Sunday, July 30, 2017

#221 Try Conch

Conch. I have always heard people rave about conch fritters.

Conch Shells. I love their sunrise colors. 
Hmmmmmm. I must try this thing called conch I told myself. You don't really see it offered much in Pennsylvania though. I always figured eventually I would come across conch on a menu somewhere and give it a go. So, when I saw that conch was a huge part of the Florida Keys culture, I was so stoked! I was going to finally try conch! I could not wait. I even picked out a place to try conch fritters in Key West. BO's Fishwagon. I was all set.

So here is what I knew about conch.....Nothing. I knew nothing. I "thought" I knew what conch was but in reality, I did not. I thought it was a type of crustacean. Nope! It's a mollusk. See below.

I often wondered if conch tasted more sweet like king crab or more chewy like a crawfish. Maybe it tasted more like lobster I thought with much excitement. I love shellfish so I am sure no matter what it tasted like, I was going to enjoy it.

However, a few weeks before leaving for Florida, I was slapped in the face with the cold hard truth. It went down like this. I was sitting at my parents' kitchen table telling them and my daughter about how stoked I was to try conch. I was going to achieve another Bucket List goal. This was so awesome! I'm checking them off like flies!

My mother and my daughter both looked at me weird. One of them asked if I was really going to eat snail. I looked at them puzzled. I said no. I was going to eat Conch, which is crabmeat. They snickered at me. They both insisted Conch was a snail. I insisted it was crabmeat. A Conch is a type of crab.

They were like no, it's not.
I was like yes, it is.
They were like no, it's not.
I was like yes, it is.

This went on for a few rounds because I am a Virgo so by default, I am always right. Then, my daughter pulled up a picture of a Conch on Google. She handed me her phone and I almost puked in my mouth.


My face upon discovering what conch was.
"That's some sort of giant sea snail!!" I exclaimed. "Gross!!"

Why in the hell did I think conch was a crab? I must have gotten tripped up on one the the Food Network shows that had both crab and conch. I saw little breaded fried balls with a crab like meat mixed in them and I could have sworn the host, I think it was Bobby Flay, call them conch fritters. Maybe they were really fried crabmeat balls. I was so confused and nauseous and WRONG!! I seriously felt my body grow cold as another wave of nausea flowed through me.

"I can't eat that!" I said, devastated. "It's a freakin' sea snail! A sea snail!!"

I could not get the picture of the slimy creature donning a huge pink shell out of my head. They were all laughing at me. However, my daughter also apologized for ruining conch on me. I reassured her she didn't ruin it on me. I was thankful I found out what it was before I spent $10- $12 expecting crabmeat-like fritters only to discover I was about to eat snail fritters.

From that day forward, I whined to everyone who would listen, even if they didn't want to listen, about this whole sea snail fiasco. I was genuinely upset. I was looking forward to delicious crab meat like fritters and I was going to be denied. My heart could not, would not, catch up with my head. My whole world had turned upside down. I was a total mess.

Eventually I got over it after doing some research and finding a really sweet doughnut place I could visit in Key West. Just wave a really good doughnut in front of this gal's face and all is good with the world. It has to be a well made doughnut though. None of that cardboard tasting crap is welcomed in my world.

(Turns out the doughnut place was closed on Mondays, the morning I was in Key West. Another devastation. Another upside down world. Another reason I have to go back to Key West.) Anyways, like I said, I got over it. Mostly I got over it because whenever I thought of conch my stomach would turn. I hated that feeling so, I stopped thinking about it.

Cool Asian wine in a Cuban grocery store. 
It was on our second to last day in the Keys that we visited 5 Brothers Two Cuban grocery store for some breakfast in Ramrod Key. So many people on Trip Advisor had raved about 5 Brothers in Key West. It was so popular they opened a second store in Ramrod Key.

I was all too willing to visit not only because of the stellar reviews but also because of the prices. Eating cheaply in the Keys is possible but very hard. You miss out on a lot of local cuisine going the cheap route. I do plan to go back and focus on enjoying more of the great local cuisine one day.

Anyways, the grocery store itself was a simple bodega. They had some staple groceries, wines and cold beverages. They also had a counter with a big menu board displaying their breakfast and lunch offerings. The menu was simple, nothing too elaborate. But small, simple menus are often a good thing. ( Not always, but often.) A small menu usually means the restaurant has really fresh ingredients or ingredients that don't sit on the shelves or in the freezer too long. Rather than focus energy on making a ton of mediocre dishes, a small menu usually means the cook focuses on making a few really "wow" specialties. 5 Brothers made some really "wow" food.

The kiddos enjoying a delicious Cuban breakfast at this gem.

The line for placing breakfast orders was pretty big for such a small place in a Key that if you blinked, you may miss it. I noticed they had conch fritters on the menu. They were $4.95 for a small order and $7.95 for a large order. That wasn't a bad price I thought to myself. I wouldn't mind paying $5 for something I may hate. It would definitely be less painful than paying $10 or higher.

A giant sea snail with a big pink and peach shell inched it's way across my mind as I debated whether or not to take a chance. I didn't feel like puking this time. Maybe it was because I had been gazing upon so many beautiful conch shells in all the stores I had visited over the past few days. Something with such a pretty shell couldn't taste that bad could it? Perhaps not. I hadn't yet removed trying conch from my Bucket List.

