Monday, May 26, 2008

God Said So - I Guess That's Why I Feel This Way



(Love this one)

I'm going to start a new blog called "Opinions: Mine" because I don't want my opinions to be confused with the way I see life - I see life from an angle not always appreciated by the masses, and by masses I don't mean Catholics. I happen to be a Christian without a denomination, but I attend a Baptist church. I'm not a member of any church - didn't McCain summarize his faith somewhat similar? Well, I'm not sure I would agree with everything the man says, but I know this much: I don't think Google can satisfy every search, sometimes you just have to take it to the top!

So, from the point of view that this author (the marquis) takes, you can't find everything you look for online. I have to agree - however, I was SHOCKED that some of my more ultimately "I-Wouldn't-Dare-Ask-Anyone-Out-Loud" questions, I have found that someone has already posted the same or similar questions at Google or Ask. I'm really surprised at what some people can creatively come up with in terms of asking blunt off the wall questions and then I'm equally shocked and amazed that there are answers to the questions - often presented by medical practitioners who aren't charging for their expertise. They figure is someone is bold enough to ask (probably using a fake moniker) than they can surely answer. Wow, the things you can learn online - but again, you can't get every answer from Google.

I did however ask a poignant question - one that most may wonder but never have the nerve to ask. I Googled "Can God tell a lie?" I knew the answer, but I wanted to see what the others thought, and yes, I did actually learn something in the process. I'm a rather black and white type person. It is or it isn't. I'm rather Yoda-ish in my way of thinking. "Do or do not, there is no try" is something I tell my kids all the time. For years they thought I was really smart - then they watched Star Wars and my gig was up. So, can God Himself tell a lie? I would have instantly said "NO! Of course not." But the answer is yes. Yes, God CAN lie should He choose to, but it is not in His nature, it is not committed, it has not been committed, and much like the free will He gave to us, He is subjected to that very same principle - His own design. He could lie if He wanted to - but He won't lie. That should take a little pressure off any of you who thought I was going to pull out a lie that God told and see if you could argue with me on point.

I gave up debate in High School. I wasn't wanting to be a lawyer any longer than it took to become a judge. Five years in the state of Oklahoma. I would have been able to complete my degree in 2001, go to law school from 2002-2005, and I would have become a real live attorney in 2005, making 2010 my year to run for the bench. That dream was shattered - but from it another emerged - writing. I guess my point is this: search and ask, seek and learn, but don't always believe until you have made the clear analysis yourself. Follow the evidence - good advise.

Google when you can, go to God for the final answers - trust your heart. You've heard it before, you have to stand for something or you'll fall for anything - well, that goes for putting your hope and/or your trust, faith, whatever you want to call it in something other than yourself. Google is good. You can learn a lot. But there are just some things you can't get from the masses - or the Catholics. (OK, that was uncalled for, but my good friends who know me know I'm smiling. Hi Christina!) :) See, what you don't know is that my church, Metropolitan Baptist Church, is located directly across the street from Ephiphany Catholic Church in Oklahoma City. When the masses exodus from both churches we're constantly laughing at one another to see who will be the more polite church member to let the others go ahead of them in the street which becomes a parking lot around 11:45 every Sunday. So, if you're offended by my Catholic statement - don't be, I love you even though I don't know you.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

This Memorial Day - I Give You PERFECTION










OK, OK...so I'm biased, and I'm opinionated....he's perfect to me.

As another year goes by and I've had time to think about what my son really means to me, I am blessed and overwhelmed by the joyful and often shocking pictures my son sends to me. He wants to memorialize his duty time in the best possible why he can. He wants to remember the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, and well - the crazy out-of-this-world whacked out times as well. You try sitting in the barracks for days on end with negative 50 degrees below zero! Sooner or later someone is going to suggest a sledding adventure, gun or no guns, there's going to be a party in the snow!

Last Fourth of July, when the troops were up more than 24 hours because they had leave but the sun never went down, Reuben and his buddies were buying firecrackers just after midnight and somewhere around the 4:00 a.m. point one or the other of the soldiers noticed that the morning bugler was getting out of bed and getting dressed. What a concept, they realized the 5th was upon them and they were about to P.T. after blowing up toys with black cats and cheery bombs....boys are boys are boys are boys.

Sometime around Labor Day my son broken another ankle, then a wrist after that, and just after Christmas, after he had left my house in November, he put a knife through his hand. He called me to let me know he was OK - how do you do that? How do you put a knife through your hand and have the wherewithal to call your mom who wasn't worried (but now she is) and you tell her you're driving yourself to the hospital to have the knife removed. It wasn't his first trip to the E.R. They called him by his name - again. At least he had clean underwear on I'm told, but why would he need to show them off if he was just getting his hand stitched? I try not to ask.

I guess what I'm getting at is that somewhere between the fun, the games, the physical therapy, the rucking and the Meals-Ready-to-Eat recipes my son learned how to drive, navigate, rotate and maneuver more than 5 tank type vehicles. He can read radar screens, give a life-saving tracheotomy if necessary, he can shoot the proverbial fly off the rock over a mile away - of course the rock won't fare well either with the cannon he's using, but he can certainly hone in on the fly if need be. Somewhere in between the mountain climbing, sledding, snowball fights, and required field training my son learned to be what he always knew he would be - a United States Army soldier.

When I was pregnant with Reuben and knew he would be a boy I knew that he would join. I fought it of course, I used to come up behind him in school when the recruiters were looking at him and I'd push him away - move along son, move along. I remember a face-to-face confrontation with a particularly brazen recruiter who just wouldn't stop dogging my son. "He's not joining! Leave him alone", I remember telling the man - and when my son turned me around, took me by the shoulders and said "Mom, I am joining, and I'm joining to protect you and my sisters from everything out there that you need to be protected from." It hit me. I wasn't looking down at a little boy, I was looking up at a man.

Letting go was the hardest thing I had to do - and I do wait and count the days that my Baby Boy has to be away, but in the deepest part of my heart I know he is doing exactly what he is suppose to do, he is doing exactly what he wants to do, and he's doing it his way for the most part. Having played football for 11 years helped my son to take orders. Calling his Commanding Officers "Coach" sometimes gets him into trouble, but you get the picture. That face, that heart, that smile...this Memorial Day I give you: Perfection!

