Posted in A Day In the Life

The Body Beautiful

While older women counsel young women to love their bodies, we often fail to have that conversation with ourselves.

As a young woman I starved myself to stay thin.  My relationship with food was not a healthy one. My relationship with my body was worse.  The angst about body image came from two places.  One was cultural. In my generation, men often commented on women’s bodies in disparaging ways, leaving us to question if our worth was somehow related to the size of our thighs.  The message about thinness also came from my dance studio where I spent most of my teenaged years.  We were constantly told by our instructors that no extra weight was allowed.  By fourteen-years-old, I knew to order the burger without the bun, no fries and a side salad without dressing.  I was always hungry.

As the 1970’s dawned, the feminist movement was taking on the cultural narrative about body image.  Women were encouraged to love their bodies as they were. The new message was a needed one, because trying to sculpt your body to fit a man’s idea of what he thought you were supposed to be, was right up there with sculpting your mind to fit his image of you, too.

The decade of the 70’s and 80’s pushed women to know themselves. Changes came about as more women entered the work force, aspiring to be the CEO and not the secretary. Women demanded equal access to higher education.  The patriarchy was met with a rising matriarchy that would usher us into a new cultural paradigm.

By the time I was middle-aged, I was eating again and I did gain some weight, healthy weight that made me look like a woman instead of a starving waif. All around me the world was changing and now women have become much more comfortable with their bodies than they were in my generation. Plus, they’re much more comfortable with their smarts and their ambition.  

Yesterday, I walked into the salon where I get my hair trimmed, and my stylist came to greet me in a form fitting, rose-colored dress.  She’s seven months pregnant. She looked beautiful. It’s such a pleasure to see women showing off their baby bellies.  Not that long ago pregnant women were expected to hide their bellies.  I celebrate the change. I celebrate that a woman’s body takes on so many different forms in the course of a lifetime.

Even though women are feeling good about who they are and we’re mentoring younger women to do the same, there is one group that still suffers a poor body image. Too often I hear women my age talk about their bodies in mean and unloving ways. They lament the loss of muscle tone, curse sagging skin, and try to cover arms and legs that used to turn golden in the summer months — an attempt to hide what they think has grown unattractive. They criticize a natural process that is part of the cycle of life.  

I’m the first to admit that I too mourned the loss of my younger years. That’s just part of the process. I understand the grief of losing one’s youth. And I understand not wanting to succumb to the inevitable. Part of that is a fear of mortality and part of it is that we lose our way in loving ourselves, because there still exists a false standard of what beauty is.

Beauty for an older woman is a truly natural state.  It is health. It’s joy. It’s the happiness of living long enough to tell the tale. Wisdom is beautiful and earning the title of elder is beautiful.  Those definitions must be what we strive for in these silver years. 

I recently joined a Facebook page made up of a couple of thousand women who are letting their hair go grey.  I’ve tried, but I keep adding streaks.  But after scrolling through the posts on that page, I was inspired by the self-acceptance and self-love that these women possessed.  I made another appointment with my stylist in a couple of weeks and I’m going to ask her to help me transition to grey.

I want young women to understand that their value in life has nothing to do with the size or shape of their body.  “Ignore the advertising industry standards,” I tell them. They’re toxic and unrealistic.  This morning though, I realized that the conversation I’m having with the younger generation is a conversation that I need to be having with myself.  My value and my significance does not rest in how toned my muscles are, or whether or not I sag in places that I didn’t used to. Or my weight.  And regardless of softer arms that have lost most of their definition, I want to wear sleeveless tops and shorts in the summer months.

I believe in health and in supporting each other to be healthy. I believe in the power of self-love.  And I know that self-love not only heals our own selves, it shines as a light to others.

How do you feel about your body as you grow older? Please share your precious thoughts with me in the comment section.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Dominant Gene, and the Gracious Ladies of the Ranch Readers Book Group

Melinda’s divine cake, with a frosting to die for . . .

For most of my adult life I have been a carrot juice swilling, veggie chomping, sugar eschewing, fitness buff.  I’ve made good choices.  I value health. I stand strong and somewhat smugly in the light of that truth.  And then I moved to Texas.