I had planned too, but then decided not to until after this trip, just in case I was brave. As I stood in line waiting to place my order, the debate went on in my head for a few moments. I openly discussed it with my daughter. My son was getting a pressed bacon and cheese sandwich on this beautiful Cuban bread that reminded me of the round, wide loaves of Italian bread. My daughter wanted a chicken empanada. I definitely wanted to try a Cafe Con Leche. ( I will get to that shortly.) I decided to just get a chicken empanada too. I do love empanadas very much and the ones being offered looked delish.

I guess I will be removing conch from the list I told myself. My mouth had other plans though. When it was my turn to order, I ordered everything listed above but tacked on a small serving of conch fritters. The lady glanced up at me and made a weird face. I think it was because I was making a weird face. "

Where the hell did that come from?" I thought to myself. I guess the adventurous personality made a quick appearance to place an order as well. Who knows?

She asked me if I would like anything else. I paused a moment, waiting to see if any of my other personalities wanted to place an order too. Just kidding. I told her I was good. Was I though? I turned to my daughter and informed her that I guess I was going to try conch. She laughed. She is used to my madness. Both my kiddos are. This was really going down I told myself. I had to try at least one since I paid for them.

Cafe Con Leche, how I love you!
When our order was finished, the nice lady handed me our food in a brown paper bag. I also got my Caffe Con Leche. We walked outside and took a seat on some of the benches. I opened the bag of food. It smelled so good. So very good. I passed out the food my daughter and son ordered. I decided to sip my coffee before looking at my fritters. I had no idea I was about to taste heaven. This Cafe Con Leche was nothing short of divine.

It was creamy. It was strong but not too strong. The flavor was deep and smooth. It had a sweetness to it but it was not sugary sweet. I immediately fell in love with this Cuban concoction.

After a few moments of swooning over my coffee, I reluctantly opened the paper bag with my conch fritters. The aroma hit me immediately. The smelled amazing. The looked and smelled like hush puppies. I love hush puppies. The fritters were accompanied by a ramekin of cocktail sauce. I was still a little uneasy trying one but their aroma and appearance put my mind at ease. I snatched one out of the bag.

I took a deep breath and took a bite. Holy F they were still hot. I began doing that weird breathing thing people do when they have really hot food in their mouth. It's kind of like, you don't want to spit out the food but you are trying to cool your mouth down while the scalding hot food lay on your tongue. I began chewing. It tasted just like a hush puppy. Is there even a snail in here I thought? I held the fritter I just took a bite out of up to my face. I began examining the inside. I didn't see anything.

Conch Fritters.....Like Hush Puppies, but with chopped up snails. 

I grabbed another fritter from the bag and tore it in half, peering at it, looking for a snail. I noticed chopped little tan chunks mixed in with the dough. That must be it. I ate half of the fritter I just tore open. I noticed it then. The conch was chewy like a chopped clam or calamari. ( I do not like calamari.) It tasted almost like a scallop. At least that is what came to mind. I did enjoy scallops. Truth is, I love mollusks too.

I love scallops, clams, and muscles. I do not care for whole oysters but if they are chopped up in a stew or a dip I don't mind them so much. These fritters were actually really flavorful and tasty. I enjoyed them. They also filled me up. I only ate three of the six fritters. I gave my daughter my empanada because between the rich and fabulous coffee and the heavy but tasty fritters, I was good.

I made myself eat one more fritter because I knew I couldn't bring fried seafood in the car with me. It would stink. Neither kiddo wanted anything to do with the other two fritters so reluctantly, I threw them away. I will say though, they were not at all horrible. I was pleasantly surprised. Is conch something I will crave like I do clams? No. Not at all. However, when I visit the Keys again, I will definitely make sure to visit BOs Fishwagon and try their famous conch fritters.

Five Brothers on Trip Advisor.  Key West and Ramrod Key

The Florida Keys Chronicles- My Adventures


Thursday, July 20, 2017

#129 Watch The Sun Set And Rise In One Day

Life has most of us running non stop. Life has many of us stressed out, tapped out and maxed out. And in the midst of life's chaotic whirlwind, we may find ourselves misplacing the person we once were, becoming another lost soul, another forgotten identity. We may not even realize just how much we have allowed ourselves to become absorbed into the atmosphere and abyss of our day to day lives. You may very well wake up one day and ask yourself "What the hell happened?" "Who the hell have I become?"

Not all Bucket List items have to be grand adventures, risky endeavors or elaborate travels. Sometimes we need to add goals to our lists that we may take for granted on a daily basis. Sometimes we need to add character building goals, enrichment goals and baby step goals to our lists. Sometimes we need to add reminders to our list. Reminders of who we truly are deep down inside. Reminders that call out to our souls, bringing us back to ourselves.

I understand some people are very Anti-Bucket List and that is all good. Different strokes for different folks. I understand some people do not write down their goals. Rather, they keep a mental list. I envy those people a little because sometimes I forget my own birth date. I have to write stuff down. Anyways, for me, this list is very close to my heart. This list is a necessity for my own well being. Will I accomplish all of it? Hell no. LOL! There is no way. I'm not a Millionaire. I'm not even a Hundred Thousandnaire. Not even close.

