Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Edge of a New Year

Most years I enjoy sitting on the edge of a new year. There is anticipation and curiosity about what lies ahead. Maybe 2021 holds even more excitement than previous years because its predecessor was so limited, so isolating, so confining. I have missed people, traditions, and experiences. I am ready for some kind of return to what used to be. 

At the end of a calendar year, I often generate a list of fifty things that I want to do in the new year. These are not resolutions but rather ideas for things that sound interesting or necessary for the new year. I like to post the list on my art room wall and check from time to time to see how I am doing. When I compose the new list, I do it without looking back at last year’s list. Some items seem to come up every year in some way or another but there are new additions to the list that point to my current interests and passions. 

So here is the list for 2021.  Items are in no particular order. They merely fell off my fingers this way. I know there are a lot of travel related items and I know I can’t do them all.  I included them though because all are a possibility.

***OCL = Once COVID leaves

  1. Stay curious.
  2. Adopt a coffee shop. (OCL)
  3. Write more poetry.
  4. Read more poetry.
  5. Help Meg with their baby.
  6. Stay in Yosemite Valley in April.
  7. Heal from shoulder surgery in January.
  8. Visit artists and studios in Alberta, Canada. (OCL)
  9. Appreciate the sunshine-blue sky every time it appears.
  10. Do more photography explorations and experiments.
  11. Develop skills necessary for taking portraits.
  12. Look for Beauty every day.
  13. Share Beauty in some way or another as often as possible.
  14. Pay attention to the positive in every situation.
  15. Go out to dinner at a real restaurant. (OCL)
  16. Browse books at Copperfield’s (OCL)
  17. Take Rilke’s suggestion and let everything happen - beauty and terror.
  18. Return to the complete yoga practice (pre-injury days of 2020).
  19. Bicycle to the Gate again on a weekly basis.
  20. Camp on the Smith River in the summertime. 
  21. Smile at strangers.
  22. Continue exploring Buddhism.
  23. Write regular blog posts.
  24. Resume regular massages. (OCL)
  25. Resume art classes (OCL)
  26. Paint big (and small) with acrylics.
  27. Paint small (and big) with watercolors.
  28. Experiment with pastels more.
  29. Consider working more with collage.
  30. Paint homage to Georgia O’Keeffe.
  31. Visit Bell Springs every month. (OCL)
  32. Go to Redding several times in 2021.
  33. Do the complete Hunter’s Camp hike.
  34. Hike the Pomo Canyon to Red Hill trail.
  35. Go to Pt Reyes several times.
  36. Arrange to see The Nutcracker in SF next December.
  37. Re-visit the DeYoung Museum. (OCL).
  38. Go to Ft Bragg for a couple of nights. (OCL).
  39. Take Meg to the Gypsy Cafe for breakfast. (OCL)
  40. Learn to listen - really listen - to the Universe.
  41. Go to the big screen movies. (OCL)
  42. Make room for emptiness.
  43. Have the courage to be passionate about life. 
  44. Consider adopting a friend for Ellie.
  45. Take a road trip to Myra’s wedding in Boston.
  46. Go to NYC in the fall.
  47. Slow down.
  48. Get much needed help with Wordpress
  49. Listen to more live music. (OCL)
  50. Be on the lookout for good surprises.
  51. Keep wonder and mystery alive.
  52. Don’t stop loving.

Monday, December 28, 2020

How Are You Managing Now?

Since last March, I have had periodic chest pain and shortness of breath. For the longest time, I ignored it because that’s what I do. I also didn’t want to deal with it during the opening months of the pandemic. In the fall, the chest pain started getting worse and my excuses (spring allergies, and then smoke) ran out. I caved and got it checked out. They ruled out lung issues and I was sent to a cardiologist.

I am not a candidate for heart disease. My cholesterol and blood pressure numbers have always been ideal. My weight is excellent, I exercise daily and with gusto. There is no family history of coronary artery disease. But the cardiologist played the “heart disease can be unpredictable” card so I did the echocardiogram and the cardiac CAT scan. I still have to see the cardiologist for the follow up appointment but even I can read the report sent to my on line medical file. When you see “normal, normal, normal”, you might assume that heart disease can be ruled out.

