South Florida Sunshine


#BlueGlassFL, Social Media, and Making Connections

Never doubt the power and value of the relationships in life and business.  Case in point, thanks in part to a series of serendipitous connections I decided to attend the BlueGlass FL conference.

This strange series of events started quite some time ago.  My mother-in-law was visiting us from Oklahoma, and she had never been to Key West.  So, we packed up the whole family and went on a little road trip for the day.  At dinner time I hopped on my personal Twitter account on my iPhone to comment on how much I enjoyed my afternoon in Key West and hoped to return soon for a longer visit.  A few minutes later a response came back from a complete stranger that I should consider staying longer than a weekend.  I love a good conversation, so I responded back.  That initial contact led to adding a tourist company in Key West as a social media client.

What does this have to do with BlueGlass?  Hold on, I’m getting to that.

But if you want the full story you will have to read it on my Social Media Blog.


Pilate’s Cross – A Smashing E-Book

By Michelle Stinson Ross at One Writer’s Journey

“’The X-Files’ meets ‘The Prisoner’ when John Pilate, his sarcastic imaginary pal Simon and lovely instructor friend Kate investigate the mystery of a murdered college president–a mystery with loose ends more than 40 years later. In too deep to wash his hands of the mystery, he risks death to get to the truth of what really happened in 1963 and why it’s just as deadly 40 years later.”

From Smashwords.com

John Pilate’s life is a total disaster. His wife, Samantha, left him. He’s recovering from throat surgery after a cancer scare. Unemployed, broke, and off his anti-depressants, he’s desperately in need of a second chance. But second chances aren’t what they are cracked up to be when a new job offers the opportunity to start over again. The tiny township of Cross is anything but the sleepy little college town it seems to be. The loose ends of a 40 year old murder/suicide are triggering some strange events. The crypt of a prominent family is desecrated, and the local mortician is beat within an inch of his life. An outsider with no chance of ever fitting in, John Pilate finds himself in deep and will risk his life to uncover the truth in this gripping murder mystery by J. Alexander Greenwood.

For me, Pilate’s Cross was a total winner. When I first read it several months ago, I was along for the ride with John Pilate, the title character. I was as in the dark as much as he was. Greenwood kept me guessing until the very end. I picked it up a second time to review and was thrilled all over again. Greenwood weaves a depth of detail throughout the book that can only be caught on a second reading once you know what’s really going on. Full of humor and oh-so-quotable quips, it’s a no-brainer e-book purchase.

The one shortcoming for me was that I can’t get it in print. I’m an old school book lover, and I will never let go of the joy of holding those lovely pages in my hands. Pilate’s Cross would certainly be a book I’d plunk down the coin to have it in print. But I can’t complain too much, thanks to Smashwords.com, I have it on my iPhone, and I can take it with me everywhere I go.  It’s also available on Sony E-Reader, BarnesandNoble.com, iBooks, and Kobo.com

Author J. Alexander Greenwood

Mr. Greenwood is currently putting the finishing touches on the follow-up to this thriller. Believe me, I will be clicking the option to buy Pilate’s Key as soon as it’s available. Hurry up Alex. I can’t wait to see what mayhem you bring to Key West!

If you’re ever down in Key West, here are some suggestions on where to pick up more great books.

Key West: Where to Find the Perfect Beach Book


A Tattoo Story

Hi, I’m Michelle, I’m a mother of three, my husband’s wife, and I got my first tattoo when I was 35.

Would you like to know how a conservative Christian from the heart of the Bible Belt wound up with a rock-n-roll butterfly tattoo?

Just a few years ago, I was having some serious issues with my self image, and it was wrecking my marriage.  My dear hubby and I have been married for 14 years. We’ve been through all the usual fights and misunderstandings and trials that all couples go through. But I had a lot of baggage I needed to deal with. I had a very conservative upbringing. And since I was a very nerdy kid, I was too involved in school books to even consider dating as a teenager. I didn’t really start dating until college, and even then I was way too uptight to explore. I had dated a total of four guys by the time I met future-hubby.

