Sunday, June 12, 2016

Romance Row: Lauderdale By the Sea

Photo Credit: LBTS

This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. During my stay, I laid my head on the pillows of ten different boutique lodgings that are adjacent to each other, a.k.a. Romance Row. I also took time to relax and reflect on my life’s passion – writing – and how the sea has always been my muse. It was romantic in the traditional sense, to be sure, as my beau also enjoyed part of this stay with me. But I also romanced the destination. Or perhaps more appropriately, the destination romanced me. I left a little of my heart in this seaside town. Here are my stories.

Sunday, April 17 - Saturday, April 30, 2016

Houses of Refuge

Florida’s east coast settlements have a long history of rescuing shipwreck survivors.

In 1715, a strong hurricane hit what is present day Vero Beach, shipwrecking eleven of twelve ships carrying treasure from the New World to Spain. Those who survived and made it to shore established a camp and received food and aid from local Indians, the Ais, who were hunter-gatherers. Today, the location of the camp can be found at the McClarty Treasure Museum just south of Sebastian Inlet.

Romance Row: Driftwood Beach Club

This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Highway to Bliss

I arrived in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea with a friend who drove me 50 miles from Palmetto Bay to this seaside village. The journey is worth noting because it involved local Miami traffic and a trek up I-95. This time, the highway from hell led me to this magical place. It’s not quite as dramatic as crossing the 7-mile bridge in the Florida Keys, but the feeling is similar. “I’m here,” I thought. “I can breathe now. I’ve really left it all behind.”

Romance Row: My Yacht Experience and Southern Seas


This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Monday, April 18, 2016

My Yacht Experience

my-yacht-experience-fort-lauderdaleOn the second day of my of journey, I was whisked away from Lauderdale-by-the-Sea to cruise Broward county’s Intracoastal Waterway aboard captain Mark Husk’s yacht Don’t Blink.

We met affable Captain Husk of My Yacht Experience at the dock located behind Bokamper’s on the Intracoastal, about three miles south of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

We cruised smoothly, feasting our palates on fresh fruit and our eyes on the spectacular luxury waterfront properties that line this body of water in the Venice of the Americas, so named because of the more than 300 miles of canals in the Fort Lauderdale area. I had seen these homes before when taking the water taxi around Fort Lauderdale from the 17th street bridge up the New River, but the Don’t Blink was fully a pleasure cruise. I sat back, enjoyed crisp mimosas served by Captain Husk’s wife and first mate, Nancy, and talked to the Captain about many a thing nautical. The service was impeccable but unobtrusive. They spoiled this jaded Miamian.

Romance Row: Breakaway Inn and Guest House

This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mi Casa es Su Casa

After my day of quiet and solitude at Southern Seas, I spent a different kind of day with a new set of friends who treated me like family. Margaret and Andrew Winiarczyk own and run the Breakaway Inn and Guest House along with Margaret’s sprightly, fashionable mother Michelle and three very lazy cats, Frosty, Goober and Mimi.

The Breakaway Inn and Guest House is located about 300 yards from the beach, which takes it off “romance row” on El Mar Drive. But that’s just fine. The Breakaway Inn does “break away” from the row because the owners live on the premises. They would be completely justified in putting a sign on their front door that reads “welcome to our home” because it feels like home.

Romance Row: The Tides Inn


This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Retro Relaxation

My time enjoying great company at the Breakaway Inn and Guest House was short-lived. But as a writer, I also welcome solitude. The Tides Inn afforded me just that in an updated 1950s boutique hotel appointed with chic, retro décor.

Writers are peculiar: we need to be with people in order to write but we also need to be alone in order to write. And four days into my journey, I got that precious gift: a whole day to myself.

The Tides Inn, like Southern Seas, offers guests completely unobstructed views of sea and sky. My God. What to do with all that space?

Romance Row: Tropic Seas


This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Enchanted Shores

On day five of my journey, I arrived at the Tropic Seas Resort Motel. An adorable “older” lady – it was hard to pinpoint her age as she was lively – greeted me at the front desk. Lauderdale-by-the-Sea mainly attracts families and retirees. The younger, hipster crowd? Not so much.

And that’s fine by me, because I’m in between at age 48 – not quite a baby boomer or a millennial – feeling and looking better than I did when I was physically younger. There’s a lifestyle choice that contributes to my health: when I go on vacation, I want laid back and real, not rushed and frenzied. The kid and the wiser adult in me felt comfortable spending some time together here.

Maybe that’s what makes this town so personable. Locals invested in the community were working behind the desk or managing many of the properties I explored during my stay. Some had played different roles in city government and one even served as an EMT.

I found it refreshing that people over 60 still play a vital role here, staying active and relevant in the work force. But I’d hardly call it a boring and sleepy town. Charming is a better word. Or maybe even enchanting.

My room was enchanting, too, sunny and uplifting -- painted bright yellow with blue decorative accents – two of my favorite colors in a coastal design palette.

Romance Row: Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Food Tour

This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Good Eats by the Sea

All of the properties I explored in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea featured one-bedroom apartments or studios with well-equipped kitchens. Since I was bouncing around from one property to the next each day, I didn’t provision for groceries, even though cooking is my passion.

I’ll confess that I indulged in a pizza or two just out of sheer laziness – every avid cook needs a break -- which is something I never do when I’m in command of my own kitchen at home. Many of the restaurants in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea use Delivery Boys to send food to your door.

One night, I ordered a custom small pizza from Carina’s.

I’m not sure if it’s something in the water or just the sunny disposition of people in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, but I could almost see the owner of the restaurant smiling on the other end of the phone when I placed a very picky request for specific toppings on a small pizza. “We can do that for you,” he said. His tone of voice was so friendly, happy to oblige. Face-to-face smiles were also the rule, not the exception, in hospitality service here, even at restaurants that weren’t part of my press trip.

Romance Row: Sea Spray Inn

Photo Credit: Sea Spray Inn

This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Friday, April 22, 2016


After the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Lunches food tour, my tummy was pretty full. Fortunately, my next stop involved a tastefully decorated apartment at the Sea Spray Inn, where a plush bed beckoned me to nap.

