Tidying Up

Hello, there. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Much too long, I think, and I’m so sorry for the neglect. The reality is that my time has been consumed by work, school, and family obligations and the pleasure of blogging always gets pushed to the bottom of a never-ending list of to-do’s. Unbelievably, Christmas has come and gone – I hope it was a meaningful and relaxing one for you – and the beginning of 2014 is looming large on the horizon. Because this year is ending, I feel compelled to address some goals that I posted earlier this year here at Whimsey Pie and then never revisited.  I don’t really feel like doing this because I’ll be forced to face my failures, but I hate loose ends dangling around and I want to start the new year with a clean slate.

In January, I posted a few goals that I thought were pretty doable over the course of the year.  A Cleansing Breath details the seven goals I set for myself but I will list them briefly here with any progress I’ve made:

  • Apply to three graduate programs and hopefully begin classes by the end of the year.  I applied to one graduate school, was accepted, and will be one-quarter of the way through the program by the middle of February.  Because I am a full-time student, it is single-handedly sucking up every minute of my spare time (I just wanted to get it over with!) and is directly responsible for my lack of substantial blog posts and a general lack of fun in my life.
  • Improve my photographic skills.  I didn’t pursue anything intentional and lately I haven’t had to time to practice the skills I already have. 
  • Read My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  I tried, I really did.  And I must be one of two people on earth (my husband being the other simpleton) who was completely underwhelmed with this highly recommended devotional classic. After reading it, I often felt like an incompetent, inadequate, and thick-headed imbecile.  The readings were often very esoteric with snippets of verses taken completely out of context.  Needless to say, it was not beneficial for my spiritual growth so I just stopped.  Life is too short.
  • Regularly (monthly) write to our sponsor child in Ecuador. This was a huge fail – I am so ashamed of myself… 
  • Complete an Extreme Room Makeover for Buddy (the middle child).  We are in the midst of the makeover at this very moment – walls are painted, new carpet installed, and new furniture purchased.  The trim still needs painted and all the details attended to but we are almost there. 
  • Read six non-fiction books. I’ve read two this year(not counting textbooks): Worldiness, edited by C.J. Mahaney and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods.
  • Eradicate Coca Cola from my diet forever!  Considering the fact that I’m drinking an icy cold Coke as I type, I would say this was another epic fail.

In retrospect, I made more progress than I thought.  Not fantastic, of course, but not awful either.  And for the record, I will not be making any goals this year.  Graduate school is more than enough challenge and stimulation for me at this point in my life.

In July, I blogged about a personal summer reading challenge based on the Facebook meme BBC Top 100 Must Read Books List. The post gave a partial list of books I’d read over the summer but I wanted to give an accurate account of what I eventually accomplished.  I was able to get 6.5 books under my belt before the deadline:

  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • 3 books of The Ultimate Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (only the first book is required)
  • A Prayer For Owen Meaney by John Irving
  • Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

I did begin a Master’s degree program in the middle of this challenge which significantly slowed my progress.  However, the Harry Potter series has been such an enjoyable surprise and mindless escape that I decided to finish the series after the initial challenge was over.  I’m halfway through the sixth book now and hope to completely finish the series before I head back to work after the New Year.  I have officially read 45.5 books on the BBC list.  (That the entire Harry Potter series only counts as one book seems a bit stingy to me, but I didn’t make the list.)  In the next year, I’m participating in another fun reading challenge (look for a post soon!) which should give me the opportunity to cross a few more books off the list.

I feel so much better now that I’ve addressed those few nagging issues.  I can freely say good-bye to 2013 and face 2014 with an uncluttered conscience and a clear mind.  2014, here we come!

Thanks to all of you who drop by this blog on a regular, occasional, or even accidental basis.  I appreciate the time you take to read, like, and comment on my posts.  I enjoy blogging simply for the sake of blogging but your attention and encouragement makes the experience that much more terrific.  To all of you, I offer:

some belated Christmas cheer….

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and my most sincerest wishes for a blessed and prosperous New Year!