But, when the demons start filling my head and the light goes dim the end of the tunnel, which is something I will battle for the rest of my life, I look at this list and say hey, this little one right here, I can do this one. Let's get off our ass and do it. Let's create our own light in this dark tunnel. And you know works. Don't get me wrong. I love my life and would not trade places with anyone for anything. I mean that too. The power of the blessings in my life will always overcome the power of my hardships, no matter how exhausted they make me.

I love the woman I have become. I am proud of her. I don't want to be anybody but her. Am I hard on her sometimes? Sure. I have to be. But I adore her too. And no matter how hard anyone tries, and they do try, I will never let someone make me feel bad about myself ever again. I'm too strong. I've been through too much. And, I survived it all, on my own. Once I figured out how to create my own light, I knew I was gonna be just fine. I know what to do now when the demons outstay their welcome. No one has to understand but me.

So here is where we start this one.

Sunrise. Sunset. Many of us have seen the sun set and rise a thousand times.

Many of us have taken the time to appreciate both of these magnificent events numerous times.

I know this. Every year hundreds upon hundreds of pictures of sunrises and sunsets fill my Facebook feed. And I love every single photo posted. These stunning photos fill me with warmth, positive vibes and hope for the human race. The beauty of these photos encourage pause in my day by interrupting the spinning of my brain for a few moments. Lord knows I am so grateful for those pauses.

Each photo breathes a calmness into me that is much needed. My life is not an easy one, never has been really, so I do make every effort to stop and smell the roses every opportunity I can. The little things in life are a huge part of who I am as a person. The challenges and hardships I face in this life will not defeat me as long as I have sweet, wonderful, little things to appreciate and enjoy. Yes, how I handle the challenges and hardships is also a huge part of who I am but the little things are a big reason why I am a happy person in spite of what this life throws at me.

People watch the sun set and the sun rise over a 24 hour period daily, especially in the winter. The purpose for adding this goal to my Bucket List was simple. I wanted to enjoy and admire both of these beautiful events within a 24 hour period to the fullest, rather than while driving to and from work. I wanted to leisurely witness the sun crawl under the blanket of the western horizon, then arise from the covers of the eastern horizon.

Sometimes I will fall asleep on one side of the bed, then wake up sprawled out diagonally across the bottom of the bed completely opposite from where I first fell asleep. I never remember how that comes to be but I always wake befuddled by this phenomena. I mean how can I not know that I moved that much in my sleep? This weird sleeping event, although rare, usually occurs in the summer months. This paragraph also has absolutely nothing to do with this blog.

I did not have a specific place planned for where this goal was to be achieved but I knew it had to be attempted in spring, summer or fall. Winter was too easy and, too cold. Honestly though, this goal was too easy to accomplish in any season, or so I thought. Can you believe I've attempted to achieve this goal several times unsuccessfully? I could not get my ass out of bed the morning after the sunset. I have always been a night owl at heart but there are phases of my life where I become this crazy, awake before the birds, morning person and I love it!

It doesn't last long, usually happens in the spring and autumn for a few weekends, but I love it. I enjoy being a morning person but it is just not natural to me. Maybe when I am a senior citizen I will become a morning person. I hope so! Anyways, I did not plan on accomplishing this goal while in Key West, it kind of just happened naturally and unexpectedly. No one was more shocked than me when I found myself wide awake before the sun rose the morning after a long and exciting day of driving the Overseas Highway, stopping at several Keys, watching the sunset in Mallory Square, then going for a late night swim.

I just woke up naturally. I felt amazing too. I was not at all groggy. I was only going on 5 hours sleep but I felt great. I decided to go sit on my second floor balcony and watch the sunrise. But, let's talk about the sunset first. That was totally planned. Everyone I knew that had visited Key West had "Sunset from Mallory Square" as a must do recommendation for my visit to Key West.

Mallory Square
Sunset is a wonderful reason to celebrate!

I can understand now, why it was so highly recommended. Mallory Square is just a cool, cool place. Shops, kiosks, and stands offering goods and foods surround the perimeter of the square. The square itself was a huge, wide open space paved with brick and stone. Performers, artisans, craft stands, fortune tellers and tons of roosters were scattered about the square. I am pretty sure the roosters were there to watch the sunset too. I mean, they are locals so obviously they knew the best spots on the island to watch the sunset.

Mallory Square was the place to be. How could so many roosters be wrong? Hundreds of people and roosters wandered the square, mulling about, checking out the action. I spotted a rooster standing in line waiting for his fortune to be read. Seriously! A lady was reading someone their cards and this rooster was standing in line, watching intently, as the women spoke about the cards she had drawn. It was hilarious!

Some of the hens and chicks of Mallory Square.

We made our way over to the little wall by the water. People were perched up and down this wall for what seemed like a mile. We found a spot near a railing to stand. We gazed out into the water and the sky. Directly across from us sat Sunset Key.  The name was perfect because from Mallory Square, it seemed as if the sun was going to sink into the island itself. Sailboats were making their way into the waters between Mallory Square and Sunset Key. They were beautiful boats, some with huge masts.

All of a sudden we heard this loud splash. We turn around to see a teenage girl had fallen off the wall and into the water near a little bridge that connected the square to a hotel. Thankfully she could swim and was laughing about it. I was a little envious of her because the water was completely turquoise, just like that of a swimming pool rather than an ocean. It must have felt so refreshing. Once we all knew she was okay, we turned our attention back to the sky.