To my darling Baby Boy, Private First Class Reuben Stringfellow - Thank you. I love you.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

SUCKER - is spelled J-U-D-E




This is Italia! She was born March 17, 2008 - A very good day to be born, yes?

I really am a sucker for cute little fuzzy things. I usually own a few and they get taken away from me by one or the other of my children, and this is exactly what happened to me and why now, I have Italia rather than Monet, the calico kitten I actually picked out from the no-kill yesterday.

I was visiting the no-kill with my daughter ONLY because Caity was called by the vet earlier in the day with information about a little Siamese kitten that was up for adoption. We went to pick up the little monster, but found it to be wormy and unadoptable. We told the vet we wouldn't mind waiting, but the look in her eyes told me there would be no adopting this particular kitten. Apparently there were more things wrong with it, and the diagnosis of "wormy" was just a nice way to not let on to Caity that the baby kitty would be crossing the Rainbow Bridge later in the day.

However, because we had our hearts set on adopting a little one, we visited (with the vet's recommendation) a wonderful no-kill foster family and found an absolutely adorable blue-eyed solid black male kitten with the fluffiest of fur. He was just so heart-stoppingly gorgeous that Caity was taken immediately. Of course we gave our donation as we were leaving and wouldn't you know it - another cat decided to catch a ride out the door and into the world of living with fewer cats. She is a gentle, but firm-holding calico which I found unable to resist. I found her unable to resist because she had literally crawled up my body and onto my shoulder with a look of sheer determination; she was NOT staying in the shelter another minute. Not when there was a perfectly good family that could take her to a forever-home.

I did that! I took Monet (because she is painted. I wanted to give her a unique and qualifying name) with me, with Caity, and with Gideon her new black baby kitten. We drove home. I spent the next hour or so gathering all the necessary things you need to buy and all the necessary things you need to do to your house when you bring home a kitty. Gideon would of course live with Caity, and Monet was to live with me. Monet decided otherwise. She didn't want to leave Caity's house once I deposited her there, and she didn't want to venture further from the company of Gideon, who we now believe she was following - it had nothing to do with me in the first place. She was and is Gideon's best friend apparently.

This morning when I woke up I had thought about the possibilities of housing a cat of my own - the thought left my head quickly enough, but I couldn't quite shake it. I knew it was really ridiculous to go out and pick up another cat from the no-kill, they have a 2 cat limit so you over-do it, and for that I'm thankful. I could just sit back and relax and if I needed to I could go visit Caity's babies...but I couldn't get over my feelings. I couldn't stop thinking that I too deserved a little kitty-loving as well as the doggie-loving that I get on a daily. Besides, I give cat owners such a bad time, and I say some terrible things about cats, it was the least I could do to actually show the world that I don't REALLY think all cats are from Hell, I just say that - and sometimes mean it somewhat, but no where near all the time, and I don't think EVERY cat is worthless, just....well, other people's cats.

So, I did what I do best. I used the internet and found a mess of little fuzzies for sale ($5.00 each to cover the ad in the paper and online) and I went by the house to see the cats, to just you know - observe them. There was one left. There was ONLY one left, and you know what that means: someone else could come by and get him if I didn't take him - her home with me right then! Five dollars isn't too much to ask, and I could name this one and not have to worry about the kids stealing it (damn kids). I turned her over, looked really close, and determined she was a girl. I named Monet after a painter, but with a black cat you have fewer choices. Everyone expects you to name a black cat something witchy, or Blacky, Inky, something having to do with their color. Well, I did too, sort of. I thought of the most beautiful black haired woman in the world - Ava Gardner, but my friend has a cat named Ava! Dangit...the second most beautiful black haired woman wouldn't do, so I named her for the country that produces most of the most beautiful black haired women...which is saying something. I could have named her China, Mexiana, or even Aztec, but I went with Italia. I love Sophia Loren - originally she had black hair!

So, there you have it. I am the biggest sucker on the face of the Earth, but when the roll is called in Heaven God will say I did a great job loving His babies and his creatures. I know I will be blessed forever here, as well as forever there, and when all is said and done, I will be loved by as many as I can be loved by. Love gives and it is taken. Sometimes we get to choose.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I Can't Possibly Own Five Toothbrushes

(not my photo)

I live alone. I say "alone". I live with two dogs and occasionally a couple of more dogs when I'm babysitting, and now I have to add two kittens since Caity talked me into that yesterday - but NOT one of these animals uses a toothbrush. Why do I have five toothbrushes in my bathroom?

I could, if I had to, pay thousands of dollars to a science lab to run extensive DNA testing on the bristles. I could mix pencil led and baking powder to make a fine print powder - ruin one of my own blush brushes for the cause and use peel-off tape to capture finger prints, but wouldn't you know it - my computer doesn't have the software necessary to find a match to anything I find. Chances of anyone in my house being in CODAS is good enough; (coughs the word "Caity") but nevertheless the mess wouldn't justify the end result. I KNOW who did this, but I can't for the life of me figure out why. She has her own bathroom, she has her own apartment/condo - why am I housing four extra toothbrushes for people I may or may not have given birth to, and why would anyone need that many in the first place. (Do I really want to ask? I may not like what I find out. Maybe a local or out of state band dropped by recently.)

Can germs jump from one lonely pink bristled brush to an innocent looking white handled model with green gel backing and a slightly raised brushing surface? I mean if they wanted to exchange spit could that be happening in the dark of the night in my own bathroom when I'm sleeping just around the corner in the other room? Could I then be given TRANSFER from one brush to my mouth if I use my own brush that happened to swivel itself around to perhaps be friendly and speak to the other brushes? What am I asking from this utensil? Its not like it won't communicate with the others who are propped up right next to it, sharing little holes in the holder! Wait, someone stole my Extreme Clean Aquafresh! I love that cap! Best cap in my opinion and now I'm what...stuck with an unknown's Colgate mint...boring.

This being Memorial Day weekend I'll going to do something memorable. I'm throwing them all out - yes, even my own guy - and I'm starting over. Completely over, just purchasing ONE, can you count that high kids, ONE toothbrush, and ONE tube of Extreme Clean Aquafresh. Do NOT let me catch you bringing in your contraband brushes or taking my tubular magic paste. Go away! I kicked you out! Go away! OK...I can't take it anymore. I have 3 children, one of which hasn't been in my house since November. Did he leave a toothbrush behind and I just haven't noticed it? I'll allow that one - it may be the blue clear model, but who owns the other 3? I hope I'm not kidnapping someones best friend and now considering tossing it out with trash.

