The Friday 5: Books, Josh Ritter (again), and scrambled eggs

1. As I've said above in my "About" section (#9 to be specific), I am generally a bad scrambled egg maker. As my husband likes to say, I tend to leave about whole egg stuck to the bottom of the skillet, and when I'm only cooking two eggs, that's a problem. Enter The Green Pan. It's my new very good friend in the kitchen.

Here is my Green Pan after I scrambled two eggs.

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Oh wait, you don't see anything? That's because there's nothing there. The eggs slid out and the pan was clean as a whistle. I've also cooked meat and veggies in it and it works just as beautifully and cleans up super-easy. They come in a couple of sizes and you can find them at Target.

2.

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josh

Y'all. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you've never heard Josh Ritter's music, look him up and listen. If you've heard him but have never seen him live, he's on tour across the south and other places right now and into the fall and I promise it will be worth it.

On second thought, maybe just skip the live shows. We love seeing him at small venues like WorkPlay, the now-closed Bottletree, and Saturn, this cool little coffee shop/bar/music venue where we saw him a few nights ago. If too many people find out about him, he may skip these small places and this man was born to play music in small crowded places like this. Saturn was packed with happy people because Josh is such a happy guy on stage. Seriously, my cheeks hurt at the end of the night. And he ended with Kathleen, which was perfect. And I got to video him singing Henrietta, Indiana and Getting Ready to Get Down (two of Kate and Sela's favorite Josh Ritter songs).

3. Update on The Hideaway: We're getting really close to a cover! I'm so excited because the one we (me, my editor, my agent, and others on the publisher's marketing team) are all leaning towards is soooo pretty. It would make me pull the book off the shelf just by cover alone. That's what I was hoping for. I wish I could show it to you now, but stay tuned...

We're getting close to my new author website too! The talented Sara Beth Cobb of Nimblee is designing it. Everything she creates is beautiful, so I'm so excited to see what she comes up with. Again, stay tuned...

4. Update on book 2: I'm about 3/4 finished. I got really close to the end, then stopped because I have to go back and rework one of the three points of view. My goal is to  get through that one, then have all three of them join back up and come to a (hopefully satisfying) ending. I start back on my fiction workshop in July, so hopefully by then I'll be almost finished. (I say that, but with Sela already out of school and only four more days of school left for Kate, it'll take a lot of creativity and good time-management skills on my part!)

5. What I'm reading these days:

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Having grown up in Mountain Brook, Katherine Clark writes very honestly about both the good and the bad associated with the beautiful, secluded suburb of Birmingham. She wrote this book about a larger-than-life (both physically and personality-wise) teacher/mentor she had at Altamont in the 80s. In the book, the school is called Brook-Haven and the teacher is Norman Laney. At first, I was unsure I'd be able to really get into it or connect with this character but I was pulled in immediately. Everyone should be so lucky to have had a teacher like this in your corner trying to push you to be your best, fullest self through education and "civilization," as he calls it. And his insider view of the mannerisms and quirks of the Mountain Brook set (NO offense to friends who live there now!) is hilarious.

I've also just requested these two from the library.

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download
hannah
hannah

I've been hearing about The Nightingale for months and it's finally time to get my hands on a copy. I generally enjoy reading books about WWII, and I love that this one is about women in the war. The Kind Worth Killing isn't a book I'd typically pick up, but after my friend Anna mentioned how good it was, I've been hearing about it all over the place. I've heard the ending comes out of now where and is a big surprise. I'm going to give it a try.

Have you read any of these or anything else good you'd like to share? I love recommendations!

Have a great weekend!

Friday 5: Books, Pizza, & Gloria Steinem

  1. Hoover Library's Southern Voices book/writing festival is this weekend. It's a dream for writers and book lovers. I'm excited about all the authors, because even if I'm not familiar with their books, they are always great speakers who talk about their books and writing processes in ways that interest and engage both writers and non-writers. I'm most excited to see husband/wife team Tom Franklin (author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) and Beth Ann Fennelley (they wrote The Tilted World together), and debut author Laura Lane McNeal (author of DollBaby.)

