Sunday, December 30, 2018

End of Year Recap

Here I am on the eve of New Year's Eve reflecting on a really hard year that came with sadness, pain, but also gifts and blessings.

I read back on my blog posts from 2018 and I cried a little. I know time heals all wounds and as the year has gone by it has gotten easier to cope with the loss of my father.

The thing about losing my father was that it opened up the old wound of losing my mother almost 19 years ago. There's something so final about losing both your parents. It feels like the final step in growing up. Especially for me, who went from parents, to husband, back to having my father in my house and now standing completely alone with my two kids. 

This past year has had interesting discoveries and challenges too. There was the discovery of the, possibly 100 year old, well in my back yard in early May. There was the freak accident when I cut my ankle open the day before Mother's Day, the tree falling on my house, Miranda's surgery on her pilonidal cyst in the summer, and two, not one, times my car keys were destroyed. Then who can forget my heart misdiagnosis of WPW and sick sinus node that ended up being a weird heart, unlike any heart they had seen before. That was actually pretty cool.

There were the trips. One to California alone to see my sister and another to Paris with my best friend, and two trips to Wimberley and the Hill Country with my kids for Spring Break and Summer.

And the best gift I could have given myself this year, my Peloton bike that has changed my relationship with exercise and is reshaping my body, slowly but surely.

This year was a challenging year at work, but I overcame the tough months and I had a lot of good ones and some good bonuses. What I have is a career, not a job, and I am grateful for that. 

I am so thankful for family and friends. I know I am very fortunate to have as many close friends as I do. Not just regular friends. Friends who I love and trust. I know that is rare. I love my sisters and my niece and nephews so much. My two kids Miranda and Seth are godsends so far. They are such good kids over-all. I couldn't have wished for two better kids who do well in school and are respectful and kind. 

One of the best gifts I've been given these past couple of years is to become a great-aunt and to learn that it feels very similar to becoming a grandmother. Who would have known! We welcomed a healthy beautiful new great-niece into our family in October of this year. 

From my family to yours, I wish you a Happy New Year. May you get all that your heart desires in 2019. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

My Treacherous Heart and 100 Rides by 49

"The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate. Who can know it?" Life is crazy and so are our bodies. We can do all the right things and still end up with illnesses that affect our bones and muscles. We can not take care of ourselves, eat bacon all the time, and live to 93. We never know what our body is going to do. The best bet is to just eat right and exercise as much as possible as long as we can. 

It turns out I have an unusual heart. A few months ago I was diagnosed with WPW/Wolf-Parkinson-White (an accessory pathway of the electrical current in my heart) and possible sick sinus node. I went in to the hospital on November 16 for a cardiac catheterization to map my heart and to see where the problem was. The doctor at UT Physicians was sure that I was going to have to have an ablation.So did the second opinion doctor from Methodist/DeBakey.
It turns out that I have an ectopic atrial rhythm in the top left chamber that made it look like I had WPW and Sick Sinus Node. I have neither and the ectopic atrial rhythm is not life threatening. In fact the main electrical impulses of my heart start with that rhythm. The sinus node also works but not as strongly as the rhythm. The doctor has never seen anything like this before in his professional career. He said he got on a conference call with the doctor who did my second opinion and another specialist and they had never seen this before either.
So all's well that ends well for now. I took a two week break from my Peloton bike to make sure that the entry points in my groin had healed. I've been back on it for a week now and everything is working as it should so far, except for some slight soreness on the left side. My regular doctor said those entry points take a little while to heal. 
There's this meme that I love that I used to post when I was trying to walk/run. I want to make the same one for cycling. There are so many things to be grateful for and one of those is that I have a body that can move the way it does. Not everyone can say that.

Of course I'm not out of the woods yet. I still need to keep cycling and eating right and trying to lose this weight that haunts me. I've made a commitment to reach 100 rides by my 49th birthday in February. Yesterday I got to Ride #60 so I'm well on my way. Now I just need to change my diet to match my exercise. I have to. I need to. I will recommit for 2019. #100ridesby49

Sunday, November 25, 2018

My Paris Recap

This is really late in coming but I'm finally getting it written. I went to Paris October 11-16 with my best friend and traveling buddy Vicki. She and I took our first cross country trip when we were 16 years old to California, Las Vegas, the Hoover dam and the Grand Canyon. We took a break in traveling together for a few years when we were married and our kids were little, but here lately we've been to New York, Chicago and now Paris!

Arc de Triomphe

We were busy every single day. Starting with a walk, dinner and then a visit to the Eiffel Tower. We saw the light show at 9 p.m. and then headed to the hotel. We were up bright and early for our trip to Versailles.

Here are some tips for Versailles:

Get there super early, like 8:30 at the latest. They open at 9 a.m. but even at 8 a line is forming. Even if you buy a timed entry ticket, get there early.

Buy a ticket that will get you into everything. You'll just show that same ticket when you go into the gardens and to the Petit Trianon with now worries. You can purchase the ticket online.

Plan on spending the whole day there if you can. Rent a bike or a golf cart because it is huge. Like bigger than you probably imagine it to be. Marie Antoinette's home is a very far walk from the main palace.

If you rent a bike or golf cart be sure to budget the cost for keeping it for at least 3 hours. There's also a hop off and on tram that goes around the grounds.

When you go to Marie Antoinette's house, the Petit Trianon, you'll have to park and walk into the house first. Do not think you can take a shortcut around. You must enter through the house, through a metal detector and you have to show your ticket.

You still have to walk through the house to go see her hamlet town so you might as well see the house. The hamlet is a made up little town of some real houses and some facades. She built a little hamlet because she wanted to pretend to be a poor peasant. You can see why the poor people of France hated her, but she was just a spoiled kid.

Pack lunch, water and snacks if you are going to make it a day trip or plan on eating in the restaurant there in the palace.

If you take an Uber to Versailles when it comes time to leave, walk away from it before you order a car back. Always walk away from any major monuments and the price goes town substantially. We just walked down the main street that runs into the front entrance as far as the tourism office.

After Versailles we walked by Notre Dame but the line was too long so we just took pictures on the outside. Sunday we went to the Musee D'Orsay, Sainte Chapelle, the Pere Lachaise Cemetery and walked along the Champs Elysees until we go to the Arc de Triomphe.

