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In my early adolescence, when I was busy trying to separate my meaning from my mother’s I found a church-going family who helped me in this task. They -like I- were quick to point out her sacrilege: her poverty, her politics, her single parenting (they did not know, like I did, what the alternative would have looked like). And I, like them, became spitefully critical of the church she’d taken me to when I was a child: A place marked as irreverent for its open willingness to negotiate through the beauties and follies of a number of faiths.
I borrowed the criticism of the Unitarian Church, like I borrowed the criticism of my mother. I refused her christianity, and so she made a new round of it, refashioning her faith in a new space that I did not snub at the time (though I wouldn’t put it past myself now, knowing my history).
I began looking too, sure that the “real” church could provide what I needed in a community and faith, if it was so self-assured and critical of everyone else. After years of looking around, blinking dumbfounded at congregation after congregation, often as numbed and insensitive to me as I was to them, I came to question the right for religious institutions and their spokespersons to point fingers.
It has been a long time since I’ve stepped into a church building. In my time away, I have let my imagination run wild with the grotesque possibility that all churches– indeed the buildings themselves–would represent everything I wouldn’t want a church to be: exclusive, apolitical, self-protective, anti-humanistic, gold-plated and in the clouds.
I walked in this weekend to wood. To the smell of it. To walls, darkened in places with old oak knobs and lit with the honey of split planks. There was a wooden rocking chair in the tall ceilinged meeting room– in case someone like me, wandering in, would want to keep a small child with me, rather than turn her over to strangers. And in all that crafted wood, and the murmur of forested voices, there was a whisper of worship at the pulpit- but worship, identified in working hands and good rest, in the richness of the land and the possibilities of music.
The man picked up that old book, laughing, laughing and proceeded to tell us the things in it that he found useful: A young prophet, politically radical enough to have been executed by the state. A message of peace and disarmament; the pounding of weapons into ploughshares and scythes.
This is not the first time I have realized a need to restitch myself to a history I rejected in my youth, but its the first time I’ve considered that task to be spiritual. Something in me feels deeply drawn to the idea of building a community in a place that wrestles (faithfully) with environmentalism, human rights, and peace, in ways that have been instilled in me since my childhood. I see room here, not for me to agree with everything, but to set a course down, and learn from others, in a community of people who hold on to whatever point of religiosity seems to make the most cultural sense to them, while still insisting on sharing a conviction that there’s something spiritual about the loves and joys and politics that we might live together.
When I arrived home, I called my mother, to tell her I knew something — some little thing– of what she’d lent me in life. and to apologize.
Andy is leaving my lap more often, and venturing out to play even when we are in public spaces. I have been promised, since the beginning, that allowing her to detach herself when ready will provide for a more self confident child, but I was beginning to worry that I may just be supporting her clingy-ness. Today, in a case that is symptomatic of recent events, she played happily in the midst of other tumbling, grabbing children at babs. I sat twenty feet away. And she was fine. Her new found individualism leaves me feeling more confident about our most recent decision to start her in preschool.
We are thrilled with the preschool we have found, which focuses on language learning and provides organic local food to the children. It is a small, house based school that has a wonderful outdoor space and an organic garden. Perhaps the best part is that Andy’s father will be hired as her Spanish teacher and primary care provider. While he is certified in Secondary Education, there are no available jobs within 1 ½ hours of our home, and none of us liked the idea of missing him from 5am-8pm every weekday, or of him being paid to watch someone else’s children while we pay someone to watch ours. So he is going to get certified for early childhood education while he works as Andy’s teacher. He can count his working hours as part of the training, and attend courses one evening a week for 8 months. The preschool is exactly half way between my office and the house, close enough for me to bike to from either direction so that I may continue to nurse. I think it will ease the stress of both my last semester of coursework and the time I spend taking care of our house/garden/food preparation. I am also really excited about how much Andy will grow as she spends time learning not only from other adults, but from other children.
I think the changes to our schedule will also be great for B and I, as I find our relationship thrives the most when we can learn things from one another. We are both interested in Andy’s development but haven’t read a book on child development since before she was born. B’s coursework will allow him to learn about this, and share it with me, just as I will have opportunity to continue to learn interesting things in my courses to share with him. Spending so much time at home together for Andy’s first year has been incredible, but I think that this new arrangement may be remarkably good for us too.