The exterior of this small, neatly landscaped property was painted my favorite nautical colors, bright blue and yellow. The interior of my suite, by contrast, was decorated in soothing whites, greys, soft yellows and metallic hues. A mirrored silver tray rested on a grey ottoman in the living room. Written on the white wall, in elegant cursive, was the following message: “Welcome. May all who come as guests leave as friends.”

Romance Row: Aruba and High Noon Beach Resort


This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Journey First, Journal Later

After a good night’s rest, my beau and I headed to our next stop: High Noon Beach Resort just up the street on Romance Row. At this point, after experiencing six properties with three more to go, I wasn’t sure if it was even humanly possible to write about them with any measure of detachment and objectivity. I’m glad I waited two weeks to start penning this memoir. Sometimes, you need to step away from being in the moment to describe that moment.

And what moments they were. I never imagined that getting away from it all would bring so much back to me, so many flashes of insight just by taking precious time to just listen to the song of the sea.

High Noon Beach Resort is a family owned and operated property consisting of four small buildings that face the ocean on El Mar Drive. I stayed at the High Noon’s main building, which features a lush tropical courtyard surrounded by palm trees and tiki huts. The centerpiece is a heated freshwater pool. My room, which the owner explained was renovated just last month, was stunning and decorated in my favorite hues of sunny yellow and indigo blue. My window faced the courtyard with the ocean in plain sight.

As soon as we dropped off our luggage, we gazed into each other’s eyes eager to satiate an intense desire for closeness, but my tummy made funny noises. Hunger won out instead. Love would have to wait. We laughed and walked over to Aruba Beach Cafe for brunch.

Romance Row: Sea Watch and 4145 By the Sea


This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sea Watch on the Ocean

4145 By the Sea is just off of Romance Row on El Mar Drive. My room was located at the back of the property on the second floor and featured a private deck for al fresco dining. I didn’t mind that it was a couple of blocks from the beach; in fact, the promise of quiet seclusion felt just right.

But before I’d enjoy my time at 4145, the beau and I headed out to explore further afield. We discovered Sea Watch, a nautical-themed restaurant located in the Sea Ranch neighborhood just one mile north of 4145.

Sea Watch sits on a bluff facing tall dunes on which sea grasses flourish. Our table was surrounded by glass panes that let us gaze upon the intense blue of the sky and the rich green of the vegetation. Coconut palms and sea grapes drew our eyes away from each other toward the Atlantic. Inside, oak beams, rope and brass echoed the interior of a grand Windjammer.

Sea Watch definitely romances the sea.

Romance Row: Sunny Shores

Phots credit: Sunny Shores

This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Maps of the Heart

Sunny Shores would be my next-to-last stop in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Located on El Mar Drive, the small property welcomed me after my night of heavenly sleep. I entered my apartment through an intimate and inviting courtyard shaded by palm trees. A pair of cardinals visited a bird bath fountain during my stay. The two lovebirds were surely tending to a nest on Romance Row.

Like many of the properties I explored, Sunny Shores featured coastal décor in shades reminiscent of sky, sand and surf. A full-sized kitchen with a breakfast nook would make any home cook happy. I made a mental note of what delicious meals I’d prepare here if I were to stay more than a day.

A replica of a vintage Florida map -- the first of its kind I’d seen here -- hung on the living room wall -- and gave my room true old Florida feel. This delighted me to no end since maps have always sparked my imagination.

After settling in, I strolled over to the beach and just floated in the water. “This is my second-to-last day,” I thought. “I already miss this place.”


Inspired by the map in my room, I looked out at the horizon and thought about Florida’s maritime history. The Gulf Stream, an underwater river that flows along the east coast of the peninsula, became the I-95 of the New World after Columbus staked a claim in the Bahamas in 1492. Many galleons laden with treasure sailed on this warm current that propelled them to European ports of call. Tales of voyages to and from the Caribbean abound. Pirates were often first on the scene to salvage shipwrecks along the coast from Key West to St. Augustine. Long before there were paths cut through the wilderness, the only way to experience Florida was to embark on a sea-faring adventure.

I marvel at the exploits of sailors before the age of modern technology. Imagine journeying into the unknown, with only celestial navigation, astrolabes, sextants and rudimentary magnetic compasses to guide you. And of course, let’s not forget, a rolled-up chart, meticulously drawn on hide by a cartographer who dreamt of uncharted territories, of seas where mystical leviathans loomed ready to swallow ships whole and of sirens waiting patiently to lure wary sailors into their dens. These brave souls romanced the sea without electricity, GPS, satellite phones, depth finders, radars, wind gauges and weather forecasts.

I asked mother ocean about my own compass. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I’d be returning to in Miami. I needed a map of my own to chart my course.

She’s a goddess of few words: “If you listen to your heart,” she whispered. “You’ll never be lost at sea.”

Found Treasure

My mother had passed nearly two years before this moment that found me floating in the ocean, wondering if I had lost my direction.

Throughout her life, she hoarded her Sunday best for ends-of-the-week that never came. Actually, Sundays did come; she just didn’t show up for them. Like a pirate, she kept her treasures hidden in a chest, buried under the sand. She never fully and truly enjoyed the things she loved.

As I cleared out my mother’s things from her home, I took stock of my own inventory and decided that every day of the week would be fitting for Sunday best, that my earthly treasures would see the light of day, get dirty and live -- live life to the fullest. Sometimes, I do chores in one of my expensive silk dresses. Why not? I’m not saving my best for a day that may never come. And I show up, believe me, I show up; the best of me must never be buried under the sand. I don’t save my best china for company. I am my own best friend. I treat her royally as I would any guest who walks through my door.

There's a lesson here about hospitality: treat others like you would treat yourself and treat yourself like you would treat others. Whenever there's a disconnect, you see the true colors of a destination. No wonder I liked Lauderdale-by-the-Sea; there was always a seamless connection.

So here at Sunny Shores, I reveled, like a little girl playing dress-up, in wearing a necklace that I had won at a charity auction four years prior in Boca Grande, another beach in Florida that is dear to my heart. I had never worn it; what was I waiting for? The stunning piece of jewelry, which was crafted by a local artist, caught my eye because it told a story of the sea: pearls strung together held together by two pewter fish swallowing each other’s tails, resembling the sea creatures inked on to the vellum of ancient maps.

The symbol of a snake or dragon swallowing its own tail, the ourobouros, is an ancient one and embodies the romance of self: every woman is an island, ever-evolving: every beginning an end and every end a beginning.

