Rabbit Trail: Friday Faves!

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I hope to have time this weekend to write up the next installment in the Mating in Captivity series. Meanwhile, I figured we’d check out this rabbit trail and share some of our favorite things. I’ll go first!

Favorite Book:

That’s like asking me to name my favorite child. When you read as many books as I do, the favorite among them changes in relation to the genres and types of books that have been read in the last year. My favorite book at the moment is a tie between A Girl of the Limberlost, Barracoon, and How to Be Unlucky by Joshua Gibbs. I haven’t reviewed the latter book yet because I want to give it a re-read before I delve into it. This guy really resonates with me, from a spiritual point of view. I never cease to be amazed by that since he is Orthodox and I am what I refer to as a raging Protestant.

My favorite movie:

At the moment? Chef, starring Jon Favreau. I wrote about that one recently, complete with a couple of video clips. My favorite film of all time if I had to pick one is probably the BBC’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma (I wrote about that one here before as well), followed lastly by the old Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments.

My favorite place to vacation:

The mountains win this one, hands down; The Smokey Mountains in particular. I live near the beach, so while I enjoy it, it’s not my favorite place to get away. That said, there is no place quite like the Florida Keys, my second favorite vacation adventure, followed up by our nation’s capital. There’s so much to learn in Washington D. C. that you could go there every year and learn something new almost every time.

Favorite school subject:

I suspect this one is a no brainer. Writing and literature, of course! I read mainly for pleasure, but I rarely read a book without jotting down my thoughts and opinions about what I am reading as well as any memories or feelings it evokes. I do that whether or not I post a public review of the book. Doing this is highly satisfying to me, which is why it isn’t particularly difficult or time consuming for me to review books here. I always made A’s in English and literature.

My favorite form of exercise:

High Intensity Interval Training, usually referred to as HIIT. My preferred version is a good hard run alternated with brisk walks. I used to think log jogs were the best, but I’m over those now, unless my kids rope me into doing a race. By race, I mean a race against myself. I’ve never run fast enough to win a race. Wait! I did take top place female in my age category at a 5K about 4 years ago. Hah! I am not a huge fan of weightlifting, but I do moderate amounts because it’s good for me and my husband will gently remind me of that if I start to try to avoid doing it.

My favorite beauty routine:

Currently, it’s using my jade roller, which I use after a pretty extensive skin care routine. It only takes about 20 minutes a night but my husband says it seems like it takes 45. The results speak for themselves though, so I continue to do it.

My favorite beauty product:

M.A.C.’s 24-hour concealer is my go to whether I’m getting made up or not. The stuff is awesome. My favorite –currently- hair product is Mielle Organics Pomegranate and Honey Leave-in Conditioner. This one is specifically formulated for tightly curly hair, so not a universal product. It makes my hair feel good, and it’s not unusual for someone to hug me and note that my hair smells good. Win-win!

Those are a few of my favorite things. Currently!

If you feel like it, take a minute to share your favorites in any of these categories. I’m most interested in your favorite books, movies, and vacation spots.

Have a great weekend!

Mating in Captivity: Chapters 3-5

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The analysis of the introduction through chapter two can be read here.

Chapter 3- The Pitfalls of Modern Intimacy: Talk Is Not the Only Avenue to Closeness

Of the three chapters outlined in this post, Chapter 3 is the one in which I find the most valuable insights. By valuable, I mean I agreed. It basically expands on what its title implies; that talking is not the only way to cultivate marital intimacy.

Given the topic of the book, it’s obvious that Perel is making the case that sexual communication is a valid avenue to close connection. And that for some people, most notably men, it is the primary route to emotional connection within marriage. I agree with her that we both talk to much and prioritize talking too much:

Interestingly, while our need for intimacy has become paramount, the way we conceive of it has narrowed. We no longer plow land together; today we talk. We have come to glorify verbal communication. I speak; therefore I am [els: I laughed]. We naively believe that the essence of who we are is most accurately conveyed through words. Many of my own patients whole heartedly embrace this assumption when they complain, “We’re not close. We never talk.” p. 41

In an insightful turn, she notes that despite their happy union, her own parents (Perel is 61), would struggle to find the relevance in questions about emotional intimacy. She continues to explore what she describes as the “feminization of intimacy” being as harmful to women as it is men. She’s staunchly feminist in outlook but it doesn’t make this any less true:

If one consequence of the supremacy of talk is that it leaves men at a disadvantage, another is that it leaves women trapped in a repressed sexuality. It denies the expressive capacity of the female body, and this idea troubles me.