My little sister is in that blissful and stunning month of self revision that proceeds a freshman year at college. I have taken up the task of outfitting her kitchen. She is coming down for a week in August to learn to prepare food, and I have promised to send her home with a list of healthful cheap and simple ways to start eating the sorts fo foods that make you feel well.
My sister does not (yet) read books on food politics or traditional foods. She is of a generation that reads a lot in very small portions (facebook, wikipedia pages, text messages). In preparing food guidelines for her, I realized I had to design something that would work into the way she sees the world. I believe in food traditions, in learning things by watching them done for years, as I did in my godmother’s kitchen. My sister has given me a week, not a childhood, to teach her everything she needs to know about food. And she probably won’t read more than three pages about food unless she has a test. She’s dabbled in veganism, but has for the most part been a processed-food vegetarian for a good portion of her life. And she asked for my help “changing everything.” My family has a history of serious digestive issues (potentially due to our over consumption of soy products) and my sister is looking for ways to find wellness in food.
And even though she asked for this, I have to work on her terms. And her terms are “something to hang on the inside of a cabinet” and solve all of her “food problems.” Which means simple foods, that are diverse, quick, complete. Foods that take no time to learn how to make and have endless possibilities for alteration. Foods that you can make on a college budget and fit into a college kitchen cabinet.
It’s a tall order, and I’m posting what I have so far below. I’m interested in suggestions and reflections, if anyone has the time.
How to Not Die While Being a Vegetarian in College (Cliff’s Notes)
It seems the best way to promote health through food is to eat well long enough for you to be able to discern what “health” feels like and how your body responds to foods. When you reach this point in life you will be able to pay attention to your body, and intuit its needs. Do not feel like rules will solve your problems, or that food is the only factor in health. But do give food the credit it deserves: good food stimulates good digestion, good absorption of nutrients, good overall health.
To start, try to incorporate these five guidelines into EVERY meal:
- leafy green
- some other vegetable (or fruit, on occasion)
- complete protein (Beans AND grain, Seeds AND Beans, milk AND Grain, Eggs AND Grain)
- Digestive (raw or cultured dairy food, vinegar, fermented soy + sea vegetable)
- B12 source (raw dairy product, meat or eggs. 1 ounce of raw cheese with each meal will suffice-but don’t melt it)
EXAMPLES of Basic Combinations:
1) Oats and nuts w/ fruit and milk or kefir
2) Smoothie (w/ veggies) and toast (or french toast or pancakes if you have time to kill)
3) Omelette w/ veggies, cheese and toast
4) Rice with cottage cheese, dulse flakes or arame, cooked veggies
1) Salad: (lettuce, nuts and seeds, sprouts, raw cheese or egg, + vegetable, vinegar or buttermilk honey mustard)
2) Stir fry: (rice w/ braised greens and veggies on top, beans or lentils, curry or peanut sauce)
3) Pasta: (cooked veggies, tomato sauce w grated raw cheese or butter garlic sauce)
4) Dips: Pita or crackers AND raw veggies (carrots, celery, lettuce), hummus or egg salad
5) Soup and Sandwich: (make tomato bisque w/ cultured milk and tomato sauce with a green or make light miso veggie soup (see below). Add onions and tomatoes to grilled cheese or hummus w/veg and sprouts)
REMEMBER: Many “good for you” foods are good only when properly prepared. Our family is prone to digestive issues so try to be rigorous about the following:
1)Soak anything that was once a seed (grains and nuts included) see quick soak solution below.
2)cook (with broth- which is hydrophilic) or ferment all leafy greens excepting lettuce
3)Eat whole foods. Avoid juices and refined foods. If you juice veggies and fruits, eat the pulp as a salad (with olive oil salt and pepper. so good) Buy single ingredient foods as much as is possible. The one exception to this rule is the addition of cultures to dairy products and fermented foods, which aid digestion, intestinal health, absorption of nutrients, etc.
4)When you do eat muli-ingredient foods, check ingredients carefully on all foods. Organic is not the only standard: Don’t eat any prepared food that you couldn’t make in your kitchen with whole food ingredients. (People can make cheese in their kitchen, but not hydrogenated oils or citric acid)..
