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It’s a New Year…How about those Resolutions from the Last Year?

And so, it’s January again.  Time to take stock and look back at the New Year’s resolutions that have come and gone. While I say I’m not one to make resolutions, I did, in fact, make a small list of things I wanted to work on last year.  How’d I do? Well, let’s just say that of the six I listed in last New Year’s blog post, I probably made some minimal progress on three of them. Hey, that’s a solid half, right?!

The issue with resolutions is that, once made, we need checkpoints to assess how we’re progressing and take action when we’re not making progress. Just like at work, there are certain milestones that need to be checked off the list and progress reports, if you like, need to be turned in.  I don’t know about you, but given I have to be accountable for these kinds of activities at work, I’m not likely to hold myself to that same structure on the personal front!

How, then, do we actually resolve and take action to improve certain areas of our life? It seems trite to simply say “I plan to be a better person in 2014”, but really, that’s the heart of it all, isn’t it?  Being kinder. Less irritable. More patient. Less hurried. More giving. Less judgmental. More understanding. Less stressed.

So this year, I’m going to give myself a break from the traditional list, knowing full well that putting in place the measurements necessary to ensure success is something I just won’t take the time to do.  I resolve in 2014 only this: to be a better person, in whatever way I can be.  That means taking time to connect with those I care about, rather than getting too wrapped up in the minute details of the day. It means making sure that all my good intentions don’t remain just that…that I occasionally take action and give to that charity, spend time doing something that yields no personal return for me or simply deciding to be understanding, rather than judgmental in situations that test my patience.  It means ignoring the insufferable, materialistic social media posts that clutter my news feeds and remembering that my family values experiences over things. Maybe it’s as simple as letting that car cut in front of me without swearing to myself or giving a stranger in the grocery store a complement, just because.

I know. It sounds like a lot of rainbows and fluffy puppy talk. But sometimes I think the world could use a little more of that. And a little less of the standard “10 Ways to Improve Your Life”.

Happy New Year, everyone. Enjoy 2014, however you resolve to do so.

Am I Still A Writer?

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Once a writer, always a writer…until doubt enters the picture, that is.  Every writer knows that to really call yourself a writer, there’s only one thing you must do and that is…write. It’s as simple as that. John Grisham was recently interviewed by the LA Times and was asked about the discipline it must take to write one or two books every year. Grisham said his goal each year is to begin writing on January 1st and end by July 1st. And within that timeframe, he writes five days a week, for three or four hours every morning.

To the average worker, that probably sounds like luxury, working only three or four hours per morning, but if you’re an aspiring writer, you know that three or four hours per day of writing is quite a bit. It takes discipline to sit in front of the empty page and fill it.  The ideas don’t always come easily and when they do, sometimes the words are lethargic and jumbled, not elegant and flowing.  It is trying. It can be depressing. It can make you stop writing altogether.

Those of you who follow this blog have witnessed this in action. One day I was full of ideas and writing regularly. The next morning, I woke up and realized five months had passed without a word. There are no explanations or excuses really.  Sometimes it works that way. It just stops.  In the interim, there has been much to do. Work. Family. Reading books. Watching hockey. Laundry. Dinners with friends. There is always something, but nothing that should really stop a writer from writing?

Am I still a writer if I do not write? Ideas spring forward in the mind but never make it onto paper.  Writing is happening…in my head, but not on the page. Am I still a writer? Maybe. Time will tell. Stay tuned and watch this page.

Summer is the time for adventure…so off we go!

Unknown-2Summer is finally here. The air is warm, school is out and I’m yearning for the more relaxed pace that we associate with summer days. Never mind that daughter #2 had to be at her morning swim practice at 6:15am every day the past week and there was still work to be done. In the back of my mind, I knew our vacation was nearly here, so it made the getting up and pushing through just a bit easier.

But this summer we won’t be lying on a beach or sipping margaritas poolside. Tomorrow we leave for the hubby’s homeland, a two-week sojourn to Sverige, followed by five fabulous days in Paris.  Yes, first there will be packing, airports, long flights, jet lag and adjustment, but  once we make it through all of that, it’s time for adventure!