The water was seriously this color. I could not take my eyes off of it!

The sun was a gigantic yellow ball of fire slowly descending from the sky. It was huge! It turned the entire sky surrounding it a deep golden hue. I have never seen the sun look more glorious than it was in that moment. It was beyond breathtaking. I snapped a few pictures but knew they would not do the moment any justice. If you have ever witnessed the sun setting over Key West you would understand just how spectacular it can be.

We stood there for ten minutes, watching the slow descent. Once the sun kissed the top of the treeline of Sunset Key, it was the perfect opportunity to depart Mallory Square and watch the sky turn it's gorgeous pink and grey from the Overseas Highway. As we walked out of the square and back through the shops and attractions. it was like we had Key West to ourselves. It was a ghost town. Everyone was still in the square. It was so cool!

Key West

Sunset Key

Mallory Square

The huge beautiful sun, setting over Sunset Key. What a spectacular sight!

We made our way back to the car and headed back the the hotel. The sky was just beautiful. The pink and the palm trees made for a beautiful sunset. I felt so at peace. I felt so happy. The highway did not have much traffic on it which was also nice. We stopped at a Publix then grabbed a pizza at the hotel. We finished the beautiful evening by admiring the night sky from the pool at our hotel. What a perfect day!

I love swimming at night!
I don't know if the night swim had both relaxed and revitalized me at the same time but I slept wonderfully and woke feeling 4:30 in the morning. That never happens. I guess when you have no worries and stresses and are in a beautiful place making one of your dreams come true, your mind calms down and can focus on just being happy and serene. Why couldn't every day be like this I thought.

I decided to slip out the sliding glass doors onto the balcony to enjoy the darkness before the light. I sat in the lounge chair listening to the sounds of a few creatures that call Sugarloaf Key home. I was so contented. My breathing was good. My head was uncluttered. My soul was peaceful. I grabbed my phone from the room and began looking at all the picture I had taken of the previous day. The smile on my face was so pure and genuine.

My photo gazing was interrupted by the sound of a splash in the water. I looked up to see a faint light creeping into the dark sky. I could see water rippling in the middle of the canal. Then I heard another splash. Then another. Finally I caught a glimpse of a big fish jumping out of the water. Guess he was trying to catch bugs hovering near the water. I sat there, amused, trying to catch more and more glimpses of this fish.

The sun was now rising over the canal. The clouds were shadowed a dark grey color. They hung above a deep pink horizon near the water. The pink of the horizon faded into a pale golden color the further the sky rose from the water line. The gold was topped with almost a translucent white before turning into a grayish blue. As the sky lightened, the reflection of the clouds lay upon the water as if it were an unblemished mirror.

It appeared as if the entire sky, with all of it's stunning colors, was actually underneath the water, that is how perfectly still the canal waters were. I could not take my eyes off of this spectacular view. I was entranced and enchanted with every single fabulous detail surrounding this sunrise. Occasionally the big fish would make another leap out of the water, and there were a few little circular ripples near the edge of the canal, perhaps turtles or little fish, but other than that, there wasn't a single stir.

As the day grew lighter, I could see an egret walking along the marshes in the middle of the canal. Another one soon joined him. Perhaps they were looking for little fishes hiding in the sea grass. I guess there were parts of the canal further out, where the egrets were standing that were not deep. I know the water right next to the hotel was very deep. It dropped off immediately. It had to be at least 30 feet but maybe even deeper. You could not see the bottom at all. I am also not an expert in gauging water depth so 30 feet was just a random number that popped in my head.

Sugarloaf Key

Sugarloaf Key

Sugarloaf Key

Sugarloaf Key

Watching the sunrise in Sugarloaf Key. Nothing short of gorgeous!

Eventually both kiddos made their way onto the patio, also amazed that I was awake so early. We all took some time to admire the beauty of the sunrise. It was almost 6:00 am by this point. I sat outside a little longer. I did not want this moment to end. To experience both the sunset and sunrise in one of the most beautiful places I had ever visited was so incredible to me. Unwittingly, I had accomplished another bucket list item. I love those ones that sneak up on you unexpectedly. They are sometimes the best accomplishments.

We started getting ready for another day of adventures. We had a buoy to visit and more of Key West to experience. We headed down to the Tiki Bar for some very good complimentary coffee and hot chocolate. I could not wait to take in more of the atmosphere and culture of the Florida Keys. It had been an incredible journey thus far. I was making memories and moments I will never forget for the rest of my life. The sunrises and sunsets in this life I call my own I will not take for granted ever again.

The Florida Keys Chronicles- My Adventures


#19 Visit A Butterfly Sanctuary

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Blue Clipper Butterfly
And butterflies are free to fly. Fly away, bye bye.

The butterfly is a very symbolic creature to me for many reasons.

Butterflies remind me that beauty can be born from even the ugliest of circumstances.
Butterflies remind me that at any moment, I can spread my wings and fly away from anything.
Butterflies remind me that I have free will.
Butterflies remind me not to apologize for my free spirited and gypsy ways.
Butterflies remind me that I do not have to compete with anyone.

My first tattoo was of a butterfly. For the first time in a long time, I was back in the driver's seat of my life. I was ready to spread my wings and fly but was also equally terrified to do so. So.... I got a tattoo. And my tattoo is so much more than a cliche butterfly. My tattoo has a story behind it. But rather than get into the whole story, just read the above list again. The permanent ink on my back reminds me everyday of all the amazing things I have been able to accomplish when I set my mind to it. My butterfly reminds me that the only thing holding me back, is me. I control my wings. No one else.