SEED SOAK: cover Grains/Nuts/Seeds for 12-24 Hrs in 2 tbsp whey and filtered water before use. Do not let them soak longer than this because they will sprout. Call your sister if this happens and she can teach you about making sprouted breads or other sprouted foods.
WHEY/YOGURT CHEESE: Find a pastured (meet the farmer to know that you mean the same thing by “pastured”) whole milk yogurt that is runny and let it drain through a thin cloth over a mesh strainer into a bowl for 12-24 hours. Place a bowl on top to press additional whey out after 5-6 hours. If you let it sit out close to 24 hours the yogurt cheese will be more firm and you will have more whey, mix salt pepper and spices into the cheese and use it as a spread. Reserve whey for soaking seeds and grains.
QUICK HUMMUS: combine and mix these ingredients in blender: 1 can chickpeas drained/ heaping tbsp tahini/tbsp whey/tbsp raw AC vinegar. Add cayenne pepper, garlic and salt to taste.
QUICK MISO SOUP: start with bone broth. Add pre-soaked seaweed or seasalt/seaweed mixture and garlic as base heats. Add pre-steamed vegetables and cooked grains (great use of leftovers!). Remove from heat after 6-8 minutes. Stir in miso just before serving- do not cook it.
Shopping List to Not Die While Being a Vegetarian in College
25 Items to “Stock the Larder”
2)Celtic Sea Salt and Fresh Pepper
4)organic garlic powder
5)organic cayenne powder
6)organic curry powder
9)Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
10)Aluminum free baking powder & Soda
11)Seeds to sprout
13)Organic whole wheat flour (put in freezer)
14)Organic bulk fair trade brown rice
16)Organic sprouted whole wheat pasta (no additives) or brown rice pasta
20)Organic spaghetti sauces
22)canned beans (garbanzo for hummus, black beans, aduki)
23)nuts and seeds
24)peanut butter and sesame butter (tahini)
25) raw honey
Each week buy pantry items you are out of and these ten things:
1) 4 varieties of leafy greens (variety!)
2) 4 other vegetables (no more than 2 starchy root vegetables)
3) 2-3 fruit varieties
4) Organic raw milk cheeses (this might be your only available raw milk food if you can’t find a farmer, so stock up)
5) organic local free ranging eggs
6) Organic whole milk grass fed yogurt (no sugar added, really milky to drain whey)
7) Organic pasture butter
8) Organic grass fed whole milk cottage cheese w/ lactic cultures
9) Organic whole milk buttermilk OR plain kefir OR non-homogenized whole milk that you add buttermilk starter to from last week’s buttermilk
10)Sprouted grain (WHOLE WHEAT, NO ADDITIVES THAT YOU COULDN’T MAKE IN YOUR KITCHEN): either bread (w/ seed meal) or pita or tortillas or crackers
A Word on . . .
meats, if you decide to include them are better in small portions. Think of them as an ingredient among many rather than a main course. 1/3 of a chicken breast is sufficient for a meal in combination with vegetable proteins (grains or legumes). Save the rest for other meals (add slices to salads, make up chicken salad and eat small amounts with your meals, or dice it and add it to a stir fry or soup). Buy high quality pastured local bird meats. Get heritage birds if possible. Or wait till Christmas and ask your sister to bring you a bunch of frozen birds from a farm that she knows well. Wild caught salmon is better for you than tuna, and not currently endangered. Do not eat farmed fish. Animal broths are great sources of nutrients if you make them yourself, don’t use bullion, and if you buy chicken broth make sure it is organic and doesn’t have additives.
only use fermented organic products. We don’t know the effects of Genetically Modified foods, but there have been horrific animal studies that show that they contribute to serious health issues, infertility and death.
Buy organic and whole kernel. Do not eat corn-based additives. eat with lime.
Autolyzed yeast extract is the base of MSG. IF you eat nutritional yeast make sure it is low-heat processed so that it isn’t accidentally chalked full of MSG (which is made with a similar process, but at high heat). Candida runs in your family, so make sure that you eat yeast products AND SUGARS only irregularly. Mom and I get “MSG” headaches, so be aware of products that might have MSG yeasts in them that aren’t labeled as such. This happens pretty regularly, as MSG is an accidental by-product in many foods. See suggestions on processed foods below to help avoid this.