UnknownFirst stop: Uppsala, where hubby’s parents live, just north of Stockholm. We’ll spend the first week there, visiting family, friends and some moose (seriously), and definitely partaking in some good food and drink. On the must-haves list: nice, strong, Swedish coffee, tunnbrudsrulle (a Swedish-style hot dog…look it up!) and mjukglass – essentially, Swedish soft-serve ice cream. Oh, and maybe some aquavit to wash it all down.  A few days into our stay in Uppsala, daughter #1 will leave us to join the local Uppsala swim club for several days of training camp to prepare for Swedish Nationals. Luckily for her, nearly every Swede I’ve ever met speaks English and her roommate will be a Swede who attends college and swims in the U.S., so they should have plenty of common experiences to share.

imagesSecond stop: Halmstad, Sweden, in the Southern part of the country. Unbelievably, my world traveler husband and his family have never visited this part of their homeland, so it will be a new experience for all. The city is located right on the ocean and is the site for this year’s Swedish Nationals swimming competition. We’ll see the sights and watch daughter #1 compete.  It will be a great international experience for her and my in-laws will be able to watch her compete live for the first time.

After two weeks in Sverige, we’ll take our leave of hubby’s family and just the four of us will travel to Paris for five days. I haven’t been to the City of Lights since I was 18 and fresh out of high school, and while I”m sure many things have changed, I’m hoping that more of them have not. Daughter #2 can’t wait and has her brand new camera packed and ready to take all those classic shots by the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe. For my part, I hope that if I try to dust off my four years of high school French, I won’t be met with same blank stares I faced the first time around.Unknown-3

When our European/Scandinavia adventure comes to an end, I’m sure we’ll all be ready to come home and get back to our usual routines, but I feel grateful for the time to embark on this adventure with my family.  For me, one great experience is worth so much more than all the things we could be spending our time (and money) on…I’m pretty sure my kids will soon forget that first iPod they received for the holidays, the new shoes and dress they got for a high school dance or the fact that after 15 years in the same house, we never remodeled our very old and outdated kitchen. But trips like this? I hope they will remember. I know I will.

Post Play-off Depression: It’s All About Connecting

UnknownWhen I was nine years old, my family moved to Atlanta, GA for a couple of years, settling into a lovely little apartment complex called Windy Hill Village, notable for nothing much but its proximity to downtown and the newly built Omni Center. The Omni Center was the home of the then-Atlanta (now Calgary) Flames hockey team. Because of its location, Windy Hill Village boasted not only the Rubin family as its residents, but also most of the Atlanta Flames hockey players. Somehow, my parents became friendly with a few of the players and next thing I knew, we had become hockey fans. I could name all of the players (to this day, I remember Captain Keith McCreary, Ernie Hickey, Jacques Richard and goaltender Dan Bouchard) and loved boasting to my classmates that I actually knew these guys personally! For the first time in my young life, I felt the excitement of attending a live sporting event, the bonding that occurs with a crowd of people all chanting the same thing in a great big arena, the emotional connection one develops with a local team – particularly, when you know the players personally.51LTCH15-9L._SL500_AA300_

Cut to many years later, after living in a hockey-less San Diego for most of my teens, attending UCLA where football and basketball were front and center, finally settling down to love, life, marriage and kids with a Swede who played hockey growing up. The fires were rekindled a bit and then, when our oldest daughter went off to college, befriending a couple of Canadian hockey fans (yes, I recognize that’s redundant) and realizing that she also enjoyed the game, it was time to really reconnect with the sport and our local team, the L.A. Kings. It didn’t hurt that the Kings were experiencing a resurgence that would soon lead to a 2012 Stanley Cup win – just in time for us to remember what it was like to be part of an entire city rejoicing over a shared victory.

Cut to this year when after watching nearly every game either from our couch or at Staples Center, after heated rivalries with friends and colleagues, Twitter wars, Facebook posts and many evenings of bonding over the details of a game, our beloved Kings have just been pushed out of the play-offs, after a valiant effort to win game 5 against a powerful Blackhawks team. There is a sudden empty feeling now that our team’s season is over – not just sorrow for their loss, but a definite void where it feels like something more important than just a hockey series is missing.  It made me wonder what this hockey passion is really all about.  What is it about this weird, emotional investment we humans make in a sports team that is so compelling and at times, all-encompassing?   Is it as simple as sharing a common interest with other humans? Is it living vicariously through the players, being competitive in a way that you might never get to experience on your own? Or is it deeper than that, the thrill of being part of something larger than ourselves, a connection to humanity that sometimes goes missing in our everyday lives, particularly now that connections are less face-to-face and personal, and more online and distant.

