South Florida Sunshine

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 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? 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.

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Key West: The Ultimate Art Colony

Key West: The Ultimate Art Colony

For such a little far away spot in the great big ocean, Key West is an amazing place for art, culture, music, and history. In particular, it is an artists’ colony like none other. Artists come to visit, fall in love, and eventually stay. The amount and variety of visual arts that can be found here in the Conch Republic is staggering. Come along with me and I will give you a little taste of what can be found in the Key West art scene.

When you arrive, I HIGHLY recommend that you pick up a couple of things right away. Get a Gallery Guide printed by the Florida Keys Council of the Arts and the 2010 Key West Art Guide. Both will give you a map and descriptions of the over 42 art galleries in Key West. They are simply a couple must-haves if you want to be sure and not miss anything.

Like I said, there are over 42 galleries in Key West alone. They cover every form of visual art from paintings, photography, and sculpture to amazing fabric art and jewelery. This blog would be a mile long if I tried to profile them all, so I will give you a little sampling of what you can find just along Duval Street.

My first stop was the Wyland Gallery at 623 Duval Street. Wyland is best known world wide for his life-sized Whale Wall murals. The gallery in Key West features many of his sea creature sculptures and marine paintings. He is not the only artist in the gallery, though. You will also find works by David Wight, Steve Barton, Adam Rote, and Steven Quartly. If you will be visiting the island very soon you can catch Quartly at the Wyland Gallery April 15-18 and Adam Rote with Michael Cheval during Memorial Day Weekend.

Next, I stopped in at the Guild Hall Gallery, 614 Duval Street. Established in 1976, this gallery is a co-op of only local artists, so if you truly want a local piece to take home and treasure, this is the place to find it. There are over 20 artists currently showing at Guild Hall, and you will find a little bit of everything. There are plenty of painters, photographers, as well as crafters of various kinds. With two levels of art to browse, I found it very difficult to tear myself away and move on.

Just a few doors up the street from Guild Hall is 7 Artists. The seven artists featured here were originally part of the co-op at Guild Hall, until their work began to take up more space than the Hall had room for. All of the artists are long term residents of Key West, and highly accomplished in their own right. They each take turns working in the gallery greeting customers and working the register. The day I dropped in, David Scott Meier was there to greet me and answer all my questions.

Then I crossed the street to visit Galerie Rue Royale, where I met Steve. Luckily it was a quiet morning and Steve was able to take his time and show me around. Not only is there a great deal of amazing art to be enjoyed in Key West, but there are lots of lovely people happy to share their art passion with anyone that walks through the door. I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed talking with Steve about the incredible world class artists featured at Galerie Rue Royale. I particularly loved the collection of Todd White’s work available there.

After that I wandered further up to the two Key West Galleries on the corner of Duval and Southard. Both of these galleries feature fine art from all over the world and Gallery II specifically features the work of Bill Mack. Bill Mack is an absolutely amazing figural artist, and he just finished a showing at the New York Art Show. All of those works are now in Key West and he will be joining them April 29, 30, and May 1. His show will be kicking off a month full of weekend showings by major artists at the Key West Galleries.

But my friends and art lovers, I have saved the very best for last. On a whim, I entered the Peter Lik Photography Gallery at 519 Duval Street. The amazing images taken by this outstanding photographer absolutely took my breath away. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it. The gallery director, William Dammann, very kindly took the time to show me around and explain how Lik captures these amazing living, breathing landscapes. All I can say is, you MUST see it for yourself.

Truthfully, I’ve barely scratched the surface.  There are sculpture gardens to see at the Botanical Gardens, and so much more.  So, hop on a scooter and take a tour of the cultured side of Key West for yourself.

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