Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Breaking News! Jurassic Era Blogger Celebrates Ten Years of Shenanigans

grantwriter cartoon
Manola's Professional Demise. Cartoon by Yours Truly, circa 2006.

This week, this little ole blog celebrates ten years of good laughs, good cries and lots of adventures!

It all started 10 years ago over drinks at Segafredo on Lincoln Road. After one of my usual people-watching quips, a friend, who couldn't contain herself from laughing, said: "Oh my God, Maria, you're hilarious. Why don't you write all this shit down?"

I didn't even know what a blog was back then, let alone writing in the digital sphere. While putzing around in teh Googles, I came across an orange button with a funny looking letter B on it. The rest was history.

My, how far we've come. In ten years, I developed a whole new set of voices, met so many interesting people who've become dear friends, earned followers (yes, because like friends, you have to "earn" them, not "buy" them), worked with amazing brands without becoming a corporate shill and enjoyed the travel industry's support to make my nutty forays a reality. (Who else drives all over Florida looking for pirates?)

I still don't monetize this blog directly and probably never will. Yet, every single job I've gotten since October 2005 has been because of the blog.

One of my favorites was penning a sex and relationships column for City Link Magazine as Manola Blablablbanik. (Sex and the Animals was a hoot!)

But I'm still me, even through several iterations of pen names, while witnessing the lightning-speed evolution of social media over a decade. I count myself as part of a rare, old breed in the blogosphere -- dinosaur wordsmiths still plodding along as writer's writers -- while swimming along with the ever-rising waves of social technology. It's not that we're struggling against the current. We know better. Every surfer has to swim out to calm before catching the wave.

That's the beauty of it. Heck, I'm still sailing on my rickety old blogspot schooner and it has carried me over some stormy waters mighty fine. If it aint broke, don't fix it. I don't write for numbers, fame or glory. I write from the heart and with love. And I still tell it like it is.

And so it goes. Merrily we roll along.

Is this blog really a dinosaur? Nah. The good stuff lasts. Here's to one very sexy and smart adolescent.

This week, I'll be highlighting some of Sex and the Beach's top moments and capping it all with a shindig at the lovely Hotel Chelsea in the heart of South Beach -- right where it all started.

Stay tuned! Thanks for being part of this journey all these years.

In the meantime, visit some other places where I've wandered ...

Who can forget my role as social media and tech columnist at Miami New Times, where I once interviewed a Coral Gables literature nerd who serializes Proust's Search for Lost Time on Twitter? Silicon Beach eventually moved URLs and became Silicone Bitch. For Knight Foundation, I interviewed spunky Reddit founder Alex Ohanian, who should seriously consider bottling his energy.

Over at Miami Beach 411, I penned many stories, including 10 Things To Do in Downtown Miami, which was so good, I guess, that one Russian website decided to translate it lock, stock and barrel. (Eventually, they credited me.) Currently, I'm enjoying my role as contributor to a fresh, new online publication at The New Tropic. (My #miamischlep tweets are legendary.)

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Humpty Dumpty Buddha

He lives in the metrorail station. Most of the time, he lies precariously on his side while his enormous belly, protruding from the same threadbare t-shirt he wears everyday, hangs over the low wall.

This Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, had a great fall and could barely put himself back together again.

All the king’s men scurry by, too preoccupied with that precious illusion of having one’s shit together, to help this cracked shell of a man. They look angry in their pursuit of meaning.

They teach me nothing. He teaches me everything.

They rush. He sits.

They're going somewhere. He's going nowhere.

Stripped of all possession except the air in his lungs and that massive burden of flesh, he embodies the journey of being human.

I trudge along my own path and face two choices at the turnstile: northbound or southbound, faith or uncertainty.

I wonder about the passers-by, many souls with roofs over their heads who seem absolutely miserable. Do they fear losing what they never possessed?  Do they fall off the wall, their shells cracking daily? Do they put themselves back together again but come home to an empty shell?

I like to think Humpty Dumpty's story is different.

Most of us would judge him as fallen, broken, laid to waste in poverty, an outcast from creature comforts and human love.