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Even if you have no passion for hockey, football, baseball or any other sport, you may still understand this urge to be part of something larger than yourself. If you have a favorite band, think of how it feels to be in a crowd of people at that band’s concert, all singing the same words to the same song, surrounded by a shared connection that seems to transcend a simple concert performance. (Anyone who has seen U2 live must know what I’m talking about, right?)

I’m sure in a few days, I’ll go back to “life before hockey season” where I am not racing to finish up my work so I can don my jersey and join my hubby on the couch or pick up our younger daughter early from school so we can battle the freeway traffic down to Staples Center to make it to our seats before warm-up starts.  There are plenty of things to occupy all of us until the fall and soon, the normal routines will again take over and my Twitter and Facebook posts will not longer be all about that bad call or that amazing goal in the last 10 seconds of regulation. But I’ll still be looking forward to the next season, the next game, the next opportunity to share in that connection to something bigger than me – a way to share an experience that is all at once exciting, emotional, aggravating and compelling with my family, my friends, my team, my city, with the other humans who share the planet – and a passion for hockey with me.

Connecting with the Past: Reflections on a Friend Lost

We all gathered in our scenic, beachside hometown to honor the life of one of our classmates. That some of us had not seen each other in 25 or 30 years did not seem to matter, but it was clear that time had not stood still. We were all older and one might hope, a bit wiser.

The occasion was sad, but not without laughter and joy. It was deemed a celebration of life and so it was. Family, friends and colleagues stood up, one after the other, to pay tribute, often eloquently, always movingly, to our friend, Rogie.   As one of our high school classmates said, Rogie was the “glue” that held many of us together. This classmate expressed how Rogie was everyone’s friend. That it didn’t matter to Rogie back in our high school days if you were a jock, a nerd, popular or not – Rogie accepted everyone and even more importantly, when he was with you, Rogie made you feel as if you were his best friend.

I thought about Rogie and all of my classmates, friends, family and moments shared over the years for many days after. We were together so briefly to honor his life, as is often the case with these occasions, I suppose. I longed for more time to ask questions and continue the feeling of connection that had been lost over so many years.

To some of my classmates, I wanted to ask: Was I ever unkind to you? After all of these years, I hoped that it wouldn’t be held against me, that any transgressions would be viewed as the typical, immaturity of a teen trying to find her identity and seek her place in the world. I knew in some cases, I had been unkind. Or even broken a heart. And I wanted to say, even though it doesn’t matter anymore, I’m sorry.

I knew there were a few in attendance who had been less than kind to me, but it was clear by the smiles on their faces, the hugs all around, the attempt to connect through our departed friend, that even if we had not forgotten, we could all forgive – at least, I felt that I could. We have all been equalized by our common experiences: growing up, attending college, moving away and then some of us moving back, getting married, some of us getting divorced, having families of our own, getting jobs, maybe losing them, finding careers, then changing them, saying goodbye to family and friends, some of them too soon. Figuring out how to become the people we were meant to be.

When it was over, I felt a sense of loss and sadness all over, not just for my friend, Rogie, now gone, but for all those years left behind and for all of those that I would likely lose touch with again…until the next occasion.

I reconnected with friends I’d known only through Rogie and realized how much I enjoyed their company and wondered…why hadn’t we become closer friends? Is it too late?

With others, I felt the closeness of our years together like it was yesterday and wondered why we ever let it get so far away. I wished to spend more time catching up, late night talking and laughing. It was so fleeting.

I wanted to ask all these questions and most importantly: Why, when we’ve returned to our normal, daily routines, after vowing that things will not be the same, that we will remember the importance of our connections, of staying close, of staying together, have we already begun to separate again? Why have we so easily become consumed with the day-to-day, forgetting what we said, why we had come together for our friend. What it all meant to us.

If only I could call Rogie, I know he just might have the answer. For sure, even if he did not, he’d convince me that he did.

