I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Dreaming

Sacred Privilege

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Sacred Duty

This is me. At around 7:45 on the morning of November 8th. Exhilarated! I was so thrilled to have voted for Hillary Clinton, the woman I was so sure was going to be President that I insisted on documenting the historic event with a photo. I am wearing my most patriotic Clinton-esque red pantsuit jacket.

Quaint, eh? About as quaint as the Clinton-Kaine pin my daughter gave me to commemorate the occasion. I carry it around as a talisman, but I worry that it’s just a kitschy souvenir.

My hand is on my heart – pledging allegiance – and showing off the ring I am wearing. My mother’s ring. She was with me that day.

It is from my mother that I got my political grounding.

My mother was a Democrat. On Election Day, she would take me with her into the voting booth and show me how it worked. I felt very grown up, very excited, and very proud. It was a sacred privilege, voting.

My mother was the first feminist I knew. She was a charter subscriber to Ms. Magazine. Literally. She got every issue of the magazine as long as it existed. It’s one of many many magazines that I grew up with in a household where words mattered. No wonder I made a career in magazines.

My mother believed that women were equal to men (actually, I think she believed that women were better than men) and that I could be anything. ANYTHING! She encouraged me to go to Bryn Mawr College so that I would be with other intelligent and serious women who wanted to make a difference. We women wanted to matter. I wanted to matter. To make a difference. To contribute something important to the world.

Sometimes I feel like Hillary must feel. Hard-working, over-prepared, focused on the details, only to be bested by some guy who shoots from the hip. Haven’t we women all been there? When will it stop?

This election was the first election my mother was not alive and did not vote. It seemed fitting that it was the first election in which my daughter could and did vote. Continuing the democratic lineage. Excited and proud.

It is a sacred privilege, voting. Have we forgotten how fortunate we are to live in a democracy? Did we take voting for granted? Our vote does matter, doesn’t it?

Doesn’t it?

The shock that such a selfish and cavalier man could beat such an experienced and intelligent woman has left me with no words.

In the five weeks since, I have reflected on how I want to handle this mind-boggling reality. I alternate between outrage, fear, disbelief, and attempts at patience and optimism. A Democrat, like my mom, I tend to be pragmatic and centrist, always a diplomat, never particularly active. Careful to try to understand both sides and all points of view. Too conflict avoidant to be provocative.

When I am optimistic, I wonder if the outcome of this election is just what we needed to shake us all up. To create a constructive political movement that will lead to positive change.

The week of the election, the Dalai Lama appeared in my dream. He counseled me to distinguish between being concerned and being caring. It’s all about caring, he told me.

Wise words, don’t you think? Being concerned is intellectual and kind of negative and judgmental. Being caring is active and personal and hands on. Caring is positive. I think of that every day. How can I be positive, constructive and caring in an impactful way? What kind of example do I want to set for my children? What political legacy will I leave them?

For now, I have decided to choose and focus on a few issues that are meaningful to me and that honor my mother and her political legacy to me.

  • Women’s Rights. Particularly reproductive freedom. I am Pro Choice.
  • Freedom of the Press. I never thought I would feel the need to fight for the First Amendment.
  • The Environment. After all, if we destroy our world, then it doesn’t really matter who is President, does it?

I don’t quite know all the ways I will act to support these issues. I am not used to feeling that it is imperative that I act. I do know that I will keep caring, peace, and kindness top of mind – like the Dalai Lama.

And, I will not take our democracy for granted. Believing in democracy is not quaint. Voting is a sacred privilege. It is our sacred duty to protect our democracy, our right to vote.

Comfort Food

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Jangled

I’m a little jangled right now. My son started his first day of 11th grade, which I dealt with by feeling overwhelmed with stress on the work front. My daughter leaves tomorrow for her second year of college, which leaves me feeling excited, proud, melancholy, and old. Less stressful than Year 1, but still emotional. I took a too-hard, too-crowded, too-much-rap-music (wtf?) yoga class, which made me angry and tearful: My hip is cranky; who are these people who CAN do this class? Clearly I am getting too old. Maybe I will just sing and knit and get fat. Yowza!

Jangled.

