Friday, August 28, 2015

Find Me at The New Tropic


It may sound like The New Tropic is a snazzy hotel in South Beach but it's actually a breath of fresh air in the local digital publishing scene, dished up by talented locals. "Live like you live here" is the slogan, which may sound ironic  -- how can you not live like you live here? -- but that irony rings true for many old school Miamians who know there's more to the city than what you find in a tourism brochure.

Some Miamians may be old enough to remember the Miami Herald's Sunday magazine Tropic, which ceased publication in 1998. Like Tropic, which created a popular scavenger hunt that gathered together thousands from the community, The New Tropic produces events on a smaller scale. (I wouldn't put it past them to create a new version of the hunt. What say you?)

So what's the big deal? Another Miami blog? Not quite. The New Tropic is a daily dose of all things South Florida and much more.  In their own words, from the launch letter titled "A Miami Love Letter," published in January of this year:
Miami’s already got some great news organizations that provide critical day-to-day reporting. We’re focused on something a little different: helping Miamians become better locals by making sense of, and finding new ways to explore, the constantly expanding universe of news, issues, people and places in a growing city like ours. We want to help you live like you live here. Where traditional journalism emphasizes a sort of arm’s-length objectivity, The New Tropic is proudly local and thoughtfully optimistic about Miami’s future. We have opinions. We are involved. And we’ll always be clear about that.
I love The New Tropic's curated daily digest of local news and the fresh spontaneity of all this, which feels more like the impetus behind a movement rather than just another locally-focused blog. Even better, you won't find any cheesy Asian massage or escort ads here; this publication is supported, in part, by the Knight Foundation, which is all about journalism, media innovation, engaged communities and the arts. The New Tropic is the first product from WhereBy.Us, which helps "people become better locals" through experiential media.

Pretty groovy, huh? Now go over and read my first article about getting around in Miami. If you really want to live like you live here, you've got to pick which Miami you want to live in and earn your Miami cred by doing the Miami schlep.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ditch the Beach and Grab a Brush in Islamorada

A lion fish in watercolor. Photo courtesy of artist Michelle Nicole Lowe.

Inclement weather in the Sunshine State couldn’t keep us from enjoying ourselves in Islamorada.

In winter, Floridians get more than snow birds. Cold fronts from the jet stream sometimes assault our sunny days with chilly, squally weather, interrupting what water babies love to do -- in our case it was a day of snorkeling and sailing. But no matter, in the Florida Keys, you can still enjoy the area's marine life even if you're like a fish out of water.

I was traveling with a group of bloggers and although I really hankered to don my snorkel gear and to end the day with a sunset sail, I’m glad we spent the afternoon indoors at Michelle Nicole Lowe’s art gallery. Located in a small, non-descript strip mall on the overseas highway at mile marker 81, Lowe’s gallery bursts with bright, colorful creatures of the sea that come to life on canvas.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
Lowe also paints birds who call the Keys ecosystem home.

Lowe, who grew up in South Florida, has been painting since childhood but worked for a spell in corporate IT after earning a degree in finance. She followed her passion for art, furthered her studies in Italy and returned home, where she’s painting vibrant watercolors with striking realistic detail.

The love of the land’s natural splendor runs in her bloodlines. Lowe’s family traces some of its roots back several generations in the Keys and the Bahamas. She gathers inspiration for her watercolors by exploring the land above and under the water. Currently, Lowe is also working on a series of botanical watercolors.

During our visit, the friendly artist taught us how to paint a turtle swimming up to the water’s surface. We spent about three hours working with acrylic paints on a small canvas. The meditative nature of the process made for a relaxing afternoon and a refreshing change of pace from the surf. I didn’t miss the ocean at all and would return in a heartbeat to repeat this experience.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
The set up included a small blank canvas.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
Lowe taught us some rudimentary painting skills to create the turtle's shell.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
First, the background. We enjoyed some wine while painting the ocean in different shades of blue.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
Soon, a turtle appeared on my canvas. This wasn't easy to paint, but definitely fun.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
My little turtle. I kept him and took him home.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
Our final output. Painting together for an afternoon helped us nurture a jovial camaraderie.

Lowe’s gallery is situated just down the road from Morada Way Cultural and Arts District, which features additional galleries run by artists who welcome visitors warmly like old friends -- there’s no snobbery here.

You can see Lowe’s work at the gallery or at scheduled shows. Although Lowe doesn’t advertise classes, call her and ask for a customized, private session. A few hours painting with friends becomes a respite from the daily grind in an already marvelously relaxing destination. Islamorada’s proximity to Miami makes for an ideal staycation.