Summer Reading: Whittling Away at the BBC Top 100 List

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Summer is slipping through my fingers like a soft ice cream cone on a sweltering afternoon.  Can it really be the middle of July?  Where the heck did June go?

In my bewilderment at this unnaturally speedy passage of summertime, I completely missed writing about my little summer reading challenge when I actually started it.  So, while I’ve been purposefully reading specific books for a good month, I’m only now getting around to writing about it here.

And what is this reading challenge, you ask?  First, I believe a brief back story is on order.

I occasionally read the blog The Bookshelf of Emily J.  Among other things, Emily is working her way through The BBC Top 100 Must Read Books List*(her list is here). The BBC Top 100 is a Facebook meme** which has the audacity to claim most people have read no more than 6 of its 100 selections.  Reading Emily’s list prompted me to revisit my results of the same compilation which I completed about two years ago.  At that time, I’d read 33 of the 100 suggestions but I have since completed several more books.  I also realized that many of the books I still hadn’t read were languishing around my home just waiting for some curious soul to crack them open.

And that, dear readers, was when The BBC Top 100 Summer Reading Challenge was born.  The goal: to read as many unread books on The BBC Top 100 as I can this summer and still live a somewhat productive life.  No buying, borrowing, bartering or stealing allowed; books must to be located somewhere in my house.  I’m posting my list below with the books I’ve read so far in bold type.  Books with an asterisk beside them are ones I’ve read since the the Summer Solstice (only three so far).  Italicized books are selections I’ve started but not finished.

Stephany’s BBC Top 100 Must Read Books List 

  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
  3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë*
  4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  6. The Bible
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
  8. Nineteen Eighty-four – George Orwell
  9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
  10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
  12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
  15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
  16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
  17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
  18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
  19. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
  23. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Baugh
  24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
  25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
  26. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
  27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll*
  30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
  31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
  33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
  34. Emma -Jane Austen
  35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
  36. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
  37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
  39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
  40. Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
  41. Animal Farm – George Orwell
  42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
  43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
  45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
  47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  50. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
  52. Dune – Frank Herbert
  53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
  55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
  58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
  60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
  64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
  65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
  66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
  67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
  68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
  69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville 
  71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
  72. Dracula – Bram Stoker*
  73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
  75. Ulysses – James Joyce
  76. The Inferno – Dante
  77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
  78. Germinal – Emile Zola
  79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  80. Possession – A.S. Byatt
  81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
  82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
  85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  87. Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
  88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom*
  89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
  91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
  93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
  94. Watership Down – Richard Adams
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
  96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
  98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
  100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

When I began this challenge, I’d read 38  selections (40 books total).  To date, the tally is up to 43.5.  After reading Alice in Wonderland, Dracula, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane (not part of the challenge but I couldn’t help myself), I felt my reading was taking a definite turn down a very dark road.  To lighten things up, I chose The Ultimate Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  And, I’m struggling with it a bit.  When I’m in the mood for light and fluffy, the book is fine.  However, sometimes I find myself craving more substance and then reading it feels like a chore.  This is not a criticism of the book, by any means. It’s more an observation of my capriciousness.

Once I finish The Guide, I have several other choices:

  1. The Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling
  2. The Complete Works of Shakespeare
  3. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  4. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis
  5. A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving
  6. Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  7. The Count of Monte Christo by Alexander Dumas
  8. Oliver Twist By Charles Dickens
  9. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  10. The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas
  11. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

The BBC Top 100 List Summer Reading Challenge ends on September 21,2013.  Looks like it’s going to be a classics kind of reading adventure and that’s just fine with me.  Wish me luck!

What are you reading this summer?

*The BBC Top 100 Must Read Books List was probably designed by a Facebook user and doesn’t have any official ties to the BBC.  The list slightly resembles The BBC’s Big Read compilation from 2003 but that is probably is as far as the connection goes.  Even though the origins of the list are sketchy, it contains many worthy books and that’s why I decided to use it for my little challenge.  

