that explains why I half-expected to hear a couple reciting their vows at the legendary property while we were touring Hemingway’s house. I mean, it could happen. Right? Well, apparently not. According to our tour guide, weddings and other special events only occur there in the evening hours, AFTER the museum tours are done for the day. It’s such a tropical and tranquil spot, secluded from the noise of Duval Street and filled with legend, history, and happy cats. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the concept. What a great wedding idea!
Hmm. Now I might not be able to convince my husband to marry me again, but perhaps he’d agree to a book release party there someday, and I’d invite all my reader friends to join us. Wouldn’t that be cool?
In addition to the wedding pagoda, you will also find forty-five or so well-cared-for cats that roam the tropical-landscaped property, a gorgeous backyard pool I told you all about in Pool at 907 Whitehead (maybe that’s when they make use of the pool?), and an on-site pet cemetery. The last isn’t such a happy thought, but I figured I’d mention it since it highlights the love Hemingway and his descendants had for their feline pets.
Wedding idea chat…
It’s your turn. Let’s chat weddings. Mine was in the Adirondacks on a chilly April afternoon–complete with snow flurries! You might want to share:
Congratulations to TERESA FORDICE! You’re the lucky winner of Patty Blount’s YA romance, TMI, and assorted Patty Blount and Jolyse Barnett swag! Contact me via my website contact page to confirm your mailing address. (I used List Randomizer at random.org to select the winning entry.) Thanks to everyone who participated. I enjoy blogging, but enjoy reading your comments even more. <3
Enter the Summer of Love Giveaway #2
You never know what you’ll find behind the wall of a closed up fireplace.
Emma Hopkins is a recently divorced chimney sweep trying to make it in a man’s world. When she wins a huge job in Brooklyn Heights , she finds more than she bargains for; a sexy general contractor who makes her blood boil and an evil spirit who wants her dead.
Ryan Atkinson struggles to keep his once-successful general contracting business alive, but horrors in his past have made him a shell of the man he once was. Now he has to face those fears to save Emma from a murderous ghost hell-bent on revenge.
Together, Ryan and Emma become ghost hunting partners, hoping to solve the mystery behind Ruby’s letters. What they uncover is a one-hundred year old murder and a budding love that can’t be denied.
This is truly one of the sweetest romances I’ve ever read. A real gem!
Maggie Van Well is another blessing in my life since I began writing professionally six years ago, one of my Long Island Romance Writers pals, and a great personal friend, as well. If you’re not into ghost story romances (although I think you’d love this one, too), she also writes contemporary romances. Learn more at Maggie Van Well.com.
So…before you go, leave a comment about today’s final Hemingway House post and you’ll be entered for a chance to win the second of my Summer of Love giveaways! This week’s prize for one USA resident who leaves a blog comment features an autographed copy of Maggie Van Well’s RUBY’S LETTERS. The gift package will also include a few surprises, including Jolyse Barnett swag. I’m excited to do my small part in spreading a little summer love!
One winner will be selected at random from the comments and announced in next Monday’s blog post. Winner will have one week to contact me via my website contact page and supply a valid US mailing address for the package to be mailed. Otherwise, a new winner will be selected. Thanks for playing and have a wonderful week!
Pool time? The swimming pool at 907 Whitehead Street in Key West, Florida was the first in-ground one built on the island. Sixty-four feet long and twenty-four feet wide, it was an engineering feat for its time.
But that isn’t the most fascinating aspect of this pool…
Like most stories related to Ernest Hemingway, who lived there with his second wife, Pauline, and their children from 1931-1940, there’s an air of mystery surrounding how the pool came to be. And as the tour guide spoke about it, many of the phrases he used to describe the structure reminded me of the writer, too.
Over-the-top. Unique. Extravagant. Innovative.
But interestingly, as much as it reflects the late author’s persona, a swimming pool wasn’t Ernest’s first choice for his tropical backyard. Apparently a boxing ring was his idea of fun, because shortly after they moved into the house, he installed one so he could practice his amateur boxing skills on a regular basis. Of course, he invited his friends to watch.
