Resilience is a learned skill

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

In my last blog post, I named some of the worst experiences I’d faced in earlier years, and several people commented on how tough they were.

Or how tough I must be to have weathered them.

I later realized there were two more years that were also very difficult, one when I was 14 and another right around my 20th birthday.

What I also realize, looking back now, is what made the first one excruciating and the second one less so, was having emotional support, people who love me who really stood by me through it all.

When I got a diagnosis of early stage breast cancer, right at my birthday in 2018, I was floored and deeply surprised by the flood of love and support and good wishes, cards and gifts and flowers, that people sent to me. One woman I know really only professionally, who lives far away from me, sent me a bracelet with the word I chose — onward. Even though I did a lot of crying and was very scared, knowing how many people were with me in spirit was incredibly helpful.

My late mother suffered a tremendous amount of health problems — multiple cancers (which she survived), COPD, a late-life colostomy — but she, until that point, was relentlessly determined to just get on with it.

Her expression, whenever face with yet another crisis: “What should I do? Jump out of my skin?”

I agree.

 

Life is rarely smooth and easy!

 

We get sick and injured and people we love get sick and injured and get dementia and fade in front of our eyes. We don’t get the dream job — or we do, and get fired or laid off. We may face (as I did, even at 30, when I arrived in New York seeking a journalism job) a six month job search. Or a search that never produces a job we want.

Or any job.

So the things I’ve faced and overcome are nothing compared to what others face — a drug-addicted or incarcerated parent; having to care for younger siblings; not being able to afford any sort of education with which to escape poverty.

Chronic poverty. Disability or chronic illness. Food or housing insecurity.

Or racism and daily microaggressions, as so many BIPOC are describing now. Police brutality and mass incarceration.

 

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Sometimes it’s all just a hopeless mess!

 

My experiences, for sure, have been much eased by my race, decent health, the skills to make a living, an excellent university education with no debt (Canadian) and the financial help of a relative.

But I also take pride in my acquired resilience when the shit — again!! — hits the fan, in not lying in bed in the fetal position weeping for days, escaping into drugs or alcohol. I’m not judging people who do.  People do what they can with what they have.

Surviving hardships creates resilience. It’s a muscle we only develop by using it, probably repeatedly.

 

You don’t know how strong you can be until you’re sorely tested.

 

Right now, thanks to the news and social media, I see a tremendous amount of whining and complaining, mostly by Americans, some who just can’t tolerate the slightest discomfort (wearing a mask, staying out of crowded places indoors) and whose selfishness is lethal as it continues to spread COVID-19.

This behavior sickens me. It’s stunningly immature.

Ironically, I gained a new client this year who is Finnish.

And Finns take pride in a national culture with a name — sisu. It means grit, determination, the willingness and ability — and pride in so doing — to tough things out.

 

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20 questions — your turn, too!

 

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Think hard!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

For a change of pace, 20 questions…

 

What was the best year of your life and why?

At 25, I won a fellowship based in Paris that had 28 journalists from 19 countries, ages 25 to 35. People came from Bangladesh, Togo, New Zealand, Ireland, North America, Brazil, China, Japan. It was absolutely fantastic. We each did four 10-day solo reporting trips; I went to Amsterdam and London to write about squatting (taking over abandoned properties); went to small-town Sicily to write about Cruise missiles; went to Copenhagen to write about the Royal Danish Ballet and took an 8-day truck trip from Perpignan to Istanbul to write about the trucking industry. We also went on group trips to Munich and Siena and forged, en deux langues, deep friendships lasting to this day. My love for Paris and France runs very deep with gratitude for this life-changing experience.

 

The worst?

A toss-up between 1983 when I saw my mother in a locked psychiatric ward in London; 1994 when my first husband walked out for good; 1998 when I dated a con man and 2018 with a (not bad) breast cancer diagnosis. At least I had time to recover from each before the next one hit.

 

 

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Tea or coffee?

Both!

 

The best place you’ve ever visited (outside your home country?)