Get over it Jude. I must reclaim my station. I must redeem my space and be the Queen of my own domicile...all will be thrown out. (After I call Reuben and verify if his DNA rests on the blue brush. I can't throw that out easily.) I can live with two brushes in the house and I can even use it to my advantage when the bad-guy comes into my house and sees that I have 2 brushes. I often put a pair of Reuben's size 13 shoes out on the porch with a little mud on them to make the bad-guy think he'll at least have to face someone big enough to fill those boats. I move them around, bring them in, exchange them for boots in the winter. You know - I've covered it all. Why not keep the interior safe with the man's toothbrush. It always works. Actually, if you want the truth: the best way to keep all bad-guys out of the house is to take pictures of your snakes crawling on the floor, and put the pictures on the door with a warning sign "Loose Snakes - Enter Carefully" Works wonders.

Back to the brushes...oh let's not, it was a boring topic anyway!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

You Have NO Idea What This Blog is About!

(Not the brand I really use)

You see a can of whipped cream and you know a bit about my family's history, so you probably assumed that this blog has something to do with either writing erotica or entertaining on Pyrate Nyte...you would be mistaken.

From time to time, often because I just simply have to have the upper hand, I don't punish my children in ordinary and/or typically time-proven ways. Heck, my youngest will be 18 in just a couple of months, punishment has long been a thing of the past. I do however make my point, and when I can't get my point clearly across I stand my ground a bit - awkwardly. I force humor in all of its unsuspecting ways and in all of its blasting, blazing glory! What I should do is upgrade this blog with photos of my daughter Caity running from me after I douse her with two cans of this stuff - her screaming, running around the commons like a Banshee and me laughing my head off because I was quite successful at catching her completely off guard. (Not hard to do when she's laying out in the sun with a pair of sunglasses over her eyes.)

I had mentioned to Brat about six times that I wanted her to come back to my place and take out everything that belonged to her so that my home would once again be Caity-free, except for the photos of her, the cute framed pictures she drew for me when she was a kid, and a few here's and there's, little reminders of the kid I like to call my Curse. Mom knew EXACTLY what she was doing when she sat me down at the age of 11 and told me she hoped I had a kid someday that would act and behave as I did....I was, of course, my Grandmother's curse for mom. I don't think Grandma did anything to deserve her 9th kid. (I was number 4 Caity number 3)

NOT ONLY did my Brat not take her things she added to them. She brought over clothes she had no intention of wearing and just dumped them, tools to dye her hair white, DVDs she thinks belong to me but they belong to my son, and she brought over Easter baskets she and her sister hoarded for years and yes, there were dead eggs in one of them. (Plastic broken things, but nevertheless dead and unneeded) THROW YOUR OWN CRAP OUT! She wouldn't listen. I just wanted peace. I just wanted her to take these things, her new computer and monitor, the desk I bought her, the hope chest my dad made, the marble-top piece she stole from me months ago and I replaced it, only to have her bring hers back, but it doesn't fit in my house now. I wanted her to take her bucket of shoes, her seasons 1 and 2 of 24, her sister's anime movies - please God, let her take the anime posters too! She wouldn't listen. Weeks passed. I smiled this morning and I left the house.

When I returned - and found my little girl laying by the unopened pool at the complex we live in (commons). I had the maintenance man use his key to unlock the door to the pool area. She probably wondered why on such a hot day I was wearing my favorite OU hoodie, but it never occurred to her that she'd be diving into the ICE cold pool to get away from me - but I won! HA! I always win!

Screaming, shrieking, cussing and laughing she waded and splashed out of the shallow end of the pool - I left of course, I wasn't about to subject myself to her pulling or pushing me in. She vowed to get even - and she probably will. I however, have something she doesn't have - years of experience....my ultimate secret weapon; I have already been there. My mother used boiled eggs and a slingshot to make her point!

And you thought the whipped cream could only be used for.....dessert.

Me! I'm A Caricature! (Thanks J.D. White)

Thanks to J.D. I'm in Pen and Ink!

I'd love to plaster J.D.'s picture up right along side mine, but he's only 17 and I'd had to get his parent's permission. J.D. is one of my students, and if you have a MySpace you can go to mine, and see his profile. He's really cool. My myspace is www.myspace.com/judeauthor

When I was teaching at Santa Fe South Junior High in 2004-2005, J.D. was one of my very favorite students. Hard to pick a real favorite when they're all so cool, and great in their own ways. I used to say that I had my favorite A-students, my favorite B-Students, my favorite Thugs, and my favorite Wanna-Be-Anywhere-But-School Students. I had a team called the Pyrates, and J.D., although he wasn't a real member, was an honorary member of my team. I wanted him but another teach refused to release him. I even offered a fairly good trade - but in the end....I had to keep Luis D. Just kidding Luis! I love you. We had some real talent at SFSJH. At least 3 of the 9th graders that are now about to become seniors are working as artists of some sort. J.D. just landed a job at an amusement park in Oklahoma City as a caricature artist - he's a natural. Bella created her own line of t-shirts and she's actually living in Mexico again making money on the beaches with her designs. I'm not sure what Duque is doing, but I know that NO ONE tags as good as that thug; I mean, man!

I can't believe my babies are all growing up! J.D. was just a lost little blond headed kid in the 9th grade. Now he's all about working his way through tech school, driving his own car that he bought for himself. He's worked 2 or 3 good jobs, good for a kid, and he's keeping the grades up. All this, and get this, he's writing his own autobiography - said his teacher gave him the idea. Thank you! I appreciate the fact that he's remembering that teachers aren't just people you throw things at during assemblies. Oh, I have to tell you a little story about J.D. He used to steal my food at lunch and one of the teachers caught him doing it once. I think he was about to be suspended, but I talked the teacher out of writing him up. He was grounded instead and had to sit with the on-duty teacher for 3 days during lunch. He didn't mind...he ate well. Smiling the whole time.

If life was like a caricature the world would be seen through the eyes of children, artistic children, and we would all have bubble heads, big smiles, bright eyes, and straight teeth. We could have balloony names and wear thin tiny-sized clothing. We would all be happy and the world would spin on the dime we paid it to spin on. We would be happier, full of enthusiasm and wanting to go to the next show! Can't we just take a break from the real world for a second and really put our dreams behind something like that?

