Do You Believe in Signs?

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.

http://kellyimagesandphotography.webs.com/

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Key West Wonders

Boating through the backcountry

Boating the backcountry

I treasure many moments from our recent getaway to the Conch Republic, including a kayaking tour, a romantic sunset dinner at the famous Latitudes Restaurant, and to my honey’s delight, an early morning fishing excursion.

Sunny Key West Morning

Sunny Key West Morning

I’m not exactly a morning person. Okay, I’m most definitely not, and vacation is the perfect excuse to savor a lazy wake up. But we had so much fun fishing with Captain Ron a few years back on our first Key West charter that I agreed to do it all over again. This time out, I promised myself I would remember how to cast a line and I was determined to bait my own hook and learn how to handle any fish I caught.

Sailboat neighbors

Sailboat neighbors

You see these sailboats floating around on the gulf side of Key West? People live on these vessels, some full-time in the harbor and others staying anywhere from a week to a month before moving on. Imagine how much thinking, writing, or reading you could accomplish without all the distractions. I wonder…

Jack and Me

Jack and Me

I loved every part of the experience, from watching the sun rise as our skiff motored through the channels to the backcountry fishing spots to learning about the different baits, lures and eating fish, to catching  our lunch and releasing my first-ever fighting fish–a beautiful jack.

The competition

The competition — a brown pelican

For four beautiful hours we were part of nature, the warm sun at our backs, the waves lapping against the skiff, and exotic birds landing near us as we waited patiently for a tug on our lines.

An egret

A Great White Egret

I hope to travel to the southernmost city in America again one day soon. The waters are calling me. I’ve added Pilates to my routine in preparation for our next adventure–paddle boarding.

Our Catch -- feed us and guests at Turtle Kraals

The catch we shared with fellow guests at Turtle Kraals

What’s one of your favorite memories from 2013?

Kayaking the Keys

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Downwind EcoTours at Geiger Key, 8 miles east of Old Town KW

Kayaking the Keys

Floating through the Mangroves

Floating through the Mangroves

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.

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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 Highlights:

Double-Crested Cormorant

Dry and Ready for Flight

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.

Cormorant nest in a red mangrove.

Cormorant Nest in a Red Mangrove

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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.

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Tortuga Jack with a Horseshoe Crab

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.

A Horseshoe Crab

A Horseshoe Crab

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.

Paddling the Quiet Channels

Paddling the Quiet Channels

We looked carefully, but those toothy creatures remained hidden. I suppose that was a good thing.

Crossing the channel; Overseas Highway in the distance

Crossing the Channel with the Overseas Highway in the Distance

A Mangrove Maze

A Mangrove Maze

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.

Nature meets Civilization

Nature Meets Civilization

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.

What special memories have you collected this autumn season?

Scenes From a Country Road

It’s often said that you cannot truly appreciate the beauty of a place until you leave it behind. No truer words were ever spoken. Here are a few of my favorite moments en route to our family reunion in the Adirondacks, where we shared a few stories, a few laughs, and lots of food, drink, and hugs.

My fictional town of Starling is inspired by the land I knew as a child and teen in beautiful upstate New York and the way of life I observe when visiting loved ones far from my current home on Long Island.

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How did you enjoy this last unofficial weekend of summer? What was your favorite moment of the season?

The Jersey Shore and More

 

The Jersey Shore

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Gotta Have an Ice Cream

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.

Asbury Park Beach, NJ

Asbury Park Beach, NJ

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.

The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk

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.

DSCN0333The 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!)

Tourists Abound!

Tourists Abound!

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 1078364_10151588000943511_1002921687_nmy 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!

The Dunes

The Dunes

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A Lazy, Hazy Day

A Lazy, Hazy Day

Sunken Meadow's version of a boardwalk

Sunken Meadow’s version of a boardwalk

Which kind of beach experience do you prefer? Lively or laid-back? Or does it depend on your mood?

Here a Cluck, There a Cluck

Blue Heaven Resident

Blue Heaven Resident

Key West is known for its wild nightlife. Today we talk about its wildlife, or more specifically, its resident fowls. Anyone visiting the island, sooner or later, will come across these feral chickens. Some may have to stop their vehicle to allow a hen and her chicks the right-of-way, others will see them roaming the streets and yards throughout the small city. And pretty much everyone I’ve talked with who visits the fair island has been woken at one time or another by the energetic crowing of an energetic early rising rooster.

Isn't he beautiful!

Isn’t he beautiful!

Personally, I love watching the chickens. When I eat lunch at Blue Heaven, I happily observe them roosting in nearby trees and pecking at errant cornbread crumbs on the brick patio. I’ll often stop my bicycle as we’re rambling along side streets to take photos. Once, I even interrupted our Duval Street  stroll to video a mama hen teaching her babies how to dig for insects.

Cute animal video aside, I don’t live there. I don’t have to worry about these birds bringing disease to my backyard or their burgeoning population encroaching onto my private property. I’ve heard and read mixed reviews from the locals about the chickens’ presence. Some embrace them, most seem to tolerate them, but others are quite vocal about what they refer to as the “chicken infestation.”

The Key West chicken is a hybrid. When Cubans moved to the island, they brought their cockfighting fowl with them. The sport was outlawed by Florida in 1986 and the Cuban species was let loose. They bred with domestic chickens on the island left behind by former owners and voila–we have the modern Key West chicken.  (For more information about the birds’ history, you could read this article from Key West History Magazine.)

Fowl practices?

As human and chicken populations increased on the tiny island, the City of Key West found the need to address the issue and, since 2009, has assigned monies to help ease the concerns of residents regarding the animals’ health conditions and overcrowding. Approximately 1,000 of the 3,000 chicken residents were trapped and relocated to the Florida mainland that first year but the practice ended a year later. Some sources I researched claim that Key West residents were angered to learn the bird “retirement” homes was actually the site of a slaughterhouse. Other sources cite that holding pens were instituted but that practice was abandoned due to contamination of nearby waters from chicken waste. According to the Key West Wildlife Center  website, their new management (as of June 2011) has sought to “provide rescue, medical care, re-homing and adoption services.” Whatever the case, this debate over the Key West Chicken appears to be far from over.

What do you think about the issue of animal habitats conflicting with humans? Do you have a similar concern in your area? If so, how is the problem being handled?

Watch Hill, Fire Island

 

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.

Getting 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.

Leaving Patchogue Marina

Leaving Patchogue Marina

A Fire Island Ferry

A Fire Island Ferry

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.

DSCN7427Amenities 

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.

DSCN7451What 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.

Boardwalk to beach and nature trail

Boardwalk to beach and nature trail

DSCN7447If 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.

Snack Shop & Tiki Bar

Snack Shop & Tiki Bar

Watch Hill Beach

Watch Hill Beach

Restrooms, seating area, and souvenir store

Restrooms, seating area, and souvenir store

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.

DSCN7463Related Links:

http://www.watchhillfi.com/

http://www.fireislandcc.org/fitrans.html

http://www.fireisland.net/

Have you discovered any new gems in your summer travels?

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