What can’t be ruled out is that it has been a damnable year of COVID fear and anxiety, of election rage and disgust, of justified and angry civil unrest, of ridiculous high temperatures with frightening wild fires and harmful smoke that obliterated the sun. On a personal note, it was a year of continued disconnect from certain important people. COVID won’t allow me to visit with some people who matter and emails can only go so far. The anxiety and limited choices offered by a pandemic can stress even the best of marriage and family relationships and that adds to the isolation. I know I am not alone in this but this year’s holiday time was the most isolating and lonely Christmas season of my life. Christmas Day was gray and rainy and cold. COVID and SIP meant no visitors. I looked around at how to make the best of the day but, honestly? The best wasn’t all that great.

So you want to know why my heart hurts? Don’t look at the X-rays and ultrasounds. Look at the year it’s been. How do you take away that sharp and steady push on the chest? That feeling of not being able to breathe? Good question. I suppose one can set their eyes on some rare and perfect tomorrow but that only goes so far. I do want to have the right attitude, the go with the flow attitude, the “everything is gonna be alright” attitude and often I catch it and often I can hold onto it. For me, it does seem to be dependent on sunny weather, long days, bicycle rides, paint, lightness, and levity. In these days of literal darkness, constant pain from the most recent bike accident, and a shadow of loneliness, I can lose my grip.

One strategy that I have come to depend on involves others. I have learned to draw strength and good humor from the people around me. I am disappointed and angry that I can’t go visit my extended family members. They bring me so much lightness and joy! But I have discovered, especially during this pandemic year, that the internet is full of interesting, positive, funny, kind, thoughtful, creative, engaging souls. Twitter gets a bad rap for negativity and meanness but not on my feed. I have met the most delightful people there and made some genuine friends. I have people who brighten up my day with their photos, their art work (huge props to #ArtAdventCalandar group), their humor, their wisdom. Between the #FlowerReport and #SundaySentence, Sundays can be so rewarding. Every day, I can read book and poetry reviews. Every day, I am treated to photos and information about locations all around the world. Every day, I can catch articles that might expand on the headlines. I can see things all day that make me chuckle and, best of all, I can enjoy side conversations with people who have become real friends. No, it’s not the same as IRL but who’s to say if one is necessarily better than the other. I know my life has been made immeasurably richer this year by some of these connections and for that I am grateful.

I’ve also been reminded about another way to change my outlook. How about not merely absorbing goodness? How about giving strength, beauty, affection, good humor to the people around me? How about sharing the wealth? A funny thing happened to me years ago that illustrates this point. I was a waitress when I was in college. I can remember going into work one Friday evening. I was having boyfriend trouble and I was cranky. I was also, however, both smart and empathic. I knew that a grouchy server was not going to add pleasure to the patrons’ dinner. I also knew that grouchy servers did not get good tips. I pulled out that smile and that gracious attitude and the oddest thing happened. An hour later I remember noticing that my mood had improved dramatically. The boyfriend trouble had not gone away but my irritability had transformed it into genuine cheerfulness. Something about fake it til you make it? I have never forgotten that night and that revelation. It still works.

I’m not saying one should merely brush off the bad times or stuff them away. I am suggesting that it works to acknowledge the tough times and then to literally set them aside, if you can. What has helped me do that is to do something for someone else. If I can remember this strategy when the world seems dark, I set my own darkness up on that mental shelf for a little while and I attempt to shine some light for someone else. Maybe at first I might have to connect with some good person or some good idea. Maybe I need a little fuel to reach out. That’s okay. I do that. But then I throw something out that might improve someone else’s day. What I know now is that one never knows how an IRL or an internet smile can impact someone else.

So how am I managing after nine months of pandemic isolation? I have my good days and my not so good days. With the help of my friends, especially those who remind me of the light, I am making it through. Life is hard but I do know that, if you let it, life can also open lots of doors. Life can bring a lot of light and love into your days. Granted, it can be challenging and the last few weeks have been harder than I imagined they would be. But January brings the gradual and visible return of the sun. By the end of January, the longer days will become more noticeable. There will be signs outside that winter is moving towards spring. The COVID vaccine will begin to have an impact on our communities and perhaps the losses will recede. 2021 stands to be a remarkable year, particularly in contrast to the previous year. I know many people who will come out of the overwhelming isolation and anxiety of this year with renewed appreciation for “normal days”. I think that’s a gift worth receiving, don’t you?