For more information, visit Michelle Nicole Lowe Gallery.


My participation in this outing was part of a press trip. As always, all opinions are my own.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

First Day of School


Every day is first day of school. When I was a kid, I was so eager to grow up because I felt it would "mean something" to be a grown up, as if being a child wasn't enough, as if life was postponed, a recursive symphony.

If I could talk to my inner child as that impatient imp she was then, I would tell her to exist fully in the present moment. And she was, for the most part, when playing with her toys, but always, always she played with a gut feeling that something else -- something better, something luminous and exciting that would "change everything" -- was lingering around the corner. She was infinitely curious. And because of this, she felt there was always something lacking.

That's probably why I became a writer. I already had a story to tell. The blank page of life presented itself before me with overwhelming plenitude. Writers wouldn't practice their craft if they felt there was nothing left to say.

Little did I know my younger self, the star student, would eventually have to unlearn quite a few things. I would have to let go of many things that I once thought would give life meaning, so long as I held on tightly to those things.

Things, stuff ... the detritus of life. All the shit we can spare because it just doesn't fucking matter. All the crap that makes us feel as if we're missing out on something, when, in reality, we wouldn't be missing anything if we simply let go of everything that holds us down.

Then, one fine day, you hit the wall. That future you dreamed of with such enthusiasm arrives when you hit that wall. The real schooling begins when you break it down and it crumbles to the floor. Humpty-Dumpty, the wall, the whole thing, boom. Gone.

The best lesson comes from a silent teacher. You. You tell fear and scarcity to go fuck itself.

What's left is the child's spirit in an adult body -- the innocence of forgiveness, the wisdom of unconditional love. That little girl still plays with her toys -- jobs, a roof over her head, money problems, books still unwritten -- but she knows better. The future came and went and then so what?

Our bodies our born and our bodies die. Everything else in between is a glimmer of the infinite. The now is that thing that is luminous and exciting, worth holding on to, even though it constantly slips through our fingers.

Everyday is the first day of school.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tropical Caribbean Delights Along Miami's Public Transportation Routes


There are several advantages to using Miami's public transportation and one of them has to do with your tummy. I'll be the first to tell you that living in Miami without a car is inconvenient. But if you schlep around in a car, you'll whiz by great little mom-and-pop places with humble storefronts.

B & M Market, now in business for over 3 decades, has nothing but. You can't miss its eye-popping facade on an otherwise drab urban street.

The tiny market and restaurant boasts bright colors on its exterior, bearing resemblance to the red, black, green and yellow colors of the Guyanese flag while hinting at the delicious Caribbean fare cooked and served home-style fresh inside this take-out eatery. The owners, a husband and wife team, hail from the South American nation and prepare traditional dishes from the region that pay homage to East and West Indian culinary influences.

Roti (a flatbread wrap with curry fillings) is my favorite. The vegetarian is quite filling and comes with a side of outrageously spicy hot sauce -- or as my old Trinidadian friend would say, "it's not Mickey Mouse sauce." Hot pepper lovers won't be disappointed. Other Caribbean staples include curry goat as well as jerk preparations.

My tummy is happy I didn't miss this mom-and-pop shop while riding on the L Bus to Hialeah. You'll find this inexpensive and piping-hot goodness on the corner of 2nd Avenue and NE 79th street.

Spots like B & M define the real Miami "trendy" for me. Stuff that's tried and true, not here today and gone tomorrow. With so many long-standing Miami establishments closing in the last year or two -- Jimbo's, Tobacco Road, Van Dyke, Fox's and now Scotty's -- it's refreshing to know that B & M hasn't been squashed by new development.

I enjoyed B & M's vegetarian roti so much, I recreated its flavor in my own kitchen for a curry fried rice: brown and red rice, chia seed and kale, tossed along with a vegetable stew (coconut oil, garlic, ginger, green and yellow bell pepper, red poivrons, chick peas, petite pois and tempeh). On the side: leftover burn-your-tongue hot sauce from B & M.


I've also feasted my eyes and taste buds on tropical delights riding Metrorail. I'm not sure what the schedule is for Miami train station farmer's markets, but they do occasionally pop up when I schlep on the above-ground rail. As seen today in downtown Miami at Government Center: a tent selling mountains of luscious tropical fruit. Rambutan, tamarind, dragon fruit and more, a sight for sore eyes amid the concrete. The smell of freshly chopped mango was a heavenly break from the heat.


