Sacrificing to the Travel Gods

This morning began when I rolled over and, bleary-eyed, mumbled to Matthew, “We should really post something on Galactic Panda today”. He blinked back, took in that first breath that stretches the rib cage, and pronounced, “… Sure!”

Matthew at the Cathedral of Seville

Matthew at the Cathedral of Seville

“What the heck are we going to write about?” I thought. We’ve spent our five days thus far in Sevilla playing catch-up at work, finding coffee and groceries, and begging our landlord to come over to fix the shower so it can be set to a temperature a little cooler than “nuclear volcano.” We haven’t seen much of the city.

Today was intended to change that. So we walked deep into the old city, in search of the cathedral.

And while there, today’s blog post wrote itself as I was lovingly pick-pocketed. Okay, metaphorically.

If you’re ever in Sevilla and some kindly looking woman tries to hand you a piece of Rosemary, you say “No, gracias!” repeatedly, and you move on. They won’t give you another moment’s attention when they see that you’re wise to their ways.

What ways are those, you ask? Well here’s what happened to me.

Wherein we find truth in gypsy stereotypes

In the shadow of Sevilla’s enormous cathedral is a glorious outdoor photography exhibit, filled with expressive black and white photos of African tribal people, elephants, Sumatran trees, Utah mesas, and Alaskan mountains.

As the hot sun beats down and we wind through these paintings, toward us come a throng of smiling women, holding out sprigs of rosemary, offering it to the art appreciators and tourists. “A gift!” they say, “A blessing from Santa Maria!” Most of the tourists declined the blessing.

When I was offered, I thought, “I love rosemary!” So I accepted.

And the beautiful young lady pleasantly, but aggressively, launched into an elaborate telling of my fortune based first on my right palm, and then my left, in patient Spanish. It all happened so quickly, I was in the middle of it before I had a clue of what was happening. She told me I would have two children, that the strength and luck of my ancestors passes to me, that my lottery number is five. She repeated that a few times — she really wanted me to understand that. My lottery number — it is five. She said many other things that I did not understand.

She was lovely and charismatic and seemed to really care about her craft. And at the end, I thanked her and started to pass her a couple euros in thanks. “No,” she insisted. It was five euros for each hand, and she had done both. I was in shock. Ten euros?! But I passed them over, just wanting the whole awkward exchange to be over.

I learned later that Matthew had had a similar experience: the woman made her offering, and he accepted it, and she launched into telling his fortune. Immediately, he declined, at which point she asked for payment for the Rosemary. Amused, he handed the sprig back, and said “No thank you” many times.

He then tried to walk over to me, at which point she waved him off, declaring the reading sacred — he must not overhear. He felt genuinely affronted at that point, as this woman stood barring his way to his girl.

“Seems a little extreme,” he said to me later, only then realizing that it must have been a sales tactic. She did not want Matthew interrupting her sister’s sale.

All of this was capped off by my fortune teller acting horrified that I wouldn’t pay for Matthew to have a reading of his own.

It’s strange encountering people whose entire livelihood depends on taking advantage of you

I was really hoping that this lovely lady with the weather vane was going to be the patron saint of ships. More photos and history later!

That “I’ve been taken advantage of” feeling washed over me. Even as we walked around the outside of the gorgeous cathedral, emotions flooded my gut: embarrassment that I had let it happen, and anger that people take advantage of others this way.

I let this happen. At no point did she handcuff me and forcefully take my cash. I was 100% complicit in this. But I never consciously consented to any of this. She manipulated and corned me with her aggressive and disarming sweetness.

I thought about what makes a good sale. At Rocket Lift, we talk about this a great deal. Our goal is to make every sale a win-win-win. The client feels like they’re getting an excellent service (which they are), Rocket Lift feels that the client is a good fit and that the work is worth the time, and the people doing the project are excited about the work. No one feels that they have been taken advantage of.

This young Gypsy had so much conviction in the value of her craft that I in turn felt that there was intrinsic value. That combined with sheer shock caused me to part with ten euros I really wish I hadn’t, and that I felt I got nothing for in exchange.