*My thanks to @tomlin_bruce for valuable feedback on the first drafts of this post. Bruce, your optimism and world outlook are priceless. Thank you for showing them to me.

Friday, December 18, 2020

All the Feels

December is the month of all the feels. For me, it's a reflection of an invisible part of what it means to be a human being.  First off, I find joy in this seasonal holiday time.  The magic, the anticipation, the excitement live everywhere in the community.  Lights, music, ho-ho-ho's, smiles, chills - they pop up everywhere and, when lumped together, they amount to a (albeit sometimes muted) joyful feeling.  More personally, I find joy when family and friends are around.  I'm lucky.  In my world there is a lot more warmth and good natured familiarity than there is tension.  Joy is birthed from that reality.  I suppose holiday decorations, lights, music, festivities and the pursuit of holiday decorations, lights, music, and festivities is the tangible evidence of joy.

But melancholy sneaks in the back door and lingers in the shadows of joy. The mental snapshots of childhood Christmases or the magical Christmases when children lived at my house can make my eyes water and my chest feel constricted.  The poignancy that sits on the shelf in the closet of my memory falls off the shelf and threatens to one up joy. I usually catch the box of poignancy as it falls.  I often open the box for a moment and consider its contents but, after a bit, I close it up and return it to the shelf.  It's touching and evocative to take in those images but I want to get on with happy business.

There is something in that melancholy, however, that I can't name. Perhaps inadequacy works?  It's that feeling of "What is it we are trying to do here?  What is the point of all this?"  I tend to get lost in the feeling that "all of this" is not enough. There is the confusing and sad  knowledge that there must be something bigger than this.  Or maybe it's the sinking feeling that I might never get it right.  Not Christmas, not life.  Fortunately, this melancholy business is just part of the package that is December (and life). I can feel melancholy's presence but I can also know that it will move on in the same way that time moves on.

I love the feeling of generosity that is often present during December.  People seem to be more aware of the less fortunate and more willing to share what they have. For most people in my world, gift giving is truly more about the gift giving than the gift getting. My peeps think carefully about their peeps and they make deliberate and thoughtful choices for gifts that demonstrate affection and caring.  When a gift exchange happens, it's as if the room fills with tangible evidence of reciprocal love.

But there's also the wistfulness that  seeps into my awareness as I pack up the detritus of Christmas.  As I fold up the wrapping paper and put paper and ribbons into their box , I wonder what presents I'll be wrapping next year and for whom?  As I count the leftover Christmas cards and consider if I will need to purchase more next December, I wonder who on my list will be gone at the end of 2020.  What will rock my world before I touch these holiday decorations again?  What good surprises will appear?  What bad surprises will make me cry? What if  I am the one who is gone and this is the last time I will handle the Christmas boxes?  So much is unknown and it aches to hold only wonder about the future.

December is wrapping up today and along with it the whole holiday collection of feelings.  Tomorrow we are dropped into January, the season of resolutions and rain, foggy days and long, cold nights. The January feels tend to lean towards malaise and irritability but the light starts to return and people look longingly for spring.  Spring will come and with it a new collection of feels.  Isn't that how it is with human beings?


Still Learning

Sometimes I miss my younger self. She really didn’t know what she was doing but she also didn’t especially care. She didn’t really think too far ahead of where she was on that day. Frankly? I don’t think she knew to think too far ahead.  Life was so much in the now back then. She muddled along, without direction, maybe a little perplexed, a little unsure, but she figured there was time to figure it all out.  

I think the pace picked up when she became a parent. Then it was no longer just about her.  Now she had committed to a husband and together they had committed to one, and then two, children. Life became more complex. More things to worry about, to sort out, to figure out, to do, to be, to plan for, to be sure about.  

If there was one thing I could tell her, something that she didn’t know then but that I know now, it would be that it all works out.  All of those things that I worried about back then? They all got sorted out. They all came to some resolution.  Despite my fears, they all worked out. Maybe it didn’t go the way I thought it would go, but it did work out. The problem is that as often as I think I have learned that truth, I discover that I am still learning. It’s disappointing. 

That reminds me of this poem by Derek Mahon.

