Posts Filed Under Sometimes, I’m all deep and shit…..

I’m finally “enjoying every moment,” even the time when I wasn’t.

by renegademama

I became a mother eighteen years ago and it seems like every day since then, somebody has told me to “enjoy every moment.” I’ve moved from vague pity to nonchalant disinterestedness all the way to outright disdain in response to the advice.

Early on, I thought it was just kinda sad that the women looking at me with a knowing smile were just so, you know, old. Seasoned mothers whose kids had grown, looking at me, twenty-two-years old, all fresh and shit, and there they were with their Old People Regrets.

It’s funny how in your twenties, the suggestions of “old people” are distant whispers from strange humans you’ll never become. It’s strange how we don’t yield to them, recalling how, if all goes well, we’ll be them one day, and maybe they’ve learned something.

Or maybe other people do that. Maybe other people hear these words and think “I shall listen to you because you probably know shit.” I don’t.

But my special talent is somehow always believing myself the exception to the rule. Sure, you look back and wish you’d “enjoyed every moment” because “it goes so fast.” But I won’t. Fuck off.

Why? No clue. How exactly would I be different? No clue. Please don’t bring reason into this.

But something happened to me the day the baby born on November 21, 2001, left our home to finish high school in America, and I found myself surrounded with three of my four kids, feeling always just a little off. She may come here for college. She may stay in California. The letting go snuck up on me, the massive distance. It sounds ridiculous to say.

Something changed in me the morning I saw in her brow a nervousness and sorrow that looked a little like being let down. The day I saw her steel herself and keep on going to the airport—her purse, a bag that used to be mine, crossing her body over her jean jacket, beneath two braids she’d made that morning while singing along in the bathroom to Johnny Cash, and I listened from the next room, my head in my hands, crying, enjoying every moment of her voice.

It all dissolved that morning, what my family had been for so long, and at my own hand, or the passing of time, if there’s a difference.

It was all suddenly different and I saw it. Rocket, fourteen-years-old, standing taller than me. One teenager gone, one taller than me. My nine-year-old, the way she worries what the kids at school think. The way she still has little projects: notes to her friends, drawings, shortbread cookies made all by herself.

Ava used to do that.

 

And I looked at my little one, Arlo, five-years-old. The tail end. The last whisper of little guy. The imaginative play. The curling against your body almost like they’re three. The way they fit in your arms just barely.

There’s a chance I’m a little weird around him now.

I ask him to sing me his school songs and notice the lisp he’ll lose someday. I watch him play with airplanes and knights and dragons and call Mac over to watch him in his little world. Look at him.  

“I know,” Mac says, sighing. He whacks my arm. I tell him I hate him. We both look like we’re about to cry. I think this is how mature adults handle emotion.

I could listen to Arlo’s stories for hours. It’s not hard. Keep speaking. Keep going. Tell me more of your plans.

When I’m cooking and he wants to stir, even when I’m tired and fed up and just want it to be over, I tell him to grab a stool and show him how to hold the spoon and remind him that the pot is hot and I kiss his head when he looks at me and I don’t really ever say, “No, not tonight.”

When he hears me in the bath and asks to join, just when I begin to relax, I remember the way I used keep the door locked and wonder how they always found me. I still wonder that, but it makes me smile. I keep the door cracked. “Yes,” I say. “Just give me ten minutes in here alone.” I say it because I really want him to come in with me. I don’t mind at all.

I want to watch him play Batman under the water. I want to feel his little hug against me. And when he’s there, I’ll remember how I labored with him in the bathtub, how I brought him with me in the bath as a newborn, an infant, a toddler, and how he used to nurse partially submerged, and I’d lay a warm washcloth over the part of his body exposed to the air.

I cuddle with him on the couch and put my phone away. He sleeps in our bed just about every night and I stick my face an inch from his and watch his little hands do nothing under his chin. He falls asleep on my arm and I smell his head, his neck, stare at his bare feet curled behind him.

I tell Mac to look. Look at our baby.

 

So here I am, world, finally, doing what you told me. I’m enjoying every minute! I’m all in, assholes. SOAKING THIS SHIT UP. It’s not that I’m uniformly joyful, never annoyed, never yelling. And I don’t think that’s what they meant when they told us “it goes so fast.” I think they meant, be aware always how quickly this will end. 