I poured myself a glass of wine and contemplated the map on the wall. I noticed an inlet. My galleon was anchored, rocking gently side to side as gentle waves caressed its hull. In the galley, I studied a navigational map and thought about charting a new course in my life, regenerating, recreating and reviving my spirit, which had become jaded, its brightness dulled by the dead-end hustle of my life in Miami.

I walked over to my laptop, which was on the desk, open and plugged into the outlet, waiting for me to write. I closed its cover, shut it down and told it to rest. “You need a vacation, too, you know.”

My notebook and pen came back with to the couch.

Can you hold a grain of sand or drop of water in your hand? As impossible as that sounds, as impractical as it may seem, defying the laws of physics even: yes, yes absolutely yes I can, because then I can truly enjoy my Sunday best every day and relish the simple little gifts that bring beauty and joy into my life. What I have doesn’t define me. Who I am, naked and raw, is what sets me free.

Hoarding possessions is dangerous. Consumerism, greed, selfish vanity, the burden of being owned by things -- all this swallows us whole. Those are the real sea creatures to fear in the perilous crossings of our lives and we sink, weighed down, without direction.
We can choose to look at ourselves swallowing our own tail in two ways: a cycle of renewal, the promise of dawn, the sun always rising, the sea always coming in waves -- traveling light. Or we can also let ourselves drown, weighed down by the things that don’t matter, consumed by our drive to possess that which doesn’t even belong to us, neglecting the very heart that beats and keeps us alive -- traveling with a load too big to bear.

“That’s a beautiful necklace,” he said. He kissed me on the cheek and we walked hand-in-hand along the shore at sunset.

Later that night, while he slept soundly, I put on my silk robe -- another daily extravagance that I’m not saving for that elusive Sunday, those many Sundays that my mother never enjoyed, because she wouldn’t renew herself each day. I opened my notebook once more.

And speaking of romance: how quick I’ve been sometimes to let the drama of my ancient relationships, etched deeply now into my heart with scary dragons and sea serpents, map out what I thought this relationship should be. How easily I’ve let the past swallow us whole. Am I going to mess this one up, too? How many shipwrecks does it take to finally sail with the wind, not against it? Am I going to steer clear of obstacles or let the storms blow me into a reef ?

How about I just let this relationship be whatever it needs to be, let it chart its own course, guided, like old sailors, by the stars and simple things that fill our days with love, like quiet walks along the shore. Let every moment be a Sunday for us, even when we’re naked together, heart to heart, sailing in uncharted seas with nothing but ourselves to carry on the journey. You are my Sunday best, my love, my treasure in plain sight.

Next story: Windjammer Resort and Beach Club, Day 1
Previous Story: 4145 by the Sea

Disclosure: this travel experience was supported by The Lodging Association of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. All opinions my own.

#lovefl #lovelbts

Romance Row: Windjammer, Day 1


This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Miracle By the Sea

John Boutin, the owner of the Windjammer Beach Club and Resort, sat with me on the walkway overlooking the ocean. “I always wanted a room with view,” I told him. “A room with a view like this, so I could just listen to the ocean and be inspired to write.”

John had no way of knowing that only just yesterday I had been staring at a map, contemplating -- or perhaps dreading -- charting a course back to Miami.

I carried on. “Virginia Woolf once wrote about every woman needing a room of her own to write, to reconnect with her heart.”

“I can tell you’re an inspired writer already,” he said. “Why don’t you say four extra days and do just that?”

A room of my own. Four extra days. An unexpected gift.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

Romance Row: Windjammer, Day 2


This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


The unexpected surplus of days at the Windjammer filled me with a sense of wonder and awe. One simple gesture delivered so much abundance that if oxygen could be called gratitude, I’d change its name. It was coursing through my blood and into every cell of my body.

Every morning, I smiled with my heart when I woke up, said “thank you,” watched the sun rise from my lounge chair and made friends with my long-neglected notebook. Pen to paper came to life. I gifted all my electronic devices -- the slaves to my communication -- a much deserved rest, although they insisted it wasn’t necessary.

Hours free of pings and beeps and rings. In Miami, I’d been lost in the sea of that incessant disruption to serenity, that dangerous riptide that dragged me under because I was struggling against the current instead of surrendering to its flow.

Now I could disconnect to reconnect; find myself again. Am I not enough? Every writer needs a room of her own, to dwell in the chambers of her heart, where the source of her words reside. It’s there she comes home.

Earlier on during my trip, I had seen a sign at the Driftwood Beach Club about respecting turtle nests on these shores. Today, I thought about these intrepid wanderers. A sea turtle hatches from underneath the sand and embarks on a journey of a thousand miles, trusting her inner guide. I wondered if she would even feel the undertow of a riptide. And thinking of her, I wondered why I was ever worried about my own course in life when I too, had always had an inner guide whom I simply ignored. Miraculously, the turtle returns to the sand, to the same spot where she first saw the moonlight, to lay her eggs. She comes home, too. She always come home.

Even though I sat yards away from shore, I could feel the powerful pull of the ocean. These are the stories she told me.

Romance Row: Windjammer, Day 3


This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Time Stood Still

“I can’t remember when I last spent a day at the beach,” she said.

“Come on over! Play hooky over here in the goddess cave or on the shore,” I insisted. “The sun is out, the breeze is blowing. Oh, come on! It’s a perfect day.”

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”


Soon enough, my friend Kayla knocked on the sliding glass door at the Windjammer with white wine, oranges, grapes, chocolate, cheese and crackers in tow. Her long, curly blond hair blew wildly in the wind.

“That’s my girl,” I said. “You read my mind!”

The kitchen in my suite -- or as I liked to think of it, my galley -- was perfect for preparing light meals and assembling snacks for a delightful picnic of delicious goodies. It was going to be, no, it already was, the perfect girl’s day out on the beach.

“Kayla,” I said. “I’ve been meditating and getting inspired by the ocean, but today I just want to shoot the shit and relax. Tell me to shut up if I start into deep thoughts.”

We high-fived and laughed.

Romance Row: Windjammer, Day 4


This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Morning Person

Merely to name them is the prose
Of diarists, to make you a name
For readers who like travellers praise
Their beds and beaches as the same;
But islands can only exist
If we have loved in them.