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pizza

2. I made homemade pizza the other night for the first time. Well, homemade in that I bought fresh dough from Publix. I was so excited--my neighbor made pizza with the fresh dough a few nights before and it was a big hit. I bought the ingredients, things the girls would eat, the right kind of pesto and pizza sauce, let it proof for the specified amount of time, poured my beer (pizza and beer, right?) and rolled that baby out.  

Seriously. I couldn't get it any bigger than that. My neighbor halved her dough (the same amount I got) and it made TWO pizzas. Yes, I did something wrong but for the life of me, I still don't know what. I eventually got it a bit bigger, added the toppings and baked the thing, and it actually was really good. Next time, I'll buy two bags of dough.

3. Apparently, Lands End is in some hot water for a photo spread in a recent catalog that featured Gloria Steinem talking about women's rights. I saw the catalog and didn't think anything of it. It's not that she was indecently dressed or anything--it's just that by using her image (and I think offering to monogram tote bags with the ERA (equal rights amendment) logo), shoppers saw Lands End as endorsing Gloria and myriad other things she stands behind, such as abortion rights. Well, cue irate shoppers vowing to cancel Lands End orders and pledge their allegiance to competitor L.L. Bean.

Seriously.

Lands End offered this as part of their statement/apology: "It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue."

Newsflash Lands End--you couldn't have chosen a MORE divisive or polarizing person to include in your magazine. Did you think all of America would love it? Half love it, half hate it. Now, instead of backtracking and apologizing, thereby offending all the people who you just made happy by including Gloria, now they are mad at you too! Pick a stance and stick with it.

The whole thing just seemed so ridiculous to me. And for the record, I am a pro-life Christian and I am NOT returning the gorgeous swimsuit I just ordered from Lands End. Do you know how hard it is to find a flattering swimsuit that fits right, can actually get wet without doing something weird, and doesn't cost a million dollars? (Such an un-feminist thing for me to say, I know.)

4. On to other things.

Y'all, writing is so hard. I don't know why I chose this as my THING. Why couldn't I have chosen knitting? Or origami? Or tennis--I could have gone back to tennis! Or even ghostwriting--I could figure out someone else's plot holes all day long, but my own?? Impossible.

If you can't tell, I'm having a wee bit of a struggle in my manuscript. It's called "the dreaded middle." Apparently, this is my thing. I steamroll through the first 100 pages or so, then get stuck, then have to fight my way out. It happened to some degree with The Hideaway, but it doesn't make it any easier the second time. I care about this story and the characters and I really want to get it out and polish it and send it out into the world, but the getting there--oh man, it's such a fight. As someone (maybe Anne Lamott??) said once, "I love having written." I don't always love the actual writing, but I do love it when I'm finished.

5. Lastly, clearly my daughter is a genius.

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math

Have a great weekend!

The Friday 5

1. First things first. Unbelievable, shocking, knee-weakening, heavens-opening-up-and-shining-down news hit us out of the blue yesterday. We all cried tears of disbelief and relief and thankfulness. As my mom said, the English language doesn't have enough words to explain how we feel. "Thankful" falls pitifully short.  

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FullSizeRender

That above is my mom. This is how she's feeling right about now. It's how we're all feeling.

On to other things...

2. It is snowing. In Birmingham. I know this because I am at home, not in Tennessee, where Matt and I were supposed to be today. He was going to be running in a 12-hour trail race tomorrow in a little town outside Murfreesboro, but we made the call late this morning to not go, due to the general messiness of Tennessee today. We were a little concerned about icy roads. Our girls were already prepared to spend the weekend at their grandparents' house, so we went ahead and took them out there. As such, right now, Matt and I are huddled in blankets, watching a movie (the wonders of Joe Versus the Volcano) and reading (I just started The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler.) I'm happy to be watching the snow from inside my warm nest instead of gearing up for spending all day tomorrow in a tent, possibly reading and writing, but probably huddled under a down sleeping bag, teeth chattering, mumbling under my (frozen) breath about the Black Toe Run. 

(That was a little dramatic, but as I've said before, I'm a certified cold person.)

