Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fall Flavored Coffee

I can't survive without my coffee in the morning. When you've just woken up, it's like wrapping yourself in a warm comforting blanket to ease into the day. I've recently gone to drinking "naked" coffee ... no cream and no sugar. It was a simple way for me to cut some calories. The bummer is that all the yummy flavored coffee is mostly artificial and it's difficult to find flavored organic/free trade coffees. So, a good friend of mine recently taught me this little trick to make my coffee a little more tasty.

Cinnamon Coffee:
When making your coffee as usual, add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the grounds in the brew basket. Voila! It's really that easy!

After trying that one, I experimented a little this weekend with the following ...

Pumpkin Spice Coffee:

Make your coffee as usual, add a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of allspice.

Ginger Snap Coffee:
Make your coffee as usual, add a 1/2 teaspoon of allspice and a 1/2 teaspoon of ginger.

Internet Socialites

Brad Paisley has a fun song about how much "cooler" he is online. It's funny, because I've always been skeptical about people I meet though the internet. And maybe it's good that I'm constantly looking over my shoulder, but I've recently found that most people on the net are actually not scary-serial-killer-stalker-types. Nor is it just 14 year olds and insomniacs. They're just real people with similar interests sitting at their laptops typing away just like me.

A very good friend of mine recently married a man she met on eHarmony. He was Mr. Right ... literally! At her wedding I had the opportunity to meet her other friends she affectionately called "The Knotties," all of whom met online at The Knot while planning their wedding. They bonded through sharing their stories of event planning on a budget, crazy-inlaws, cakes & catering, and the stress, drama and fun associated with planning a wedding. It was interesting to see a whole group of friends that originally met email-to-email instead of face-to-face.

Another fantastic blogger I had the opportunity to meet in person at the wedding is Cheyenne Schultz, who has a photography blog and an amazing gift for capturing real people in candid moments and showing a slice of life.

Meeting other internet socialites just made me realize even more how networking and meeting people has gone global ... but at the same time has made the world smaller and more accessible right from your back yard.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Road Trips Rule

I recently took a trip up to Tennessee and North Carolina for a friend's wedding. It was a classic girlfriends getaway as a friend and I rented a car from Nashville and drove across the state of Tennessee through the Great Smokey Mountains and over to to Greensboro for the main event. With no boys along on the trip, we took as many pit stops as we needed for bathroom breaks, coffee at Starbucks, scenic photo opportunities, and breakfast at Cracker Barrel.

We shopped. We giggled. We danced and partied like rock stars. We gave each other our own Cherokee Indian names ... Talks With Hands and Drives Like Turtle. We shopped some more.

My whole point to this is how the Classic Roadtrip does not get enough credit as a fun vacation. We've all been sucked into the vortex of travel magazines and advertising telling us that we have to go some place exotic and far and away for it to be a "real" vacation. We've forgotten the fun of sharing time with friends on the open road, singing loudly to your favorite songs, eating junk food, and playing silly games like Mad Libs and Alphabet Signs.

My journey home added even more evidence to my More Road Trips mantra. Because of high winds and rainy weather my flight was delayed on the way home. And as I sat captive in the Nashville airport for an additional 4 hours, I contemplated the thought of just renting a car and driving home to Florida. Doable. Just when I grew the courage to stand up and start walking to the rental car counter, they finally boarded our plane and we were off to Atlanta. Going through security again ... having to take off my shoes and walk barefoot in a public place (ew!) ... giving myself a backache from hauling my luggage from one gate to the next ... I was disenchanted with flying. Sitting at the terminal much longer than anticipated, I entertained myself with all the magazines I had brought, read them twice, then I started doing a scary thing. I started doing math. I calculated how much my fuel cost would be and the hours on the road if I were to have driven my car the whole way and skipped the airports all together. Fact of the matter is, I would have saved $200 and arrived at my destination 3 hours sooner. Go figure! Even with gas prices as high as they are, DRIVING is unbelievably the time saver, cost saver and perhaps even the greener choice!

So exactly how far could you go on one tank of gas? Well, if you live anywhere in Florida or the South East, you could come visit our little town of Mount Dora. Road trips here deliver treasures of fresh squeezed orange juice, trading post Seminole moccasins, salt water taffy, sea shells and gator teeth.

Take an End of Summer Road Trip and let us know if what kind of adventures (or misadventures) you get into.


What's in your suitcase ... Part II !

