And I Ran

Not too long after I moved to Key West I required surgery on my right knee. My ACL tendon had finally become completely detached, resembling a “spaghetti monster” with many tentacles. Tearing the meniscus in my right knee made it completely unstable and I could hardly walk. After surgery it took months to fully get my strength and mobility back. Now, almost three years later, I’ve started running for exercise.

Also, I recently turned 49 years of age. A few folks have suggested running may not be what I should be doing. They could be right. However, I enjoy running and I’m giving it a try in spite of their kind advice. I’m attempting to be logical about my approach to it (choosing a good but not expensive running show, working my way up from intervals, etc.) to minimize injuries. Now that I’ve been running for a couple of months I’m working on doing three mile runs, three times a week, in addition other types of exercise. Lately I’m slowing down a little to make sure I can finish the mileage without as much fatigue. I’m feeling pretty good and my legs are getting muscular.

Unfortunately after my surgery and subsequent disability I packed on some pounds. I’ve lost about ten so far and feel healthier but still struggle. Now, with regular exercise, getting the diet/eating plan down is an important part of the plan. There is way too much temptation living in this food and drinking mecca. Being healthy is becoming more of a priority and focus and I’m trying to be more mindful.

I love running, walking, biking on this beautiful island of Key West. Many others seem to feel the same. There are various gyms, yoga centers, opportunities to kayak and paddleboard. A couple of “fitness parks” can be found here, one next to the tennis courts and by the dog park on the corner of White and Atlantic by Higg’s Beach.

I stopped at the park one day and was stretching when I was approached by three older folks who appeared to be on their way to Salute, a Mediterranean restaurant. I said, “Hello,” and they were friendly in return, but one says to me, “Exercise? Really?” I responded, “Well, it feels so good when I stop.” It really does. The improvements in my health, posture and energy have all been worth it so far.

Off the Rock

Any time we travel out of the Keys, we say we’re going “off the Rock.” This chain of islands we exist on is a delicate string of saltwater pearls made of coral rock and mostly limestone. It takes a little more than 2 1/2 hours to travel from Key West to Key Largo, then to the “18-mile stretch” of highway bordered by blue barriers until you get to the upper part of Card Sound Road, the Last Chance Saloon and Florida City. Beyond is Miami to the east and the Everglades to the west.

Leaving the Keys is a lot like leaving Narnia and reentering the real world. Driving the interstate is maniacal and frightening. Enormous shopping centers are unheard of through the Keys so on the mainland we can go to places like Ikea and Target, among others. Before Key West got their Taco Bell back people would go on runs to the mainland just to bring back chalupas for their friends. Returning to the Keys is a relief from the rat race even with the usual shopping and dining limitations.

Recently my partner Key West Chris and I traveled to the mainland to play a couple of house concerts. We are testing the waters by going farther afield to perform and, so far, it’s been a great experience. Many of our friends live in Florida and come out to see us. This past weekend we played Art & Darlene’s house, known as Destination D’Arts, and also J & L’s Lei Low which is the home of Jesse and Linda Harrison. Playing house concerts is an intimate and fun experience whether you have a packed house or a small appreciative group. Basically a house concert is just that. Kind folks open up their home to you, invite their friends, and you play music for them. Usually there is a potluck and something for charity. Check into if you have any in your area. They are great fun.

In May we will be traveling back to SW Florida to play at Common Grounds Meeting Hall in North Port May 20th, and “Vinny and Moe’s Lobstaritaville” in Cape Coral May 21st. In June 16th we will be at The Habitat in Bradenton for the first time with our friends B-Man & Mi-shell. On June 17th we will be at Diablo Creek in Englewood with them as well. Danny Lynn of Tiki Man Radio will also be there broadcasting live.

Besides playing music we also get to spend time with our wonderful friends who are the most amazing, hospitable people you can imagine. We head back to the Rock with happy memories. It’s about the only reason we don’t mind leaving the Keys for the madness of the mainland.

Thanks to Terri Hood for the photo above. She performs under the name “Toes in the Sand.”