Thursday night, I dreamt that my pet parakeet had a new water dispenser and I realized that she could drown in it if I didn’t watch over her at all times. Do you think I am worried about my children? As our pediatrician counseled us at baby-proofing stage, only half-joking: “Never let them out of your sight.”

Friday night, I dreamt that my hair suddenly was much grayer. I wondered if I should begin to color it, debating between being my authentic self and not wanting to look too old. Do you think I am worried about aging? Who IS that woman in the mirror and what did she do with my 35-year-old self?

When doing some back-to-school errands with my daughter, someone made a strange turn at an intersection. I thought about my son beginning to drive and was overcome with the dangers of driving and the fear of losing them to an accident. Which would be devastating.  Which led me to musing at how wonderful both my children are. Precious, good, honest, empathetic, better than me, better than my husband. How is it possible that these two amazing human beings are my children? Which led me me to tears at a stop light. Praying that they survive the dangers of everyday living.  Overcome with love and gratitude.

Jangled.

Clearly, I am in need of some comfort food. The problem is that traditional comfort foods (Macaroni and Cheese, Oreos and Milk, Pot Roast with Gravy) are too rich. I don’t enjoy these foods. I feel too guilty.  And too full.  For me, comfort food is simple and easy, includes favorite childhood foods, can be eaten in large quantities, and is healthily guilt-free.

When I was a little girl, we had a neighbor with an extensive garden who would let me eat tomatoes warm off the vine. They were perhaps the most delicious food ever. I never tire of good tomatoes but am usually frustrated that they never live up to my memory of those garden tomatoes.  Every summer, my mother would make a simple salad of tomatoes and avocado.  She must be one of the first people who put together a simple composed salad without any lettuce. Who needs lettuce!

The local tomatoes have been pretty good this summer. And, ballerina-eating-trick: you can eat vast quantities of tomatoes without incurring a lot of calories. No need for lettuce, the tomatoes form a delicious base for salads and require minimal dressing. While I don’t eat very much meat any more, I do love chicken and indulge in it occasionally.  This is one of my favorite go-to salads and is what I had for lunch on this day of mixed and jangled emotions.

Grilled Chicken Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette

  • 1 small grilled chicken breast
  • ½ cup leftover brown rice
  • ½ beefsteak tomato
  • ½ avocado
  • Corn, cut from 1 leftover cob (I always make extra corn on the cob for leftovers)

Dice everything into roughly equal sized small pieces. If you are OCD, like me, you can even make sure that you have the same number of pieces of each ingredient, insuring that each bite has a little bit of everything.

Yogurt Vinaigrette

  • 2 Tablespoons plain greek yogurt (ballerina-eating-trick: Replace some fats with plain greek yogurt. Adds tang and has fewer calories and fat. I use plain greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches.)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

Whisk together and spoon over salad.

1 large salad for lunch – good for jangled nerves, especially if you share the salad with your college-bound daughter.

I Did Not Know The Boy Who Died This Week

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Go Deep

I did not know the boy who died this week. The friendly, athletic, well-liked 23-year-old from our town. My kids are in different grades than his younger siblings. They play different sports and hang out with different people. I am woefully unconnected with the school and the town. I’m not unsociable but I am quiet and reserved and I work full time in Manhattan. I worry that my introversion is off-putting and has kept my kids from being more integrated with the community. I prefer smaller groups of family and close friends, so my path did not really intersect with him and his family.

I did not know the boy who died this week. While I thought about him and his mother and his father and his sisters and his friends and all those who were touched by him, I did not feel I had a place at the wake or the funeral. I don’t know this family. But they are part of my world. I feel like I could know him. He could have been any number of amazing, interesting, fun 20-somethings that I do know. With full lives ahead of them. I guess he was out with friends. I suppose alcohol was involved. I am sure he thought he was invincible. Don’t we all at 23? It could have been anyone. It could have been my child.

It takes some living and some near misses to learn that accidents do happen. I could die at any moment. You could die at any moment. My children could die at any moment. As babies, I held them close. Nursing, co-sleeping, baby-proofing. “Never let them out of your sight,” our pediatrician said, only half-jokingly when we asked him for the most significant things we could do to keep them safe. Well, that’s not realistic.  And so we have lived our lives. We put them on the school bus. We sent them on sleep-overs and on school trips. We taught them to ski and take risks and be independent. My daughter drives and my son will soon drive. Off they go. Out of the nest. More out of our sight these days than in our sight. As it should be. And yet, I grasp. I want to hold them close. I want to live forever. I want them to live forever. I never want to let them go.