Okay, so after my little road trip getaway, I discovered a whole new list of things that are a must-bring when traveling. Add these to my first packing list and you should be set to go for your next vacation.

1) Rescue Remedy. This is homeopathic yoga in a bottle. Some may argue if this really works or if it is just a placebo of sorts. Regardless, it calms my mind as effectively as two glasses of wine. While still maintaining the ability to drive, of course.

2) Aveda Blue Oil. After hauling luggage or driving all day, your shoulders and neck could use a little of the relaxing peppermint and chamomile that this blue wonder contains. The peppermint has a delayed reaction, so roll on sparingly. I went a little overboard and made myself feel like I was chillin' in an igloo.

3) Witch Hazel wipes. These are GREAT for when you're feeling gritty after a long day and just want to clean up, but your 80 miles away from your next shower. This is equivalent to soap and water in a little one and a half inch packet.

4) MP3 player. Ugh! I forgot mine this time around and hated it! CD's are so passe. You've got to switch them out, fast forward through songs you don't particularly care for, put them away in their case. Our rental car came equipped with a little mp3 player jack ... consistently reminding me of the little juke box I left at home. I missed this dearly while waiting in the airport too. So don't forget yours!

5) Maggie. That's the name I gave to my Magellan GPS navigator. What a godsend! Especially when driving by yourself without a friend in the passenger seat to look at a map and direct your next move. This little thing will get you from "Point A" to "Point B" in the most efficient way ever, saving you time, gasoline, and the stress of getting lost. If you don't have one of your own, put it on your gift list. Most rental car companies also rent these for a nominal fee.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Getting Ready for Fall

Here in Florida, we really don't have a noticeable change in the seasons. Trees and plants all still maintain their lush colors throughout the fall and winter. The only real difference we feel is the drop in humidity, the cooler evening temperatures and watching the storefronts change their displays to oranges and golds.

With September quickly approaching, here's a short list of things you can do to get ready so that you can spend less time stressing more time actually enjoying the season.

1) I'm not much of a cook, but I LOVE to bake. And Fall is my favorite season for donning an apron and oven mitt and pretending to be Betty Crocker. While it's not as fun as baking, now is a good time to clean out and organize your cupboards and inventory baking tools. Do you need anything new? Now's a good time to make that list and go shopping for it.

2) Stock your pantry. There are many common dry good that are sometimes hard to come by during the season, such as brown sugar, cinnamon, canned pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, etc. Start stocking up on these items as you do your regular grocery shopping. That way you'll be relaxed and prepared to have a fun day in the kitchen without having to run out to get something you forgot, or traveling from store to store unable to find it.

3) This may seem like a better suggestion for Summer or Spring, but here in Florida, Fall and Winter are the better outdoor seasons. I know it's a chore, but clean your grill and lawn furniture so that it's ready when you want to have a spontaneous backyard party. Get an extra pat on the back for going "green" and check out my eco-friendly cleaner recipe that's great for outdoor furniture and grills.

4) Get ready for the fresh cooler air ... have your windows cleaned! I know, I know, another boring chore. But you'll be thankful during our first spell of cool weather when you can pop open hour home's windows and not get your fingers blackened with screen dust and dirt. If it is something that you're not up to doing yourself, then hire a professional window cleaner. We did and it was surprisingly affordable! If you must do it yourself, one piece of advise they gave me was to use a q-tip to get into the corners of the window track.

5) Okay, on to something more fun. Shopping! It's never too early to start for the holidays. Create a 'gift trunk' and start collecting things now to make your holiday season a little less stressful without having to search for that perfect gift. With the economy feeling a little tighter this year, it will seem less overwhelming both in time and money spent to start now. It is 16 weeks until Christmas. If you bought one gift a week from now until then, you could use that extra time having fun and drinking wine at holiday parties rather than late-night-last-minute gift shopping. Check out the Craft Fair in Mount Dora coming up in October for some unique gift items and a fun festival to boot!

What is something you enjoy doing to get ready for the season? Let us know and comment below!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Florida Highwaymen Festival: Meet the Artists

Here are some photos from the Florida Highwaymen Festival. Meet some of the original artists below!

Al Black

Roy McLendon

Mary Ann Carroll

R. L. Lewis Jr. & Sr.

James Gibson

Issac Knight

Florida Highwaymen Festival

The first annual Mount Dora Florida Highwaymen Art Festival is now history. The turn out for the event was fabulous considering the lingering effects of Tropical Storm "forever" Fay. After days of wet weather and about 24" of rain to fill our drought cup ... it thankfully turned out to be a fabulous day! We counted over a thousand people in attendance despite the weather. A special thanks to the Mount Dora Lodging Association for planning and hosting the show.