I know I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating: Check ingredients carefully. Eat whole foods. Organic is not the only standard: Don’t eat anything that you couldn’t make in your kitchen. (People can make cheese in their kitchen, but not hydrogenated oils or citric acid).
Don’t do this often, but when you do, chose a small restaurant that has rice as its starch base (Thai, Indian, Chinese, Sushi bars). Talk to the cook- They are often able to accommodate menu alterations that would reduce additives (cornstarch, soy sauce etc) especially with stir fries. Opt for white rice as they won’t have pre-soaked their grains- it is not as nutrient dense, but many of the anti-nutrients(that soaking would break down) are in the hull and bran.
Ask them to cook food in butter or steam it– tell them that you can’t have soy or corn oils. Don’t eat any animal that could be industry farmed (which usually means eat vegetarian). Unless they advertise all organic produce, don’t eat potatoes or onions, which have growth inhibitors on them that are really damaging. Don’t assume that the restaurants do these things anyway because they are “some cool vegan restaurant” or advertise making everything from scratch. Make sure you let them know you have food sensitivities, so that they don’t just think you are a bitch. Small organic-hipster restaurants are an occasional possibility but find out what is in the food- best bets for eating out at hipster restaurants are typically soup and salad.
My first lesson in ritual masking was taught by my godmother. For the application of a base layer, she would close the door to the bedroom, and I would wait on the other side of it. When finished, I would hear her voice rise, “Luthe”, “”Lu-thee,” shrill, because she expected me to be downstairs. I was never downstairs. I ran down and back up, to make the patter of sound she would expect, and then went in to see her same face, only made-up peach.
In the time it took for her to apply the mask, she would don not only a face cover, but a persona. She became vibrant, electrically charged, and prepared for the worst. You could hear the change in the way she breathed.
She was not just putting on make-up, she would tell me. There was a spiritual preparation, bound in and up with her ritual paintings. It prepared her for the worst of days and doctor’s visits. I was young though, and I wasn’t looking at much but her face. I made poor correlations, dismissed her comments on meditation, and understood the transformation as a power of the mask. “Someday,” she promised “I’ll teach you about meditation.” I have yet to get this lesson.
Now, whenever I am home, she shuts the door for long hours. I wear this weight: She has come to use the same meditation and mask to prepare herself for the every day that she once designated only for the worst of them. Day and worst have become synonymous.
I know, only a little of what “the worst” once was, before it became systemic. The mask was always applied before a visit to the hospital. These visits were frequent. She’d suffered a long medical battle to keep her only child alive. The failure of this minute-by-minute endeavor, after twelve years of hospitals, made her voice quiet to a whisper, wearied and perhaps afraid, when she spoke of doctors and hospitals. Twelve years would be enough, I’m sure, to make anyone whisper about them. But before a real breath was taken, she was back to the hospital. Scripted on her own body, a cancer grew. She was in the same strange-lit hallways, waiting, always waiting, on procedures and results and new promises from doctors eradicating her body of one carcinogen, and filling it with another: the burnt post-chemo pain that she still wears.
I knew this history, but as a child, I understood very little of what any of that pain meant. I was invincible still, little-touched by the marring and marred way this world twists us up into adults. I’m not claiming that age lets you understand pain, it just seems, with time passing, to demand a more frequent acknowledgment.
And in this forced acknowledgment I have come to understand the tri-part tool of a self-mask: to conceal ones own pain, to use a barrier, a protection from the next very-possible pain, and to create a persona that can negotiate these spaces of pain with some perceived holding-it-togetherness.
While I might not have fully understood, I was privy at a young age, to the seeming usefulness of a mask. I used it sparingly in my younger years, but, in preparation for my move to college, which involved the purging of material collections that had defined my childhood, I evaluated and carefully packed the usable masking tools from my room.
I practiced the application for a week before leaving for school. I had learned in the local theater how to draw fish tails and white spots by my eyes to open them up, how to emphasize cheekbones and draw lines to appear like wrinkles. I intentionally modified my technique, to design a new face for close-up encounters. It was a mask, I assumed, that would let me start again, in a new space. I mustered up a mantra to go with the self-painting, in order to convince myself into the modified face. And so I very intentionally fell into the trap of women’s masking.
In a purse I had never used, I packed the stage makeup and the few compacts I had been given as gifts from well meaning family members in my earlier years. I still have this expired collection.