**meme:  an Internet chain letter that is sent from person to person.

A Cleansing Breath

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I am in love with January.  It has unexpectedly become the month of peace and rest following the frenzy of the Yuletide season.  I’ve had time to breathe deeply, to hang out with my family, to declutter my house.  I’ve been reading without pressure, doing Sudoku late at night without guilt, and baking up a storm.  The freedom from an over-scheduled life has been such a gift.  It feels good to slow down.

The slower pace has given me the opportunity to really think about this year and what I’d like to do with it.  A brand new year is filled with so much promise, isn’t it?  Not making some plans and goals seems almost sinful.  During the hours of contemplation that this marvelous January has provided, I’ve come up with a few things to keep me occupied in 2013.

1. Apply to three graduate programs and hopefully begin classes by the end of the year.  This is something I want to do for personal satisfaction but it is also a requirement of my new job.  I have a feeling if nothing else on the list happens, this particular goal will.

2. Improve my photographic skills.  Mr. Whimsey bought me a fabulous new camera and now I really feel like a poser.  I need/want a better understanding of the technical aspects of photography so that I have more control of the end product.  My first step is to sign up for a class (probably on-line) that allows me to work at my own pace.

3. Read My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  This classic devotional will take a year to get through.  I’ve started late so I won’t finish by the end of 2013 but it will be close.  I’m already looking forward to the insights and blessings.

4. Regularly (monthly) write to our sponsor child in Ecuador.  I really struggle with this. Writing to her always ends up at the bottom of the “to do” list and is often forgotten.  I want this year to be different.  I want to be an encouragement to her verbally as well as financially.

5. Complete an Extreme Room Makeover for Buddy (the middle child).  He is almost fourteen and taller than my husband and is still climbing into his little loft bed every night.  He can’t even sit up while he’s up there without bumping his head on the ceiling.  Yes, it’s time for a big boy bed and a room to go with it.  (I love this kind of stuff, so I can’t wait.)

6. Read six non-fiction books.  I tend to read fiction much more than non-fiction and I’d like to broaden my horizons a bit.  I have several books lined up already.  After last year’s challenge, six books should be a piece of cake.  I think…

7. Eradicate Coca Cola from my diet forever!  I know this smacks of a real New Year’s Resolution.  But, honestly, I need to take some drastic measures.  Coke is probably the worst thing I put into my body on a regular basis and I’m sure it’s doing a fair amount of damage.  I would love to be free of it for good. Baby steps, though.  I think I’ll take it a week at a time to start.   

Really, for the whole year, that’s not a very daunting list.  I’ve been known to make much more ambitious goals (see here) and fail miserably.  I’m feeling pretty hopeful about 2013.  How about you?  Any goals you’d like to share?

Finishing Strong

Ace, my youngest son, plays the upright bass.  This is good and bad.  The good is the beautifully deep and mellow sound that resonates from the bass’s belly whenever Ace applies himself to practicing (which isn’t nearly often enough).  The bad is the lugging of said ungainly instrument back and forth to school every Cycle Day 6 for lessons (which seems to happen entirely too often.)

It usually rains on Cycle Day 6.  By the time I get the bass and Ace tucked away in school and climb back into the car, I am drenched.  (I challenge anyone to carry an umbrella and an upright bass at the same time.)  To my complete amazement, it didn’t rain a single drop the last time the bass went to school.  Instead, the morning was graced with moody clouds, shy sunshine, and muted autumn colors.  It was so lovely, I took the long way home just to revel in the subdued beauty a little longer.  Driving past the harvested fields, the farm stands piled high with pumpkins and chrysanthemums, and the trees tipped with ochre and rust, I suddenly realized just how deep into fall we’ve progressed and how quickly 2012 is fading away.

With only ten weeks left in the year and the holidays barreling down on me like a runaway train, I’m feeling the need to refocus my efforts on some goals I made earlier in the year.  Burn out and a lack of enthusiasm is interfering with my progress.  I also have a few short-term new goals I’d like to complete before 2013 rolls around.  I’m sharing my goals here on Whimsey Pie because writing the list down provides an accountability I don’t have if I just keep the ideas in my head.  Don’t expect anything overly ambitious.  Most of these eleventh hour aspirations are just little things that offer some focus to my fragmented and harried life.