Taking place in the center of town at Donnelly Park, art enthusiasts were able to find great pieces of original Highwaymen paintings and pose for photos with the original artists including Al Black, Roy Mclendon, Issac Knight, James Gibson, R. L. Lewis, and Mary Ann Carroll.

To the left are Innkeepers Dave and Betty Cook posing with Highwayman Roy McLendon.

The artists were very gracious with autographs and photos. The stories of Highwaymen Collectors were fascinating and heartwarming.

One gentlemen had found a painting quite unexpectedly while shopping for pottery. Upon entering the pottery makers home, he recognized it as a Highwaymen painting, but it was unsigned. He purchased the artwork and brought it with him to the show here in Mount Dora to confirm if it was indeed a Highwaymen Painting. James Gibson himself recalled painting the piece in 1962. Gibson signed the back of the canvas and nearly doubled it's value in a matter of seconds.

Influenced by R. L. Lewis in the early 70s, long before the Highwaymen were even known, a former student turned art teacher came to seek out and thank his inspiration. It was quite a reunion as they had not seen each other in over 30 years.

To see more of the artists, stay tuned for our next post with more photos of the event!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Featured Inn: Heron Cay Bed & Breakfast

How am I ever going to keep my trim girlish figure while getting to know all the local Innkeepers and tasting their breakfast specialties! I LOVE it! I guess I'll just have to jog more.

This past weekend we were invited to Sunday Brunch at the Heron Cay Bed & Breakfast, a Victorian gem with Island-style that sits on a hillside overlooking Lake Dora. Immediately upon arriving, you can sense the playful spirit of the Innkeepers with their electric toy train that winds around their vast wrap-around porch, the antique juke box in the parlor and the gopher from Caddy Shack peeping at you from the buffet table.

Originally from Palm Beach County, Innkeepers Randy and Margie brought a little of South Florida with them when they moved up here to Mount Dora and transformed the former Darst Victorian Manor into a relaxing, laid-back island getaway. The large dining room is decorated with a light coral colored decor with sea shells, ship wheels, and a collection of Florida Highwaymen Paintings showing swaying palm trees and Florida's famous colorful sunsets.

We joined Randy and Margie in the kitchen to watch their morning festivities in preparation for breakfast. With a warm cup of coffee in hand, the scent of banana bread baking and light steel drum music strumming in the background, it was a perfect Sunday morning.

We learned that Randy and Margie became Innkeepers years ago, quite by default. They had purchased a large waterfront property in Jupiter that was a bit of a fixer upper. Margie was a real estate agent and Randy an engineer. After renovating the home to better fit it's waterfront location, their children had grown up and moved away to attend college and they found themselves empty nesters with a lot of square footage and a down real estate market, similar to today's. Margie suggested that they rent the rooms and make it into a bed & breakfast. And so with collected breakfast recipes from family and friends, the original Heron Cay was created. They named the property Heron Cay (pronounced "key") after a small island deeded along with their waterfront Jupiter home.

Randy and I are a lot alike in that we both like to talk with our hands ... which makes it challenging to talk and cook at the same time! We would get lost in another story and Margie would instinctively know to pop her head in from another room and get him back on task to making breakfast.

And what a delicious buffet! Whether you prefer sweet or savory, there is a little something for everyone on their breakfast table. A colorful fruit salad, paired with a poached egg recipe I can't wait to try at home. Margie does all the baking, making banana and pumpkin breads and cinnamon rolls.

After breakfast, Randy gave us a tour of their home. He is quite the antique maven and will happily guide you through his collections, explaining the details and history of his Highwaymen Paintings and Red Wing Stoneware collection.

Later we ventured outside to take a look at their garden. As if the home is not impressive enough, much of the fruit served at breakfast is grown right on property! Randy's green thumb cultivates pineapples, Honeybell oranges, Persian limes and key limes. And some of his non-edible, but more fragrant plants include eucalyptus and plumeria.

We also had the opportunity to play with Randy & Margie's beloved Borzois; Kalif, Pixie, Anastasia and Darla ... the REAL keepers of the Inn! These dogs are their pride and joy, and after seeing them frolic and play I can understand why!