I was 19 and he was 36. He took two years to be sure that we were going to work before he proposed. We got pregnant about a year later. By our fifth anniversary our third child was on the way. In the midst of all the changes the pregnancies were making to my body, I automatically defaulted to my mother’s modeling. I spent all my time and energy on the babies and covered up my body.  Adjusting to family life caused me to take very little care for myself. I call it being stuck in the “Mommy Mire,” and I completely lost myself in it for a while.

When we moved to Florida, thousands of miles from the rest of our families, we continued to fight and tear each other apart. We were getting close to talking about divorce, and I fell into depression. There were days that I couldn’t  function. I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and sleep to escape. NOT good. I hated what I had become and was desperate to change.

All of the sudden I cracked, but in a very good way. Out of the blue it occurred to me to let go of the hang ups. All of the sudden I decided I liked who I was and what I looked like. That, in turn allowed me to begin to open up again to my sweet man. No doubt all of you guys know THAT went a long way to healing the issues between hubby and me.

We started talking. Talking about what felt good, what we dreamed about, what we wanted; everything really.

Talking got me back to writing. My very first short story was written as a birthday gift for hubby. He loved it so much and thought it was so well done, that he encouraged me to find a way to share it.

Writing became a way for me to explore options I had never considered before. I reconnected with the flirtatious and teasing side of myself that I’d stuffed away for years.

Existing butterfly tattoo on my lower back

To say the least I had changed. I had changed in some pretty big ways and will never go back. And that was the inspiration for the butterfly tattoo. I gave up being a caterpillar, broke free of the cocoon, and now I have wings on which I intend to soar. And since I don’t ever want to go back I made a change to myself in the way of a tattoo, so that I can’t ever physically be the same again.

That was a little over a year ago now, and I’m seriously considering adding to that first tattoo.  Like the first one there is a story to go with it.  For a while I’ve been pondering adding to it just because I liked the first one.  It appeals to the creative, artistic side of me.  I’ve also wanted to memorialize how much living here has influenced me.  I love the ocean and the tropical plants and weather.  But it was the recent passing of my last living grandparent that gave me a reason to act on the impulse.

I like the idea of something up one side of my back

I was very lucky growing up, because I lived very near one great-grandmother and both of my grandmothers.  I was very close to them, and they all had a huge influence on my life.  My great-grandmother lived long enough to see me get married.  She passed away about seven months after the wedding when I was 22.  Both of my grandmothers lived to get to know all of our children.  My paternal grandmother passed away a few years ago not long after she turned 89.  Just this last month my remaining grandmother passed on as the result of the slow progression of Parkinson’s Disease.  As I said, all three of these women had a very strong influence in my life, so I decided to memorialize that with an addition of a tattoo.

It didn’t take long once the decision was made to find just the prefect design.  I wanted something tropical and all three of my grandmothers loved flowers.  When I came across this design with hibiscus and a butterfly, I knew I had found what I was looking for.  There are a few changes and additions I’d like to make for this to be perfect.  I have three people I want to remember, so I need one more hibiscus.  I’d also like the design of the butterfly to be adjusted to match the style of my existing butterfly.  And, of course, it needs some color.  I’m thinking pinks, yellows, oranges . . . shades of the beautiful Key West sunsets.

This is the design I'm considering

All I need now is the right artist to take these elements and bring my tattoo to life.  So the search begins to find someone in South Florida to make my plan a reality.  With so many fantastic shops and lots of amazing artists here, I thought I’d bring you along for the journey.


Via Key West – Bring Funky and Fabulous Home

Ever have those days at work when you just want to run away?  Would even a few hours of sandy beaches and frothy drinks do your mind good?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few reminders of that last trip to Key West at home?  Of course the answer to all these questions is, YES!!!

My dear friend, Lisa Malcom, has the cure for your ills.  Well, okay, maybe a really good band-aid until you can get back to Key West.  I’d certainly call it the next-best-thing to being here.

Lisa is a long time resident of Key West, and an island style entrepenure.  Her website www.viakeywest.com brings all that is funky and fabulous about this little tropical paradise to anyone anywhere in the world.