Some people have told me that they'd rather see Sainte Chapelle instead of Notre Dame but since I've never been inside of Notre Dame I don't feel like I'm qualified to give that same advice. I can tell you that whether you go to Notre Dame or you don't, you MUST go Sainte Chapelle. It wasn't on our itinerary originally but when I was in Philadelphia connecting flights I went to the Rodin Museum there. The woman who worked there told me that I had to go to see Sainte Chapelle. Her art teacher had described it as a "jewel box turned inside out" and when I saw it it did live up to that description.

Stained glass of Sainte Chapelle
On our last day we did less but we did two big things We went to the Louvre in the morning and we went to Moulin Rouge in the evening.

When I went to Paris in 1987 my sister got pick-pocketed and ruined our chances of going to the Louvre because we spent the whole day looking for the police station to report her stolen birth certificate and driver's license. So for 31 years I have been looking forward to going back and seeing the Louvre. I wish I had planned better so I wouldn't have felt so disappointed.

Here is my Louvre advice. Get ready to walk a lot, almost as much as Versailles. Print out a floor plan BEFORE you go and plot the things you want to see. For example, you will pass Michaelangelo's Slave statue on your way to see the Mona Lisa. Stop and visit it then. So have a route you are going to take or you will find yourself walking in circles and disgusted.

And yes the Mona Lisa is tiny and they do not have an organized way for you to look at her. I would recommend to them that they rope it off and make everyone pass it in a single line, like they do the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. It's a chaotic big crowd in front of the tiny photo and you may have a couple taking 20 selfies in front of you like I did. I finally told them to stop and move on.

Moulin Rouge is amazing. It's a cross between Cirque du Soleil and a burlesque show. Somehow I never realized that the dancers are topless the entire time. It's definitely something you have to see at least once in your life.

Over-all Paris is magical. I would like to go back but I would spread things out more and I wouldn't pack so many things into one day. We had to do that because we were only really there for four days. If I go again I will do less, and see some things I haven't seen, like other churches. The point is I will go again. It's definitely a place I want to take the kids. Until we meet again Paris!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

I Feel Pretty and My ADD Self-Confidence

I just came back from a 4 day trip to Paris on Tuesday. Yes, I know, that in itself is a whole other blog on its own. I'll be writing one about my favorite travel tips next. This blog is about the two movies that I watched on my flight home- "I Feel Pretty" and "Book Club." These are two totally different movies but they both deal with one similar theme, a woman's self esteem, whether she's single and in her 30s or a 65+ empty-nester. Even a federal judge, played by Candice Bergen in "Book Club," can feel insecure and unattractive sometimes. (Small "I Feel Pretty" spoilers.)

Me at my biggest in 2006 on the left and recently this year on the right. 

The truth is we are all our worst critic. I think that’s what “I Feel Pretty” was about. Amy Schumer’s character is her worst critic and when she hits her head she gets this total self-confidence. The interesting thing is that we never see what she sees in the mirror. We all assume she sees a super fit woman from the things that she says, but unlike other movies that play with this theme, they don’t show her point of view. Which really emphasizes the fact that we all have our own idea of what the ideal woman looks like in our head.

What I loved about the movie was the message that if we just love ourselves and have self-confidence we can achieve so much more. Unfortunately, the character does become a bit obnoxious and full of herself, so I think there was a message there too. Despite it getting a little corny and Amy Schumer exaggerating things a bit, for the sake of comedy, I loved the over-all message of believing in yourself and that realization that she had that self-confidence all along. We all do!

When I recently posted this old photo on Facebook my sister said she didn't even remember me that size on the left. I do remember being this size and I remember thinking that I needed to lose weight. However, I don’t think I realized how I looked in that dress. I look at this picture now and I think I look self-confident and like I don't seem to care that you can see the outline of my stomach or that it does nothing to camouflage the size of my boobs. I know I did have some feelings of insecurity sometimes, like anybody else, but I don’t think it was that bad. For god’s sake look at that dress I’m wearing! 

I remember a friend telling me one day when I was talking about my weight, around this same time period, that she didn’t think that my weight bothered me because I didn’t act like it did. I probably just hid it very well or forgot that it bothered me. Sometimes I'm ADD like that! Seriously though, I know that part of the reason I made a drastic change in my life to lose weight was for appearances. I did have times that I looked in the mirror and wished I looked different but part of me hated conforming to society's idea of what we should look like.  However the most important reason I did it was for my health. That's not to say I don't still struggle with my weight daily. A lap band is not the end all cure all. All it does is keep me from weighing 300 pounds and having diabetic complications.

As I've written here lately, I've recently been working out a lot more and I've been doing the Peloton bike. I know I've lost weight, the scale tells me and my clothes tell me I have. But when I look at pictures that were taken of me recently by other people, and standing next to thin fit people, I think I look sooo fat. When I was recently traveling I was sitting up high on a bar stool at the airport and I looked over at my reflection in the window and thought I looked huge. 

The funny part is that when I see these images of myself I think, "That's not how I see myself in my head!"  I remember thinking that same thing ten years ago when I initially started losing weight and I saw a picture of myself and it actually discouraged me. I remember thinking, "If I still look that big after losing thirty pounds, what did I look like before?" I thought the same thing this time. As funny as it sounds it's like I struggle between feeling self-confident and good about myself and then seeing pictures of myself and getting knocked down a notch. 

Then on the flight back from Paris I saw "I Look Pretty." I know, I know! It shouldn't take a movie to tell me what I already know. All I'm saying is that I'm not letting my own insecurity discourage me this time. I need to remember that self-confidence of the woman in the photo above, yeah the one of the left. She don't give no Fs what she looks like in that close-fitting dress. 

I write so candidly about all this- about my body issues, my insecurities, my thinking I look good and then not- because I know that there are a lot of people out there that can relate. I hope that my writing about it makes it real and okay to feel that way. I hope it makes someone feel better about themselves and to realize that like Amy Schumer's character Renee, we do have that self-confidence inside of us all the time. 

(This blog became all about "I Look Pretty," so I didn't get to talk about "Book Club." It's a great movie about growing older and not losing our sexuality after 65. It gave me hope for the future as I'm getting older and closer to becoming an empty-nester. I want to have the self-confidence of Jane Fonda's character when I'm 80! Hell! I want that self-confidence now.)