A three-way tie between Corsica, Thailand and Ireland. I cried when I left all of these.

 

 

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Best book(s) you ever read?

Whew. Too many. I loved The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachmann and My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, Cutting For Stone. Random Family (non-fiction) is astounding, as is Skyfaring.

 

 

 

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Favorite movie(s)?

So so so many! Casablanca. All the Ocean’s movies. All the Bourne movies. Michael Clayton. Dr. Zhivago. The Devil Wears Prada. For documentaries, Capernaum is a powerful, unforgettable must-see.

 

 

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A you a nervous flyer?

Regretfully, yes. I love to travel and am not good with turbulence.

 

 

 

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Secret super-power?

I can whistle really loudly with two fingers, grind jib really fast at the start of a sailboat race, have an excellent color sense and almost always know — within 20-30 minutes, day or night — what time it is.

 

Activity you most dread?

Seeing a doctor. Too many visits for too many reasons.

 

 

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Most look forward to?

Hmmmm. Landing/arriving somewhere distant at the start of a long vacation.

 

How do your weekend mornings typically start?

The New York Times and Financial Times, in print. Coffee. Probably toast and an omelette and fresh orange juice. More coffee!

 

Do (did) your parents approve of/support your career choice?

Absolutely. My father made films and my mother worked as a writer and magazine editor.

 

What do you most admire in others?

A passion for, and commitment to, social justice. Honesty tempered by kindness, tact and thoughtful timing. Deep loyalty to friends. Skills I lack — musical ability, gardening. A massive work ethic (not to be confused with workaholism.) I really enjoy people who are deeply curious and have an appreciation for beauty and elegance.

 

What do you most abhor?

Liars. Hypocrites. Rage-a-holics. Laziness. Self-righteousness. Whining!

 

What (if anything) do you most enjoy cooking?

I love making soup, roast chicken, a good salad and vinaigrette.

 

 

 

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This is easy and so good!

 

Eating?

Hmmmm. So many things! Rice pudding and flan. Strawberries. Oysters with mignonette sauce. Branzino. Baguette with brie.

 

Do you have a pet?

No. We keep discussing getting a dog but have not yet.

 

Is/was your family of origin a happy one?

No. Have mentioned this here many times.

 

 

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What’s your favorite thing to wear (clothing, shoes, accessories)?

I’m mad for scarves of all kinds: linen, silk (two Hermès), cotton, cashmere, wool. It’s really my signature. Rings and earrings — Jose has given me some lovely ones. Also very fond of quality footwear, like the low black suede boots I bought in Canada last year.

 

What are your three best qualities?

Hmmmm. Loyal friend, hard worker, mentor.

 

Your turn!!

 

 

How it happens…

 

IMG_5790By Caitlin Kelly

This isn’t a cheery holiday post, but a bit of personal history that the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell has brought back up for me…

The authorities had been tracking Ms. Maxwell’s movements and had recently learned about her relocation to the New Hampshire home, an F.B.I. official said.

The indictment charged Ms. Maxwell with six counts, including transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. She also faces perjury charges for statements she made during a deposition in 2016 about her role in Mr. Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking operation.

“Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference on Thursday.

 

 

I was never — thank heaven — sexually groomed and victimized.

But I absolutely understand how it happens, and have written here before about this, so I won’t get back into all the grim details.

In 1998, I was a lonely, worried, isolated new divorcee, with no children, living in the suburbs of New York — an affluent place full of people with kids. This was back when we had and read weekly alternative newspapers, whose personal ads were still a thing, when the Internet was newer as a way to meet potential partners.

I answered an ad placed, it said, by a lawyer who liked to play tennis. “Integrity and honesty paramount,” it said.

But of course it did — placed by a convicted con man who had already victimized many people in Chicago, done time and moved to New York to start again.

He was, oddly, extremely kind and apparently generous, bringing me a pot of home-made soup when I was ill, “paying” for a plane ticket to Australia after I missed my flight (part of his set-up since he made me late), quickly cooing at me (which I found creepy and weird) how much he loved me.