When they were young, I thought being the mother of a newborn was the hardest thing I had ever done. The exhaustion, the worry. Are they eating? Are they pooping? Are they BREATHING? The mothers of children older than mine would smile indulgently. “Just wait. It gets harder.” What? What could be harder than a newborn?! Now I get it. Now the worries are: Are they safe? Are they happy? Will they live full lives? Will they love and be loved? For many years. For many years, long after I die.

I am a very cerebral and sensible and pragmatic person. Skeptical of the mysterious and unproven. Crazy hokum. And yet. Is it? Crazy hokum? I am fascinated and increasingly open to my intuition and the deep experiences I have had with meditation and Reiki. On Wednesday night, I was drawn to take a yoga class with Colleen Saidman Yee. I don’t know her very well, and I am not a regular student of hers, but she recently published a book, Yoga For Life, that is touching me right now. At Savasana, she said something like: “Dare to go deep.  Deep to the places within. The places that frighten you. The places that you touch and scurry away from.” I tried, but not much happened. Still, I knew shifts have been and are happening.

That night, returning home, the streets were blocked for the wake. The one I didn’t attend because I did not know the boy who died this week. We detoured around to my house. My home. That night, I woke. For my middle-of-the-night battle with my bladder. Should I get up and pee or can I make it through the night? I lay there. And saw something. Felt something. A presence. I laughed. Now I am seeing ghosts? I went to the bathroom and felt the night. Felt the presence. Who was it? I decided it was my mom. Who else would it be? Then that night I dreamt I had siblings. I was talking to my “sister.” She was 17 years older than me and she told me that we had two other brothers. Wow. A whole family of people I never even knew I had?! And then I dreamt I was flying! I was terrified of the sensation. It was exciting but terrifying. I touched the sensation and then scurried away, waking.  Afraid to go too deep.

Today, blessed weekend, I took one of my regular yoga classes with one of my yoga friend teachers with my yoga community in my yoga “home.” Heart-openers. Damn you Clare. As I lifted and expanded and breathed into my heart, I thought about the boy I did not know who died this week. And his mom and dad and sisters and friends. And I suppressed tears. Convulsive sobbing tears. I touched that space and scurried away. I wanted to shout to my yoga friends: A young man died this week! I am so sad!  But I didn’t. I went deep but not that deep.

There is a video montage of photos of this boy I did not know who died this week. I watched it. It could be my family photos. Beautiful human beings doing family things together. I saw him grow from a boy to a young man.  I cried. Cathartic heart-opening tears.

A young man died this week! I did not know him. And yet…I do know him.

Go deep. Love deeply. Live joyfully. We all die. And it might be sooner rather than later.

Image:  4th Mandala Heart Chakra, by Jennifer Christenson

To Sleep

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Perchance to Dream

A funny thing has happened as I’ve gotten older (and kinder to myself). I am sleeping more. Maybe it’s the dark mornings of Winter. Maybe I am a little depressed. While I do feel subdued, I don’t feel depressed. Indeed, after the death of my mother, I feel an increased urgency to live authentically, say what I want to say, and not waste time. Sleep doesn’t feel like a waste of time. Sleep feels precious and restorative. I am less and less willing to drag myself out of bed, tired. Maybe it’s peace. Maybe it’s wisdom.

I used to drag myself out of bed. To exercise. To school. To work. Frequently to exercise. Years and years of my life, I have dragged myself out of bed in the cold and the dark for punishing workouts which allowed me to feel virtuous and smug and provided an excuse for eating quantities of food. In my disciplined way, on auto-pilot, I did not listen to whether my body needed rest, I simply got up and did whatever it was I felt compelled to do at 5 am.