Texas women are belles. That means they are beautiful, elegant, smart and gracious all in one package.  I’ve never met women like them anywhere.  And they all have a certain gene.  The more Texan they are, the more dominant the gene.  It’s a cross between mothering, welcoming, sisterhood and baking.  Oh my God, the baking. 

Early on in my new Austin life, I was invited into a book group.  I’ve been in groups before. Writing groups, book groups, bang-on-a-drum women’s groups, but nothing in my past could have prepared me for the change that this group would thrust upon me with its room full of belles, seeking expression for their dominant gene.

I’m talking about Texas hospitality. I was warmly welcomed into a sisterhood that conducts its book group in a way that would put Martha Stewart to shame.  And they make it look easy.  First, a light dinner is served.  It’s perfect. Everything is arranged in an inviting way, and even though the food is being dished out as guests arrive, the kitchen remains mysteriously clean and sparkly.

Only after the meal is consumed, and wine is poured is there talk of the book.  The conversations are smart, and emotionally intelligent. Once the book has been discussed, that genetic snip raises itself up, and the hostess brings out dessert.

Please keep in mind my earlier statement about “sugar eschewing.”  The first time dessert was served at a meeting, I wanted to be polite, and so I took a little bite. There are no store-bought desserts in this group. The gene to which I refer concocts an alchemical decadence of creamy, sweet, tart, crunchy, luxury that has powdered sugar sprinkled on top.  Like a siren calling to the mariner, I am moved to another bite, as I try making deals with myself: “Okay, just one more bite, and that’s all.” Ha!

And then came the second book group. Dessert was brought out and my mouth began to water.  Are you kidding me?  Who bakes like this?  I knew that I was hooked when I began to moan.  “Oh God. Ohhhhhh.  Oh, this is so good.  So good,  Yes, yes, yes.” I’ll have what she’s having takes on new meaning.

We have no control over the events in our life, only our attitudes.  So here’s my attitude:  “Bring it!”

My life is changing before my eyes.  I think about building a shrine to Paula Deen on my front porch.  I dream of what ingredients these women keep in their cupboards.  I fantasize about being in their kitchens and licking bowls.

Last night, I wanted to throw myself into a tray of banana pudding, so I can’t really be held responsible for what escaped my lips as I finished the last bite of pudding.  In front of these warm, kind ladies, the words just wouldn’t stay in my head and without my knowing it, escaped into the space:  “This is so fucking good,” I moaned, unaware that I had pierced the veil between thought and, “did she just say that?”

But, no one judged.  They laughed, so I don’t think I’ve been thrown out of the group for bad behavior just yet.  I am not a belle, more like a street urchin who has probably been exposed to one too many Fitbits and too much kale.

I’ll get in my 10,000 steps today. I’ll prepare vegetables and protein for dinner.  I’ll drink a protein smoothie for breakfast . . . with fiber. I know that for the next month, if I have dessert at all, it will be fresh berries with coconut milk and a little stevia.  Then in May, it will happen again. I’ll go to the book group.  I’ll adore all of those wonderful women.  I’ll participate in the book discussion and hope that when dessert is served, I can behave.

My life is different now.  My design on the pure and healthy diet has met its match. The sweet taste of homemade dessert served up on a bed of southern graciousness is too difficult for me to resist. The truth is I want to fill a bathtub with their chocolate torts, vanilla cakes and banana puddings, inserting myself naked into the center of it.  This is probably an indication that I need serious therapy. 

God I love living in Texas . . .

Posted in A Day In the Life

Does Aging Really Suck?

I was talking to a woman the other day who told me that she and all of her friends think that getting older sucks. Her mind set was the opposite of my own. We all deal with this phase of life differently.  Some people go into it with a smile on their face and a heart full of gratitude and others dig in their heels, incensed that they are losing their physical beauty as well as flexibility and strength in their bodies.  They may be taking care of an older parent, whose physical and mental changes seem daunting and frightening to them, and that can certainly color the way that we view getting older.

My close friends and I are all still planning hikes and trips, bike rides and book groups.  But I don’t want to sugar coat it.  Even though we are living full and robust lives, aging is set against a backdrop of loss. Connective tissue grows brittle. Physical beauty wanes.  Friends, siblings and parents pass away. People we know and love get sick and succumb to a greater vulnerability.  Loss takes up a home, right next to the love in our hearts.

