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Starting Over…Again!

In two weeks time I will be starting a new job.  Yes, that’s right folks, another one.  In fact, this will be the fourth job I have had this year.  I think when I look back on 2018, the archives will be full of memories of being interviewed.

The last few weeks have been strange and strained.  I have felt unable to get into it here, because without knowing what was next, it seemed like self-indulgent whining.  Since the summer, I have started, and finished, two new roles.  For the record, neither of these positions were supposed to be temporary.

As much as I have tried to reassure myself that these things happen and everyone is allowed to have a run of bad luck sometimes, I couldn’t prevent my confidence from being severely dented.  The last job ended after only 8 weeks, when my boss told me he didn’t think I was the right person for the job.  I wasn’t being fired, as such, but there was a clear invitation to resign.

As I sat across that board room table, trying to remain composed, all I could think was “he is right.”  All these years I have been playing a part and now finally I am exposed as the fraud I always knew I was.  At least that is what I thought on that fateful Wednesday.

In the weeks since then, there has been a lot of soul searching and no small amount of tears.  I honestly did not know if I had what it would take to dust off the CV and try to sell myself again.  My shame and my sadness were so raw, I felt sure that it would be obvious to anyone who met me.

Luckily, there’s no better decision making tool than not having a choice.  Although I wasn’t in immediate danger of ending up on the bread line, I knew I needed to get back to work in short order.  A month or two of unemployment was realistically all I could afford.

Of course, I fantasized about walking away from corporate life and immersing myself into my writing, Zumba and the Podcast.  As appealing as that sounds, it isn’t a viable option right now.  I am not ruling it out completely, but it’s more of a long term proposition.

I realised that I needed to build myself back up again.  I had to restore my resilience and my energy, and get ready to hear all the nos that inevitably come with job seeking.  I had given myself the deadline of the New Year to try to get something in place.  As many of you who know me will understand, I am not good as sitting still.  I am prone to depression and lounging around in a dressing gown will surely set me on that course.  It was important for me to stay busy.

I needed a new project, something to take my mind off my current situation and keep my brain engaged.  Just then, something amazing happened.  A friend on Facebook (to this day I am still unsure how we are even connected) put up a post looking for someone to help him.  He needed a writer for his MMA blog.  I answered his call, even though I know very little about MMA or any sport for that matter.  For some reason he decided to let me try out.

This project turned out to be exactly what I needed.  It is a challenge for sure.  I am learning a lot, which I always love and I am getting to meet so many interesting people.  Under my editor’s guidance I am producing work that I am incredibly proud of.  I am doing things like driving 220km to attend MMA fights on my own, which I never would have imagined myself doing.

All of this started to have an affect on me.  My confidence began to return.  I started to feel less useless.  Furthermore, I figured out that as humans, our capability to reinvent ourselves is infinite.  If I can step into the role of MMA reporter, what else can I do?  We are only limited by our imagination.  It made me feel a lot better about having to sell myself in the job market, that’s for sure.

I know it is a cliché, but I do believe that sometimes when it feels like everything is falling apart, it is actually falling into place.  If I had not had such a bad run of employment luck this year, I never would have had these few weeks off to rest and reevaluate.  I experienced what was probably my greatest professional fear coming to pass, and I lived to tell the tale.  That fear won’t have as great a hold over me in the future.

I also would not have had the opportunity to try something new and the pick up some new skills.  I have interviewed some people for the site and it has lead me to think about interviewing people for the Podcast, which I don’t know if I would have felt equipped to do before.  I have shown myself that even at the ripe old age of 37, I can still learn.  I can still have adventures.  I can still surprise myself.

I am proud of myself for walking away from a bad situation.  The Arwen of old would have gritted her teeth and tried to make it work.  I am no longer prepared to sacrifice my self-worth for a pay cheque and that is huge.

I am going into this new role full of excitement and hopeful that it will be a good fit.  If it doesn’t work out I might have to try lion taming!  At the risk of sounding ambivalent, if it isn’t a good fit, it won’t be the end of the world.  I now know I am capable of dusting myself off and trying again.  I will keep you posted.  Be well xxx

 

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No Half Measures

So folks, here we are, October 15th and half way through Sober October.  I wanted to give you all a little update on how the last two weeks of clean living have gone.  Full disclosure, I did not really expect to be writing this post, as I felt sure I would cave before the first weekend was out.  However, it hasn’t actually been too bad (so far.)