Las Turistas Estupidas

Our friends in Zihuatanejo, Jeff and Harmony, introduced us to “The Stupid Tourist Tax,” and we used that term for a while. All travelers have been in a situation where you pay too much for a taxi, buy groceries from the stores with the high tourist markup, pack too much and pay extra in baggage fees… These are the mistakes we make when we have just not learned better yet. Key word: yet.

Our friend Alba in Valencia has a different term for this: “Sacrificing to the Travel Gods.” We like this better because instead of something being taken from us, we can think of our parted funds as an due gift to benevolent and playful forces we dance with, who in return help us cope, function, eat, sleep, breathe, and perhaps even blend in a foreign place.

These sacrifices have inherent value, including wisdom, and stories we can share with you for entertainment.

All our knowledge has its origins in our perception. — Leonardo da Vinci

“Sacrificing to the Travel Gods” is 100% about perception. I can look at this experience as a negative one, wherein some horrible woman stole from me (I did feel that way for a good hour or so), or I can realize that now I know something I did not know before, and know it will make a funny story later.

When traveling, things can go very wrong

Once you realize you’ve been had, if you find yourself incapable of distilling a lesson or finding a pearl of wisdom from your experience, then maybe the Travel Gods had little to do with it. Or, maybe it’s just that something really shitty happened to you.

My father was pick-pocketed in France. As I recall, they took his passport, and he left my teenaged brother on the bus with their bicycles to chase down the culprits on foot.

I don’t believe that any just and generous God encourages one human being to fill another with the mortal terror that comes from being separated from their passport. No sacrificing to Travel Gods here, just desperate people victimizing others.

Dad got his passport back; the lesson here being: keep your friends close, your passport closer, and chase down pick-pocketing enemies with the wings of Mercury. (I suppose maybe he’d banked a favor with the Roman God of Travel earlier, demonstrating another side of the inherent value in these sacrifices.)

A big yellow taxi took my Peso away

We can look at the local entrepreneurs as merely taking advantage. Sometimes, they certainly do. On the other hand, perception can give two sides to the same interaction.

When we arrived in Zihuatanejo, Jeff and Harmony instructed us to take the bus to the city center. It would cost about a dollar. We walked around the airport, looking for signs to the autobús and asking everyone how to find them. Alas, no signs, and no one seemed able to help.

We eventually took a cab. $45. Boo.

A month and a half into our residence in Zihua, we knew we could get a bus to the airport, no problem. Busses with “Aeropuerto” stenciled all over them were everywhere in the Centro. Unlike taxis, these were filled with locals — not with gringos.

We suspect that the airport employees are in cahoots with the taxi companies, and aren’t about to help clever tourists take the cheap bus when they’re ripe prey for the taxi drivers.

No problem, we thought. We paid the Travel Gods — now we know better. We’ll take the bus on our way out.

Except, the day of our departure was the day that I got hit with the worst food poisoning I’d ever had. A few years ago, I would get food poisoning about once a month so I was no stranger to this, but this was something special. I spent the entire night praying to keep water down, and trying not to get dehydrated. Matthew had to pack and clean the apartment for us, all by himself.

Even though we had plenty of time to get to the airport, the thought of squeezing next to 20 other people into a tiny van (the buses are more like vans), without AC, with an unpredictable stomach… there was simply no way.

Matthew, my hero until the end of time, got me to the airport via a nice cool tax cab. Another $45, and the best we’d ever spent.

Knowing and choosing your options makes all the difference. It felt fine to pay the $45 this time, because we had agency. This was a win-win! We were happy to pay almost any price for a cool drive, and the driver was happy to take an expensive fare to the airport. Even if he was over charging the rich gringos, meh! We really didn’t care.

Pass the love and wisdom on!

Do you have any memories from traveling abroad when you wish you could’ve had a do-over? When did you spend too much? Dad, did I get that pick-pocketing story right?

This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

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Week of Panos Day 6: The City of Arts & Sciences

Oh, the City of Arts and Sciences. It is one of the most photogenic locations in Valencia. Every time you turn around, there’s some gorgeous natural or architectural beauty to admire.

Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences

Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences.
Click image for a larger version.