It took me four long crazy months, and hiring a former NYPD detective turned private investigator to finally smoke the guy out, to realize what I had allowed to enter my life and terrorize me.

By then, he’d committed at least six more felonies, including opening my mail, activating a credit card in my name, using that card and forging my signature — in front of me.

And the police and district attorney laughed it all off, because it was “only” fraud.

My point?

Predators choose their victims carefully.

Maxwell, allegedly,  did her grooming very skilfully — finding young, vulnerable women who found her attention thrilling, at first.

What I learned very painfully, as an adult in 1998, is that being vulnerable and alone can leave one very easy pickings for people with nefarious purposes.

Nice isn’t always that at all.

After I recovered from my own experience, I joined a church, shored up my friendships and took a long time to trust again.

The book every girl must read is The Gift of Fear, by Gavin deBecker.

It is a brilliant analysis of all the many powerful ways girls and women are socialized to be delighted by attention and what appears to be affection.

To let a kindly stranger “help” us when we’re lonely and broke and scared.

Being vulnerable means being too open, too trusting, too quick to set aside our intuition that it’s time to flee.

From Wikipedia, and from the book, his useful warning signs that someone is grooming you:

  • Forced Teaming. This is when a person implies that they have something in common with their chosen victim, acting as if they have a shared predicament when that isn’t really true. Speaking in “we” terms is a mark of this, i.e. “We don’t need to talk outside… Let’s go in.”
  • Charm and Niceness. This is being polite and friendly to a chosen victim in order to manipulate him or her by disarming their mistrust.
  • Too many details. If a person is lying they will add excessive details to make themselves sound more credible to their chosen victim.
  • Typecasting. An insult is used to get a chosen victim who would otherwise ignore one to engage in conversation to counteract the insult. For example: “Oh, I bet you’re too stuck-up to talk to a guy like me.” The tendency is for the chosen victim to want to prove the insult untrue.
  • Loan Sharking. Giving unsolicited help to the chosen victim and anticipating they’ll feel obliged to extend some reciprocal openness in return.
  • The Unsolicited Promise. A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, “I promise I’ll leave you alone after this,” usually means the chosen victim will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited “I promise I won’t hurt you” usually means the person intends to hurt their chosen victim.
  • Discounting the Word “No”. Refusing to accept rejection.

I admit it — I fell prey to numbers 4, 5 and 6.

 

I hope this is never your fate.

 

The woods, as metaphor

 

IMG_6319By Caitlin Kelly

 

In the decades of living in our suburban New York town, I’ve walked the reservoir path — a mile each way, paved — many many times, in broiling summer heat (blissfully shaded by old-growth trees) and in the dead of a snowy winter.

There’s something really special about getting to know a landscape well, to know what to look for and anticipate — from the fragrant purple lilac bush at the western end of the walk to the benches at the other end, a perfect spot to stare out across the water at sunset.

I love to watch the woods change with each season, always with my favorite smell in the world — sun-dried pine needles.

 

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I know where the creek is, and love to hear it gurgling — now disturbingly silent and completely dry after weeks without rain. The enormous pond has also shrunk, and I can now see rocks in the reservoir that reveal its drop as well.

 

 

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The pond in springtime

 

 

I love the landmarks — watermarks? — like the beaded strand of little black turtles that line up along a rubber tube on one edge of the water.

The cormorant who chooses to stand on the same rock every year to dry his wings.

The elegant swans.

The screeching red-tailed hawks.

The rustle of a chipmunk fleeing through dead leaves.

There are many trees wrapped tightly in vines — like people who so desperately cling to others.

 

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There’s a rock split in two by a tree — reminding me how much force we can bring when needed to even the toughest problem.

 

There are many live trees with dead ones propped against them, where they’ve fallen — like dear friends sustaining the ill or grieving.

 

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There’s lacy ice in winter

 

When I bend down and look closely, there are entire worlds in even just an inch or two beneath my feet: moss, acorns, lichen, stones, earth, leaves, bits of feather and foliage. Everything contains multitudes.