The first weekend of sobriety did feel a little odd.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I had gone a full week without any alcohol.  Which is probably a sure sign that a detox was long overdue.  Even when I am sick, hot whiskey is my go to, so it was definitely alien.  We were staying in on the Saturday night, as I had a busy day planned for Sunday, and usually we would be having a few beers or a bottle of wine as we plough through some box set or other.  Imbibing on sparkling water instead, left a lot to be desired.  I really did feel like I was missing something.  However, a late night dash to McDonald’s for ice-cream satisfied my craving.

The second weekend was a little less weird.  I was out with a friend Saturday night and I was perfectly happy to drive and for her to have a few drinks.  I enjoyed my night just as much as I would have had I been drinking, and it was so nice waking up the next morning/afternoon feeling fresh.  Last night I made another trip through the Drive Thru in my pj’s for McFlurries to enjoy while we watched a movie.  Normally I could take or leave ice-cream, but I seem to be doing more taking lately!

Like a lot of habits, my alcohol intake has a lot to do with association.  I enjoy nothing more at the end of a tough week than a couple of cold beers.  I tell myself that I work hard, and so I deserve it.  It helps me to relax, I assure myself.  The truth is, when I am very tired, alcohol makes me feel even more exhausted.  So instead of being able to stay up a little later catching up with my husband, I end up wanting to fall into bed at the same time as I do on a school night.  I also find that even one or two drinks affects my sleep quality, and makes me dehydrated the following day.  Not an ideal start to the weekend, especially when I am teaching a class on a Saturday morning!

So, what’s the upside to all this?

Firstly, I feel better.  Not like I could leap tall buildings in a single bound or anything, but I definitely have more clarity of mind, and more energy.  I have been struggling with insomnia the past few months, and I am finding that without the alcohol my sleep seems to be better quality.  Even if I am still not getting enough.

Secondly, my health markers are improving.  My weight has crept up quite a bit this year, and although it’s not bothering me overly at the moment, it is in the back of my mind that I should think about tackling it at some stage.  Obviously enough, drinking thousands of calories every weekend is not helping.  Since the beginning of month my scale weight has slowly started to come down.  My tummy is looking less bloated and I am generally feeling more positive about myself.  As well as this, my resting heart rate has reduced and is back below 60bpm for the first time in a good while.

My recovery has improved.  Alcohol is a diuretic and makes you dehydrated, this is absolutely terrible for your body when it is trying to recover from exercise.  In the last couple of weeks, even though I am teaching more often, I feel like it is taking less out of me, which can only be good news.

I have more money in purse.  It turns out that two ice-creams costs a lot less than a couple of nights of drinking!

I get to enjoy a movie without having to get up to pee 37 times!

There are loads of other health benefits associated with reducing your alcohol intake, but these are the ones I am seeing and feeling after a mere 14 days.  I have no doubt that when the month is over, I will enjoy a drink or two.  It is my birthday and wedding anniversary that weekend, after all.  But I am seriously thinking about making it a much less significant part of my life in the future.

Let me know how you have been getting on.  Be well xxx

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Sober October!

So long Scroll Free September, make way for Sober October!  I have been looking for a playful euphemism or a colourful metaphor to dress this up, but the truth of it is, for the last while I have been drinking too much.  Not in the “drinking problem” sense but simply in the “this is not good for my overall health” sense.  My husband and I have been planning to take a break from alcohol for ages now, but there was always some reason (read excuse) why it wasn’t a good time.  There was always a wedding, holiday or other occasion on the horizon, which made the idea of going tee total a daunting prospect.  We now find ourselves at the closing of the year.  Christmas is fast approaching and party season will be here before we know it, so it was pretty much now or never.