In so much as my dear fellow Christians have almost completely obliterated any notion of sexual pleasure in marriage as something women need and desire as well as (if not quite as much as) men, it troubles me, too.  When a secular, feminist psychotherapist hits on a truism that the church has denied (more accurately abandoned), something is amiss. The freedom of a wife to express amorousness towards her husband is important, because not every woman is wired to bridge the gap to intimacy through verbal chatter.

Chapter 4- Democracy vs. Hot Sex: Desire and Egalitarianism Don’t Play by the Same Rules

This chapter is most accurately summed up as “Americans are politically correct prudes who don’t appreciate that some women enjoy being a submissive in the bedroom as a counterbalance to relief from the dominant roles women now occupy in almost every other sphere of public life.”

It’s basically a passionate defense of S &M and the role it can play in some relationships as the only escape from reality the parties might employ. Apparently, her American clients and colleagues see such behavior in the intimate realm as demeaning to the women involved. She disagrees, as do I, but that’s not to say I agree completely with her conclusions either.

She tried to balance it with male and female and examples, but I stand by my aforementioned summation of the chapter. Although re-assessing realities one feels a need to escape is probably the first order of business, I don’t have the mental space to wrestle with what another married couple does in their boudoir.

Chapter 5: Can Do! The Protestant Work Ethic Takes on the Degradation of Desire.

This chapter takes on the Western idea of fixing whatever is broken by reducing it to the sum of its parts. The idea that something as existential as passion burning out can be fixed by scheduling, lingerie, more talking or even a prescription, is an idea that Perel finds counterintuitive at best:

But this can-do attitude encourages us to assume that dwindling desire is an operational problem that can be fixed. From magazine articles to self-help books, we are encouraged to view a lack of sex in our relationships as a scheduling issue that demands better prioritizing or time management, or as a consequence of poor communication. If the problem is testosterone deficiency, we can get a prescription- an excellent technical solution. For the sexual malaise that can’t be so easily medicalized, remedies abound: books, videos, and sexual accoutrements are there not only to assist you with the basics, but to bring you to unimagined levels of ecstasy. p.72

Perel isn’t intensely averse to some of these remedies, particularly if there is a clear medical reason for the dilemma. In general however, she sees our American predilection to stripping the problem into parts rather that acknowledging the complexity of desire and the unpredictability of eroticism in ways that will help couples reconnect.

Later in the chapter, after much questioning of the sexual performance industry, Perel returns to her original thesis of the importance of a level of separateness. Using one couple and a single male patient as her examples, she takes pains to invite the readers to understand how much of these issues are rooted in the mentality each marriage partner brings with them into the sexual relationship.

In general, I think she’s on to something, although our over sexualized culture places its own pressures onto couples to meet arbitrary standards set by the nebulous “they” as well as movies and other forms of entertainment media.

I also think that while she places far too much emphasis on eroticism as a gauge of relational health, she’s right that the ability keep that part of a marriage alive over time requires a level of surrender that many people find hard to achieve. More than ever, we are almost always on guard. The ability to drop those walls and *go there* with your spouse makes all the difference.

Until next time…

 

 

 

 

 

Mating in Captivity: Introduction – Chapter 2

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Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, by Esther Perel. Originally published in 2006. Hardcover; 272 pages.

I decided to break this review up into several posts because, as with The Feminine Mystique and Modern Romance, the scope of ideas in the book are so wide-ranging I wanted offer a clear picture of what you’ll find within the book’s pages. Rather than removing the possibility of ever reading the book, in my own reading life I have found that such analyses propel my resolve to read the books for myself to better draw my own conclusions. Because of that, I have no qualms about doing chapter by chapter analyses of nonfiction books.