Now, when I wake at 4:30 or 5:00, I go to the bathroom, marvel that I ever dragged myself out of bed so early, and go back to sleep. Sometimes I have anxiety and find it difficult to go back to sleep. I breathe, I chant (in my head – my husband would be quite perplexed if I chanted out loud in the middle of the night), I do self-Reiki, and I usually go back to sleep, grateful that I am past the awful, awful, awful (did I say awful?) years-long, chronic insomnia of menopause. And when I go back to sleep at 5 am, I dream. Wild dreams. Convoluted spiritual journeys. Dives of rebirth into deep, deep water. And of course my standby, the anxiety dream. Lately, however, I’ve caught myself mid-anxiety-dream and told myself not to go there. “Don’t go there!” I command myself. And the dream changes or stops before it gets too nightmarish. I take this as a good sign. Of kindness and acceptance of myself. I am grateful.

Being sleep-deprived used to be a badge of honor. Oh, I never sleep more than 6 hours a night! Oh, I am so tired! Oh, I have so much to do! Oh, I am so important! Funny, then, I was sicker, had more headaches, and carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. In fact, “I am so tired” was an automatic mantra. I said it all the time. Now, I catch myself when those words bubble up, usually out of habit. I pause. Am I tired? Why would I say I am tired? Is it an excuse? For what? I’ve realized that it’s usually code for I don’t want to do whatever it is I am about to do. So, I pause and check in. What am I feeling? Am I truly tired? Do I need to do something different? Maybe I need to tackle an obstacle and get through it. Maybe I need to ask for help. Maybe I need a nap.

When I stopped therapy last year, I gave myself permission to treat myself to a massage once a month. This permission is hard for me. Massages feel self-indulgent. But the truth is that I am healthier and more content. The funny thing about these once-a-month massages is that they make me realize how tense I am. On the weekends when I get a massage, I find I am more likely to cut out activities and more likely to take a nap. Rest breeds the need for more rest.

Of course, there is still that voice, that habitual voice, that whispers: “You’re going to get fat. You’re going to get out of shape. You’re going to fall behind on achieving your goals. You Are Lazy. You Are Bad.” But there is a new voice that says, Be Quiet! This is me. I feel better when I rest, restore, sleep. And when I feel better, I am more compassionate to myself, more open to others, more creative, more energetic, more able to live authentically. More myself.

The science of sleep and deep rest (Restorative Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, Massage) is fascinating. The benefits of sleep are many. Sleep strengthens the immune system, allowing us to heal from pain and wounds. Sleep prevents us from over-eating, helping us to maintain a healthy weight. Sleep eliminates the stress hormones from our body-mind and clears negative emotions, supporting us to be happier and better friends/parents/lovers. Sleep is central to our cognitive well-being, assisting us to process new knowledge and store memories properly. Sleep is crucial for children and teens – growth hormones are more active in certain cycles of sleep. Insufficient sleep is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and possibly Alzheimer’s.  That’s just the short list.

And of course there are all those magical dreams. Those dreams that only occur if you sleep enough to have REM sleep. I’ve started pausing between sleep and waking. Hanging on to my dreams. What was my dream? What does it mean? What can I learn from my dream?

Life is too short to spend it being tired. Go to sleep. Dream. Healing dreams.

Image:  Statue of Sleeping Ariadne

Forgetting to Breathe

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The Aftermath

The dreams have begun. Mainly anxiety nightmares. Like the one where the memorial service is happening for my mother and I am not ready. Confused at the presence of many people I don’t know and frantic that I haven’t written the eulogy I want to write. (I wish I had shared my blog with her.) Like the one where my new plants that seem so beautiful and alive are actually infested with microscopic bugs.  (Ugliness lurks, even when the outward appearance seems to thrive.)  Like the one where I am navigating an avalanche, struggling upstream on an iceberg. If I fail, I die. (No interpretation required.)

And then there was the one Friday night where I am sitting on a bench between my old father of my now and my vibrant mother of my youth. She is wearing one of her fantastic colorful handknit dresses and has black hair without a speck of gray. She is speaking to me, but no sound is coming from her voice. I urgently tug at my father, “Dad! Look! Mom’s alive! She’s speaking!” I am the bridge between the past and the now, between the physical and the spiritual, between my mother and my father.

It doesn’t help that it’s the holidays. The busiest time of year. Not the most joyful time of year. Bah humbug. I had promised to enjoy the holidays. That was before my mother died. Sigh. The finality of death seems, well, final. How can I possibly enjoy the holidays now?

