WHO NEEDS SHADES OF GRAY WHEN YOU LIVE IN THE KEYS?
By Jana Vandelaar
Written for The Reporter – June, 2012
She opened the door and stepped inside the restaurant. The social buzzing seemed to hush. Men and women couldn’t take their eyes off her as she walked past them.
Who was she?
She felt vulnerable. New place, new people.
She’d been captivated by the Keys since she was a child and had to experience it for herself. The stories she read had burned into her very soul as she absorbed every word about the early settlers’ struggles to survive in this untamed place full of treasures. Exotic animals, fish, and birds. Even the turquoise water surrounding this place was mysterious, bringing both peace and destruction at the same time. It was all very intriguing. Every part of her wanted to experience the raw energy in the Florida Keys. And now, she was finally here.
But, she obviously stood out. She didn’t fit in yet. She nervously looked around, searching for someone. Moving to the bar, she ordered a drink and flashed a patient smile as the bartender attempted to flirt with her.
She walked out, onto the restaurant’s private deck surrounded by thick palms and plants. The gentle splashing of the intricately carved fountain completed the romantic setting, relaxing the guests as they enjoyed a drink and each other’s company.
She unconsciously flipped her golden hair, which caught his attention. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Her silky top outlined her lithe body, draping only one shoulder leaving her other shoulder naked and exposing flawless skin, glistening from the heat. Her short skirt made her long legs seem endless. Her arms were tanned, maybe slightly burnt, attracting him even more.
She was everything he’d ever dreamed about. Fantasized about.
He had to have her but he couldn’t let her know how much he wanted her. He circled a few other women, lingering around a fleshy brunette with a plunging neckline. He saw a muscular guy with spiked hair approach her. He watched as she politely listened to him. After a few minutes, she smiled, shook his hand, and walked away.
Relieved he hadn’t lost her to Spike Boy, he continued to hang back a bit, giving her some space. The other guy must have annoyed her and he didn’t want to do the same.
He watched her walk over to a couple seated at a table and as she leaned down to hug them, her skirt moving up slightly. He shifted uncomfortably.
Legs. Legs were his weakness. Where was this girl from? He hadn’t seen legs this perfect in years. Not a scratch on them.
As she said her goodbyes and started to walk away from the couple, he made his move. He gently touched her shoulder to get her attention.
But she didn’t react. Instead, she continued to walk past him, into the ladies’ room. The door shut between them.
Was that it? Was that his only chance? Did she intentionally walk past him? He had to find out. He would wait and approach her again. He moved next to a man who stood to wait for his lady as well. They didn’t acknowledge each other and kept to themselves.
It was all he could do to keep still until she came out, looking more gorgeous than before if that was possible. She walked past him and all of his senses were aroused. Even her perfume intoxicated him.
He followed her to a private corner of the patio, slowly circling her, watching her get nervous with his attention. He wanted to touch her again, but she shifted uncomfortably.
She had heard about his type. They were the bad boys of the Keys. She tried to ignore him but could feel her skin flush as he continued his game. Damn. Why did she always attract his kind?
She walked to a different spot but he followed her closely. He wasn’t going to lose her again. He moved in next to her and she looked at him directly, sensing his interest. Her green eyes steeled as if to discourage him, but her scent – the core of her true desires – still called to him. He brushed her hand with his mouth. Her skin was luxurious, heavenly. He lingered and felt her pulse increase and her muscles tense. He had her and he wanted more.
They began to dance to the soft music. He could feel her long elegant back arch slightly as he gently touched her, just above her waistline. She gracefully turned and followed his every move.
He heard her gasp, just a little, as he whispered promises of more into her ear. She was his to play with as he pleased. He dared to move lower… he wanted those heavenly legs. His eyes closed in a moment of frenzy.
She flicked his dead carcass off her thigh and took the mosquito repellant from the guy with the spiked hair as they walked off together.
HOW TO LOOK LIKE YOU’RE A LOCAL
By Jana Vandelaar
Article Written for The Reporter – January, 2010
Ya know… it’s funny how you slowly morph into your environment. Probably was necessary for survival in the old days, but why now? I’m thinking you are living in a place because you think it’s beautiful and if you’re smart enough to realize your surroundings/nature is so spectacular, why not imitate it?