3. The book I've mentioned here a few times, Voyage to the Star Kingdom, is now available to order.

star voyage

star voyage

An incredible amount of people have already bought it and passed it around. If you're interested, find it on Amazon here. The author is putting all proceeds into a fund for the family this book is based on.

4. I just finished reading a wonderful book called Margot, by Jillian Cantor.

margot

margot

It tells the fictional story of what life may have been like for Margot, Anne Frank's sister, if she hadn't died in Bergen-Belsen, as records show she did, but instead escaped the Nazis and fled to America. It's a great story, and I sunk completely into the character of Margot (or Margie, as she calls herself in her new American life), but what made it really important and tense and dramatic was how it portrayed life for Jews who immigrated to the US in the 40s and 50s. They had escaped the horrors of being a Jew in Nazi Europe, but then arrived here to find that people still nailed flaming torches to synagogues, taunted Jewish schoolchildren, treated them unfairly in the work place. It was a quiet book, but like I said, tense and important. In fact, I think it could be as important a read as Anne Frank's diary. It just portrays a different direction someone's life could have gone after hiding from the Nazis for so long, and the farther we get from the atrocities of the Holocaust, the more important it is to keep telling those stories. Anne was a real girl with a head full of dreams and hopes and desires, as we all know because of her diary that was found and published. But Margot was a real girl too, and because her diary was never found, we know virtually nothing of her. She was snuffed out too soon. This book gives her a life, even if it's a fictional one.

5. I had lunch at a new little place downtown this week called Feast and Forest, owned partly by Kristen Farmer Hall. If you live in Birmingham, check it out. It's just off 2nd Avenue North on 24th Street, sort of behind Urban Standard. I had the "Ham Sammich" and potato soup and it was lovely. And the whole vibe of the place is perfect--it's really tiny inside, but warm and cozy and inviting. Here's more on Kristen and her partner opening Feast and Forest.

Have a great weekend, play in the snow if you get some, and don't buy all the bread.

The Friday 5: Blurbs, Books, and back to regular life

The kids went back to school this week--woohoo! It was a "short" week, meaning four days of school instead of five (and two instead of three for my preschooler) but the parental readjustment to making lunches and getting myself dressed before 8 more than made up for whatever shortness the school people intended. I have to say though--at the end of this holiday break, I wasn't as at the end of my rope as I have been in the past. The girls (age 6 and 3.5) played together more and better than ever before. Sure, they were often dancing on the fine line between total contentment and total angry hysteria, but they stayed on the right side of that line more than the wrong side. So for that, I was hugely thankful. Anyway, end of babbling. The Friday 5...

1. Nothing is really happening yet with The Hideaway (book #1), but in February, I think we (me + my "team" at HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson) will start to talk about preliminary marketing things. My agent suggested I come up with a list of authors we could contact for blurbs and/or endorsements for my book. This is a wee bit uncomfortable (basically asking for praise) but I think it'll be part of the job, so I better get used to it. And all authors do it, and probably all authors get asked to do it, so it won't be anything new. I've put together a list of people I'd like to contact--some are total pie-in-the-sky authors who could possibly just sniff at me, and some are a little more accessible, and hopefully more likely to be willing to help. Or who knows, maybe those big-time authors will take it as a chance to help out a little writer like me.

Every since I heard a writer tell the story of how she asked Fannie Flagg to write a blurb for her book and Fannie basically told her to write the blurb herself and she'd sign off on it, I've been sort of wishy-washy about blurbs. They don't necessarily make me buy a book, but I know they are important to some readers, as in, "If Danielle Steele/John Grisham/E.L. James says this is a good book, then by golly, I'm gonna read it." For those readers, it'll be nice to have some authors who write similar types of southern fiction to say nice things about my book. And if, I don't know, let's say Rick Bragg happens to read my book and has anything even remotely positive to say about it, that'd be okay by me.