To the far left is the Opera House, “Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía.” It’s the building that looks a little like a white orca leaping out of the water. Next to it, the half dome is the “Hemisphéric” (appropriately named), which houses an IMAX cinema. Dominating the photo is the “Museo de las ciencias,” which is Spanish for “brontosaurus skeleton.” This is the home of their interactive science museum. (Here’s where my Portland pride rears up and says, “Go OMSI!”)

Off in the right you see the “Ágora,” a large hollow space for conferences and concerts. Beyond that, but not pictured is the “Oceanográfic,” which is the largest aquarium in Europe. Last but not least featured in this photo is the “Umbracle,” the cage-like structure to the far right. This was a really nifty, beautiful space filled with trees and plants, and is used for weddings and concerts and the like.

Our friend and informal tour guide here in Valencia hates this place. Alba was here during the construction of the CAS, and witnessed rampant waste, miss-management and corruption that turned a 300 million euro “emblem of civic ambition” into a 1.1 billion euro symbol of Valencia’s massive debt.

As United Left party member Ignacio Blanco puts it, “The buildings are like symbols of an era when the politicians thought we were rich.”

The place is inspiring in its beauty and grandeur, though. Here are a couple more shots:

Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences

Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences is an an art and a science, itself.
Click image for a larger version.

Next to the Valencia City of Arts and Sciences

Click image for a larger version.

This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

Why I choose to opt out of the TSA scan

In April, Matthew and I spent an entire day traveling. Yup. From 8am until about 9pm Pacific, we were in transit of some kind or another. This is not uncommon, but it still can hurt.

For some reason, from start to finish, this was an especially tough day, travel-wise: kicked off by being a little behind schedule getting to PDX and having to rush through every line we hit. (By “rush through lines” I mean, rush to lines, and then stand, and wait……) When we hit the TSA screening, we did what we normally do and opted out of the full body scan.

This has been our MO for years, and is usually no problem, it just slows things down a hair. Today, it slowed things down, a lot. I watched as my items made it through the x-ray on the conveyer belt and then sat, and sat, and sat. Everything that was important to me waited on the other side of security, to be picked up by anyone quick (and malicious) enough to make a grab for it: my wallet, my backpack, my passport, my guitar, all ripe pickings.

There was even a woman in front of me in line for the opt out. And let me tell you, they are not staffed to serve a line of opt outs. It was a high stress situation for me.

Finally, it was my turn, and the female TSA employee gave me the standard run down about what she was going to be touching and with what, and she gave me the pat down.

This was easily the most aggressive / no-nonsense pat down I’ve ever received. Twice she had to ask me to spread my legs further apart so she could run her hands from my upper inner thigh to my feet. She fully inspected my bundle of hair, and when she got to my chest, she rammed her hand in between my breasts and did a thorough tactile inspection of my “cups.”

The stress of making my flight, compounded with the invasive “feeling up” I was experiencing, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “why am I doing this?!”

Great question. And it got me to review why I make this choice. (Read: it’s always healthy to periodically question why we do the things we do. Having a reason other than just Habit gives intention and purpose, even to the little things.)

I do this because from start to finish, I know exactly what is happening. 

1. Choosing not to expose myself to scanner radiation.

I’m not a scientist (nor do I play one on the internet) but I just don’t know what the extra radiation of the scanners could do to me, long term. Some radiation authorities like the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nuclear Energy Agency recommend against their use for pregnant women and children, and if you watch carefully, you might see TSA directing kids through the metal detector, rather than the full body scanner.

Even if I receive 1000 “fairly invasive” pat downs at the airport, it won’t be enough to give me cancer.

2. Some (authorized) public groping will not hurt me.

Granted, I am fairly comfortable with my body, so this procedure will not leave me with any emotional scarring. Also, the fact that this is my choice is extremely empowering. I plant this choice like a shield in front of me; I feel my awkwardness as I request to opt out, I see people glancing over at me to see why I have vacated The Sacred TSA Line, and I allow a stranger to get to “second base” with me. But I am armed with my Shield of Choice.

And you are too. I do not write this to be political or even controversial. There are pros and cons to both choices, when you walk through airport security. My hope is that for those of you who would rather not have a grey and black image of your flesh show up in front of the eyes of a stranger, or expose yourself to unnecessary radiation, those of you who would rather opt for a professional (albeit invasive) pat down, you now know this is your choice.