Everything If Going to Be All Right

How should I now be glad to contemplate

the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window

and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?

There will be dying, there will be dying,

but there is no need to go into that.

The poems flow from the hand unbidden

and the hidden source is the watchful heart.

The sun rises in spite of everything 

and the far cities are beautiful and bright.

I lie here in a riot of sunlight

watching the day break and the clouds flying.

Everything is going to be all right.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hello All,

          It's been a long time since I've posted.  It's  complicated but then it seems like lots of things about life are complicated.  My head is spinning these days and I am not sure when any of it will stop.  Maybe never.  What I know is that I go to work every day and, in that place and time, I function well.  I have clearly defined roles and expectations.  I have a purpose.  I am on strong footing and solid ground there.

         Away from work, I still function well.  I do what I am supposed to be doing but, in the same moment,  I am questioning everything.  Well, not everything.  I have a family that gives me all that I need (both family of origin and family I created).  We do have our moments but really?  Really, I couldn't ask for better companions on this journey.  Beyond family, I am lost.  That sounds dramatic but I don't have other words right now.  For the past couple of months I have been unwilling to write or paint anything.  I have been unwilling to socialize beyond family obligations.  I have very nearly been unwilling even to read.  And that's what tells me I am in big trouble.  Reading is my go to for any pain. And I can't even go there.

     I go no where but into silence.  Okay, occasionally I get myself over to the ocean and watch the waves.  I go to the dreamscape.  Mostly I go to night dreams but sometimes those night dreams invade my day dreams  and that is an interesting adventure.  I am investigating, touching, feeling the places in my head that I never saw before.  I am also experimenting with going to places that are NOT in my head.  That's an unfamiliar experience for sure.

    The whole thing sounds so weirdly cosmic.  Yeah, I don't have words for it.

    I'll see what happens next.

Yours for new and better times,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Some Days


     Okay, if you are not naturally inclined to poetry (or even if you are), just do yourself a favor and try reading this short poem out loud.  Try reading it at a measured pace (meaning not racing to get through it).  See what pictures come into your head.  Just try it.  It won't kill you.

    Some Days    

       by Billy Collins

Some days I put the people in their places at the table,
bend their legs at the knees,
if they come with that feature,
and fix them into tiny wooden chairs.

All afternoon they face one another,
the man in the brown suit,
the woman in the blue dress,
perfectly motionless, perfectly behaved.

But other days, I am the one
who is lifted up by the ribs,
then lowered into the dining room of a dollhouse
to sit with the others at the long table.

Very funny,
but how would you like it
if you never knew from one day to the next
if you were going to spend it

striding around like a vivid god,
your shoulders in the clouds,
or sitting down there amidst the wallpaper,
staring straight ahead with your little plastic face?

      What do you think?  Is this not cool?  Do you get what he's talking about?  Some days I am on top of the world.  I have life nailed and I am doing it well and I am loving it.  And then there are all those other days.......with my little plastic face staring straight ahead.

    For another taste of Billy, go here

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Implied Contract

    In a previous blog post, I introduced my readers to Dr. Gordon Livingston, a psychiatrist and writer.  I had enjoyed his recent book The Thing You Think You Cannot Do and wanted to pass along some of his observations of the psychotherapeutic process.

    One of the essays in this collection is entitled "Old Age Is the Revenge of the Ugly".  My family (immediate and extended) works hard to support our aging matriarch and so we are all familiar with the issues of the elderly.  Pauline will be 91 in a few months.  She is determined to live alone and that can be worrisome for all of us.  She would be willing to move in with one of her children but, at this time, the obstacles for that are many.  So we do the best we can with the situation as it is.

    In this essay, Dr Livingston brings his focus to the fear that may of us have about the aging process.  He notes that our date of birth is likely the most important aspect of our identities.  As we move past middle age, we are aware of the generation ahead of us and most often do not see a vast number of vibrant and optimistic folks on the road in front of us.  Instead, we see lots of examples of aging people who complain of the physical consequences of growing older.  They are surprised at their declining vitality and disturbed by the difficulties they encounter in daily life.  Livingston proposes that "the old have lost most of what we celebrate in this culture: energy,  sexual adventure, a sense of possibilities, and the capacity to change the future."