Sunday, September 30, 2018

How the Peloton Bike is Changing My Life

Almost two months ago I made the best drunken purchase I've ever made. It's one thing to buy too much silver in Mexico while drinking and shopping. It's another thing when you've had a few too many drinks and you're home and targeted for the 100th time with a Peloton bike ad. There's a billboard by my house, I received a direct mail postcard, saw digital ads, my boss has one, and finally I was served up a TV ad while watching Hulu. I clicked through to the ad and they had a very good call to action: (this is so the advertising person talking here) Zero down and ZERO INTEREST. That caught my attention and this ended up happening. I blogged about it and how it had become the catalayst for me to get stuff done.

I'm coming up on my two month anniversary and I'm taking my body measurements again at that time, although people are constantly asking me if I'm losing weight. Then there's social media of course. I'm posting photos about my work-outs, probably to the point of being obnoxious, and photos of my progress. Friends keep commenting that they can see the difference.

Side note to this. I like to think that I'm motivating people because I've had so many friends ask me about the bike and they are thinking about buying it. I had one friend who actually did buy it and Peloton sent me a gift card for referring her. I like what she said the best. She said that I'm a real person, not someone who was athletic and already active prior to this. I'm a busy working mom raising two teenagers, about 60 pounds overweight and I have to find the time to exercise. I like that my friends see me as a "real person" who they know, embarking on this exercise journey.

The thing is this. I have always exercised off and on for the better part of my life. I was on the swim team and track team, throwing the shot, in middle school and then I started doing aerobics every day after school in high school. I belonged to a gym in my early twenties and then later when I had kids I belonged to 24 Hour Fitness for a few years. I've gained weight and lost weight over the years, but I've mostly gained. Even after getting the lap band eleven years ago my weight is higher than it was at my lowest post-lap band weight. (Thank goodness I've never gotten up to my highest weight that I was at in 2007 before getting the lap band.)  I've started and stopped so many diets over the years. I've started and stopped exercising. I've tried running off and on, but never stuck to it.

The Peloton has been different. First of all I'm paying for it right now. Yes, I am financing the bike until I pay it off, so that's one payment. (no interest and no catches) The second payment is the subscription to the absolutely awesome program that I love. I see this like a gym membership. Not only do I follow live and on demand cycling classes on my bike, I can also do floor exercises from arms, to core, to yoga. The best part is that you can have up to five profiles on your subscription, so my two kids can use it too. So really I'm getting three gym memberships for the price of one subscription.

I downloaded the Peloton app to my phone and I can do any of the floor exercises using my phone. Today I went on a beginner walk/run using my app for the first time. I had a trainer in my ear the whole time leading the run.

Maybe I'm especially motivated right now because it's all so brand new and because I'm paying for it, but I'd like to think that this bike has changed the way I exercise. It sits in the middle of my living room and there's no avoiding it. I can jump on it whenever it's convenient and I don't have to get dressed up, except for wearing my padded shorts and cycling shoes. I can get on at 10 p.m. at night if I want to, cycle for half an hour, and then jump in the shower before bed.

It's not like any other stationary bike because of the classes and the instructors. So far Jess King is my favorite because she is so motivating. I did my first live class this weekend and I chose to do it with her. So far I had only done pre-recorded on demand classes and I was working my way up to a live class. I also like Jennifer Jacobs for the arms but I'm sure that as I do more classes I'll have more favorites. I must admit that watching the leaderboard when I was doing the live class was really motivating too. It shows you how you rank with all the other people doing the same class.

The Peloton bike is changing my life and reshaping my body and my mind in the process. I feel stronger than I have in a long time and like I can do so much more. I'm even more aware of what I'm putting in my body for fuel, rather than just eating for the pleasure of eating.

On today's run the instructor said something powerful. He said don't exercise because you "have to." Exercise because you can. You GET TO exercise because you have that privilege. I don't live in a war torn country where we have to stay inside. I have legs that allow me to cycle and run and there are people who wish they could. So I get to exercise and I don't take that for granted. This will be an exciting journey and I can't wait to update you all on the progress. (Not a sponsored post.)

Friday, September 21, 2018

Building My Own Personal Brand as a Writer

I've been blogging here since November of 2004 when my youngest was seven months old. So much has happened to me since then. I started the blog as a writing outlet and somewhere to be an accountable for my writing. My goal then was to get my novel written and I talk about it in that first post.  I did get my novel written, and even edited a few years ago, but in the almost 14 years since I started this blog not much has happened with the novel. But a lot has happened with me and this blog became the  chronicle of my life.

Me reading part of my novel at a Nuestra Palabra showcase at MECA, March, 2004, 8 months pregnant.
The reason I'm going down memory lane like this is because for a long time now I've been beating myself up about this blog. I beat myself up when I don't write often enough. I beat myself up when I forget to promote it. I beat myself up because it doesn't have one set theme. For a while I was told that I had to have one main subject, like shoes or make-up or one of those other subjects that people blog about and make money selling ads or getting sponsorships. I stressed because I never took the blog to the next level, I never put it on it's own website. I own the name but it redirects to Blogger.  I finally got over all of that. I had an AHA! moment.

Last Friday I attended Houston Social Media Breakfast, a monthly breakfast that always discusses a a different social media topic. I learn so much at these breakfasts and it's a great place to network. The speaker was Mila Clarke Buckley, AKA "Hangry Woman." and she said so many things that resonated with me. The topic was "When Building Your Personal Brand Isn't Your Day Job."

So to keep it short and sweet these were my main takeaways and part of my AHA! moment.

I don't necessarily have to blog to build my brand. As long as I'm creating content online on a social media channel and creating a following. Her social media channel of choice is Instagram. I'm not sure if that's exactly what Mila said, but that's what I decided from what I heard.

Instagram is all about these 30 hashtags and if you have good hashtags you can gain more followers. So I came up with these 30+ hashtags that may change from time to time, depending on my post. (Instagram only allows 30 hashtags.) Why are these hashtags important? Because these are the topics  I write about on my blog and when people see them on Instagram, and they are something they are interested in too, they are more likely to follow me and get to know me as a writer.