When considering my analysis, a few stipulations:

  • This is a purely secular book written by a Belgian psychotherapist and relationship counselor.
  • My opinions in these analyses are offered from the perspective of my Christian faith.
  • My position on reading varieties of views and schools of thoughts can be found on my standards and quotes page.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can take a look at what this increasingly popular lady has to say about the “reconciling the erotic and the domestic”.

Introduction

The introduction of the book lays the groundwork for what lies ahead. It’s a short explanation of the problem Perel is going to describe and then aim to solve:

Psychologists, sex therapists, and social observers have long grappled with the Gordian knot of how to reconcile sexuality and domesticity. p.xiii

In essence, Perel sets out to figure out why long term married couples (in aggregate) report a sharp decrease in desire for one another over time. She explores this by offering different examples of real life couples she has counseled over the years and the suggestions and homework she gave them which helped to reignite some of what they felt for one another in the beginning.

Being almost completely unfamiliar with this particular marital malaise, I am finding the book somewhat fascinating, even as I disagree with many of her bedrock assertions.

Chapter 1: From Adventure to Captivity

At some point, we can thoroughly address the whole notion of this “captivity” thing, but not quite yet. Chapter 1 begins with Perel describing the scene at a party for authors she attended several years ago. Different writers were mingling about with each other, sharing what types of books they were writing. When she shared that she was writing about, she was suddenly the star attraction.

Everyone in her vicinity had strong opinions and wanted to weigh in, with two distinct, caricaturish camps emerging; the romantics and the realists. The romantics“refuse a life without passion”, squared off versus the realists for whom “maturity prevails. The initial excitement grows into something else-deep love…diminishing desire is inescapable. You tough it out and grow up”.

Perel makes the case that our modern expectations of marriage are wildly out of proportion to anything out ancestors would have expected, and I agree with her. The demise of religion, long held traditions and community institutions (not to mention distances between extended families) have caused the majority of people to expect their spouse to replace everything that these support systems used to provide. She conversely asserts, and I agree, that deep love and desire are not mutually exclusive; that these can be maintained in the same relationship over time.

She rounds out the first chapter with a look at two of the couples she has counseled in her practice as an example of one of the things (I presume) she is going to use as a basis of foundation for her solution to the problem. Each of the couples entered territory where they sacrificed or hid parts of who they are for the sake of the whole, new entity they were creating as they merged their lives together. Perel asserts, and again, I partly agree, that a large part of the excitement of a new relationship is the unknown factor. The unpredictability and instability of a new relationship is the accelerant for the fire that ignites the desire.

At the beginning, she mistakenly calls this phenomena love, asserting that “love is inherently unstable”.  I disagree. Love isn’t inherently unstable. Real love is the most stable thing you can build any life on, the only thing really, and plenty of people experience the fire and excitement of desire without ever getting to love. Later, she reworks her terminology, correcting this earlier misstep of interchanging love for desire. It made for a much clearer communication of her points going forward.

She’s wrong to dismiss the need of sacrificing parts of oneself for the greater whole, but she’s absolutely right that being able to see our spouse as an individual, separate and distinct from us goes a long way to fight off the malaise that diminishes desire over time. There’s a lot more to unpack there, but not without quoting the whole book.

Chapter 2: More Intimacy, Less Sex

In this chapter, Perel expands on her preceding intimation about the need for separateness as a prerequisite for desire, using the example of a unmarried couple she saved by counseling the woman to move out, and how the shift re-ignited their relationship. As if often the case when Big T truth isn’t the foundation of counsel, we skip around the edges of truth just enough to sound good, but miss the heart of the matter. The thesis, if you will, of Chapter 2 is that when we become too enmeshed, we lose the ability to see our mate’s “otherness” enough to want them:

With too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. There is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter. When people become fused-when two become one-connection can no longer happen. There is no one to connect with. p.25

Sigh. So much potential, so little Truth! Being a Christian, I am solidly and immovably in the camp of husband and wife being no longer two but one. Merging is a beautiful thing. Mrs. Perel got that part wrong. The intertwining of souls, however, doesn’t negate the reality that the differences between men and women, coupled with the reality of growth and change over time leaves us plenty of bridges to cross to one another as well as internal worlds to enter. The problem is that we often don’t want to do the work or experience the discomfort of crossing those bridges or even acknowledging the bridges.