Those of you who are regular readers will know that 2018 has been a bit of a roller coaster for me.   Between my full time job, of which I have had three, and my side projects, I can end up feeling like I am working all the time.  There have been a lot of changes and often by the time the weekend comes along, I am too exhausted to attempt anything more energetic than binge watching Netflix in my pjs with a glass of wine or a nice cold beer.   Alcohol became a way to differentiate weekend nights from week nights!  I wouldn’t describe myself as a binge drinker, I rarely, if ever get drunk.  However, two or three drinks, a few nights a week quickly adds up to way more than the 11 unit safe drinking limit (17 for men.)

These habits crept in over the space of about a year.  What had once been limited to Friday and Saturday started creeping into some of the other evenings too.  I was definitely starting to feel the effect on my energy levels.  It’s never as easy getting up in the morning after even a couple of drinks.  As well as that, I am not getting any younger.  I will be turning 37 next month and it’s time to stop taking my health completely for granted.  I am well aware of the health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, especially for women, and I am not arrogant enough to think I should be lucky enough to escape them.  From this week I will be teaching an extra Zumba class.  This brings the total to 4 per week, and with the stress this will put on my body, I need to do all I can to mind it.  Alcohol certainly will not help with that!

I am sure there will be lots of other benefits of having a dry month.  I am looking forward to having more energy and to waking up refreshed on the weekends.  I am also looking forward to having a little more money in my purse.  But mostly I am looking forward to the challenge.  I am sure the first weekend will be difficult.  We Irish are notorious for having our social lives revolving almost entirely around a pint!  Like many Irish families, ours has not escaped the effects alcoholism.  I am acutely aware of this, and of its tendency towards heredity.  This makes it even more important for me to get my drinking under control before it actually does become a problem!  Who knows, it might become a permanent change.

As always, feel free to join me in my latest challenge.  Wish me luck (and please send cinema recommendations) I will keep you posted on my progress.  Be well xxx

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7 Days Done!

So here we are at the end of week 1 of the Social Media Blackout experiment. Honestly it has been so eye opening. I have not missed scrolling a fraction as much as I thought I would. Far from feeling disconnected, I actually feel more in touch with what is going on around me.

At the beginning of this challenge I was extremely nervous. I was afraid I would be bored and I had a serious case of FOMO! It is a pleasant surprise that so far neither of those things have happened. I haven’t had a chance to get bored and I don’t think I have missed out on anything, but if I have, I can catch up on October 1st.

Let me know how you are getting on. Be well xxx

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Scroll Free September!

Tomorrow I will be starting what may prove to be my most difficult challenge to date, Scroll Free September. For 30 days I will be staying off Social Media. I will be logging off my personal Facebook and Instagram Accounts (I don’t understand Twitter, so I don’t use it much anyway.)

I sure this is going to be extremely challenging for me, as I spend an inordinate amount of time mindlessly scrolling through these sites. I am excited to see how I feel after the first few days of digital DTs have passed. I am also interested to see if I find myself with more time for things I actually enjoy, like reading!

I will still update my Zumba With Arwen page with class times etc. Luckily I don’t have to log in to my personal page in order to do that. My blog automatically posts to Facebook so that will still be happening too, but other than that I will be going cold turkey.

Many of you may not need or want to take on this challenge for a whole month, but I would encourage everyone to try to get even a small amount of unplugged time. As well as that, if anyone in your social media feed creates any sort of negative feelings for you (regardless of how rational these feelings may seem) just unfollow them!

I will let you know how I am getting on! Wish me luck and be well xxx

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100 Days of Headspace

I first discovered the Headspace app back in February of last year.  I can’t remember what was going on at the time, but a friend of mine recommended it over coffee one day, so I thought I would give it try.  I immediately loved it.  It is guided meditation, and Andy’s voice is so soothing, he could probably relieve someone’s stress by reading the phone book to them!  I kept it up for a few days and could feel the benefit, however, like with a lot of things, I missed a day or two and before long I had kinda forgotten about it.

Over the next year and a half, whenever life got hectic, as it invariably does, I would dip back into Headspace.  I would come away from each short session feeling better and the cumulative effect was brilliant.  However, it always ended up the same way.  After a few days I would give up, and often not return to it for several months.