How can I not? There is so much to live for! So I talk to myself. Fight with myself. Pretty much every waking minute is a negotiation with myself that goes something like this:

Oh my god, I have so much to do! It’s never going to get all done.

Remember, Sally, every year it gets done.

But this year is different. I’m too tired and sad.

Breathe and do what you can.

Ack! My father is coming for Christmas. Now, I’ve got to deal with my father. Is this some joke that God is playing on me?

Well, as Elizabeth Gilbert has said, our most challenging family members are the most powerful spiritual teachers of our life.

What am I going to get him for Christmas?  What am I going to get everyone for Christmas? What do I want for Christmas?

Nothing! I hate Christmas!

My kids love Christmas. Pull it together. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Smile. Breathe. Go to yoga.

I don’t want to go to yoga. I’m too tired to breathe. I’m too busy to breathe.

Why do we resist doing what feels good for our souls?

Oh my god, I have so much to do! I want to go back to bed.

Breathe. Be kind to yourself. Do what you can.

Remember, Sally, you can choose to not be anxious and depressed. It’s not your go-to place any more. Choose life. Choose joy.

The finality of death can seem final, but life goes on. Clearly, not the same life as before. The new normal is one where my mother is no longer “declining,” but gone. The new normal is one where my father is alone and cognitively not sharp. I am his only child and feel love and sadness for what he is experiencing and anxiety about what the future holds and, frankly, some dismay and anger and selfishness. (Those evil bugs infesting my beautiful growth.) What if I don’t want to take care of him? The new normal is one where my children are growing up and leaving home. What is next for me, for my family, for this next phase of my life? The new normal is one where my mother lives in me and my dreams. Death is not final. Death changes life.

When I am sleepless from a nightmare, in the grip of anxiety, I tell myself not to shut down and close myself off. I can tackle the avalanche coming my way.

Remember to breathe.

I Spoke to My Mom Today

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And My Mom Spoke to Me

This should not be remarkable, but it is.  After multiple surgeries to remove a recurring benign growth in her throat, she has gradually lost her voice over the last 30 years.  I believe that one’s sense of self is connected to one’s ability to tell your story.  Because she has lost the ability to speak, her self, her stories, and her memories have also gradually faded over the last 30 years.  When I visit her in person, there is a window of time during the visit when she galvanizes her mom persona and I connect with her.  But I don’t visit very often – fraught with old patterns – so most of our interaction is via telephone.  It is difficult to have an in-depth conversation with her in person and even more so on the phone, without eye contact and body language.  She hoarsely whispers and frequently doesn’t finish her sentences.  Our conversations usually consist of me glibly describing my activities and my kids’ activities, a little small talk about the weather and whether she can get outside for a walk, and an attempt to engage with her over whatever book she is reading.  Usually she is reading a book I gave her, because books are where we have always connected and reading together has always been a favorite shared activity.  I am never sure whether she is just going through the motions of reading or whether she is really taking in what she is reading.  She can’t find the words to describe the book to me, other than to tell me that she is enjoying it.

Last week, when we spoke and we completed our routine weekly conversation, she said, lucidly, “I am glad you are doing okay.”  She said it in a way that knocked the breath out of me.  I hadn’t told her anything deep.  She doesn’t know about my writing.  She doesn’t know about my therapy.  She doesn’t know about my midlife search for spirituality.  And yet, she knows?  I shivered.  And wondered if those were her last words to me.  A gentle maternal benediction.  After 51 years, I am doing okay and she can tell.  Perhaps there is more going on inside her than I realize.  Is that what she needs before she dies?  To know that her only child is okay?  I shivered.  That week I dreamt.

Healing

There is a dying withered being, like a malnourished starving child.  My mother?  My self?  My inner child?  It is almost as if she has no skin.  Her eyes are slits.  Oozing.  Tears?  Toxins?  My teacher is there.  She says: Touch her. Use Reiki. But don’t touch her tears, it could make you sick or kill you.  She leaves.  I am alone with this dying creature.  I can’t do this!  I don’t have Reiki power!  I am not a healer!  I am sure she is going to die. I place my hands on her.  She looks at me through those oozing slits. She has no voice and cannot speak. I muster all my compassion and healing energy to comfort her. It is not clear to me that she will survive. I wonder if she will die and feel honored to be the one with her if she passes on to wherever one goes when they die.