Thanks J.D.....I love the picture.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pyrates Love Their Coffee (and Cigars)


I did not take this picture. A man named Marquito did. He is a Cuban man, and he was visiting St. Augustine when he took it. I loved the shot, and I borrowed it. Thank you Mr. Marquito!

OK...in true Pyrate style I have stolen a picture of the two things that make Pyrate Nyte active and worthy. I could have thrown in a picture of a bottle of tequila rather than rum, but the point is that I stole the picture - in honor of the Pyrates. We (the Red-headed, Scorpio, Celtic women of the area) are again hosting our little party this weekend. I think..no, I know, it will be fun. I have not, repeat NOT mastered the technique of hanging upside down on the pole outside while smoking a cigar...I have therefore offered to buy all the necessary tequila and cigars. You gotta pay one way or the other right? I'd rather do it with money rather than embarrass myself again in front of my dogs. Last night was one of those practice nights. 11 bruises to my shins and inner thighs later, well let's just say I could try out for a cop show as a victim. I'm beat up.

The fact of the matter is I found Rum Runner cigars. This picture isn't of Rum Runner, the only shots I could find of them were smaller, too small to show off the little pyrate on the band. Cute little pyrate too I might add. I'll have to have my good friend JD make a little character and draw it up for me so I can frame it. I love framing real art - anytime one of my former students makes me something pretty I try to keep it. You can KICK the teacher out of the classroom, but you can't take the classroom out of the heart of anyone who loves their kids. Teachers teach...administrations need to know that. Pyrates rule. Once a Pyrate always a Pyrate, huh kids?

This Friday as the cars turn their head lights on I'll be starting it up back at the ranch as they say - this time the ranch being the condo. I'll have the fire brewing, the brew fired, and the whip cream by the case. We're throwing a little wicked twist to this one...we're allowing men. Someone has to judge the dancing. Someone has to light our cigars, someone has to prepare the feast and since men don't rightfully believe that a woman knows how to handle a grill - we'll indulge one of that species to do the honors. Since the pool will be opening we'll hold off on the rum until after closing that portion of the party down, and let me add this...if you think you've seen sexy you haven't seen sexy until you see a strong woman smile when she takes exactly what she wants. (Darci will be asking Jason to marry her, and that's the stuff Pyrate Nytes are made for.) He can't say no, if he does he has to face the gauntlet of women standing before him with whips, chains, and toothy smiles.

Fly the flag! Light the fires! Memorial Day should be...remembered. Too bad we can't all take what we want that night. Smiles and puffs, puffs and smiles....someday. It's the stuff patience is made for. Port Royal wasn't taken in a day.

It Worked For Oprah




Faith lounging and Faith with another one of the Greatest American Dogs - Tillman!

Tillman is the sweetest dog you'll meet. He's funny too. He's all about having the best time, and he and his owner/friend Ron spend a lot of time out at the beach just entertaining and lapping up the love they get from the visitors and the locals.

About 2 years ago Faith was on Oprah, and it was YOUR doing. She was just staring at the walls wondering when her next gig was going to take place, when the phone rang. My friend suggested that we start a grassroots effort to get Faith on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I started by asking people who saw Faith's website at www.faiththedog.net to write to Oprah and say they would love to see Faith on her show. They did! People wrote in and soon someone from Harpo Productions called me asking if we'd come out to Chicago to do the show! It was amazing. Faith was beautiful, and if you didn't see the episode - let me tell you something, Oprah was moved to tears. My daughters who were at the stage side and on stage as well as back stage with the Queen of Talk herself told me how moved she was. Oprah said that in over 21 years of interviewing people, she can say that one of her favorite guests ever was a dog. That was said about my little girl Faith when the segment filmed for May 19, 2006. It was later replayed and replayed over and over again because the grassroots efforts worked.

I want to do that again! I want to ask YOU to write to CBS-TV at www.cbs.com and go to the bottom of the homepage where you'll find a little tiny button that says "FEEDBACK". At the feedback page you can click REQUEST or COMMENT and add your name and email address as well as your suggestion. I would love for hundreds or thousands of you to write and say you'll love to see Faith on either "American Top Dogs" or the other CBS new fall series "Greatest American Dog"...she is one of the best! How many other dogs in America can say they have been commissioned (even if only for a little while) to the rank of Sgt. in the U.S. Army? How many of them can brag about going to military and civilian hospitals and just showing up to wag their tongue to make the sick and wounded smile and laugh? Faith is over the top fantastic. No worries there, no need to wonder if she qualifies.

Besides - we're not in it for the money. If we win I promise to donate the money to benefit the Disabled American Veterans in Faith's honor. No joke. I hope you'll help us. Look at her...she's a natural! Actually, she's a SUPER natural.

Thanks in advance. I hope you'll write.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Daryn Kagan - SEE IT FIRST

(What a gorgeous lady!)

You too can see the Daryn Kagan internet coverage of Faith laying under the bed like a typical, average, common dog! I wanted to film Faith outside chasing a few geese, maybe walking around looking at the neighbor's garden, but she decided to sit this one out and just stay under the bed. What does the most photographed dog in the world do all day? Well - like your dog, she sleeps! I thought the footage was cute, and Daryn gets it before anyone else does. If she chooses to use it - that would be great. I realized while I was filming my other dog Matrix laying on top of the couch as he does all day, that my house needed to be straightened up. Nothing like a little video to remind you of how really messy you can allow the place to get.

I'm always surprised on CSI shows when the houses and apartments (for that matter even their own office space) is so freaking orderly. If a CSI used a swatch of tape to recover a bit of TRACE evidence in my house, my car, my office - please! It would be covered with dog hair, my hair, the kids' hair, bubble gum wrappers, twisty-ties, pieces of food - whatever landed and wasn't recovered fast enough. They would need an entire season of shows to uncover the evidence, or actually probably just to list the evidence. Tells me I need to do something in the way of organizing..I'll get right on that. Oh, but not now, I have to get showered, dressed, set up for the Kagan interview and do the rest of the Hollywood Entertainment things that goes along with these types of adventures.

