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photos:
1) my beamish boy, 8 years ago when we were good friends
2) spot the tattoo
3) no mas!

Last night as I pulled in the driveway I felt a pang in my heart when I noticed the white Christmas lights on in my son’s upstairs bedroom window. I turned the lights on when he went back to school so his room didn’t look so cold and empty. I really miss him. And I don’t. We are both happy, doing good work where we are; me in Ann Arbor and he in Chicago. But still there is a pull on my heart.

My son started his freshman year at DePaul University in Chicago. He lives on the Lincoln Park campus but takes the El to take classes downtown (13 floors above the Barnes and Noble on the Loop) a couple of days per week. On those days he says he eats breakfast overlooking Chicago as the sun rises. It makes him happy.

The summer before he left was neither fun nor pretty for us. So many fights. Go ahead, join the other hundreds of friends who told me not to take it personally, that he’s just separating, that he will come back. I know all of this. But it still hurt. Deeply.

And when he turned 18 at the end of July he announced he was going to get a skull tattooed on his bicep.

I said, not a skull.
I said, not yet.
I said, wait until you’re 26 and your frontal lobe is fully developed.
I said, wait until you’ve made friends at college.
I said, a skull on your bicep says, f-you! I’m a tough guy and I want to fight you!
I said, okay, get a tattoo but not something that is so negative and scary and visible.

He said, yes a skull, yes on my bicep.

I said, NO.

He said, you have no say, I’m eighteen and can do what I want.

I said, I’m paying for you to go to college so I think I do get a say.

My husband said, don’t tell him we’re not going to pay for him to go to college.

I said, that’s not what I said.

My son got his badass tattoo the week before he left for college.

I didn’t speak to him until two days before he left when he came up to me and hugged me and said, I love you mom.

I said, I love you too, dummy.

He said, whose the dummy who wouldn’t talk to her son the week before he leaves for college?

I said, whose the dummy who got a skull tattoo the week before he left for college?

He said, my skull tattoo is amazing.

So he got a tattoo. No one died. But as a friend noted, after having had the same experience with his daughter, something shifted. Something broke.

Looking back, I think it’s okay. I likely did something that broke my childhood relationship with my own mother at some point. Like when I would blare Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back” when she intruded on my teenage life. Or any of the millions of other transgressions I made against her.

Now, I have a wonderful adult relationship with my mom. I hope I will be able to have a similar relationship with my son one day. In the meantime, I am getting better at not taking his transgressions so personally.

His first week of college my skull-tattooed son had a Discover Chicago immersion class where they visited different neighborhoods, learned about their histories, ethnicities, etc. He texted me one day and said, three of my four professors have tattoos, I don’t feel so special.

When he was home for break he was talking about getting another tattoo. I said, well I would be okay with that one, pointing to our refrigerator where I had posted a paper heart with a banner baring the word “MOM”. My daughter had made as a label for a gift for me.

He said, that’s actually one I was thinking of getting.

Oh my beamish boy. I hope no more tattoos, but I’m keeping my mouth shut this time.

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photos:
1) loving my chocolate milk
2) surfer, pacific ocean, golden gate park near sutro bathes
3) yellow mushrooms, noe valley farmer’s market
4) gold fish and yellow boots, japanese tea garden in golden gate park
5) my new skirt

We have had some hard weeks this month. We are still missing our puppy. My mother-in-law is in her final days. And we are dealing with some hard, worldly, issues with one of our children. It is a situation that has grown from a place of goodness and caring, but has put our child in a potentially dangerous and situation. It is a situation that makes me long for normal teenage issues like drinking, sex or breaking curfew. We have been up late many nights lately having long and intense family talks. But at least we are talking. (My advice to you as a parent is to not raise caring and sensitive kids who want to save the world.)

When I am tired at the beginning of a swim workout and have a wave of dread wash over me thinking about how many more hundreds of yards I have left to swim, I tell myself to focus on the 50 yards I am currently on: to concentrate on form; to concentrate on the pleasure of moving through the water; and to just take one lap at a time. It always gets me through the workout.