#shoegirlcorner #shoegirl1970 #loveHipHouston #workingMama #coparenting #momofteens #singlemom  #writer #pelotonmom #lacrossemom #booksandcocktails  #healthynotskinny #myinnerjourney #newspaper #publiceducationadvocate #HoustonCemeteries #typewriters  #traveler #alchemy #recommit #evolve #gratitude #fashionmom #almost50 #artlover #innercityliving #oldarchitecture #nativeTexan #80smusic #4yearplan #sacredhearts #swatchwatch #vodkaconnoisseur

And most importantly I finally came to terms with my blog being about all these things. It just is. This blog is all about my life and the many things that make me who I am. So I may blog about getting a Peloton, about gratitude, old architecture, being a single mom and so many other topics. The goal of my blog and of building my personal brand is to build a following and readers, not to sell advertising or sponsorships or to promote a brand. So when I finally publish my book I'll have a community of people who will want to read my books. 

It's that simple and it goes back to the original reason I started this blog. It was to help me write my novel and to keep me accountable. Technology has changed a lot in the past 14 years since I started this blog and social media has been a big part of that. So it's only natural that my blog has had to change too. I'll probably only blog once a month and I'm okay with that. As long as I keep promoting myself and my writing on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter it's all good. Follow me and read my book!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Sometimes You Just Have to Calm the F Down and Go Back to School

I've been stressed. Like really stressed or as I like to say, "EXTRA stressed." I'm not going to lie, that damn City of Houston violation has been a big part of it. Of course it couldn't have come at a worse time. Back to School is always stressful for me. This year I opted out of school shopping and I ordered everything online. SO MUCH easier! But an expense none-the-less and I also had to pay someone to cut the grass and weeds in my ditch. I have to pay him to do some other things in the yard later this week too.

The Kids in 5th and 2nd Grade at Oak Forest Elementary

It's hard to believe that the kids are going to be a freshman and a senior at DeBakey HS this year. They were just in elementary school. Miranda was in her last year of elementary in this picture and now she's going to her last year of high school! I was just doing all the applications for Vanguard for them and now here they are, they are almost done. Four years of school left for Seth and one for Miranda. Now it's time for college applications.

This past week was extra stressful with all the things that have to get done before they start school. They had to go pick up their laptops and of course on different days, Seth on Tuesday and Miranda on Friday. They had their yearly physicals and Miranda had her doctor's visit, follow up to her surgery. She's all clear! Seth wasn't as lucky. We have to have some follow up x-rays for something they saw in his back.

Add on top of all the things that I had to do that my lap band is not adjusting well to a small fill that I had on the 16th. I hadn't had a fill in almost a year and I thought that I needed one so I went in. Apparently my body/stomach didn't think I needed one. It's been rejecting food, even liquid. It's been very frustrating and I can't see the nurse to fix it until mid week. So meanwhile I'll starve and take advantage of it for a weight loss boost. I hadn't even been feeling well enough to do the Peloton the last couple of days, but I felt better today and I did 50 minutes. It felt good!

So sometimes we just have to calm the F down and we make the best of a situation. There is nothing I can do about all the things coming at me at one time. Like the old grandma says in the movie "Parenthood," life is either a roller coaster or a merry-go-round. I'd rather have the roller coaster so I can learn patience and resilience. I think...

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

I Think the Universe is Trying to Send Me a Message

I have been on fire for a solid week now. I cleaned my house and I've kept it clean. I've been riding my Peloton bike. I started cleaning out and packing up my dad's things and I'm almost done. I've even cut my yard a couple of times, post injury.

I just cut my yard on Sunday night and last night I was finishing a piece when my daughter comes up to me with a sign that the City of Houston left in my yard. I don't mean one of those little yellow notes on my door. I'm talking about a big yellow legit sign with a wooden stake that they stuck in my front yard kind of sign. The kind that announces to the whole neighborhood and anybody driving by that you're a messy person, like they can't already see that for themselves.

My Half Cut Yard on Sunday Night

Apparently someone reported me because the weeds in the deep ditch that runs next to my house are too high. That same stupid ditch that I've told the City is too deep for me cut. It's a drainage ditch with a huge drain. They used to cut it and now they don't. There were some other things in my yard that I take full responsibility for, like a pile of branches. Those are me procrastinating and then cutting my ankle. I called the City of Houston today and discussed this all at length. The lady confirmed that a neighbor called it in.

My other theory is that the people who are always trying to buy my house think I'm poor and that they can bully me into selling by bogging me down with fees. I've heard that's a tactic. Or it could be the people trying to sell their house across the street. Whoever it was, the City is now involved and I guess I've been warned. I'm all out of time extensions in life to get this stuff done around my house.

As if all of that wasn't enough...when I went to help turn on the water for Miranda so she could take a shower (she had surgery on August 1 and she isn't at 100% yet) I found a mouse in the tub. Yes... a mouse.

Before you start totally judging me, since I just told you I got a City violation notice, and as if that isn't bad enough, I have an old house and it's Houston. My house was built in 1940 and it's on pier and beam. A mouse got in somehow and it found its way into my bath tub. Seth said the cats are just for show and I'm thinking of firing their asses. They did nothing when they saw the mouse and they ran out of the restroom.

It scurried around and around trying to get out to no avail. I freaked out and screamed. The kids came running with a bat and a golf club. We didn't want to bludgeon it or drown it, the only two possible options. We got the idea off the Internet to put glue across a cardboard. That didn't work. Finally I thought of emptying out my "Jar of Happiness" from 2017 and Miranda told me to put peanut butter in it.

It got so excited that it almost made the jump out of the tub and we didn't want it getting out and running around the house. Miranda thought of putting cooking oil around the inside of the tub. That way the mouse would slip when it tried running up the side again. That worked. We were at our wits end when the mouse finally got tired, or was trying to find a way to get away, and it ran into the jar. Miranda immediately covered the top with a piece of cardboard to keep it inside. She carried it outside and released it across the street.

The irony was not lost on me that we caught the mouse in the "Jar of Happiness." I thought about how we filled that jar in 2017, but once 2018 started off on the wrong foot I never started a new one. Maybe the Universe is sending me a message. Maybe that mouse was a sign and catching it in that specific jar was a sign that I need to start a new happiness jar to get on with this year.

