Memorial Day: welcoming summer, honoring memories

It’s not often my summer begins with the Memorial Day weekend, even if the end of May marks the unofficial start to the season for the rest of the US.

Most years in the past decade I’ve been in SE Alaska, and while spring is in the air by the end of May, summer is definitely not.

The past week found us in Virginia Beach, checking out a different side of the country, a different beach experience, and yet, oddly enough, with the same weather we thought we left behind us in Alaska: chilly, rainy, overcast. I understand this is unusual, just the luck of the draw. But still…I packed for different temps!

Finally, to launch the beginning of the weekend, we had a glorious day of sun, views, travel and music. A nice cap to our trip, and we also enjoyed a moving history lesson walking the length of the Virginia Beach boardwalk, reading the posters honoring events in US military history, and the beginning of the holiday now known as “Memorial Day.”

To celebrate the sun coming out, we left Virginia Beach and drove south. Sitting on top of North Carolina’s famous Outer Banks (OBX) was too tempting, so we made the easy drive south to explore another region of the Atlantic coast.

A couple of hours down the road you find yourself in the chain of communities that form the upper group of holiday / tourist coastal towns: Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head.

Where did they get those names?!

Headed down we drove through rural NC communities dotted with restaurants offering Southern food at its finest, barbecue, fresh crab and other local seafood, and fresh produce markets. Couldn’t resist stopping at a couple of these, picking up tomatoes, peaches, cantaloupe, jam, corn, and muscadine bread. (For anyone unfamiliar with muscadines, these are a type of grape which grows in the South.) You can make anything from jam and jellies to wine, eat them fresh off the vine, or, apparently, use them in baked goods. I’ve never eaten anything baked with muscadines, so this will be a first!

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I didn’t buy asparagus, but these were so tiny and beautiful I couldn’t resist making a photo.

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In the midst of our rambling, we visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial, honoring their historic and life-changing first flight, back in 1903. Though Kitty Hawk often gets credit for the location of the first flight, it actually happened in Kill Devil Hills. There’s an impressive monument to their feat, which continues to impact life…and I doubt it’s an exaggeration to say every life…on the planet.

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The Atlantic was a heavenly blue with brilliant sunshine out to herald the arrival of summer. Honestly, I could have been happy just driving the coast, taking in the views, soaking up the warmth, and appreciating the mix of kitsch and beauty.

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But we were only out for the day, and by late afternoon made our way back to Virginia Beach.

At the end of the day, we wandered down to find multiple outdoor concerts, restaurants, visitors biking, walking, eating, playing on the beach…a mix of ages, styles, cultures, languages…a melting pot, all around us.

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It was a nice reminder of the meaning behind the holiday, and how everyone living in this country in peace and freedom owes a debt of gratitude to those who’ve made it possible.

We’ve explored the Boardwalk a few times during our stay, but the other times we’ve been out have been more a fight against the wind and rain. This walk was leisurely, strolling and reading posters highlighting critical points in US history. I learned a few things about the various wars and conflicts that dot our history…these are just a couple of examples:

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Thank you, people of the past who made a difference, and gave your all doing it! Looking back at the past, the eras of bygone sacrifice, fears, victories and losses is sobering, but also reassuring.

It’s our responsibility to honor the past, but also to safeguard the future. And we do that by living with courage, respect, and thoughtfulness. How are we caring for the legacy of freedom today? That’s a question everyone has to answer for themselves, and the answers will vary, depending on the lens you use to filter. I think the best we can do is to live with personal integrity, value life, and understand that differences don’t have to divide. They can actually make us stronger, if we allow for that.

And guess what? Summer has begun!

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Fish ON!

Some summers in SE Alaska are jewels, and jewel-toned in color. The sky is blue, the water is a deeper blue, and the rain forest vegetation is a lush green.

 

But all that takes a back seat to the draw that brings so many tourists to this area. With the salmon capital of the world right here, what else could it be?

That’s right…fish! Salmon and halibut are king, but there are other fish in these waters, and when you’re out for the day, or you’ve come up for a few days of high-priced guided fishing, you want to take something home. Most people coming up to fish have a target, either salmon or halibut. Non-fisher that I am, before I lived here I wouldn’t have really known much about the variables in guiding for different types of fish. But fishing is an art, like any other skill. It’s also a hobby, sport, industry, and a way of life for so many in SE Alaska.