But Humpty Dumpty's shell is a flimsy veneer. The truth could only ever be revealed in the cracks. The cracks are the thing. In them we glimpse the beauty in imperfection, the source of compassion in abject misery, the gift of joy in immeasurable sadness, love where there never was love.

And so I wonder, every time I see this homeless man, what it truly means to be dispossessed.

And I claim as my own the only thing no one can take away from me: love.

No matter how many times I fall, or my shell breaks open, I never feel empty. A little glue can mend the cracks. No big deal.

Thank you, beautiful imperfect Buddha, for teaching me this lesson every time I see you on that loud, dirty corner of U.S.1.

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Monday, September 07, 2015

A Mango Milkshake in Hialeah

S & N Vegetables, Hialeah

One day, while I was waiting for a milkshake at S & N Vegetable in Hialeah, I overheard a conversation.

Pointing at a poster on the wall, a woman asked a teenager: “Who is that?”

“Hitler,” he replied.

She corrected him. “No, that’s José Martí.”

Coño, was this some kind of joke?

No one gave the kid a chancletazo for confusing Cuba’s iconic poet and freedom fighter with one of human history’s most reviled dictators. This chiquillo clearly hadn’t earned his Cuban card.

“Well, at least I haven’t revoked mine,” I thought.


S & N Vegetables, Hialeah

I journey often to Hialeah to visit my father in a nursing home. Although close in miles, Hialeah is a world apart and offers glimpses of what I can only describe as the familiar unfamiliar.

In Hialeah, I’ve discovered places far from my beaten path that shore up my sense of Cubanidad in Miami. Believe it or not, amigos, it’s possible to get by without even feeling a twinge of my Cuban heritage in a city that my gringo compatriots have described as “third world” and “north Cuba.”

“But you don’t look Cuban,” they tell me. Yeah, I get that often, even from Cubans.


S & N Vegetables, Hialeah

S & N Vegetable isn’t exactly true to its namesake. When I first walked into S & N Vegetable, I saw nothing of the kind. The place that claims to serve el mejor batido de Hialeah does not, in fact, serve vegetables.

I wasn’t surprised. As every card-carrying Cuban knows, vegetables aren’t a culinary staple. Starchy yuca and malanga usually upstage a paltry selection of green vegetables: iceberg lettuce salads, canned petit pois and asparagus garnishing an arroz con pollo or a bell pepper used in sofrito for beef dishes like picadillo.

No green vegetables. No trees.

On East 29th Street in Hialeah, there is only one tree on the sidewalk within the perimeter of my journey. This lone tree provides shade at the 3rd Avenue bus stop, which is popular among Jehova’s Witnesses. A well-dressed gentleman wearing a gold watch often finds his lost lambs here. “All buses go back to the train station,” he once told me, smiling kindly and pointing east toward Palm Avenue, even though I refused the religious pamphlet.

On my way to S & N Vegetable, I walk under the blinding sun and the rising heat from the pavement makes my nose itch.

I hear the city symphony. Rattling traffic joins the chorus of UPS trucks and city buses while reggaeton and salsa blasts from countless body shops. A car dealership, festooned with colorful flags and balloons, plays songs like Killing Me Softly to lure buyers. An eerie-sounding whistle plays from the loud speaker of the knife-sharpener’s truck.

Furniture stores sell abuelita rocking chairs. Miami Heat logos, cockfighting roosters and bikini-clad women with voluptuous nalgas decorate tabletops designed for dominoes.

Sin duda, in Hialeah I’m definitely far from the lush, tree-lined streets of that “other” Miami where I usually salivate over produce at swanky markets.


S & N Vegetables, Hialeah

S & N is what most Cubans would call un timbiriche, a hole-in-the-wall spot that serves home-style grub. At S & N there are no tables and chairs, only countertops. Plastic baskets replace plates. And of course, there's the ubiquitous Cuban ventanita that serves cafecito.

Que carajo! 

Who is my audience exactly? I just caught myself having to explain something so familiar to me to an audience that would consider it unfamiliar.

