Do You Believe in Signs?

Welcome to this week’s Margarita Moment! If you enjoy this post and my little island life inspired blog, please sign up for your free, weekly escape. (Look on the right sidebar.) It will sail to your inbox on Mondays, more or less, depending on life’s currents and my novel writing schedule. Thanks for visiting!

Fools Rush In, the 1997 romantic comedy starring Selma Hayek and Matthew Perry, is a story about opposites attracting and finding true love in spite of all their differences. The heroine’s belief in signs plays a pivotal role in bringing the two lovers together for their happily-ever-after.

I like that because I believe in signs too.

Jolyse Barnett PhotographyOn our recent Key West getaway to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary, my honey and I arrived at our favorite B&B to learn I had an offer of contract for my romantic suspense novel. That story is set in Key West.

Sign Number One.

We went into full celebration mode, biking, swimming, fishing, and dining at five-star restaurants. On the last night, we embarked on the Jolly Rover II, an eighty-foot tall ship known as a schooner–built in the same style as turn-of-the-century pirate ships. The friendly crew taught us the history of the ship as we soaked in the view.

Key West Harbor

Key West Harbor

Jolyse Barnett Photography

Key West Evening

As if all these wonderful experiences weren’t enough, a small yacht motored past our pirate ship just before sunset. On board appeared to be none other than Howard Livingston crooning his song,”Living on Key West Time.” (Judge for yourself by comparing to his official photos on Mile Marker 24′s website.)

Sign Number Two.

Howie Livingston?

Howie Livingston? I’d say yes.

The Cherry on Top of a Perfect Sail

The Cherry on Top

Mallory Square

Mallory Square

We were thrilled. You see, not only did we know and love the song, but I’d created a YouTube video for this blog  using it a few years ago. We listened as we sipped our favorite wine and enjoyed one more sunset before returning to our Long Island home. By the way, if you like your signs in sets of three, this story won’t disappoint. The current title of my novel happens to be One More Sunset.

Some say there is no such thing as coincidence, while others say signs are only a person’s wishful thinking, attaching meaning to a random event. What do you think?

A Bonus:

I hate cold weather, but these photos of frozen bubbles are utterly breathtaking.

Key West Couplets – Part Two

Welcome to this week’s Margarita Moment, the second of a three-part homage to the Conch Republic–Key West. Feel free to check out Key West Couplets – Part One if you missed it.

Irish Kevin's Bar

Key West is Hogaritas, Ultimate Margaritas, Corona with limes,

Rum punch, Flying Monkeys’ frozen concoctions, our favorite red wines.

Happy Hour that begins each day ’round about noon,

Laidback island music, with a work-to-live motto and a steel drum tune.

Jolyse Barnett Photography

Key West is James Audubon, Tennessee Williams, and Chesney,

Jimmy Buffett, Mel Fisher, McGillis, and Winfrey.

Cigars rolled by Cubans and beaches made from soft Bahamian sand,

Home of the Navy, Coast Guard, and factories where turtles were once canned.

Jolyse Barnett Photography

Key West is upper, mid, and lower Duval,

Art boutiques, souvenir shops, and occasional vendor stall,

Piano bars, sports bars, and others with history or flare,

All ending at a cobblestone street that leads to a boardwalk and Mallory Square.

Jolyse Barnett Photography

Key West is tanning at Smathers, Higgins, Fort Zack, and South Beach,

Snapping photos of butterflies, exploring the world of banyon trees, and birds out of reach…

Until next Monday, when we finish our poetic tour of Key West, here’s a song by one of my favorite American Idol artists, Phil Phillips, with his beautiful homage to someone special. Wherever you may be, may it be the place you make your home.

What place would you like to call home?

Hurricane Sandy — One Week Later

Are you ready for a Margarita Moment? I am. One hundred percent. Today we’ll browse one of Key West’s beautiful Mallory Square buildings, the Casa Cayo Hueso Bar & Restaurant. But first, I apologize for being offline last week. Hurricane Sandy preparations took precedence, and I’m thankful we heeded the warnings.