I am trying to apply the same focus to each day of this hard time: focus on what I can do today; try to set a goal and try to break the problem down to get to that goal; focus on efficiency rather than wasting so much energy on anxiety and worry; and make sure I exercise and laugh, because endorphins always help. As I tell my children, we will get through this. All will be well.

I cannot say that I am happy this week, but there have been things that have lifted my spirits. The top three have to do with chocolate…for its medicinal qualities?

1. Almond Joy ice-cream. Coconut ice-cream infused with almonds and big chunks of chocolate, now available and our neighborhood Washtenaw Dairy ice cream store, an all too convenient 10 minute walk from my house. I’m not a huge ice cream fan, but I find myself with a specific craving this ice cream. No, I’m not pregnant.

2. Small, portable cartons of chocolate milk. They don’t require refrigeration, though they are best cold. I love them after exercising…and with my lunch…and as a late night snack and…No, I’m not pregnant.

3. Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Almonds. I have a Ghiradelli bar right next to me as I type. I have never liked dark chocolate, though I know it’s much better for me than milk chocolate. It turns out if you add a heavy does of salt and almonds to dark chocolate, it’s not only palatable, it’s wonderful. (I also like the dark chocolate and sea salt Kind bars.) No, I’m still not pregnant.

4. My kitchen floor is almost done and looking great. My husband has been working his *** off sanding, staining and finishing this ancient pine floor. The project started last November when we bought a new dishwasher that would not fit under the counter, even though it was the same dimensions as the old one. We ended up ripping up the flooring, which needed replacing anyway, and found 3 layers of linoleum on subfloor. Then there was black paper and goo that had to be scraped off of the floor. We discovered not so bad pine flooring that we thought we might paint. Once my husband had it sanded we decided to stain and polyurethane. Now about that harvest gold counter top…

5. Being outside always makes me feel better. My daughter and I took a long bike ride together this week, I swam outdoors at least once, I walked to and from work on some days. This Atlantic article on brain function and exercise, and being outside says being outside and exercising (and the big O for ladies) also increases brain function:
Gym workouts and sunbathing do more for your brain than crosswords and Mozart

6. My first trip ever to San Francisco was great. We packed a lot in in the few days we were there. Including my friend’s participation in the Escape from the Rock duathlon. The food, the shops, the nature, the culture, the easy transportation…I can’t wait to return.

7. The Google Maps App and the Uber Cars App. Both Apps made getting around San Francisco easy and stress free. Uber cars are controversial in some cities because they compete with cab drivers who say Uber drivers are unqualified. Uber drivers have to pass some driving and written tests, so I’m not sure if the cabbies’ claims are founded. I like Uber cars because I don’t feel like I’m getting overcharged because I’m a tourist. You can get a fare quote ahead of time, they let you know ahead of time if it is a high traffic time when fares are sometimes increased, and by how much they are increased. There is no tipping (tip is included), the cars arrive quickly, it is automatically charged to your credit card and they have lots of special offers—first ride was free for us.
Google Maps gives great and specific information for using public transportation and walking.

8. Boden’s printed cotton skirt in Papaya Geo that arrived this week (see above)

9. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
, by Daniel James Brown

I’m almost finished with this book, but don’t want it to end! There is a movie being made of this. It’s being touted as the Chariots of Fire of rowing. Here is a book trailer I found (have never heard of a book trailer before).

10. My husband showed me THIS amazing kickstarter invention. I made a small donation to the campaign so I can receive 100 of these next July. Just in time for my son’s 18th birthday.

Hope you have a good week: 50 yards at a time my friends.

everywhere and nowhere

July 16, 2014

gggg

n-2

yyyy

vv

aaa

photos:
1) our finnegan, november 11, 2001 – july 8, 2014
2) she decided in kindergarten that she wanted a pug and she wanted to name him finny. i’m not sure her dad and i knew what a pug was. took her two years to convince her dad.
3) one of five million photos of finny and his girl
4) puppy brothers: small and young
5) puppy brothers: one still young, but big, the other still small, but old

Last week we lost our faithful companion of twelve and a half years. It was heartbreaking and we are still heartbroken.