 

As with any hobby/sport/industry, you can outfit yourself with a lot of tools, gadgets, must-have and nice-to-have equipment. For professional guides, the challenge is not just having equipment for yourself or your family; you have to have enough gear to supply the guests you take out. And a boat.

 

There’s a reason fresh-caught fish is expensive, and when you spend some time around these fishermen, you quickly realize to be successful in the fishing industry requires a hefty investment of time, money, and effort, to say nothing of skill, and knowing these waters. I listen to fishing guides talk, and it’s a different language with its own idiom, terms that I can only hazily interpret the meaning, and stories that are fish-sized.

 

Another factor that impacts this industry is the seasonality, whether you’re fishing commercially, as a guide, or even as an individual. You have to have the right type of license, know where to fish, know when to fish, and then be prepared to fish while the fishing’s good. There are “openings” for different types of commercial fishing, at different points in the season, and the state regulates the limits that can be caught. Fishing lodges are seasonal as well. The short summer here means lodges have to make their money in a compressed time frame. In the peak of the season, communities that draw fishing tourists are hopping. Then almost overnight, things change. The season ends, the crowds fly away, and the sleepy little towns go back to their off-season norm. Lodges close, the seasonal workers leave, and the locals breathe a sigh of relief.

 

Some years the fishing’s amazing, and the commercial industry makes fantastic amounts of money. And other years, it just doesn’t happen. This year I hear the water wasn’t right for the salmon. Too warm maybe? Seems hard to believe (I’ve dipped a toe in these Pacific waters, and it’s chilly to me!) but these fish know their water, and if it’s not right, the industry numbers reflect that. So the next time you’re buying fish in the market, or eating it at a restaurant, just know…there’s a reason it’s pricey. But it’s also delicious, and good for you, so maybe that will make it easier to pay the bill, as you reflect on your heart-healthy fish entree.

 

We like fish, and we like to fish, but we don’t get out often…sometimes once a season, or maybe a couple of times if we’re lucky. I sometimes fish, sometimes just go along to bring food, take photos, and enjoy a few hours on the water.

 

This time I fished. I bought an annual fishing license, and good thing I did! We were out with a couple of locals on Prince of Wales, and we caught our limit of halibut, plus a few cod and snapper. No salmon this time.

 

The day was glorious, the fish were biting enough to give us a nice catch, and we got to spend a day on the water…and that always beats a day in the office!

 

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Maui magic

We’re doing a survey tour of Maui, driving different roads and regions of the island, meandering, stopping, getting rained on, eating, oohing and aahing our way through our stay.

Hawaii is an amazing state, with a rich culture that seems both exotic and familiar. There’s so much to take in, visually, it’s easy to miss out on the history and customs of the islands that make each one unique.

This is our second island this trip. We spent the first half of our time on the Big Island, and will end our visit on Maui.

Here’s my advice…if you come, whichever island you choose, spend the bulk of your time exploring, driving, and walking. Avoid the obvious tourist traps. Not that I have anything against traditional tourist activities…I just think they offer the stereotypical experience, and you miss out on so much if you limit yourself to those events and venues.

Instead, get off the path a bit. Try the marvelous food trucks, which are plentiful. Find a local beach. Drive the back roads, shop in a country market. There’s scenery to fill your every minute, and photo opps to fill your phone / camera storage capacity.

Most of all, just get out and enjoy. Yes, it is expensive to travel to Hawaii, and yes, some things you can do are expensive as well. But there is a lot to do that’s free, or almost free, and a lot of the freebies are the best part of the experience.

Though these are islands, there’s a lot of road to travel, and small communities dot the hillsides and coastlines, along with arger towns, and even a city or two to explore.

Hawaii has national parks; on the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes, and on Maui, Haleakala. Both parks encompass drives to the summits of volcanoes, and offer amazing views. Both parks showcase incredible terrain, from lava fields to alpine forest, overviews of coastline, rolling green hills, waterfalls, meadows, and everything in between. Beautiful, and so worth the drive time.

All the islands have different regions, famous local drives and beaches, scenic points. You’ll find a plethora of information online, as well as all the maps, guides, magazines, apps, and advice by word of mouth to plan in advance, or on the spur of the moment. I don’t think there’s a true off season to visit, though some months may be busier with tourist traffic than others.

If you’re a planner, you can find almost anything you want to know in advance. And if you’re the spontaneous sort, you can do that too, without missing out on too much. We did some of both, advance planning and winging it, and made a few reservations to smooth the way. But most of our days have been open, choosing what to do based on location, weather, or how long we want to spend on a given activity.

