Category Archives: Adventures

Meran, Italy

 Hi! Rylie here while my mother is hunched over her laptop typing another romance. Today, I’m sharing more adventures from my trip to Italy this past spring.

We walked up the hill from Brunnenburg to Dorf Tirol on a rainy morning, able to see where the precipitation turned to snow farther up in the mountains. Waiting for the bus, we shivered in the cold mist and snapped pictures of the snow-sprinkled farms. The ride down the mountain to Meran was fairly quick, certainly less death-defying than our first bus ride, and I was excited to see the market that we were told spanned much of downtown.

The market – a strange, eclectic farmer’s market, cheap clothing mixed in with designer clothes and handbags – was pretty impressive. I bypassed the several food stands, selling everything from pastries and dried fruit to links of sausage and heaps of vegetables and fish, and headed straight for the clothing. The town square was somehow colder than Dorf Tirol, and I bought two scarves for three Euros each with the hope of maintaining some body heat. I was semi-successful, no longer shaking, so my friend and I wandered around the market looking at leather jackets and sundresses before heading back to munch on hot pretzels and chocolate croissants. Unfortunately, the rain continued, and we decided to cut our visit short and return to Brunnenburg where we could work on our writing assignments by the kitchen fireplace.

We were disappointed about not seeing more of Meran, so we opted out of a six-hour hiking trip to visit the town instead on another day, this time in bright sunny weather. We walked the entire way on a beautiful winding downhill trail, which took us about an hour to travel. There were plenty of streams and eroded rocks to hop over and around. We could see the vineyards and farms near Brunnenburg on one side, and between the thick cover of trees we spotted the yellow-painted roofs of homes on the outskirts of Meran. (I later learned many of those houses belong to North Europeans who vacation in Meran during the winter season.) My classmates and I became a bit mixed up when we ended up at a roundabout road, but thankfully, after about ten minutes of asking for local passerby directions, some joggers understood enough of our Italian/English jumble to point us in the right direction.

At the end of the trail, we were on a residential street and had to find our way to the center of town. We ended up weaving our way into a wide alleyway, and happened upon little souvenir shops clustered together. We attempted to find the bus station before we began our shopping, but were unsuccessful. Every sign was in Italian and we had no maps, so we decided to worry about that later.

One of my classmates was obsessed with the tea shop. There were all varieties of the beverage as well as tea-related dishware. She bought a tea strainer in the shape of a submarine. It was really cute!

There were antique stores with porcelain, painted dolls and handcrafted wind chimes. I especially liked the woodcarving shops, which interestingly, were the only ones in Meran that I visited with German-speaking shopkeepers. There was a forest display filled with wooden deer, rabbits, owls, and other adorable creatures. I wanted to buy the deer for my dad, but it was priced at over two hundred euros, a bit steep for my wallet. My parents have a few ceramic plates from past travels, so I was thrilled to later discover a shop with the towns’ famous clock-tower in a cherry-and-lemon colored glaze.

Of course, we stopped by no fewer than three gelato shops to find the best gelato in town!
I suppose a trip abroad is not complete without the travelers getting lost. After spending ten minutes trying to ask for directions back to the main bus station, and another half hour searching around town, we finally stumbled upon a tiny, deserted, out-of-the-way bus stop that we hoped would bring us back to Dorf Tirol. I was kicking myself for not having brushed up on my Italian more before the trip, but lucky for us, a bus did turn up at the time we thought it should. We always could’ve hiked back, but even as a newly-converted hiking lover, I wasn’t too sure how we’d manage wearing jeans and lugging armfuls of made-in-Meran purchases up the mountainside.

What’s the most fascinating souvenir you’ve ever purchased? Have you ever gotten lost and begun to panic like I did?

The Georgia Aquarium


America’s Largest Aquarium

Ocean Voyager
Ocean Voyager Gallery

Georgia Aquarium is home to many creatures, from teensy frogs to sizeable beluga whales and whale sharks. The picture above was taken inside the Ocean Voyager tunnel, one of seven galleries within the facility built in the heart of Atlanta on land donated by Coca-Cola.

DSCN7194Two of my Romance Writers of America pals and I took a break from the frenetic pace of our national writing conference to explore this beautiful underwater world on a rainy Saturday. Despite the sell-out crowds, the visit was worth the thirty dollar admission price.

Bernie and Billi Marcus of The Marcus Foundation are the aquarium’s benefactors, and companies such as Southwest Airlines, Home Depot, and AT&T sponsor exhibits.