New Year’s Resolutions for Even the Most Non-Resolute

imagesI’m not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve always thought that if you really want to do something in life, make time for or accomplish something, you’ll eventually (to coin a Nike marketing phrase) just do it. There’s no time like the present and New Year’s Day or not, if you truly want to do something, you’ll do it and if not, well, maybe you don’t want it as badly as you’d originally thought. That said, there’s something about a new year, a fresh start, a clean white board, that gives one a tiny bit more motivation, that extra push to get a long languishing project moving.

In goal-setting, it’s always important to break big goals into smaller, more realistic steps and the same holds true for resolutions. You could resolve to be a better person….but specifically, how? You could resolve to be more organized, but what steps can you take to get there?

Pushing aside the notion that resolutions need to be daunting tasks that can only be thought of once a year, I’ve made a small, starting list for myself that I hope will have some impact.

1) I resolve that each time I want to curse silently – or not so silently – at an impolite or even dangerous driver on the road, I will take a deep breath and remind myself that they win when I feel stress.

2) I resolve that every time I think about calling, emailing, texting or otherwise reaching out to a friend or loved one I haven’t connected with in awhile that instead of saying I’ll do it later when I’m not busy (as if!), I will take five minutes to actually reach out or, at the very least, I will put it on the to-do list with an actual deadline so it becomes a priority.

3) I resolve to focus more and multi-task less.  The phone doesn’t need to be constantly in hand, the texts can wait and no reason to try to “save time” by responding to emails while on conference calls. Constant multi-tasking creates more stress and even more work. Better to focus on one thing at a time…unless of course it’s folding laundry while watching TV!

4) I resolve to walk past the mess and clutter in the house at least once a week without stressing out, picking it up or yelling at someone about it.  Life’s too short, right?!

5) I resolve to have books, music, writing, exercising and conversation add up to more hours each day than any time spent on social media. I’m talking to you, new Pinterest addiction!

6) I resolve to put forth energy and action for at least one cause I believe in, rather than just ranting about it or reposting rants on Facebook and Twitter. Action speaks louder than words.

Are you making any resolutions this year? Do you think it’s a useful practice. Happy New Year and all the best to you and yours in 2013!

Is “Follow Your Dream” Good Advice?

“Follow your dream.” Maybe your parents gave you that advice when you were in school. Or maybe you read it in a self-help book along the way. Following your dream is certainly a deeply rooted idea in American culture – the idea that if we just do what we love, we’ll be rewarded – if not with riches, than with self-satisfaction and happiness.  Think of Olympians who say that their parents always supported their dream or Broadway stars who say that living just barely above the poverty line for many years was all worth it because they were following their dream.

When I was little I was convinced that my dream was to be a writer. I had a romanticized view of what that might entail and like most kids had no idea what the day-to-day reality of being a writer might really be, how difficult it was to be published and obtain some level of success at writing. Economic realities meant that I always had a job during my college years, seemed to always owe someone money and upon graduation with a Bachelor’s in English, was faced with the same question repeatedly from well-intentioned friends and family: “What kind of job can you get with an English major?”

Turns out, there are many jobs out there for good communicators, but the one I dreamed about, penning the great American novel, seemed awfully naive in the face of mounting bills and debt. After taking the summer to go home to San Diego and think about what I should do, I resolved to return to L.A., resume my part-time job of English tutoring at UCLA and search for “real” jobs.

After a couple of months of interviewing, I was rewarded with a job offer that I thought wouldn’t entirely compromise my dreams. A technology company wanted to hire me – an English major with no technical background – to write their user manuals. How bad could that be? I would be paid to write, albeit, about the ins and outs of test equipment and communications protocols. I was thrilled that I could pay my bills, pay off my debt and enter the real, working world. My writing dream wasn’t completely sacrificed, I thought.

But writing user manuals became tedious and un-fulfilling, to say the least. Fortunately for me, the head of the marketing department noticed my writing skills, my youthful enthusiasm and my desire to be more involved in the external-facing aspects of the company and offered me a job where I could apply my skills to public relations, event management, advertising, collateral and many other aspects of marketing communications. 25 years later, I’m still working in technology PR and marketing, but for myself and from the comfort of my home, with my own consulting practice that I’ve built over the past 19 years.