So yes, butterflies mean a lot to me. I love observing these delicate yet powerful creatures. It's not easy breaking out of a cocoon. It takes real strength and determination to free yourself from a self created cocoon, leaving the shell behind as you bravely take flight into the light. You have to believe in all the possibilities yet to be experienced in the great big world outside of your little cocoon. I am pretty sure the butterflies do not delve as deep into their behaviors as I do. They just live. They just soar. They just inspire.

Pretty! Not sure what it's name is. 

I have always wanted to experience butterflies flying all around me. It seemed so magical to me. These enchanting creatures with their free spirited ways and sprite like souls had an aura and energy nothing short of spellbinding. I wanted to share in that on a grand scale. Some of my facebook peeps have visited butterfly gardens and such. Their words and their pictures were very inspiring to me. I decided to add this to my bucket list. It was definitely something I would not mind experiencing at least once in my lifetime. I mean who wouldn't want a bunch of exotic colorful fairies flying around their head?

I had been researching the Keys for years but it wasn't until last year that I came upon a Butterfly and Nature Conservatory located in Key West. It's been there for years but somehow I managed to miss it. I decided if I ever had the chance to visit Key West, this was going to be a must do attraction for me. And when my Florida Keys Road Trip became a reality, I think I was more excited to visit the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory than any other place.

When we entered the building, I became entranced by all the beautiful butterfly wind chimes, sculptures and stained glass in the gift shop. I was definitely going to take some time after the exhibit to admire such stunning decor. We were welcomed by a lovely lady whom explained the rules we were to follow once we entered the sanctuary. No texting or talking on self phones. Phones could be used for pictures but they would prefer people not be talking on their phones in the sanctuary.

I loved that rule. They wanted you to pay attention to the beauty and not interfere with other guests or the creatures all around you. To this day, I will never find blabbering at max volume on a phone in a public place, especially one where other people have paid money to experience, be it a venue, a restaurant, a movie, an attraction, etc. socially acceptable. I find it unbelievably rude and disrespectful. If people want to spend their entire time at a place texting, have at it. It's your money but at least it is a quiet activity unless you have the annoying message alert tone on. Then it is just as annoying. Sorry, just had to vent.

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Back to the rules. We were cautioned to walk slowly through the exhibit as butterflies, little birds and turtles would be on the ground. They did not want anyone to accidentally step on any of these sweet, little creatures. We were not to touch any of the creatures. If a butterfly landed on you, that was okay. They just did not want us to to touch them as they are so delicate. Finally, when leaving the sanctuary, we were to check everyone in our party for any hitchhiking butterflies that could have possibly landed on us.

Good rules. Understandable rules. We were good to go. We entered the education center and looked around a little bit. There was all sorts of information on butterflies. Not gonna lie, we maybe spent a minute in there. I could not wait to get into the room with the butterflies. I know my daughter could not wait either. So, we walked over to the first set of metal doors that led to the butterfly room. Through those doors there was a small corridor then another set of metal doors.

I almost peed myself when I looked through the two little glass windows on the doors. Tons of butterflies were flying around the room. "OMG Look at them!" I exclaimed. Remember the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where they open the big door and walk into the candy jungle? Well that was totally me when we opened the door into the butterfly sanctuary. I was stunned with amazement. My eyes were wide and I probably said "Wow", "Oh My God" and "Look at them all." about a gazillion times. Pretty sure my son rolled his eyes cuz I was gushing over this place. ( For the record, no part of this exhibit was edible by any means.)

It was not a huge sanctuary but it was a a gorgeous sanctuary. The room felt like that of a rainforest. The foliage was lush and exotic, dressed in shades of pinks, purples and greens. Tropical flowers dotted the landscape and the sound of water streaming from the beautiful little brooks and ponds was very soothing and calming. Birds were chirping and cooing melodically with the exception of one bird. This bird was really, really loud. He was squawking non stop but it was hilarious. It sounded like a dysfunctional car horn, honking repeatedly. It sounded like Hazleton on a Friday or Saturday night to be honest.

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
So lush and tropical!

Slowly, we walked the first path admiring the numerous varieties of butterflies fluttering all around us. The Owl Butterflies with their two toned wings were extraordinary. A cobalt blue patterned hue covered the backside of the insects while a fawn brown hue dotted with big spots that look very much like the eyes of an owl appeared on the frontal part of their wings. The Owl Butterflies were massive and plentiful. They would hover down very close to you, then fly away quickly.

Little black butterflies with yellow stripes were perched upon some of the stunning flowers. I named those butterflies Steelers butterflies because why wouldn't I? Bright orange butterflies mingled on berry bushes. We looked to the ground and saw a pair of adorable little egg shaped birds waddling along the brick, not at all phased by the foot traffic on the paths. They were so funny. We kept laughing as we watched them scurry up and down the edges of the paths. We came to find these little cuties are actually Chinese quail birds. There were grey quails and black and white quails. They were on a mission too.  I have no idea what it was but they were making me dizzy with all their zipping around.

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Steelers Butterfly

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Julia Butterly

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
So Pretty

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Chinese Quails. Too cute!!