At the beginning of the summer, I knew that there were going to be big changes happening.  I was about to start a new job and I was well aware of the stress that would cause me.  Even if everything was working out perfectly, the upheaval would still create anxiety for someone who struggles with change as much as I do.  I decided to revisit Headspace again, but this time I committed to it fully.  I made a promise to myself that no matter what happened, I would complete 100 days in a row.  I announced this publicly to help me stay accountable.

Initially, I did find it difficult.  I found myself saying things like “I have to go do my meditation now.”  I had to make a concerted effort to find the 15 minute window of peace in the day in which to get it done.  This alone speaks volumes as to how frenetic I had allowed my life to become, but that’s a post in itself.  As the days and weeks went by, I began to get into it.  I loved how grounded and peaceful I felt after each session.  I found myself hiding in empty offices during the day to sneak in an extra mini session, especially if the day was really crazy.  I was amazed that no matter how stressed and even panicked I felt going into that room, I left feeling ready for anything.

During the past 100 days there have been so many times when in the middle of the meditation I have thought to myself “this isn’t working,” or “I’m not doing it right,” or even “I’m not getting anything out of this.”  Regardless of how often these negative thoughts popped up during the session, at the end of it, when the guide told me to pause and reflect on how I felt, I always felt better than I had at the start.  Magic!

I am not good at homework.  The app often recommends little exercises to do throughout the day so that you get more bang for your buck as it were.  90% of the time I completely forget.  They always sound like great ideas, but the only way I am going to remember to do it is if I write it down or set a reminder.  I might try to be better at that for the next 100 days!  In spite of my lack of conscientiousness, I am convinced that this experiment has had a lasting effect on me.  I am certain that I would not have been able to survive all the drama in my professional life as well as I have without meditation.  In fact, I think I would have become a complete basket case.

The effects seem to be noticeable to others as well.  A couple of weeks ago I was out for a meal with some girlfriends I hadn’t seen in forever.  I was giving one of them a lift home when, unprompted, she said to me “Arwen, you seem very chill!”  What you need to understand is that this is definitely not how people would usually describe me.  Uptight, highly strung, control freak, anxious, would all be closer to the mark.  The thing is, I feel very chill.  For the first time in my life I feel in control.  Not in control of my life or anything going on around me, in control of myself.

Being educated in a Catholic school, spirituality was spoken about daily and meditation would often come up as part of that.  As such, I have been aware of it and it’s advantages for as long as I can remember.  Certainly long before it started being mentioned in the same articles as kale and goji berries.  I never really thought of meditation as a way to improve health or increase productivity.  When you think about it, these very modern concerns were not around when meditation was first recorded.  The Taoists and Buddhists weren’t overly concerned with “personal effectiveness.”

I always thought of meditation as promoting stillness and awareness, and having committed to a daily practice for a mere 100 days, I am beginning to understand what that really means.  I feel grounded and centered and like nothing can rock me.  I cannot recommend mediation highly enough and with so many apps available bringing it right into the palm of your hand, it has never been more accessible.  My advice to anyone, whether you feel stressed or not, is to give it a try.  Most apps offer a free trial period, some are free forever.  Commit to it for a period of time, even just a week and see how much better you will feel.  Be well xxx

 

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In Praise of Uni-tasking!

Has this ever happened to you?  You go to unload the washing machine, only to discover that although you loaded it and put in the powder, you neglected to actually switch it on?  It happens to me with frightening regularity and always when I have an overflowing hamper and can ill afford the time to wash clothes, I thought had already been washed!  Unfortunately this isn’t limited to the washing machine.  I routinely leave tasks half done, because I had become distracted by some other, seemingly more pressing thing.

I went to a Catholic Secondary School.  Not because my family are particularly religious, but because there was little choice in Ireland in the nineties!  I remember having a religion teacher who was a nun.  Her mantra, which she recited daily, was “you can’t do two things at once.”  She would go on to say that you can of course try to multitask but that everything will suffer.  In essence you can’t do anything properly unless you give it your undivided attention.  I spent 5 years in that school and remarkably, that lesson is one of only a handful of things which has stuck with me.

Of course, at the time I gave her wisdom little merit.  I was a typical teenager who assumed I knew better.  I did not credit this woman, who must have been in her seventies, with any life experience, and so twenty years later I am learning her lesson the hard way.