2. I just today signed up for Hoover library's Southern Voices book festival. If you've never been and you like books and you live anywhere bear Birmingham, you should come to it. They have a handful of authors who speak every year and I promise you, it's interesting whether or not you're a writer. These are great writers, but also great speakers. I'm most excited to hear Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, the husband/wife team who wrote The Tilted World, about the 1927 flood in Mississippi. Beth Ann is a poet and Tom is a novelist. (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is one of my favorites.) I'm also looking forward to hearing Laura Lane McNeal, author of Dollbaby. I haven't read this yet, but it takes place in New Orleans, so that automatically makes me a fan. (I love New Orleans and part of The Hideaway takes place there.) But the cool thing is, after Katrina came through and wrecked things, Laura took a different direction with her life and decided to pursue her passion of writing. Dollybaby is her debut and it's gotten a LOT of attention. I'm hoping to glean lots of wisdom and inspiration from her.

As a side note, I planned to attend the Friday night talk with Erik Larson. He writes nonfiction that reads like fiction--like supercharged, edge-of-your-seat fiction. Pick up Dead Wake or Devil in the White City (or probably any of his others) and you won't be able to put it down. I got online at 9:02 to order tix (they went on sale at 9.) I went through the whole payment system on my phone, entered my info, got all the way to the end, then got a message that said payment didn't go through due to a problem with the system and to please try again in a few moments. Well, a few moments later I was working my rear off in YCross, so I waited an hour until class was over. And Friday night was sold out. (Sad face.)

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3. For those of you following what's going on with my mom, she's just finishing up her fourth out of six week-long chemo treatments. She'll go home tomorrow for what we hope and pray is two weeks of rest, good food, relaxation, and visits with friends and family before she goes back in for her fifth week of inpatient chemo. Cancer is bad. Chemo is bad (I mean, it's good, but seriously, it's so bad). But I read something today that offered some calm:It's really hard to not worry, not FRET, not be anxious. But that's what Jesus tells us to do. DO NOT worry. DO NOT be anxious. It's hard, but we try.

4. My friend Anne Riley has written a children's book based on the story of a family friend of hers. It's beautifully written and illustrated, and it will be released in the next couple of weeks. As Anne says in her press release, "Inspired by a real-life family, Voyage to the Star Kingdom is a vivid reminder that our stories don't end in death, and that the King is indeed making all things new."

star voyage

star voyage

Here's the gorgeous cover: 

This is her blog post that tells all about the book and the family that inspired it. Rather than me paraphrasing everything, just read it from her. Heads up, you may need some tissues.

(And PS, Anne is also a YA writer and her second book PULL is coming out in FEBRUARY! I've already preordered it on Amazon!)

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tami-and-eric-taylor

5. Eric and Tami Taylor have the best marriage that's ever been on TV, I'm convinced. A real, honest, loving, patient, selfless, imperfect but hardworking marriage. That's not common. Long live Mr and Mrs. Coach Taylor. (And the Dillon Panthers.) 

See y'all next week.

The Friday Five: Tim Riggins, Twinkle Lights, & Inventing Confidence

  1. If asked what my biggest fear is, I’d have three—the dark (which is probably just a fear of what goes bump in the night when all the lights are off), roaches (don’t even get me started), and public speaking. This last one is a biggie, but fortunately, it’s not one that affects me all too much, mainly because I just avoid the issue. But with the publication of a book in a year and a half and the ensuing book tour, speaking in public will be firmly on my agenda. I’ve heard countless ways in which a person can try to overcome this type of fear, but the one that’s stuck with me the most is “invent your confidence.” It sounds a little like a take on “fake it until you make it.” Pretend you are confident, act like you are confident, and no one will know you feel like you’re about to throw up. Good thing for me I have a long time to work on it!
  2. I went over to a friend’s house the other day for a little visit. This friend is super stylish and gorgeous, and her house is the same way. Every time I’ve been there, it’s this little cozy den of style and beauty. Well, this time when I went, we’d been standing by her dining room table for a few minutes when she laughed and reached over to the center of the table and picked up one of her husband’s athletic socks. It had been lying in the center of the table right by her pretty candlesticks and Christmas decorations. I hadn’t noticed at all, but she did—and apologized profusely. The thing was—I loved it! It was a like a little nugget of reality in the middle of something beautiful. All beauty has a rough side and everything rough has beauty, even if it’s buried down deep. In this season where everything and everyone is decked out to the nines, if a friend stops by, or even if you have a party or gathering at your house, don’t fret if something is left out of place or isn’t perfect. Instead of offending people, it’ll more likely make your guests feel more at home, like they aren’t the only ones with a life that isn’t picture-perfect and magazine-worthy. (Come to think of it, maybe more magazines and Pinterest pics should show those stray socks and spills. It’ll make the rest of us feel more normal!)
  3. Everything is better with twinkle lights.
  4. Since I’m taking a break from writing this month, I’ve been revisiting Dillon, Texas, during my youngest child’s quiet time in the afternoons, and I’m loving it quite a bit. I binge-watched Friday Night Lights a couple summers ago and decided it was high time to visit the Panthers again. They don’t disappoint.
  5. I continue to be amazed by the children’s department at our local library. They are always putting on special activities, shows, and events for kids and their families, and the only thing they are guaranteed to get in return is a room full of spilled snacks, crayon drawings on the tables, and overturned drinks. Their sole purpose in putting these events on is to draw people to the library, to get people reading, to engage with the community. How cool is that?! #IWishIWereALibrarian