Did I follow my dream? Not exactly. When people ask me if I like my job, I always say that every job has good days and bad days, fun parts and frankly, soul-sucking parts. There is the reality: 25 years later I have a mortgage, one child in college and one heading there in a few years and a lifestyle that requires both my spouse and I to contribute. There is also another reality: I’ve quietly pursued my original dream, fiction writing, on the side and discovered something important – while I still love to write, I am probably not cut out for the life of a full-time writer. The reality is that even my so-called dream job has good days and bad days, enjoyable activities and those that are painful.

So what do you do when you discover that your dream isn’t truly what you had in mind? You move on. There are parts of my day job that I still enjoy and parts that I don’t, but all in all, it continues to reward me both financially and intellectually. Separately, I continue to pursue the parts of my childhood dream that fulfill me – taking classes to improve my creative writing skills, penning the occasional short story, continuing to work here and there on the novel I “finished’ a few years ago, when the mood strikes me, and writing this blog.  Outside of work and writing, there are other passion-fueling activities: family and friends, music, sports, great books, food and wine, watching my daughters imagine, explore and wrestle with their own dreams.  Some might say I didn’t follow my dream and I guess I didn’t follow the track exactly. Still, I can’t help but wake up some mornings feeling blessed and lucky, that despite it all, I am living the dream – maybe not the one I’d imagined, but one that fulfills me, nonetheless.

How about you? Did you follow your dream?  Or find another along the way? Do you encourage your kids to follow their dreams? How do you support them in their quest to pursue a dream while still preparing them for the realities of the world?

Rejecting the Kindle: Why I Still Need Real Books

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Cover via Amazon

Having been both an avid reader and a fan of technology most of my life, it would seem that jumping on the e-reader bandwagon would be a no-brainer for me. I’ve worked in technology for more than 20 years and have embraced it all the way. Between all of us, my family owns five Mac laptops, four iPhones, a desktop Mac, an iPad and a PC (only because I have to for work). We all use a variety of social media and applications including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In other words, there is no technology resistance around these parts.And yet, I just can’t seem to bring myself to make the jump to e-readers.

I figured that owning the iPad would bridge that gap. I wouldn’t have to switch to purchase a reading-specific device like the Kindle; with the iPad, I could use all of my familiar applications and start making the transition to downloading and reading books on that beautiful device. I’ve tried it exactly twice and while I did manage to finish the two books I downloaded, the experience left me…well, cold.

There’s something about the feel of a book, the smell of the paper – whether it’s bookstore-new or an old classic that has been handed down and sitting on a shelf for years. The weight of a the hard cover, the examination of the artwork, the reading of the inside flaps and back-of-book blurbs. Even paperbacks have a charm totally lacking from the sterile screen of its e-reader cousins.

I can’t quite give up the thrill of browsing a bookstore and picking up each title, trying to decide which one to read.  I still love having my own library of books at home, browsing the shelves that hold both new and old. My worn copy of  Gone with the Wind, spine still intact, but pages yellowing, brings back memories of learning to love books at the ripe age of 10. My collection of used paperback classics with their highlighted passages and folded corners recall hours spent in Royce Hall classrooms and Powell library, dissecting characters, motivations and themes. Each spine on the shelf  represents not just the story contained within, but a story that is uniquely mine.  I can’t quite get that same feeling from a collection of electronic files residing on a mobile device.

I know, I know…the Kindle and its ilk are the future. It’s great for traveling, you can pop it conveniently into your purse or bag and take it anywhere. If someone gives you a great tip on a new book, there’s no ordering from Amazon or driving to the Barnes & Noble or heading to the library to see if it’s available – in just a few clicks, it’s all yours. Immediate gratification.

I guess in this world of fast-paced, 24×7, mobile and always-on living, it seems silly or quaint to want to curl up on the couch with an old-fashioned book. And I’m sure eventually, the e-reader will win me over. For now, I have a stack of books to turn to, each one ready to tell me a story. So call me old-fashioned. Or call me Ishmael. I’m just going to keep turning real pages for now.

Where did my summer go?

Last time I looked, it was July 4th. Summer was in full swing. The Hollywood Bowl, lazy nights in the backyard barbecuing and sipping wine, a trip to Tucson to bake in the sun, poolside and move our college girl into her new place, her return home for a couple of wonderful weeks, visits from family.