We live our 21st centuries lives at a breakneck pace.  We boast about how busy we are, how little spare time we have and how frazzled we feel.  We read books like “The 4 Hour Workweek” in an attempt to boost our productivity.  We are always striving to be able to fit even more in.  Lately I am beginning to ask myself is there a trade off between quantity and quality.  Is multitasking a myth?  Are we fooling ourselves into thinking we are achieving more, when in reality we are leaving a trail of half finished jobs in our wake, which will come back to bite us in the ass before long?

There are some things which I won’t even attempt to try to do simultaneously.  I cannot have two conversations at once (so if I am on the phone and you try to talk to me, don’t expect a polite reply!)  I also can’t text and talk.  Past attempts at this have resulted in my typing what I am saying or vice versa, neither of which ends well!  Similarly if I am driving and need to concentrate, I have to turn the radio down.  Whatever way my brain is wired, auditory stimulation overrides anything else.  Happily as we get older, we usually learn to recognise these limitations in ourselves and work around them.

Those of you who follow me on social media will know that I have been getting into meditation lately.  It started off as a challenge.  I wanted to see if I could commit to daily meditation for 100 days.  (As I write this I have clocked up 74)  However, as the days tick by, I am noticing just how much it is helping me.  I fully intend to make it a part of my daily life, for the foreseeable future.  As well as helping me to combat the stresses of modern existence, the meditation is helping me to understand the importance of being mindful in everything we do.  Being fully engaged and present in our activities, not just going through the motions like deranged zombies.

When you start to take notice of it, you will be amazed at how many things you do on complete autopilot.  For instance, have you ever driven somewhere and when you arrive at your destination you have little recollection of how you actually got there?  I have, and it is scary as hell!  Surely something as potentially perilous as driving should be given our undivided attention.  But we don’t do it.  We might be chatting to our passenger.  Singing along to the radio.  Doing a detailed postmortem of the meeting we had with our boss, or planning a future conversation (yes, I actually do that!)  This is especially true on a familiar route.  We don’t need to actively concentrate and so the mind wanders.

I am reading a book at the moment called Thrive and in it Arianna Huffington recommends taking one task each day that we do routinely, such as brushing your teeth or taking a shower and doing it mindfully.  Actually pay attention to what you are doing, and be engaged.  I tried this while brushing my teeth a couple of times this week and I am telling you it is so much harder than you think.  I was thinking about pretty much everything apart from the task at hand.  It’s a simple exercise, but it really opened my eyes to how much I am not present in my life.  I am often times merely going through the motions.  Is that what I truly want.  To sort of half experience life.  I don’t think so.

In an age where multitasking is prized and we are measured on our productivity, being mindful and doing one thing at a time is not the easy option.  Added to this, we are surrounded by devices which constantly vie for our attention.  We feel like we need to react to them instantly, no matter what else is going on.  I am so guilty of this.  Sometimes my husband will come home and I will be in the middle of a text chat, or scrolling through Facebook and when he comes in I will distractedly ask how his day was.  Invariably, when I put the phone down a minute or two later, I will ask him the exact same question.  It drives him insane and I don’t blame him.

It is not going to be easy to break the habit of a lifetime, but my attempts at multitasking have been so disastrous lately that I am going to try to stop myself from doing it.  I am going to attempt to complete one task at a time.  If and when I catch myself starting something when I am in the middle of something else, I will gently guide myself back to the task at hand.  I am interested to see if this actually makes me more productive.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but I wonder if in starting less tasks, I might actually finish more.  I wonder if by uni-tasking and concentrating on what I am doing a little more, I might be able to get through it more quickly.  As well as that, I am pretty sure it will help me to combat the feelings of overwhelm and burn out, which I often experience.