"Islands" -- Derek Walcott (Nobel Poet Laureate 1992, Saint Lucia)

The weekend had finally arrived and after some time to myself, I craved the company of my man. The goddess cave was ready to receive him.

It was my last full day at the Windjammer in Lauderdale-by-the Sea. He would arrive later, after rush hour. Instead of walking by the water, I deliberately strolled over to Anglin’s Pier in the morning through the town’s streets. I love the fresh energy of dawn, birds chirping and people starting their day, the clings and clanks of city noises. Here, the energy was peaceful, proclaiming an already relaxing day. It’s a shame that first light spells misery for so many. No one should ever have to feel a knot in the pit of their stomach to start the day. What a waste of life, to wake up and breathe in a conditioned state of perpetual unhappiness.

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea was waking up gracefully. Maybe for someone working a breakfast shift, the alarm clock sounded the daily grind. I found that doubtful, however, considering the cheerful hospitality of this town. No poker face here.

On my last full day in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, I would enjoy my respite to the fullest.

I had always thought that if I had a daughter, I’d name her Alba, which means “morning song” in Spanish. I love mornings; they’re about beginnings. Imagine that: a chance to start over radically, wiping the slate of yesterday’s drama clean, waking up to lightness, holding nothing but that drop of water or grain of sand in your hand.

What better way to receive my lover? I was ready.

Romance Row: A Sweet Farewell to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea


This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sensual Sunrise

I woke up, as usual, before dawn on our last day at the Windjammer in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. I opened the sliding glass door, took one big, deep breathe and said “thank you.“ Mother ocean gave me a parting gift of a magnificent sunrise with vibrant orange and yellow hues. Too her, it’s old hat. But for me, it was special. After all, it could have been raining and overcast. Well, even if it had been, it still would’ve been OK.

I heard a voice from inside the room. “The sun also rises,” he said. “Yes, of course it does,” I replied. “It always does, my love.”

He wrapped a towel around himself and embraced me as we looked out at the sea. We just held each other quietly, rekindling our little flame.

I didn’t already miss my goddess cave by the sea too much. I knew, in my heart, that the first time here wouldn’t be my last.

Romance Row: Story Map

This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. During my stay, I laid my head on the pillows of ten different boutique lodgings that are adjacent to each other, a.k.a. Romance Row. I also took time to relax and reflect on my life’s passion – writing – and how the sea has always been my muse. It was romantic in the traditional sense, to be sure, as my beau also enjoyed part of this stay with me. But I also romanced the destination. Or perhaps more appropriately, the destination romanced me. I left a little of my heart in this seaside town. Here are my stories.

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Silver Starfish Preferred Hotels

Sunday, April 17 - Saturday, April 30, 2016

Preview: A Gift from the Sea

Introduction: Lauderdale-by-the-Sea

Driftwood Beach Club

My Yacht Experience and Southern Seas

Breakway Inn

The Tides Inn

Tropic Seas

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Food Tour

Sea Spray Inn

High Noon Beach Resort

Sea Watch and 4145 By the Sea

Sunny Shores

Windjammer Beach Club and Resort, Day 1

Windjammer Beach Club and Resort, Day 2

Windjammer Beach Club and Resort, Day 3

Windjammer Beach Club and Resort, Day 4

Farewell to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea

Disclosure: this travel experience was supported by The Lodging Association of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. All opinions my own.

#lovefl #lovelbts

All photos in this series by author unless otherwise noted.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Romance Row: A Gift from the Sea


The blog that brought you Trail of the Pirates now brings you Romance Row: Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

Update: To read the full series, visit Romance Row: Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

Tomorrow I'm embarking on a long-awaited press trip designed just for me and Sex and the Beach by the magical and very savvy craft of Emily Taffel of Mugsy PR.

I will experience Lauderdale-by-the-Sea for ten days, exploring boutique hotels along the city's main street. This comes at a perfect time for me to retreat and regain my strength as a writer. The title of my journey is supposed to be "Romance Row," but I think I already know in my heart that this trip will involve romancing quite more than the obvious, wink wink and isn't he a lucky guy?

How about love of the sea, sense of belonging somewhere or what that even means, a sense of place and most of all, a sense of love.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Look in the Mirror, Miami

I don't always write about politics or paradigm shifts or parasites or Miami traffic or human trafficking in Miami, but when I do, I go deep. 


As I sat on the bus last night, way past pumpkin time on my way back from the event I hosted, I thought long and hard about the faces I didn’t see. And I thought long and hard too, about the faces before me. A wizened black man looked exhausted. I offered him my seat. He politely refused.

There was very little turnout at my event last night. I’m not really bothered by that. In fact, I’m grateful. Many of you who planned to attend contacted me and apologized because of last-minute issues that held you back. I know you were there in spirit. And for those of you who did show up, I am glad we could share some great conversation.

But this isn’t really about my event. In fact, even the turn out at the restaurant was slow. It’s really about the state of the union, which isn’t a union by definition.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Miami Backyard Traveler: Biscayne Bay to the Everglades

My beau and I spent a lazy Easter Sunday driving around South Miami-Dade County while enjoying the area's natural attractions and agricultural bounty. We covered Thalatta Estate in Palmetto Bay, Biscayne National Park, Card Sound Road, Florida City, the Redland and Chekika at Everglades National Park.



Is it worth traveling an hour for a milkshake? For #vicequeenkitchen, it certainly is.

A highlight of any excursion to South Miami-Dade is a stop at Robert is Here, a fruit stand the now famous Robert began when he was just six years old in 1959 to sell his father's cucumber crop. The place is a cook's dream, filled with fresh produce, local handcrafted jams, dressings and more for the pantry. I stocked up on banana bread after the beau and I slurped on a luscious, creamy strawberry milkshake and munched on spicy boiled peanuts.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Miamians Fleeing to Homestead for Sexy, Sophisticated Entertainment

Nicole Henry heating up the sand with her sultry vocals. A still from the video At This Moment.

Ah, spring time in Miami. Our days are longer and slightly hotter. Boob sweat becomes more noticeable, portending the rainy season. Hordes of filthy barbarians (a.k.a. spring breakers) trash our beaches. Ravers flock to Downtown to suck on mollies and have sex with trees at Ultra Electronic Dance Music Festival.