This week when we spoke, she was again lucid.  Her voice had some strength and she completed her sentences.  She could tell me what her book was about and that she hadn’t tackled The Goldfinch yet but it was next on her list.  (Same here.)  I told her about my amazing day with my daughter, playing hooky for her 18th birthday.  And then the conversation took a turn:

Mom:  “This is a big year for you.”

Me:  “Yes.  I am trying to spend as much time with my daughter as I can before she leaves for college.  I am going to miss her.”

Mom:  “More than you know.”

Me:  “Mom, did you miss me?”

Mom:  “Oh yes.  So much.”

Quiet pause.  Because neither one of us knows how to take this conversation to the next step.

Mom:  “I am thinking about living to 100.  It’s only 8 more years!”

Me:  Joyful laughter.

Me:  “Mom, is there anything you want to do before you die?”

Mom:  “No.”

Me:  “Just be?”

Mom:  “Just be.”

Quiet pause.  Because neither one us knows how to take this conversation to the next step.

Me:  “Bye Mom, I love you.”

Mom:  “I love you too.”

I wonder what we will talk about next week?

Image:  Visuddha, The Throat Chakra

Hide-and-Seek

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I am at my childhood home, playing Hide-and-Seek with a little girl.  Myself as a child?  The little girl and I go to hide while another little girl (also young sally?) counts to 60.  Or is it 50…my age?  Yes, there are two little girls.  They are both me as a child.  One is hiding and one is seeking.  Hiding girl waves to me and urges me to hide with her.  She slips seamlessly into some bushes.  Small, young, lithe, flexible – poof!  Young sally is gone.  I study the bushes.  There is no place for me in there.  I cannot hide.  I don’t want to disappoint this sweet and innocent girl so eager to play with me, so eager for a friend.  I crouch into a nook beside the house and behind the bush where hiding girl is obscured.  I know I will be found – ending the game…ruining the game.  Seeking girl’s counting is coming to an end.  “48! 49! 50!  Ready or not!  Here I come!”  I hold my breath.  Here she comes.  Humming around the corner of the house, she spies me immediately.  Yelping, “I see you!”  Exposed.  Found out.  Game over.

I am “it” – my turn to be the seeker.  I walk to the side of the house, unsure of the spot where I should count or to what number I should count.  100?  I find a spot (not sure it is the right spot), cover my eyes, and begin counting out loud.  “1!  2!  3!”  I hear everyone sneaking behind me to find their hiding place.  I raise my voice.  “98!  99!  100!  Ready or not!  Here I come!”

The sneaking footsteps were heading down the hill to the backyard.  I begin my search in that direction.

I walk toward the backyard where the swing set used to be, like the swing set my children have outgrown and that we are now passing on to a younger family.  The childhood swing set was where I bit Mary-Ellen because I was so angry and didn’t know how to deal with my frustration.  I don’t remember what I was angry about but I felt so provoked that all I could do was lash out with my teeth.  My father was furious with me.  I remember no effort on his part to discover why I was angry; to support my side of the argument; or to teach me a more constructive way to be angry.  In shame, embarrassment, and with complete humiliation, I had to face her scary and formidable father and go to her to apologize.  My father made me do it after dinner.  You can’t disrupt the dinner routine.  It was the end of my friendship with Mary-Ellen, because I didn’t know how you could be angry and still love someone.

Heading to the backyard in my dream, the swing set is gone.  In its place are cats.  Not small cats.  Big cats.  Cougars.  Pumas.  Panthers.  Sexy older women?  Cougars everywhere.  Baby Cougars.  Adult Cougars.  Slinking, Stalking, Hunting.  Frightened for my life, I become desperate to find my husband.  Where was he hiding?  I had to find him and save him.  He wasn’t in the backyard.  I run to the front yard.  More cougars.  A voice was speaking to me in my head.  “They may seem to not notice you, but they are aware of you and very dangerous to you.  BEWARE!”  I could not find my husband.  The little girls were gone also.  Just me, grown up Sally, exposed.  Heart beating with fear at the danger.

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