Coca-Cola World next door

We arrived at about two in the afternoon, and were able to explore five of the seven attractions before having to return for our conference. We experienced all but the dolphin show and the 4-D theatre that allows guests to see the world from a marine animal’s point of view. Okay by us, as my friends and I had seen previously seen these types of attractions, but if you’re traveling with children and/or want to squeeze every penny out of your admission dollar, arrive early. Allot at least three hours; more if you plan to eat and shop for souvenirs.

Love the blue fish and pink starfishies

In Cold Water Quest, you’ll see cool creatures like the ones above, as well as beluga whales, Japanese spider crabs, and an odd creature that made me wonder if dragons really do exist.

Can you see the two Australian weedy sea dragons?
Humboldt Penguins
Humboldt Penguins

If you like cuddly puppies and kittens, you may enjoy crawling through a tunnel to pop up and view the world’s smallest penguins.


For those traveling with little ones, your favorite part of the aquarium may be the Georgia Explorer. According to the facility’s brochure, this interactive gallery “includes touch pools full of horseshoe crabs, sea stars, rays and shrimp.” The children I observed were having fun playing in the mock fishing boat and crawling through what I’d call an overhead hamster trail.

Tropical jellyfish, like from Nemo
Tropical Jellyfish

The Tropical Diver was my second-favorite, with its colorful fish, coral reefs, and simulated ocean surf. The exhibits make it easy to imagine yourself snorkeling in warm, salty waters. Or perhaps that’s just me?

Snorkling Visions

After oohing and ahhing over the vibrant tropical sea life, we anticipated the River Scout gallery to be bland. We were wrong. The fish colors may be predominately brown, but the water cascade, playful otters, and overhead river for much of the walk made for a fascinating experience.


At first glance…

These river fish (below) don’t strike one as particularly fearsome. That is, until you read the exhibit plaque.

"I'm a piranha!" ~ Darla in NEMO
“I’m a piranha!” ~ Darla in NEMO

Last but not least, here’s my favorite photo from our aquarium adventure. Enjoy!

Tropical Diver Gallery Exhibit
Tropical Diver Gallery Exhibit

What’s your favorite activity on a rainy summer day?

Coming Up…

Fan Girl Moment with THE Nora Roberts
Fan Girl Moment with Nora Roberts

For those of you interested in romance books and such, check back Wednesday for this writer’s take on RWA13. For next week, Rylie has promised to post about Merano, Italy. I’m homesick for Key West, so I may sneak in a bonus Conch post along the way.



Hiking the Italian Alps

Welcome to this week’s escape! Rylie is excited to share one of her favorite memories from her recent excursion to Northern Italy. First, I thank you, our readers, for your incredible response to her posts and for growing the blog through your Likes and Comments. Thanks, also, to those of you who recently subscribed to Margarita Moments & Other Escapes. I hope you enjoy your time spent with us.

Getting Ready

Despite the amazing food and picture-perfect landscapes I’d heard about regarding Italy, what got me hooked on the trip were four little words of a brochure headline–Hiking in the Alps. After months of dreaming about it, the day was finally here. Mentally, I was more than ready. Physically, I chose to gulp down pineapple juice and two slices of bread an hour before the event, my hands shaking with excitement. Ever since sustaining an injury during track, I’d been relegated to non-impact workouts, so the extent of my exercise lately had been trudging my overstuffed backpack around campus. Today my new backpack was stuffed with a jacket, my camera, a giant water bottle I bought for a Euro in town, and my wallet. I was stoked to hike the Alps!



We began the trek uphill through town, passing small housing developments and farms to get to the start of the trail. There was a moment of panic when my friend and I realized the drink we’d purchased, and thought was water was actually seltzer. (So that’s what ‘frizzante” meant on the label!) Luckily, we were able to refill our water bottles at a restaurant in Dorf Tirol before beginning our climb.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd
PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

What sights!

The hike was exhausting, and admittedly painful, but oh so worth it. The trail, for the most part, was on a slight incline, with a wall of stone on our left and a thick forest on our right. Some parts were steep, particularly as we increased in altitude, and several of us skidded on pebbles on the way down. Between the clusters of trees we could often catch a glimpse of narrow waterfalls etched into the mountainside, plummeting into the brook below. The Austrian Alps peeked out from behind the forest and hills, their snow-capped peaks nearly invisible in the morning sunlight.

Can you see the Austrian Alps?
Can you see the Austrian Alps?

Our destination was a farm about midway up the mountain, and we rested briefly at the little restaurant on property to have a beer and the most delicious cranberry-cake dessert I’ve ever tasted. If you read last week’s post, you know how much I love my food and beverages.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd
PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

I regretted chugging the rest of my beer when I tripped rather spectacularly over a small boulder on our way down. In spite of shooting pain in my ankles and knees at every step, I ended the hike out-of-breath and itching to do it all over again. I mean, who can resist climbing a mountain to have the chance to swirl around, pretending to be a character from one of the best movies of all time!