Visit my website for more information on where you can see me perform.

Biking around Key West

I may have mentioned this in an earlier post but the first time I truly fell in love with Key West was when I was on a bicycle, riding around, getting lost, all by myself.

When people come to visit I always tell them to ditch their car. Parking here, at best, is problematic and expensive. Parking in most city lots will cost you up to $30 per day. On neighborhood streets throughout the city many spaces are marked as “Residential Parking” which means that if you don’t live here, you can’t park there. Since parking our own cars is a pain for us you can imagine how we feel when someone takes up our prized space in front of our residence.

In other words, avoiding driving in Key West if you can help it. We have public transportation and taxis plus lots of hotels offer shuttles. Once downtown you can hoof it everywhere. Some folks rent scooters, some electric cars, aka slow moving vehicles. My chosen conveyance is the trusty bicycle.

Many of the hotels either have bikes you can rent on site or can assist you in obtaining a rental for your stay here. Lots of the bike rental companies deliver to your room. The quality of bikes ranges greatly from clunky cruisers to nice foldable bikes and everything in between, and usually include lights, a lock and a helmet. If you ride at night you MUST have lights, the brighter the better. I suggest wearing your helmet. I wear mine. I might look like a wuss in your eyes but I am allergic to brain damage and accidents do happen.

If you aren’t confident on a bike, do not rent one. If you are reasonably able to balance and can keep your wits about you, you’ll be fine. The keys are to take things slower, look around, be aware and be seen. Florida law states that bicycles are vehicles just like cars, albeit slower, which means you are supposed to abide by the same rules as cars in the flow of traffic, including stop signs and stop lights. When you’re here you’ll notice no one gives that any concern. Bicycles blow through intersections frequently, but so do cars and scooters. What is important here is your own safety and well being. No one can read your mind and guess what you’ll do next. Just try not to give the police extra work.

Speaking of the police, you can get a BUI for drunken biking. Mostly they will ask you to lock up your bike and try to make it to your home or hotel on foot so you don’t bash your face in on a tree. Don’t be a jerk. Just do what they tell you. It’s for your own good.

Always lock your bike. Bike theft is possibly the number one crime in Key West. Once, at the Cork and Stogie, a friend noticed someone snipping the cable off a friend’s trike (a three wheeled bike) and starting to do the old getaway. Quickly she abandoned her beer and chased him down, shouting at him until he left the bike and disappeared running down a side street. If you live here cable locks are better than nothing but I highly recommend a thicker chain lock like the ones made by Abus. I bought one that had not only a combination lock but also a key. It wasn’t cheap but it’s damn near impregnable and more flexible than the old U-shaped lock.

Biking around Key West IS very popular and an amazing way to fall in love with the town. Fewer cars zooming around is such a blessing here. For a great exercise it’s about 10 miles to ride around the edges of the island, if you choose to attempt it. Just be careful out there, okay? Be safe, be smart and you will be happy you rode your bike instead of driving.

Cold in Key West

Yesterday, January 7th, 2017, the temperature in Key West as a balmy 85. The rest of the East Coast was looking at very low temperatures and snow storms. What could that mean for our little island town?

Today is a very different picture. After rain and storms passed through, that all changed. I know most of you will yawn, snigger or say, “Whatever,” but it’s COLD here today. The projected low appeared to be 68 Fahrenheit yesterday, but that was entirely wrong. Sitting up under the coverlet, I reached for my phone to discover it was only 54 degrees. My feet are freezing. It feels like late October in PA. I know. You have no sympathy for me but I’m hoping you’ll understand this one thing. We are used to being really warm most of the time. If you subtract 54 from 85 that’s a 31 degree drop. Granted, by Thursday we will back to 77 so “winter” ain’t so bad.

The coldest it has been here is 42 and that’s only happened twice in recorded history. Living in a tropical climate isn’t for everyone. It does get hot here and very humid during the summer. The sun can be very intense. There are tropical storms, hurricanes, coastal flooding. Of course we never get snow here and are frost free. There are trade offs for every climate. Where you live frequently depends on what you can tolerate. As you know, I like it hot. Just listen to the song below from my CD “Songs of Love & the Ocean.”