As I write this, I have been tempted to check my phone about 27 times.  Which brings me on to my next challenge.  Scroll Free September.  That’s right.  For the month of September, I will be logging off Facebook and Instagram (I don’t use Twitter because it confuses me too much.)  My blog posts automatically upload to Facebook, so when you see that happening, don’t think I am cheating.  I am not under any illusion that this is going to be easy.  I am a social media junkie, but I think a digital detox will be good for my overall well-being.  Oh dear, FOMO is setting in already!  I will let you know how everything is going.  Wish me luck and be well xxx

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Dear Millennial…

Typically each generation will lament that the one coming up behind them “don’t know how easy they have it.”  We will talk about walking to school in the rain, five miles, up hill in both directions, and what it was like to know the value of money.  My own generation is no different.  The technological advances I have seen between my teens and my thirties are nothing short of astonishing.  Even having to stand at a bus stop and just wait, hoping the bus might arrive at some stage, is a thing of the past.  We have unlimited information and entertainment at our fingertips now, but has it come at too high a price?

My generation may have been the last mugs to have to stand, shivering at the mercy of public transport, but we were also the last to enjoy certain freedoms.  I made plenty of mistakes and poor decisions in my younger days (I am still making them now) but my indiscretions were contained.  My transgressions were not captured on film and disseminated to the masses within seconds.  Any teenager doing a stupid thing back then would have had to face the shame of school on Monday morning, but would have been safe in the knowledge that it would have been blown over before the bell sounded on Friday afternoon.  Not so now.

Young people now are afforded no such reprieve.  Their every move is documented and subjected to the judgement of not just their inner circle, but to pretty much everyone.  I can’t imagine how stressful that must be.  Especially at that age, when everything feels so big and your peer group is all important.  When I was growing up, if you had a falling out with your pals, as inevitably happened, no matter how nasty it got, you could go home, close your front door and if not forget about it, certainly escape it.  Again, not so now.  Thanks to social media, bullies and begrudgers have access to their prey 24/7.

Even more sinister, dangerous and potentially devastating are two phenomenons my peer group definitely did not have to deal with.  “Revenge porn” and “slut shaming.”  In the digital era, everything is on demand.  Instant gratification is what it’s all about.  A quick selfie sent to a partner or potential love interest can come back to haunt you.  A lot of us have been there.  You get caught up in the moment and it seems like a good idea at the time.  However, as soon as you press send, that image is no longer within your control.

It is not only young people who are falling victim to this.  I am hearing stories with increasing regularity of men and women of all ages falling victim.  Often times these images, sent during times of intimacy or even love, can be used to blackmail and control victims.  The difference between teenagers and older victims, is that usually older people have developed better coping mechanisms.  They have had past experiences which have taught them that there is life after this.  Not matter how unbearable it may seem, you can and will get through it.

There is so much advice I want to try to pass on to those coming up behind me.  The truth however, is that I am probably ill equipped.  I haven’t had to deal with the challenges that face you.  From the outside looking in, however, I will offer you these words.

You are not your social media profile.  Please do not allow your likes, follows, comments etc. to impact on your self worth.  You have been put on this earth for a reason, one which may not become clear to you for many years, but I promise it is almost certainly not to become an “influencer.”

You are beautiful.  Your 18 year old body does not need surgical enhancement, your gorgeous face does not need to be filled.  Your uniqueness is the key to your beauty.  Nothing makes me quite as sad as seeing you all trying to look the same.  The ironic thing about our beauty is that we often don’t appreciate it until  years later.  You will have to trust me on that!

You will make mistakes.  Your life will be messy and sometimes your shame will be on display for everyone.  You will feel like you can’t possibly survive it.  I promise you, you can.  Hold your head high and keep going.  People have short attention spans and the focus will be on someone else before long.  You might even laugh about it someday.

Be safe.  When I was in my teens and early twenties I took so many risks.  I was depressed and although I never contemplated suicide, I wasn’t doing a whole lot to ensure I stayed safe and alive!  Looking back on that time, I think someone must have been watching out for me because nothing terrible happened.  I rolled the dice and miraculously escaped relatively unscathed.  Don’t be like me.  Don’t take chances with your life and your health.  Even if they mean little to you now, someday they will be everything.

Lastly, smile.  Don’t take life too seriously.  In reality, most of us are just winging it.  99% of the decisions you make now will not have a catastrophic impact on your life.  Adopt the rule of 5.  If you are not going to care about something in 5 years time, don’t spend more that 5 minutes worrying about it.  Take the time to smell the roses and appreciate not being stranded at the bus stop.  Be well xxx