The Sound of Music…

I was Maria!
I was Maria!

Now it’s your turn. What’s an outdoor activity you enjoy best, or wish you could do more often?

Eating Northern Italy Style

Welcome to another installment by my daughter, Rylie, about her recent trip to Italy with her Creative Writing classmates from college. If you missed Rylie’s first post about getting there from New York or her details and beautiful photography of Brunnenburg castle and Dorf Tirol, feel free to hop over to those articles. But be sure to return here for Rylie’s impressions of food in Northern Italy. As you can tell by the length of this article, she is definitely a fan of this subject. Enjoy!

Gardens at Disney Fort Wilderness
Gardens at Disney Fort Wilderness

First of all, thanks for your patience and understanding when my blog post didn’t appear last week. Our family was on vacation in Orlando, and we were so busy having fun my mom and I completely lost track of time!
Rather than going in chronological order of our excursion today, I’m going to write about an important part of Italian culture – food. I was a little nervous before my trip in regards to eating. I have many food intolerances, most of which would affected by Italian cuisine as far as I was aware. But the entire trip was a new experience, so I embraced the uncertainty and figured that even if I couldn’t eat everything, it wasn’t like I was going to starve.

And starve I most certainly did not. Lunch and dinner at Brunnenburg always began with a large self-serve arugula and mixed green salad, often with tomatoes, cucumbers, or dandelions sprinkled on top. Balsamic vinegar was the dressing of choice, with freshly baked wheat or white bread to dip in what vinegar was left over. The main courses took getting used to – my plate is generally divided into half meat, half grains, so the fist-sized chicken or steak portion next to a heaping pile of veggies and beans was a surprise.

But each meal during our stay at Brunnenburg Castle, painstakingly and lovingly cooked by Brigeeta, tasted divine, and I often found myself leaning back in my chair after strawberry shortcake or tiramisu desserts with my stomach pressed uncomfortably against my jeans.
At Brunnenburg, I didn’t have to worry about my poor German or Italian, as Mary’s family speaks English quite well.

Pasta at Hotel Restaurant
Pasta at Hotel Restaurant

On the other hand, the language barrier was an often embarrassing obstacle in the restaurants of Dorf Tirol. I escaped the task of translating a menu the first night since our professors were able to show us where the “American” choices were on the pizzeria menu; I ordered a margherita pizza, the hives I was sure to get from the tomatoes well worth the relative ease of filling my appetite with a familiar meal.

Wine and Grappa
Wine and Grappa

I wasn’t as lucky the second night. Eleven of us ended up at one of the Hotel Restaurants in town with only an Italian-to-English translation guidebook for assistance. The book turned out to be useless, as the menu was almost entirely written in German. We spent an hour and a half downing wine (or, in some cases, sipping cautiously at grappa, distilled wine that smells exactly like Absolut vodka) and asking our waiter, Ivan, about every item on the menu. Thoroughly impressed by Ivan’s patience and helpfulness – he translated the entire menu for us, twice – my friend and I ended up returning there two more evenings. Ivan not only remembered us, but our specific food preferences as well.

The biggest difficulty at Hotel Restaurant, once I understood the menu, was convincing Ivan and other the waiters that what I was ordering was what I actually wanted. Substituting “wine acid” (vinegar) for tomato sauce is apparently unheard of in Italy. But once that obstacle was overcome, the turkey (chicken was oddly absent from most menus) and pasta dishes I chose were decadent. The turkey was grilled to a golden brown and tasted exactly like chicken, making this chicken lover very happy, and the pasta was al dente. Perfection.

As for desserts, Schokoladenkuchen (chocolate cake) and Apfelstrudel mit Eis (apple strudel with ice cream) were by far the best desserts, and the Italian gelato was, of course, delicious. Sadly, I didn’t get around to trying the large gelato fruit sundaes, but it’s on my list of sweets to select when I one day return to Italy.
Before leaving Dorf Tirol, I had to try the one food the town is known for –Spargel. Spargel is a German white asparagus that, with my limited knowledge of vegetables for comparison, tasted most like an overly thick, fibrous string of half cooked spaghetti. The Spargel itself had little flavor other than butter, but it was featured in numerous dishes – at one restuarant, two full pages were dedicated to the vegetable!

Crab and Octopus In Venetian Market
Crab and Octopus In Venetian Market

I had just gotten the hang of reading German menus when it was time to pack up and leave our dorms at Brunnenburg behind, taking the three-hour bus ride south to spend a few days in Venice. Spargel, and vegetables in general, were sparse in Venice, where seafood was the dominating selection. Ever since having an allergic reaction to shrimp, I’ve avoided most seafood, but my class happily embraced the more familiar cuisine. Frittura di pesce (fried mixed fish, usually shrimp and scallops) seemed to be the most popular among my classmates, though black-inked cuttlefish was also tried, and I even tried a bite of rubbery salted octopus.