See y'all next week!

Parenting, zombies, and cussing: The Friday Five (on Saturday!)

*This Friday Five installment is brought to you on Saturday because of the utter craziness of my Friday.

1. Y’all, parenting feels like a battle these days. Yes, good is mixed in too, but with a 6 year old who is learning to be quite sassy and a 3 year old who loves both her sister and pestering her sister (and neither of whom love to listen to parental guidance), I feel like I’m coming up against a wall over and over. I pulled this book out a few days ago—time for a re-read.

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I love this book because it’s not a how-to manual for parents. It doesn’t give Five Steps to Make Parenting Easy, or Ten Things to do to Make Your Kids Listen to You NOW, or Here’s What You’re Doing Wrong in Your Parenting World. Instead, it basically tells you how to manage *yourself* during parenting. It’s good to remind myself that my job as a parent—the purpose to having kids—is to raise little people who love Jesus. When I think of it that way, it’s a little easier to get my own selfishness out of the way. (ie, it’s not all about me and how if I could JUST get five seconds of not being asked a thousand questions and breaking up a dozen silly arguments about how she stole that toy from me, that toy that came from Chick Fil A four years ago and has been under the couch since the day we brought it home…then I’d be a sane woman.) Newsflash: they are little humans whom Jesus loves fiercely and who deserve respect, not just a mama at the end of her rope.

2. This book.

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IMG_2037

Read it. (Sorry for the doodles across the front--courtesy of my 3 year old.) I think you could glean oodles of wisdom out of it even if you’re not a writer. It has such beautiful nuggets tucked in on every page that apply to life as a whole. It blows me away with its wisdom and grace every time I pick it up. I mean, listen to this: “Middles are where you have to tough things out. Ideas fall apart. All that promise vanishes when facing the cold, harsh light of making something out of it. Middles challenges us to find our tenacity and our patience, to remind ourselves that it is within this struggle—often just at the height of hopelessness, frustration, and despair—that we find the most hidden and valuable gifts in the process. Just as in life.” See what I mean?

3. Lest you think I’m always reading such fine self-help books that show me how to “love my kids with the love of Jesus” or how I must daily summon “stamina, optimism, discipline, and hope,” I’ll let you in on a secret. Every Sunday night, after a beautiful church service, my husband and I watch zombies. We’ve been doing it for years. In the crush and chaos of feeding and bathing the kids in the half hour we have between getting home from church and the kids’ bedtime, one of us will remember that it’s Walking Dead night, meaning as soon as the kids are down, we get our cups of ice cream and land on the couch for an hour of something my mom would be shocked and awed by if she knew I watched it. I binge watched the first several seasons on Netflix over the course of one summer. I was so deeply engaged with the Walking Dead world, I’d find myself out in our backyard, hear a rustle in the bushes, and for just a split second—half that, really—I’d think, “Zombie.” It’s not like that now though. This season is lagging, slow and uneventful. However, on Thanksgiving day, we were at my husband’s aunt and uncle’s large spread of land outside of Birmingham. We were in a truck riding through his wooded property—nothing but trees and leaves and hills—and we both thought it’d made a good place to escape—you know, in case of a zombie apocalypse. It’d be a little hard to protect, but we could make it work.