I'm now halfway to 49, the last birthday in my 40s, and that in itself is significant. I need to stop keeping a list of all the bad things that have happened to me in 2018 and I need to keep a record of all the good things from now until my 49th birthday in February. I have literally been carrying a list around in my Franklin planner of all the bad things that have happened to me in the last 12 months. I pulled it out, ripped it up and threw it away today.  I need to hit the Reset button and put myself into a different mindset. Thank you City of Houston and mouse. Universe, I hear you loud and clear.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

It's Never Too Much or Too Long to Mourn

Is nearly six months too long to mourn? Different cultures have different traditions. Although there are the set days of mourning governed by society, be it 40 days or 3 years, your heart doesn't have a clock.

I was given three days of bereavement by my workplace and if I needed more I probably would have had to take vacation days. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated the time, but in the US we are expected to get over it and move on. I wish someone had told my heart and my mind that too. I've survived because I had to. I had to jump right back into work because I'd already been off for about a week, when my father was in the hospital.

I also had to keep going with the kids doing all those things I had to do with them and being a mom. This summer alone has been busy with summer programs, a short vacation to the Hill Country, visiting colleges, Driver's Ed, and now senior pictures before school starts in three weeks.

I wrote about that in May and how I felt paralyzed. Then I was trying to get back into the swing of things when I cut my ankle. I haven't run in months and I hadn't really really cleaned since before my dad died. Forget about packing up my dad's room... 

Then finally something happened this week. The catalyst was this damn bike. After being targeted with ads, from billboards, to direct mail, to digital ads, and commercials on my Hulu, I broke down and bought a Peloton.

I had been looking at the cost of gym memberships for the three of us and the cost was a bit much, unless I joined the local, one location, Y. I was on the fence about what to do when the Peloton ad on Hulu found me during a moment of weakness. They got me with their 0 down and 0% interest and I bought the bike.

Then the realization hit me that the bike was going to be delivered by human strangers who were going to have to enter my house and that I needed to clean. The living room had become a wasteland of junk and legos that had spilled out from their original corner. We had a lot of work on our hands, (seriously) but with the help of the kids I finally overcame my paralysis and I cleaned my kitchen, living room and dining room.

I feel so good now! It felt so good to come home today and to see clean rooms. It's like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders and  I feel like I'm on a roll. My goal is to start packing up my dad's room this week. Once I can do that I can move on to each task on my list and the list is long! It will be nice to set up Seth's furniture in that bedroom and to help him decorate it. Cleaning these three main rooms really makes me feel like, what are two more rooms downstairs?

I won't even talk about the second floor yet but there's a goal for those two rooms too. Yes, I'm still sad and I know that packing my dad's things is going to be hard, but moving forward in my life is healing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hill Country Vacation

We are home safe and sound but our vacation did not go exactly as planned on the third and fourth days. But that's the thing about vacations. Sometimes you have to be flexible for changes. It all started with my son having second thoughts about going to Jacob's Well. He pointed out that last time we were there the hole itself was really small and he didn't really see how we could swim around it. Then our host pointed out that the water levels were really low and he suggested that if the kids really wanted to swim that we should go to Cypress Creek instead. He recommended a wonderful restaurant called the Back Porch. As long as you order food you can get a table there, right next to the water. It's like the best kept secret and the food is awesome.

We had really nice hostess who seated us right next to the steps into the river. You have to purchase the beer or wine separately from the bar that's run by the Tavern. They only have cans because of the river and glass, understandable. This was a can of rose wine in a can that was pretty good. I loved that we got to eat right there and then took off our clothes, because we had our bathing suits on underneath, and we dipped in the river and floated around on our floats. Seth even jumped off that side of that cliff side across the way. This was by far my very favorite part of the whole trip. This restaurant really is a hidden gem because you have to drive through a neighborhood to get to it. I feel like mostly locals and people who know locals would know to go there. 

We drove to Johnson City on Sunday afternoon, after the Backyard and showers. It was a beautiful drive, like all the drives in the Hill Country. Miranda contemplated how we could own a ranch. How she could buy a ranch when she's older or how I could retire to the Hill Country and own a ranch.

Texas White House, on LBJ Ranch, outside of Johnson City

In Johnson City I had planned to go to the Pedernales Falls. Once again our host warned me that the water levels were low and that I should probably go to the Blanco State Park. But I already had a paid reservation at Pedernales and I wanted to check it out, even if we didn't go swimming.

This is what I have to say about Johnson City. It is such a charming town with so much to do! Like I would go back just to Johnson City for a weekend trip. What would I do if I go back? I would drive out to the Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch and I would stop at every building, the school house, the home where he was born, the cemetery, and I would tour the Texas White House. We would also make time to visit the living farm on the same state park. (By the way, it's both a state and a national park.) I would stop at wineries and distilleries on the road. I would drive back to Johnson City and I would shop the antique shops. On a second day I would go to the Science Mill and do other things around town. If the water levels were good I would go back to the Pedernales River and I would see the falls and swim in the river. Seriously, there is a lot to do in this one town! Blanco State Park is only nineteen miles away if you want to swim in that river.
Where the Falls should be

What we actually did. We woke up late for starters. We thought we had time to go to the LBJ Ranch but we found ourselves rushed and we didn't even have time for a tour of the Texas White House. We just saw the ranch, the buildings from the outside, the Airforce One Half, and the White House from the outside. We did learn a lot of interesting things. Like the fact that Johnson had Airforce One Half made especially for flying to the ranch. He would fly from DC to either San Antonio or Austin and then he would take the smaller plane or a helicopter to the ranch. He and Lady Bird are buried in the family cemetery there. He spent 25% of his presidency at he ranch and invited presidents and dignitaries there all the time. For example, he had a big Texas barbecue for all the ambassadors from Latin American countries right there.

We rushed on to Pedernales Falls State Park, only to find that the water wasn't flowing. There was a record breaking heat wave that weekend so it was super hot just to walk down to the look-out point to see this much. The hike back was up hill and even worse. But I survived! By the time we were finished looking at the missing falls I was so hot and disgusted I didn't even feel like driving down stream to see the river. The park ranger at the front office said the water was barely ankle or knee deep in some places and was still water. It didn't sound very appealing. So we just drove home from there and we didn't get home until 9:30 p.m. or so.

It was a great adventure all in all.  I learned lessons of what I would do differently next time. I definitely see a trip to Johnson City in the future and a slow visit through the LBJ Ranch. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Vacationing with the Kids Before They Become Adults

The kids and I decided to come back to Wimberley this summer like we told my best friend's parents we would when we were here over Spring Break. That time we visited Wimberley-Jacob's Well, Dripping Springs-Hamilton Pool, Fredericksburg-the Old Tunnel and the Boerne for the Cave without a Name. We took the scnenic drive home and passed through New Braunfels.