This session we'll hopefully be able to discuss a few of the great companies and products that I will be working with in order to celebrate Faith's spirit, her inspiring story, and even have some of the proceeds from sales go straight to a few good charities. I'm thinking one of the divisions of the Disabled American Veterans. I am seeking assistance on that one - I want it to go to the best suitable source. I also want to be able to donate to a breast cancer awareness group, or a research group. I think a third route would be to benefit children's cancer research, or even with our own Oklahoma based group Feed the Children. It's all being discussed right now, and just as soon as I can get the names of the products and/or companies on the blog I will do it. Believe me, we're going to have FUN with this one.

I want to personally thank Daryn Kagan for being brave and sweet enough to do a follow up story for Faith and I. We have been so busy since the last time you saw us on her internet show. She's so nice, and I just love the fact that she's crazy about her little cat Tripod, a three-legged sweetheart. I'm not sure if she has dogs, but if she does she'll be getting presents and gifts from the select groups I'm working with - I wanted the best! I think I found them. Thanks Daryn, and I'm looking forward to seeing you soon.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sometimes You Get Lucky!




(I took all of these pictures of Laura Cakes)

SOMETIMES you just get really really lucky, and one of the best souls in the universe is sent from Heaven to live in the body of the child you gave birth to. That's what happened to me. People write to me and say that I don't talk about my second child as much as I do my first and last. They complain because I don't write and tell them what Laura is doing, but I'm quick to report Reuben's antics in the Army, or Caity's chaos at home! They're right. For that I apologize first to the brilliance that is my sweet middle-kid, and secondly to anyone who may have believed that I could possibly have loved her less - I do not. She is my soul.

I think because Laura is so wonderful, and she listens, and she does as she's told that I often over look her. Remember the story in the Bible about the good son, and the way he was always counted on...think Laura. She's all prim and proper (except when she burps at the table, and farts in the car to see if you'll notice) and she's all sugar and spice (except when she throws your clothes away because she thinks they're ugly and you should have consulted her first before the purchase.) Laura, I tell people, will tell you what to do, when to do it, how to do it; she'll make you a video full of instructions and read them to you if you prefer. She'd be more than happy to show up at your house and give you a consultation on absolutely any subject whatsoever because she knows absolutely everything - but there is one catch: You can't expect her to show up before 1:00 in the afternoon. Laura doesn't know what a sunrise is, and a sunset is what she refers to as lunch time.

Vampires find my daughter attractive.

Laura has forever been the one child I could call in the middle of the night to say I have had a bad dream. Her first response is "No Mom, Caity did that for real, it wasn't a dream. I'll fix it." Laura is the child that wants to learn to cook, she wants to learn to do laundry, she wants to learn to wash clothes, and golly-gee, she'd love to learn to make the bed, but there's just so much more to do during the day that it has to wait - another day - after 1:00 p.m. preferably.

Laura has no tattoos. I actually have Laura's tattoo on my wrist because she couldn't bear the needles. She was freaked out by the thought of it, but wanted the tattoo, so now she shows everyone a picture of my left wrist when they ask her if she has any tattoos or piercings. She does have ONE piercing...her right ear I think. She couldn't take the next needle. I'm serious. No, I'm serious. Look next time you see her.

Laura is my golden baby - my inner strength, my stubborn, off-the-wall, goofy little fluff ball that shows up with mud in her hair, water-beaten from chasing her sister up a tree in the downpour, but says to me "Don't ask..I'll fix it! It wasn't my fault" and somehow I am comforted by her words.

I love you darling. Good luck on your new adventures! (She's singing in Japanese and trying to get a Japanese label. She goes to Tokyo in the fall to do just that!) Taught herself - you knew she could.

Big Brown's Wild Night Out

WHAT an amazing horse. No, I didn't take the picture.

So, my friends Brian and Ryan were with me Saturday in Baltimore just a couple of miles from the Preakness when it all went down. We were at the H.H. Backer Pet Trade Show, and we had ourselves one great time Saturday night discussing all the nonsense that goes along with 8,000 people showing up to put on a giant pet show, and the additional 20,000 or so that come by to gawk, stare, buy, and get all excited about what you're making and selling in the pet industry. What I noticed however, was that after the show, while we were standing in line to get our drink tickets for the private soiree, that the talk of the trade show group had turned to more important matters such as the big winner of the Preakness! Whoa! Big Brown won!

OK, so we put our heads together and thought how we could totally capitalize on this event. It had to be something that we could do to make money but not put any money into. It had to be something we could brag about, but not really be responsible for in case it went sour - you know....bad. It hit me. I think it was my idea, I had run out of drink tickets and had to send Ryan out for a couple more. I promise we only drank tiny drinks, it wasn't like we were trying to up one another in drinking. In cases like that I bail pretty fast. My 2-drink limit has been allowed to stretch to a 3-drink limit if steak, potatoes, bread and other carbs are involved, but since this diet thing - I was more than willing to keep the juice level to a minimum.

I thought "Why not breed a pretty brown thoroughbred horse with a pretty brown quarter horse, and call the baby 'Big Brown's Mistake'? Sounds good right? Well, we thought it did. Then Ryan thought 'Big Brown's Wild Night Out' would be even better. I mean sure, we couldn't register the horse in the thoroughbred world, but quarter horses are registered with 1/2 lineage so there's at least an option for us. What could we sell the colt for? $5,000,000 maybe? JUST KIDDING...please, no e-mails, we were just sitting around listening to a great band, watching the girls from the Dog Walking booth behind us sing while standing on chairs. Some of the more laid back booth guards became loose enough to share their pasta with us, and to even share a cigar with Brian and Ryan. (Who I won't easily forgive for not bringing enough for me!) I don't share cigars.

Big Brown's Wild Night Out. Could we incorporate that? Would we get into trouble for the closeness or the recognition of the name? Probably - we'd be featured on CNN as being some of the worst horse-people in the world and then they'd do a stringent background check and find out we're dog people - - but we'd still lose our licenses to travel through Kentucky! I'm pretty sure about that one anyway. Oh well, it was a great ice breaker. It helped Jenny be able to use her new iPhone so she could spend the 11 minutes it took her to look up the results on the internet. After she announced to us that some horse named Curin something won, we were all screaming "NO, we wanted Big Brown!" Then she came back a little later with the true results, having read to us from the older stories about the Preakness, I think it was just last year, but it stopped us dead in our tracks. We weren't going to cry, but we were thinking we could have at least saved ourselves a fortune for having NOT purchased a piece of the 85% of the winner that I believe was sold off before the race.