I’ve learned a bit about volcanoes, types of lava, visited gardens and pools, found new varieties of fish to enjoy, tried pickled pineapple, macadamia everything. Fun, delicious, and memorable. I can’t recommend it enough!

I wish photos could do it justice, this 50th state, but it’s impossible. Aloha, and Mahalo!

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Happy birthday to my one and only

That would be Rob, he is my one and only, and today is his day.

I saw this recently, and it’s perfect:

How easy sleep comes
when some piece of me touches
any piece of you.        Tyler Knott Greyson

He’s been off on a road trip to visit family, and I’ve been on a little trip of my own. Today we’ll reconnect, and celebrate the beginning of his new year, and know it’s all good.

And tonight we’ll sleep, hearts touching, just as it should be.

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Summer’s here! (Today anyway)

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We’ll be back to rain soon, as early as tomorrow, but the past few days have been beautiful, warm, amazing for mid-May.

We went out fishing…didn’t catch anything, but we had a perfect after-work hour on the water.

We went to Anchorage on Tuesday for meetings, flew the “milk run,” Alaska Airlines’ trip that originates in Seattle, then stops in Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, and finally Anchorage. Flight seeing all the way!

We got on in Ketchikan. These were scenes on the way up:

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That’s a glacier carving it’s way to the ocean.

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This is the photo for the phrase, “pure as snow,” it’s blinding white. The snow and the clouds blend together.

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Look at the time the sun is setting in Anchorage tonight. (You can see the sunrise/sunset times in the screenshot of my phone weather profile above.) Makes for long days and restless nights. That’s the way I sleep this time of year, restlessly. Somehow your body registers the light and doesn’t settle. I think it’s the elongated days that don’t give you the normal cues to begin shutting down and prepping for the darkness. Just a geographical hazard of being this far north.

We saw a moose in the marshlands. Fortunately it was too busy eating to notice us. Moose are sometimes aggressive, but this one wasn’t a threat. We were clearly less interesting to him than he was to us, and he couldn’t be bothered to turn around for a really good portrait, so I had to make do with a profile shot.

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This is a view from the road heading south out of town toward Seward. Mountains and water are everywhere.

Today, on the way back down, I got this shot of Juneau’s famous glacier:

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Finally, back to Ketchikan, and a beautiful sunny afternoon. We actually ate lunch on the patio of the restaurant we chose. I didn’t even know they had a patio until today…it’s not often you can enjoy outdoor dining here!

And this is what I got in the mail:

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It’s the proof copy of my book. So fun to open and find a real book, not just a digital file, which is all I’ve seen until today. Now it will list on Amazon, and the Kindle version will be up in a couple of weeks. Ahhhh…I started this last July! Hard to believe it took this long to finish, but then, it wasn’t always a linear project. And I’ve learned, some things are best not rushed.

It’s not quite the beginning of summer, by the calendar. But in the north, where some years summer appears on a Tuesday and is gone by Thursday, and you often find yourself wearing jackets more than sunscreen, whatever the calendar says, an early start is a good thing!

A friend just called to say he’s dropping off some fresh salmon. Looks like we’re grilling out for dinner tomorrow!

Little milestones

Riley girl, princess extraordinaire, favorite six-year-old, lost her first tooth last night.

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My baby’s baby is getting big.

She was eating dinner and out it came. Just like that! No tears, no trauma. No drama.

I was afraid a door and a string might be in her future.

Loosing baby teeth wasn’t easy for her mom.

She lost the first one eating a bowl of cereal. Never did find that tooth!

The second one came out with a fall when she was skiing. There was a little blood on the snow, but no tooth. Never did find it…well, white tooth, white snow…

The next few teeth came out in the dentist’s chair. The baby teeth were slow to loosen, and the permanent teeth were pushing their way in. The dentist said it would be best to pull them. I think he pulled four at once. The teeth, our first to present to the tooth fairy, were placed in a little plastic tooth holder on a little plastic necklace. Stephanie wanted to wear it home, she was so proud.

We stopped by the grocery to pick up something soft and appetizing for her…ice cream or yogurt…I can’t remember now, it’s been too long. But I vividly remember the next scene. Alex in the seat of the cart, food in the front of the cart, and Stephanie, suddenly in tears and inconsolable…the little cover on her plastic tooth had opened while we strolled through the store. It was a big store.