We loved that little dog. Every time my daughter saw Finny, she would say, “Finny is so cute. SO cute.” Every time my son saw Finny he said, “Mom, look at how cute Finny is!” and I would say, “Yes, he is cute,” while I continued to make dinner, or check my email. “No, mom you have to LOOK. Mom look! Look at how cute Finny is!” He would persist until I would finally turn and look and affirm. This happened always, forever, multiple times a day, whenever they would see their “puppy brother.”

My husband, who didn’t want a dog, was the one who stayed up with Finny his first night in our house, when he was so, so tiny. And he was the one who, last week, woke me up at 2am to say he was taking Finny to the emergency vet. The kids went with him. I came later when he called me to tell me that we had run out of options.

Finny always wanted to be right by my side, probably because I was the one who fed and walked him. He cried if I went to bed, or the bathroom, or upstairs, or downstairs without him. I went to sleep with him at my feet and woke up with his head next to mine on my pillow, his fishy breath blowing in my face. Gross, I know.

Now when I get up in the morning as I head to the bathroom I hear him whine for me to come back and lift him off the bed, as he often does. In less than a second I realize the whine can’t be from him because he is no longer here: it’s a squeaky door, or the air conditioner or my husband’s snore.

We see him out of the corner of our eyes, and then instantly recognize that it’s not him, but his tan cushion, or a bag, or something else of similar color or size. He is everywhere, and nowhere.

My son came home the other day with his usual bounce in his step and cheerfully told me about his day and then headed down the hall and stopped. “Oh,” he said, startled. “I was going to find Finny.”

My daughter wants to keep his toys, cushion, even his hair around the house, as is, at least for now. She explained a theory, that if the sun explodes, we on earth will have 8 minutes before everything is gone. She feels this way about Finny: that she only has a limited amount of time before so much of him, our memory of him, his presence, all of him, is gone.

I know it will get better; maybe sooner than we are ready for.

what's making me happy this week 03.23.14: kumail, adam and peter

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032314lunchroom

photos:
1) i love the glass doorknobs in our house and won't let my husband replace them, even though some work poorly
2) the ceiling of the lobby of the university of michigan's museum of natural history where we had an after hours event
3) a late lunch of jap che and bi him bap with my daughter at bell's diner. you can see us in the mirror and a sign of spring hanging above. i have one just like it at home.
4) i love my pug's shadow. i wish i could get it without the sidewalk cracks so you can really see his curly tail
5) my daughter was in my office and arranged my fruit to let me know how she felt about her organic chemistry exam
6) my daughter came downstairs to excitedly explain an organic chemistry eureka moment to me using her whiteboard, which really just confused me and lulled me to sleep. you can see my pug is alarmed that she is invading our space
7) old iron fence shadows
8) lunch at the lunchroom in kerrytown, loved our bahn mi sandwiches

Walking back from lunch this week I overheard someone say to another person, “We’re lucky it’s so warm out today!” Moments later someone else smiled at me and said, “Nice day!” The same day my outdoor running buddy, whom I have not run with since October, texted me, “Want to run tomorrow morning?”

So by now you have deduced the weather here in Michigan has changed. It’s sunny and…30 degrees outside! No NOT Celsius. That’s good old American 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

You may think we are a sad and uncivilized lot here in the mid western United States. Uncivilized? Yes. Sad? No. We are HAPPY. It’s balmy! The snow is melting! We are on the other side!

Also making me happy this week:
1. The Detroit Tiger’s Baseball home opener is March 31, a week from tomorrow. Ernie Harwell announcing Tiger’s games on WJR radio was the background to my childhood summers. And even though Ernie Harwell is no longer announcing, listening to a Tiger’s game on the radio while making dinner is better than a glass of wine (and even better WITH a glass of wine). Winter is over friends: the boys of summer are back.

2. Kumail Nanjiani. I was thinking of this episode of Portlandia when I was looking into our cell phone plan this week…Anyone who has a cell phone plan will be able to relate, but may not find it funny.

3. I loved, LOVED, Adam Savage’s (of MythBusters fame) story on the Moth podcast about talking to his kids about online pornography. I was a little worried at first…but he nailed it. No pun intended. (Naughty!)