I Like It Hot

Luckily, I still have socks and shoes, a few jackets, long pants and jeans, for those infrequent bouts of “winter.” A space heater is all we need when the temps remain a little colder than we like. We make soup, bake, nest, just like anyone else.

We do have a job tonight. Chris Rehm, Bob Tucker and I, The Shanty Hounds, have a gig at Grunts Bar, 409 Caroline Street, in Key West. I have a feeling it will still be a bit brisk when we play from 8 to 11pm EST.

So, it gets a little cold here. I’m not out to compare my experience to yours. Having lived in the MidAtlantic for most of my life I completely understand what you’re going through up North. In any event, I hope your winter isn’t too bad. When you get sick of the cold and snow, come on down and visit us. Cheers!

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

I’m sure most have a favorite Christmas song. My heart has a soft spot for songs from the 40’s so mine is “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” The song is a melancholy yet uplifting gem written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine and was introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 movie, “Meet Me in St. Louis.” In the scene in which the song is sung, Garland’s character Esther is trying to cheer up her little sister Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien. Their father is thinking of moving them to New York city so he can accept a job promotion and they really don’t want to leave their home in St. Louis. The moment is poignant as tears fill little Tootie’s eyes. Things aren’t good now but “next year all our trouble will be miles away.” Listen to the tune with the link below.

Watch the Video on YouTube

The holidays are a difficult time for many. In 1944 families were separated by World War II, temporarily or permanently. Throughout the years until today folks have been filled with uncertainty about a world where wars are still fought, there is poverty, terrorism, disease and other continuing concerns. Holidays and celebrations are occasions to set aside our worries temporarily, gather with family and friends and create happy memories to sustain us throughout the rest of the year. Unfortunately, that’s not easy for everyone. Still, we hold out our candle of hope and try to make the best of it.

Growing up in our house, Christmas meant “Mom.” Our mom loved Christmas to pieces. Like a mad elf, she embraced the shopping, the baking, the tree trimming, to the fullest extent. I still remember dad driving us all around the neighborhood in Essex, MD, in our car to gaze in wonder at the beautifully lit houses. There were Christmas parties, visits to Valley View Farms to see the displays, caroling, making cookies, Christmas specials on TV (Rudolf!), midnight mass. We spent time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and close family friends. It certainly wasn’t idyllic. Dad had to work a lot to keep a roof over our heads. There were squabbles and disappointments, but we got through it and my memories of Christmas over the years are mostly wonderful.

Today I’m on my way to 49 years old now and living far away from where I grew up. Mom has been gone for eleven years. Dad, my step Mama Rose and brother are in Maryland. My cousins all have their own families, children, grandchildren. When the past leaves you, or you leave it, making new traditions that you can call your own is important. This Christmas, in Key West, I am spending it by the beach with friends. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, there will be ham, potluck dishes, some cheer, laughter and, later tonight, music when we, The Shanty Hounds, play once again at Grunts Bar, 409 Caroline Street.

So, have yourself a merry little Christmas now. Set aside your cares just for today. Create a new tradition, small or large, a happy memory to sustain you for the coming year. We can muddle through, somehow, together. That’s why I love this old song. The quiet optimism in the face of sadness and the unknown. As in olden days, I hope the fates allow us happy golden days in 2017.

Thanks for reading. Here is a related opinion piece by Bruce Handy from the New York Times.

NYT Opinion Piece by Bruce Handy

Character Development

In an earlier blog I mentioned the possibility of writing a book or novel entitled “TropiGal.”  I have written a little already focusing on the characters who, of course, are mostly women. The central theme is women who have moved to Key West/the Keys for their own unique reasons. I’ll be telling stories about their triumphs and challenges.