Marriage as a destination rather than a journey is at the heart of a lack of desire is what Perel seems to be trying to get at, and she’s not wrong. That, and the tendency we have to set up our lives where we never have the opportunity to see our spouse’s otherness, to view them with new eyes, or outside of the context of very narrowly proscribed parameters.  Christians can be particularly susceptible to this tendency. When there are opportunities to see your mate within the context of the environments that intrigued and captivated you at the beginning of the relationship, desire can’t help but re-emerge.

This one has the makings of another one of those books that occasionally parks right alongside the curb of truth, but never makes it across the lawn to the front door.

We’ll see.

 

Preview of Coming Attractions: Mating in Captivity

Ever since reading a snippet of her writing in Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, I’ve been trying to get a read on what author and marriage therapist Esther Perel actually counsels. Her influence is increasing in the marriage and relationship industry, so regardless of whether I am personally affected by what she espouses, it interests me on a larger scale.

Just when I thought I had it figured out, and that she is extremely damaging, I’d hear or read something that made me think maybe she isn’t as bad a counselor as I thought.  I had ruled out reading any of her books because my reading queue is so full -and backed up- already. However, I changed my mind and decided to take the time to read Mating in Captivity, which I’ll start today over lunch. Soundbites and extemporaneous commentators are no substitute for reading her book for myself.

After I get underway with it, I’ll decide whether to write one comprehensive review at the end or if it is meaty enough to divide into several discussion posts.

Incidentally, this is a slow blog even by slow blog standards, but my posts on Modern Romance consistently report higher stats every week, from readers all over the world; even when little else is being read here. Two years since I first reviewed it, readers are still drawn to it.

Clearly, Ansari struck a chord with many people. Modern Romance is a very insightful, honest, and informative book. Surprisingly so, given that it’s written by a left-leaning American comic. It strikes at the heart of mating difficulties in our current culture, while stopping short of offering anything approaching a realistic solution. For those who haven’t read them:

Look forward to my review -or chapter summations- of Mating in Captivity sometime next week!

Johnny Tremain

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Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes, originally published in 1943. 320 pages.

This is a historical novel set on the cusp of the American Revolution and is a good fit for middle grade readers, ages 10-13.

Johnny Tremain is a young and talented but arrogant orphan being apprenticed by a highly regarded but aging Boston silversmith. Mr. Lapham, Johnny’s master, has grown so frail and infirm that Johnny basically runs the silversmith shop. The Lapham women, comprised of Mr. Lapham’s widowed daughter-in-law and her three daughters, feed Johnny’s vanity, treating him like a king because of his extraordinary talent and because he is set to inherit the silversmith business which they all depend on for their livelihood. Mr. Lapham makes every effort to counsel Johnny in the ways of piety and humility, often to no avail.

While violating his master’s rule regarding not working on Sundays, Johnny severely injures his hand trying to fill a rush order for a wealthy client. Just like that, his entire life is turned upside down. He is turned away from the Laphams and the silversmith shop. He is no longer the heir apparent. After many struggles, he finds a new path and a new purpose as the American colonists ramp up their rebellion against the British crown and the Revolution gets underway.

I enjoy well written historical fiction, but this was the first one I’d read in a long time directed toward children. Esther Forbes does a really great job illuminating the different arguments, factions, and issues surrounding the break of the American coloniies as well as the turmoil that it brought upon major port cities such as Boston.

One of the things I enjoyed about Johnny was his wit and his rugged ability to rise to the occasion and survive no matter how rough things got. His understanding of the grave turn life had taken in Boston is revealed in a dialogue he shares with a young woman who belongs to a family loyal to the crown:

“How old are you Johnny” she asked.
“Sixteen.”
“And what’s that-a boy or a man?”
He laughed. “A boy in time of peace and a man in time of war.”

I liked this book. Esther Forbes’ spin on the American Revolution with engaging characters and a story filled with action and intrigue offers a good opportunity to delve deeper into the American Revolution with young readers.