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Fluffing his feathers. 

We turned the corner of the path and began slowly making our way down, discovering more and more butterfly variations with each step. Some of them had these elaborate, tapestry like wings. Some reminded me of peacock feathers. My son was bending down by the railing along the brook checking out a butterfly when all of a sudden I noticed a little pink head bobbing over the railing directly in front of my son. "What is that?" I wondered, moving in for a closer look.

"OMG It's a flamingo!" I exclaimed. My son and I both became entranced by this bright pink bird whom was contently licking something off the railing. Perhaps it was nectar. I have no idea. All I knew was this bird was really enjoying whatever substance was on the railing and was not at all intimidated by the close proximity of my son and me. I guess some of us are window lickers and some of us are railing lickers? Doesn't matter. We are special in our own way.

What is that??
Anyways, once she was done licking the railing, she looked up at us, craning her head a little higher, then turned and walked away. I looked to the plaque by the brook. There were two flamingos in here. Rhett and Scarlett were their names. There was also another sign explaining that it was mating season and the reason Rhett was being so loud was because he was trying to get Scarlett's attention. Obviously we just met the mild mannered, rail licking Scarlett.

We walked past some bamboo trees and Rhett came into view. He was pacing back and forth, honking and squawking like crazy. It was hilarious. I kind of felt bad for the poor guy. All that noise, all that effort was falling on deaf ears. Scarlett wanted nothing to do with him. She would walk over near him every now and again, but then she would be like, hell no. Of course I do not speak flamingo so god only knows what he was saying to her.

For all I knew, he could have been saying things like "I wanna tap that." or "Get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich." or "I'm different from all the other guys." Who knows? Only Scarlett and Rhett know for sure. What happens in the sanctuary stays in the sanctuary. It was certainly entertaining though. I snapped a few more pictures of these pink, quirky creatures then turned my attention back to the butterflies.

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
The lovers

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Rhett was honking like a crazy man!

Rhett taking a breather to chew some bamboo.

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Rhett notices Scarlett. Damn!!!! Woman, you fine!

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Scarlett is like ummm....I don't think so. 

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Scarlett would much rather chill in the pond.....alone!

There were little feeders set up all around the sanctuary with banana and mango slices for the butterflies to enjoy. In fact one feeder looked like a butterfly BBQ because there were about 5 or 6 of them congregated on a plate of oranges, mangos and bananas. They looked hammered. They were just lying on the fruit slices all drunk from their sugar high. I sat on a butterfly shaped bench and watched that plate for about five minutes. Not one butterfly moved. One looked like it was about to fall over but he did not. That is talent right there.

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Happy Hour on the fruit dish! 

It kind of reminded me of last call at the Roadhouse on a Friday night back in the day with my peeps. Good times man. Good times. Anyways, we spent a good hour in that room trying to see as many butterflies, birds, plants and other creatures as possible. Unfortunately the turtles were hiding that day. However, there is a little lab located near the exit of the conservatory where we were able to watch a butterfly emerge from it's cocoon. That was pretty neat.

They had all the cocoons labeled by butterfly type. Some were just teeny tiny little cocoons. Some were very colorful cocoons. There were also cocoons that looked like little lumps of the shiniest sterling silver I had ever seen. There were a few emerged butterflies hanging on the windows in the cocoon lab. They were probably saying " Get me out of here mister." I am sure in due time they will be released into the wild of the conservatory where they can go partake in the drunken shenanigans of the other butterflies passed out on the fruit plates. Don't grow up too quick butterflies.

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Let me out!!

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Big Beautiful Atlas Moth

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Tailed Jay. Gorgeous lime green and black.

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Gossiping in the garden. 

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Let's get this party started!!! 

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Did not see any turtles but they are in there.
In closing I will say this was definitely the experience of a lifetime. I was not expecting to see as many butterflies as I did. Like I said before, they were everywhere. As for this conservatory, hands down they are an amazing facility. They went out of their way to recreate an exotic scene straight from the Amazon Rainforest not for the guests to enjoy but for the plants and creatures living in this environment to flourish and thrive.

The fact that they allow the public to get a glimpse of this incredible place is just an added bonus. This was money well spent. For less that $33, because we had a $2 off per person coupon, my family and I got to travel to the rainforest without having to get immunizations nor worry about scary snakes or other intimidating critters. Every single creature and plant in this facility is well loved and well taken care of. There is no doubt in my mind. There is a reason The Key West Butterfly and Conservatory is ranked as the #1 thing to do in Key West on Trip Advisor. If you have a chance to visit Key West, this is a must!

Check it out here 🦋!

The Florida Keys Chronicles- My Adventures


Sunday, July 9, 2017

#95 Visit Ernest Hemingway's Home

Hemingway House
This picture sums it up.
Ernest Hemingway. The man. The myth. The Legend. Chances are you have read at least one of his literary works when in high school. If not, may I recommend The Old Man and The Sea? It is one of the greatest books I have ever read. There are many significant lessons and experiences in this book that can parallel to just about anyone's life in one way or another. It's a book about going after a dream, achieving that dream, fighting to keep the dream a reality, and ultimately losing the dream but....did you really lose your dream? It's all about perspective. It's about age and wisdom. It's about toughness and desperation. It's one of Ernest Hemingway's greatest literary pieces.