And now, no teeth. Again!

I back-tracked, trying to assure her we would find a tooth or two, at least, I was sure of that! We paraded back through the aisles, walking slow, trying to look for tiny white  baby teeth along the way. A kind clerk tried to help us, joining in the hunt.

We did find a couple of teeth…not quite the bounty we expected to present to the tooth fairy, but something.

Finally, after checking out, full cart, consoled child, I realized: no car keys.

Somehow, in all the uproar, I’d lost my keys as well.

I had to call Rob for rescue. He had to leave the hospital and bring his keys so we could get home before ice cream melted and the remaining teeth escaped.

I left word with the grocery customer service desk: if they found any baby teeth, or a set of car keys, please call this frantic mom.

Oh it was traumatic! But the tooth fairy did find her way to us that night, and paid on all the teeth. (As she had on the others that were lost. Tooth fairies understand: these things happen.)

I did eventually get my keys back.

Never did find those teeth!

So it’s with pleasure that I learn Riley’s first tooth adventure was simple, quick, painless, and she has a tooth to show for it.

Lucky girl! 🙂

 

He’s on the way!

Look who I found at the Seattle airport last night, headed north!

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We came down to be part of this:

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I told Riley and Jack Santa was making a last minute stop in Seattle to check on the kids here…see how they’re doing, before heading out on his Christmas Eve trip.

This morning we did a few last-minute errands…stocking stuffers, an impulse buy or two. This afternoon we’re cooking, and watching holiday movies, getting excited.

Oh, it’s the good stuff!

The boy is three, just this month, and the girl is five. Perfect ages to drink in the fun, the rituals, the excitement. Jack occupies himself with checking out the gifts under the tree, asking if it’s time to open yet, hearing (again) we have to wait until Christmas morning; he wonders which are for him. He shakes them and looks at them, identifies what belongs to who, makes stacks of his boxes.

It’s a hard thing to wait until the time is right, when you’re three.

Riley sings favorite songs, “Rudolph,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” She absorbs the traditions, knows we have to put out cookies tonight.

They’re ready. The adults are not quite. But we will be, before the littles get up tomorrow, bright and early.

Stockings wait to be filled, cinnamon rolls will be made tonight, ready to pop in the oven in the morning.

Is it perfect? No, it’s never perfect.

Is it magic? Yes.

They’re five and three. And that’s magic enough for me.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

~ Sheila

 

 

 

Cranberry relish on my table

In this season of holiday meals, of traditional foods, one of the debates that’s ongoing is over the delicate subject of cranberry sauce: do you have what you grew up with (for me it was the jellied sauce that pops out of the can, complete with the ringed indentions of said can) or do you go for something homemade?

To be honest, I have to have both…a nod to my past, and the sauce of my childhood. (I’m not sure fresh cranberries were even available in the market in my childhood years, so far did we live from the source.) And I love a berry-filled, sweet/tart version, simple and yet perfect to grace any table.

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe. Possibly that’s because I’ve been in the kitchen less in the past year than any time in my life.

But even I, living a couple of weeks here and there at a time, have to do some holiday prep. There are a few dishes I love, that are the essence of the winter holiday flavors for me.

One of these is the homemade cranberry relish that’s on the menu every Thanksgiving, and often at Christmas too. It’s so delicious and simple, and pairs beautifully with all sorts of savory dishes. But the important thing is that it tastes amazing. And it’s beautiful. And it’s easy, and keeps for weeks in the fridge. How perfect is that?

Baked Cranberry Nut Relish

  • 1 lb fresh whole cranberries, washed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups orange marmalade
  • Juice of one lemon

Combine cranberries and sugar in deep baking dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350° for one hour. Spread walnuts in a shallow pan and toast in oven during the last 10 minutes of baking time for cranberries, stirring walnuts a couple of times. Remove cranberries and walnuts from oven, combine in bowl with marmalade and lemon juice. You can serve warm or chilled. This will keep for several weeks in the fridge. Perfect for gift giving…fill jars and add the recipe for an easy and charming hostess gift or stocking stuffer.

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Best of Christmas

This is a most unusual Christmas season. But it’s already one of my best.

I don’t have a tree, or even a home for the tree I don’t have. I haven’t decorated anything, and don’t plan to. That just isn’t the focus this year.

But this is what I do have:

~ I’ve bought gifts and planned surprises, some on my own, some with the help of elves. From a kitchen faucet to movie passes to legos to all things Amazon…Brings a smile to my face to play Santa!