That’s where I am now, and thank god it wasn’t always this way. Thank god I didn’t live all these years in this condition—every minute some butterfly just touching down, some joy about to fly away.

I wouldn’t have wanted to live all those years in the full knowledge of what they would mean to me when they were gone, because there was a freedom there, an energy—we were both young.

I don’t think you can be told when your first baby is six-months-old—when you’ll never sleep again and your life has become a pattern of monotony you quite possibly hate and you’re talking too long to the checkout guy and wondering when the baby will crawl—you can’t be told “enjoy every moment; it goes so fast,” because that understanding comes when the non-crawling baby waves at you from a passenger seat on her way into her own life. It comes from the pain of the other side.

It comes when you’re snapped into the finality of it, because there really is a day, you know, when they leave. An actual day. It is very concrete. They are around every day, and then they are not.

 

I couldn’t have lived with this kind of pull on my heart. I couldn’t have taken it all this seriously. I couldn’t have endured the work of those early years if I had to stop every fifteen minutes to enjoy my five-year-old’s nose. The way his curls fall over his eye. The blocks he left in my bed.

Who can live like that? In some state of awe at the little dude jumping off a branch, watching him ride a bike like it’s a fucking symphony. Who can hold this much devotion to something so fleeting, an ache burning always somewhere, a silent grip on what isn’t yours, an hourglass on the counter mocking your old sense of permanence.

I didn’t ask for this shit. I didn’t learn it or guilt or self-talk my way into it. It came one morning when I wasn’t ready, when my first baby sucked the air out of the room and flooded her siblings in light.

I’ve never been very good at learning things without pain. Never been good at listening to others and anticipating and being smart about it. But maybe we learn what we need to learn as life presents itself. Maybe we see more when life becomes more, or less. Maybe that’s how it should be.

I won’t tell a new mother to enjoy every moment. I’ll watch her not enjoying them and remember when I had the luxury.

I’ll let him sleep on me as long as he wants, and love it all. When I knew what it was, and when I didn’t.

 

19 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | February 19, 2020

Arlo turned five today and I’m really doing well

by renegademama

I never thought I’d be the mother enduring some sort of existential crisis because her baby is turning five. I don’t know, I’m not much of feeler.

No, that’s a lie. I have always been a grade-A feeler, but I used to be an excellent feelings-suppressor, thinking as long as I didn’t look sad, I wouldn’t actually be sad. As long as I didn’t show you I had feelings, I didn’t actually have the feelings. If anybody would like further emotional intelligence guidance, I’ll be here all week.

Crying felt like vulnerability which felt like I’D RATHER DIE.

If this makes sense to you, hi. We should probably go to therapy together.

I’m totally healed now. Totally. I assure you. Despite my max-healed status (I may be overshooting here a bit), I still have a hard time crying in front of certain people and those certain people are people I’m the closest to.

I’ll cry in front of a room full of strangers at a book reading but have a very, very hard time crying in front of, say, Mac. I can cry with love, or remembering a loved one, but I can’t cry because he hurt my feelings. I can’t cry when I’m just HURTING.

The more I write about this the more I feel like you’re going to tell me I’m highly disturbed and should throw in the towel in a sort of all-encompassing life way.

There’s some part of me that suspects that if you know I’m sad, that you’ve hurt me, you’ll think I’m weak and beat me with a metal rod until I bleed out.

Maybe I should keep these things inside.

 

Anyway, something happened to me at about age 35, and it’s just gotten worse (better?) since then. Thirty-five was also the year I turned five years sober, so I really have no idea if this development is on account of age in years or the relative maturity that comes with sobriety, but my fucking point here is I FEEL SHIT ALL THE TIME NOW AND I AM SAD ABOUT MY BABY TURNING FIVE AND I WANT ANOTHER ONE LEAVE ME ALONE.

I never knew I’d be a mother who looks at her youngest and simply wants him to stay.

I don’t want him to get to that next phase or stop this or stop that. I just want him to stay, right here.

It isn’t that he doesn’t annoy me. He does. Kids are annoying. But all I really feel when I look at him is an all-consuming gratitude that I still have this tiny bouncing kid in my house.