But now the house has cleared out. It’s still ridiculously hot outside, but the atmosphere has changed. Daughter #1 is back to college. Daughter #2 is trying to finish up an essay due on Wednesday, her first day of high school, and pack as much into the remaining days of summer as she can. While work never really slowed down this summer for me or my hubby, we’re suddenly setting the alarm a little earlier, checking things off the to-do list, planning ahead for the Fall.  Yesterday, driving down the freeway, I saw a Halloween store – yes, that’s right. If you weren’t already bemoaning the start of school, just a little reminder that the end of October is nearly here!

While I have yet to hit the beach this summer (maybe this weekend?!), I realize I did manage to pack in all of the important things this summer. Being with family. Extended dinner conversations. More contemplation and relaxation. Reading. Soaking in the sights and sounds that mean summer in Los Angeles. And, of course, watching those amazing human specimens compete in London. I got to do a few things that qualify as truly spectacular including watching my older daughter swim at the Olympic Trials in Omaha (and watching my younger daughter take photos with every swim star she could find!).

There are always more things I could have, should have done during our summer. But it’s also good to turn the page knowing I’ve enjoyed the moments we had. So I’m looking forward, embracing the coming fall, gearing up for the return of cooler days, shorter nights, books strewn across the kitchen table, and yes, even, Halloween (though please don’t mention Thanksgiving yet. Please.). And I do look forward to getting back to the writing, resuming this blog that I’ve left dormant for far too long.

That said, it’s Saturday and it’s still summer. I’m off to soak up some sunshine. How about you?

Summertime….and the Livin’ Should be Easy

It has been more than two weeks since my last post and I can only blame it on…summertime. That’s right, it’s all summer’s fault with its lazy, long days that meld into night, the intoxicating smell of a neighbor’s barbecue at sunset mixed with the faint fragrance of summer flowers, the way the sun emerges from the June gloom daring you to come out and play instead of sitting at your desk all day.

Well, it’s not entirely summer’s fault. It’s true that I’ve chosen long walks in the sunshine, dinners in the backyard, sipping wine and conversing until the darkness forces us inside, and hours in the patio chair with a good book over more productive pursuits.  And of course, my older daughter is home for one week before she heads back to college and summer swim training, so I’m trying to squeeze the most out of every second that she is here.

I am trying my best to enjoy the quiet moments and the slightly slower pace that summer allows. Those who know me know that my very nature fights against a relaxed pace, that I am forever looking to “do”.  During the summer, though, a little voice seems to whisper that life is fleeting, that savoring the moments is the smart pursuit, that maybe in the slow-down, my mind and body can regenerate and renew, preparing me for the inevitable onslaught of Fall, when there will be plenty of time for productivity.

A recent NY Times blog entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap” echoed my sentiments and made the point that Americans in the 21st century, in particular, are constantly self-imposing this “busyness” upon themselves. I plead guilty to what the author describes. It’s true I have plenty of activities to stay naturally busy: I work full-time, have two daughters, and attempt to pursue a second, part-time career by taking classes and working on my writing.  But the pace at which I live my life means that I sometimes try to fill those scarce, quiet moments when they present themselves with even more activity. In living a life of productivity, I realize I sometimes forget the pleasure in doing nothing at all.

I would argue that social media has enhanced our desire to be constantly busy.  We’ve all had to endure the postings of folks who really don’t have much going on in their lives and frankly, no one wants to hear about the fiber content of your breakfast cereal, how many hours you spent at the gym today, that you’re out of toothpaste or that your child finally went “poop on the potty” (yes, these are all real posts). That said, social media can make us feel that we must have something to say at all times, that we should be doing something exciting or productive at every moment — something worth proclaiming (or tweeting and posting, in this case) at the top of our lungs to show the world how busy we are and most of all, I suppose, that we are relevant.

So, I took a two-week break from writing, from the wheel of constant productivity, to try to sit back and enjoy the moments that are not filled with “something to do”.  I’m the first to admit that I’m not very good at it. I like being productive, being involved, contributing…yes, being busy. But it’s summertime. And I’m going to try my best to soak it up.