I also hope that, in time, enough “disruption” from opt outs like Matthew and I will cause TSA to continue to refine their science and their process: to continue to find safer, quicker and easier ways to get massive amounts of people from the streets and onto the plane.

The Pumpkin’s Progress

A journey through pictures

2014-Jack-o-lantern

“I am a pumpkin! Will you be my friend?”

IMG_2564

“I am so happy to be a pumpkin! But it’s cold in here!”

IMG_2567

“Oh yeah. This is much warmer. Loving this!”

IMG_2568

“It is my disposition to be happy. But WHAT THE HECK?”

IMG_2569

“Ooof.”

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“Given a choice, I would have become a gluten free pumpkin pie. Dreams do come true!”

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Matthew and I honored the sacrifice of our cheery little pumpkin and devoured him the day after Halloween. Slightly more custard-like consistency than pie, but delicious!

 

A pumpkin inspired hat

IMG_0098IMG_0099Last but not least, our little pumpkin created inspiration for this bright orange floppy cap. This was knit with a seed stitch for the body and a nice thick ribbing. I make these hats floppy and stylish, but on cold autumn evenings you can pull this cap snug over your ears.

Want one for yourself?

This pumpkin inspired hat is only $25 plus shipping. It goes to the first person to send me an email.

I love making hats this time of year, and I’m not normally a BRIGHT ORANGE kind of girl, but this was a fun one to make as the trees turn the same color and fall from the trees.

Our Halloween

This Halloween I learned: Matthew has amnesia.

Every year he forgets how much he loves Halloween right up until the moment when little children start knocking on the door. This tragic infliction results in never having a costume prepared in advance. A mad scramble in the closet for anything “costume like” ensues.

Though he does make a very cute “Architect” (no complaints!), next year we will make an effort to cure his “Halloween Amnesia” a few weeks in advance, and dress him up like something other than architect (Jeans and a knit sweater.)

One more note: We had approximately 20 young visitors demanding candy. Like Portland, smart Denver parents design costumes that incorporate thick jackets and gloves. One boy came to our door dressed with a cheeky variation on the warm weather costume: He was all in light grey sweatpants, with GHOST stitched across his chest. His costume was one of the few we didn’t need to wonder about.

Something Tells Me it’s All Happening At the Zoo!

On Monday, Matthew and I played hookie and went where? Yes! The zoo!

We’ve been looking forward to November 3rd since the week we arrived in Denver. I went online to find all of the “free days” Denver has to offer. In addition to the zoo, we’ve also been to the Denver Art Museum and we’re going to the Botanical Gardens this Saturday, all for free! (Though we did buy a much needed coffee that afternoon at the chaotic Kibongi Coffee Shop.)

Coffee in the afternoon? Are we crazy?

No. We were freezing. Monday was the coldest day we’ve experienced in Denver, hovering around 39 degrees. Im an “autumn optimist” (some would say “autumn idiot”) and it is my tendency to not bust out my winter ware until frost is on the ground. Somehow, I believe that if I don’t dress for the weather (thereby acknowledging it’s cold out there) I can hold onto the last remnants of summer. My big grey “apocalypse coat,” (a gift from my Mama) stayed home.

Denial is a powerful thing. Except it didn’t work Monday and is likely to kill me in the future.

But we were at the zoo! So it was worth it.

I find myself conflicted about animals in cages, but I have to say this about the Denver zoo: they care very deeply about conservation and animal sanity. Not only do they supply their animals with homes as close to their natural habitat as man can create, they are active participants in breeding and releasing programs to repopulate eIMG_0301ndangered species.

All that said, I would appreciate it if you could send some happy thoughts to Denver’s snow leopard. Of all the creatures I witnessed in captivity, this fellow seemed to have the hardest time coping. When we were outside, he prowled around the back of his cage, occasionally letting out this wail that would chill your bones. You know that sound that your cat makes when you put it in a carrier? That guttural, threatened sound? Imagine that from a 150 lb creature. Once he came inside, he lay down on the rocks, and I captured this image. Like I said, just send these beautiful creatures some happy thoughts.