If you are a pet lover yourself, the Heron Cay Bed & Breakfast does have a pet friendly room for small friendly pets!

Coming up this weekend is the Inaugural Florida Highwaymen Festival. Randy and Margie have been instrumental in getting this new event up and going with their knowledge of the Highwaymen history and their art collector contacts. I know all the local Innkeepers are grateful to them for helping us create a new Summer festival. Come check it out and meet all your local Innkeepers this weekend as well as 6 of the original Florida Highwaymen. For more information, take a look at the Florida Highwaymen Festival.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Eco-Friendly Cleaners

It scrubs. It deodorizes. It's non-toxic. It's cheap.

Need I say more?

I'm talking about the wonder-all cleaners ... baking soda & vinegar.

It's really easy to clean green, and here are two simple recipes I use to make my own cleaners at home.

Baking Soda Scrub
Mix the following in a plastic bowl:
1/2 Cup Baking Soda
1 Cup of Water

Can be used for ... scrubbing outdoor grills, lawn furniture, bath tubs, sinks, bath fixtures. After I clean my kitchen sink, I usually pour a little more baking soda and then a cup of vinegar down the drain. It bubbles up like a 3rd grade volcano science project and gently cleans out and deodorizes your drain.

Vinegar Surface Cleaner
Use a funnel to add the following to
a 32 oz. spray bottle
and shake before use:
1 Cup of Vinegar
3 Cups Water
20 Drops of Lemon Oil

Can be used for ... getting rid of soap scum, cleaning mirrors, windows, glass, chrome bath fixtures, and anything else you would want to shine up. The scent of vinegar dissipates while the lemon kind of lingers. Since the ingredients are edible, it's safe to use on dining surfaces. The great benefit to mirrors is vinegar will not cause the same corrosion that ammonia based cleaners will.

These two simple recipes show you how easy it is to clean "green" for less than $5 total, plus the added fun of a science/chemistry craft project in your kitchen.

What's in your suitcase?

Here's my list of travel items that I don't leave home without:

1) Power Pixies. These are ready packs of Airborne that you can just pour onto your tongue and go. No water needed. Instant vitamin-rich immune boost. Don't leave home without it.

2) Honey House Bee Bar. Since the requirements for liquids have become so strict at airports, this is the perfect solution to moisturize your hands and still make it past security with no problem. I pick these up at our local store, Noni. Check it out at ... Honey House .

3) Crocs. They're comfortable. Anti-microbial. Slip on and off easily for getting through security and for kicking back and getting comfortable on the plane. And NOW they come in fashionable styles!

4) Burt's Bees Peppermint Lip Balm. No dry chapped lips plus fresh minty breath!

5) Giovanni's biodegradable towelettes. This is my favorite eco-friendly travel product. It's organic. It's biodegradable. And with organic essential oils such as peppermint, grapefruit or lavender it's a refreshing break when you're on the road. You can usually pick these up at your local health food store.

6) Tea. Nothing comforts me or calms my nerves more than a cup of tea. And it seems the only type offered by restaurants and airports are plain old black tea. I like a little variety for my moods, so I stuff a zip lock baggie with a menagerie of my favorite green, oolong, and herbal teas. Hot water not included.

7) Homemade sandwich and snacks. Because airport food is just plain yucky.

8) Ginger Chews. These spicy little treats help settle my stomach and alleviate the pressure on my ears when on a flight. It's also great for motion sickness.

9) An entertaining read. One of the things I look forward to when flying is a couple of hours of uninterrupted time. With our electronic gadgets keeping us so well connected 24-7, it's nice to get an excuse to kick back for a little while and get lost in a book without the guilt of needing to check email or messages.

10) Leave your worries at home. Here is the the ultimate check-list to make sure you haven't forgotten a thing: Don't Forget Your Toothbrush

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Don't Forget Your Toothbrush

Ah ... the only thing better than going on a trip ... is the anticipation of it! I'm one of those weirdos that really enjoys and delights in packing a suitcase. Where as Brian might wait until the last minute (such as an hour before we have to leave for the airport) I really like to take my time starting a week or two in advance. Planning the makeup and wardrobe for the story I have playing out in my head in some place far, far and away. All the tinsy little travel sized bits of lotion and soaps. I get all giddy just thinkin' about it.