Venetian Pizza
Venetian Pizza

Dorf Tirol, a town more German than Italian, understandably didn’t make phenomenal pizza, so I was looking forward to sampling a real Venetian slice. Perhaps we didn’t find the right eatery locales or I’m just ridiculously spoiled by our Long Island pizza, but I wasn’t too impressed with the thin crusts and unblackened cheese. Still, eating pizza in Italy was something I can cross off the bucket list. Happily, the rich hot chocolate I discovered in a back-alley pizzeria more than made up for my disappointment with the pizza.

Another surprise in Italy was the shortage of ketchup. I hadn’t really noticed its absence while at Brunnenburg, but my first two meals in Venice were chicken cutlet and brie cheese sandwiches. I asked the waiter for the condiment and he scrounged up two ketchup packets for me.

Gelato was a sweet staple in Venice. Everywhere we went, there was another tiny shop boasting dozens of flavors, from ananas (pineapple) to lampone (raspberry) to nocciola cioccolato (chocolate hazelnut – Italians are pretty enamored with their Nutella). As per my usual hesitant style, I stuck to basics like stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate shavings) and menta (mint chocolate), though I also enjoyed arancia rossa (blood orange). The servers rarely spoke English, and I often found myself answering accidentally in German, but every flavor gelato had a picture of the fruit or food it was based on underneath the label.

Alcohol, as I mentioned above, was also a main element at every Italian meal. I’m a fan of white wine, so the complimentary aperitif of Prosecco in Dorf Tirol’s restaurants was an unexpected delight, Already legal drinking age in the states, I didn’t feel compelled to spend my Euros on liquor and wine like many of my classmates taking advantage of the lower drinking age, but I did enjoy several Forst beers in Dorf Tirol and in the Venetian pubs we visited a few evenings after dinner.

Forst Beer and MineralVasser
Forst Beer and MineralVasser

Now it’s your turn. What’s the craziest or best-tasting food you’ve ever tried?

Brunnenburg Castle and Dorf Tirol Italy

You’re in for a treat today. My daughter, Rylie, is sharing more photos and details about her recent ten-day trip to northern Italy. If you missed her first post, check it out here. I am in awe of all the beautiful landscapes and buildings, and hope you enjoy them, too!

Brunnenburg Castle
Brunnenburg Castle

Originally built in 1250 A.D., Brunnenburg was renovated by Boris and Mary de Rachewiltz. Mary, the daughter of Ezra Pound (who finished writing the Cantos while staying at Brunnenburg in 1968). She now lives there with her family.

We spent the first day at the castle exploring the extensive grounds, which consist of a vineyard, several animal pens, and an agricultural museum in addition to the castle, farmhouse-turned-kitchen, and dorm-style guesthouse where students from across the globe can spend up to a year working on the grounds and studying Pound’s work.

Brunnenberg 1
PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

Walking around the castle grounds was beautifully eerie. There are no artificial lights outside and the sun peeks in around the tower walls. On rainy days, the pathway between the towers is cast in darkness. Ivy winds up and through the stonework. The wooden bridges and beams, though restored, are weathered and blackened.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd
PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

The following morning we enjoyed an early breakfast to offset some of our jet lag. I normally don’t eat until lunch, but Brigeeta, Mary’s daughter-in-law and the resident chef, had baked fresh bread, and the juice selection was too fun to miss out on. I mean, who wouldn’t want to drink blood orange (Grapefruit??) and pineapple juices, along with other indiscernible flavors? After the quick meal, we had our first creative writing class before our walk.

Brunnenburg 3
Our walk was more like a hike since it took us twenty minutes just to reach town. Then, we took a gondola ride up the Italian Alps. Gondolas in Dorf Tirol are a type of ski lift (Who knew?), not the boats we would later see in Venice. I am not a fan of heights unless I’m firmly strapped in, so the ride was a bit nerve-wracking. The view, however, completely made up for it!
Once off the gondolas, we decided to hike even further up the mountain, with one of Mary’s grandsons as our unofficial guide. We walked the trail overlooking the valley as he taught us about its formation.