On that visit our host, my best friend's dad, Jaime Sr., said that we needed to come back when it was hot and go swimming in the Blue Hole so that's what we did yesterday. This is the blue hole, which looked a little green. It was nice, it was cold but my #1 recommendation if you go here is to take water socks! I don't know what I was thinking. I hadn't been in any natural water in this area in years and I forgot that water socks are essential. The shallow bottom of this swimming hole is super rocky. My second recommendation is to take a float or a tube and to go down to the end, past the two swings, to the 10 feet deep side, away from the crowd and the families with little kids. I wish I'd seen that side first and I would have gone there when I discovered the rocky bottom. My kids had no problem with the rocks and played on the shallow side the whole time.

One special treat while we were there was that I got to see a fellow blogger and Facebook friend who was there with her family too. It's so cool when I bump into online friends in real life!

Since our last visit the dad had some health issues so he's moved from the garage apartment into the big house, so the mom has been staying in the house looking after him. The house actually belongs to my friend Jaime and his retired parents have been living behind his house.

On this visit the mama, Judith, let us stay in her adorable attic apartment, which is as charming as it sounds. We had a place to come back to, shower and change, and then we went out to dinner in town at the Wimberley Cafe. We got frozen yogurt and walked around town looking in at the shops that were still open. We tried to stay out as late as we could because we knew that once we were at the ranch we couldn't go back. The drive from the main road to the ranch is narrow, winding, and could be dangerous if done in the dark because there are no street lights out here.

Once we were back at the apartment we had Miranda's first "behind the wheel" driving lesson. This is the ideal place for that since there is very little traffic and basically none on Jaime's street because he's in a cul de sac with a couple of other ranches. At night we could go out on the balcony deck of the apartment and we could see all the stars and planets. An amazing sight!

Today's adventure will be Jacob's Well. We have a reservation at noon so we are relaxing and enjoying the "attic" apartment one last time this morning before packing up to go on to our next destination. After Jacob's Well we are going to Johnson City to Pedernales State Park then home on Monday evening.

While on this vacation I'm thinking about how this is our last summer vacation with the kids both at home. After this Miranda is off to college and next year she'll be a college kid home for the summer. I want to make this last year count and I want to make every summer after this memorable because after that my kids are pretty much adults.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Running Post an Injury and My Constant Struggle with Weight

I ended my last post with a reference to #walkTOrun. It's my new hash tag for my latest effort to get back to running and exercise. I've started and re-started so many times it's not even funny. I can't even remember the first time I really started running, unless it was 10 years ago on a treadmill at the gym. That's when I got the lap band and lost the biggest amount of weight.

Biggest I've been, June 2006 - Smallest I've been post high school, January 2009

The smallest I've ever been is high school. Who wasn't? Once I started college it was a downhill battle with my weight with me reaching the biggest size you see in the left picture, after college, being married and having two kids. I would lose weight with each pregnancy and nursing, but the weight would come right back. In December of 2007 I got the lap band and the picture on the right was taken in January of 2009,

The last ten years have had their ups and downs weight wise but I have never gotten back to the biggest size I am on the left. Around a year and half ago I found a new lap band doctor after my old clinic closed. I was en route back to my lowest weight post lap-band when I started feeling a lot of restriction. I was about to go on vacation to Germany so my doctor took a good amount of fluid out. Since then I've had a fill but I haven't gotten back to the right spot and I've gained weight.

So here I am now. I'm 48, I cut my ankle pretty badly before summer even started, and I've gained fourteen pounds total since last year. I've struggled with my weight my whole life, but now I'm at the age where it's do or die. It's not about looks any more. It's about surviving and living longer than my mom did. I'd like to land somewhere between 69, the age my mom was when she died, and 94, the age my dad almost reached when he passed away last February. 

What's really frustrating is that two years ago, a whole year before that lap band complication, I had been really running for the first time in my life. By running I mean not on a treadmill, outside in the heat, on the streets, and I'd built up to a really good walk/run rhythm. I was running more that summer than even a year ago. I want to get back to that type of running. 

I know not everyone has a lap band to help them but at my age, and with the complications I've had lately with my foot, I think there are still a lot of people who can relate to my struggle. A lap band is not a magic bullet solution. It's a small helping hand but you can still eat around it and cheat the system. Believe me, I've learned how to do that in the past 11 years. I want to blog about running post an accident and injury and how to beat this monkey that's been on my back my whole life. 

Goal 2

                                                                   Biggest I've been, June 2006 - June 2017

My first goal is to start walking again so I can build up to my walk/run once my foot is better. My second goal is go get to where I was last year in the yellow dress above. If I can get to the yellow dress size then it's only 10 more pounds to get to the size I was in the gray dress in the top photo. After gray dress the final goal is to get down 10 more pounds than that. But baby steps.

Goal #1 starts tomorrow. Back to walking to build up to run and preparing my meals the night prior so I have time to exercise. 

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Freak Accident & New Running Goals

Where to start... should I start with finding a well in my back yard? Which some of my friends would debate was the beginning of "the series of unfortunate events." But I feel like the well is a story all by itself and that if I mix it in here it won't get to shine in the limelight by itself. So stay tuned for the entire story about the well.

Me in the Emergency Room After Getting Seven Stitches

I know you're now wondering what the heck the well story is all about so I will just tell you. In a nutshell I found a well in my back yard, like a real honest to goodness water well, with all the bricking on the inside, ten feet deep. We've owned the house for 17 years and I never knew it was there. So some of my friends joked that I had opened a portal into the under world and shortly after that I had about three bad things happen to me. 

One of the crazy things that happened to me was that I cut my ankle open with a bottle of Topo Chico water. I posted this on on Facebook and I had some friends who reached out via private message to ask me for more details in order to understand what had happened. I had other friends who just read it and imagined their own scenario in their head and thought it happened completely differently.  So here is the real story. This is a long story so sit back, get another drink, or go use the restroom now.

It was a freak accident and in hindsight I should have made a completely different decision and maybe I wouldn't have this huge scar on my ankle and nerve damage now. 