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~ I wrote cards to friends. For years I was a dedicated card-sender. And then a few years back, I just stopped. It was a difficult season for me, that year, and I didn’t do much of my usual holiday routine. Since then, I’ve mostly ignored that tradition. But this year, I wanted to do it again. It feels good to restore that custom.

~ I’ve listened to beautiful music…ah, the wonder of music! Thank you to Spotify and Pandora, companies that give me beautiful and beloved music to enjoy, courtesy of the wonder of internet radio.

~ I’ve read. Inspiring words of faith, insight, truth, mercy, sacrifice…how they move me to be a better person, a stronger person, a more generous and loving person! Thank you to the gifted writers and voices who remind me to cherish what is truly important in this life.

~ I’ve baked! Even the clinic housing apartments we stay in when we’re working have ovens (!), and I’ve baked gingerbread and treats that fill the air with Christmassy scents. It’s comforting to find myself in the kitchen, even if it’s not “my” kitchen. Food is one of the ways I connect with people, with memories, and with creativity. It soothes me and settles me, takes me to a feeling of home.

~ I look around and see joy. I sat in the Seattle airport Sunday afternoon, en route to work in Alaska for the ten days before Christmas, and I found magic, right there in the big center food court. A talented musician filled the air with holiday tunes, there was hustle and bustle all around, the light streamed in the huge window that looks out onto the runway, and I was grateful to be there, in the moment.

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~ I anticipate. I look forward to seeing and being seen. We’ll be with family for Christmas and New Years, and we’ll smile big, eat well, laugh, cry, be silly. We’ll look at one another and say, “this is the good stuff.”

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Life isn’t about perfection. It is about minding the minutes, seeing the good in the cheerfulness around, in the thoughtful words, the helpful acts of kindness. It is about love, and grace, forgiveness, and trying. Especially it is about the trying, for that’s really all we can do. We try, and sometimes we get it right.

I’ve never understood why some Christmas seasons are so beautiful, so perfect, even without perfection, while others can seem right, look right, but never really take root in my heart. Why is that? I don’t know, can’t put my finger on just what makes some years magical, and other years mechanical. I know it’s not for lack of heart, or desire. But there it is, just one of the realities of life.

Magic moments are mercurial, they don’t come with explanation or make sense; they’re shimmery things, like bubbles. You have to cherish them when you feel them.

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It’s a grace-filled time, this season, and I’m grateful. So grateful.

~ Sheila

View of the road

When I was a kid we did road trips. Lots and lots of road trips.

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I mostly had my nose in a book on those journeys. My dad always had music on, my mom always brought snacks, and the kids brought books.

My dad loved national parks, and if our travels took us anywhere near a park, we had to stop.

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Had to.

Driving anywhere can be an interesting experience if you’re paying attention.

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But in those days I rarely looked up. I sat in the back seat, or even in the “way back” of the family station wagon. The view was mostly a sibling’s profile, also buried in a book. I remember my dad getting irritated with us, that we were missing the scenery he was so enchanted to see. He was hauling us all over the country, and we might as well have been at home.

Sometimes there’d be a sight to bring us to the surface, out of our respective novels, and we’d stare out the window at a passing scene, or get out of the car and troop into a national park headquarters, dutifully learning about the history or geography, or whatever made this particular spot noteworthy.

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Now, a few decades later, I sit in the front. I never read. I mostly stare out at the landscape, passing by at 50, 60, or 70 miles an hour. Sometimes we pull over so I can snap a photo or two, or twenty. I’m always on the watch for a great diner, local color, a beautiful view, a charming town.

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I love road trips.

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Sometime between childhood and now I grew to appreciate the freedom and the variety of driving. I never get bored, and it almost doesn’t matter where we begin, or where we end. I just love the whole thing, from first to last.

I fly a lot these days, for work, and sometimes for pleasure. Sometimes the only way to get where I’m going is on a jet.

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But if I have a choice? I’ll pick the road, every time. There’s nothing like it, and never will be. The great American love story is with the road, and I’m happy to be out there, wondering what’s around the next bend, where we’ll stop to eat, what new thing we’ll see.

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It is an amazing country, and a gorgeous one.

Driving today, I thought about my dad. I wish I could tell him: I learned to look up. I learned to see what’s in front of me, to appreciate the beauty, the romance, the wonder of the road.

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I think he’d smile, and be proud I finally got it.