Can you imagine looking out your window into what you’d envisioned would be your tranquil, tropical-set backyard and seeing a bunch of rough, sweaty guys cheering on your husband as he exchanges punches? From my research about Pauline, I don’t think she would sit byou and say nothing. It had been her uncle’s money that had allowed them to acquire the property in the first place, and she had two impressionable young boys. Would she want them exposed to the language and violence that went along with the sport?
I doubt it.
So, while the tour guide expounded on the history of the pool, I could hear Ernest pleading his case with Pauline while she complained about her yard being used as a boxing venue. He’d cite his hard work and need for a place to kick back with the guys. She wasn’t happy about when he left for the bar. Wasn’t it better he hung out at home? Pauline would point out that he went to the bar every afternoon anyway, and that he had the writing studio hogging a sizable chunk of the family backyard. Why not make the rest of it a place where they all could entertain their friends?
As I forced myself back to the present, the tour guide told us the pool had been Ernest’s idea and not Pauline’s. Hmm. Perhaps that’s true, but I still wonder whether her input might’ve been the impetus for his decision to replace that eyesore of a boxing ring with an elegant pool. Or, maybe it was Ernest’s idea. He did suggest it just prior to heading off to Europe as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War. Maybe he figured that overseeing the enormous project would keep her occupied and happy. Whatever the case, the boxing ring was moved off the property to make way for the new backyard focal point at 907 Whitehead.
Interesting facts about the year-long construction:
An initial estimated cost of eight thousand dollars
Intensive manual labor to dig the massive 64 feet by 24 feet hole through solid coral
intensive manual labor to dig and thread a pipe to the depth of the island’s water table
Actual cost was twenty thousand dollars
When Ernest returned home after the war, the guide said that the writer was angry to learn how much money Pauline had ended up paying for the swimming pool construction. And that since she seemed to be intent on spending every last penny he had, she might as well have it right then. In response, Pauline had the penny cemented into the patio. I looked down and saw see there was, in fact, an old coin in the pathway. Whether it was put there by Hemingway or his wife for that reason, or by someone else to perpetuate the legend, I suppose we’ll never know. But, it was an interesting detail of our tour.
Twenty thousand dollars is a lot of money, even in 2016, and I’m hopeful the Hemingway family got plenty of use out of their investment. I was happy to see many photos throughout the house that showed them swimming in it or entertaining friends while they lounged beside it. I should’ve asked the guide if anyone ever swims in the pool now. It’s gorgeous, and with Key West’s balmy weather, I feel like it ought to be.
I plan to learn the answer to that question when we return to Key West later this summer, since our balcony of our bed & breakfast king suite just happens to overlook the famous Hemingway pool. I kid you not. So, if you’re curious like me, stay tuned for the update.
Summer of Love Giveaway #1
I hope you enjoyed the very belated–but written with love–third installment about the Hemingway house in Key West, and that you’ll visit next week for the fourth and final one. If you missed the first two posts, or it has been so long that you’ve forgotten whether or not you read them, feel free to hop on over to Hemingway’s Key West Studio and Hemingway House’s Fun Facts and Six-Toed Cats.
Before you go, leave a comment about today’s Hemingway post so you’re entered for a chance to win the first of my Summer of Love paperback and romance author swag giveaways.
This week’s prize for one USA resident who leaves a comment features an autographed copy of award-winning author, Patty Blount’s YA novel, TMI! The gift package will also include a few surprises, including Patty Blount and Jolyse Barnett swag. I’m excited to do my small part to spread a little summer love!
One winner will be selected at random from the comments and announced in next Monday’s blog post. Winner will have one week to contact me via my website contact page or via my email address at email@example.com and supply a valid US snail mail address for the package to be mailed. Otherwise, a new winner will be selected.
Thank y’all for joining me in this week’s escape deep in the heart of Texas. Named after the Christian saint by the Spanish missionaries who founded it, San Antonio is seeped in history. This is the home of Texan and Native American museums, the Alamo, and–according to 10Best.com of USA Today Travel–the sixth best boat ride in the United States.
