Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Archive for the ‘Florida Musings’ Category

Creatures and Story Creation

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 8, 2016

Writers can spin stories out of thin air. Yes, it’s true. We grab ideas out of the effluvia around us. Soon we’re building a novel. The characters gel, and the setting takes on detail. And then we’re off, pounding at the keyboard, the fervor of creation keeping us in its grip.

Let me give you a demonstration.

The other day, my husband and I enjoyed a sunny afternoon at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray. Florida may have changeable weather in the winter, but we have no snow, sunny skies, and colorful flowers.

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Birds fly down here in the colder months to share space with ducks and turtles that grace our neighborhoods.

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We also have a variety of critters we’d rather not meet up close and personal. Witness this guy we observed during our visit to Morikami.

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Here he is enjoying a meal. Thank goodness iguanas eat plants and not people.

 

Places like Morikami remind me of why I became a writer. When I sit on a bench and gaze at a lake or tread upon dead leaves through the forest, I let my imagination soar to other worlds. And so here we go with an example of how easy it is for a writer to start a story under any circumstances. We are walking along a wooded trail surrounded by tall trees and leafy foliage.

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Mystery: I’m a tour guide/curator/director leading a group through a botanical garden. Our continued funding depends upon the success of this excursion as does my job security. All is going well until one of our party goes missing and later turns up dead…murdered. Whodunit? Is it the real estate magnate who covets the property to turn into condos? The chief curator at a rival attraction? A meandering spouse who saw the tour as a good opportunity to make his partner disappear? A politician whose stance on public safety will lift his status on the campaign trail? The mystery deepens as I begin my investigation and learn that each person in the group has a secret to hide.

Romance: I’m sitting on the park bench when a cute guy sits beside me. He wears a camera with a big lens around his neck. With a sexy grin, he peers over my shoulder and asks what I am sketching. We get to talking. I love the dimples that crease his cheeks when he smiles. But I’m dismayed when he tells me he’s the photographer assigned to the article I’m writing. Oh, no. How will I keep my professional distance when all I can think about is jumping his bones?

Horror: Patrons have vanished from the trail around the lake. Other guests have reported hearing strange noises in the brush and glimpsing a reptilian tail. But my friends think it’ll be a hoot to stay here overnight. We’re all drinking and having fun after dark until Ada is pulled screaming into a clump of trees. No one sees what grabbed her, but she’s totally gone except for the blood. We pack to leave and go to call for help, but our cell phones have no service and the road is closed due to flooding ahead. We’re trapped there….

Science Fiction: With my laser weapon strapped to my hip, I patrol the woods. My acute sense of smell tells me the creature is near. Anticipating the bounty for my catch, I track its life form on my portable viewer. My client will pay a bonus if I capture the specimen alive. All I have to do is net the prickly ardtrunk and transport us both to my flier.

Fantasy: I halted at the Japanese rock garden, admiring the combed gravel. At the far end, a pair of white stone statues guarded the display of Bonsai plants. A sense of peace washed over me as I stared at the small, glittering stones on the ground. They’d been raked recently, with a spiral pattern leading one into the other like a miniature maze. I’d been drawn to this place, never realizing the oasis sat just outside the city beyond the Fae Woodlands. I glanced to my right, where the air under a painted red archway seemed to shimmer. My heart raced as I approached. I could no more stop my feet from stepping across the threshold than I could stop my breathing. And that’s when the world tilted….

YA Fantasy: Oh Gawd, why’d my parents have to bring me to this boring place? They might enjoy the trees and plants, but nature isn’t my thing. Give me my cell phone and a Diet Coke, and I’m a happy sixteen-year-old. I took out my cell phone to text Marlene and tell her what Randy had said to me in math class, but the dang thing wouldn’t connect. “Hey, Ma,” I yelled, glancing up. “When are we leaving already?” Oh great, I couldn’t see my folks anywhere in this freakin’ garden. They must have gone up ahead. Wait, that hedge hadn’t been there a moment ago. And where did that weirdo come from? The short little guy stood staring at me as though I had come from Mars.

Isn’t this fun? Which story do you like?