4. I’m writing this post in an incredibly quiet house. It’s just me, my fingers tapping on the keys, and the heater clicking on and off. My kids are at their grandparents’ house! And Matt and I had a fun date last night with another couple who we really love. We met for drinks first at this swanky bar downtown (What?! Meeting for drinks before dinner? Whose life is this?!) then ate guacamole and quesadillas at El Barrio, a hip, cool Mexican place that’s not really Mexican, more like fresh Latin/Mexican foods with cool ingredients and a good beer list. It was an outstanding night. I love my kids, but man, did I love getting dressed without being interrupted eighty-two times, driving downtown with my handsome husband, slipping into a dark booth, and having good drinks, good food, and fun conversation.

5. I saw a button on someone’s Facebook page that made me laugh. I tried to cut and paste it here, but since I'm super non-techy, it wouldn't work for me. It said, "I love Jesus but I cuss a little." I think it sort of, in a way, describes me—I love Jesus but close your ears if I stub my toe or if something startles me. I love Jesus, but I’m not gonna lie—some days, I can hardly wait for 5:00 when I can have a drink and not feel guilty. (Sometimes the early winter darkness bumps that time up a bit.) I love Jesus, but I’m not a beautiful, shining thing, untarnished and gleaming. I have some dirt around my edges. He doesn’t let me stay in my dirt—I have to wrestle with it and over and over drop it in His lap—but He loves me anyway and for that, I’m thankful.

FYI, I plan to add some Spotlight posts on authors, readers, other bloggers, and book reviewers in the coming months. If you'd like to be included, let me know in the comments!

See you next week, friends.

The Inaugural Edition of The Friday Five!

And without much ado at all, I give you the very first edition of The Friday Five, in which I tell you about five things I like, don’t like, am obsessing over, think you should look into, think you should avoid, want to know more about, wish I’d never heard about, or generally think are worth your time. Or maybe they’ll just be five random, disconnected thoughts that are floating through my brain and want to come out in some way, shape, or form! At any rate, it’s a way for me to share a bit about myself and hopefully connect with you, dear friend. So, here goes.

 

  • Today I found a Christmas card on the side of the road in a pile of leaves. It was during my morning walk, and my eyes were on the ground because I’d been picking up random sale papers that had fallen out of a newspaper bag (see—more Black Friday mess. The sale papers were littering our neighborhood!) So the red and green of the card caught my eye, so I picked it up. Here it is. I just thought it was such a throw back to how Christmas cards used to be. No smiling, picture-perfect family, no professional photographers, just “Merry Christmas from the four of us.” Inside was a handwritten note from the family. I love seeing those smiling faces of my friends and family, but there’s something about the simplicity of this card that I like. Even if decorating a tree is nothing like this. Here, the kids are all, “Here’s the wreath, Mom,” all calm and well-behaved. At our house, we’ll be trying to keep the kids from climbing the tree and breaking all the ornaments.

 

  • This is a picture of our three-year-old. She was sent to her room to “cool off” after frantically fighting gently bickering with her older sister over a Black Friday sale paper depicting a Barbie in various states of undress. This is her tiptoeing out of her room dressed as a “horseowldinosaur,” according to our nephew. Obviously, “time-out” doesn’t mean much to her. At least not when her dress up box is in her room.

 

  • This is my beautiful mom. She has cancer and spent Thanksgiving week in the hospital for her second round of week-long chemo treatment. I am driving to my hometown of Mobile today to visit her and my dad. I’m going to make them dinner, help them get the house in order, and generally make as much merriment and offer as much peace as I can. Because they deserve it and cancer stinks. (But God is still good.)

 

  • This was the sky yesterday on my morning walk. I hope it was as beautiful and clear wherever you were, or are today.

Thanks for reading, friends. Let’s do this again.