On the eve of Mother's Day I went grocery shopping at Walmart on a Saturday, when I usually go on Sundays. Maybe that was my first mistake. I wanted a 12 pack of Topo Chico like the ones I always see set up in the main middle aisle of the grocery side but I didn't see any. (Ironically because I wanted to cut down on drinking so I drink Topo Chico with lime and salt like a margarita.)  Instead of leaving well enough alone I asked one of the employees. He told me he had some in the back and he brought me one. I put it in my cart, took it out again to have the cashier scan it when I paid for my groceries and took it to my car. As I was putting all my groceries up I saved the 12 pack for last because it's heavy. I had a bunch of blankets in my back trunk area so I had to put most of my groceries in my back seat. When I set the 12 pack of Topo Chicos down on the floor of my back seat I heard a crack. I had set the pack of bottles down too hard and I broke a bottle inside. Bottle #1.

Second mistake. I should have just taken that damn 12 pack back inside and asked for an exchange but I didn't feel like hassling, plus I had frozen stuff in my car. Ha! Hindsight is 20/20 and this is a perfect example of that. No, instead I decide to open the box to see which bottle was broken. It was the bottle in the very middle. Once again, another reason I should have just taken the box back inside. I get the brilliant idea of taking each out bottle and wiping off the shards of glass and water and putting each one down on the floorboard of the front passenger side. I even sat down on the passenger side seat, legs out the door, taking out each bottle, wiping it and setting them down on the floorboard. 

I was on the 10th bottle when it slipped out of my hand and crashed to the cement, right between my legs. Bottle #2 that I broke. Imagine a full bottle of carbonated water crashing down and the explosion of that bottle because of the pressure inside. Also imagine my legs very close to the bottle because I was sitting inside the car with my legs out. So I didn't drop it from very far when it hit the ground and it hit right between my feet.  When it hit, it somehow bounced or something (it happened so fast I don't know how it happened) and the bottle cut me on the inside of my right ankle. It made a nice curved shape of a bottle cut. Blood gushed out like a little fountain, not a little trickle of blood, and I knew that it was a deep cut.

I almost panicked, but I didn't. I got my stuff together, tried wrapping my makeup rag around my ankle and I started limping towards the store for help. I think I called my best friend and then my ex husband before I did that. Best friend didn't answer and ex husband said he'd be there as fast as he could. I won't tell you all about the couple who drove up and didn't even try to help me because it will just make me mad all over again. I will tell you about the awesome angel named Angela, a Walmart employee, who came to my rescue. She saw me in the parking lot, helped me inside, cleaned my cut, stopped the bleeding or at least slowed it down, and then bandaged me up so Rey could take me to the emergency room.

Two emergency rooms later I left around 10 p.m. with seven stitches and a $1,000 co-pay. Awesomeness. So you see, even if some things had defrosted while I returned the 12 pack of Topo Chico it would have still been way cheaper and less painful. 

Side note: Walmart and Topo Chico were great about reaching out afterwards. I told them both that it was a freak accident and nobody's fault and I had to assure them that I wasn't going to sue anybody. I broke both bottles. One inside the box and the other one outside the box and that's the one that cut me. (I feel the need to clarify this part because apparently it's confused some people)

Eight weeks later. I'm wearing high heels again for short periods of time and I started walking for exercise again. Bad news is that the cut was so deep that I have nerve damage in the area under the cut. So my foot is still swelling there and it hurts when I've been on my feet too long or walked too long.

I often think about those running memes that I see about being grateful that you can still run when others can't. I appreciate those memes now. I have to start over completely from the bottom again and I have to build up to the small walk/jog routine I had going. I'm going to start blogging about running after an injury and I hope that there are people out there who can relate and maybe share their experiences. So new goals! I will build up to running again one day soon. In the meanwhile I will #walkTOrun!

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Westcott Cemetery Update

I'm setting a new goal to blog once a week as much as possible. Of course life always gets in the way and so on, but I will do my best. I've never really used this blog as a money-maker or as a way to really promote myself as a writer. It's always been more of a writing outlet for me. But when I find out that my blog made a difference in someone's day or even affected the course of the way things may have gone it's very inspiring.

I have a really cool follow up story to my blog post regarding the Westcott Cemetery ten years ago. Five years later one of the descendants of the Westcott family contacted me on this blog post. She told me that she and her sisters had been researching their genealogy and she had come across my blog about her family's cemetery. We had lunch and I learned more about the Westcott family and Gayle and I became friends.

Fast forward five years later and Gayle's sister Sara has led an effort to to take back ownership of the cemetery and to create a non-profit organization, the Westcott Cemetery Association. I was so honored when they asked me to sit on the board of this association.

Last weekend my daughter Miranda and I volunteered to clean up the Westcott Cemetery with neighborhood friends and volunteers from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, who were in town volunteering with several causes. I took pictures and went on ice runs but Miranda did a lot!

Miranda hard at work!

The cemetery has had years when it's been cleaned by the city, the community and years when it is completely forgotten. Keeping it clean is not a one time job of course. It's something that has to be kept up regularly and that's hard work. Last weekend's efforts really made a huge difference! 

I love this story for so many reasons. First of all because I love this cemetery. We first went there because my sister insisted that my dad stop so we could explore. I used to like to go there as a little girl and I kept up with it over the years.  I would drive by just to look at it. I was so sad when I found out that the archway with the name had either fallen or had possibly been knocked down by vandals. But I'm so excited that I can now make a difference in the care that this cemetery receives. As you all know, I'm obsessed with old cemeteries but this one was my first love. 

It's also been so inspiring to learn how the community, the Greater Northside Management District, Pastor David Smith of the New Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church and his wife, and people who grew up in the neighborhood have just embraced this cemetery and loved it over the years. When we were there last weekend City Councilwoman Karla Cisneros stopped by to learn more about the initiative. 

Another reason I love this story is because it's a testament to the power of social media. I wrote a blog, a descendant read it and now there's an association for the Westcott Cemetery. That alone is amazing and I can't wait to see what happens in the future as this effort grows.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

I Lost My Dad in February

(I wrote this on March 19 and it's unfinished but I decided to go ahead and publish it. This is a first draft and un-edited. I just couldn't finish it....)

This is probably one of the hardest blog posts I've had to write in a long time or ever. I haven't been able to write it even though it's already been a month and a week since I lost my dad, Nicolas Casares.

Daddy on the day I brought him some chairs & set up a sitting area for him.