As you can see, storytelling is in my blood. I can’t stop playing the “What If?” game. Where do you go for inspiration?

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Posted in Fiction Writing, Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 90 Comments »

2015 in review

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 31, 2015

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Business of Writing, Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Winter Park

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 29, 2015

We decided to visit the Farmer’s Market in Winter Park last Saturday. Not all the vendors were present since it was a holiday weekend, so we grabbed croissants at a food stand and jumped back in the car. The perfect weather led us to Harry P. Leu Gardens, a lovely botanical gardens that we’ve visited many times before. This garden was the model for Orchid Isle (minus the orchids) in my wedding mystery, Shear Murder. It was a perfectly clear and sunny day to stroll the many tree-lined paths.

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From here, we went for lunch at the popular barbecue place, 4 Rivers Smokehouse. Then we headed over to Lombardi’s seafood market. We purchased fresh salmon farmed in the U.S. without hormones and gazed in awe at the other offerings.

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Our daughter made delicious salmon balls for dinner, accompanied by cauliflower mash and potato latkes. The latter caused some hilarity in the kitchen as one mishap led to another, and we ended up dumping out the cooked and peeled potatoes in favor of using a handy box mix. No matter; the family that cooks together, stays together.

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With wonderful holiday memories to treasure, my husband and I headed home. Now it’s time to clean things up from 2015 and move ahead toward the new year.

Posted in Florida Musings, Food, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Star Wars at Disney Springs

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 28, 2015

We spent Christmas Day at the movies as is our tradition. This year, we saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens at Disney’s Dine-In Movie Theater. I love this experience where you lounge in comfy seats, order a meal, and dine during the film showing on a big screen.

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As for the movie, I loved it. It has action-packed scenes and emotional resonance similar to the original film that started it all. The new characters are complex and engage your interest right away, while seeing familiar faces brings you back to an earlier era when the same universe fired your imagination. It appeals to both old and new fans and satisfies both. Surprise plot twists will startle you even if you thought you saw them coming. As for the final scene, all I could say was, “How can they end it NOW?” We breathlessly await the sequel to see if it will bring another reveal. Meanwhile, I’m ready to pre-order this DVD.

After the movie, we strolled along the west end of Disney Springs amid the Christmas Day crowds, crossed the bridge and headed for a glimpse of the new Hangar Bar. This themed lounge is very small so be prepared to wait for a seat.

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We passed by the Boatyard, a popular restaurant which we’d tried before. It’s next to a landing where you can rent an amphibious car to cruise the lake. We went over to Morimoto Asia instead for drinks and appetizers. I had the sake sangria and an order of steamed dumplings. Reservations are suggested for a seat in the dining room. Otherwise, you can sit in the bar area and order food.

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The mobs of people discouraged us from exploring further changes at Disney Springs, so we headed home.

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Posted in Disney, Florida Musings, Food, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hollywood Studios at Disney

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 26, 2015

We went to Disney World’s Hollywood Studios to see what changes had taken place since our last visit. Aside from the Christmas decorations, there were a couple of Star Wars related attractions that we visited. The first was Path of the Jedi. This ten-minute film showcases highlights from the first six movies and shows teasers from The Force Awakens. It’s still a thrill to hear the majestic theme music reverberating through the theater.

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Next we strolled around, bypassing Star Tours except to browse in its shop. We’d been on this simulation ride before, but now we chose to avoid the stomach-shaking experience.

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The Backstage Tour is closed, presumably to turn into part of Star Wars land when it’s built who-knows-when in the future. We skipped all the other familiar rides we’d been on before and headed over to the former animation building. This now houses Star Wars Launch Bay. Here you’ll find another short film with a behind-the-scenes look at The Force Awakens. Our fervor to see the latest movie is now at a peak. We toured the exhibits here with model spacecraft, works of art, character uniforms, weaponry, and more. Of course the exit is through another shop, this one with expensive collectible items.

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With the crowds and humidity increasing, we decided to call it a day. As annual passholders, we don’t need to get the most for our money on any single visit. So we left to go do some necessary shopping and to watch our DVD of Tomorrowland in the comfort of our condo.