I have his lisp and his fat little fingers shoving Spiderman into the mouth of a metal bird on my mom’s porch. I have his little bottom racing down the hallway to escape the bath. I have his ringlets covered in unknown sticky substance two hours after the bath he almost escaped. I have his big eyes and closed-mouth smile and endless, meandering, nihilist questions. I have him playing on our floor.

Oh lord almighty, the playing. The imagination. The little lilt they get while inventing games “Pretend you’re the fireman and I’m the dad and you come to save me but my dog won’t leave.” Can you hear it? All the kids use the same one.

The story spins endlessly. Pretend, pretend, pretend. Do they ever actually play? I watch them and listen as they create the scene endlessly, never actually having the characters do the thing. I could watch them all day, but I stay in another room, because they’ll stop if they know you’re there. Or they might. I want them to get lost. I want them to forget about me so I can soak them up just as they are without Mama around.

I still have a little body against mine, a body that fits perfectly in the curve of my body, that snores the tiniest little grumbly snore, that smells like sweet baby sweat in his neck. I still bury my head in it when he wakes up. I take in the wild fuzz of his head. Pajamas. I have those, too.

I’ll never be a person who wags her finger and instructs young mothers (hahaha) to “Enjoy it. It goes so fast.” But fuck me, I’m here living that recognition against my fucking will. I didn’t ask for it. I HATE FEELINGS AND SENSITIVITY.

I certainly don’t enjoy this all the time, and my patience is just sort of – misplaced? – but I can tell you that every single fucking day, I think about how soon I’ll turn around and he’ll be somebody else. He’ll talk “properly” and he won’t spend thirty minutes rolling a truck on a pillow with a Paw Patrol character, and he won’t just fit on my lap if I curl him into a very tight ball. He just won’t be, well, a little guy.

I suppose in a way this is a wonderful place to be, though if I think about it too hard I dip my toe into a pool of guilt and sadness that I didn’t “take it all in” perfectly enough when my other kids were young. I thought I had forever. I knew another was coming along.

I thought I had forever.

You don’t think about how things will end when it all feels like a beginning.

But fuck guilt. We only have what we have when we have it. And back then, I had the smooth-sailing ignorance of “so many years.” And now, now I have minutes that seem to contain entire lifetimes. That’s how sacred they’ve become. I hold them like I hold his little hand, aware of the softness of his palm in mine, the pressure of his grasp, and how fast it slips away when he turns, runs.

Happy birthday, Arlo.

 

***

Paperback, available now! 

Some things I hope for you, daughter, on your seventeenth birthday

by renegademama

You were in your car-seat and I was driving around a corner in the post office parking lot, getting ready to throw some letters in the drive-by mailbox. It was then that it hit me: My mother loved me the way I love you. She was all wrapped up in me – air, life, soul – I held all that for her.

I called my mother. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I never knew.”

Your tiny body. Your little self. I was 22. You were two weeks old.

And when I got onto that road, I thought about 18 years. I thought how I got 18 years with you in my house, at least, and a lifetime as your mother, and then, that day, and for so many days after, those 18 years stretched in front of me like a wild, eternal road.

Today you turn seventeen.

I could write what it feels like to see you standing in a doorway, your face suddenly drawn with wisdom, your eyes echoing more than a reflection of daddy of me. When did that happen? I guess that happens.

Your refusal to buy suede cleaner from Amazon because you “don’t want to give Jeff Bezos more money.” Your phone-banking in the midterms. Your gleeful pre-voting registration. Your disdain for single-use plastics.

I see your heart. Your diligence and teenage clarity and energy. I remember when things were straightforward.

I see the muscles in your arms and legs and the way your hair falls across your shoulders.

You’re more of my friend, now, than you’ve ever been. I’m your mother, but we laugh like friends, sisters. And we fight like that, too. When it’s over, we laugh about our tempers being the same. You say “I got this from you!” And I can’t argue. We try to be better together.

You drive now. I watch you pull away from the house and I’m reminded of those clichéd movies. The fear you feel when the daughter drives away. It’s true.

You learned to drive a stick shift. You ride your mountain bike even when blood runs down your legs. You joined cross-country and nearly puke after races.

Your Twitter feed is my favorite ever. You comment on my Instagram and I feel a little like a super star.

Eighteen years.

Not yet. Not yet.