Brunnenberg 2The valley has two entry points, carved out by glaciers during the Ice Age. The varying ground levels, some with solitary farms or little towns such as Dorf Tirol, indicate where the glaciers stopped for a period of time. The point at which the glaciers collided is where the town of Meran lies–in the belly of the valley. The valley continued as far as I could see, flanked by snow-capped peaks of the Austrian and Italian Alps.
By the end of our hike, I knew my hiking sandals weren’t sufficient for this rocky terrain. So off I went to buy hiking boots in town, nervously bouncing between their two sports’ stores, trying to compare prices.

Overlooking valley of South Tyrol
Overlooking valley of South Tyrol

Unfortunately, employees in both stores only spoke German, so my limited Italian was useless, and they didn’t understand the words “cost,” “price,” or “money” in English. Eventually I just asked “Euros?” and pointed to different brand shoes. Eventually, I was able to purchase a pair I assumed was waterproof based on the employee’s hand motions. According to Mary’s grandson, the weather in Dorf Tirol was unusually wet and chilly for late May, so I was sure I would find out soon enough if I was correct.

Have you ever visited a castle? Do you have any funny stories about trying to communicate with someone when you didn’t speak the same language?

Off to Brunnenburg, Italy!

IMG_2709I’m excited to introduce an extra special guest blogger, my daughter, Rylie. We hope you enjoy the first of her posts about her ten-day excursion to northern Italy. (Our lucky winner of Jeannie Moon’s debut novel, The Temporary Wife, is announced below!) 

Our student group traveled via Air Berlin out of JFK in New York to Germany on a seven-and-a-half hour flight with a five hour layover, and then on a one-and-a-half hour flight in a hopper plane to Venice, Italy. Our ultimate destination of Brunnenburg was a bumpy three hour ride into the Italian Alps, making the trip a total of approximately seventeen hours.
The allure of a trip overseas makes the discomfort of sitting upright between a rambunctious ten-year-old and a stranger bearable. Too wired to sleep, I managed thirty minutes or so of dozing around midnight New York time before the flight attendant offered us a breakfast of salami, tomatoes, fruit, and crackers. I ignored the cramping in my knees upon departure into Düsseldorf airport, and literally skipped through customs with joy. I was in Germany! I was officially abroad!

The best croissants ever...
The best croissants ever…

My second wind kicked in about an hour after getting our passports stamped. Off I went to explore while my classmates charged their iPods and iPads. Even the airport was a feast to my eyes, between the young German businessmen by baggage claim with their trimmed scruff and designer suits and an entire section of the building devoted to selling every type of chocolate you can imagine. I noted some differences between there and American airports. Some cool things: the bathrooms aren’t stalls, they’re little rooms. If you accidentally lock yourself in, you can’t crawl under the door to freedom. That may sound silly, but it happened several times to members of our group. Dusseldorf bathrooms are so clean that a person like me with OCD tendencies would feel comfortable making a sandwich on the bare floor. Speaking of food, instead of fast food restaurants like we see in many American airports, there were several cafés. They all sold these basic items: croissants, salads, fruit, a few types of sandwiches, and a lot of coffee and alcohol. I highly recommend the croissants. They were flaky, buttery, and filled with warm, gooey chocolate. (Do you notice a theme here? Yeah, I’m a fan of the sweet stuff.)

Chocolate HEAVEN!
Chocolate HEAVEN!
GLEE fans would appreciate this.

On our quick flight to Venice, I was unconscious from the time I buckled my seat belt until we shakily landed on the tarmac. We then boarded the coach bus that would take us north to Dorf Tirol, Italy, a small tourist town about ten miles southeast of the Austrian/Italian border. The drive up was awesome. Street signs on the highways are massive enough for the most near-sighted of drivers to easily read them, and there are emergency sections every few hundred meters (yes, meters) where the little hybrid cars can pull over. The highway walls are transparent with little bird decals on them, and there were very few housing developments. As our vehicle climbed further north, we spotted castles along the mountainsides. Vineyards and farms, with horses, sheep, cows and goats, dotted the lush landscape.

PHOTO CREDIT:  Allison Lloyd
PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

When I was in Bermuda last summer, I took a cab back to the shipyard with my cousins. The ride was terrifying – the driver easily surpassed New York speed limits, the streets were barely wide enough for two cars to fit, and pedestrians appeared unfazed by the stream of vehicles speeding by them. Multiply that fear by ten and that’s what I felt during the last bit of our drive to Dorf Tirol. The town is set into the side of a mountain, and the 1.5 lane roads run along cliff drop-offs when they’re not at impossibly steep up and downhill angles. Stop signs seemed to be a suggestion to the drivers, as did the speed limit.

Umm. We didn't even slow down for this sign.
Umm. We didn’t even slow down for this sign.