4. What made me happy about these rejection letters to famous people published by Mental Floss (by the way, greatest magazine, a subscription is a great gift for any nerdy person) is that in fact I found most of them to be very kind. May we all be so kind in our rejections.

5. Finally saw the movie, The Desendants. I loved it, despite the fact that I watched it with my mother who made a disapproving noise whenever anyone dropped an f-bomb, and there were about 3,456 f-bombs dropped throughout the film.
I love movies and books that begin with characters you really don’t like at all, and then slowly their humanity and vulnerability are revealed as you watch them evolve into better people.

6. It makes me happy that I finally finished Donna Tartt’s, The Goldfinch. Emphasis on FINISHED. Powered through nearly 800 pages waiting for someone in this book to redeem him or herself. Waited to care about someone. Still waiting.

Yes, I know. I read Stephen’s King’s review in the New York Times where he states, “The Goldfinch” is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind.”

And yes, I also heard NPR’s Maureen Corrigan’s review. “The Goldfinch far exceeds the expectations of those of us who’ve been waiting on Tartt to do something extraordinary again, ever since her debut novel, The Secret History, came out in 1992. Hell, I feel like I’ve been waiting for a novel like this to appear not only since I read The Secret History, but also since I first read David Copperfield.”

Wish I would have read Brit Peter Kemp’s review in the Sunday Times before being seduced by Corrigan and King. “Outdoing even The Little Friend, famously a decade in the writing, The Goldfinch has taken 11 years to appear. These epic gestations are attributed by awed Tartt admirers and devotees of websites such as Donna Tartt Shrine to uncompromising perfectionism. “It’s because of perfectionism that man walked on the moon and painted the Sistine Chapel, OK? Perfectionism is good,” she has stressed. But it’s hard to spot much of it in this ineptly put-together book….Melodrama and sentimentality abound (Pippa, “like a fairy” in a gauzy green dress, is a particularly fey fabrication). Similar-seeming formulations recur. One character is “like an elegant weasel”, another like “an elegant…polar bear”, a third has an “elegant black-clad body like a python”.

For me, alarms went off early on when Tartt uses the phrase, “tugged on his sleeve”. Any respectable high school English teacher would justifiably CHOKE a student who used that cliché in her writing.

7. Feeling happy that I got my irritation with The Goldfinch off my chest. Thank you. And consider yourself warned.

Happy, happy week to you!

what's making me happy this week 02.21.14: angel olsen, floyd legs and swants

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photos:
1) my gym bag, my sanity
2) my aged pug, taken by my daughter, up close and personal
3) noritake mardi gras dinnerware, photo from the fox and th espoon esty store: http://www.etsy.com/shop/thefoxandthespoon
4) making dinner, why yes i do have harvest gold kitchen counter tops…still…they’re starting to grow on me…no, no they’re not
5) love this, ann arbor alley in the snow, photo by courtney sacco: http://photos.mlive.com/8002564/gallery/photo_gallery_ann_arbor_during/index.html#/0

In addition to the tiny patch of blue sky I am craning my head to look at right now, and the bright blurr of a sun trying to burn it’s way through the gloomy gray cloud cover…there is much making me happy this week:

1) Exercise is making me happy…maybe not always while I’m doing it…but always afterward. Honest to god it keeps me sane. Particularly this winter. You know what’s great exercise if you can fit it into your schedule? Studio cycling/spinning. If you have the time, try out a few instructors to see whose music you like best, get there early enough to have the instructor help you adjust your bike. Select a bike in the back row so you can unself-consciously gear down when you need to and/or stand to pedal when your crotch goes numb (it gets better). Don’t worry about cycling shoes, but do bring a water bottle.

2) I heard so many great bands at the Ann Arbor Folk festival last month: Seth Walker, Justin Townes Earle, Pearl and the Beard, Iron and Wine, Neko Case (rocking some skin tight skeleton pants), Willie Nile (a cross between the Ramones and Bruce Springsteen, what?!) and Ann Arbor’s own Appleseed Collective.

But the band that really got under my skin…that I’m trying to decide if I love or just like, is Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. Thao Nguyen is an incredibly talented musician, singer and songwriter. She plays all things stringed and more. In addition she is smart and original: I have not heard anything like her before.