Well, after living in the Florida Keys for a while, I’ve recently noticed a shift in my own appearance. If I had a choice, I’d morph into something super exotic like the peacocks we have strutting around down here. I figure if people have to look at my large rear area, let them see breath-taking colors–right? However, when I glance in the mirror nowadays, I’m not seeing anything exotic. Instead, I’m starting to resemble some of our local animals who are definitely on the other end of the spectrum… especially if I’ve had a rough night of sleep.
For instance, last week I was deathly ill from food poisoning, i.e. no sleep whatsoever. My loving husband avoided my greenish tint like the plague and didn’t even mention going to dinner via boat like he always does. I couldn’t blame him. I looked like a seasick turtle.
In the old days, when I got a bit green from overindulgence (i.e. plowed) I looked more like a swaying moray eel, but that was when I was thinner. Now, I’m humped over from too much work, and my nose is slightly hooked and definitely larger. Throw in the greenish coloring and “poof!” I’m a Key’s turtle.
I’ve been robbed. I’d love to ‘morph’ like some of my friends have. One girlfriend in particular blows me away every time I see her. She looks just like a gorgeous falcon. Another one looks like a tall, white egret. Me? A lumpy but adorable turtle hovering over the toilet bowl.
I suppose I should be grateful. I mean, things could be worse than looking like a turtle. After all, we have turkey buzzards living here. (What ARE turkey buzzards anyway? Is it possible, centuries ago, a boy turkey managed to romance a girl buzzard after enjoying a dinner of overcooked meat and a lot of wine together, resulting in a flock o’ ugly babies?) If I start morphing into one of these, please, please put a dead carcass in front of me and give me space.
I do have a few annoying people in my life who remind me of the pesky mosquitos. I just want to swat them over and over and over again until they quit buzzing around my head. Or the mean people who swoop in and bite you before you’re even aware you’ve left yourself open to being devoured. These are the fire ant people of the Keys or maybe the sneaky no-see-ums.
The leather-clad motorcyclists are weathered iguanas in my simple mind, especially when they squint at the traffic light in concentration with their mouths curled up just enough to make crackles in their faces. And we have some brightly colored teens walking around with spiked hair. Yep… parroteens.
I know I said I felt like a turtle last week, but in reality, I can actually be a multitude of Keys Kritters (sorry Robbie… had to use your shop name. It fits in perfectly with this article!) On a good day, I remind myself of a local manatee. I’ve got the rounded, buoyant body with a squishy, cute face and an easy-going personality–not capable of hurting a single soul.
Most of the time, like all mothers, I tend to multi-task and I need to get my hair out of my way, so I pull it tightly back until my head almost swells. Then I kick into gear and run around, doing so much in such a short amount of time, it seems like I’ve got eight arms. After a day of this of course I’m a sweaty mess and POOF. I’m an identical twin to an overworked octopus. (Imagine a female Squidward.)
So, before you can blink, I’ve morphed from a sweet manatee into a sweaty Squidward.
But, I’m not finished. Add a bunch of bills, a few unannounced houseguests who step in the latest “puppy poo” in my house, just after I’ve discovered a dead rat in my attic and the results are NOT pretty. I’ve become a pufferfish who needs a strong drink.
Maybe I should move to Hawaii and check out the local animals there?
WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A TELEVISION STAR IN THE FLORIDA KEYS
By Jana Vandelaar
Written for The Reporter – September, 2011
I’m the type of person who really loves television, yet I don’t like to have it on unless I’m sitting down and watching a specific show. It annoys me to have it buzzing all day. My husband, on the other hand, LOVES to have every television on throughout the house all day long (usually Headline News.) He says he likes to know what’s happening in the world, but I know he has a major crush on my look-alike, Robin Meade.
Anyway, when I was asked to appear on Good Morning Florida Keys on Channel 19, I was thrilled. It would be fun to watch and maybe my husband would realize my uncanny resemblance to Robin and turn off the television occasionally, if you get my drift.
Wrong on all counts.