4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

Real Food, Chef, and Stream of Consciousness Food Thoughts

I’m currently reading Larry Olmsted’s Real Food, Fake Food. It’s an eye-opening expose along the lines of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but with an emphasis on informing us of how much of the food we buy is actually fake. By that, I am not referring to the prepackaged, sugar-laden, man-made food that we all know is the antithesis of real, nutritious food.

No, Olmsted aims to reveal that a large percentage food we purchase at premium prices precisely because it is real food, is actually fake. Fake as in not at all what we think we’re buying. Grass fed beef that isn’t from cows which were grass fed. Maine lobster –most seafood, really- that isn’t, Kobe beef that can’t legally be that, and Parmesan cheese laced with wood pulp.

“All of the Kobe beef sold in this country, by chefs famous and anonymous, in ten-dollar sliders or three-hundred-dollar steaks, was fake, all of it, end of story. Every single restaurant and store purporting to sell Kobe beef—or any Japanese beef—was lying, including some of the country’s best-known chefs.”

Kobe beef isn’t a dish I have any particular interest in. In fact, a lot of the more high end food issues Olmsted delved into were less than riveting for me. Tuna, however, is a different animal; literally:

Consumers ordering white tuna get a completely different animal, no kind of tuna at all, 94 percent of the time. Your odds of getting served real white tuna in a restaurant are about the same as hitting zero/double zero on a Vegas roulette wheel, which is to say, not good.

I have a bit more to read before I finish the book, but seeing as my most diligent efforts still haven’t made me a bona fide book blogger, I’m following my instincts and writing about it now. It’s been so surprising in many respects that I am looking forward to doing some research of my own to validate Olmsted’s claims. I rarely take the findings of book authors at face value without corroboration.

Food and cooking is a huge part of our family dynamic. We cook a lot, and we take a lot of interest in cooking real food. Breakfast for us is as likely to contain kale or Brussels sprouts as eggs, as we make try to pack nutrition and real food into every meal. Quality ingredients are important when we cook, which is something we all do, from my husband to our youngest child. Reading that our food supply is more tainted than I already knew is a bit unnerving.

Nevertheless, we have to eat, and we all need to eat the best food we can afford. So we do what we can, give thanks for what is before us and trust that we’re getting what we need from the food we eat. Food is also an opportunity for feasts, fellowship, and fun, contrary to what some people would have us believe.

A few nights ago, I decided to watch the 2014 film Chef, starring Jon Favreau. I was in the mood for a movie, and I was in the mood to watch someone else cook. Since Chef is one of my favorite movies and I haven’t watched it in a couple of years, I gave it a re-watch. I can barely stay awake late to watch anything anymore. When I’m up late, it’s because I’m doing something other than sitting passively, so it took me two nights to watch it.

Sidebar: This is not a family friendly film. There is no sex and no violence, but there is rough language, which is the reason for its MPAA rating. I worked in a restaurant for four years of my young adult life and know that such language is common in a restaurant kitchen. When coupled with the fact that I am not sensitive enough to that kind of thing, it barely bothered me. However, not everyone is as jaded as I am, so consider this your cinematic content advisory.

There are lots of great food and cooking scenes in the film, but my favorite is the scene where the lead character makes his son a grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese sandwiches were my specialty when I was dating my husband, and I made them for him pretty regularly. The care and attention the chef gives to such a simple dish highlights how food feeds us in ways far beyond taste buds and physical sustenance.

Incidentally, neither my husband nor I have eaten a grilled cheese sandwich in a very long time.

Until next time, fellow bibliophiles!

More Short Stories and Mid-year Roundup.

Where did the time go? It’s the first day of the third quarter of 2019. I have a birthday coming up very soon, even though it feels as if I just celebrated one. Preparation for the upcoming school year is well underway, and even though we’re still 16 months away from our country’s next major election, we received a political call at our a few nights ago. The mother’s encouragement trusim about long days and short years rings quite true today as I consider how quickly time  seems to be flying by.

Short stories worth a look:

In preparation for the new school year when our kids will be studying British literature (last year was American literature), I had the great pleasure of meeting with several women much smarter than me for a time of literature appreciation. We read short stories by British authors.