Here is one of Thao’s songs I have been listening to this week: We the Common (for Valerie Bolden)

(Extra points for the split second appearance of Judge John Hodgeman and Ira Glass in this video.)

2. Angle Olsen’s warbly, true voice is making me happy this week. And she looks like my little sister Jen.
Listen to her here at her NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

3. Noritake Mardi Gras dinnerware makes me happy.
I am part of a Mid Century Modern facebook page where someone posted this week that she had found some Noritake Mardi Gras dinnerware at an estate sale. I had never heard of it, but the shape and pattern make me happy.

4. Some cool kids (University of Michigan design grads) are making me happy…They had a kickstarter to produce their “minimalist” Floyd Leg—table legs that can be easily attached to and removed from any kind of flat surface, such as repurposed doors. They were hoping for $18,000 to startup, but ended up with $250,000!

Why does this make me happy? Real people seeing their ideas realized…Design that marries form and function…

5. Goofy gals make me happy, particularly Katy and Katie and their Just the Tips youtube channel. Check out their, how to make swants video.

6. This 3 minute history of the bicycle video makes me happy for the visuals…design, color, light…

7. These photos of Ann Arbor in the snow by photographer Coutney Sacco. The photos were taken at night, and are lovely…and remind me that I should stop being such a baby about the dark and cold and should get outside with my good camera sometime…
http://photos.mlive.com/8002564/gallery/photo_gallery_ann_arbor_during/index.html#/0

8. Having time to cook dinner in the evenings makes me happy. This is a weird flip for me, as I used to hate making dinner and could relate, a little, to Marge Piercy’s poem, What’s That Smell in the Kitchen.

Haha. No, it was never that bad, but it was difficult to fit it in with everything else.

Now that I am not spending my weekends and evenings dragging children through science fair projects, or baking class valentine treats or attending school meetings (which, in truth, I miss,..a lot), I have much more time for making dinner. I always plan my week’s meals on Saturday or Sunday and often will prep the night before. The chore, and I do still think of it as a chore, is made tolerable, pleasant even, by a glass of wine and a podcast.

There has been more making me happy this week, like my son’s first official college visit yesterday and another one today. That makes me happy…but also a little sad…more on that another time.

Hope you are spotting patches of blue sky among the grey clouds where you live! Both literally and metaphorically! xoxo

winter survival

February 17, 2014

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021614huronriver

photos:
1) grapefruit cookies i made for valentine’s day
2) a bag of grapefruit cookies and chocolate for a friend
3) the sun! reflected in a puddle at gallop park
4) shopping for my niece’s baby shower, so many adorable baby clothes
5) love these baking cups, they also make little colorful, cardboard loaf pans that you can bake in
6) my sister made this…i have incredibly talented sisters
7) the huron river from a bridge at gallop park…see? winter really can be beautiful

Ann Arbor consistently makes it into top ten city lists: best places to live in the US, best drinking water, best college town, best cities for aging, best city for singles, best place to raise a family, happiest cities in the country (we’re fifth!). (If you want to learn more about Ann Arbor rankings, check out this 2012 article from annarbor.com: http://www.annarbor.com/news/ann-arbor-often-placed-on-top-ten-lists/)

This past week we made it onto another top ten list, Ann Arbor was ranked the sixth snowiest city in the U.S. Gah! I like snow, I do. I love the change of seasons. I love the first flakes. I love the beauty of a snow covered landscape. When I can finally talk myself into running outside during the winter, I do love being out in it.

But we have had more than what we’re used to this winter. We are exhausted from cleaning the sidewalks and driveways. We have ice dams on our roofs that threaten to leak into our houses when they thaw. Our city streets are getting narrower and narrower as snow accumulates along the sides, and I am starting to get annoyed with my neighbor who parks at the end of my driveway, making it difficult to get out due to the snow build up in the street.

I don’t want to be irritated with my neighbors and I’m tired of the cold and the gloom. I’m tired of having cold feet and shoulders hunched against the cold. I’m tired of layers. I’m tired of the dry heat from the space heater in my office. I miss the sun.