River Walk draws more than 1.5 million tourists each year. Winding paths run along a 2.5 mile stretch of luxurious hotels, thirty-two eateries, nightclubs, retail shops, and other entertainment. Completed in 2009, the newer Museum Reach cruise section added another 1.3 miles of walkways for tourists and locals alike to enjoy. Altogether, the actual San Antonio River and the human-made sections extend more than fifteen miles.
AND if you happen to take the cruise on a weekend evening, you may get lucky and see this:
If you love water and ocean life, you may enjoy kayaking. It’s quiet and laid-back, a perfect change of pace from the Duval Crawl nightlife.
You may opt for the kayak/snorkeling tour leaving from Key West Historic Seaport, which involves taking a motor boat out to The Lakes section of Key West Harbor where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf. Your guide will teach you all about the creatures swimming in the crystal clear waters beneath you, such as the nurse shark, a variety of tropical fish, and the delicate coral reef ecosystem. If you take the last tour of the day, you will have the added excitement of watching the famous sunset as you motor back to the marina.
Years ago, we enjoyed our kayaking tour. For this getaway, we chose to explore the backcountry. What a great choice! I learned more about the mangrove ecosystem in five minutes from Tortuga Jack of Downwind Tours than in all our years of travel to the Keys.
The double-crested cormorant isn’t a favorite of local fishermen as this excellent diver and fisher competes for the tastiest meals. Unlike most birds, this one doesn’t have waterproofing oil glands. When the cormorant dives into the water for its meal, its feathers become saturated. That’s why you’ll often see them perching in the sun, drying their feathers. I was excited to snap the shot (above) just as this creature took off.
The creature shown here on our kayak paddle is called a Cassiopeia. Like its namesake constellation that’s an upside-down M, this jellyfish floats along the current upside-down in Key West’s shallow waters. They can grow up to ten inches in diameter, but their poison is weak.
Living on Long Island, we are familiar with the horseshoe crab. What I didn’t know was that this ancient creature’s blood contains copper. This made the crab useful in scientific research and as fertilizer in the past.
Like most Floridian waters, the channel we traversed contains crocodiles. According to our guide, they are “elusive, exclusive, and seclusive.” We also learned from Tortuga Jack that crocs have ventured as far south as Cuba in recent years, with a population of two thousand and growing, competing with native species for available food sources.
We looked carefully, but those toothy creatures remained hidden. I suppose that was a good thing.
The mangroves’ evolutional goal may be to create land, but the combination of Key West’s two tidal systems along with strong currents prevent the accumulation of soil in many areas. Winding through the tangle of branches, prop roots, and leaves, you realize why drug dealers and other lawbreakers used these waters to evade capture.
As you float back to the starting point, you can imagine life on these waters. As beautiful as they are, the guide is your key to a successful outing. Not only was ours knowledgeable about the science aspect, but the history and literary aspects as well. We were the lucky recipients of an impromptu poem or two.
Hi! Rylie here. Shhh. I’m hijacking Mom’s blog once again to share a brief Moment with you before she takes over. If your summer has been like mine, it’s flown by. Before the leaves start to turn orange, I decided I better visit a few of my friends in New Jersey before they all head off to work and grad school. Of course, no trip to Jersey is complete without going down to the shore.
Knowing firsthand the devastation our Long Island beaches suffered from Hurricane Sandy, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the famous area. Boy was I surprised! There was so much beachfront at Asbury Park Beach, far more than any of our favorite beaches at home.
After lugging our beach paraphernalia and setting up for the day, my friends and I walked the boardwalk in search of lunch. There was a steady breeze, and the temperature hovered in the low 70’s despite a cloudless sky, so the beach was less crowded than expected.
Still, the thrumming of a heavy bass beat rippled from the bar/club, stores boasted touristy items with neon signs, and patrons at the multiple ocean-themed restaurants spilled onto the boardwalk at umbrella-covered tables. According to my friends, a majority of the boardwalk was rebuilt after Sandy.