But this man is so much more than written word. Whenever I see a Dos Equis commercial featuring "The Most Interesting Man In The World.", I always think of Ernest Hemingway. The man even looks like an elder Ernest Hemingway. Yes, I am quite fascinated with Hemingway. He seemed to live a very spirited life. He was a carpe diem sort of fella. So visiting his home in Key West was an adventure I could not pass up.

The Hemingway House in Key West is a privately owned home that is open to the public. Hemingway spent most of the 1930's living in this home with second wife "Pilar" aka Pauline Pfeiffer. Pilar was her code name as he was still married to Hadley Richardson and living in Paris when he met Pauline. Pilar was also the name of Hemingway's yacht. He purchased it in Coney Island, New York from Wheeler Shipyard after receiving an advance from Esquire for some stories he agreed to write. It was brought down to Key West and officially christened as "Pilar".

Hemingway House
The Pilar's wheel.

As for the house, Pauline's rich uncle bought the house in Key West for the couple as a wedding gift. It was one of the first houses on the island to have indoor plumbing and an upstairs bathroom. It also had a very rare basement. Not many properties in Key West have basements because it is only 3 feet above sea level. To this day, that basement has never flooded either. I live like 8 million feet above sea level in the Pocono Mountains and my basement sometimes gets flooded. WTF is up with that??

Anyways, back to the gorgeous house. Pauline had done most of the decorating in the house. She had a very nice eye for detail and the very stylish chandeliers in the house were all chosen by her. Although Key West was a tropical island and gets quite hot and humid, Pauline chose to have all the ceiling fans in the house replaced with beautiful chandeliers from France and Cuba. She was not a fan of the ceiling fan look.

Hemingway House

The gorgeous chandeliers.

Most of the furnishings in the home are the furnishings used by the Hemingway family. Beautiful, ornate cabinets throughout the house display many of Ernest's possessions including some of his typewriters, favorite books, and pictures from his life and travels. Oh how I would love to write just one of my blog posts on a typewriter used by Ernest Hemingway. I would probably need about 7 ink ribbons, a case of white out, and a can of WD40 in order to accomplish such a feat though. While I am a fast typer I am a sloppy typer who never really learned how to type properly. I tend to make a lot of mistakes. It would be completely worth the utter frustration I would have with myself though.

Hemingway House

The marble and tile in the bathrooms was stunning.

Hemingway House
One of Hemingway's typewriters.
It was an absolutely gorgeous property. The gardens and courtyards were filled with various palm trees, African tulip trees and many other exotic plants and flowers. The house itself with it's white, limestone walls, tall windows, and summery green shutters was so beautiful. It was the epitome of a Caribbean beach house but definitely had some Southern flair to it as well. The house reminded me of New Orleans to be honest. The second floor had a wrap around balcony with gorgeous views of the island as well as the grounds below.

Back then though, the island was still pretty dry so all the lush and beautiful foliage on the property was not originally there when Hemingway resided on the property. It wasn't until the Navy installed a waterline from Florida City to the island that the more tropical plants were able to be added. By then, Hemingway was already living in Cuba with his third wife Martha Gellhorn, a woman whom in one biography written about her was said to have no problem conducting sexual affairs and ruining relationships. She herself had once stated she did not enjoy sex but did it because it made her feel wanted.

Hemingway House Gardens
Hemingway House Gardens

Hemingway House GardensHemingway House Gardens

Key West LighthouseHemingway House Gardens

Hemingway House

The grounds and the home was so stunning and tropical. I would love to live here! Could you imagine having a lighthouse in the backdrop?? So cool!

Yes. Hemingway loved many things in life. He loved to write. He loved boxing. He loved sailing. He loved to travel. He loved to drink. And he loved women. He definitely broke more than a few hearts in his time. He also broke his own heart a few times as well. Rumor has it that his split from Pauline was very painful for him as well.  Love the man but in the end, was the affair worth the disintegration of his marriage to Pauline? His third and shortest marriage to Martha was very volatile to say the least. Heartbreak and pain are all part of the romance of living and loving though isn't it? As a society I think we tend to romanticize heartbreak even more than love itself nowadays. That's not healthy. It's quite sad to be honest.

But I digress. Back to my tour of Hemingway house. The stunning and very large in-ground pool located at Hemingway House has a story behind. While Hemingway did want a pool for the property, he was not at all looking to spend a small fortune on it. Pauline had found out about Ernest's affair with Martha Gelhorn while he was away doing correspondence for the Spanish Civil War. So, she decided to alter the design of the pool to be installed on the property just a little. LOL!

Hemingway House pool
The infamous swimming pool!
When Ernest came home and saw the pool, which cost $20,000 back in the 1930's ( That would be $330,000 by today's standards), he became furious and threw a penny at her. He stated that she might as well have taken his last red cent. At the time he was unaware that Pauline's wealthy uncle had actually paid for the pool. Pauline later had that very penny embedded in the concrete by the pool where it became a conversation piece at parties she held on the Key West property before she passed away in the early 1950's.

From the gardens and the house, you could see the Key West Lighthouse looming directly across the street. Back in Hemingway's days on the island, it was not nearly as built up with structures as it is today. Back then, it was a little more difficult to navigate the island, especially after drunken nights at Sloppy Joe's bar. It was the Key West lighthouse that Hemingway would often use as a focal point in finding his way back home when a little too inebriated.