Last Ditch Efforts for 2012

  1. Finish the 50/50 Reading Challenge.  Do I need to offer an explanation?  I didn’t think so. (But you can check out the details here if you’d like.)  I’m just 13 books and 13 movies away from the Finish Line.  I think I can.  I think I can.  I think I can……
  2. Finish reading through the Bible.  In January, I began a year-long Bible reading program.  It has been an incredible experience so far but I’m about three weeks behind schedule.  It’s going to take some effort and dedicated reading time, but I should be able to catch up; I’ve been farther behind than this before.  I plan to use the Bible as one of my 50/50 Reading Challenge books when I’m done.  Bonus!
  3. Walk 90 miles.  This sounds ambitious, but it really isn’tIt’s just 3 miles a day, 3 days a week for ten weeks.  I’ve been walking as a form of exercise for years so I’m not really trying to develop a new habit.  I’ve just been a sloth lately (I keep blaming it on my busy schedule) and I’m rather sick of myself.  We’ve been enjoying sublime fall weather around here and I’m completely missing it!  It’s time to start putting one foot in front of the other for better health and a fresh attitude.
  4. Begin the process of applying to two Master’s degree programs.  The ultimate goal here is to begin a Master’s program in the fall of 2013.  I need to apply first and the application process requires some leg work (letters of reference, transcripts, letters of intent, essay questions, etc.).  So that I don’t become overwhelmed, I’ll take baby steps – fill out applications, approach individuals about writing references, and begin the essay.  There now. That should be a solid start toward my next (and last) significant educational goal.
  5. Memorize one Christmas solo to play on the piano.  Studies by experts who know infinitely more than I do on the topic say that this type of activity will help to protect my brain from all sorts of dementia and memory loss.  I consider this a very good thing.  However, it is not the main reason this goal made my list.  Memorizing a difficult song will challenge my skills as a piano player and give me an excuse to play for uninterrupted chunks of time – something I love to do and rarely have the chance.  The hard part will be choosing the song.  How about “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”?
  6. Participate in a service project with my family.  I want each of my kids to develop a servant’s heart.  That can’t happen when we are rushing from one self-centered activity to the next.  Even though I haven’t completely fleshed out this goal, we ARE going to take a day and give freely of our time and energy to an organization that serves people in need.  Hopefully we can take the experience and turn it into a regular habit.
  7. Clean and organize the kitchen.  With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, baking will soon be kicking into high gear at the Whimsey home.  It would be so wonderful to have fresh spices, baking soda and powder, and plenty of parchment paper on hand.  Being able to easily locate measuring spoons, scoops, and spatulas would be quite nice too.  And a clean oven?  Heaven.  I won’t sugar coat it – the kitchen needs some major TLC – but the tidy rewards will be worth every ounce of sweat.  I can almost smell those delicious spice cookies.

Well, now, so much for nothing too ambitious.  LOL!  The gauntlet has been thrown down, though, and I’m taking up the challenge.  Wish me luck!  Better yet, pray for me!

Do you have any goals you’d like to accomplish before the end of the year?

A Farewell to Summer

Summer is almost spent.  The sunlight is faded and the corn has turned brown.  I’ve even noticed the slightest hint of leaves changing from the dark green of summer to the yellows and russets of autumn.  Now is the perfect time to review my summer goals and decide if I’ve met with even a modicum of success.

1.  Read fours books.  (These are books for pleasure – I’ve read enough educational texts this summer to last me a lifetime.)  I’ve already mentioned Monique and the Mango Rains in an earlier post.  I also read a fun, somewhat mystical book by Sarah Addison Allen called The Sugar Queen that reminded me of Alice Hoffman’s writing.  Then, while in the Outer Banks in August, I devoured The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak.  While not an easy book to read because of the subject, it was impossible to put down.  (My daughter recommended it to me.)  I am now in the middle of House Rules by Jodi Picoult.  As with most of her books, the story is based on a difficult topic and is loaded with drama.  If I get on the ball, I may just finish it before the official end of summer.