 

 

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Hobbit holes?!

 

 

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I value an intimate relationship with nature.

 

Do you have one like this?

Something blue

By Caitlin Kelly

For Joni Mitchell fans, this 1971 release, Blue, remains one of her best albums.

These days, it’s also how I’m feeling, really worn down by endless months of isolating and mask-wearing, not seeing friends, losing friendships over endless drama, working too hard without breaks (while always grateful for work!)

Borders slammed shut because American “leadership” on this pandemic has killed 100s of thousands, with many more ahead. So, no travel!

 

Instead, please just enjoy some of my images, filled with blue, and beauty!

 

 

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A bit of cutwork linen, dyed blue, found in a Paris flea market, which I used as a pillow applique

 

 

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The blue sky over Long Island, NY. Loved this elegant wrought-iron gate.

 

 

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A truck-side sign — “apple-grower” — at the Atwater Market in Montreal.

 

 

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I saw this at one of the entrances to the Piazza San Marco in Venice

 

 

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Sigh.  Spent a perfect solo afternoon here,  Croatia, July 2017

 

 

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A vintage tablecloth scored in Maine

 

 

 

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Fishing lines at rest, Burtonport, Co. Donegal, Ireland

 

 

 

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Try climbing those steps in the dark, wearing a headlamp! A Nicaraguan toilet we used while reporting there for WaterAid in 2014

 

 

 

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One of my favorite Toronto sights, and journeys — the ferry to the Islands

 

 

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I was so touched to get this in the mail from fellow Blogger Elizabeth Harper, then working in a pub, who kindly thought this might be appropriate!

Simple pleasures, summer version

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

 

Watching the bees enjoy our balcony garden

Welcoming butterflies

Starting and ending the day on the balcony

 

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Dining al fresco

Watermelon!

Birdsong at (!) 4:30 a.m.

Long evenings — soon to (sob!) start getting shorter again

Flapping about in our Birkenstocks, Jose in brown suede Arizonas, me in pink suede Madrids

A soft swirled ice cream bought from an ice cream truck

Buying a parks pass for the first time

Listening to music outdoors through a Sonos speaker

Lit lanterns

Hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range

The rustling of treetop leaves

Watching fireflies glow in the dark

Making sun tea

Falling asleep in an AC-chilled room

Getting out onto the water — canoe, kayak, sailboat, paddleboard, surfboard

Our apartment building pool! (Only opening this year in July)

Corn, berries, tomatoes — delicious produce in season

 

What are some of yours?

 

Frustrated wanderlust

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By Caitlin Kelly

Two items I can always find are my passport and green card (proof of my legal residence in the U.S.)

I look at both wistfully now and wonder when, where and if I’ll get to use them again.

It’s a 5.5 hour drive from our home in suburban New York to the Canadian border, the one we usually cross across the St. Lawrence and the Thousand Islands, sometimes timing it for lunch in Kingston, Ontario at Chez Piggy, a terrific restaurant.

Now I can’t even go to Canada, since they keep postponing opening the border until — the latest — the end of July. It’s really frustrating! Especially since New York, amazingly, has managed to beat back COVID-19 from the nadir (700 deaths a day in New York City) to a handful. We’re safe, dammit!

 

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My last road trip, to Middleburg, Virginia, March 4-6

 

It’s a real privilege to have the time, health and extra income to travel at all, I know. We don’t have the costs of raising/educating children, or carry student debt, so it’s always been my greatest pleasure. I usually get back to Canada, my homeland, several times a year, and, ideally, to Europe every year or two. I admit, I neglect the rest of the world!

 

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Istria, Croatia, July 2017

 

I’ve so far been to 41 countries and there are so many I’m still eager to see: Iceland, Finland, Morocco, Japan, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, Patagonia, the South Pacific, Namibia and South Africa,

I want to go back, (and have many times) to France, England, Ireland — and see more of Italy, Croatia, Canada (Cape Breton, Newfoundland.)