As you may remember, my family lost the fight with Tropical Storm Irene last summer, and this time we braced for Sandy’s powerful punch. We were among the fortunate. Despite having no power in our neighborhood for six days, our property sustained very minor damage, we had a neighbor with a generator in the evenings, and we had relatives only ten minutes away with power (including intermittent internet and phone service).

Some neighbors and friends lost vehicles, homes, were flooded out, or had to evacuate. People on the south shore of Long Island, Staten Island, and parts of the Jersey Shore suffered tremendously. Any life lost is great, and there were dozens of fatalities in the region.

We are doing what we can from here to help those without power–donating blankets and clothes. Local schools are housing people left homeless by the storm. Other schools are serving as warming and recharging centers. We are hopeful the situation will improve soon, with most schools reopening this week.

No Big Deal

The morning after the storm, I trekked outside to assess the damage. We had lost a few roof shingles. Then, I walked to the end of my driveway. I looked to the left, and this is what I saw:

One end of my street

Then I looked to the right. I began to get nervous.

The other end of my street

If I had two trees down on my little street, how hard was the rest of my area hit? Without access to media, there was only one way to find out. I packed up my child and our go-bags and set out in the car. For my son’s sake, I made it an adventure. We were trying to find our way through the maze of downed trees and wires. There turned out to be only one way out, unlike the usual ten options.

Today, I sit in my warm, whole house while others continue to endure hardships–without heat, without light, and maybe without a loved one. I’m very blessed, very thankful, and send positive thoughts to everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Do you have any hurricane experiences or messages of hope to share?

As promised, here’s your Moment:

Casa Cayo Hueso Souvenir Shop

Casa Cayo Hueso, Mallory Square Entrance

This souvenir shop is located just south of the Ocean Key Resort on Mallory Square in Key West, Florida. The painted, wooden animals and decorative signs are plentiful and worth a look. If you’re in the mood for an impromptu history lesson, take a stroll through the wide hallway between the shop and Casa Cayo Hueso’s Bar and Restaurant.

You can easily spend a quarter hour gazing at its murals depicting life in early Key West.

One of my favorite murals at Casa Cayo Hueso

We walked through the spacious Casa Cayo Hueso Bar & Restaurant, and the spicy aromas made out mouths water. We had reservations at another place, however, so we couldn’t sample the fare that particular day. But we will return, and when we do, I’ll be sure to share the details.

What restaurant do you enjoy visiting as much for the ambiance and decor as for the great food?

Duval Street, Key West

Pose with Jack Sparrow on Duval

You’ll see it all on Duval. If I were a slogan-writer, that’s how I’d refer to the main thoroughfare in Old Town, Key West, a road that stretches approximately two miles southeast to northwest on the western side of Bone Island.

Duval Street is where the cruise ship tourists stroll, the Fantasy Fest participants parade, the pubbers crawl,  and the chickens roam. Some of the unusual sights I’ve seen are pirates, performing animals, transvestites, and body-painted tourists. Once, I even saw a man on a leash.

A Biking Town

A constant hum of scooters, conch cruisers, pedi-cabs, pink taxis, motorcycles, and cars fills this street, joining the Conch Train and Ghost Train tours that chug through periodically, day and night.

Duval Street is split into Upper and Lower Duval. To keep it simple, remember that the lower the street number, the closer to Lower Duval you are. At the beginning of Lower Duval is Mallory Square, renowned site of beautiful sunsets and free nightly street performances on the Gulf of Mexico.

We especially like watching Dominic the Cat Man whenever we attend Sunset Celebration.

A tamer storefront

Like the island’s peoples, stores along Duval Street are eclectic. You’ll find mom-and-pop grocery stores and smoke shops sandwiched between big-name stores such as The Gap and Coach. There are endless t-shirt shops here as well, with storefront displays of tacky silkscreen art and the occasional marijuana paraphenalia.