January started off bad. I had a really bad cold that seemed more like the flu on January 3. The doctor couldn't diagnose it as the flu but she gave me antibiotics because I had a lot of congestion in my lungs. On January 10 I took my dad to the doctor and he was diagnosed with the flu. They x-rayed his his lungs and gave him an EKG and told me that everything was clear. 

On January 30 I was back at the hospital with him because his cough wouldn't stop and he had a swollen arm. He had a blood clot in his arm and he had pneumonia. 

On February 10 they told us there was nothing else they could do for him. They did an ultrasound to find out why he seemed to get better and then he'd get worse. It turned out that his epiglottis was broken. That's the little flap that closes when you swallow so food and liquid don't go to your lungs. They told us that on Wednesday the 14th he would have been on antibiotics for a full two weeks and they couldn't continue giving him antibiotics because other organs were breaking down. It was hard for us to accept, but in addition to this my father had a DNR (do not resuscitate order) that said he didn't want to prolong his life with any artificial means. A feeding tube or any of those kinds of things are considered in that category.

We came to terms with all of this from Feb 10-14. That Wednesday, Valentine's Day, they gave him his last antibiotics treatment. On Thursday, February 15 he was moved into the palliative care wing. By that day he couldn't speak at all any more.

I cherish the days in between January 30 and February 14 when he could still speak. One of the last times he spoke to me I asked him if I was getting on his nerves playing old Spanish music for him and he said no that in turn it made him happy. When he lived with me he would tell me how good my kids were. I asked him one day if I was doing a good job raising my children and he nodded. 

He hung on from that Thursday until Sunday, February 18. We were there with him every day from that day on, playing music for him, singing to him, talking to him and trying to keep him comfortable. We asked them to give him morphine to ease the pain of the transition. We kissed him and told him what a good father he had been to all of us. I read him the Daily Text from his religion every day. As if my divine intervention, the texts had something that related to him each day. 

At one point I was alone with him and I cried. I told him I was sorry I had let him get sick and he groaned at me. I don't know if he agreed or if he was telling me no. I told him how much I loved him. I told him to dream beautiful dreams. I told him to remember all the beautiful things in his life. I told him to remember what it felt like to kiss a beautiful woman and he raised his eyebrows at me. I also reminded him of meeting my mother at El Rey theater in McAllen and that if he had never met her we would never have been born. 

The last time I saw him alive was Saturday, February 17. I had stayed in the hospital the night before and I didn't want to leave the kids alone again so I left late that night. The next morning my sister called me at 6:30 to tell me that he had passed. I debated whether to go to the hospital to see his body but in the end Miranda and I decided to go. I'm glad I did. I got to hear them play "Taps" and I watched them wheel his body down the hall and watched the military nurses salute him. 

My sisters and my nephew were with him when he transitioned to the next phase. I'm glad they were there by his side. They said he was listening to Kingdom Melodies, the music of his religion. So he passed on listening to the music of his faith.

Monday, May 21, 2018

I'm Paralyzed and I Don't Know Why

Well I kind of do know why. It all started when my dad passed away in February. I've never been much of a housekeeper or domestic person, but after my dad passed away I lost all desire to do anything, even the things that I knew had to be done around the house.

Somehow all I could handle was taking the kids to and from school and the bus stop, picking up my daughter from lacrosse practice, going to games, taking her to end of year tournaments, making the kids dinner, and working.

I kept planning to write a great blog, a tribute to him, I even asked my editor at Latina Lista if I could publish it there under the Padre Care column. The weeks went by, now the months, and I haven't been able to write. I wrote one short post about him dying in April but nothing more.

I saw this Hemingway quote today and it reminded me once again about the things I want to write. Yesterday I attended a book reading with the Mendez couple, Lupe and Jasminne. I was inspired by their words and I came home with every desire to write. I wrote the first drafts of two poems and I found myself filled with anxiety. I couldn't explain the feeling that overwhelmed me and I stopped. I wondered if I was destined to never write about that month, that week, that day.... But I know that's not true. I know I will.

As for the cleaning. I finally started a week and half ago on some things I needed to do and then I promptly cut my ankle open in a freak accident in a Walmart parking lot. I dropped a bottle of Topo Chico and it sliced open my ankle. I had to have seven stitches. That set me back but ironically it also pushed me forward. Now that I can't do things, like cutting my yard, I feel an intense desire to do them. As soon as the doctor clears me I'm cutting my yard and cleaning out my dad's room so Seth can move his furniture into that room.

Everyone keeps telling me to do things on my time but I think that three months is long enough and I need to move on with this business of living.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

My New "Normal"

I haven't written in a really long time because a lot happened to me between January 1 and March 19. I'm just now returning to my new "normal" without my father. I lost him on February 18. I haven't been able to write about it, but I've decided that when I do it will be on Latina Lista where I used to write a column about him called PadreCare. I'll post something there when I'm ready.

It's a start! (from my NikeRun app)

For now, I need to get back to walking and running. I've gained around 10 pounds in the last year that I need to lose this gut I'm carrying around in my mid section. I have to take care of myself because now more than ever I'm thinking about how short life is and how little bit of time I have left to be truly happy. Being that close to death reminds you of that. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

My Two Words for 2018

I have spent the first day of 2018 resting, reading and meditating on my plan for the year. I've meditated a little longer than planned, but it's all good. Things will get done while I'm on vacation this week.

My Harper Lee candle that my beautiful niece Hannah gave me, lit to send me some positive energy to my creativity and writing, The little typewriter because of course, writing
So here are the words for 2018: Evolve and commit. I am evolving. Every year that passes from freeing myself of long held beliefs, I evolve. I am finding my spiritual center. I remember the words I read on my last birthday at Mr. Martin's niche, "to put my trust and faith in my own mind, to live and die free." I am evolving every day to do just that. 

To commit covers SO many things. I want to commit to this evolution, to my spiritual journey, to my health, to my children and to my career. I am committed.

2017 was a challenging year in many ways but I also have A LOT to be grateful for. I read through my happiness jar and I was reminded of all the wonderful things that happened this past year, like my kids are alive and well, despite an illness. I'm grateful for our amazing summer trip to Germany, a new roof over our heads, and so much more.

So WELCOME 2018. I have faith in you. I believe that this will be a good year and one of the best in a long long time.