The first day of classes I prepared myself, shutting the bathroom door, and smearing over my more familiar face. By the second day the time spent on my ritual already seemed absurd, the daily tasks manageable. Years later, when I was new to teaching those freshman classes I once attended, I maintained the ritual of first days. I painted my face, I focused on my breath. And by the next day, I found it unnecessary.
It was also, in the early years of my marriage, a standard practice to don the mask while I was in my mother in laws home; A place where mother and daughter refined themselves in mirrors in the morning, and I, newly part of the family, and in their space, followed suit.
Recognizing the pettiness in the way I have chosen to don the mask, it has been applied less frequently as I age. Perhaps my scale of tolerance for the world has strengthened as the experiences that my own body has come up against have become more frightening. I am numbed, now, to the more simple fears of my youth. and their more simple concealments and solutions.
But, because this is a mask I own, I thought it appropriate for the self-portraiture project, despite its commonplace status among women.
And so, a mask:
It is a strange feeling to learn about life through its passing. Twice since we have been married the idea of children has glimmered in briefly and then out–more swiftly– in blood clots. Andjoli sits in between these losses, and her life makes the possibility of another one a little more real this time around. Because I know a child, my child, to be more than a bit of blood and mush.
I don’t know why I am telling this to strangers. Or how I am supposed to tell this to family. Or why I am doing those two things in a single stroke.
We are fine, I am mostly tired. We had family here, had a friend leaving for the other side of the world, had a first birthday party to attend. And I had blood clots, a bit of bearing down in the middle of it. And we went on.
We go on, just the same.
For as long as I can remember Easter has been marked by the hands of my godmother, dyed red. The wrinkled creases in her hands grow deeper with marooned cracks as she has grown older, her knuckles, crimson and bulbous, are now swollen with arthritis. These are not the hands I used to know. Indeed the only thing that is the same about them is the dye left on them from the religious scarleting of the eggs that we clack together in memory of a risen lord.
We say it again and again and we smack eggs until all small ends and large ends in the room are broken, excepting one. And this untarnished egg end and the hand that holds it, receive the year’s blessing.
Last Greek Easter, after many years of unlucky smashed eggs I was left the blessed victor, egg intact.
And, a few weeks away from our ritual egg smashing, it seems important to reflect on what blessing has looked like. Reflections on the good things in life are perhaps the simplest ways to drive me from the shuttlecocked anxiety of meeting the expectations of both worlds that demand my full presence (home and school). And tonight is a night that I feel the need to press myself in to just such a reminder.
Under the blessing of a red-egged year our home has grown, as well as the number of people and animals we nest within it. Our garden has flourished. And all this growth is getting on just swimmingly together. We laugh frequently. My husband has learned to match (my) socks. Our libraries are amazing. I love teaching and I love what I teach. I love learning, and sometimes love what I learn. We always, and often in ways that surprise me, seem to have exactly what we need. My body, which has battled the systemic bents of food allergies and endometriosis, feels well. Well. Sometimes I have enough time to brush my teeth or to think about going home again, to clack eggs together.
And in two weeks time, we will mark another red handed (and egged) year, flung and passing. We will be drawn again to the ceremonies, spaces and tastes of my childhood- the living memory, the ritual, of a family that sees each other too infrequently, but knows, when it has nested down together for a few days of white flowers, rich food and red eggs, that there remains a consensus about ideas like “family.” And “home.”
We have had houseguests for the week. B’s brother and brother’s girlfriend shared our time in the garden, in our favorite eateries, in our little home.
And the space, which sometimes does not feel like enough for the three of us, fit the laughter and conversation of five just fine. It made me remember, after a long closed-in winter, how precious community is. And how we must welcome it into our space more frequently.
With houseguests now gone, the house feels empty like it hasn’t before. Debris that I did not notice under the collection of travel paraphernalia that covered it, now stands open, uncovered, marking the absence of visiting things. We sweep up, we collect the odds and ends, we erase the evidence of the visit and replace it again with the polished every-day.
I love the quiet of a clean space, but am forced to reflect on the value of a wilder one, filled with the murmur of more life than we have on our own.
We miss you.
And we take the challenge you have left us: to join the world, to love better, to laugh more, to tell stories, to read aloud, to listen.