Still, this is the best time in history to grow old:  In our parent’s generation, if you broke your hip, you were consigned to a wheel chair.  Today we can replace body parts like car parts.  Seniors are living active, vibrant lives due to new knees or new hips.  My neighbor across the street had a stroke a couple of months ago.  Within 40 minutes of that stroke, the emergency room gave her a drug that reversed most of the stroke’s effects and prevented worse damage.  The outcome?  She had six weeks of physical therapy and some exhaustion to deal with from the trauma. Now, it’s like she never had a stroke.  Medical advancements contribute greatly to the quality of an older life.

What you think and how you talk to yourself determines how you feel:  We know that what we eat determines how our body feels.  Food creates certain chemicals in our body.  You won’t feel very good if you’re drinking sodas all day and eating sugar and carbs with nary a vegetable in site. 

Similarly, what we feed our minds also creates chemicals in our body. Self-talk that berates age and the aging process, will not help us to feel good about life.  Attitude counts.

Physical Activity:  My husband’s favorite advice about aging is to “keep moving.”  Walking everyday, yoga, Pilates, biking, dancing, anything that gets us out into our community to move helps us to feel good.  Exercise increases blood flow, gets our heart rate up and strengthens our lungs.  We benefit from the endorphins released during exercise that helps to stave off depression.

Meditation and Prayer:  As I grow older, I notice that my prayers tend to be more about “thank you,” than asking for things. Maybe I’ve finally learned that God is not a cosmic bellhop. Whether it’s prayer, meditation or conscious breathing practices, some form of deep stillness everyday contributes to an overall sense of well-being.

Letting go: Letting go is the antidote to the sense of loss that youth has abandon us. And, letting go is the encouragement we give to a younger generation with whom the hope of the future rests. The shedding of thoughts and attitudes that don’t nourish our heads and hearts can unburden our creativity and our sense of wonder.

Curiosity and Engagement:  The world is an interesting place, but we need to be involved. Women’s and men’s groups, book groups, film groups, church groups and classes are readily available. We can learn a foreign language if we want to.  The library provides any book on any topic and also has an array of free classes.  We can knit or garden or walk the dog. Aging with a positive outlook depends upon the lens through which we see the world, and curiosity offers a beautiful overview.

We cannot change the events in our life.  Things happen. We might get sick or injured in older age. But sickness and injury can happen when you’re younger too.  Regardless of how we face the years, we have control over our attitudes.  We can make gratitude and kindness a daily practice. We can engage with our real and digital communities and our families in ways that inspire us to keep trying to be better people.

Life is so precious in this third chapter precisely because we are vulnerable; because of the expiration date stamped upon our souls.  But I find comfort in the fact that I can can change and grow spiritually and psychologically until the day I die.

Knowing that we are in the last chapter, shouldn’t we come to peace with our selves and the world by nourishing gratitude, kindness and love in our lives? Shouldn’t we go out like shooting stars, having lived as fully as we could, until we’ve wrung every last bit of joy from our lives? That’s one choice. The other is, that getting older sucks.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Positive Aging Movement

I’ve recently come to realize that I’ve been a part of a movement that I didn’t look for, didn’t ask for, and didn’t see because it was right in front of my face.  Funny how that works.  I began writing about and advocating for Positive Aging, several years ago.  I’m now a part of a growing movement that seeks to dispel the toxic myths of what it is to be an old person. And I have been blessed with models like Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, Carole King, and my heroine, Betty White. None of these women “retired” from life. Instead they embraced their years with a great love and gratitude and continued to thrive.

Don’t Define Me: Leave it to the Boomers to not go gently into that goodnight.  Growing old is a pleasure and a gift. I live an active life both physically and mentally.  And while yes, people my age may get dementia, have cancer, or arthritic knees, those things are not a given.  The truth is, you can get a disease or an injury at any age. But go on the Internet and look up “top issues for seniors” and you will find statistics and studies that make every last one of us look like frail, fragile, sick and forgetful souls, withering away from our precious significance.