The main character is named Lucky Wheeler (at least for now), a transplant from up north. Her mother decided to name her daughter Lucky, which was her mom’s maiden surname, a name she felt very proud of because of how unique it sounds. It seemed like a great name for a little girl and a way to carry on the family name since she was married and had changed her name to her husband’s.

Lucky is an artist who was drawn to move to Key West to live her dream as a creative person full time. She meets Mark, a musician, while visiting the Keys, and they really hit it off. She’s based on me, to some degree, but is a fictional character, so her experience will not be completely autobiographical. They say, “write what you know,” so it seems best to start with my own journey, however fictionalized.

I’m writing various stories at this point and not in a linear fashion. I’m currently writing a piece where Lucky is on a painting trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park. Here is a small excerpt first draft for example:

Lucky’s hand hung in mid air, paintbrush loaded with cerulean blue, poised, motionless, like a heron preparing to strike at a fish. Peering around her canvas at the walls of Fort Jefferson, she fixed her gaze, enjoying the contrast between the red brick structure and the intense blue of the sky. Her brush darted forward, the ball of paint now committed to, her hand stroking the color down, then up. She dipped her brush again and continued filling in the sky.

Artist Patricia Coote had organized a plein air painting expedition to the Dry Tortugas National Park through the Studios of Key West. Lucky jumped at the chance to not only pay a visit to this remote Civil War era outpost but also the opportunity to spend the afternoon basking in the sun while painting. The day couldn’t be more glorious with nothing but a few high wispy clouds far off on the horizon.

Choosing a location where she could capture some of the snorkelers struggling in and out of the water with their flippers, Lucky spent some time doing some quick studies in her sketch book and taking photos. She was inspired enough to take some ideas home to paint later. Since this was a plein air experience, French for “painting outdoors,” Lucky wanted to make sure she at least had a pretty good start on one painting before the ferry returned them to Key West.

There are two ways one can travel to the Dry Tortugas, which is 70 miles west of Key West. You can travel by seaplane ferry. The painting group had taken the Yankee Freedom II, a high speed catamaran operated by the National Park Service.

I’ve never written a novel. I have written some short stories, poetry, songs, of course. I’m looking forward to the exploration of another side of creativity. I’m highly inspired by the stories of many strong women who have moved here and I’m looking forward to telling those stories. Now, back to writing.

Beach Day

I’ve been a little serious in the last couple of posts, so…

Tomorrow we are going to the beach. It’ll be Wednesday and we have no other plans. Our friend and bass player Bob has his birthday on Friday and two of our friends are celebrating 5 years of marriage so we will be heading to Fort Zachary Taylor once again for beach time and barbecue.

It’s funny that I’ve been here almost three years and have spent so little time at the beach. I have spent a deal of time out on the water on boats, which is also tons of fun, too. When you live on an island it seems to me being in and on water is a huge plus.

In reality, Key West has no natural beaches. Everything is manmade. The coral reef prevents actual beaches from being created by tides. The surf doesn’t pound. It laps.

Ft. Zach is a state park. There is a nominal fee for entry and you can hang out there all day and then watch the sunset, after which you have to leave. Once you pay your entry and pass through the gate and up the winding road past Navy property you can stop to visit Fort Zachary Taylor, a Civil War masonry structure that was never completed. Climb up to the top and get a great view of the water and surrounding mangroves filled with huge iguanas sunning themselves.

A little further down the road is a large parking lot and bike racks. The beach is not surrounded by only palm trees but is also home to many tall Australian pines whose wispy fronds provide excellent shade. Since we will be barbecuing we’ll stay under the pines toward the Navy property where the grills and tables are. In the opposite direction, off to the right, if you’re facing the water, you can wander down to a small hut to rent chairs and umbrellas.

Since it is a state park, alcohol is prohibited. There is a snack bar where you can buy beer and so on but you have to imbibe it at the stand. They have some nice tables plus the bathrooms and showers are right there.

The ocean temperature is wonderful this time of year, though not as much like bath water as it is during the height of summer. It’s a great place to just hang out in the salty water which deepens immediately upon entering. Ft. Zach is also great for snorkeling and swimming if you’re feeling more active.