To start with, I was immediately intimidated by Jenna Stauffer and Krystal Banner. Not only were they both intelligent and kind, but they could easily rival Robin Meade’s beauty. Ask my husband. Jenna was busy interviewing Mad Dog’s son, Nick Mandich, and even he was gorgeous. My confidence was wavering so I dashed into the bathroom and panic primped.
Their mirrors were a bit deceiving and I convinced myself I could pull this off, so I went back into the studio, clipped a mike onto my blouse like a professional, and my interview was underway.
My husband took a few pictures so I could post this cool experience on my website (www.janavandelaar.com) and I walked out, feeling pretty good… until I looked at the pictures on his camera. A chunk of my hair looked like Elvis Presley’s sideburn and when I asked my husband why he didn’t tell me, he shrugged and said, “I didn’t notice.” Of course not, HE WAS STARING AT JENNA THE WHOLE TIME. It was the Robin Meade curse all over again.
But, overall, I was happy with the interview and I wasn’t nervous at all. Jenna made the experience fun and easy. She’s prepared and she’s lovely. I was worried I’d twitch or even faint. But, instead, it was like talking to a girlfriend over lunch. Unfortunately, there weren’t any martinis involved but, still, very relaxed.
Here’s the thing… Jenna asked me to be on the show because of my column (Only in the Keys) for The Reporter. My entire television experience couldn’t have been more of an example of things that happen ONLY in the Keys.
1st The show is filmed “all the way down” in Key West. Any local resident, from mile marker 0 to mile marker 120, understands that anything beyond 10 miles is a stretch for us to consider driving. Maybe we’ll push 20-30 miles in one day. But, to drive from Key Largo to Key West is a lot to ask from a local. It’s worth it to be a television star though. So we did it.
2nd Next, like true locals, we packed in other appointments/chores that needed to be completed along the way, such as carpooling the children to school at mile marker 86. Since we rarely venture past 86, we celebrated and had a decadent crepe and delicious coffee at Bitton Bistro Café, mile marker 82. I considered this exceptional experience almost as special as being a television star… almost. Finally, my hubby had arranged an appointment at mile marker 81, and I ditched into their restroom to verify my looks hadn’t faded too much since that morning. (At my age, I need a beauty maintenance stop every 20 miles… especially since I was going to be on television.)
3rd As I confessed during my interview, my husband and I did our best to maintain “civility” for the rest of the LONG, remaining 80 miles. You simply can’t fight in the Keys – especially in a car – because someone (your priest, your neighbor, your soccer coach, etc.) will witness the argument. So, by mile marker 75, we “compromised” and listened to my music station since I was the star.
4th I had visualized driving up to a glamorous television station but it was deceptively understated. Though small and unobtrusive on the outside, it proved to be very professional inside with more electronic equipment than NASA. Again, typical of the Keys… tiny, yet powerful.
5th After successfully surviving the interview, my husband and I did what any “Keys” megastar would do. We had a Rum Runner on the water in Key West.
6th Now, all we had to do was wait a week for the show to air that following Tuesday morning. But, my husband decided to upgrade our AT&T service that same week. They came on Friday to hook us up. Unfortunately, they ran into a “snag” after they disconnected everything and we didn’t have ANY service until Tuesday night. The third AT&T tech was the only one who understood that, Only in the Keys, the addresses are not in numerical order, so the main “box” was out of range for this particular upgrade.
Why am I writing all of this? Because, I finally get on television and, Only in the Keys, can AT&T screw up the service for 5 days, which means I wasn’t able to record or watch my big television debut on my own television!
Television-less, on Tuesday morning, I forced my daughter out of bed at 6:00 a.m. and hustled her over to my girlfriend’s house so I could see myself on television. We all fell silent when we saw my hair, but ultimately cheered at the end result. They plugged my two books, they surprised me with fun pictures throughout the interview and I did not twitch. I was thrilled.
Finally, the 7th and greatest reason this experience was the epitome of life, ONLY IN THE KEYS? If you were lucky enough to see it air on Tuesday, you’d understand the irony when Jenna introduced her next guest right after me: Maya Montana… a mega star FEMALE IMPERSONATOR! And, even more typical of our life here, he/she trumped me in every aspect of the show. Talent, beauty (PERFECT hair and makeup) and even better boobs than mine.