Sloppy Joe's of Key West

Lower Duval is where the famous Sloppy Joe’s and numerous other bars are located. We enjoy Hogs Breath Saloon for its hogaritia, a potent version of a margarita, and its live music. Irish Kevin’s is the bar to visit for raunchy versions of your favorite songs. There are also piano bars, sports bars, clothing optional, and upscale martini bars. Key West’s Smallest Bar, with its two stools, is a proud resident of this famous street.

As you travel toward what I refer to as mid-Duval, a variety of aromas will whet your appetitie. We’ve enjoyed tapas at 915, Sunday brunch at Croissants de France, and American cuisine at Fogerty’s. If you crave ice cream, frozen yogurt, or smoothies, walk or bike a few blocks until you spy a snack shop that suits your desire. Jimmy Buffett fans attending the 35th Parrothead convention a few weeks ago had the surprise of a lifetime when he performed an impromptu concert for them outside the Key West Margaritaville at 500 Duval Street. Check out this concert video courtesy of YouTube:

I wouldn’t consider myself a Parrothead and I don’t generally like crowds, but I would’ve really liked to have been in Key West for that experience.

Upper Duval is at the southeast end of the street where you’ll find the Southernmost Hotel, including a tiki bar/restaurant and beach on the Atlantic Ocean. The Key West Butterfly Conservatory , one of Old Town’s must-see attractions, is on Upper Duval, too. This end has plentiful window shopping opportunities, with its beautiful art galleries, jewelry stores, and other specialty shops.

You never know what you’re going to see on Key West’s Duval Street, but I can almost guarantee you’ll come home with a story or two. Join me here every Monday for a Margarita Moment where I’ll be sure to share another of mine. Until then, enjoy each day doing what you love.

Do you have any Duval Street stories to share? Or questions for me? I’d be happy to answer questions, or research as necessary.


Sunset Sail View

Today was one of those days. You know, the kind where you hit the floor running and don’t stop until your body and mind scream for relief. Prone to anxiety, I do my utmost to prevent days like this. I prioritize errands and am a faithful To-Do Lister and Completer. In spite of my best efforts, the occasional, overwhelmingly busy day still catches me by surprise. And, like today, I struggle to squeeze in a little “me” time, if only to curtail internal combustion.

My next-to-last errand today was a mani-pedi. I know, I know, this sounds more like a luxury than a chore, but when a writing deadline is looming, sitting still for two hours without a laptop propped in front of me is tantamount to torture for me. To alleviate the nerve-wrecking experience of watching a ticking clock as my nails are buffed, filed, painted, and dried, I daydream. (Yeah, we writers are good at that.)

If you’ve read earlier posts, you know I’m fond of the Florida Keys, and specifically Key West. What started as a three-night getaway years ago has turned into an annual escape. Among other things, Conch Republic is renowned for its beautiful sunsets. On previous trips, my husband and I reveled in the midst of celebratory crowds at Mallory Square and enjoyed our sunset dinner at a table for two on the Hot Tin Roof patio. For our third trip, we asked the manager of our little B&B his recommendation. Without a moment’s hesitation, he suggested taking the Wind & Wine Sunset Sail. We did, and the evening that followed was the stuff dreams are made of. Or daydreams, as the case may be.

As I sat in the nail salon this afternoon, instead of customers and chairs I saw gently flapping ivory sails above and velvet blue water beyond. Instead of the cash register’s ring and nail dryers’ hum, my mind heard waves lapping against our sailing vessel’s bow, wine glasses clinking, and seagulls calling softly as they flew overhead. I didn’t detect the slightest odor of polish remover or hand creams. No, I inhaled salt-scented sea breezes and my husband’s understated cologne as he leaned close to whisper sweet nothings in my ear.