Maybe what you need is a tropical treat, something to remind you of the famous Key Lime Pie.  Why not order one of Oprah’s favorite things, the Key Lime Bundt Cake?  Personally, I’m all about the chocolate.  Via Key West has an absolutely amazing Triple Chocolate Chip Fudge Cake.  Let’s all pause a moment while the chocoholics take care of where they just drooled all over the keyboard.

Maybe you’d like to recapture the memories of good times with friends hanging out on Duval Street? I bet a little live music from Yankee Jack would bring back all sorts of fond memories.

What about all of the beautiful historic homes and places that make Key West so unique?  Don’t you wish you had picked up some art in one of the galleries?  ViaKeyWest.com has a fantastic assortment of photography, water colors, and mixed media art to choose from.

Maybe you need something sentamental for that someone special you’d like to remind of lazy days falling in love and watching the sunset together.  How about a lovely pearl bracelet to remind her of long walks on sandy beaches?

And what if you haven’t made it to visit Key West and are waiting for the opportunity to go? Via Key West has several books to help keep the dream alive.  There are books to help plan your destination wedding, tales of what it’s like to live here, and even a book on how to “Quit Your Job and Move to Key West.” 

So take a break and satisfy that need for something uniquely Key West.  You’ll be so glad you did.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like …

Key West: Where to Find the Perfect Beach Book

Key West: The Ultimate Art Colony


Guest Post for the Real Housewives of Oklahoma – Gone Too Far South

Some great girlfriends of mine have given me the great honor of being the very first guest to post on their blog.  I had to share a little of what I wrote for them with you.

I bet none of you would have ever guessed that there is a way for a Southern girl to go TOO far south. But it seems that’s just what I’ve managed to do. Honey, Texas just THINKS they’re a whole other country. It’s a wonder I don’t need a passport down here in Palm Beach County, Florida! Heaven help me, I know I need a translator. And half the time the translator is needed to make other people understand this SOUTHERN girl!

What cracks me up most about these people are the true locals. There is a tiny minority of people who where actually born and raised here in South Florida. Some of them mistakenly believe that due to the extreme southerly location that they are southern. But if you try to get them talking about fried okra and shellin’ peas they look at you like you just walked off a spaceship from Mars. I miss home an awful lot sometimes, y’all.

A friend of mine from Texas (I know, I know, but bless their hearts they’re still southern) sent me this list of “Southern-isms” that helps me get through those homesick days.

Only a Southerner knows the difference between a hissie fit and a conniption fit, and that you don’t ‘HAVE’ them, you ‘PITCH’ them. I don’t know maybe it’s the tropical paradise vibe with the sun and sandy beaches, but I think it’s starting to affect me. I’ve been here nearly 8 years now and I KNOW I’ve pitched far fewer fits lately. Tell ya what, though, I can still spot a child’s hissie fit coming from a mile away.

Even Southern babies know that ‘Gimme some sugar’ is not a request for the white, granular sweet substance that sits in a pretty little bowl in the middle of the table. Oh my word, how many times did I hear my Grandmama say just that. “Come here, babe, and gimme some sugar.” Or better yet, how many of your children have had their sugar STOLEN while sitting in Grandma’s lap? Not much sugar gets spread around these parts, and I’m fairly certain that may just be what’s wrong with ‘em.

For more giggles and “Southern-isms” please stop on over at  www.theRHOK.com to read the rest of my post “Gone Too Far South.”


The Secret to Key West Lodging Values – Guest Post

This week I am hosting a post from my friend Jerry Garrett.  The following article was originally published in his blog, Garrett On The Road, on November 29, 2009.
Another legendary Key West sunset, from Mallory Square (Photos by Jerry Garrett)

KEY WEST, Florida

Key West is a legendary location for lost weekends.

But the cost of getting wasted in Margaritaville (scope out webcams of your favorite watering holes here) has been going up, especially the last few years.

Sloppy Joe’s, a famous watering hole on Duval Street in downtown Margaritaville.

It is difficult to find a room for the night – anything decent anyway – for under $100. Many of the most popular places have been asking for two-night minimums – usually Friday and Saturday – in addition to room rates that have gone up 20-40 percent.