When Jenna introduced Maya, my daughter, Goddaughter, girlfriend and I almost choked on our cereal. My superstardom squashed in seconds by a gorgeous female impersonator! This type of thing cannot be made up and yet it happens daily, ONLY IN THE KEYS… which is why we all live here and why I love writing this column.
p.s. Next time I’m on television, I’m calling Maya for tips.
SPELLED OUT, THANKSGIVING MEANS APPLIANCES AND INDOOR PLUMBING
By Jana Vandelaar
Written for The Reporter – November, 2012
This year I’m taking the easy route by using each letter in the word Thanksgiving and writing a short blip on the holiday in the Keys. Yes, this is similar to a segment we’ve all seen on Sesame Street, but work with me – it has been a couple of tough weeks for me and I’m desperate.
Okay, so this is what I came up with:
T = Toes… I’m thankful I can go barefoot over Thanksgiving. Heck, I’m thankful I can go barefoot in the Keys all year long.
K = Keys. That’s it. Just being here is something to be grateful for.
S = Sunshine without horrific humidity.
G = Gravy. I like gravy. Pure and simple.
I = Inside seating is no longer required. (See the “S” above.)
V = Vodka. I like Vodka even more than I like gravy. Pure and simple.
G = The Galley restaurant. I’d take a bullet for their fish tacos.
Did you notice some letters were missing? That’s because, even with this simplistic writing technique, I still hit a major roadblock. Fortunately, I have good friends and family around me with an amazing sense of humor and when I told them I’m missing ideas for H, A, N, I & another N, they truly came through.
Here’s what my brother wrote:
H = Heimlich Maneuver & Hippy (I got a little peeved at him with that last one ‘cause I figured it referenced my body type. When I cussed him out, he responded with a sassy, ”too bad Thanksgiving doesn’t have the letter “F” in it… you obviously have a word for it.”)
A = Appliances, Arousal & Alcohol. What? Is it just me, or does anyone else find these random words sort of weird? He’s obviously got a lot more happening in his kitchen than I do, which is just icky to address at all, since he is my brother.
N = Naked & Numb. Done. I’m not allowing him to watch any more Sesame Street.
Warily, I read his creative answer for the letter I: Inbred, Insects and Indoor plumbing.
Now, remember, he quickly answered my plea for help by throwing some random words back to me, and, quite frankly, they are hilarious when you group them all together. I mean, a simple word like “appliance” next to the word “arousal” deserves a giggle, at least. Still, I called my older sister to discuss our little brother’s thought patterns. She assured me that I was simply feeling threatened because he is indeed, funnier than I am.
Fine. She’s probably right. Still, my original objective was to tie Thanksgiving in with the Keys and, though his word choice does somehow represent our lives here in a warped kind of way, we don’t want to admit this in print. Especially during a national holiday.
Thankfully, my daughter, Tiffany, went in the complete opposite direction of my brother. For the letter H, she used the word “Happy” and for the letter A, she suggested “Absolutely! I’ll have more key lime pie.” Although I was relieved to get a response from her with more of a “G” rating compared to my brother’s “R” / “X” ratings, I found them too Mary Poppins-ish.
Not that my ideas were any better. Apparently no one liked my T and they bombarded me with suggestions.
My sister, the biggest boat-barfer in the world, said she thought I should use TripTone for the letter T. She won’t visit me in Florida unless I promise to pick her up at the airport with a box of TripTone. She needs it to be officially in her system before we pass through the first tollbooth down to the Keys.
At least her letter specifically had something to do with the Florida Keys. She got an “A” for her effort.
Julie said my idea of Toes for the letter T was okay, but it would be funnier to say, “I’m thankful I can still see my toes, at least before the feast.” Clever AND with a rhyme.
My husband had a very predictable word for the letter T, which brought us right back to the “X” rating. I couldn’t use it, of course.
End result – I think all of us more than covered the entire THANKSGIVING word. Probably not my strongest article, but I have to say, one of my favorites just because I had family and friends help me work through it.
Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? Taking a minute to reflect on what you’re truly thankful for and giving what you can to help others?