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Happy Holidays!

Posted in Disney, Florida Musings, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

South Florida History Museum

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 11, 2015

Located in downtown Bradenton, Florida, the South Florida History Museum offers two levels of exhibits. Short on time, we bypassed the Bishop Planetarium which is included in the admission price ($19 adults, $17 seniors). Our first stop was the Parker Manatee Aquarium, where a guide demonstrated the qualities of several manatees under their care. These huge, intelligent creatures were impressive. They prefer warm water and can be sensitive to cold temperatures, pollution, and boats that get in their path.

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From here, we moved on to dioramas and displays of native habitats, shell collections, and pine uplands with a pioneer cabin.

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There’s a Spanish house with a chapel that has a lovely stained glass window.

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My favorite was the Medical Gallery with an ancient operating room, dental suite, torturous looking instruments, and an apothecary shop.

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You could easily spend a couple of hours here or more. It was an unexpected bonus of our trip to the west coast, and I’m glad we could enjoy this attraction. Note there’s a gift shop but no café on premises.

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Posted in Florida Musings, Research, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Epcot Food and Wine

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 5, 2015

We had a great time as usual at our annual excursion to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival. As it’s their twentieth year anniversary, I bought the hardcover cookbook. Here’s the cranberry bog, back again.

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Here is what we tasted this year.

Scotland: Potato Pancake with Smoked Salmon $4.25 (my favorite!)

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Dominican Republic: Grouper $4.75

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Canada: Beef Filet Mignon $7.50

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Belgium: Potato Leek Waffle with Beef $4.25 and Fruit Waffle $3.75

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Germany: Apple Strudel $3.50

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South Korea: Raspberry Wine $3.50 and South Korea Vegan BBQ $4.75

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Coming Next: Our Trip to Bradenton

 

Posted in Disney, Florida Musings, Food, Recipes, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Florida to North Carolina

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 19, 2015

Since I-95 was closed due to flooding in South Carolina, we decided to drive to North Carolina via a western route. The first night we stayed in St. Augustine to once again visit this historic city. We entered Flagler College, which used to be an ornate hotel. You could see the trappings of its luxurious era in the décor. We passed up the chance to pay and see the dining room, but the courtyard and entry hall were impressive enough.

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From here, we strolled down the main shopping street and ate lunch in Columbia, a popular place with Spanish cuisine. I had to get a glass of sangria. We’d been to town before and had already visited the museums, Fountain of Youth, fort, and winery. So this time we headed out toward I-75 and hit the two outlet malls on either side of the highway. We ate dinner at an Asian place and retired early to prepare for our long journey the next day.

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We took I-75 to Atlanta, which is a snarl of traffic. After a brief stint on 285, we veered onto 85 north. We stopped for the night in Buford, Georgia which has The Mall of Georgia and many chain restaurants. It’s a good place to stop and stretch your legs.

The next day, we continued on I-85 to Durham, where we explored the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. You could wander here for hours.

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We drove inside the Duke University campus, impressed by the stately stone buildings and the remarkable chapel that was under renovations, judging from the scaffolding surrounding the tower. The town itself had nothing to draw us so we moved on to Raleigh, where the Bouchercon mystery conference was being held.

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Next: The Adventures Continue

 

Posted in Florida Musings, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

New Smyrna Beach Book Festival

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 16, 2015

This active little town on Florida’s east coast near Daytona holds lots of festivals, fairs, competitions and social events. I was excited to be invited as a speaker for their recent Book Festival. After arriving at the beachside Best Western on Friday (Oct. 2), we joined the event organizers and other authors for drinks and hearty appetizers at Barracudas down the street. A stiff breeze bent the palm fronds as remnants of Hurricane Joaquin blew past the coast. We enjoyed the company and getting to know our weekend group.

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Saturday morning at 10am, a bunch of us authors were on a panel together. Moderating the panel was a fellow from UCF, one of the sponsors. We spoke a bit about our work and answered questions from the audience. Then we each got an hour spot to do a talk. Mine wasn’t until 4pm, so I met my husband for lunch at That’s Amore for Eggplant Parmigiana. Afterward, we strolled down Flagler Avenue, enjoying the seaside ambiance, the shops, and the multitude of cafes.