   Livingston suggests that perhaps there is an implied contract that governs our lives but maybe it was never properly explained to us. Here's the fine print in that contract:

   "If you are lucky enough to grow old, you will be stereotyped and marginalized by society, even by your own children.  You will become slow of thought and movement and have to cope with unexplained pains.  You will experience unspeakable losses that, finally, will include the loss of yourself.  This is the bargain."

    So, go ahead and have your long life but be prepared for a very different existence than the one you experienced as a younger person.  Be prepared for marginalization and the feeling that you are being left behind.  Be prepared for limited mobility, pain, and heartbreak.  I don't quite know what to make of this at the moment.  In my current days of relative health and well being, I don't want to imagine a life as limited and dark as my mother's appears to be.  But who can say how I might feel at 90 years of age?  And what choice do I have anyway?

     What do you think?  Does the implied contract about sound familiar to you?  Is it one you would take as is?  Is there room for negotiation there?

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Thing You Think You Cannot Do

     Gordon Livingston is a psychiatrist and writer who lives in Maryland.  I stumbled across this book of his recently and was intrigued enough by the title to read more.  I would not call this a self help book but rather a collection of essays that might give a thoughtful reader something to ponder.  Among the Amazon reviews,  there are some commenters who slam the author for being political.  I think that is part of the author's point. He takes some of the psychology behind personal fear and applies it to the national scene.  He talks about fear and vulnerability and the impact those have on individuals but he also occasionally segues into how fear can dominate a culture and its leaders.

     I am well acquainted with his political perspective but that wasn't what got my attention.  What got my attention was simply that he is an older guy who appears to have lived a rich life.  He has met tragedy face to face in his life.  His 22 year old son Andrew killed himself while under the grip of a bipolar illness.  Seven months later, his six year old son Lucas was diagnosed with acute form of leukemia.  Lucas died six months later.  Reading a bit about his professional approach to psychiatry and some of his experiences as a psychiatrist made me think I might have something to learn from him.  I'm not sure I learned anything new from his book but it did make me ask a few questions and it reminded me of some answers that I already had within me.

     Dr. Livingston gives a nod to the pharmaceutical industry, acknowledging that there are some medications that can be effective for some forms of mental illness  What I like, however, is that he also very strongly supports the therapeutic model.  He makes a lot of room for courage and resilience to take their places in our lives.  Anxiety is high on the list for those seeking psychotherapy.  There are so many fears:  fear of dying, fear of change, fear of intimacy, fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of time, fear of loneliness, fear of the unknown, and on and on.  There may be a biological component to anxiety but that doesn't mean the antidote needs to be pharmacological.  I, frankly, don't understand the psychotherapy process but that doesn't matter.  What matters is that he apparently does and his work with patients involves developing relationships that foster such virtues as courage and resiliency.

    The author talks about depressed people as people who are fresh out of future dreams.  His job, as a psychiatrist, is "to sell hope in individual doses".  He listens to people, he questions their fundamental beliefs about themselves, and he works to help them identify and change those parts of themselves that are holding them back from a more satisfying life.  It's not a fast track process.  Some people come to him seeking advice (and maybe prescriptions for medications) because he is seen as "the expert".  He considers it among his harder tasks to convince his patients that the answers must come from within.  It is his job to ask the questions that will help the seeker find their own answers.  The obstacles come when patients aren't willing to be patient, when they aren't willing to give the process time to come to fruition.  Many people are also resistant to this approach because it requires them to take responsibility for themselves.  They just want him to fix them.  What he has to offer them is hope.  And the thing they need in order to accept his offer is courage.  I think it must be a complicated dance.  And a scary one.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fast and Slow

      On my professional path to where I am now, I spent a chunk of time as the orchestrator (aka teacher)  in a K - 2 classroom.  I had the pleasure of guiding children for their first three years of public school education.  Unless their sibling was in the class, I generally first met my new students as eyes wide open five year olds.  I got to hold them for three years, taking them from that pre-literate place to thriving chapter book readers. From September to June, we had wonderful days together.  There was a daily rhythm in our world complete with songs, art, outside play, tons of books, math stuff, writers' workshop, hands on science exploration and lots of (what I thought of as) the social curriculum.  That was simply time devoted to learning who we each were and how to get along with each other.  I don't know what it is about little kids but their observations, their reality, their freshness completely capture me.  I enjoyed planning our days together and I loved watching their faces and their reactions to what unfolded in our world.