Maybe that’s because I’m hyphenated. For a Cuban-American, a thing is never just a thing. It’s two things. Cuban and American. English and Spanish. I have a foot in both worlds and I feel equally at home and equally foreign in one or the other at the same time. Bi-cultural writers are always lost in translation. They also find themselves in translation.

I’m a child of exile in exile from exile. I embrace both worlds.


S & N Vegetables, Hialeah

American Maria likes green vegetables. And in Hialeah, I stick out like that lone tree on 29th street.

But Cuban Maria also likes fruit -- not just any fruit. A mango at S & N is not the same as a mango at Whole Foods.

This timbiriche brings out the Cubanita in me and more: all the things I don’t take for granted, little things that I digest in my soul instead of my bariguita. The unnamable kernel of truth in the detail. The familiar unfamiliar. The extraordinary in the ordinary.

Here I find man who belts out food orders over the din of the restaurant with a deep, rich baritone. Paper is an afterthought here although he does scribble totals on a notepad. Organized chaos behind the counter unravels itself as dozens of shakes and sandwiches are served every day to hungry locals.

S & N Vegetables, Hialeah

American Maria, the food snob, wouldn’t normally eat here.

Greasy, doughy frituras de bacalao don’t taste like cod. Ham croqueta sandwiches topped with potato sticks, as well as pan con lechón piled high with roast pork, offend my vegetarian sensibilities.

A watered-down, vinegary red sauce passes for sriracha. Me matas ahora, that ain’t sriracha. Adding to my suspicion: no card-carrying Cuban ever eats picante. At some point in Caribbean history, any hot peppers that grew on the island must have made a mass exodus to Jamaica.

I usually go for the simple pan con tortilla: a Spanish-style omelet, cooked to order with onions and potatoes, served piping hot in toasty buttered Cuban bread. A thick, rich fruit milkshake or a freshly squeezed orange juice affords me a filling meal under $6.

Two honorary vegetables have -- in spite of all the odds -- made the juice menu: carrots and beets. But kale and wheatgrass are strangers here. Like the city outside S & N’s gated doors and windows – everything is gated in Hialeah – there is a dearth of green.


The place that claims to make the best milkshakes in Hialeah serves me something that doesn’t grow on a tree.

I go to S & N every time I visit my dad in the nursing home. I go because even though the American in me would rather eat something green, this spot, like many others in Hialeah, speaks silently to me in the language of comfort.

I go because my dad loves the sweet milk shakes: mango, guanabana, mamey, banana, papaya, pineapple – all fruits that remind him of Cuba.

I go because that simple milkshake, which I hold in my hands as I walk to my dad’s nursing home while embracing the heat, smells and sounds of Hialeah, takes me to a place that I find only on the map of the heart.

His favorite fruit is mango.

If he could still speak well, he’d remind me that everything tasted better in Cuba. Nostalgia for his birthplace affected his palate. “Eso si que era un mango,” he always said.

But today the conversation is brief.

“Esta bueno, papi?” I ask. “Muy bueno,” he replies.

My dad, who can no longer feed himself and often has trouble swallowing, takes half an hour to enjoy the milkshake, which I feed to him with a spoon. I often wonder what an extraordinary 30-minute journey this must be for him, bed-bound as he is in a small room.

Sometimes, he can barely muster up enough energy to open his eyelids while he eats, but as a mother knows her child, I know that with each spoonful, the memory of long-forgotten juicy mangoes suddenly flushes his senses.

This is our form of communication and our Hialeah moment in time. The mango shake, spoonful by spoonful, says “te quiero mucho, papi.”

S. N. Vegetable, a mom and pop business open since 1979, is located at 360 W 29th Street in Hialeah, Florida. See S & N's history on video.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Find Me at The New Tropic


It may sound like The New Tropic is a snazzy hotel in South Beach but it's actually a breath of fresh air in the local digital publishing scene, dished up by talented locals. "Live like you live here" is the slogan, which may sound ironic  -- how can you not live like you live here? -- but that irony rings true for many old school Miamians who know there's more to the city than what you find in a tourism brochure.