How do you find a great place to stay in the Crown Jewel of the Florida Keys, at a rate that will leave you plenty of pocket change for tumbler after tumbler of tequila?

On a recent visit, the website Kayak was invaluable for locating lots of choices, and identifying favorable rates. The trick is getting to know how to use it, to your best advantage.

A noteworthy address in Key West, and a reminder to avoid the heartbreak of over-priced lodging.

Kayak was good at finding rooms per night – even at places that said on their websites, in their advertising or at their reservation numbers that two nights was the minimum stay.

Kayak also would generally find rates lower than the hotel would quote directly. The newly refurbished Orchid Key Inn (formerly the Key Lodge), the top B&B of 140 in Key West rated by TripAdvisor, was on Kayak at $99-$109 most nights; the average walk-up rate is $224.

An Island Oasis, a lovely old Key West inn, was available for two nights over Thanksgiving through Kayak at $110 a night (which sent you to www.bedandbreakfast.com – which charged no additional fees). The walk-up rate was $159.

An Island Oasis is a good example of old Key West, Cape Cod style architecture

The innkeeper also insisted on a two-night minimum, if you asked her directly. But single nights were available through Kayak on four of the five nights that holiday weekend.

Another tactic was to check Kayak at about 8:00 o’clock each morning. It seems the inns, hotels and motels will release some unsold rooms at extra low rates – if you are willing to wait until the “day of” to chose that night’s lodging.

That may be a game of chicken that cautious travelers aren’t willing to play. But there seems to be no shortage of available rooms in this town, even on holiday weekends. Dozens of places had their “Vacancy” signs out all weekend.

Vacancy signs are common

Some of those could be a bit deceiving though. More than once, when enquiring at an inn with a “Vacancy” sign out front, I was told, “We’re actually full up, but there are rooms at our sister property.”

The cost of property in Key West makes it hard for small inns to go it alone. So some have formed groups (hard to tell who owns whom) such as the Historic Key West Inns that rep several properties.

That was the story at the Merlin Guesthouse, which advertised availability on Kayak, but sent people instead to its affiliate, Albury Court. Plus, they said the nightly rate at the Albury, a collection of small, modern cottages in Key West style, was $119. By waiting until 8:00 a.m. the next day, the Albury could be booked through Kayak for $99.

The evocatively named Key Lime Inn, actually a collection of small cottages.

That is also how the best rate was obtained for the evocatively named Key Lime Inn of just $109 a night – a good $20-$50 off various rack rates that I saw for it.

The Casa Marina is still the grande dame of Key West hotels

An old favorite here is the historic Casa Marina Resort (now part of Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria collection), which has improved greatly over the years. Ten years ago, the walk-up rate was $229 a night for a small double. Kayak helped locate a rate of just $179 one morning; but by afternoon of that same day, the lowest rate Kayak could find was $239.

Finally, if you want to avoid the chains, or groups, and find the most authentic kind of one-off Key West lodging experience, it still pays to just walk up and down a few streets in the neighborhoods. Independent innkeepers still thrive. And some of them are perfectly content to survive on word-of-mouth alone.

A lush tropical garden conceals much of this secret hideway

Those are the best kind, in my experience; just like this wonderful old Cape Cod style mansion for tonight at just $100 – some $85 off the rate quoted by the inn’s 800 number. Can’t tell you where it is, though; sworn to secrecy.

Jerry Garrett

Be sure to check out Jerry’s blog Garrett On The Road and give him a follow on Twitter @jg3arrow

For more information about planning any Key West activities as well as bookings please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help!

Related articles of possible interest:

Key West-My Top Ten Eateries

Touring Key West in an Electric Car


KEY WEST: SHIPWRECKS SHELLS SQUARES & SUNSETS – Guest Post

THANKS FOR VISITING!!!

Today we continue with part 4 of our 5 part special photo walk feature of Key West as presented by our friend, photographer, designer, and blogger Lynda Quintero-Davids.  Join us as we share Lynda’s inspiring viewpoint in this installment entitled: Key West: Shipwrecks, Shells, Squares, & Sunsets.