Yet somewhere not so far away, stands a little theater bringing world-class entertainment to Miami-Dade County. In about the same amount of time it takes you to cross the Brickell Bridge from 8th street to Bayside during rush hour, you can escape to Homestead's newly restored Seminole Theater, a gem in the district known more of its agriculture, authentic Mexican restaurants and other culinary delights like the key lime shakes at Robert Is Here and the cinnamon rolls at Knauss Berry Farm.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

FoodSpark Miami Breathes New Life into Hialeah

FoodSpark Miami - Hialeah Edition

For any of you who’ve ever told me that Miami is full of fake posers who don’t give a shit about the city, kindly look past the bling and to grassroots movements that aren’t afraid of that road less traveled.

On March 12, 2016, FoodSpark Miami took over the abandoned Hialeah Tri-Rail Market train station, which to me seemed filled with ghosts of a world that never really existed. A would-be bustling center of transit and commerce lies lonely by the tracks, almost forlorn, sighing in anticipation of a better world that’s surrounded by a dynamic community of people instead of rickety warehouses.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Irish Eyes Are Smiling in St. Augustine

Memories of last year's Celtic Music and Heritage Festival in my beloved St. Augustine make me yearn for a return visit. This year's festival takes place March 11-13 and celebrates Celtic culture in the nation's oldest city.

Celtic Festival - St. Augustine 2015 - 065
Ready to get my Celtic on with some pirate garb. Later, I got me a kilt.


Celtic culture is dear to my heart and it's in my blood; my ancestors hailed from Northern Spain, one of seven Celtic nations. The Spanish Celts share many traditions with Scottish and Irish Celts, the most common being music, costume and dance, as evidenced in the gaita (bagpipe), falda escosesa (kilt) and jota (jig).

St. Augustine's Spanish roots are intertwined with Celtic connections and some historical ties began early on: Florida's first Spanish Colonial Governor Don Pedro Menendez and his 800 colonists were from Northern Spain. In 1784, 460 Irish soldiers were stationed in St. Augustine with the Hibernia Regiment. Father Miguel O'Reilly arrived in St. Augustine in 1777 to minister to the colony's Menorcan residents. He later became the Hibernian Regiment's chaplain and vicar of the entire colony.

St. Augustine, so rich in history, comes alive with Celtic culture during the festival. I attended last year with my friend Michelle Marcos, a Miami-based historical romance novelist whose trilogy Highland Knaves is set in Scotland. Her beautifully written novels serve up sexy romance, to be sure, with even more to love -- historically accurate storylines draw the reader into page-turning adventures.

It was only natural to talk about about sexy Celts and history all weekend long!


Throughout the weekend, we also enjoyed observing men in kilts ... oh pardon me, I meant men playing Highland games in kilts. There was still occasion to blush a little; the athletes mustered up quite a bit of strength and dexterity to impress the ladies, for sure, especially in the caber toss.

For musical pleasure, we heard many acts, but none so rousing for me as the bagpipes and drums of Albannach and the sound of bagpipes in the morning as I sipped coffee on the balcony of the St. George Inn facing St. Augustine's old city gates. We had the best view of the parade and the vibration from the instruments stirred the cool, crisp air that morning.

Celtic Festival - St. Augustine 2015 - 100
Bagpipes everywhere! 

Celtic Festival - St. Augustine 2015 - 057
The best view of the parade is from the balcony at The St. George Inn.

Celtic Festival - St. Augustine 2015 - 076
With the friendly musicians from Albannach.

Many clans were present to represent their lineages proudly. They paraded with bagpipes and drums throughout the day.

I stepped out in my pirate garb with makeshift Celtic variations. If fashion is your thing, the festival's vendors offer beautiful merchandise.

Celtic Festival - St. Augustine 2015 - 096
Several clans were representing at the festival.

Celtic Festival - St. Augustine 2015 - 087
Because beer wenches.

I asked Michelle, who traveled to Scotland to research her novels, to join me on this trip because I knew she'd enjoy traveling back to another century in St. Augustine. That's my usual modus operandi for heading up north: "I'd like to spend some time in the 18th century this weekend, how about you?"

That's how beautifully St. Augustine captures its rich history and even more so during the spring time when the Celts invade the city. My eyes may not be exactly Irish, but the Spanish Celtic heart in me shines when I think about this memorable trip.

The St. Augustine Celtic Music and Heritage Festival takes place March 11-13, 2016 and features a whiskey tasting, Celtic performers, Highland games, Celtic clans, food, merchandise and children's entertainment. For more information, visit Celtic St. Augustine.

More photos on Flickr.

Disclosure: this historical travel experience was supported in part by Florida's Historic Coast, The St. George Inn and GM Southeast. All opinions my own.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Traveling in Florida with Red Coach USA

Red Coach USA is a comfortable and convenient bus service for tourists, commuters and locals who want to staycation in the Sunshine State. I love traveling in Florida and finally found a nice alternative to driving or flying. 

Yours truly traveling on Red Coach USA.


Remember my Greyhound adventure from 2009 during which I flew to Atlanta only to wend my way back to Miami on buses and trains? That was the beginning of my journey as a professional schlepper, which in my book of life, is someone who manages to get everywhere and do just about everything without a car. A few years later, I would master the skill of schlepping in Miami as #miamischlep. Today, I can confidently add #floridaschlep to my list of schlepping accomplishments.

“Where have you been all my schlepping life?” is the only question I can ask of Red Coach USA, a transportation service connecting major Florida cities. If I had known about Red Coach USA sooner, I would've taken advantage of it to hit some of my favorite Florida destination hubs like Naples, Jacksonville and Tallahassee -- easy departure points from which to find adventure: fishing on the gulf coast, enjoying St. Augustine's historical charm and exploring north Florida's nature trails, to name a few.

Heck, with the right fare, I’d even consider Red Coach as an alternative to Uber or Tri-Rail for tri-county schlepping from Miami to Broward or Palm Beach and would recommend it to travelers considering transportation options between airports.


The Red Coach USA stop in Tallahassee.

On the afternoon I started writing this post, I had been sitting on a Red Coach USA bus since 7:30 A.M. It was a tremendously productive work day for this writer; so much so that I wondered why I didn't use Red Coach more often as a mobile office just to get work done, see friends who live in other cities and fulfill my insatiable Florida wanderlust.