Other beaches can be found on Key West but I recommend Ft. Zach as the nicest for all the reasons above. Cheers! See you on the beach.

Perspective

Tim Burton said, “One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.”

Sometimes I’m driven, like many, to express my opinion about the current political climate or some other issue on the interwebs. It’s so easy to drop a comment or get pulled into an argument, trading barbs and blasting angry words in a thread. I’m doing my best not to react, and I’ve failed, but it saddens me to see even my own family making hate-filled posts. The best I can do is unfollow the worst, which I have done (family, too) and find inner calm to not jump into the fray. Politics in this country are out of control and I’m frankly hoping for a peaceful shake up of the system. I’m hoping for a future where we aren’t propelled toward hate and fear by talking heads on cable news networks and false propaganda masquerading as truth.

I realize we all are emotional creatures. Having been assaulted more than once as a young female I find the current news cycle to be very disturbing. That said, I can’t discount the feelings and concerns of others about the candidates. We are all being pulled this way and that because of a myriad of reasons personal and political. This is not a simple process.

If we can find a way to look past the lies and our emotions perhaps we can be more reasonable people. We can choose to find inner peace and practice peace between us if we think first and don’t just react. Agree to disagree and shake hands. What happened to polite discussion? Ask yourself, “Is this for real?” Think. These people aren’t demons. They are very flawed individuals in the political arena, sparring for the highest office in the land. I would love to see respectful dialogue that doesn’t include memes and name calling. Even the most basic comments have become a field for trolls.

In conclusion, the internet is a place where opinion becomes reality. When discourse of any kind becomes angry ranting and vicious thoughtless attacks, I’m out.Be a positive vehicle for change, not just an angry voice shouting diatribes. Practice peace, respect others of every race and creed, and consider things from another’s perspective. That’s what my mom and my faith taught me.

Thanks for reading.

Photo from Key Largo, FL

 

Hurricane Plan

hurricane-facts

It’s Saturday and, by sometime later this week, a hurricane will be once again pound Florida. Hurricane Matthew is currently a category 4 storm getting ready to pounce on Jamaica and Haiti. Concerned friends here in Key West are discussing their “hurricane plan.”

Folks who live in hurricane prone areas are encouraged to have a hurricane plan. When you live in the Florida Keys on an archipelago of tiny islands there aren’t too many places to go to avoid wind and flooding. It floods here all the time with a good heavy rain. One has to consider survival tactics, evacuation plans and things such as pet care, clean water, what to eat when the stove doesn’t work. At this time it doesn’t appear we will be hit directly but the effects of the storm will be felt here. We could lose power, suffer property damage, loss of life. It’s quite a sobering idea, except for one thing. We live in Key West.

I asked a local guy what he had in mind if Matthew hits. He laughingly mentioned something about rolling up a fat one and lots of alcohol. Others are talking parties, too. I haven’t lived here long enough to experience a hurricane or a hurricane party. People party here at the drop of a hat (or a large red shoe on New Year’s Eve). Key West, with over 300 liquor licenses, is one of the “drinking-est” towns in the country. It’s also one town that raises lots of money for charity. There is always some kind of fundraiser going on in this town and you can bet the majority are also partying while supporting a cause.

Some discussion, of course, is about which category will make us leave the Keys. It takes a lot for some to consider traveling north. In a mandatory evacuation, which occurs with a cat 3 hurricane, tourists are made to leave first, residents the next day. Depending on the category there are a couple of places to hole up. The evacuation center in Key West is Key West High School for cat 1 or 2. Beyond that the main shelter is Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition all the way up on the mainland. Sounds scary, right? Driving that long thin road all the way up to Florida with thousands of other freaked out people in nasty weather? What would you do?

In just a few days we will have to deal with the reality of some horrible conditions. It is something to take seriously, of course. We probably won’t be as hard hit as other islands in the Caribbean. Whatever happens, Key West will take things in stride and raise a glass.

Cheers and good luck to all in the path of Matthew.