The fear effectively eliminated any leftover grogginess from the second flight, though, and soon enough we had reached the winding downhill drive of Brunnenburg Castle. From aerial views, the castle appears to emerge gracefully from the Küchelberg cliff side, nestled in a cluster of evergreens and ivy. Up close, the estate is quaint and quiet despite the many goats and chickens that call the grounds home, and as I lugged my suitcase under a stone archway toward the converted dorms, it suddenly hit me that I would actually be spending the next week in a castle, in Italy.
I couldn’t wait for the real adventure to begin.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd
PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

Next week: The first days at Brunnenburg…sightseeing, the valley’s history, and lots and lots of shopping. Many more pictures to come!

Do you have any funny or harrowing travel experiences to share? Have you ever been to Italy?


And the winner is…

Rhonda Hopkins. Congratulations, Rhonda! Contact me with your email address and kind of device you’ll use to read your free ebook, The Temporary Wife, courtesy of Jeannie Moon. Thanks, Jeannie! Until next week, I hope you spend your days doing what you love. Remember to live your life out loud, right?

Exciting News!

Today’s Moment has a little something for everyone, and it’s all good.

Romance Review

Jeannie Moon writes contemporary romance, the kind you have trouble putting down because she draws you into the story with beautifully crafted characters, sensual tension, and realistic, compelling conflicts.

Meg, the heroine of The Temporary Wife, is someone you’d want as a friend. Since I’m a woman with two careers myself, I like that Meg has a career she enjoys, and that it’s depicted as an important part of her life. Jason, her hero, is sexy but down-to-earth and loyal (even if he is a billionaire). I also liked the family dynamics in the story, and adore the little one, Molly. Ms. Moon’s descriptions brought back vivid memories of my daughter at that age.

The crux of the story is that Meg marries Jason to protect Molly from the child’s cold-hearted grandparents. This is the first time Jason and Meg have been together since he ended their relationship due to peer pressure as a teen. Jason doesn’t know he was Meg’s first love, or that she’s used her feelings for him as a barometer for every romantic relationship in her life since–and they all came up short. How will Meg hold onto her heart for the year before the pre-arranged divorce? How will their relationship affect the little girl she loves? How will Jason prove to Meg he’s not the guy he was in the past? How will they overcome all the obstacles of family dynamics and past hurts to give them their forever love?

Just writing this review pulls at my heartstrings, and I’m tempted to reread the book already. If you love sweet, romantic escapes that leave you with a satisfied, mushy glow of happiness, you’ll love Jeannie Moon’s debut novel, The Temporary Wife. Be sure to comment on this week’s post for a chance to win your own copy of this book, courtesy of the author. To read a sample chapter of this book or to order your copy, click on the book cover photo to the left.

Guest Blogger News

As you may recall, my daughter recently graduated from college. As a culminating experience for a creative writing course, she traveled to northern Italy for a ten-day excursion. I’m so excited to announce she has agreed (without any twisting of arms or other forms of persuasion) to guest post about her recent adventures in the coming weeks! What better way to kick off Margarita Moments’ third year than incredible scenes like this:

Dorf Tirol, Italy

And, last but not least…

the winner of the $25 Amazon gift card from last week’s blogiversary celebration is Jill Weatherholt! Congratulations, Jill. Please email me at to arrange for your gift’s delivery.

For everyone else, this is your lucky day, too, because I’m honored to give away a free ebook of Jeannie Moon’s spectacular debut novel, The Temporary Wife. To be entered into the giveaway, all you have to do is leave a comment. (Winner will be announced Monday, June 10th.)

What juicy book have you read recently? Any blog ideas for our third year at Margarita Moments? More TV guilty pleasures or romantic escapes?

Enjoy Key West Without Going Broke–Top Five Tips

Being a tourist can be expensive. If you’re blessed financially, more power to you. However, if you’re like most people, you make sacrifices in one area of your life to afford spending in another.

After a dozen trips to Key West in the past decade, I’ve learned a few tricks to experiencing the getaway of a lifetime without going home broke.

  1. Rent a bike or scooter. Traveling in Key West via taxi and car can be expensive. By biking or motoring around Old Town, you will avoid the hassle of parking fees and experience the island on a more personal level.
  2.  Eat where the locals eat. Bo’s Fish Wagon at 801 Caroline Street isn’t much to look at, but provides an inexpensive, tasty lunch-on-the-go. Enjoy a delicious Cuban meal for a very reasonable price at El Siboney on Catherine and Margaret. Trek over to Petronia Street and check out the Bahama Village stores for other hidden food deals. Take advantage of local bar and restaurant Happy Hours, such as Alonso’s 1/2 price appetizers.
  3. Enjoy its public beaches. Pack your water bottles (purchase a 6-pack at CVS) and a couple pieces of fruit (from your Continental Breakfast or mom-and-pop deli), beach towels, and your favorite book. Snorkel the clear waters at Fort Zachary for a nominal entrance and gear fee, and then read on the beach in the shade of a tall pine tree until you get your fill.
  4. Stroll Duval Street. People-watch your way from Upper Duval with its upscale retailers and art galleries to Lower Duval with its quirky souvenir shops and tourist bars.
  5. Intersperse splurge activities with budget ones. You’ve traveled a long way to enjoy a dream holiday with your loved one. Choose one or two extravagant activities–go all out! (SEE BELOW for suggestions)