My new favorite animal, however, was having much more fun. But at 4 months old, everything is fun. The Fossa (pronounced FOO-sah) resembles a cougar (it was in the Feline exhibit) but their closest relative is actually the mongoose. They have long bodies and a tail to match and at 20 pounds they are the largest mammals on Madagascar, putting them on top of the food chain. Here is little Rico and his mama Violet. Although still at nursing age, Rico doesn’t believe he should be excluded from the bone that’s larger than him. No way.

IMG_0404 The last time I went to the zoo with my mother, she called out at the roaming peacock and got him to open up his plumage. (My mom’s got the pipes to seduce a peacock. I’m a proud daughter.) In her honor, I called out at all of the peacocks I saw, but they weren’t interested.

IMG_0466Last but not least, we have Denver zoo’s Toyota model. I hope she’s paid well and has an awesome dressing room.

 

7 Day Challenge: After Final Day!

We kinda can’t believe we did it. But we did!

A year’s worth of casual work and it all came down to one hard push for one hard week. We are both blown away with how much we accomplished in the last 7 days!

This would not have been possible without all of you, holding us accountable, sending happy thoughts, digitally standing there with proud, smiling faces. Thank you, dear friends and family!

There were a few days this week when we would have preferred to spend the entire day in bed. Of course, this was compounded by the fact that Matthew came down with a sinus infection, and now I am feeling fluid in my chest that wasn’t there a few days ago.

“We’re going live right now,” Matthew just muttered at me, tired but triumphant. “We did it!”

We’ve come to our self-imposed finish line, 30 minutes after midnight, exhausted and sick (despite many glorious naps!) and infinitely proud.

And hey! Check out the new site! LMTWorld.com is a safe hub for present and future massage therapists to get the tools they need to succeed. The primary feature is a set of audio study guides recorded by the one and only, Bob Sterry. These were designed with auditory learners (like me!) in mind, to help them learn their kinesiology (aka muscle anatomy), and to pass their massage boards. Ideally, these will be useful for individuals studying to be chiropractors, acupuncturists, physical therapists, and so on. We’ll see!

In the meanwhile, Matthew and I are celebrating with a quick whiskey, then hitting the sack with tea and kittens who’ve been after us to come to bed for hours.

This is such a great feeling!

7 Day Challenge: After Day 6

We are a pair of tired pandas. I spent my day alternating between learning Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for the new site, and taking care of Matthew. We were both quite responsible today: eating lots of soup, drinking lots of tea (and the occasional hot toddy) and staying in from one of our weekly salsa lessons. This last one we were sad about, but considering Matthew hasn’t changed out of his pajamas and took 4 naps today, it seemed wise.

The other thing I learned today is how to make ACCORDIONS on a web page! This one I’m quite proud of, and involved a bit of head banging until Matthew said something like, “Hold on, I need to clear the caches.” Or something like that. Anyway, after that it worked!! I’m so proud!

Accordions (also called spoilers) look like this: (Click on the “plus”)

How do you like your green eggs & ham?
I KNOW RIGHT!? HOW COOL AM I!?

Ok, enough messing around, Bridge. What did we do today?

Tasks started and finished (reorganized a bit):

  1. Install Easy Digital Downloads to replace WooCommerce
  2. Product / audio file album art
  3. Stripe gateway
  4. Final Audio File QA (BOOM! You have no idea how long this took!!)
  5. Review and publish Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, and Refund Policy
  6. Fix fatal Error in LMT World child theme after upgrading Make parent theme
  7. Update Catherine’s bio
  8. Get set up as an Amazon affiliate
  9. Integrate Typekit fonts
  10. Finish changes noted in InVision
  11. Finalize global nav menu
  12. Purchase stock photos and finish DIY page
  13. Settings for upper body product
  14. Settings for lower body product
  15. Settings for full package product
  16. Make everything pretty – (Closer and closer!!)
  17. Thorough review of SEO settings
  18. Mailchimp subscription boxes

Tasks left to start:

  1. Books list review, finalization, and photos
  2. Study guide scripts page review and finalization

Tasks postponed until after launch:

  1. LMTW Logo
  2. Favicon

Thanks you all! We might have accidentally spent the entire day watching television in bed but for you!!

7 Day Challenge: After Day 5

Matthew has a cold! Poor guy woke up with his sinuses saying, “You didn’t need me today, right? I’m taking a vacation.”