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Back at the conference center in the middle of town, I hung out in the book room before taking a seat to listen to Patrick Kendrick. Like me, he’s a Florida chapter member of Mystery Writers of America. Patrick spoke about his fascinating thriller, The Savants. Then it was my turn. We had a decent sized audience who asked good questions.

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That night, we all met again for drinks and appetizers at Outriggers Tiki Bar and Grille. They treat their authors well! The book festival was a memorable and pleasant experience, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet all the persons involved.

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And here is a yummy Key Lime dessert:

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For more info on this festival, go to: http://nsbfla.com/bookfestival

 

Posted in Appearances, Business of Writing, Conferences, Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dining Out Orlando

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 11, 2015

September is Magical Dining Month in Orlando. You can visit myriad fancy restaurants for a fixed-price three course meal at $33.00 per person. It’s a fun way to try new places that might normally be too expensive.

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse

This two-story restaurant on International Drive has been open for a few weeks. The décor is contemporary, with most patrons seated in a cavernous room overlooking the parking lot. A few separate sections are available for private dining. Wine bottles in wall-sized racks add to the décor. An open kitchen is behind a barrier so you can’t see much. The atmosphere is lively but it lacks the cozy intimacy of other steakhouses.

We requested the Magical Dining Month menu. The Caesar salad was tangy and came in a generous portion. The loaf of bread served with butter was soft but unremarkable. The filet mignon at 8 oz was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a good flavor. This was the best part of the meal. The mashed potatoes and thin green beans—not so good. We ordered sautéed mushrooms on the side. These appeared to be Portobello mushrooms with pearl onions. As we’re not fans of green beans, we also got a side order of asparagus with sliced almonds. My companions liked the warm banana bread pudding with whipped cream for dessert. I had the chocolate mousse that came in a chocolate cup with raspberry sauce. The mousse itself was like a light pudding. It didn’t have the froth or airiness of similar dishes I’ve had elsewhere. Out of my entire meal, I’d say the beef was worth the ticket but the rest was fair.

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Service was attentive. Our water glasses were always refilled. However, we waited a long time for the check. When it arrived, we’d been charged full price for one of the meals plus a separate charge for a salad, rather than the fixed price meal. This would have come to $39.50 for the filet plus $9.50 for the salad, or $49 instead of $33. This error didn’t please us, nor did the food enough to pay that much at normal pricing. Would we return? It’s doubtful. My favorite steakhouse is still The Capital Grille, or for a less expensive meal, the Outback.

Hemingway’s at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

I liked the casual but upscale ambiance with an open kitchen, ceiling fans, floor to ceiling windows overlooking lushly landscaped grounds, wood tables, and potted plants. We had to ask for the Magical Dining Month menu. I ordered the Key Wester salad with greens, avocado, bacon, fresh red bell pepper and blue cheese dressing. Crusty puffs of bread like popovers were served with butter.

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The butterflied shrimp scampi was very tasty, served with some kind of pasta roll and fried green tomatoes. Crab cakes were another choice. The Key lime tart for dessert was lip-smacking good.

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Despite the delicious meal and the pleasant ambiance, service was poor. Our waiter ran between several tables and rarely stopped by. Another server refilled our water glasses, and she was efficient. We had an unusually long wait for the check. Then as we were waiting out front of the main hotel lobby for the valet (your ticket is validated at the restaurant), our waiter ran out to meet us because he had failed to scan our credit card, believing us to be hotel guests. He took our card and walked all the way back to the restaurant—down a long hotel corridor and outside along a boardwalk to a separate building. After fifteen minutes when he didn’t return, my husband had to retrace our steps to the restaurant to retrieve his credit card. This soured our entire experience. So this place has good food and a nice ambiance but the service needs improvement. Would we return? The normal food prices are reasonable and I enjoyed the meal, but after the credit card shuffle, my husband put this restaurant on the no return list. And note the expensive bottle of wine he ordered, we found online later at Total Wine for about twenty bucks.

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