It’s getting close. It makes me think.

I hope you know you don’t have to leave, and you don’t have to stay. I hope you know the screaming matches are just as they should be and we’re alright. I hope you know how happy I am you agree we must always say “I love you” before we leave the house, no matter how mad we are.

Those must be the last words because sometimes they are the last words.

I hope you never take any shit from men. I hope if you’re harassed you’ll raise hell. I hope if you’re grabbed you’ll scream. I hope you never accept the things I accepted. The years coming your way, these are the ones when it all goes down.

I hope you know we’re here to kick some ass for you.

I hope you’ll wear make-up if you want and never wear it if you don’t want and I hope you’ll get into tight clothes if you want and I hope you’ll wear hoodies if you want and I hope you’ll know your body as your friend.

There were so many things I thought were decided for me. There were so many things I thought I had to appreciate. Attention from men, mostly. Their “insights.” Even when I didn’t want it. I thought I should be grateful. I thought I should be quiet.

A male elder, a family member, told me once my voice was “like sandpaper. It grates on people.”

I hope your voice is like sandpaper. I hope you fucking grate on people. I hope you speak no matter what and I hope maybe I have shown you what that looks like, and that we can survive.

I hope you study what you love and trust that will be enough.

I hope you know money is necessary but also so is art.

I hope you have four babies or no babies and don’t expect fulfillment either way.

I hope you always come home, or go as far away as you must, and I hope you know you aren’t responsible for us, for our happiness, for our joy.

We are whole. We are fine. We are yours.

Here, or there.

I hope you know I never want to let you go, not because of what I get from you, because you define or complete me, but because I love hanging out with you, my girl, your sense of humor, your horrible puns, the way you fold Arlo into your arms and announce, “You are the cutest and best and I would die for you.”

Do you know what that feels like? Do you know what it feels like to see you do that? To see you, my first child, the one who felt the most of my alcoholism, who remembers, who still has a box in her room of all the letters I sent while gone – do you know what it feels like to see you love? To see you scooping up a toddler and smothering him with kisses?

A family. The first and the last.

A family that’s become itself. A family that you “aren’t ready to leave.”

You said that the other day with tears in your eyes, thinking about your seventeenth birthday.

I hope you know you can stay. I hope you know you can go. I hope you know most rules are bullshit built by people too scared to live.

I hope you know that in that post office parking lot, when I felt the thread woven from my mama, to me, to you, wasn’t about eighteen years, or eighty. It wasn’t about doing this or doing that or doing it right or not right. It wasn’t about taking off or sticking around or fixing it all or letting it stay broken.

We’ve done all that. We’ll do it all, more. We’ll see this through to the end.

I hope you know what it’s like to see you, seventeen.

Seventeen.

*****

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20 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | November 21, 2018

“Mama, did you leave me on accident?”

by renegademama

Arlo turned four yesterday. I didn’t post about it until 9pm because I thought maybe if I didn’t say it out loud, it wouldn’t be real. Yeah, I guess I’m there. I told myself, “Well, he wasn’t born until 11pm, so technically, he’s not four yet.”

I’m not sure what that’s about. Maybe that he’s our last baby. Maybe because I’ll never be done. They say you’ll “know when you’re done.” That you’ll just feel it in your bones. Fin.

Maybe. Does that mean we’re not done? Does that mean we need to throw kid #5 into the circus? I’m not asking the internet for family planning advice. What I’m saying is, I’m not sure if the ache I have in my heart means we’re “not really done” or if this is just the way it feels for some of us, the way it hurts.

That in my family, we are both supposed to not have another kid and I ache for another kid.

It’s the anticipation, I think. I don’t even like being pregnant. I’m pretty sure being pregnant is the 9th circle of hell. And I’m 39. Like, kinda old for this shit. And they turn into teenagers. I have two of those. Those things are a lot. And as one of them says, “You can barely handle the four you have, Mother.”

It’s the newborn against my chest. It’s that moment of inhaling their necks, the vernix still on them, when you take a breath of them and it’s like inhaling your own existence. Your own blood. All you ever had of love.

The ecstasy of that moment. The simplicity of newborns. And infants. Hold. Rock. Change. Nurse. It’s simple, but not easy.