Oh, by the way… blending everyone’s unique ideas together actually did create a perfect description of the holiday in the Keys:
T oes wiggling free &
H appy while resting on reliable ol’
N aked without shoes or socks ‘cause we live in the
K eys with gorgeous
S unshine for winter holidays that have lots of
G ravy and yummy food, which eventually result in the use of
I ndoor plumbing (ideally) and maybe some
V odka which also helps us ignore the only thing annoying here…
I nsects… before we go completely
N umb from the heavenly fish tacos at The
G ALLEY… with Lucy.
EASTER BUNNIES SHOULD BE PASSING OUT JELLY BEANS INJECTED BROCCOLI … OR WINE
By Jana Vandelaar
Written for The Reporter – April, 2017
As a mother and wife, my entire life is about creative multitasking. For example, I email while I exercise by walking the dogs to the vegetable market on US1. BAM! Four tasks are done at once. Same thing with dishes. I’ll load the dishwasher with my favorite television show on in the next room and attempting to answer my daughter’s homework question while eating a piece of Key Largo Chocolates. Although I give myself credit for at least listening to my daughter’s homework question, I always answer with, “Is this for language arts or for geometry?” She usually puffs loudly and walks away as I pop another chocolate, load another dish and hit the rewind button on the television to recap on the part I missed while “helping” her.
Because I’m such a fan of multitasking, it only makes sense to make Easter a little more efficient. The entire concept of dyeing eggs stresses me out because it’s taking time to paint or dye something nature has already perfected. I mean, come on! My hair needs to be dyed… eggs don’t. I understand it’s a festive tradition, but my mind can’t grasp giving eggs that much attention when I should be painting my front door instead.
Why don’t we switch this holiday around a bit? Instead of painting silly things like eggs, how about sprucing up our neighborhoods? Especially the neighborhoods who were forced to have white PVC sewer pipes sticking out of their front lawn. They look like albino Loch Ness Monsters. We should all paint these on the week before Easter so they blend in with the landscape in some way. On Easter morning, neighborhood kids can try to find the disguised pipes instead of boring eggs.
Hunting for Easter eggs? Really? This is so obvious for any mother it’s ridiculous to write about why this is an insane theory. Shouldn’t our kids be walking around with a laundry basket and hunt for random socks and underwear instead? Or, how about finding dishes and glasses scattered throughout the house and loading them in the dishwasher? (Of course, at my house, we rarely use “fancy” dishes. Instead, we’d need to carry around a trash bag and hunt for paper plates and plastic glasses.)
Jellybeans are absolutely required during this holiday, probably because they are shaped like bunny poop, which is sort of icky if you think about it. The company, Jelly Belly, really knows how to make a buck out of candy that looks like bunny poop. In 2008, this multi-million dollar jellybean biz introduced the ‘mean bean’ into the sweet jellybean family. Jelly Belly mixed various disgusting flavors (like sour milk or barf) to look identical to beans with delicious flavors. This became their “BeanBoozled” jellybeans.
Kids and adults love guessing what they might run across. Who can resist accidentally eating a jellybean that looks like it might be chocolate flavored, but realizes – too late – that it tastes like canned dog food instead? A risk, but more than worthwhile when you hit the jackpot. (Actually, this is sort of like the dating scene. There are some great men and women out there mixed in with a lot who simply have bad taste. Of course, we all ultimately want to end up with someone sweet, but it’s sickly fun to run across a bad seed every once in a while.) BeanBoozled is a brilliant concept.
If a jelly bean, flavored like earwax, is so popular, why can’t Jelly Belly invent a jellybean injected with actual nutrients instead? Like a broccoli bean? Or a brussel sprout bean? Again, we could easily check off two boxes at the same time this way. Vegetables and Easter. Check. Check.
Honestly, jellybeans injected with wine would be the best invention for everyone. After a week of being forced to pick up dirty laundry with an Easter basket, I know my family would beg me to pop a few of those beans.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any jellybeans with real alcohol inside but Key Largo Chocolates does happen to have chocolates flavored with champagne and other goodies inside. (This is a big hint for my family!) Obviously this company – Key Largo Chocolates – is under the control of a very intelligent woman who truly understands the concept of multitasking.
Happy Easter Everyone!
EVEN HURRICANES HAVE A SILVER LINING
By Jana Vandelaar
Written for The Reporter – September, 2011
Truthfully, I was a little intimidated by Isaac.