What The Accumulating Years Look Like: I recently saw a television show of Carole King’s concert in Hyde Park.  Behind her on the stage was a huge screen that projected her image so that the crowd could see her playing and singing.  She looked up at the image and then said to the audience: This is what 74 looks like.  I love it that she said that. I say that too, this is what 67 looks like, and it’s not the B.S. that is on the Internet telling me I’m ready for Depends.  We all have to realize that Big Pharma, and advertising directed at “senior products” is big business. And that’s what’s primarily responsible for stereotyping aging in a toxic light.

Engagement: Most of my peers travel are well read, adhere to an exercise program and try to eat well.  I meet them in book clubs, writing groups, Pilate’s classes and on the hiking trail.   Though they may have retired from full-time work, many still work as consultants or in part-time jobs that bring them a sense of purpose. It’s good to have something to get up for everyday.  Some, like me have entered into encore careers. But none of my peers have decided to put their feet up and watch the paint dry.  We all feel that we have much to offer and to share with the world. We are wildly in love with life.

The Most Truthful Stats: I loved reading Aging Well by George E. Vaillant, M.D., Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.  After collecting and studying decades of data on aging populations, Vaillant concluded that aging well is not just about diet and exercise (though that helps) and it’s not about your cholesterol numbers.  Rather your health and happiness is largely dependent upon your attitude.

So, the Positive Aging model is really about seeing and embracing your years as a process of vitality and continued psychological and spiritual growth. 

When Are You Old?: Ask a Millennial when old age begins and likely they’ll tell you “59.”  Ask a 65-year-old when old age begins and they’ll say 73.  Ask me and I’ll tell you that old age begins when you disengage from life, when you shrink away from a your hard won sense of confidence and purpose.  Don’t let anyone define you or put an expiration date on you. As we come to the end of our journey, we will know. Only then will we naturally and organically surrender to the pull of eternity and return to the stardust from which we came.

Love Where You Are: Positive Aging is not a means for finding ways to stay young, rather it’s a way to embrace your years and see how rich they are. Stand proudly in the light of your truth. Live fully and love well.

Badass Grannies: I intend to dance for as long as I can, to breathe in the rapture of the experience of being alive. That’s badass living. That’s badass aging. I’ve taken to heart the words from the great poet, William Ernest Henley, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” And I’ve taken to heart that attitude gets you a long way when it comes to health, happiness and aging. Hey, no body puts granny in a corner!

#badassgrannies, #badassaging, #nobodyputsgrannyinacorner, #agingwell, #positiveaging.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Super-Mighty, Texas Drivers License Fiasco That Ate My Month

Welcome to Texas road sign at the state border with some bullet holes

This isn’t the first time that I’ve overthought something and maybe tried a little too hard to get something right.  Relocating from Oregon to Texas had a lot of moving parts and being a logistical queen, I handled most of them efficiently.  There is, however, a kind of weariness that ensues when you’re dealing with so many challenges and changes.  My little Type-A personality won’t rest when it’s tired if there’s more work to be done. So that “trying-too-hard” thing tripped me up and resulted in a demonstration of what I’d call, a super-mighty fiasco. In other words, I just wasn’t paying attention.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees drivers licenses, you need to get a license within 90 days of moving here. What they don’t say however, is when that day starts.  Is it when you close on your house? Is it when you actually move in to your house? Or maybe it’s when you register your car, because that’s the first time that you are in the system.  I chose the “I’m in the system, date” as the official marker for my residency. That’s when I started counting — October 31st. Therefore I must get a Texas driver’s license by January 31st.

Somewhere around January 10th, my husband and I went into hyper gear.  We downloaded the Texas Driver’s Manual from the Texas Department of Public Safety web site and began to study.  Reading the manual, the first thing that I noticed was that there was an awful lot of information about DWI ‘s and DUI’s, the fines, the jail time, how many years, yes years, it would take you to get your license back if you’re convicted of a DWI.  

On the practice tests that I took, there were so many questions about DUI fines and convictions that it began to dawn upon me that maybe Texas had a little bit of a drinking problem.  Seems that there was a ton of legislation passed in 2014 meant to deter the bad combo of the drink and the drive.  Studying how that legislation applied to me, the Texas driver, also proved to be a deterrent for committing to memory every fine, sentence and charge that comes with a “driving while under the influence” conviction.  And yes, it was enough to make me want to drink. I was never going to be able to pass this test. I spent three hours on a Sunday afternoon trying to memorize what could happen to someone who was bonehead enough to consume an over abundance of alcohol and not call an Uber.