Some Miamians may be old enough to remember the Miami Herald's Sunday magazine Tropic, which ceased publication in 1998. Like Tropic, which created a popular scavenger hunt that gathered together thousands from the community, The New Tropic produces events on a smaller scale. (I wouldn't put it past them to create a new version of the hunt. What say you?)

So what's the big deal? Another Miami blog? Not quite. The New Tropic is a daily dose of all things South Florida and much more.  In their own words, from the launch letter titled "A Miami Love Letter," published in January of this year:
Miami’s already got some great news organizations that provide critical day-to-day reporting. We’re focused on something a little different: helping Miamians become better locals by making sense of, and finding new ways to explore, the constantly expanding universe of news, issues, people and places in a growing city like ours. We want to help you live like you live here. Where traditional journalism emphasizes a sort of arm’s-length objectivity, The New Tropic is proudly local and thoughtfully optimistic about Miami’s future. We have opinions. We are involved. And we’ll always be clear about that.
I love The New Tropic's curated daily digest of local news and the fresh spontaneity of all this, which feels more like the impetus behind a movement rather than just another locally-focused blog. Even better, you won't find any cheesy Asian massage or escort ads here; this publication is supported, in part, by the Knight Foundation, which is all about journalism, media innovation, engaged communities and the arts. The New Tropic is the first product from WhereBy.Us, which helps "people become better locals" through experiential media.

Pretty groovy, huh? Now go over and read my first article about getting around in Miami. If you really want to live like you live here, you've got to pick which Miami you want to live in and earn your Miami cred by doing the Miami schlep.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ditch the Beach and Grab a Brush in Islamorada

A lion fish in watercolor. Photo courtesy of artist Michelle Nicole Lowe.

Inclement weather in the Sunshine State couldn’t keep us from enjoying ourselves in Islamorada.

In winter, Floridians get more than snow birds. Cold fronts from the jet stream sometimes assault our sunny days with chilly, squally weather, interrupting what water babies love to do -- in our case it was a day of snorkeling and sailing. But no matter, in the Florida Keys, you can still enjoy the area's marine life even if you're like a fish out of water.

I was traveling with a group of bloggers and although I really hankered to don my snorkel gear and to end the day with a sunset sail, I’m glad we spent the afternoon indoors at Michelle Nicole Lowe’s art gallery. Located in a small, non-descript strip mall on the overseas highway at mile marker 81, Lowe’s gallery bursts with bright, colorful creatures of the sea that come to life on canvas.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
Lowe also paints birds who call the Keys ecosystem home.

Lowe, who grew up in South Florida, has been painting since childhood but worked for a spell in corporate IT after earning a degree in finance. She followed her passion for art, furthered her studies in Italy and returned home, where she’s painting vibrant watercolors with striking realistic detail.

The love of the land’s natural splendor runs in her bloodlines. Lowe’s family traces some of its roots back several generations in the Keys and the Bahamas. She gathers inspiration for her watercolors by exploring the land above and under the water. Currently, Lowe is also working on a series of botanical watercolors.

During our visit, the friendly artist taught us how to paint a turtle swimming up to the water’s surface. We spent about three hours working with acrylic paints on a small canvas. The meditative nature of the process made for a relaxing afternoon and a refreshing change of pace from the surf. I didn’t miss the ocean at all and would return in a heartbeat to repeat this experience.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
The set up included a small blank canvas.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
Lowe taught us some rudimentary painting skills to create the turtle's shell.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
First, the background. We enjoyed some wine while painting the ocean in different shades of blue.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
Soon, a turtle appeared on my canvas. This wasn't easy to paint, but definitely fun.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
My little turtle. I kept him and took him home.

Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery, Islamorada
Our final output. Painting together for an afternoon helped us nurture a jovial camaraderie.

Lowe’s gallery is situated just down the road from Morada Way Cultural and Arts District, which features additional galleries run by artists who welcome visitors warmly like old friends -- there’s no snobbery here.

You can see Lowe’s work at the gallery or at scheduled shows. Although Lowe doesn’t advertise classes, call her and ask for a customized, private session. A few hours painting with friends becomes a respite from the daily grind in an already marvelously relaxing destination. Islamorada’s proximity to Miami makes for an ideal staycation.