But did that stop him from rolling out of bed and sitting down with me on the couch and working all day on LMT World? Heck no! The boy is a trooper!

We got so much done today. Which is good because yesterday, we treated like a Friday. Which it was, so I guess that’s ok.

Here’s our progress report!

Tasks started and finished:

  1. Install Easy Digital Downloads to replace WooCommerce
  2. Product / audio file album art
  3. Stripe gateway
  4. Final Audio File QA
  5. LMTW Logo
  6. Settings for upper body product
  7. Settings for lower body product
  8. Settings for full package product
  9. Review and publish Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, and Refund Policy
  10. Fix fatal Error in LMT World child theme after upgrading Make parent theme
  11. Update Catherine’s bio
  12. Make everything pretty – (This is what I spent most of my day on…and I think we might be close!)
  13. Get set up as an Amazon affiliate
  14. Integrate Typekit fonts
  15. Finish changes noted in InVision
  16. Thorough review of SEO settings

Tasks left to begin:

  1. Mailchimp subscription boxes
  2. Favicon
  3. Finalize global nav menu

Not bad, right?!

Now I’m going to dish up some split pea soup (Gloomy Day + Sick Boyfriend = Homemade Crock Pot Split Pea Soup) and treat the rest of the evening like it’s Saturday. Which it is, so I guess that’s ok.

7 Day Challenge: After Day 3

I am exhausted but triumphant. Ladies and gentlemen, let it be known:

  • If you ever want a beautiful website built for yourself, be prepared to pay out of the nose for it, or learn to do it yourself.

(Today I learned how to enter pretty bullets into text with WordPress shortcodes! Heck yeah!)

But seriously, I have to put in a serious pitch right now for Rocket Lift, Matthew’s web development company. There is a reason why developers are getting paid the big bucks. It’s because this work is hard.

What I’m doing right now is like plunking out a few notes on the piano, turning to Matthew and saying, “I’ve been working on that all day!! Wasn’t it pretty?” (Picture me as a five-year-old. It’s cuter.)

Matthew, bless his heart, pats me on my five-year-old head and says, “Darling, that was lovely. I’m so proud of you.” And galldarnit, if I don’t blush happily, and believe him. [Editor’s note: He isn’t lying.]

I’m playing around with melodies. Rocket Lift is performing symphonies. 

We have on our team:

  • An amazing conductor, Maestro Matthew Eppelsheimer
  • An incredibly talented composer (aka. developer)
  • A drill sergeant producer who is going to make sure every person, every instrument is where they are supposed to be, exactly when they are supposed to be there (aka. systems administrator)
  • A thirty piece string ensemble to draw you in, and nail you to your seat (aka. sales and content manager)
  • And me…and I’m finding it hard to objectively find a metaphor for myself in an orchestra…

I know what you’re thinking. Catherine, enough with the pretty bullets. What did you and Matthew tick off your list…?

Tasks started and finished:

  1. Install Easy Digital Downloads to replace WooCommerce
  2. Product / audio file album art
  3. Stripe gateway
  4. Final Audio File QA
  5. LMTW Logo
  6. Settings for upper body product
  7. Settings for lower body product
  8. Settings for full package product
  9. Review Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy (half done!)
  10. Fix fatal Error in LMT World child theme after upgrading Make parent theme
  11. Update Catherine’s bio
  12. Make everything pretty – (I’m learning some shortcode techniques and getting friendly with a new theme and plugin, both of which are supposed to make my life easier. Uh-huh.)

Tasks left to begin:

  1. Finish changes noted in InVision
  2. Mailchimp subscription boxes
  3. Thorough review of SEO settings
  4. Favicon
  5. Finalize global nav menu

Would you believe that I spent most of my day working on this project? This is why we ask other people to hold us accountable. Because we work and grind all day and sometimes have so little to show for it. It would be so easy right now for Matthew and I to throw up our hands and say, “there’s no way we are going to accomplish this by Monday.” At which point, we give up, and we don’t finish for another 10 months.

But you know what? We are going to hit this deadline.

Because you are sitting out there, supporting us, encouraging us. And frankly, there is no greater shame to me, than not turning in my homework on time. (Thank you, college professor father.)