Would I trade this experience for schlepping around in a car? Well, it sure beats parking at a crowded Publix. And it's definitely a lot quicker than flying to the Caribbean for these tasty delights.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Peach is a Peach is a Peach


She sat in a bookstore, surrounded by millions of words that were suffocating her in the coffin of writer-for-hire, someone else’s word monkey. She thought to herself, the true value of writing lies not in words, but in the intention of the writer.

She reminded herself that some people wanted to burn books. She wanted to burn words. She could already see the flames of those words rise to the sky and disappear into the dark ether. She wanted to feel the heat of that cleansing fire and spread the ashes over the cloth of the universe.

 She longed for a world of fewer words, of short alphabets, of languages spoken without sounds, a world of kind glances, lingering caresses and simple joys.

She saw words where words were unnecessary, in gestures, sunrises, musical harmonies, rustling leaves, orgasms, the color blue, the smell of rye bread, the taste of honey and the figures of cave paintings. She saw words in many things and could describe them very well but asked herself why there was ever any obligation.

She could not, however she might try, drink water without a glass. She still had to wield a sword against letters, nouns, adverbs and figures of speech in exchange for paltry paychecks, asking herself again why there was still any obligation.

She knew what many wordmongers did not know, that the word had always been made of flesh and earth, sea and air, blind and silent energy.

She desired only words for the sake of words and nothing more. She read the braille of the heart, where words have no shape, sound or form.

The meaning makers had it all wrong. The meaning makers drowned themselves in this sea of endless words where words lost their meaning. The meaning makers were the true assassins of words. The meaning makers plundered the soul from words, laying to waste the value of words with their intention. The meaning makers sold the earth's bounty with their words and died by killing their own form of sustenance.

She closed her eyes and craved a world without adjectives where her tongue could simply have a secret affair with a peach.

She remembered a broken bank does not mean a broken spirit and with that, she took a bite of a peach.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Miami Pirate Drops Anchor for a Bit

Fort Taylor Pirate Invasion Key West 2014
Me and a fellow pirate re-enactor clowning around at last year's festival. I finally had a couple of days of respite.

After sailing for many years, it's time to drop anchor and rest in a peaceful harbor for a bit.

I'm taking a break from writing here until I solve some issues related to caregiving for my father, his failing health and his estate. Caregiving for my dearly departed mother and now my very ill father has been a daunting, extremely difficult yet rewarding experience filled with unconditional love.

Get ready though because later this year I'll be celebrating 10 years of this blog's humble beginnings. A big party somewhere in the Miami area is most likely. Save the date for October.

But I'm still active elsewhere ... see links below. Catch me if you can.

This blog isn't over. I just have some very important things to take care of regarding my precious mother and father.

There's a whole lot of somethin' something' else going on: my career is shifting into some political activism regarding eldercare; I'm also getting involved a bit more in the foodie world (follow hashtag #vicequeenkitchen across the networks);  I'm working on a hilarious yet deeply spiritual illustrated book about religion and social media; and finally I have a few interesting work projects down the pipeline.

But don't fret. I'm still the goofball with a quirky sense of humor you all know and love.


Weekly Online Radio Show, Tuesdays 1 - 2 PM at Social Chats, co-hosted with Tonya Scholz.

Vicequeenmaria on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and of course, this blog's own Facebook page, where I share a ballast's worth of funny and inspiring content quite frequently: I Like Sex and the Beach.

Thanks for so many years of reading my every word. Stay tuned for a new chapter of this blog when I'm ready. We shall unfurl our sails soon enough over here at Sex and the Beach. I may take the dinghy to shore and pop in every now and then. I just can't post as frequently as I'd like to right now.

May you all be blessed by grace and joy. I know I am ... despite the challenges.



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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Follow the Fish and Hibiscus Trail in Islamorada

Morada Way Arts and Cultural District, Islamorada
Look for the fish and hibiscus flower logo.

If you blink while driving down Route 1 at mile marker 85, you'll miss the area that makes up the Morada Way Arts and Cultural District. But don't let size fool you. The district is a thriving enclave of culture in a place where it's all about the water.

Folks come to Islamorada to look at fish, catch fish and eat fish but to see fish on canvas? That might be an afterthought, but it shouldn't be. Marine-inspired artists here capture the spirit of a community devoted to its aquatic surroundings.

The Morada Way district was founded in 2010 off an industrial road Old State Highway, which runs parallel to Route 1. Today, it's a non-profit that brings together artists and community partners featuring events such as a third Thursday art walk, live painting, classes, culinary gatherings and more.