I felt the rocking to-and-fro as we sailed through the evening waters within sight of Westin Marina and savored the taste of a merlot wine recently poured for me, its smoothly tart notes of black cherry, cinnamon, and oak swirling around on my tongue between bites of gouda cheese and spicy sausage stacked on water table crackers. Mmmm. This is the life.

And then I was asked to pay.

My nails were done, and I’d taken a break from reality. So the moral of the story is, getting a mani-pedi can be relaxing, even for someone who worries about the time-suck like me. I was rejuvenated enough upon returning home to complete my final “to-do” of the day–writing this week’s blog.

Enjoy your daydreams. (But please, for goodness sake, not during activities like cutting people’s hair, operating heavy machinery, or supervising children. That could turn your daydream into a nightmare rather quickly.)

Ahhh, time to go. I hear the whirring of a certain kind of blender and its calling my name.

Enjoy a glimpse into my daydream, if you’d like:

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Bikes and Bubbles

Do you ever find yourself blowing bubbles alone, skipping rope just for fun, or dunking a cookie in milk without counting calories?

Simple pleasures like these can bring you back to a time before you worried about laundry, bills, and work deadlines, when summers lasted a year and Halloween was near the top of your favorite holidays’ list.

As a kid growing up in New York’s rural Adirondacks, my bike was everything. First my Big Wheels, and later, my beloved ten-speed racing bike. I was excited to be independent, breezing along field-lined roads as my skinny legs pedaled to and from my friends’ houses.

Like many childhood toys, I left my bike behind upon entering college. By the time I pulled it out of the backyard shed, the bike was rusted and in need of new tires. Being an impatient twenty-something, I figured I’d buy a new one after my move. The NYC metro-area provided many wonderful opportunities for my husband and me, but traffic and the growing demands of family life convinced this transplanted country girl to switch over to a more conventional vehicle–the minivan.

Beautiful Southernmost Beach

Fast-forward twenty years, and my husband and I are on vacation in Key West, Florida. What’s the suggested mode of transportation?  Bicycles, of course. Called beach or island cruisers, these bikes are equipped with baskets in front, perfect for carrying a beach bag or souvenirs, like items from the KW Jewelry Bar. They can be ridden at night, too, with strobe lights attached to the wheels’ spokes instead of handlebars. (More on that to come!)

My eyes light up as I gaze at the bike, thinking, I’d miss you even if we’d never met. (Movie Quote Alert…answer below.) In spite of niggling doubts about having enough energy to traverse this five square-mile island, I agree to rent one.

We bike to Smathers and Fort Zachary Taylor beaches, bask in the sun like lizards and float on the warm Atlantic waters.

A Banyon Tree, spied on one of our bike excursions (Click photo for KW Bike Trails Info)

Later, we sightsee. In the evenings, I scoop up my flowing skirt to tuck around me as we take a leisurely ride side-by-side to Michael’s or another of our favorite haunts for a romantic dinner, followed by sunset cocktails at Mallory Square.

On our more adventurous nights, we lock up our bikes on Duval Street, and begin an impromptu Duval Crawl. Hours later, we return to our bikes (Sometimes the toughest part is remembering where the bikes are located!), and take the exhilarating two-wheeled trip back to our B & B. We whizz past quiet, side-street houses in the darkness–with nothing but mesmerizing strobe lights guiding our fuzzy brains. Whee!

I learned it’s never too late to enjoy simple pleasures like the ones I loved as a kid. Key West is my favorite getaway, and the fun we have riding our rented bikes everywhere is definitely a big part of the draw for me, being a kid at heart.

What childhood toy or activity have you left behind that you’d like to revisit, or maybe adapt to your life as an adult?

Movie Quote Answer: Wedding Date, 2005 (Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney, Amy Adams, Peter Egan) Debra Messing’s character, Kat, complains that Dermot Mulroney’s character, Nick, knows everything about her and she doesn’t know a thing about him. He responds, “I’m allergic to fabric softener. I majored in comparative literature at Brown. I hate anchovies. And I think I’d miss you even if we never met.”


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