15 Reasons Not to Visit the Florida Keys {humor}

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Ah, the Florida Keys… Carefree days filled with fun, sun and fancy umbrella drinks, right? Well, not exactly. I’ve learned that living in The Florida Keys isn’t quite what it seems.

So before you pack your polka dot bikini and fly south for the winter, check out the everyday reality of Life in the Florida Keys:

1. Hold onto to your floppy hat! That cool tropical breeze is actually a Category Five hurricane making its way from Africa, heading directly for Key Largo.

2. Spectacular sunsets feature massive mosquitoes, sucking enough blood from us to buzz all the way back to Miami.

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3. (Cue Jaws soundtrack) Diving excursions turn you into instant shark bait.

4. Those “authentic” Florida Keys conch shells are plastered with Made in China stickers.

5. Modern-day pirates set up souvenir shops to pillage and plunder. “Interested in buying a crappy, overpriced Key West T-shirt, matey?”

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6. Ernest Hemingway’s famous Key West cats are really stuck-up (or maybe they’re just hung over).

7. One visit to the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet blows your chances of squeezing into that teeny weeny bikini.

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8. That fishing trip won’t be so exciting once you realize you’re on the hook for $199 per hour. (Oh, and the fish that got away was not “THAT BIG!”)

9. After basking in the blazing sun all day, you’ll begin to resemble patients in hospital burn units.

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10. Our beach buddy is a twelve-foot alligator, just waiting to join us for a swim.

11. (Cue the Pina Colada song) You’d better really like piña coladas because each frozen concoction is fourteen bucks at the tiki bar!

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12. With the sweltering heat and 99-percent humidity, you’ll probably be stuck inside that “ocean-view” dump you booked online. Although the room reeks of rotten fish and stale smoke, at least it has air conditioning.

13. Coco-Loco! People actually die from falling coconuts (because they aren’t smart enough to realize that coconuts are harder than their heads!)

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14. Observing Key West’s Fantasy Fest makes Girls Gone Wild videos look like Disney flicks.

15. So, “Welcome to The Florida Keys: Come on vacation. Leave on probation.”

Photos by Seedy Lawyer.  All rights reserved.

Have you ever had a dream vacation turn into a disappointment? Please share!

The Stranger and The Snowflake

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  “Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.”

Anthony J. D’Angelo

It was only 6AM and I was already miserable. My pants were uncomfortably snug from overindulging on South Florida cuisine. Dressed for the Florida heat, I knew I was going to freeze my butt off once I landed in North Carolina.

Tired and crabby, I rushed to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. The security check was backed-up. People were pushing. One jerk even PASSED ME in the security line as I was going thru the scanner. (I secretly wished he’d develop motion sickness on his flight!)

Finally boarding my flight, I prayed to be far from screaming kids. No one should dare bother The Grouch. A lady then crawled over me to the window seat. “Don’t worry I won’t bother you,” she said. Jeez, did I look that agitated?  There was just something about her aura that was so inviting. Sure enough, I instantly started up a friendly conversation with the blonde woman sitting next to me.

“We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.”

Fydor Dostoevsky

By coincidence (or not?), she lives just one block from me in Miami, has rescue dogs, and vacations close to me in The Florida Keys. She was also traveling to her Carolina getaway. With great ease, we giggled, chatted up a storm and found so much in common. Close in age and looks, the mysterious stranger could have easily been the sister I’ve always wanted.

“I do desire we be better strangers.”

William Shakespeare

I couldn’t help but notice her dancing blue eyes and pure spirit. Filled with calmness and confidence, she spoke joyously. Caught up in our conversation, I was no longer drained and bothered. The splendid spirit of this passenger rubbed off on me, plastering a huge smile on my makeup-less face.

“Stranger, if you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?”

Walt Whitman

Somewhere in between our discussions about crafting, men, and fabulous food, she serenely mentioned “her surgery.” Oh, you had surgery, for what, may I ask?”

“Brain surgery. I have brain cancer.” She so calmly replied.

What a fool I was for complaining all morning about my tight pants and Miami traffic! How dare I be bothered by other passengers trying to make their flights? Was I actually cursing at my carryon bag for being too heavy? 

I was sitting next to a living angel: a mother of two, facing the unimaginable. Filled with grace, she smiled as she spoke. What a true example. I am so thankful just to know this person. We eventually talked about everything two girls can chat about. We exchanged contact info and hugged as our flight landed.