"I don't care how long it takes to get from Kendall to Brickell," my friend Bohemian Babushka said. "Get your ass on the bus and meet me in Tallahassee for happy hour." Babushka, who schleps often between Tallahassee and Miami, was serious.

“It’s an upgrade from Greyhound,” she told me. "You'll love it."

I was incredulous and the schlepper in me was curious, so I gave Red Coach USA a try.

First, sped off to the Naples area (about two and half hours) where I spent a week writing while visiting some of those friends I rarely see because of distance; soon after the gulf coast sojourn, I headed to Tallahassee (about eight hours) where I spent a few days covering a cultural event, tooling around Wakulla County and enjoying the aforementioned happy hour with my friend.

Red Coach’s parent company Grupo Plaza began as a service in South America 57 years ago and came to Florida’s roads in 2010. In South America, it’s quite common to schlepear using coach services to travel long distances between countries or to destinations where flights are either cost-prohibitive or simply unavailable.

Until I heard about Red Coach, I had only considered Greyhound, which gets a bad rap as a po' folks travel option. But not everyone who uses it lives in a slum or just got out of prison. Never mind the irony that flying these days feels like prison.

Call me crazy, but unless you're flying baller style in a private jet, bus travel is, in many ways, more zen than traveling in the airline passenger cattle call. There's schlepping to the airport and then there's schlepping to the gate from check-in to boarding time. Let's call a schlep a schlep. Flying, while faster, is still a schlep.

Red Coach USA is more like a shared ride service; you schlep to the bus, then chill until you arrive at your destination in about the same amount of time it’d take to drive.

And then there's the comfort. Both business class and first class feature leagues of leg room, leg rests and wide, leather seats that recline 140 degrees. While business class seats 38, first class transports 28 passengers with wider seats and detachable seat trays. Wi-fi, electric outlets and a clean toilet make the ride practical.

Wired-in while traveling on Red Coach USA.

While a little pricier than economical Greyhound, it's definitely worth a few more clams to travel in a swankier bus.

The company claims to be a luxury bus service, but Paris Hilton types will miss the champagne and cashmere blankets. For the rest of us budget-conscious folks with good taste, Red Coach is just fine. They say health is wealth. Here's something luxurious to me: I didn't feel like a frazzled mess by the time I arrived at any of my destinations.

My rides were so comfortable, I even slept on the way to Naples. For me, sleeping while schlepping never happens. And on my way back from Tallahassee, I scratched a few writing assignments off my to-do list.

The wi-fi was spotty at times in the more remote areas of my Florida routes. Ask the driver to reset the router if logging in becomes an issue.

The only drawback to Red Coach, if we can call it that, is that it doesn’t have its own central terminals, save for Orlando. In Orlando, however, you can arrange for a shuttle to local drop-off points.


This lady, a snowbird and part-time Florida resident from Maine, traveled from Palm Beach to Orlando to meet other friends vacationing in Florida.

On one of the Tallahassee legs of my trip, I met two folks who actually use Red Coach USA to commute between the state capitol and other cities in South Florida -- not on a daily basis, but on a week-on, weekend-off rotation. They both told me that the amount of money they save on gas is worth the investment, not to mention the enormous advantage of being able to sleep during the ride in a reclinable seat.

Another passenger told me she was visiting her grandchildren in the Naples area and that the service was ideal for her to relax without having to worry about driving at night.


miami intermodal center
The Miami Intermodal Center connects Miami-Dade buses, Metrorail, Tri-Rail and Miami International Airport.

In Miami, Red Coach can also pick up at area hotels but all buses make their final departure from the airport.

 So yes, you still have to schlep to the airport. Here's how I did it avoiding all manner of Miami traffic using Miami-Dade buses and Metrorail.

For my Tallahassee trip, I took the dedicated South Dade busway from Palmetto Bay to Dadeland South station and then hopped on the orange line Metrorail to the Miami Intermodal Center, where an electric rail delivers passengers to the airport terminals. A walk to the H gate at the departure level was all I needed to find the Red Coach bus.

For my Naples trip, I took the Metrorail from Palmetto station to Earlington Heights station, where I switched to the orange line train. Both rides were seamless, fast and enjoyable. Total time for each schlep: a little less than an hour. Cost: $4.50. Stress: zero.


Find this North Florida delicacy at the gas station by the Orlando stop. 

If you try Red Coach USA, make sure to check their web fares, which are lower. (On the day I traveled to Naples, a one-way ticket was priced at an unbelievable $16.) Regular users of the service can join a free membership program for incentive points.

To make your experience even more comfortable, bring a neck pillow, a blanket, hand wipes, snacks or light fare. Food is not available on the bus and if there are any pauses at rest stops, they are very brief. The Orlando stop usually lasts 15 to 30 minutes but there's only a snack machine in the terminal and one food truck parked in the lot. A gas station within walking distance offers snacks and light fare (including the North Florida's ubiquitous boiled peanuts).


The Naples arrival point is at a McDonald’s at a major crossroads off I-75 and Collier Boulevard. There’s a Dunkin Donuts next door where I waited for my friend to fetch me. Several chain hotels surround the stop, including the closest, a La Quinta Inn. To get to the city of Naples proper, you have several options.

Call ahead to rent a car, place a taxi pick-up request or use Uber. Enterprise Rent-A-Car offers pick-up and drop-off service for travelers who make advanced reservations at 239-643-3332. Arkway Taxi offers a flat rate $25 trip to downtown Naples. Call 239-777-0777.

For more information about the Naples area, visit Paradise Coast.


The drop-off and pick-up point for my trip to Tallahassee was a Comfort Suites surrounded by many conveniences and restaurants. Comfort Suites is true to its namesake and was the ideal place to stay before my 7:30 A.M. departure. The hotel offers 15% off to Red Coach USA customers who book a room. Even if you don't stay at the hotel, you can sit in the comfortable lobby as you wait for a ride. The front desk is happy to help you call a local taxi service. Passengers who arrive during the day can call local car rental companies to arrange a pickup. Enterprise Rent-A-Car is a nearby option at 850-877-8929.

For more information about this destination, see Visit Tallahassee.

To reserve a trip, visit Red Coach USA.

Disclosure: Red Coach USA provided me with complimentary fare in support of my travel writing projects. All opinions about the service are my own.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Celebrate Valentine's Day in Miami For Under $50

Seven tips from local expert Manola Blablablanik for celebrating Valentine’s Day in Miami without breaking the bank.