    Parents were an integral part of that world.  I needed them in order to make everything happen that I wanted to have happen.  I needed parents who would sit on the rug and explore tangrams with children or guide a lesson about ladybugs or take a small group outside and play with jump ropes while I sat at the reading table helping children learn to make sense out of letters and words.  I loved the additional adults in the room too just for the shared adult perspective and humor,  Most parents trusted me to guide their children but sometimes there was some anxiety about a child's academic progress in the class.  I completely got that.  After all, these parents were turning over their most precious jewels to me for six hours a day.  Parents wanted to know that their child's time was well used.

    One thing I did know clearly was that children cannot be rushed.  They will come to places in their own time.  That didn't mean that I wasn't alert to possible obstacles that the school could assist with (a referral for special ed services, for example) but my professional eye often could sense when a child simply needed a slower time frame.  She was going to get there (reading chapter books, for example) but she was taking the scenic route.  Somewhere I came across this phrase and it fit perfectly:

   Recently I had cause to return to this notion of taking slow to grow.  Oddly, what occurred to me is that it isn't just kids who need slow in order to grow.  We adults often need the same thing to reach new places in our lives.  The current culture is jammed with activity and expectations.  Days go by fast.  How many balls can we juggle?  How many things can we check off our to do lists?  How fast can we go?  The flip side is what happens when we slow it way down.  What can we see and what can we hear when we meander instead of sprint?  It's no earth shatteringly new idea.  But it is one worth considering.  I, for one, plan to experiment with more slow and less fast.

    How about you?  Where do you find slow in your life?  Are you drawn to fast or to slow?  Would you like more of one or the other?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

In Your Own Skin

       Skin - interesting stuff.  It's the largest organ in the body.  It has several essential functions, including protecting the muscles, bones, ligaments and other organs.  Skin serves as a barrier, preventing pathogens from getting in and excessive fluids from escaping.  It separates the inner and the outer world.

     I never gave much thought to skin when I was a kid or even a teenager.  It got scraped, black and blued, and even chopped open from time to time.  One of my charming older brothers who shall remain nameless even smashed open the skin on my head with a baseball bat once.  It was an accident.  Really, it was!  I remember from time to time examining my skin for some reason or another and actually liking it.  I remember being 15 and being thrilled to return from the beach with the classic and cool bronze tan.   As a 20 something, I remember liking my skin a lot.  I was spared much of the agony of acne and my skin really was relatively flawless.  No makeup applied.  Self respecting hippie girls didn't do that. That was then.

    Here's the shocking part:  I don't like it so much now.  You knew that was coming.  It no longer meets the cultural standard for attractive.  It still does an awesome job of protecting and containing stuff but it is multi toned and, yeah, not so smooth.  There's no bronze now, only stupid patches of brown pigment.  I've got some scars here and there and some veins that might scare little kids.  These days I do apply a little of this and a little of that (emphasis on little) but am not interested in expensive skin care products or procedures.  My skin continues to serve me well and I deal with its changing landscape.

   What caught my attention recently was the phrase "comfortable in your own skin". Back in those days when I liked it, I can't say that I felt comfortable in my own skin.  Those teen and early adult years were about figuring how who it was who really lived in that skin.   I needed time to get to know her.  I was awfully busy checking to see if she made the grade.  Was her school and work performance of the highest quality?  Did she dress and look right (whatever the current "right" was)?  Did she say the right things and laugh the right way and blah blah blah?  I don't think I was a whole lot different than most younger people.  I know there are a few people who grow up feeling comfortable in their own skin and I think they are very fortunate.  But I wasn't one of them.

    I guess it comes to mind because I finally feel as if I am comfortable in my own skin.  Yeah, it's not so pretty maybe but it finally fits really well.  I have an ease now that took some serious years of living to acquire.  I still have lots of expectations of myself and I am no where near ready to turn into a frumpy   woman, but, on my good days I can also be much more accepting of me in the present moment.  I am doing the best I can with whatever comes my way.  My skin might be a bit lumpy or crinkled but my eyes are pretty damn shiny and I can sparkle just as much as I did when I was 21.

    How about you?  How's your skin fit you these days?