While putting together this series this week, I’ve learned about all the industries Key West has thrived on – some of which were: fishing, turtling, sponging, pineapples, cigars and pink gold: shrimp (from the GULF). One of the most surprising factoids I discovered was learning about how Key West was once the RICHEST city in the United States. How did they achieve such wealth & status? Back in 1828, Key West thrived on the salvaging of shipwrecks, which was known as the wrecking industry…

Photos above I captured at Mallory Square and edited on picnik.com

“Long established trade routes came close to the Florida coast and the reefs just seven miles offshore of Key West. Stormy weather, or a captain’s inexperience with this treacherous area, could easily cause ships with valuable cargoes to founder just off shore. As a result, wrecking and salvaging soon became the island’s primary business and its citizenry became wealthy on the proceeds. Storehouses and chandeliers abounded, and people came from all over to bid on the valuable salvaged items. Between 1828 and the 1850s, Key West was considered the richest city, per capita, in the United States.”

(Learn more about the history of Key West here.)

The Shell Warehouse at Mallory Square was a great little find because for our past three anniversaries, we’ve spent them on the Florida shores (Key Largo, Naples, and now – Key West). I’ve been collecting treasures of coral, starfish and shells from our trips. This shop – by far – has had not only great prices, but a wonderful selection – I may even turn the photos into coastal wall art… (click to read more and see the rest of Lynda’s photos for this segment)

For more information about planning your Key West activities as well as booking them please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help!


Tour Key West by Jet Ski

Summer is officially here! Of course here at the Southernmost Point of the continental United States, it has felt like summer for quite some time. When it heats up like this, I start searching for ways to cool off.

One way in particular will not only cool you off but I promise will be the ride of your life. Taking a jet ski out into the gorgeous waters off our little slice of paradise is a total blast, but I need to give you a few tips to make sure that you have the time of your life.

There are a LOT of companies here in Key West that offer jet ski rentals, but beware, not all jet ski companies are created equal. Unfortunately there are some “fly-by-night” folks around here that truly are here today and gone tomorrow. It’s always best to educate yourself so that you spend your time and money wisely.

Things that you should be on the look out for:
– If the deal seems a little too good to be true; it most likely is.
– Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Make sure that the equipment is in good shape and well-maintained.
– If you are going to rent a jet ski to ride on your own, be sure you understand how big a riding area you are allowed to navigate in. Several places won’t let you out of sight of their operations base and give you a very limited area to ride in.
– If you decided after arriving here that you want to go for a ride, don’t be shy to ask around about where to go. The locals know which companies will treat you right.

Having said all that, I do have 3 companies that I like very much. They aren’t the only reputable jet ski businesses in town, but these 3 do have a very consistent track record.

In no particular order:

Barefoot Billy’s

Billy’s now has two locations. They are located at the south end of Simonton Street, on the Atlantic side of Key West, right next to The Reach Resort and at the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel on the North Western tip of the island on the Gulf side. They provide both jet ski rentals and an amazing jet ski tour. Billy prides himself on making sure that his guests have a great time. To that end, all of Barefoot Billy’s staff are helpful, friendly, and very knowledgable. I have had several guests come back and tell me that the tour exceeded their expectations.

Check out this video to get an idea of what it’s like to go for an adventure with Barefoot Billy’s:

Fury Water Adventures

Fury is located at the far North end of Duval Street very near Mallory Square. They have surf shops and kiosks all over the island, so trust me, you won’t have any trouble finding them. They offer a ton of great activities and I have to say that they have a unique twist on jet ski fun.

They offer a day trip called the Ultimate Adventure that includes jet skiing, parasailing snorkeling, and kayaking. The trip sets sail on a 65′ Catamaran at 10:00 AM. They serve breakfast while you make your way out to the reef for snorkeling. Then another sail takes you to Fury’s adventure island for a picnic lunch and jet skiing, parasailing, and kayaking. This trip is a total blast, especially if you want to try out several water sports.