Kisses on the Beach

Filled with love but not with cash? No worries, you’re good. Love’s the important thing that money can’t buy. Love should be celebrated every day, even if your ass is broke.

Remember: you’re just broke, not broken-hearted.

Even if you can afford rent in Miami, get off your Downton Abbey high horse and have sex like the rest of working-class Miami, bro. Take your sex life down a notch in class but not in fun and experience the glory of Miami’s world-renown motel rows, where the elite meet to cheat! Whether it’s Okeechobee Road or Calle Ocho, Miami’s skankalicious motels range from church-mouse modest ($25) to ultra tacky luxe ($50 +) with everything you need to bump uglies for two hours. You haven’t screwed like a proper porn star until you’ve done the deed surrounded by mirrored ceilings, disco lights and cheap porn in your sacred, Lysol-scented sex cave.

Miami boasts beautiful outdoor spaces that are especially enjoyable in the cooler month of February. Yet playboy ballers spend a big wad for a room with an ocean view when the average parejita can see the same shit and swap spit for free in the city's loveliest playgrounds. Do the world a favor, if you've got those Benjamins, donate them to charity and smooch at these cheap not-so-secret spots instead: South Pointe Park, Matheson Hammock Park, Thalatta Estate Park or anywhere along the entire freakin’ east coast of Florida with a beach. Vete pa la playa y ya!

Access to Matheson Hammock and Thalatta Estate is through gorgeous, lush and dreamy Old Cutler Drive, where you’ll never find Miami’s iconic billboards advertising butt implants. If gawking at a gigantic culo is your idea of romantic, stick to the Palmetto Expressway and thank the board of plastic surgeons for providing every Miami come pinga with cheap thrills during rush hour.

Ever wonder why restaurants raise their prices on Valentine’s Day? Because fools rush in … not just to love, but to the same damn eats at higher prices. How about a picnic at one of the smooch-friendly parks or on the beach instead? Skip Sedano’s or El Presidente for stocking up the picnic basket. I’ll bet you a set of 5 thongs for $5 from Valsan that you’ll walk out of The Fresh Market with delicious food and a bottle of wine to make your heart sing for under $50. You can call it a “bespoke gourmet experience” but don’t say that within earshot of your Hialeah cousins because they’ll call you a come mierda.

Image: Cartoonstock

Why spend hundreds of dollars on a luxury hotel room when you can give your home a despojo from football season and turn your bedroom into a love nest? Yes mujeres, there’s a reason why Valentine’s Day happens after the Superbowl. Now is the time to redeem your football widow points and exchange your viuda black dress for some lingerie. Throw out the sports paraphernalia and bring some real Miami heat into the bedroom with scented candles, soft sheets and sexy lingerie – all of which you can find at ño que barato for under $50.

Roses are beautiful but priced-gouged to bleed your pocket book on Valentine’s Day. Buy some cheaper flowers and spray the room with Agua de Rosas, the kind you’d buy for abuelita. Smells lovely, like Chanel minus the L. If you want to fengshueisar your bedroom, make sure the man cave is in a different part of the house. Ponte las pilas and be creative!

When was the last time the two of you actually relaxed at home? There’s nothing wrong with Netflix and chill between couples. It’s when a cheap ass tacaño douchebag thinks of it as a first date that you know ese huevo no se merece ni la sal.

On Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to find chocolate-covered strawberries and a decent bubbly for under $50 – even at a gas station. Or maybe you prefer to indulge in something that isn’t a Valentine’s Day cliché, so pick up a jar of chocolate dipping sauce and buy a fresh bag of churros from the guy on the street corner in Hialeah. Whatever it is, do it with love. Maybe even turn your bathroom into a spa. Take a chocolate bath … but be careful, because la malanga resbala!

Our buddies at Miami on the Cheap have their own list of Miami Valentine’s Day activities for the budget-conscious.

And remember … the important thing is to love, respect and honor each other every day. Your life doesn’t have to look like a Hallmark greeting card to feel like one. The best gift you can offer is your heart. Get your love on every day.

Monday, January 25, 2016

How I Lost 80 Pounds and Got Back in My Skinny Jeans

New Year's Resolutions have been on everyone's mind lately. Here's why I say screw the resolutions. Each day is a new day. Fourteen steps to health, happiness and beauty as well as a tribute to a beautiful friendship that inspired me.

Even skinnier jeans: I wasn't expecting to drop more sizes.

About ten years ago, I met my dear friend Stephanie Quilao online through the blogging community. At the time, both of us were embarking on our own self-publishing ventures. For me, it was here on Sex and the Beach and for her it was Back in Skinny Jeans, which has since evolved into other publishing ventures, including the blog Noshtopia, a book version of Back in Skinny Jeans, another book entitled Death of a Road Warrioran app called Vibrantly, stunning food photography on Instagram and more.

Stephanie and I have never met in person, but we've shared the many ups and downs in each other's lives as true BFFs.


Stephanie Quilao
As we connected over the years, one of the most important things I learned from my friendship with Stephanie is that weight loss really isn't about numbers.

In Back in Skinny Jeans, Stephanie wrote about her weight loss journey with great candor; she focused on the emotional issues in her life that contributed to her weight gain. She was honest with her audience and continues to be so to this day, which is one of the things I love about her. We've both been through thick and thin -- pun intended.

As her blog Back in Skinny Jeans evolved, so did the idea of getting back to your core self -- weight not withstanding. As most of us know, being physically slim is no guarantee of happiness. Intangible parts of self need work, too. No matter what the scale reads, it all boils down to how we perceive the world -- a world that more often than not tells us we're broken.

During many a long conversation that went well into the wee hours -- she's on the west coast, so there's always a three-hour difference -- we didn't just chat about our weight and body image issues, but also about how to live life mindfully with a sense of purpose while helping others. How could we be who we are at heart and do this life thing with joy?

Our conversations about our personal challenges were often raw. We fearlessly looked at our "ugly" sides, disrobing, if you will, on a spiritual level to get rid of everything that no longer served us. We held a mirror up to each other and made ourselves accountable. We bolstered our self-esteem.

To have such a friend in my life who would love me unconditionally, warts and all, has been a blessing. Today, we still face many challenges, but we've shed more than just weight -- we've shed barriers to joy that keep so many women from feeling fulfilled and free in their own skin.