But maybe it’s that I’ve spent the last year and a half gone, a lot. Away writing. I wrote mostly on the weekends. I’d leave on a Friday, lock myself into a motel room, and write until Sunday afternoon. On Monday, Arlo and the kids would be back in school. And I’d be in my office. Maybe it’s that I feel I missed most of his third year, the year that feels like the last of the toddler years. The last of the baby-ness.

 

Four isn’t big.

Yesterday when he woke up, I asked him, “Are you four now?” And he said, “Yes, but I’m still cute and I’m still little.” Even he knows four isn’t big.

But it feels big.

When I came back from two weeks gone for my book tour, he slept with me that first night, and as we were falling asleep, he looked up at me with these curious, endless eyes and asked, “Mama, did you leave me on accident?”

I caught my breath. “Sort of,” I said.

Then he got really serious and said, “Don’t ever do that again.”

I laughed, but felt it its weight. A little boy assuming his mother left on accident. Surely she wouldn’t take off on purpose. Why would she do such a thing?

I didn’t leave on accident, little one. I left on purpose. I left because I’m a writer. Because seven years ago I started writing and when I cracked open that door of words, they just kept flooding in like the most relentless motherfucking house guests and my whole life changed. They weren’t leaving. I had to move shit around to accommodate them.

It still hurts to walk out. The parties I missed. The bedtimes. The school events. The year of three.

 

I have spent the last 1.5 years walking out of my home regularly and for extended periods, sometimes for as long as a week, but I’ve almost always had a little side gig.

I had a desk job for a while. I taught writing at colleges. I went to grad school for a minute. But the central focus of my life during all these years has been my babies. My house. My marriage.

And then, it became this book, and it wasn’t just when I was away writing. I was writing when I was home. I was thinking and working on it in my brain. My family would speak to me and I didn’t even hear them.

Mama, gone.

I could see I had been consumed. I could see this wasn’t a book I could write as a little side gig, on occasion, when the opportunity presented itself. I was writing a book on addiction and motherhood. I was trying to make sense of how we can love our kids and hurt them, how sometimes love isn’t enough. And then, my maternal grandmother was murdered and I saw I was writing a book about lineage. About my mother and her mother. And my father’s mother. I was writing about being a daughter. Their sins, and mine, the way I failed them, the way they failed me. And how, in the end, we have only our blood between us. And how, perhaps, that is plenty.

This isn’t something I could write on a Tuesday at Starbucks. No, I had to leave. I had to leave in mind and body and I had to not come back very often. Everything in my life became a side job. Everything because a silly practice to get through until I could work that chapter out. That idea out. That sentence out.

Maybe it’s a stupid thing. Maybe it’s a silly sacrifice, but when you believe in something, you know, you do it. I believed in this book and I still do.

 

I left my kids before. For two years we were apart, and then for one year we were half-apart, and once, when I came home after a long, alcoholic absence, I walked in the door of my mother’s house, and Rocket came running to me in the entryway, and said, “Mama, home.”

I fell to my knees and held him, and couldn’t respond, because I knew I wouldn’t stay. I knew I couldn’t stay. I had passed the point when I was able to delude myself into thinking I could promise him anything.

Those words – mama, home – never left me. I wrote about them in the book. I think I mentioned them here on the blog perhaps, but in my mind, they’re never far.

A week ago, I came home from a meeting and Arlo looked up at me with the same blue eyes his big brother had when he was a little boy, and with a steady gaze, he said, “Mama, home.”

I caught my breath.

I had never heard those words since the day Rocket spoke them at three years old. I had never heard those words outside the chambers of my own memory, where they rattled around like an old, sad friend.

Arlo has said it every day since.

“Mama, home” – just randomly throughout the day, and each day he’s said it more and more, until yesterday, he must have said it three or four times.

“Yes,” I said.” “Arlo, I am home.”

And it felt a little like forgiveness.

Like it’s all connected. Like the boy ten years ago is somehow the boy standing before me today, uttering the same words, but this time, I am here, even when I’m gone, and I’ll return as long as I’m breathing, and Arlo knew it when he said it. A declaration. A statement of fact. A seeing.

It’s that blood again. In the book I wrote, “we remain in the blood of our mothers.” There’s a lot more to it than that. I won’t go into it here.