Stud fees at $50,000,000? Are you serious? Ryan and Brian both agreed they'd do it for much less...much less.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Just An Average Day - Well, For Us

I woke up to the A/C man knocking on the back door around 8:30. I suppose that's not a bad time to get out of bed, but I wasn't exactly expecting anyone - dogs had been let out an hour earlier, so the dream that the man was knocking was somewhat more real to me than the actual event. He got to see me without makeup and half dressed. He didn't die right away, so I guess it's not as bad as I thought it could be.

No A/C for me. Seems the part was great, the unit wonderful, but my wiring sucks. That has to be replaced - maybe it had something to do with the explosion in my kitchen's wall from when I plugged in a car charger through a 110v adapter and watched the fireworks impress my dog. That was Tuesday. This is Friday. Things happen to me.

A/C man said it had nothing to do with it, the A/C, as you may know already, runs on 220v, so there you have it - just another random act for the Stringfellows. He seemed to be thrilled to meet Faith, even changed out my air filter for me, made coffee for the both of us since he had a machine just like it at home, and I talked politics with the man while he further explained to me why I would be without air for another weekend. I suppose it shouldn't matter that much, I'm going to NYC for Mother's Day - I'll suffer well for one full Saturday, and BAM - the Big Apple! For me from me. I do love a good Mother's Day present. I thought maybe a personal DVD would be great, something I could watch my TV seasons on while I worked out, but then the thought of walking to another Starbucks that I haven't been to in Manhattan overtook me completely. I booked the flight.

Most mothers want to be with their brats, Oh I'm sorry - kids on Mother's Day. I would love that too if I had one that actually wanted to be with me. Wait, I do have one, he's in the Army! I think NYC beats out Fairbanks, Alaska - I'll see the boy in August. Laura will be dancing and singing in Tokyo while Caity travels to a city somewhat less exotic - Little Rock, Arkansas to see a boy...a boy, on Mother's Day. Makes me wonder if he has a mom. Oh well, I love NYC. For me from me.

Anyway, the day wore on and my kid got fired - - wait, she just started the job today! What happened? I know what happened, the manager happened. I didn't like the guy the second I saw him staring my daughter up and down. I walked around the store for a few seconds, he didn't know who I was - he certainly didn't know I was the MOM of the girl he was googling over. He wanted my baby girl to wear more revealing clothes at work. OK, I get that, it's a fashion based store, she's hot, she's adorable, and she'd make his clothes look really sexy and someone would want to see themselves in it if they saw Caity Baby wearing it first...but I do draw the line when he wanted to help her. Turns out I didn't have to draw the line. I apparently taught my baby brat to do that for herself...BAM...(I do say BAM a lot don't I?) She got in his face, cussed him up and then down the other side, revealed her middle finger, and told him to ... well, you know what she told him. He had that face, that I'm going to hit you sort of face, and she smiled.

"My mother is an attorney. Go ahead hit me. I need the money!" was her retort. I smiled and waved; not necessarily agreeing that I was an attorney, but he at least understood that he wouldn't be undressing my little one any time soon. Hey, not that Caity hasn't been known to take her clothes off - No, I'm not saying that, but she has to be the one to make the suggestion....it's a Leo thing, I'm sure. I would have been just fine simply declining his offer and walking out the door. God bless the little one.

OK...so I get in the car, taking the brat home, and the phone rings. It's the other one, the one about to take off for Japan. She's going tomorrow, not as soon as she had planned. She's taking a tour bus to Los Angeles to save $700 off the ticket, (just found out 45 minutes ago) and yeah, in order to do that the tour bus driver needs to sleep at her apartment tonight, take a shower, get up early and then drive them both to L.A. picking up a few rock stars along the way - no, I won't reveal who they are, why make you jealous? Let's just say it's another typical change of events and normal working day at the Stringfellows. You simply can't keep a plan in mind for more than a few minutes - something tells me saving the $700 had less to do with actually rebooking the flight to leave out of L.A. and more to do with riding around a couple of days, a few thousand miles, with a group of hot musicians.

19 was fun. I remember 19.

My son called. He got his $600 check from the government. He's planning on using the entire amount to book flights from Fairbanks to Las Vegas, gamble $200 of it, lose that, and hitchhike home. That's his plan. He wants to see if he's safer on the highways of the U.S. than in the Middle East in a tank! Again...you have to admire these brains. I made these brains. I'm forced to remember that I actually contributed to the well being of these three individuals...he'll be fine. I know a few people at American Airlines. I think I have a favor or two left I can pull.

Happy Mother's Day to the rest of you!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Prunes v. Dried Plums

The FDA has decided to call prunes by another name. What's that they say "A rose by any other name still smells the same?" OK. I love prunes, and I guess I love plums too, so I don't mind if the FDA decides to call prunes by their more suitable, more marketable name of "dried plums". I suppose when you get down to it, they are actually dried plums - just like raisins are dried grapes. Can I expect to see that change, or is it still OK to say you like to eat a handful of raisins without people asking if your bowels are OK.

Prunes have a stigma. Go ahead and think it - go ahead and say it out loud if you have to, prunes are what they are - natures way of saying "GO!" For some people prunes are a life saver, and for people like me, who have been stealing prunes from old people for years - prunes are like candy, only you don't have to worry about the weight gaining or the faux high from fake sugars. I am...a prune addict.

I decided to boost the fiber intake again, this time I bought the hard stuff. I'm drinking straight prune juice in the morning and adding my aloe vera juice to it. Eight ounces of prune juice can spell trouble for some people - please, and I mean this, PLEASE don't drink prune juice just because I told you that it works for me, or that I like it - I had a blogger-fan write to me today and just freaked me out to no end. She wrote that she reads my blog every day, can't wait for the next one, that she learns so much, and she's doing everything that I do so she can lose weight and have a happier family life! OH MY GOSH...and since I know you're out there stalking me, and reading me, please, let me say this - DON'T do anything just because someone else does it. (LOL - OK, it's my Mom, but I wasn't going to let on for a while. She's got four kids, but you know, there' just something about the baby!)