“There are no strangers here;

only friends you haven’t yet met.”

William Butler Yeats

I was blessed to have met my new friend. Her kind spirit filled me with joy and peace. I floated to my car, and grinned during the entire drive home.

Once home, I skipped into the yard, playing with my dogs. Still in my South Florida clothing, I had somehow forgotten how cold it was. The sun shined down and brightened my face. As I turned towards the sky, I gently closed my eyes and smiled. I paused and listened to my calm breath. This was a great moment indeed.

Suddenly, a strong breeze almost knocked me over. Icy droplets caressed my face. I opened my eyes to big, beautiful, flawless snowflakes! It was snowing! Gigantic snowflakes danced in slow-motion. White butterflies whirling in the wind. The tiny falling stars reminded me of my new friend: Beautiful. Magical. Joyful.

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I joyfully threw up my arms and arched my back. Like a little girl, I opened my mouth to catch the falling white gold.

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Life is good. Life is a flawless-magical-huge-dancing-snowflake kind of good!

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  “A snowflake is one of nature’s most fragile creations but look at what they can do when they stick together!”

– Author Unknown

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Shared with Fiesta Friday, Flashback Friday, Foodie Friday, Simple Saturdays, Natural Family Friday, Motivation Monday, Clever Chicks Blog Hop, Busy Monday, Mix It Up Monday, Simply Natural Saturdays

Photos courtesy of Seedy Lawyer and Pascal Gaudette, Julie FalkChris Dodson and Gen Thul

All rights reserved.

“I Found My Thrill on Blueberry Hill” [recipe]

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Wild Blueberry Bread

My friend and I really ripped up Western North Carolina. We could have written our own tour book!  We hooted and hollered at the County Fair. (See: Hoedown at Haywood County Fair.)  We pretended to be culinary experts at the Asheville Wine and Food Festival and Rhubarb’s Sunday Supper. We hit the local Farmer’s Market and chomped down NC Apples at Barber’s Orchard. Then we hiked (okay, walked slowly) on The Blue Ridge Parkway….

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Summer on The Blue Ridge Parkway

And we hiked…..(a little bit slower)

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Top Of Devil’s Courthouse, Blue Ridge Parkway

Boy, did we hike!! (crawled)

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Highest Elevation, Blue Ridge Parkway

Besides burning some calories (thank goodness!!), we hit the jackpot on our winding trails:  Wild Blueberries! 

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Blueberries as far as the eye can see!  Armed with our gallon ziplocks (the allowable limit) we picked…

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“I found my thrill on blueberry hill!

And we picked…

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Boy, did we pick!

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What to do with these gorgeous plump, juicy gems? (Well, with those beautiful berries that didn’t accidentally fall into our mouths!) Something simple, yet special…Aha! Fresh-baked Wild Blueberry Bread!

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This treat is jam-packed with two cups of fresh blueberries. Lemon and Blueberries go great together! I added both vanilla and lemon extracts to really accent the flavor of the blueberries.

My Wild Blueberry Bread is:

One Giant Blueberry Muffin!

BURSTING with blueberries!

Cake-like

Light and fluffy

Very moist

Tart AND sweet

A little lemony

Slices beautifully; not crumbly (or crummy!)

Crunchy crust yet soft inside

Smells amazing!

Berry, berry good!

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BLUEberry RIDGE PARKWAY BREAD

Adapted from PBS.org

Yield: Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients

2 cups all purpose flour, plus one teaspoon

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 cups fresh blueberries

2 teaspoons lemon zest

½ cup plain yogurt, regular or lowfat (I used vanilla flavored yogurt)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon lemon extract

Preparation

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Place blueberries in a small baggie with 1Tablespoon of flour. Toss well to coat berries.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder and salt. Add the blueberries and lemon zest and gently toss to combine being careful not to crush the blueberries.
  4. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the yogurt then the dry ingredients, mixing only until incorporated, again, being careful not to crush the blueberries.
  5. Scoop batter into your prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour 10 minutes, or until golden brown. (*Check with toothpick if done after one hour. My loaf was perfect after an hour.)
  6. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting gently onto a plate.

“If you want to add an extra sweet addition to this bread, you can make a simple lemon glaze for the top using a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice with enough powdered sugar to make a runny glaze. Pour the glaze over top when the bread comes out of the oven and voila!