But that’s how it felt, again. The circle. The connection. The blood running between us. The blood that took me away, and made me return, and gave two brothers the same words across their lips, to speak a decade apart, to the same woman, who’s home, sort of.

We can only be who we are. In the end, it’s that inexplicable thing that holds us.

Maybe that’s why I ache on his birthday.

Maybe that’s why I ache for the moment when I inhale the scent of myself in another body, when nothing can separate us yet, and I’m inarguably, and fully, enough.

I think that’s what the boys mean by “home.”

*******

We’re all facing the “most sacred job in the world” armed with nothin but ourselves. 

I insist there’s beauty right there. And a shitload of humor. A SHITLOAD OF FUCKING HUMOR. Because it’s funny, goddamnit, the whole thing.

And I wrote that too.
That part was really, really fun. Alongside even the most intense parts of that book, I was laughing my ass off (IN MOMENTS, okay, I’m not a monster). I may be a monster.

Somebody messaged me today saying her favorite passage in the book was the dinosaur porn one. Here it is:

“Let’s not talk about how we all became better versions of ourselves the day we became parents, and, please, would you stop pretending you did? Because your holier-than-thou shit makes me worry you watch dinosaur porn after the kids go to bed. Your steadfast focus on seasonal cupcakes and organic kombucha concerns me. Look, I’ve got some too. I know all about gut flora. But please. Is that all there is?”

 

I refuse to forgive you but I probably will

by renegademama

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness, and the way people often talk about it as this sweet, gentle thing. A delicate sort of gesture born of goodwill and high morality.

It’s never been like that for me.

I either forget about the transgression because I’m too lazy to stay angry, or I cling to my resentment like a drowning woman.

I ride that out for a while, just really milking that shit – how I was harmed, how wrong that person is, until I think I may be consumed in rage.

And then I forgive, and when I do, it’s not gentle. It’s not sweet. It’s a reckless, wild, radical thing that crashes out of me because I have no choices left.

A teacher asked me once, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be free?” 

I forgive when I want to be free, not because I’m trying to be nice, or want goodwill, or even to be friends.

I’ve been thinking about it because a few weeks ago I sat in a courtroom with my cousin, the man who killed my grandmother, and I stared at the back of his head.

There he is.

A man I’ve known my whole life, four years younger than me. I remembered him in his baseball uniform as a little boy, his huge brown eyes and curly hair.

He was quite possibly the gentlest, sweetest child I ever met.

He looked back at me two or three times in that courtroom, while I sat shaking, cursing the inefficacy of the Ativan I had taken.

What I felt when he looked at me is that he wanted me to nod, or smile at him, give some recognition. We were always good friends.

I glared at him. I tried to hurt him with my eyes.

In softer moments, I know he was sick. He was unmedicated and delusional and he stabbed my grandmother and killed her. In softer moments, I see that, and I know it to be true.

In other moments, I glance at the lamp hanging above the left side of my bed, that used to hang over the left side of hers, and I think about the way she died, and her suffering, and what he stole from her, and us – the last years of life – how many would there have been? – her plans, her smile, her vibrancy. He stole all that.

A death with her loved ones surrounding her. A final goodbye. He took that too.

And I think I want to rip his face off. I want to beat the shit out of him. I want him to rot in jail.

And in between these prospects, these thoughts, lies the space of freedom I refuse to face just yet. The space that calls to me when I’m quiet, when I’m not looking, and I know someday I’ll go there.

I’ll take one maniacal leap into illogical forgiveness.

I will see his humanity and fucking release him, and a part of me will hate it when it happens, and I don’t know when or how or if I’ll ever stand face to face with him again, or give voice to the compassion I sometimes feel but mostly abhor, but I know somehow the day will come when I will choose forgiveness over the all-consuming rage.

It won’t look soft. It won’t pat his head. It won’t excuse him or love him or even accept him. It will be to accept the truth, the whole awful ruthless bloody truth. Of him, of the boy and the man, of the sickness and the extinguished life – and me, standing aside, ready to be free, unwilling to die for sins that aren’t mine.

 

With Arlo a few years ago. She was going to study art and visit each of her great-grandchildren.

****

My book, I’M JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE, was out on May 1. I’m doing book events right now. Austin and Washington D.C. coming soon!  Come say hello.

And check out the book at the links below. I hope you enjoy.