Anchor galleries Redbone, Pasta Pantaleo and Gallery Morada, as well as Morada Way Clay and Blue Marlin Jewelry, are surrounded by some of the area's favorite restaurants, including Florida Keys favorites The Green Turtle Inn and Ma's Fish Camp. The Florida Keys Brewing Company is scheduled to open on Morada Way early in 2015 and will offer brewery tours and tastings.

To the undiscerning eye on drab Route 1, Islamorada seem like a flat, scrubby island, but from a satellite's point of view, the "rock" (as locals call it) is surrounded by the mangrove estuaries of Florida Bay and the reefs of the Atlantic Ocean -- all in a dazzling array of green and blue hues.

Local artists bring to canvas what isn't immediately visible from land. Robert "Pasta" Pantaleo is one of them.

I first visited Pasta Pantaleo's gallery in 2011 one evening while attending a Ladies, Let's Go Fishing workshop. Housed in a historic cottage -- a Red Cross House built in 1937 -- the gallery offers a visual feast for anyone who loves sea creatures. Several signature pieces, many of which show off the vibrant colors and dynamic movement of marine life in large, bold brushstrokes, hang from the walls of the quaint gallery.

A marlin bursting out of the ocean.  Art by Pasta Pantaleo.

Can you guess how many turtles are in this Escher style painting? Art by Pasta Pantaleo.

Pasta Pantaleo Art Gallery, Islamorada
The very affable Pasta demonstrated his acrylic painting technique to us travel bloggers.

This time around, I had a chance to meet the artist and see him at work. Later, I gave him a call.

Brooklyn-born Pasta remembers his early fascination with fish. "Being a young kid, I was enamored with the water. I had fish tanks in my room," he said. "Fish had a gravitational pull. I watched Jacques Cousteau documentaries on TV. All the colorful aspects of the ocean inspired me."

The grown-up Pasta hasn't lost his passion for all things ocean and now he's inspiring younger artists.

"I try to mentor young artists to be larger than the canvas or whatever their craft is," he said. "Whatever you do, try to expand upon it and do bigger things. Share it and give back. You can make change. Once you get that voice, use it for betterment.  And you can still do what you love to do."

Sage advice for all, not just for kids or artists.

See more Pasta sharing his advice below or on Youtube.

To learn more about Pasta and the district, visit Art by Pasta and Morada Way Arts and Cultural District.

For this post, I visited Islamorada as part of a press trip. Opinions my own, as always.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Who Says White Fish Can't Jump?

Robbie's Marina, Islamorada
Here little fishy, here!

What weighs more than an average adult human and jumps oh so very high? If you guessed LeBron James, guess again.

Behold Megalops atlanticus, a.k.a. tarpon or the Silver King of the flats, so named because of its large, silver scales. In Islamorada -- well known as the sports fishing capital of the world -- you don't need a rod and reel to witness the strength of these finny creatures. Instead, feed them by hand!

Postcard Inn at Holiday Isle, Islamorada
Tarpon are ubiquitous in Islamorada. At the Postcard Inn at Holiday Isle, you'll even sleep next to one.

In my angling adventures, I've felt this strong fish swim like a speeding Mac truck at the end of a screeching line. They run like mad and jump high at which point every fishing guide will tell you to "bow to the tarpon" -- drop the rod tip so the line goes slack and doesn't snap.

Fishing technique aside, you should bow to this royal highness of Florida's backcountry. Not only has this majestic fish been roaming our coastal waters since prehistoric times, in theory, a leaping tarpon could also do some serious damage.

A couple of years ago, during the World's Richest Tarpon Tournament in Boca Grande, I almost got clobbered by a bounding 200-pounder. The only thing between us was the hull.

Extreme angler Jeremy Wade even researched a documented case about a fisherman who died after a run in with a "killer torpedo" in Central America. The poor guy was fishing in a canoe. Thank goodness for monohulls, although Wade dared to catch his tarpon on fly rod in an inflatable craft.

But tarpon are no river monsters and have no appetite for humans. Hand-feeding them is no more dangerous than giving a bone to your pet Fido. Tarpon aren't toothy, so they can't really bite you. Their big mouths are packed with tiny, densely packed teeth, giving the inside of the mouth a sandpaper-like texture.

Tarpon are simply eating machines who will jump for food.

And jump they will at Robbie's Marina in the Florida Keys, where you can see hungry tarpon leap into the air with only one aim in mind: to snatch baitfish from your hands. You'll offer the tarpon some delicacy du jour from a bucket, perhaps mullet or threadfin herring, which was on the menu the day I visited Robbie's mid-November.