Drinking prune juice may sound like I've given up and gotten old, but to be honest with you - it makes me look younger, go to the bathroom when I'm suppose to, it keeps the wrinkles away longer, and I love the fact that NO ONE else will steal it from me. I'll have the entire jug to myself. I could fill the damn thing full of grain alcohol if I wanted to and my teenage kids wouldn't touch it because the bottle says prune juice! Have you ever thought about how you could keep your kids out of your stuff? Put it in the prune juice bottle! NO ONE touches it. EVERYONE shuns from it, and they just set it to the back of the frig so none of their friends have to even know that the butter, or the ripe olives they pop into their mouths have come close enough to mom's prune juice to be forever ruined.

Here's a question that just begs to be asked: Why are they digging through my refrigerator? Don't they have their own? Do they not live away from me? Is it too much to ask that my children stay out of my stuff? YES...it is too much to ask, and I have no business even imagining that I could have such freedom, such peace, such me-time or me-stuff....silly Mom! At least I have my prune juice fantasy - until one or the other of them gets on the internet and finds out the antioxidant benefits, the weight loss benefits, and/or the fact that they get 3 grams of fiber with it - then I'm toast.

Speaking of toast - I found a new loaf of bread by Nature's Own. Double Fiber! 5 grams of fiber per slice! Not per serving of 2 slices my friends, that would be 10. I love it. The thing is, our grandmothers used to make their own bread with whole wheat and the flax and the wheatmeal was in it already. They had double and triple fiber bread coming out of their ovens back in the day. Come to think of it, Granny had a big fat black-purple plum tree in the back yard. I ate dozens of them over the weekends when I visited. It was her prunes I'd steal too. She lived to be 99 - but her secret was that she was privileged enough to live with Grandpa for 69 of those years...he was such a cutie. I miss my old man.

Well, there you go - eat more plums when they're fat, and more prunes when they're all dried up. Go and go and go....and then thank me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Cram the Grams

(awesome shot, but I didn't take it)

OK, if you're remotely interested in losing weight, clearing out the poo-tracks, or just beginning to feel free to move about again - this blog's for you. I even added a little photo at the top to explain exactly what flax looks like. You have to have them. If you want to do the toilet dance, and you want to slip on the old jeans again, you have to cram the grams in first. Fiber. It's what's for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and every snack you'll be eating for the next several months. Get into it.

Flax is grown obviously, and you probably don't have a crop in your backyard, so just go to GNC or your local Akins and pick up a canister of ground flax. It comes in oil too, but for the purpose of poo and the realization that every gram counts, get the canister and start pouring it out. I literally fell into this secret through a friend who has decided to diet with me. She's in California, doesn't really even need to lose the weight, but like a great buddy (we've never met in person, but have been really close through the web) she's into the healthy thing too. She just wanted to see me lose it! Weight that is. She wanted to see me lose the weight. She suggested, almost off-the-cuff, that I add flax seed to everything. I do, and I have, and it's done. I'm losing 3 pounds a week now. Before I was averaging 2.1 or 2.2 pounds a week. The flax seed is making a difference.

I eat a bowl of FiberOne cereal in the morning - it has 13 grams of fiber per serving so I eat a little more than one serving. I get around 16 grams of fiber from the FiberOne and then I add 3 more with the flax seed. Bam! After breakfast when I'm getting hungry for something before I eat lunch I do the yogurt thing, only 1 gram of fiber in it due to the fruit, so I throw in another 3 with the flax seed - again, BAM! I keep doing this all day long. If I make pasta I take a carb blocker, add oregano and flax seed (I even cook with flax seed oil or avocado oil) and I have another snack after dinner - maybe applesauce and you guessed it - flax seed! It's not bad and it works all day and all night to rid me of the extra .8 pounds a week. I don't mind that. No really, I look forward to that scale now - it's going to be saying something lower and lower almost every other day!

I make it a game now. How many glasses of water/tea can I drink without considering myself subterranean? How many tablespoons of flax seed will it take before it actually starts to look as if I've taken anything out of the canister? I bought this thing 2 weeks ago and it looks like it's the same amount - bottomless. I'll wake up in 2010 and say "I guess I have to buy more flax seed." It's really cheap too. Kind of like when I bought the Biotin for my hair - 100 tablets were $1.00 I couldn't believe that. I thought to myself "Why haven't I been doing this for 20 years?" Probably because no one told me to - or rather suggested that I did.

Aside from all the flax seed and the oils for being more apt to "go" on a twice daily basis, there is something else that is really awesome, most excellent for us all, and here it is - your ticket to a better colon, your way out of cancer (see your doctor), and YOUR answer to nearly every ailment you have had inside your body (see your doctor) Aloe Vera Juice. AVJ. You mix it with OJ, grapefruit juice, prune juice, and/or anything else with a good flavor. It's a bit like drinking the water out of an inflated beach ball - not the best taste, but you can mask it. The AVJ literally heals everything it reaches and since it's going from the top to the bottom on its little course of coursing - you'll be doing yourself one hell of a favor! Think about the benefits of aloe on your skin, how it heals burns and irritations. Now, go inside - all the little pockets, pulls, tears, and abrasions you have because of acid and erosion - these can be healed. BUT..and I mean this, ask your doctor! I asked mine, and that's why I can talk about it for what it's done for me. I'm literally no longer having acid reflux - not even one time since I've started drinking AVJ on a daily. Maybe 3-4 ounces a day, not a big deal.

So, there you have it - another pound, another smile! On with the mission Missy! 29 to go.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Anthrax!

(Official I-Was-There Picture taken by Matthew Clark)

It's how our U.S. Army tells our boys and girls that they are truly loved! Shoot their veins full of fun and fury. Adaptation is everything, and being immune to Anthrax seems to be the going thing when preparing a soldier to go "Over There". Every time I tell someone that my son is in the Army they ask "Is he over there?" I've decided to answer them with "He's in my heart, and anywhere else he's suppose to be." I'm told I'm not really suppose to say when he's OVER THERE due to security issues. I mean, it's not a secret that we have men and women in Iraq, but I suppose specifically I'm not suppose to say WHO exactly is there.

Here's my thought on the secrecy of it all. You know those peel off name tags that attach to a soldier's uniform? Well, if you're in Baghdad, and you stand back a few feet and to see that one of the soldiers standing in front of you has a last name so long that they used two bars to fit it in, chances are STRINGFELLLOW is Over There! I suppose they could all wear tags that say "Clark" or "Davis" that would be confusing to the world - they could tattoo the bottom of their feet with their real names because they're suppose to keep that part of their bodies covered at all times. I think they could even use Sharpee (like Caity does for eye-liner) and write their name, rank, and serial number (do they have serial numbers now?) on the inside of their helmets - there's no secret about it, if they're there, they're there.