On the day after the Martin Luther King holiday, I was ready. Hubby and I made our way to Texas DPS to take our written tests and get our licenses.  It’s important to note at this part of the story, that the last time I took a written driver’s test, I lived in Ashland, Oregon — population 20,000.  There were exactly three people in the line in front of me the day that I took the test.

Austin though, has a population of 2 million. There were 65 gazillion people waiting in line in front of me to get their license. Someone in a uniform announced to the masses that it would be a minimum 3 and a half hour wait.  That same official person told us that we could make a reservation to stand in line by going to the website. So we did. We got on our phones and reserved our places.  We went home, had some lunch, walked the dog and returned to the DPS almost four hours later.

On our second trip to get a driver’s license in the same day, we checked in at the kiosk and found that the mysteries of the digital universe had recorded my information and my reservation to stand in line, but not my husbands.  So we cut our losses, went home, ate chocolate, and whined about the wasted day.

Three mornings later, we were now old pros. We got up early, got on-line, made our reservations to stand in line; and it was then that I noticed the fine print under the check-list of documents we were supposed to bring to the Texas Department of Safety.  It said something to the effect that if we had an unexpired license from another state, we would be exchanging it for a Texas license.  Wait. What? No written test?  I searched the website and found a second reference to “no written test when you hold an unexpired license from another state.”  How the hell did I miss this?

An odd combination of relief in knowing that no one would question me about how many days I’d spend in jail if I was convicted of a DUI, and regret that I would never get back all those hours when I studied the meaning of signs that contained pictures of cows, little men with flags and speed limits. The cows do not mean rodeo ahead; the men with flags, do not connote football game nearby; and the speed limits are more than just suggestions.

I think that one of the ways that you can tell you’ve settled into someplace new is that you start relaxing and you stop trying so hard to do everything right and right away.  At this writing, I’m lying around in my pajamas hoping to master the art of doing nothing today, while simultaneously laughing at myself and the super-mighty, Texas drivers license fiasco. I’m told I should receive my license in the mail in the next couple of weeks.  Sigh . . .

Posted in A Day In the Life

In Praise of the Healthy Kitchen

Cooking is a sacred art to me.  It’s an act of love.  It’s a gratitude and awareness practice, that requires thoughtfulness and care in order to be done well.  I’m not looking for convenience in my kitchen as much as I’m looking for ways to celebrate the earth’s bounty and the gift of health.  That requires a little bit of slowing down so that I can enjoy the experience and process of creating a good meal.

Eating food is the single biggest chemical reaction that happens in your body in the course of the day.  If you want to demonstrate cause and effect to your self, nothing is more profound than the correlation between what you eat and how you feel.  Eat carbs smothered in cheese with nary a vegetable in sight and chances are you are going to feel sluggish and achy.  Eat fresh food, prepared sanely (i.e. no deep fat frying or over cooking innocent vegetables), and you’re probably going to feel more alert and healthy.

The other day I was shopping at Central Market in Austin, and there was a table of fresh, local, organic tomatoes that made me realize that I don’t eat many raw veggies in the winter months.  I always feel more energized and focused when I’m eating a wide variety of veggies, especially raw ones.  So, I was inspired to buy ingredients for gazpacho. Gazpacho is a cold soup, usually eaten in the summer months.

Even though it’s February, I decided that the gazpacho would be a super-healthy breakfast for the coming week.  If you serve it with a half of an avocado and a hard-boiled egg, it’s the ultimate way to start a healthy day.  And here’s the magic of this soup with Spanish origins:  It’s a low-calorie, nutrition dense food, filled with fiber, minerals and anti-oxidants. No wonder I feel so great when I eat it.

Here’s how to make it:

Wash the following veggies and cut them into chunks:

2 sweet tomatoes                              2 carrots (don’t peel em)

1-2 green scallion                             3-4 stalks of celery

a cup or so of jicama                       7-8 mini-peppers in assorted colors

a handful of fresh parsley               1 unpeeled cucumber

In batches, pulverize everything in a food processor and transfer the pulverized veggies to a bowl. I use a Tupperware bowl with a lid because I’ll store it this way in the fridge.

When you have pulverized all the veggies, squeeze in ½ lime. The lime adds some flavor, but will also keep the gazpacho fresh tasting.