The clever tarpon know that there's a free lunch at Robbie's. Staff at the marina recognize return "restaurant" guests by their unique markings.

Like a gang of freeloaders, Jack Crevalles also wait for a complimentary meal, but they circle swiftly under the dock as if anticipating a feeding frenzy. The tarpon are far more relaxed, so you can never quite know when one is going to jump, which adds to the thrill.

Robbie's Marina, Islamorada
For a tarpon, this is first-rate sushi.

Robbie's Marina, Islamorada
Tarpon aren't the only critters in line for free food.

Robbie's Marina, Islamorada
Kneel down to feed the fish.

Robbie's Marina, Islamorada
Still scratching my head on how anyone could be strong and fast enough to remove a tarpon from the water.

There's more to do than hand-feeding tarpon at Robbie's Marina -- a rustic, laid-back stop along Route 1. Satisfy your own appetite at the Hungry Tarpon, although you'll never see tarpon on the menu. This popular game fish is too bony to eat and a strictly a catch-and-release species, unless you purchase a permit.

Stroll the open-air shops, rent a kayak, take an ecotour, go fishing and more. For more information visit Robbie's Marina.

To learn more about this amazing fish, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust.

More photos on Flickr.

See yours truly hand-feed the tarpon in the video below.

For this post, I visited Robbie's as part of a press trip. Opinions my own, as always.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

A Cure for Nature Deficit Disorder in Miami

Safari Edventure sloth
I fed a gentle sloth!

Safari Edventure is definitely off the beaten path for Miami tourists and not exactly a pit stop for locals when they venture south of Kendall Drive. Five acres in the Redlands are eclipsed by theme park style attractions such as Miami Zoo and Jungle Island, yet the land is home to 130 species of animals and 1,000 species of plants.

It's here where the not quite so wild things are: the animals were either rescued, re-homed or rehabilitated or born on the site. Glenn Fried, who has worked in wildlife education for over 35 years, and his wife Niki, run the non-profit.

It's a labor of love for the couple and a group of volunteers.

This isn't your ordinary zoo. You'll find nothing plastic or smoothly paved. No over manicured landscapes. Guests use composting toilets.

Safari Edventure hosts camps for schools throughout the year for kids to learn about wildlife hands-on and up-close. Garden paths teach children about fruits, vegetables and herbs -- or most importantly, where they come from -- fruits don't just appear magically at Publix.

Safari Edventure ackee poisonous
Ackee, a staple fruit in Jamaica, is only poisonous when unripe.

Safari Edventure peacock
Winding trail at Safari Edventure and a resident peacock.

Grown-ups can enjoy the winding paths and serenity of the grounds, just like I did. It's a little slice of backcountry exploration with an old Florida feel, just a few minutes from US1. Picnic benches are wedged under a huge banyan tree. An enormous avocado tree, laden with fruit during my visit, shaded the Fox Trot Trail, which is home to a Mynah bird with astounding digital-sounding vocalizations. I thought R2-D2 was following me around the corner. Actually, a beautiful peacock did seem to trace my steps.

This lemur is a resident of the Fox Trot Trail.

Safari Adventure also isn't your ordinary petting zoo. I touched and fed a sloth. I also petted very tame timber and arctic wolves, which reminded me of a time that I met a woman in Hawaii while she walked a wolf dog on the beach. The animal required a special permit to be on the island as her emotional support pet.

I would never think to come close to such a majestic animal, but here, these wolves were gentle and seemed to enjoy interacting with humans. There's something definitely grounding and healing about petting a wolf.

Safari Edventure arctic wolves
Arctic wolves at Safari Adventure.

Solace Health Miami thinks so, too. This South Florida behavioral therapy provider brings patients here for animal-assisted therapy. The nature-focused holistic treatment helps those who suffer from behavioral, emotional and other psychological disorders.

And then there's nature deficit disorder, which isn't a medical condition but a result of not spending enough time outdoors under peaceful circumstances.

For those of us who are simply stressed-out by the jarring, fast-paced energy of Miami, take a hint. A day in the Redlands, surrounded by nature, is just what the doctor ordered.

So don't come here to do anything. Just be. 

Safari Edventure is at risk of losing the land, which would leave its resident critters homeless. You can support this non-profit by visiting and spreading the word.

For more information, call 305-238-9453 or visit SafariEdventure.

Mouse over the image below to see more photos from Flickr.

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