Surving this winter without being an obnoxious whiner baby, or continuously grumpy, has been a challenge. I have fb friend who is ceaselessly gleeful about the snow. I thought maybe trying to change my attitude about the snow to be more like Julie’s may help. I tried, for about a week. “Oh the lovely snow!”, “Oh good, more snow!”, and then no. I couldn’t keep it up.

I’m really very tired of the snow.

So now I’m working on the distraction survival technique– keeping as busy as possible so I don’t have time to fret about the snow. So far, it has been mostly working, except that since it is winter break for the public schools this week, my fb newsfeed is full of sunny photos from Florida and Hawaii and today’s forecast? 4-6 more inches (10-15 cm).

Gah!

what's making me happy this week 11.18.14: what we have in our pockets, a new spell and quiet time

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011714Etgar

photos:
1) a gift of daffodils in january
2) my new sweater
3) writer etgar keret, illusration by erhan cihangiroğlu from the etgar keret facebook page
(can you tell i’m lacking photos this week?)

Two cold nights ago I was leaving the grocery store, after a frenetic day of work. I saw a man sitting alone in his car, talking on his phone, in a vacant part of the shopping center parking lot. I instantly thought, “I wish that was me.”

The thought seemed at once weird and kind of startling to me, especially since the man did not look particularly comfortable. He seemed too large for his overcoat, and for his car. But his car looked warm and he wasn’t rushing around in the dark. He was just sitting, doing one thing. Talking on the phone.

I’m in a bit of a funk. I can’t get on top of life. I’m usually pretty good at shaking off such a mood, but not so much the past couple of weeks. Maybe reviewing the bright spots in the week will help.

So here’s what made me happy this week.

1. The short story, “What Do We Have in our Pockets?” by Etgar Keret
This is a quick read, and even quicker listen (less than 7 minutes).
I heard it on the Selected Shorts podcast read, perfectly, by the late David Rakoff. You can listen here. It starts at the very end of the podcast, around -06:43
You can also read it here or see a short film based on this story and entered into 2013 Sundance film festival here.

But please listen to David Rakoff first. He’s better. The best.

2. Music from the film Walking and Talking. (I liked, but did not love this Nicole Holofcener film, maybe because I had just watched Frances Ha the day before. Basically the same film. Also liked, but did not love Frances Ha.)

Anyway, the music made me happy particularly the opening song, Billy Bragg’s She’s Got a New Spell.

3. Meloncholy music…it makes me happy to have such unhappy music when I need it. Two songs I heard for the first time this week, and really like, are Låpsley’s, “Station”, btw she is both the high and low voices and Iron & Wine‬‪ – The Trapeze Swinger‬. (NPR’s music editor Stephen Thompson has mentioned this song over and over on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He weeps every time he hears it. So finally I looked it up. No weeping for me, but I do love it.)

4. My new Air-o-Swiss humidifier. (I’m not getting compensated to advertise for this or any product). I love it for it’s clean lines and functional design and because, now that I have it running in my office, I no longer feel like I’m turing to dust.

5. A pot of daffodils I received on a gloomy day. Sitting in my office window, still in bloom. If you are living in a cold grey climate, please go get yourself or someone else a pot of daffodils. They make me hopeful, and happy, every time I see them.

6. My daughter was giddy on her first day of her cadaver dissection class this week. I talked to her after class and asked her how it went. She gushed, “It was amazing! I was up to my elbow in leg!” Yesterday I picked her up on campus after a study session for another class. She sat down in the car with a blissfull look on her face, leaned her head against the window and sighed, “I’m in love.” I said, “With?” She sighed again, “Organic chemistry.” It’s a pretty amazing to see your kid find a passion. I don’t think it happens to everyone. I’m still working out mine…

7. This sweater, in emerald green, I bought on sale from Boden. (Though it is already pilling which makes me unhappy.)

8. Getting up on this Saturday morning before everyone else. I suspect it is better than sitting in a car, in the dark, by myself in a grocery store parking lot. A cup of coffee, melancholy music and a quiet house all to myself to plan out my busy day: it may be all I need to hit the reset button on this mood.

Hoping you have found some happiness and a quiet place to think this week.