Ten years later, both of us are fit, fabulous and full of as much zest for life as two women in their late 40s could possibly have. We're wiser but none the worse for wear. What can I say? Millennials got nothin' on the hot, sexy babes we've become. Women in their 40s can look great and beam with confidence -- and most importantly -- feel it honestly down to their bones.

Let's not get too cocky here, though. We've also got humility, compassion and a genuine desire to share the best of ourselves with the world and to make a difference.

So, now you know what I think when I read "over 40" in any editorial. I just roll my eyes and laugh. That's bullshit. Aint nobody gonna tell me I'm broken.


Before and after. No judgement. Just phases in life.

Over the holidays, I took advantage of sales and headed over to Banana Republic -- my favorite jeans brand -- to find a smaller version of my size 30 jeans. Earlier in the year, size 30 was my "finally! I've made it!" size.

I texted Stephanie from the store. "Dude, I'm down to size 26! It only took me 10 years, LOL."

I then began to reflect on our friendship, our blogs and the journey to get to where I am today.


After my mom passed away a year and a half ago, I woke up one day and decided that I would avoid eating anything with fur or feathers. There was no particular nudge. Nothing. Just like that.

A plant-based lifestyle helped me drop the 80 pounds I gained gradually during my years as a caregiver, when I broke the number one rule of caregiving: I didn't practice self-care. I could have practiced self-care, but yeah, Monday morning quarterbacking. I was overwhelmed and simply didn't have the skill sets. Nobody handed me the manual on being a full-time caregiver to the elderly. But that's another story.

Be concerned if you gain an undue number of pounds. Be even more concerned if you are unhappy. Taking care of the elderly reminded me more than ever that happiness is our birthright. Goofiness is OK at any age.

Witnessing my mother's demise from Alzheimer's influenced my choice to avoid the typical Cuban-American diet, which is full of animal protein, starches and sugar. My mother's health history, which is similar to that of so many baby boomers now experiencing the wasting that came from decades of post World War II ideas on nutrition in the industrialized West, made me realize that something had to give. There's rampant proof of this in geriatric pathology today. But that, too, is another story.

I've maintained my weight loss for over a year and a half. I've never felt better. Each day is a new day. Screw the resolutions. As sure as the sun will rise, so will an opportunity to start fresh.

2015 was a particularly difficult year for me. I lost weight, to be sure, but I also lost my livelihood and home. What I didn't realize then was that I was gaining far more than I ever imagined I could have ... being skinny again was really about shedding all that which no longer served me; slimming down was an opportunity to peel that proverbial onion and get back to my core self. No one would ever be the boss of me except me. I followed my heart to those size 26 jeans, no doubt. What I put in my mouth was secondary.

Below are 14 steps I took and still take as I start each day like a new year. Do note that only four of them have to do with food and exercise and that all the steps lead back to number one.

Where ever you are in life, I hope my story inspires you to get back to your unbroken, beautiful self -- no matter what your size.


Sex and the Beach is more like Freedom and the Beach now.

The single most important thing I did to lose weight was to detox my life from ALL toxic relationships, including the one I had with myself. Toxic relationships are based on lack and fear. Healthy relationships are based on abundance and love. That's it.

I had to reevaluate unconditional love in my life -- how much was I receiving and how much was I giving? Love has nothing to do with bloodlines. When I was down and out, the amount of unconditional love I received from friends was boundless. I continue to receive. I give. No tiny gesture of kindness and love is ever wasted.

Drama is powerfully addictive. I decided that unless I was standing behind a proscenium, there'd be no room for drama in my life. Healthy relationships let go of resentments. Toxic relationships thrive on drama. Remember what I wrote about perception and the illusion of being broken? Food for thought.

I threw out my list of expectations for the perfect man and stopped looking for love. Guess what? It found me and I'm happy.

I joined a bereavement group for support as a caregiver and to cope with the loss of my mother. I became more acquainted with folks who've started mindful, intentional communities in Miami.

I continued to take in spiritual nourishment with my life coach Gloria Ramirez', whose free Thank God It's Monday teleconference is just as important to me as a yoga class or a trip to the gym. I practice some of the tenets of Course In Miracles and nourish my heart daily.

I practiced gratitude and forgiveness every waking moment. The spiritual detox encouraged me to live in a space of radical gratitude, which opened my heart to receiving unconditionally. How can I explain this? Unconditional love is a "thing" you must have in your life in order to be happy, just like air to breathe. Unconditional love doesn't flow from toxic relationships. In healthy relationships, it's a birthright. It's just second nature. Simple as that.

I lightened the load by donating many material possessions, including things I didn't even remember I had in storage. Yes, it's possible to have toxic attachments to material things that can't even love you back.

I sold my car and continue to schlep everywhere on foot or public transportation, which has become a fun storyline on my Twitter account as #miamischlep. Most people think you can't live in Miami without a car, but thousands of people get by without one. It's funny to me that many car owners count their steps with Fitbit because they own a car. Of course, not being an automobile-based human is inconvenient sometimes for me, my beau and friends who helps me schlep, but it's great for my body and has shown me a side of my city that car owners don't often see.

And finally, the food part!

A plant-based diet spurred my creativity as a lifelong, avid home cook.

#Vicequeenkitchen as it is today was born in the last year or so. I don't eating anything with fur or feathers. (This makes me an ovo-lacto pescetarian, for now. Many of my meals are vegan or raw vegan.) A plant-based lifestyle is so tasty and filling, I never have to use that nasty four letter word D-I-E-T. As a food writer who covers omnivore establishments, I have to make some exceptions, but that's all they are -- occasional, small samplings of food that isn't usually on my plate.

I've never been a shy wallflower at parties, but I did cut back on libations.

I don't eat like a predator whose food is going to run away. I eat slowly and mindfully.

I got rid of dozens of beauty products I never really even used. Coconut oil is all I need. Think about what our ancestors used for beauty.

I've saved a key physical practice for last: Daily Burn. These, thirty-minute full-body workouts from home, in addition to long walks and some yoga from my own practice, have made all the difference. What's best is that the gym is one place that isn't on my list of schlepping destinations. This fun, online community workout is inexpensive and is part of what helped tone my body for those skinny jeans.