For more information, visit Michelle Nicole Lowe Gallery.


My participation in this outing was part of a press trip. As always, all opinions are my own.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

First Day of School


Every day is first day of school. When I was a kid, I was so eager to grow up because I felt it would "mean something" to be a grown up, as if being a child wasn't enough, as if life was postponed, a recursive symphony.

If I could talk to my inner child as that impatient imp she was then, I would tell her to exist fully in the present moment. And she was, for the most part, when playing with her toys, but always, always she played with a gut feeling that something else -- something better, something luminous and exciting that would "change everything" -- was lingering around the corner. She was infinitely curious. And because of this, she felt there was always something lacking.

That's probably why I became a writer. I already had a story to tell. The blank page of life presented itself before me with overwhelming plenitude. Writers wouldn't practice their craft if they felt there was nothing left to say.

Little did I know my younger self, the star student, would eventually have to unlearn quite a few things. I would have to let go of many things that I once thought would give life meaning, so long as I held on tightly to those things.

Things, stuff ... the detritus of life. All the shit we can spare because it just doesn't fucking matter. All the crap that makes us feel as if we're missing out on something, when, in reality, we wouldn't be missing anything if we simply let go of everything that holds us down.

Then, one fine day, you hit the wall. That future you dreamed of with such enthusiasm arrives when you hit that wall. The real schooling begins when you break it down and it crumbles to the floor. Humpty-Dumpty, the wall, the whole thing, boom. Gone.

The best lesson comes from a silent teacher. You. You tell fear and scarcity to go fuck itself.

What's left is the child's spirit in an adult body -- the innocence of forgiveness, the wisdom of unconditional love. That little girl still plays with her toys -- jobs, a roof over her head, money problems, books still unwritten -- but she knows better. The future came and went and then so what?

Our bodies our born and our bodies die. Everything else in between is a glimmer of the infinite. The now is that thing that is luminous and exciting, worth holding on to, even though it constantly slips through our fingers.

Everyday is the first day of school.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tropical Caribbean Delights Along Miami's Public Transportation Routes


There are several advantages to using Miami's public transportation and one of them has to do with your tummy. I'll be the first to tell you that living in Miami without a car is inconvenient. But if you schlep around in a car, you'll whiz by great little mom-and-pop places with humble storefronts.

B & M Market, now in business for over 3 decades, has nothing but. You can't miss its eye-popping facade on an otherwise drab urban street.

The tiny market and restaurant boasts bright colors on its exterior, bearing resemblance to the red, black, green and yellow colors of the Guyanese flag while hinting at the delicious Caribbean fare cooked and served home-style fresh inside this take-out eatery. The owners, a husband and wife team, hail from the South American nation and prepare traditional dishes from the region that pay homage to East and West Indian culinary influences.

Roti (a flatbread wrap with curry fillings) is my favorite. The vegetarian is quite filling and comes with a side of outrageously spicy hot sauce -- or as my old Trinidadian friend would say, "it's not Mickey Mouse sauce." Hot pepper lovers won't be disappointed. Other Caribbean staples include curry goat as well as jerk preparations.

My tummy is happy I didn't miss this mom-and-pop shop while riding on the L Bus to Hialeah. You'll find this inexpensive and piping-hot goodness on the corner of 2nd Avenue and NE 79th street.

Spots like B & M define the real Miami "trendy" for me. Stuff that's tried and true, not here today and gone tomorrow. With so many long-standing Miami establishments closing in the last year or two -- Jimbo's, Tobacco Road, Van Dyke, Fox's and now Scotty's -- it's refreshing to know that B & M hasn't been squashed by new development.

I enjoyed B & M's vegetarian roti so much, I recreated its flavor in my own kitchen for a curry fried rice: brown and red rice, chia seed and kale, tossed along with a vegetable stew (coconut oil, garlic, ginger, green and yellow bell pepper, red poivrons, chick peas, petite pois and tempeh). On the side: leftover burn-your-tongue hot sauce from B & M.