2. Go to the beach.  I had the much anticipated pleasure of spending a few days at the Outer Banks (North Carolina) in August.  Although it was shorter than the trip I normally take, it was still heaven on earth.  Four blissful days of nothing but sun, sand, and sea.  For a detailed description, check here.

 

3.  Eat lots of corn on the cob.  I am sorry to report that I failed miserably at this.  The country store where I’ve bought corn for years was sold for development last fall.  I’ve been floundering trying to find a new favorite farmer’s stand.  As a result, this goal was a big fat fail.

4.  Try two new homemade icecream recipes.  I tried one new homemade ice cream recipe and it was so good, no one wanted me to make anything else.  My family really likes the icy, pure flavor of straight vanilla ice cream (no cooked eggs).  In the recipe below, brown sugar replaces the plain old white granualted variety.  The switch creates an ice cream with a rich, slightly caramel-ly flavor and a wonderfully smooth texture.  Watch out, though!  It will make your belly hurt if you eat too much.

Brown Sugar Ice Cream (makes about 5 cups) taken from The Best Ice Cream Maker Cookbook Ever by Peggy Fallon

3 cups heavy cream

1 cup half-and-half or light cream

1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

 

5.  Make peach and rasperry jam.  This summer, I made peach and blackberry jam.  And, while I was performing the arduous task of cleaning out the freezer, I found several bags of frozen strawberries from last year already crushed and prepared for jam!  There are now thirty jars of jam tucked into the freezer.  That should last to at least the end of October, don’t you think?  (my family loves freezer jam)

6.  Attend a free concert.  I was lucky enough to attend three concerts at Long’s Park this summer.  They were all fantastic – Oz Noy Trio, Danny Kortchmer band, and The Paul Thorn Band.  I had every intention of seeing Hot Club of Detroit but the weather was iffy that day.  Instead, Lovey and I went to see The Help with my sister-in-law and niece.  Because the movie was so good, I can’t really regret missing the concert.

7.  Catch  a few lightning bugs.  This is another goal that falls into the fail category.  While I did spend many nights on the patio watching the lightning bugs go about their complicated courting rituals, I never bothered to get off my butt and catch any.  This is probably all for the best, however.  From what I understand, the lightning bugs were relieved to be free of all that harassment and trauma.

8.  Go camping for a long weekend.  We spent an eventful weekend at Hickory Run State Park in the Poconos over the Fourth of July.  I wish we had more opportunites to camp, especially in the fall.  Alas, with kids participating in the marching band and football, the schedule doesn’t allow it.

9.  Walk 3 miles, 3 times a week.  I was doing pretty well with this until the end of August.  My teaching schedule has interrupted my walking schedule.  I’m finally settling in to the new routine and the walking has begun to fall into place, too.  I would say I met 85% of this goal.  Give me another week and I’ll be up to speed once again.

10.  Survive Qualitative Analysis (and Research Methods).  Four hour classes of designing experiments, one and two-way t tests, and factorial ANOVA’s for twelve weeks straight – I was a mind-numb zombie by the time it was over.  But I made it!  Now I’m ready to conduct my own psychological experiment and perform all the data analysis.  Unfortunately, I’m not finished with statistics yet.  At this moment, I am taking a class on program evaluation which does contain some small amount of numbers crunching.  After what I’ve just been through, though, this will be a piece of cake!

Well, I did not reach 100% of my goals.  The corn and the lightning bug items are zeroes for sure.  On other items, I went above and beyond – making jelly, going to concerts, thriving in statistics – which balances things out in my mind.  Finally, while I technically didn’t achieve 100% compliance with books read, miles walked, and types of ice cream tried, effort was clearly demonstrated.  Because I’m feeling especially generous today, I’ll forgo my perfectionistic tendencies and claim victory. Even though I didn’t meet all my goals, I certainly had fun trying and benefited in numerous ways from the efforts.  There must be a way to use statistics to figure out exactly how successful I’ve been, but we won’t go there today.  I perfer to maintain my sanity – as fragile as it is, I need to be very cautious.