The final step is to pour a quart bottle of Knudsen’s Very Veggie over the pulverized vegetable mix and stir. I like the low sodium Very Veggie because vegetables naturally contain sodium, and you get a cleaner and more distinct flavor if you don’t over-salt.

Chunk up a half of an avocado and put it in a bowl. Ladle the soup over the avocado.  I have friends that like to add a dash of Tabasco.

For breakfast, I love to eat a bowl of this along with a hard-boiled egg on the side. It’s the complete meal – veggies, protein and a good fat.

The soup is best served chilled, but when I make a fresh batch, I just eat it at room temperature and it’s great.

Refrigerate the leftover gazpacho in a covered container.

When you cook for yourself, it’s an act of self-love.  When you cook for others it’s a celebration of life. 

Posted in A Day In the Life

2019!

            Happy 2019!

New Year’s Day: Even if you don’t make resolutions, which I don’t, there’s a feeling of freshness and excitement about starting a new year that makes us want to be better people.  I like having New Year’s Day as a holiday. It’s a good day to prioritize and set up a pattern for the coming year.

Priorities: Recently I read a post by my favorite psychologist, Benjamin Hardy (if you don’t know who he is, look him up). He wrote about the concept of prioritizing. I’m paraphrasing him when I share: “If you have more than three priorities, you’re not really prioritizing.”  That keeps it simple, doesn’t it? For me, priorities really have to do with lifestyle.  My three priorities for this year are the same as they were for last year:  I write every morning. I walk or do Pilates every afternoon. And I prepare one great, healthy meal a day for my husband and I.  That’s it and it won’t trip me up by being out of reach.

 Goals and the Magic of Consistency:  Goals are a different animal. They’re like New Year’s resolutions in that they can become unmanageable. If they get too big, too many, too fast, after a couple of days I can’t meet any of them, so I abandon them. I learned a long time ago that goals are best done in bite size chunks, because it’s easier to experience success with a small goal that takes just a day or a few weeks to accomplish.

For example, I work on a novel length manuscript every year, but I only set monthly goals for it.  This January, one of my goals is to complete research and preparation on the next novel so that I can start writing prose in February.  The goal of pounding out a novel in a month or writing an article every day aren’t in my program, because too often I’ve experienced failure with goals like that.  The consistency of one step at a time, one page, one good article will get me to where I’m going. When I attain priorities and meet little goals, it builds confidence, and confidence has far-reaching, positive effects on everything.

Dreams:  I like to dream big. I dream about publishing houses that want my work and an agent who gets me and wants to help me. I dream about having all the energy I need to complete novels and articles for the time ahead. I dream about writing for Texas Monthly. I dream about long and healthy years with my husband. And I dream about the success of my 2020 release of A Delightful Little Book On Aging.  Dreams are not goals, but surrender to their largesse and vision is crucial to prioritizing and setting attainable milestones.

Balance: I’m at a time of life where I want to focus less on accomplishment and more on the gratitude of experience, but that doesn’t mean that accomplishment isn’t important to me.  In addition to priorities, goals and dreams, I take note of what feels nourishing and creates balance in my life. 

As a writer, I spend a lot of time in my head. So balance means being in life.  Again, it’s real simple: I take walks with my husband. We enjoy sitting on the front porch with our dog and watching our neighborhood.  Side by side, with our hands wrapped around cups of tea, we take in our world. Just being in the experience of sunshine or gray, kids who are throwing a ball and laughing in the cul-de-sac, making note of who is pruning roses or cleaning a garage. . . I relish “being” in this world, on this little block, in this community, watching life happen. This is my balance and it fills me with appreciation.

I always start the New Year by affirming that this is going to be a great year. This is going to be a healing year. In spite of the infection that nibbles away at Washington and the world, there are good things happening too. I can’t forget that. None of us should. There are things and people to get enthusiastic about. Humanity has not lost its way. I know, because I’ve seen the best of humanity from my front porch.

I’m excited about living another year. I’m excited about being in life. I’m grateful. I’m excited about witnessing the neighborhood kids grow another inch. And I’m excited about priorities and goals that I’ve set forth, balanced by a nourished and loving heart. Life is good.

            May 2019 be a great year for us all.  HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!