The only damage I could pinpoint was on the weathered iron fixtures on the exterior of the Paramount Theater, although the worn building was a fascinating contrast to the shiny aluminum-walled ice cream and gift shops. We ended up buying French fries and large smoked chicken subs overflowing with crisp lettuce, honey mustard, and pickles. The food was great and reasonably priced. (You know how I love to eat!)
After lunch, my friends convinced me to go in the water, and even go out past the breaking waves. I’m a decent swimmer, but I panic pretty easily, so trying to stay above water and keep my bathing suit from slipping off when we had to jump over the waves was an interesting experience. We dried off under the warm afternoon sun, hoping the lowered temperatures would mean a reprieve from sunburn. It didn’t. Even so, my first Jersey Shore adventure was a success. I can’t wait to go back next year, and maybe check out the shore further north or even visit Atlantic City.
Oh no! Here comes Mom. See you later…
Sunken Meadow State Park
I see that Rylie couldn’t resist telling you about her recent travels. I keep telling her she should start her own blog. It’s fun stuff. Anyway, here’s your Moment from my perspective, a few photos taken at a tranquil Long Island beach. Enjoy!
Which kind of beach experience do you prefer? Lively or laid-back? Or does it depend on your mood?
Long Island, New York has many wonderful, hidden gems. I blogged last summer about staycations, which focused on one of my favorite Suffolk County beaches. Watch Hill, one of several wonderful spots on famous Fire Island, isn’t exactly hidden or unknown. In fact, It gets downright crowded on warm-weather holidays, although it definitely is one of my home island’s jewels with an aura of otherworldliness, isolated from suburbia. In other words, you can’t drive there.
For most travelers, there are two ways to reach this barrier island surrounded by the Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean: private boat or ferry ride from the village of Patchogue. One way via boat takes about thirty minutes. The third and most breathtaking experience in getting there would be hopping a seaplane from Manhattan’ 23rd Street Skyport.
If you are travelling on a private vessel, you may opt to go tubing, fishing, or swimming in the bay before reaching your destination of Watch Hill or on the way home. Our group anchored at one point for the kids (and two of the dads) to cool off in the salty waters. Others, like me, may choose to enjoy the sights while onboard.
Watch Hill, part of Davis Park, has a number of amenities (see related links below for more information), including a white sand beach with lifeguards, boardwalk nature trails, a snack shop, tiki bar, and souvenir shop primarily stocked with Watch Hill tee shirts and other clothing. Both the marina slips (day or longer-term) and the tent campsites, provide utility hook-ups. After visiting there for the day, I can easily picture wanting to return with the tent for a weekend stay with my honey.
What to Bring
Visitors to Watch Hill may wish to bring coolers, umbrellas, beach chairs, sand toys, boogie boards, blankets, towels, and extra sunscreen. Dogs technically are not allowed on the beach itself, but my relatives stated they’d seen dogs at the far end of the beach at times and the people in charge hadn’t seemed to mind.
If you are traveling by ferry, be aware that the changing rooms don’t have curtains. You could wash off in the outdoor showers to rid of the salt/sand and air-dry your bathing suit. On the other hand, if anyone in your party has sensory needs and MUST change into clean clothes at risk of a sensory meltdown, you may consider bringing a shower curtain to hang up and use as needed. Since I traveled with my fourteen-year-old son with autism (his dad had to work), we were very fortunate to have my in-laws’ boat available for this purpose.
If you plan to purchase items from the snack shop, be aware they only accept cash. My son had the hamburger (fresh slice of tomato and dill pickles on a seeded bun), fries, and a large Sprite. The total came to twelve dollars and change. The food was good, although you may wish to ask for no ice in your drink if you truly want a large soda. The shop had a large enough selection if you happen to be camping for the weekend, with breakfast items included.
There are a number of Fire Island communities to explore within walking distance of each other. There are full-service restaurants, twenty-something bars, gay communities, and small towns with shopping opportunities. The beaches are gorgeous and the people friendly. If you live on Long Island or plan to visit, Fire Island is a terrific summer alternative to the Hamptons.