Hemingway's last red cent and some kittens recreating Mann's Chinese theater. 

And speaking of Sloppy Joe's bar, Hemingway's favorite haunt, there is actually a piece of memorabilia from that very bar on the property. Pauline had a beautiful Cuban water jar displayed in her garden. It was quite large too. Like I said, she had a beautiful eye for decor and detail. Her husband Ernest decided to add his own piece of decor to the garden as well. When Sloppy Joe's bar was remodeling, Ernest Hemingway asked for the urinal in the bar since he pissed away so much money there. ( What a sense of humor on this man!) Well, they gave it to him.

Hemingway House Cuban water jar
The Cuban water jar and a cat sipping from the drinking fountain.
Pilar was not at all pleased with the urinal lying in her garden. But, being the sassy woman she was, she decided to allow Ernest to keep his prize. She even added her own personal touch to the urinal. She had it refurbished with mosaic tile to make it pretty. Today, the Cuban water jar and the Sloppy Joe urinal have been utilized together to make the perfect cat drinking fountain for the home's live in residents to enjoy. We even got to witness one of said residents enjoying a little afternoon slurp from the fountain.

And since I brought up the cat drinking fountain we might as well get to the "celebrities" of Hemingway House, the Polydactyls cats, aka Hemingway cats, aka six toed cats. Most cats have 5 front toes per paw and 4 back toes per paw. Polydactyl cats have six, sometimes 7 toes. Sometimes in both the front and the back. This anomaly isn't unique to a specific breed either. This phenomenon can happen in any breed of cat really. It all depends on the DNA.

Hemingway was a superstitious man. On the docks of Key West he met a famous shipwreck and salvage captain named Harold Dexter. Captain Dexter always sailed with his six toed polydactyl cat Snowball. I had no idea until I visited Hemingway House that cats are considered a a maritime good luck charm. Hemingway was fascinated with Snowball and also wanted good luck. Captain Dexter gifted Hemingway and his boys with a polydactyl kitten from one of Snowball's litters.

The boys named the kitten Snow White. Hemingway used to joke that where there was one cat, more were sure to follow. He was right of course. Today, most of the cats that reside in Hemingway House as well as many wandering around the island of Key West, are polydactyl descendants of Snow White. And while some of these cats are born with the normal amount of toes, they carry the polydactyl gene and often times give birth to kittens that do have six, seven, even eight toes.

Hemingway cats
How the Hemingway cats came about. Snowball.

Hemingway cats
A sleepy Polydactyl. So neat. So sweet.
Hemingway cats
This little gal wanted her belly rubbed. My son and I obliged.
Hemingway cats
Maine Coon polydactyl. Beautiful but he must have been sweltering.

Hemingway cats

The kiddos chilling on the bench with a Hemingway cat. She was sweet and calm. 

Hemingway liked naming his cats after famous people and that tradition is still practiced today when new kittens are born at Hemingway House. You could tell these cats were well loved and well taken care of. We were allowed to pet the cats. If one jumped up on our lap, that was okay as well. The only actions we were not permitted to do were to either pick them up or chase them. And while there were some shy cats on the property, most of them were either really friendly or completely oblivious to our presence.

You could tell the Hemingway cats were used to people. We got to meet Betty Grable in the master bedroom. She was sound asleep on Hemingway's bed. It is one of her favorite spots. And while I did not catch the names of the other kitties on the property, we did encounter some really sweet and funny cats. One walked over to us, circled the ground, then flopped over on his belly so we could rub it. Another cat shared a bench with us. Another one followed us up one of the garden paths.

Hemingway cats
Betty Grable's favorite haunt, Hemingway's original bed.


Betty Grable did not even flinch. She was fast asleep. That must be a cozy bed.

They were everywhere. And yes, many of them had six toes. I had never seen a cat with six toes before so it was way weird but equally cool to see such big mitts on some of these kitts. We even saw some Maine coon cats. They were gorgeous but had to be sweltering in this heat. My son adores cats so this was probably the biggest thrill for him of the entire trip. He spent a lot of time searching for and petting all the cats.

Hemingway cats
Hemingway cats

In memorium. Many Hemingway cats have come and gone long before our visit.

Hemingway cats
A portion of the pet cemetery at Hemingway House.
We also paid our respects at the cat cemetery located near the carriage house. It was a very sweet tribute to all the former residents of Hemingway House. And Hemingway's love for cats reached across the Florida Strait into Cuba. His home in Cuba is also home to many cats as well as his yacht, Pilar. One day I would love to visit there as well. I have a feeling there will be a lot of price gouging on travel to Cuba for awhile though so I have no plans of visiting there any time soon. It is on the list though.

As we said goodbye to Betty Grable, the Hemingway Cats and the home of a literary legend, a feeling of accomplishment and contentment came over me. No, my dream career of being a writer, or even a better, a travel writer may not have come true, but I do write. I do indulge in my passion. Just because I do not get paid to write does not mean I am not a writer. And no, I have not been all over the world having adventures but I have been to so many different places and have had countless adventures with good friends and family. I am constantly trying something new and fun while enjoying my tried and true favorites as well. Visiting here, listening to the stories and seeing the sights has inspired me in so many ways.

I guess I am a Carpe Diem kind of gal after all.

If you are in the Keys and would like to visit Hemingway House, click here for information.


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