SPLURGE Activities:


MODERATE Activities:

  • Sunset Sail
  • Eco Kayak and Snorkeling Tour
  • Party Boat — Fishing or Snorkeling with a larger group
  • AQUA Club Drag Show
  • Parasailing
  • Jet Skiing


BUDGET Activities:

  • Key West Cemetery
  • Key West Butterfly Conservatory
  • Nancy’s Secret Garden
  • Ghost Tour
  • Ernest Hemingway Museum and Home
  • West Martello Tower
  • Peruse local FREE newspapers for lectures, exhibits, concerts, matinees, gallery openings, or library programs


Please share your travel tips with us! We all love to save money, right?

What Was I Thinking?

“Let’s go for it!” I pedaled faster on Flagler Avenue, intent on gliding our Conch Cruisers to Key West’s east end. I glanced up at the sparkling night sky. We could never see the stars from where we live on Long Island.

“It’s too far.” My husband’s voice held humor.

I knew what he was thinking. I was rarely the competitive one in the family. “C’mon. The weather’s beautiful.” We’d had an incredible day swimming at South Beach and exploring the stores on Upper Duval. After a lazy dinner at Historic Seaport we’d strolled back to Duval, enjoying the random margarita and live entertainment. I should’ve been tired, but I wasn’t. Maybe my energy had something to do with how young and free I felt whenever we rode bikes. “I don’t want our night to end.”

“If you say so, but it’s at least three miles if not more.” He pedaled next to me, the intermittent street lights illuminating his doubtful expression.

I ignored his warning. “Let’s go. It’ll be fun.”

We raced, the flower-scented breeze tickling my face and arms and legs. This was paradise. I would never leave if it weren’t for our two kids back home. I missed them as much as I relished the time away with my man.

After a half-mile or so we settled in for the ride. The pavement whirred beneath our Cruisers’ tires, punctuated by the occasional car zooming past. The brightly lit stores gave way to lone streetlights. I let my mind go blank as we rolled along toward our goal.

Wisps of fog danced across our path. My leg muscles tired. The euphoria of flying through the night wore off, and I began to mull over the equally long trek back to the bed & breakfast. I glanced over at my honey. “Hey.”

He turned and smiled at me, a knowing look in his eyes.

I shrugged, unwilling to admit I’d been overzealous.

He slowed his bike. “Enough adventure for one night?”

“Yeah.”I slowed my bike and stopped with him at the next intersection. The east end of the island was still nowhere to be seen. “I thought it was closer.”

“Told you.”

Two cars flew by.

“I know.” I coasted across the street after him and stopped, facing west once more.

He peered at a dark lane perpendicular to the main road and half-joked. “Wanna see gulfside?”

I smiled and shook my head. “It’s getting late.” I slipped my cell phone out of my shorts pocket. “It’s almost two.” I covered a yawn. “Besides, look at all that fog. It’s coming in like waves. We’ll get lost.”

He whispered. “You can never get lost on an island.”

I laughed. That’s what he’d told me when we’d first moved to Long Island over two decades ago, convincing this country girl I’d acclimate to suburban life. I had. He had a way of making me feel safe, allowing me to take risks. Maybe that’s why I’d suggested traversing the island. He made me feel like I could do anything with him by my side. Even if it meant admitting I’d been wrong. Or I wanted to turn back. There was no shame. I had nothing to prove.

I slipped my phone back into my pocket and touched his arm. “I love you.”

“You better. You married me.”

We kissed, right there on the corner of Flagler and some desolate gulf side road outside Old Town, long past our usual bedtime. What were we thinking?

Have you ever done something completely out-of-character or completely spur-of-the-moment you wondered what made you do it?

Will the Real Bad Guy Please Stand Up?

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Key West’s Homage to its Pirating History

Let’s escape to the swashbuckling days of the Caribbean from 1690 -1730, “The Golden Age of Piracy.” Captain Kidd is remembered as the pirate who buried treasure and made a map with X marks the spot. Calico Jack is the pirate whose flag–a black background with white skull and crossed swords–became known as the Jolly Roger. Black Bart was the most successful of the era, with over 470 captures and the pirate depicted as Jack Sparrow  in Pirates of the Caribbean. (I posed with a lookalike on Duval Street once.) Perhaps the most famous of all, however, is Blackbeard.