As Brian and the other hard-working Innkeepers of Mount Dora are fastidiously getting ready for our Florida Highwaymen Festival ... I'm preparing to get the heck out of dodge. Not very fair, I know. I'm actually disappointed that I'm going to miss the Highwaymen Festival after learning so much about them this month. I've become a big fan. However, my leaving in amidst of mayhem is for a good cause ... a wedding!

During my packing ritual, I thought it might be handy to share with you some tips for packing for your next getaway ... to Mount Dora perhaps! I know the Innkeepers here go above and beyond to make sure their guests have the comforts and conveniences of home. But if you get giddy about packing like I do, check out my next post to find out what's in my suitcase ...


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Interview with Geoff Cook, Florida Highwaymen Collector

It is said that when you catch the bug for Highwaymen Paintings, you can't just go out and purchase one. Oh no, that would spoil the fun. The thrill for a collector is in the hunt. And Geoff Cook is certainly winning the game. An avid Highwaymen Painting collector for over 10 years, here is our interview with Geoff Cook:

How did you get started collecting Florida Highwaymen Paintings?
My interest peaked in 1998 after having read a newspaper article about them. It became sort of a treasure hunt. I started looking in antique shops, thrift stores and mostly auctions. At one point my collection was over 2500 hundred paintings. Right now it is around 300.

Have you always been an art collector, or did it start with the Highwaymen?
It definitely started with the Highwaymen. After seeing an article about them with a very large colorful photo of a Highwaymen painting. I was hooked. It was all about that photo. Had it been in black and white instead of color I probably would not have even noticed. I had retired from a career as a farmer and nursery grower, so the scenic Florida landscape really caught my eye. Reading about their history, I thought it was a great story and I caught the bug.

Do you have a favorite artist or painting?
That would have to be Harold Newton. He seemed to have a natural talent for painting. His style was unique, the way he highlights clouds and makes it very lifelike, but also leaves enough to the imagination.

How many galleries or shows have you exhibited with your collection?
From Homestead to Tallahassee ... at least 20.

Do you have any advice for people going on their own treasure hunt for a highwaymen painting?
Don't start ... it's addictive!


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Who are the Florida Highwaymen?

Two months ago I started researching and reading about the "Highwaymen" in anticipation of the Festival happening this month. At first I had been a little skeptical ... the few paintings I had seen reminded me of a 1970s style decor. But I soon discovered there were many different styles of Highwaymen paintings, some monochromatic, some rich in deep colors, and some that were breathtaking examples of Florida's natural scenery.

I learned the reason for the variety of styles, there are 26 different artists included in the "Florida Highwaymen." A unique movement was started by these men (and one woman) during the 1950s and 60s. Against the odds, these African Americans with creative talent and an entrepreneurial spirit chose to become artists instead of working in citrus groves and other manual labor jobs available during that time.

Before I-4 and major theme parks came along, these artists peddled their paintings along Florida's highways, selling to businesses, motels and tourists wanting a souvenir to remind them of Florida. Often these artists painted with quantity as their goal, creating as many as 40 paintings in an day and selling them for the affordable prices. Sometimes they would even have a "painting party" with BBQ, music and lots of art supplies! Sounds like a good time to me!

Inspired by A. E. Backus, their paintings depicted Florida's unique landscapes including colorful sunsets, swaying palm trees on the beach, majestic pines draped in Spanish moss across wetlands, and the famous red royal poinciana trees.

The artwork gained popularity and value during the mid 1990's after Jim Fitch wrote and article about their rich and colorful history and first coined the term "Highwaymen." Now collectors inspired by their story go on treasure hunts throughout the state looking for Highwaymen paintings in estate sales, auctions and antique shops.

Be sure to attend the Florida Highwaymen Festival on August 23 in Mount Dora.

Friday, August 1, 2008

New Summer Festival -- The Florida Highwayman

So how do a group of Innkeepers stay busy during the "off -season" ... they create a charitable event highlighting history, art and a popular cultural movement, that's how! Typically summer is hot and hoppin' in Florida, but Mount Dora is just now getting a new heat wave of activity with this new Festival.

Starting tomorrow, there will be an exhibit at the Mount Dora Center For the Arts featuring part of the private collection of Geoff Cook.

This collection will be on display from August 1st through the 23rd to introduce the official Florida Highwaymen Festival taking place on Saturday, August 23rd, where six of the original Highwaymen Artists will be present to meet and talk about their work.

So this all sounds groovy, but maybe you're wondering, "Who are the Highwaymen?" For more information about the artists, check out this website:

If you would like more details about the festival, take a look at