First off, he’s a dude in an established female world. Sure, they started to add male names way back in 1979, but most of us still consider hurricanes to be largely a female gig. It’s hard to figure out a hurricane with a boy name. Sort of like meeting a giant man wearing high heels. Usually, these boys want to make a statement. Look at the mess Andrew made. Need I say more?
And who chose the name, Isaac? My sister was a teacher and she swore certain names of her students always indicated trouble. Like Devlin. I’m sure there are some sweethearts out there named Devlin, but, come on… generally speaking, the parents are asking for trouble when they pick that name. And people who name their dogs Killer or Shredder. You’d better have a T-bone ready when you meet these dogs.
Names are important. Isaac sounds safe until you dissect the name and really look at what you’ve got: I-Saaaaac! Let’s face it, a little intimidating. Personally, I believe the name Isaac should only be given to football players, not to tropical storms or hurricanes.
So, I was worried.
But, we were lucky here in the Florida Keys. Our damage was minimal considering the big picture and I’m proud of the way we all responsibly prepared for the storm. Billboards were removed, shutters were in place and supplies were restocked.
And by supplies, I’m talking food. At least, at my house. Seriously, if you need a good meal, plan on staying with the Vandelaars during a possible hurricane. We were obsessed. On the day before the storm, my husband knew I was at the grocery store for supplies, and he called to remind me to buy a turkey AND all the works. Seriously, in his mind, the only way he can live through a storm is by cooking a turkey. We all have our priorities. Mine was to buy batteries. His was to cook a turkey.
Then my girlfriend, Julie, called and said she was preparing a pork roast so we could all have pulled pork sandwiches for days. Both of them made me a little paranoid, so I pushed the gallons of water to the side of my cart and threw a giant ham next to the turkey. Worried that I might have broke the bank and didn’t want to spend another $12 on toilet paper, I convinced myself we had enough to last a couple of days and I finally checked out of Publix. In retrospect, I think I should have chosen the toilet paper over the ham. “Hind” sight.
So, the night before Isaac was due to arrive, I unpacked my groceries and faced the next problem. Storage. I didn’t have enough room in the fridge for his turkey, my ham, and the three cartons of eggs I also bought in a panic. My solution? I could make my famous egg dish for the morning after the storm. And, since I was smarter than my husband, I decided to prepare everything right away, while we still had electricity and water.
Between the cooking and the additional cleaning I did (so anyone needing refuge from the hurricane would think I was an amazing woman because my house was immaculate…) I had worked my hiney off, and I was exhausted. When my husband asked if I wanted to go out for dinner, I looked at him like he was an idiot. Duh. Of course, I wanted to go out.
Somehow I managed to shove all of the food I had just cooked into the packed fridge and we hopped in the car for our “last” dinner out together. Gotta say, with the threat of a hurricane looming over our heads, we were actually nice to each other and we really enjoyed hanging with friends at the dinner.
The next day, my hubby cooked his turkey and he had a system. First, he’d put up one shutter, and then he’d go to the oven and baste the turkey. Then the next shutter and, again, baste. Shutter, baste. Shutter, baste. I’m pretty sure Rachael Ray would do the same. When all of the shutters were finally in place, it was time to pull the turkey out to cool down.
So, we’ve got a pre-cooked ham sitting in the fridge, a turkey cooling, and Julie’s pulled pork waiting for us when my husband asked if I wanted to meet some friends at a fun place crazy enough to stay open in a tropical storm – Category Three, in Key Largo. I looked at him like he was an idiot.
Duh! Of course, I wanted to go out. Our kids were all going stir crazy from being locked up in houses with shutters down and we had an hour to wait before dinner.
(Note: the best part of the entire storm: Category Three’s Bourbon Bacon Brownie. No lie. Delicious.)
The next morning, when I served the egg dish, my daughter looked up at me. “Wow! My favorite breakfast too? Hurricanes rock!”
She was sort of right. There is a silver lining to this hurricane gig… especially when there is NOT an actual hurricane. I cleaned our house, we treated each other with genuine kindness, we ate like kings, my daughter got out of school and we hung out with great friends at great restaurants. What more could you ask for?
I might have to name my next dog Isaac.