I've also feasted my eyes and taste buds on tropical delights riding Metrorail. I'm not sure what the schedule is for Miami train station farmer's markets, but they do occasionally pop up when I schlep on the above-ground rail. As seen today in downtown Miami at Government Center: a tent selling mountains of luscious tropical fruit. Rambutan, tamarind, dragon fruit and more, a sight for sore eyes amid the concrete. The smell of freshly chopped mango was a heavenly break from the heat.


Would I trade this experience for schlepping around in a car? Well, it sure beats parking at a crowded Publix. And it's definitely a lot quicker than flying to the Caribbean for these tasty delights.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Peach is a Peach is a Peach


She sat in a bookstore, surrounded by millions of words that were suffocating her in the coffin of writer-for-hire, someone else’s word monkey. She thought to herself, the true value of writing lies not in words, but in the intention of the writer.

She reminded herself that some people wanted to burn books. She wanted to burn words. She could already see the flames of those words rise to the sky and disappear into the dark ether. She wanted to feel the heat of that cleansing fire and spread the ashes over the cloth of the universe.

 She longed for a world of fewer words, of short alphabets, of languages spoken without sounds, a world of kind glances, lingering caresses and simple joys.

She saw words where words were unnecessary, in gestures, sunrises, musical harmonies, rustling leaves, orgasms, the color blue, the smell of rye bread, the taste of honey and the figures of cave paintings. She saw words in many things and could describe them very well but asked herself why there was ever any obligation.

She could not, however she might try, drink water without a glass. She still had to wield a sword against letters, nouns, adverbs and figures of speech in exchange for paltry paychecks, asking herself again why there was still any obligation.

She knew what many wordmongers did not know, that the word had always been made of flesh and earth, sea and air, blind and silent energy.

She desired only words for the sake of words and nothing more. She read the braille of the heart, where words have no shape, sound or form.

The meaning makers had it all wrong. The meaning makers drowned themselves in this sea of endless words where words lost their meaning. The meaning makers were the true assassins of words. The meaning makers plundered the soul from words, laying to waste the value of words with their intention. The meaning makers sold the earth's bounty with their words and died by killing their own form of sustenance.

She closed her eyes and craved a world without adjectives where her tongue could simply have a secret affair with a peach.

She remembered a broken bank does not mean a broken spirit and with that, she took a bite of a peach.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Miami Pirate Drops Anchor for a Bit

Fort Taylor Pirate Invasion Key West 2014
Me and a fellow pirate re-enactor clowning around at last year's festival. I finally had a couple of days of respite.

After sailing for many years, it's time to drop anchor and rest in a peaceful harbor for a bit.

I'm taking a break from writing here until I solve some issues related to caregiving for my father, his failing health and his estate. Caregiving for my dearly departed mother and now my very ill father has been a daunting, extremely difficult yet rewarding experience filled with unconditional love.

Get ready though because later this year I'll be celebrating 10 years of this blog's humble beginnings. A big party somewhere in the Miami area is most likely. Save the date for October.

But I'm still active elsewhere ... see links below. Catch me if you can.

This blog isn't over. I just have some very important things to take care of regarding my precious mother and father.

There's a whole lot of somethin' something' else going on: my career is shifting into some political activism regarding eldercare; I'm also getting involved a bit more in the foodie world (follow hashtag #vicequeenkitchen across the networks);  I'm working on a hilarious yet deeply spiritual illustrated book about religion and social media; and finally I have a few interesting work projects down the pipeline.

But don't fret. I'm still the goofball with a quirky sense of humor you all know and love.


Weekly Online Radio Show, Tuesdays 1 - 2 PM at Social Chats, co-hosted with Tonya Scholz.

Vicequeenmaria on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and of course, this blog's own Facebook page, where I share a ballast's worth of funny and inspiring content quite frequently: I Like Sex and the Beach.

Thanks for so many years of reading my every word. Stay tuned for a new chapter of this blog when I'm ready. We shall unfurl our sails soon enough over here at Sex and the Beach. I may take the dinghy to shore and pop in every now and then. I just can't post as frequently as I'd like to right now.

May you all be blessed by grace and joy. I know I am ... despite the challenges.



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