Within the U.S., I’m eager to do a driving trip the length of California (where we have friends in Los Angeles, San Francisco and a few other places), would really like to visit some national parks like Bryce, Zion (Utah), Big Bend (Texas) and Joshua Tree (California).

I love road trips, and have driven Montreal to Charleston, South Carolina; across Canada with my father when I was 15; around Mexico and Ireland with my father; around the Camargue on my first honeymoon (and had everything stolen from our rental car!)

 

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The Dolac Market, Zagreb, July 2017

 

I had really hoped to spend the month of September in England, renting a cottage in Cornwall, seeing pals in London, maybe scooting up to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Not possible now, thanks to their 14 days’ quarantine.

 

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New Mexico, June 2019

 

Now looking at any other places…not in the U.S. I’m worn out by the relentless racism, violence, political malfeasance and the millions of Americans who refuse to wear a mask or socially distance, endlessly spreading and re-spreading this disease.

In the meantime, glad to have a working vehicle, I may just start venturing out a lot more within New York State — maybe camping for a few days, renting a kayak on the Hudson or Long Island Sound.

Fun doesn’t have to require a long drive or flight, I know.

And yet — overtourism also remains a serious problem for the environment and for so many people and places, as this Guardian article discusses:

 

Tourism is an unusual industry in that the assets it monetises – a view, a reef, a cathedral – do not belong to it. The world’s dominant cruise companies – Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian – pay little towards the upkeep of the public goods they live off. By incorporating themselves in overseas tax havens with benign environmental and labour laws – respectively Panama, Liberia and Bermuda – cruising’s big three, which account for three-quarters of the industry, get to enjoy low taxes and avoid much irksome regulation, while polluting the air and sea, eroding coastlines and pouring tens of millions of people into picturesque ports of call that often cannot cope with them.

What goes for cruises goes for most of the travel industry. For decades, a small number of environmentally minded reformists in the sector have tried to develop sustainable tourism that creates enduring employment while minimising the damage it does. But most hotel groups, tour operators and national tourism authorities – whatever their stated commitment to sustainable tourism – continue to prioritise the economies of scale that inevitably lead to more tourists paying less money and heaping more pressure on those same assets. Before the pandemic, industry experts were forecasting that international arrivals would rise by between 3% and 4% in 2020. Chinese travellers, the largest and fastest-growing cohort in world tourism, were expected to make 160m trips abroad, a 27% increase on the 2015 figure.

The virus has given us a picture, at once frightening and beautiful, of a world without tourism….

From the petrol and particulates that spew from jetskis to pesticides drenching the putting green, the holidaymaker’s every innocent pleasure seems like another blow to the poor old planet. Then there is the food left in the fridge and the chemicals used to launder the sheets after each single-night occupancy in one of Airbnb’s 7 million rental properties, and the carcinogenic fuel that is burned by cruise ships. And then there are the carbon emissions. “Tourism is significantly more carbon-intensive than other potential areas of economic development,” reported a recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change. Between 2009 and 2013, the industry’s global carbon footprint grew to about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the majority generated by air travel. “The rapid increase in tourism demand,” the study went on, “is effectively outstripping the decarbonisation of tourism-related technology”.

Destructive though it is, the virus has offered us the opportunity to imagine a different world – one in which we start decarbonising, and staying local. The absence of tourism has forced us to consider ways in which the industry can diversify, indigenise and reduce its dependency on the all-singing, all-dancing carbon disaster that is global aviation.

Are you also itching to travel?

Can you?

 

Will you?

The best place in the world, right now

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Is here, on our suburban New York, small town balcony.

After three full months of isolation, this is now our extra room and my outdoor office and a break from so much life lived safely only inside our apartment.

We face northwest, facing the Hudson River from its eastern side.

Those white things in the distance that look like sails — that’s the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The light is gorgeous, and we can see the sunrise reflected in the many windows of the houses on the western side as the rising sun hits them.

I call it the “ruby moment.”

 

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We’re on the top floor, 6th floor, with only the sky above us — and plenty of (noisy!) helicopters and jets, as we are on the flight path to the local county airport.