Island Water Sports

This group is located in the marina at the Westin Resort, not far from Fury. Like Barefoot Billy’s, they offer jet ski rentals and an island tour. What’s really cool, in my mind, is that since they are located on the other side of the island from Billy’s you can get a great view of the sunset as you wind up your afternoon cruise. Again customer service is top-notch and they will take great care of you.

For more information about planning any Key West activities as well as bookings please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help!

Related articles of possible interest:

Key West Beaches
Key West: The Family Friendly Side


Key West – Blue By You – Photo Walk Guest Post part 3

Bio picToday we continue with part 3 of our 5 part special photo walk feature of Key West as presented by our friend, photographer, designer, and blogger Lynda Quintero-Davids.  Join us as we share Lynda’s inspiring viewpoint in this installment entitled: Key West Color Blocks Blue By You.

Just a play on words for Hurricane Season and the color of the season: BLUE … A color block post packed with so many blues to discover down in Key West: Caribbean and cool water blues, Gulf and pool aquamarine blues, navy and news blues, teals and turquoise blues, baby and sky blues, and peek-a-boo-blue … And mind you, this was unintentional. I was … (click to  read more and see the rest of Lynda’s photos for this segment) Key West T-Shirt Factory doors Key West colors
For more information about planning your Key West activities as well as booking them please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help!


Key West Taking Oil Spill Cleanup Into Own Hands – Repost from Tonic

The wonderful folks at Tonic.com have given me permission to pass on this fabulous article by Katie Leavitt originally posted on Tonic TUESDAY, JUNE 15, 2010 6:00 AM ET

Tired of waiting for BP or the government to do something, Florida Keys residents are organizing on their own terms.

The sunsets. The famous lineage of writers and artists. Key West is the southernmost tip of the United States, and at more than 100 miles from the mainland, the island has a unique culture all its own.

The community and location of Key West naturally lends itself to a strong state of independence, and when it comes to protecting their beloved ocean, coral reefs and plant and wildlife, these islanders will not take the laid-back approach.

The citizens of Key West are not happy with the way BP has approached the cleanup of Deepwater Horizon’s oil spill. With the possibility of the oil reaching Key West in the next few weeks, residents have decided to organize their own efforts. They are choosing to focus on preventative measures rather than wait around for the oil to reach their shores before any action takes place.

This is where Key West residents have an issue with BP and the bureaucratic red tape that makes it nearly impossible to take early steps. For example, BP’s Deepwater Horizon’s Unified Command, working with the US Coast Guard, demands that it maintain complete control over cleanup actions.

Despite regulations, thousands of volunteers and hundreds of boat captains have signed up to help out through the site KeysSpill.com. However, BP insists that boat captains can only contribute by signing up through their own Unified Command’s Vessels of Opportunity program. Dan Robey, owner of KeysSpill, told Time that he thinks the BP program is a complete waste, with only a third of their boats prepared for service.

The island community is determined to begin protecting their ecosystem no matter what, but are trying to work out a few kinks with BP. So far progress has been limited to the hiring of one sentry boat operator and the offer to pay up to $10,000 for the mandatory hazmat training needed before volunteers can deal with the oil.

Clearly, residents feel they must be prepared to take matters into their own hands. After all, many of the local fisherman, scientists and area natives have extensive knowledge about the corals and ocean life that are unique to the waters surrounding the island.

In addition to Robey’s volunteers, Adopt a Mangrove is assigning kayakers their own mangrove tree to clean. Florida Keys Environmental Coalition was born in order to connect environmental activists, scientists and boat captains, while volunteers are already working to clean up the beaches so they are easier to clean should oil the arrive.

Patrick Rice, dean of marine science and technology at Florida Keys Community College, has another plan he wants to see implemented. By placing air hoses with holes into the water, the air bubbles would block at least some of the oil from reaching the reefs and mangroves.

The people of the Keys, no matter what protocols may be in place, are determined to do all they can to be prepared for possible oil damage. “I just talked with BP yesterday,” Rice told Time. “I told them flat out, ‘If you come down here and start doing what you’ve done in Louisiana, you’re going to have a revolt. They’ll shut down U.S. 1. You won’t be able to bring any of your contractors in or out.'”


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