The spring, necessarily, invites this. Our neighbors, white faced from the indoor lighting, are out in their yards, as we are, working beds and reddening their skin up. And we greet each other, finally, and lament together over the long winter that kept us apart. And we hope together, for the waking up of spring things and the time we will share in each other’s company.
When dusk has solidly settled in, and graced us with a black-skied spring rain, we are finally convinced away from the budding smell of greening things, back in to the dry quiet of the house. And we fall into it, to sleep, exhausted in the richest of ways: from company and the turning of soil.
I’ve decide to provide a monthly review for family and friends who decide to follow this blog and are interested in the actual goings-on in our life, rather than my less practical musings. I have divided our month into categories, and provided the highlights. This means that you can not complain that I never get to the stuff of it in this journal.
life with a little one:
i) Andjoli and I still do not sleep for more than two-hour windows. I am resigned to this. B sleeps six to eight hours but often still looks less rested than I. We all need (and take too few) naps.
ii) teeth hurt- both for her, and for anyone who gets too close to her mouth.
iii) Andjoli is slightly obsessed with the cat, Ossel. She gets the jitters when she is in close proximity.
iv)The little lady made it through RSV, and is now breathing again like a normal person. It is amazing what a blessing a steady breath is.
v) She has grown out of everything she used to wear this month- diapers, diaper covers, pants, boots. I’ve done my best to hand make or alter new clothes to fit her. My favorite creation is four pairs of recycled wool longies, balaclavas from her old (now too small) hats, and new booties. perhaps I’ll post pictures for anyone who cares.
i) I have yet to complete my winter sowing. I have all of these containers saved, but haven’t found time to actually get my hands dirty.
ii) some of the early bulbs that are in our front yard are poking their green heads up. spring buds are bulging on the trees and bushes.
iii) all of the fruit trees have been pruned. or butchered. I’m not sure how, exactly, to express what it was that i did to them.
iv) we have not winter mulched or prepared the beds. this spring smell is making me anxious.
v) we have too much green matter and not enough brown matter in our compost from the winter, and as it warms, it is looking more pitiful and soggy . . we need to track down some leaves or waste wood chips to remedy our compost slop.
i) we spend more time here than we should when it is dreary outside. I look forward to having a more hardy little person next winter so that I can drag her out in weather like this.
ii) B finished laying the wood floor in the addition, and we are deciding if we should just go ahead and stain it and forget about sanding it. We’d prefer a more natural look over an even look anyway, and since we are using an osmo non-toxic stain/sealant rather than polyurethane I don’t think it needs to be perfectly level . . .
iii) the front cap to our juicer cracked. They will replace it, but mailing replacements takes time, and I currently don’t know what to do with myself in the kitchen. How do you, for instance, make flour, nut butters, sauces and juice? I did not realize my dependence on the machine before this.
iv) having a laundry room upstairs is exceptional.
i) I have started this journal, which I suppose counts as “writing,” but I’m not writing well enough or consistently enough to satisfy my desire. I’d like to get something publication ready. hopefully I’ll have something positive to say about that in future monthly reviews.
ii) We have been limited to creating functional things: wool diaper covers, lullabies, breads, sauces and juices from ugly organics (local waste produce that is slightly too unattractive to sell or eat fresh), etc. there has been no painting, no real music, no poetry- no simple extravagance. this must change.
my perpetual schooling:
i) no I am not finished. stop asking.
ii) A proposal for my second master’s thesis is due March 1st. It was not accomplished by the last day in February.
iii) I’m looking for impressive literature from authors who use their writing as a forum for dissent. Suggestions? (This does not need to be limited to the US, but does need to be available in English or French)
iv) We should deflect: B is finished with school! That might be old news to some of you, but all the same, you should congratulate him.
i) I prepared this month to start teaching a short intensive course at the University on Food and Industry. Starts March 8th. Should be exciting.
ii) B is learning about translation software and getting his name out in the translation world, and he is also hosting weekly neighborhood Spanish classes in our home.
iii) We are both considering summer work, but our criteria makes it difficult: we want to work in a place we believe in, where we can learn useful skills and support useful growth. We do not want this work to take the place or time of the rich and rewarding experience of being part of a family and a community, nor do we want it to strip us of the time necessary to create and self reflect as individuals. Because of these standards, it currently looks like we may not be working, or, I should say, we may be working on things we love and not making much of an income.