Sometimes we hear the very distinctive thud-thud-thud of a twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook, a $38.5 million military helicopter moving along the Hudson on its way to West Point, the military academy just north of us.

Before he left for good, my first husband built a sturdy bench on the balcony that serves both as comfortable seating (with custom-made cushions) and storage for potting soil, paint supplies and tools. We repaint it every year to freshen it up.

And the area is blessed with quite a few good plant nurseries, so we budget for a blast of gorgeous color every summer.

 

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I love how dramatic this view is — ever-changing. We see rain and snowstorms long before they arrive

 

We’re literally at tree-top level, with dragonflies and bumblebees and songbirds coming to visit — there’s a daily chorus of birdsong every morning around 4:30 a.m.

I can’t wait to set out lanterns and invite friends back for summer meals here, lounging against all the blue and white and yellow and green pillows we’ve accumulated.

 

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Our winding, narrow street slows down traffic, and we don’t get a lot of it, which also keeps it quiet. There is only one remaining house, and the rest are low-level condominiums or co-op apartment buildings, so our terrific view has never changed and never will.

It really is a refuge, and the best summer break we will get for quite some time to come.

American rage, multi-layered

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Have you ever had a pousse-café?

It’s a drink that contains two to seven layers of alcohol, added by weight, to create a colorful array of stripes in one glass.

 

America’s rage is a pousse-café, with so, so many layers.

 

People are being tear-gassed and shot by police with rubber bullets.

Protestors, including professional journalists, have been targeted by police and permanently blinded.

Stores have been attacked and destroyed and looted, from mass market Target to luxury brands like Chanel.

Some Americans are appalled, astonished, gobsmacked.

Not me.

Not millions.

 

 

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A classic image, taken by the late photographer Bernie Boston

 

 

There are so many layers to American rage now:

— the endless lethal parade of African Americans who are shot and killed by police (ooops, wrong apartment!) or hunted down by gun-happy civilians, and here are only a tiny few of them: George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery…

— the daily fears this has created, for generations, that simply being black, going for a walk, walking too fast or in the “wrong” neighborhood or wearing a hoodie or even birding in Central Park, is an invitation, as it is, for some people to wield their white privilege and entitlement and choose to endanger or end others’ lives.

— the “talk” every black parent has to have with their children, especially teen males, about how to walk through their lives on eggshells because so many others will choose to see their basic existence in the same spaces as a threat.

— the income inequality that has kept so many Americans at such deep disadvantage in a nation whose comforting myth is “just work harder!”

— the extraordinary costs of attending even a public university or college, acquiring massive debt that dogs graduates for decades, even as they drift into poorly-paid jobs that make it impossible to repay those loans, and loans that — unlike any other — cannot be discharged by declaring bankruptcy.

— health disparities that have killed many more people of color thanks to COVID-19 because POC have underlying health conditions (“co-morbidities” in medspeak) that left their bodies more vulnerable, like obesity, asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure.

— 100,000 Americans — with many more to come — already dead of COVID-19.

— a Federal minimum wage of $7.25 that has not been raised since 2009; only 29 of 50 states have made theirs higher, more than $11/hour.

— extortionate costs for health insurance.

— the loss of millions of jobs.

— the loss for millions of their health insurance coverage — because that’s how many Americans get the only coverage they can afford, when their employer picks up some of its cost (i..e. benefits.)

— widespread police brutality, even blinding permanently some protestors, including journalists

— a deep, abiding despair at the lack of political leadership, and shocking passivity on all sides, to address any of this.

 

It’s a drink that tastes very, very bitter.

 

Taking a breather

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By Caitlin Kelly

I know everyone’s tired and overwhelmed and distracted right now.

The U.S., for a lot of reasons, is a firestorm both literally and politically.

Millions are broke, exhausted, ill, angry, despairing, grieving.

Writing this blog for so few views these days — sorry! — also means I’m going to take a break.

I’ll see you in a week or two.

Maybe by then I’ll have more interesting material!

Stay safe.

Stay healthy.