Store the bread at room temperature covered with plastic wrap.

***

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I’m bringing a fresh-baked loaf to the party at Fiesta Friday #32.

Do you experiment with wild berries? What’s your favorite blueberry recipe?

Original photos by Seedy Lawyer. All rights reserved.

Just Peachy! [Pie Recipe]

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“An apple is an excellent thing – until you have tried a peach.”

George du Maurier (1834-1896)

I’ve always wanted to have a big ole peach tree. Yet it’s too hot to grow peaches in Florida. In North Carolina, it’s too cold. But in South Carolina, it’s Peachy Keen!

Recently, I was driving down the Interstate in South Carolina, and signs were everywhere:  Fresh Peaches!  There were more Peach signs than Speed Limit signs!  I got a whiplash checking them all out. Drooling, I had to stop!

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Ripe, sweet, juicy peaches are sure to put a Big Smile on your face.

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Summer is peach season. Supermarket peaches (flavorless hard baseballs) don’t hold a candle to just-picked-from-the-tree peaches, like these beauties from Ragan Orchards in Inman, SC.

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The girl at the Ragan Orchard stand was a real peach and even set up my own taste test!  August Prince peaches (larger, yellow skin, melting yellow flesh with an acidic tang) versus O’Henry peaches (bright red and orange skin with a sweet and juicy flesh). Of course I bought both types!

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My first bite: As sweet as the perfect summer day.

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I even got to check out the peach trees at the orchard!  Really cool!

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“I really love your peaches, I want to shake your tree.”

I was hooked! I loaded up my car with peaches like Santa packs his sleigh with presents. Like a human Pac Man, I chomped on my just-plucked gems all the way back to North Carolina. Amazingly, some peaches survived for my homemade Peach Pie. Mmmmm!

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The addition of fresh rosemary adds a touch of savory, almost buttery taste to this sweet treat. For a more intense flavor, I replaced some of the sugar with pure local honey (from the orchard). Tapioca thickens the pie and cooks up clear. Tradition holds that peach pie is lattice-topped, which adds beauty and allows some moisture to escape during baking. This summer treat is Just Peachy!

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Savory Peaches and Cream Pie

Adapted from Ready, Set, Dough! By Melanie Barnard

Ingredients:

3 Tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

½ cup sugar

¼ cup pure honey

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

3 Tablespoons heavy or light cream

One 15-ounce package refrigerated folded Piecrusts

6 cups fresh peaches, peeled and cut into ½ inch thick slices

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove and reserve 2 teaspoons of the sugar. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the remaining sugar, honey, tapioca, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, rosemary and lemon zest. Stir in the peaches and any peach juice.  Let the mixture stand for 15 minutes to soften the tapioca.

Keeping one crust refrigerated, unfold the other crust and ease it into a 9-inch deep dish pie plate. Spoon the peach mixture into the crust, spreading evenly. Dribble with 2 tablespoons of the cream.

Unfold the remaining pie crust and place onto a floured surface. Use a small, sharp knife or pizza wheel cutter to cut the crust into ½ to ¾ inch wide strips to create a lattice topping.

Brush the lattice with the remaining 1 tablespoon of cream and sprinkle with remaining reserved 2 teaspoons of sugar.

Bake the pie on the lower rack for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 400 degrees F. Bake for 15 minutes.  Reduce the temperature to 375 degrees F. Carefully remove the pie from the oven, place a 14-inch square of foil on the middle rack, and move the pie to the center of the oven. Place the pie on the foil and bake until the juices are bubbling and the crust is golden brown, about 15 minutes more.

Cool the pie on a rack.  Then serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

Tips:

*If available, use a variety of two peaches for a more complex flavor.

**To peel peaches, place peaches in a pan of boiling water for 30 to 45 seconds. Remove with thongs and run under cold water.  Use a small knife to loosen the skin, then slip the peel from the peaches.

***If the edges of the pie begin to darken during baking, lightly cover edges with foil to prevent burning.

***

How sweet it is! Homemade Peach Pie! Want a slice? (or two…)

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I’m bringing a slice of my pie over to the party at Fiesta Friday #31.

Do you stop at roadside farm stands? What is your favorite Peach recipe?

All original photos courtesy of Seedy Lawyer.  All rights reserved.