This morning when my son called to tell me he had just been pumped up with a good sized dose of Anthrax he didn't seem too concerned about it. He mentioned it in passing, and then went straight into the reasons why he thinks he'll try out for Division One football here in Oklahoma as soon as he returns, but if he doesn't get it straight up he'll try out for an Arena Football League (Oklahoma Yard Dogs) while attending college - he's still rocking back and forth on joining the guard immediately, something about growing his hair out to his shoulders for a couple of years before he commits to it, but doesn't want to lose any rank or seniority. Oh, the chooses he's forced to make....while Anthrax courses through his veins!

Somewhat less threatening than football injuries that may occur, he placed the possibility of actually dying from the venom he had just received. Here's how it went from my point of view:

Reuben: Oh, if I die from this you get like $400,000.00 but you have to give the girls something like $50,000 each so they can at least get through college, is that cool?

Mom: Shut up.

Reuben: I'm just sayin', I die you're covered. Oh, and don't forget the funeral stuff because I thought about that just when the medic pushed the thing, I'm like "Oh wow, I have my funeral planned out and it could be happening this week".

Mom: Shut up.

Reuben: Anyway, I'm trying out for the Arena Football League when I get back, but I'll give OU a shot at it too, I'm not that big, but I could be a safety. Yeah, I could be a damn good safety. Do they even have a weak spot? Probably not, if I went for the Yard Dogs I'd be like this Whack Lineman slash (/) Safety guy. He's not that big, I'm not that big, but hell I could grow out my hair and be like really awesome.

Mom: Would you still be a Guard when you come back?

Reuben: I don't know if I'm big enough, the line's pretty big at OU and probably in the Arena league too - I'm only 5'11" now remember? I lost my height when I joined the Army.

Mom: Shut up. I meant the National Guard.

Reuben: They don't really have a team Mom. If you're going to play for the Army you have to go to West Pointe.

Mom: Ditz.

Reuben: (Laughing at me) Love ya Mom, gotta go. We're running 12 miles today to see if we keel over or not.

Thank you U.S. Army - You haven't taken his humor, even if he dies he'll have that damn smile.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

It's Official - Not Going to Turkey

Well, and this is sad, we're not going to be going to Turkey to do their television show even though we really wanted to go. We tried and tried to make the adequate arrangements to be able to make it earlier in the month of April but the station on the other end was unable to book flights allowing Faith to be in the cabin. They were adamant about her flying in the cargo, and my agent (because he's a really cool man with the best intentions for Faith and myself) allowed Faith to be booked in cargo so we could (a) meet our contract, (b) satisfy the fans in Turkey, and (c) be the bigger person and not make a mountain out of a semi-higher-than-technically considered a mole-hill, after all Faith flies First Class with American, not in the cargo of another carrier.

We tried. We pushed the deadlines back for the crew to come up with the arrangements. We pushed the deadlines back to allow them to sign contracts. We pushed the deadlines back because they suddenly realized they were able to put Faith in the cabin after all - meaning after we told them NO MORE DEADLINES. After pulling in our fantastic American Airlines expert and representative Lisa to help us finally get the bookings we needed - the station still wanted more from us. They wanted a certificate proving Faith was a celebrity. OK - NO. They said it was a customs issue, but when we called Customs in America and in Turkey they didn't say a word about it.

They booked us through France so that Faith could take a pee-potty break, and we thanked them. This isn't as simple as you may think. When you take a dog overseas you have to run rabies titer tests, blood work, all vacs have to be up to date, they have to have USDA certificates for EACH country, bilingual statements saying that she is in good health - and that an American vet is on the line for the tests being conclusive. We did our part. I obtained the letter from the vet to take to the USDA, and each certificate is $24.00 JUST so she can take a pee-potty break at the airport in France! That's a bit excessive, but we were willing to accommodate since we were asking them to place Faith in the cabin. We obliged. (with smiles on our faces I might add. Thank you to Dr. Logan at the Neel Veterinarian Hospital in OKC)

Once we were able to get all the letters we needed, the tests ran, the blood work completed, and every other hoop we needed to jump through - the station bringing us out were then unable to secure a hotel for us that took dogs. You may or may not be aware of this fact, but dogs aren't exactly welcome in some places of the world - Turkey has never been a place where dogs were revered or respected as they are in America, but you'd think the station could find us a hotel that would be willing to take our puppy since .... I don't know, that was the reason we were coming out! She is the reason we were invited to the country! (I'm just sayin')

We waited several times, and we pushed the deadlines back over and over, but it became apparent as the summer schedule was approaching that we would have one last shot at this. I even had to allow my daughter Laura to go in my place since they had moved us from First Class seating to economy, and I can't sit that long in a smaller seat due to my legs being funky - sorry, I'm like that. It's not RLS, but its related. I would have been a mess - but I got Laura her passport, and she had all of her rabies shots too - just in case. She's more apt to bite than Faith anyway. In the end they were simply unable to get the flights, the hotel, and/or the contracts signed so that it could be sealed and professionally delivered.

At one point - and I just found this out today - they wrote my agent to say I was being difficult to work with. I ask you - really? You think someone whose been bending over backwards to help over and over and over again can become difficult if you can't get your act together? OK, I'll give them that, but it's not true. A difficult trainer, handler, performer, act, or celebrity would have said no the first time they breached, but we went over and over the limits, we smiled, we rescheduled our lives...but finally I had to put my foot down. If that makes me difficult than OK...I'm difficult, but I won't subject my daughter or my dog to be placed in a situation overseas where Customs may or may not allow them access back onto the plane if Faith exits to pee without a certificate stating she's a celebrity and has the right to be in the cabin. AMERICA has no problem with it.

No, I'm not difficult - I'm more flexible than the average Joe or Josephine. I'm actually very giving, very calm, very accommodating, but I do have my limits. I'm sorry we can't make it to Turkey, but that's not to say they can't come here to do the filming and then take it back to their studio for a video - maybe even a live feed. This is 2008! I'm satisfied knowing we tried. I'm satisfied knowing we worked on it over and over again trying to make it work.

Enough is enough. I look forward to doing the shoot here in the U.S. (OKC preferred so I can show off the great vet hospital and staff that helped us so much!)