One of the best things about short stories (I’m certain I’m repeating something I’ve said before), is that they can be read quickly. Because of that, even those  who have limited amounts of time for leisure reading can read great literature which transmits time tested values of what is True, Good, and Beautiful. Others, such as the first one I will highlight, are just a light and fun good time, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that either.

  • Jeeves Takes Charge, by P.G. Wodehouse (read at link), is a story published in 1916 by the renowned British humorist. Wodehouse is one of my go-to writers when I want to read something that is not only funny, but intelligently so. This story is the one in which we meet the indomitable valet Jeeves for the first time. As the story suggests, he takes charge from the moment Bertie Wooster, the young heir, hires him into his employ.
  • The Red-Headed League, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (read at link) first appeared in a magazine in 1891, and is one of many Sherlock Holmes short stories. A red-headed client appears with a fantastically bizarre and mysterious tale which has left him confused. Holmes, using his masterfully astute gift of deduction, figures out that what appears on the surface to be nothing more than a curious story is actually the beginnings of an elaborate criminal heist.
  • The Blue Cross, by G.K. Chesterton is the first of Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. Of the three stories I read this weekend, this was by far my favorite. Up until this point, I hadn’t read any of the Father Brown stories, but that is about to change. This story, filled with equal bits of mystery, humor, and profound -without being preachy- insights into the nature of man and nature itself, enveloped me from the first. I am very glad to be entering the world Chesterton’s fictional works, albeit a little late.

Mid-year roundup:

  • I took a minute to tally up the book reviews I’ve posted to date this year and I’ve written a grand total of 20. That isn’t many, especially when you consider that four of those were chapter installments of the Feminine Mystique throughout January.
  • In what counts as a pretty big departure from how I’ve handled this blog over the preceding three years, I’ve also written 21 discussion posts, covering everything from education to book trends,  genres and characters, and even a couple on current cultural trends. As I expected, when I began to add more of those kinds of posts, the conversations here were more animated and robust. I appreciated hearing all of your thoughts on the various topics. So thank you.

My favorite books of the year so far:

  • My favorite book that I’ve read so far this year is one that I haven’t reviewed here yet. I haven’t reviewed it for two reasons. The first is that I’ve picked it up and put it down so many times that it took what seemed like forever to read it. I often needed to set it aside and let the ideas marinate for a few days. Now, I want to re-read it and I have a friend reading it along with me so I hope to have a review up in August. At that point, I’ll divulge the title. I do have other favorites which I’ll break down by fiction and nonfiction.
  • My favorite fiction book for the first half of this year was A Girl of the Liberlost. The beauty, language, and deep relational insights of this book have stayed with me.
  • My favorite nonfiction books of the year tied for first place. The first is Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. I find that I am still challenged by everything about this book. It is a magnum opus for the digital age. My second favorite nonfiction book to date at mid-year is Beauty Destroys the Beast, by my friend Amy Fleming. Yes, it’s a favorite because she’s my friend. More than that however, it’s a favorite because it speaks to a subject that I actually care about, and I agree with what she has to say about it.

Looking ahead to the second half of this year:

  • I am currently reading a few books, including a novel by the British humorist P.G. Wodehouse whose short story I reviewed above. In addition, I have three non fiction books in queue. However:
  • School starts around the middle to end of August, and we still have a lot of prepping to do for that.  At that time, my entire reading queue may be overtaken by British literature, so don’t be surprised if all the book reviews here are books by British authors -except for books I’ve already read but not yet reviewed.
  • What we refer to as “birthday season” in our family has meant we’ve been partying like it’s 1999 since May, partying overtime in June, and won’t really let up until the beginning September when all the of seven birthdays in our immediate family are wrapped up. I’ve eaten too much cake. Speaking of which, here’s one I made for one of my girls upon special request:

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This dark chocolate cake, with peanut butter frosting, chocolate ganache drizzle and Reese’s peanut butter cups on top was very good! It was also so rich that no one (guests and family alike) could finish an entire slice. I think that’s the sign of a good dessert; you only need a little of it to be sated. We’re on a sugar moratorium around here to recover, making exceptions for, and only for, each of our respective birthdays.

Summer in Florida is oppressively hot, but we’re still managing to have great fun because, why not? I still can’t believe that we’re half way through 2019!

How’s your year been so far? Read any good books lately?