Who was the man behind the legend?

The Early Years

Blackbeard was born 1680 in Great Britain as Edward Teach (or Thatch). He first worked as a privateer in Jamaica, paid by the British government to attack and plunder French and Spanish ships on the Queen’s behalf. After those wars ended, he was out of a job. This was the situation for many of the sailors at the time who turned to a life of cutthroat piracy as a way to make a living. Considering most pirates were either killed in battle or arrested, tried and killed, it wasn’t the most promising of careers.

Rise to Fame

Pirate Benjamin Hornigold took Blackbeard on as part of his crew. The two worked the Caribbean Sea as equals, a fearsome duo. In 1717, Hornigold rewarded his buddy for all his hard work with the perfect pirate present, his very own ship–captured off the coast of the Bahamas (Le Concorde, a French slaving ship). I wonder what happened to the Africans onboard. Were they freed by the pirates or allowed to join forces with them?

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Spanish Silver Coins “Pieces of Eight” — The Original Pirate Booty

Blackbeard didn’t waste any time outfitting his pride and joy, renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge, with an assortment of cannons–the grand total coming to forty such weapons. The ship was large enough to hold a crew of two hundred fifty men. For the next ten months, Blackbeard terrorized the Caribbean region (including the waters off Key West) and the Atlantic Ocean along the southeast coast of America. Ocracoke, an island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, became his home base.

Things may have worked out better for the pirate had he been a bit less dramatic. He wasn’t the most successful pirate of the era, but he certainly was the most renowned because of his appearance.

It’s All About the Image — How to Look like Blackbeard

  • dress all in black
  • braid long black hair into many section with black ribbons attached
  • wear several pistols strapped to your chest
  • wear a large black captain’s hat
  • (Here’s the kicker) wear slow-burning pieces of rope soaked in saltpeter in your hair and beard to add a glowing fierceness to your face and cloud your appearance with sputtering smoke
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Jewels were another coveted find

Blackbeard’s scheme worked–for a while. Most sailors would surrender their cargo rather than risk a fight with such a formidable opponent. In turn, Blackbeard didn’t have to waste energy, weapons, or his men’s lives. The captured ship’s crew was generally left unharmed, as long as they gave up every item he demanded. One sailor refused to hand over a ring. Blackbeard promptly sliced off the finger, ring and all. Perhaps the pirate had a soft side, too. His crew once captured a ship carrying wealthy passengers (including children). He held them for ransom–a medicine chest–threatening to kill them all if he didn’t receive it. The time came and passed, but he didn’t kill anyone. The medicine chest was eventually given to him and the hostages were released.

Can Pirates Retire?

North Carolina Colonial Governor, Charles Eden, pardoned Blackbeard for piracy in return for his promise to retire. It’s uncertain whether Blackbeard broke his agreement or if Eden allowed him to continue, working with him as a silent partner or turning a blind eye to the activities. Local townspeople tolerated the pirate’s presence as well–purchasing cloth, sugar and other goods the pirate supplied at cheap prices compared to those goods brought directly from England.

Henry Every was one of the few Golden Age pirates known to have retired and live off the spoils of his pirating days.

His Downfall — Cocky and Outsmarted

Patriot or Pirate? It's all about perspective
Patriot or Pirate? It’s all about perspective

After returning from the high seas with his pirate booty (mostly goods such as molasses, grain, rum, rope, and tools), Blackbeard invited a bunch of pirate buddies to party at his ship on the Outer Banks. The Royal Navy got wind of it and sent two ships for his capture. The pirate almost managed to escape with his crew through a narrow channel with a hidden sandbar, but Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground during the exchange of cannon fire between the three battling ships.

Leiutenant Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy outsmarted the wily pirate, hiding his crew below deck. When Blackbeard and his men boarded the vessel, Maynard’s men rose to attack. Blackbeard died in hand-to-hand combat, succumbing only after five bullet wounds and twenty sword cuts. As a warning to the other pirates, his head was cut off and displayed on the naval ship and his body thrown overboard. The date was November 22, 1718. Edward Teach was 38 years old.

What’s your take on Blackbeard and other pirates of his day? Do you admire or revile them? How do they compare to modern-day pirates–whether on the high seas or in cyberspace?

Related Links:

National Geographic Website

Information about The Queen Anne’s Revenge – Blackbeard’s ship was discovered in 1996 twenty feet underwater near the coast of North Carolina. Its contents were donated to the state.

Famous Pirates and Their Flags

Pat Croce’s Pirate Museum — St. Augustine FL