Happy Sankta Lucia Day

Yes, I know that all of you American and English readers are busy eating your Lucia buns and drinking the coffee that your eldest daughter brought to you at the crack of dawn and all that.  Sorry to bug you.  I just wanted to wish all a happy Sankta Lucia Day.

In case you don’t know (though I’m sure EVERYONE does), Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated in Sweden and Italy.  Yeh, that’s weird, huh?  Lucia was an Italian saint, a martyr who brought food to the Christians hiding from the Romans in the catacombs.  She is famous for wearing a crown of candles to light her way in the subterranean caverns (her hands were busy holding big baskets of food, get it?)  Of course, she was murdered, but not until after all the requisite miracles.  Etcetera.

So the Italians celebrate her feast day (Dec. 13), but why the Swedes?  Well, one thousand years ago King Canute was experiencing a bit of Seasonal Affect Disorder and feeling glum because, well, Sweden is relatively cold and dark this time of year.  Then he heard about Saint Lucy and said, “Ah, ha!  This is the saint for us!!” So he proclaimed that Sweden would observe her feast day, too.

The Swedes today celebrate with Lucia buns and coffee in the early morning.  Girls wear electric lighted crowns and bring their parents the food.  Boys wear funny pointed hats and are called “Star Boys.”  There’s lots more to it and all, but that’s the basics.  Oh, and there’s a song, of course, as well!

Anyway, happy Sankta Lucia Day to one and all!

Ice Storm

We awoke this morning to the news that today my kid’s school was canceled due to an historic ice storm in New England…and then I called my university and found it was also closed for the day, thus leaving the semester forever unfinished.  No leave taking means no closure.  The last day of class is a very bad day to have a weather cancellation.

Ah, well, the students, no doubt, are rejoicing that they have extra time to complete their final portfolio essays, and I suppose it will not kill me to be unable to grade papers this weekend!

So my kid and I were home today.  Hubster had to go to work, governor declared state of emergency or not, his office was open!  Anyway, kid and mom have been housecleaning and ventured out to go to the grocery store, as we are a bit low on food.  So we went to our favorite local store where they sell a lot of organic foods.

When we arrived, we found that their power was out, and they were cleaning the fish and meat sections and tossing out a bunch of perishable food.  There were only a few lights on in the large store — eerie and more than a little weird to be let inside.  But they were selling food to those who made it to their store.  We got what we needed, including the last carton of buttermilk in all of Massachusetts, no doubt.  Thank goodness — since my quick bread recipe that I wanted to try out this afternoon calls for 3/4 cups of buttermilk.  Eeghads, what would I do without that ingredient?!

As we walked to the checkout counter through the frozen food aisle, I stopped to take this photo with my phone camera.  They had saran wrapped the doors all shut so nobody can buy the food from the freezers.  Think of the enormity of the waste and financial loss.  Yikes.

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In the parking lot, I started chatting with an elderly gentleman who works at the store as a bagger.  He was on his way home.  He first asked me if my power was out at home (so nice!)  Then he went on to explain that by law the store has to throw out perishable food if the refrigeration or freezer is shut off for three hours or more.  The store will lose tens of thousands of dollars, and it will take quite a while to restock. In fact, the Governor says none of the power in the whole state  is likely to be back on until at the earliest MONDAY.

What a terrible waste, I thought.  I mean, of course, there is the safety issue and all.  But if only someone from the store had decided at 2 hours and 45 minutes into the power outage that they should donate all the perishables to the local food pantry (which still DOES have power and does not have enough food)….  Alas, instead everything is being dumped into the county incinerator.

It was quite an eye-opener for my son.  He usually relishes storms, especially when they mean no school, but I think he is beginning to understand how interconnected everything is.  His school friend’s power is out and their sump pump is not working, so their basement is flooding.  Lows in the teens tonight will mean a chilly evening for that family.  I’ve called to offer them a place to stay with us, but I can’t reach them. Friends from church just sent out a plea on the church listserv asking to borrow anyone’s generator to run their sump pump because their basement, too, is under water.

As the sun begins to hang lower and lower in the sky, I can feel the temperature dropping.  We enjoyed about an hour of sunshine this afternoon, during which time the tres and bushes tried to shed as much of their ice encasements as possible.  The outdoors were blindingly bright, shimmering with falling ice, glittering in the sun. Now everything has turned gloomy again. High winds and low temps are expected tonight.  I can only hope enough ice melted earlier to keep us from joining the one million households in the northeast currently without power.

Church Year Begins with … Bagpipes?

Our church does not hold regular services during the summer.  It’s not that we completely shut down — there are still some informal services held in the air-conditioned common room, but the regular ones in the sanctuary stop for three months.  Then we start up again, the Sunday after Labor Day weekend.  And, weather permitting, we hold that service outside on the green.  Our minister says the same thing every year: “I’m not ready to be back inside yet!”

Well, this year, we had an excellent reason to be outside for the first formal service of the church year.  Bagpipes.  Yup a corps of nine bagpipe guys played for us.  Turns out this group was first formed in 1964 when the then minister of our church (can’t recall his name) asked the “men of the church to form a band.”  They thought about a banjo band at first but could not find anyone to teach them to play that instrument.  So they turned to bagpipes!

Over the years the group lost all association with our church, and now not a single person in the ensemble is a member.  The award-winning group lives on, though, and last week we had the pleasure of listening to them play…outdoors…on the lawn.  It was a windy day, in fact, the day after the remnants of hurricane Hanna passed through New England. I honestly didn’t think we’d be outside that morning, but when I saw the bagpipers, I understood the particular need.  Bagpipes are pretty loud.  Cool.  But loud.  Really strange instruments, I think.

Here’s an odd tidbit.  I always find myself humming the drone note when I listen to bagpipe music–you know, the note that stays the same throughout the whole song.  Why is that?  How weird of me!  But I do it every time.  It’s like I get dragged into the song, riding along on that plodding underlying tone.

Anyway, when the band played “Amazing Grace,”  we stood and listened in honor of our fellow UU’s in Knoxville, Tennessee, who were killed and injured by the lone gunman who entered their church and began shooting during a children’s performance this summer. The music was incredibly moving. All the more poignant as we could look off to the sides of the town green where our church is located and see our children running and playing during the service, climbing a lovely ancient mulberry tree–their perennial favorite.

Many of us brought water from our summer travels and dropped some into a common bowl.  We will use this (later sterilized, of course) for child dedications throughout the year.  I brought water back from Sweden and Norway especially for this purpose and was happy to add my drops to the pool.  And I was happy to be back in my beloved community.  It is good to be together.  I am ready to go back inside.

Dear Grandma…

Dear Grandma,

I miss you.  Lately these flashes of memories keep intruding on my day.

Your laugh.  You looked so regal, so classy.  But your laugh was down home, real folk, spilling out of you whenever the smallest opportunity for mirth arose.  How much we laughed, working on your book, our book.  Every Sunday night when I called you on the phone, we inevitably found our way into a laughing fit.  Such simple things, too. Silly, really.  But you and I, fifty years apart, found so much to chuckle over.  No cynicism in you.  Honest and kind good humor.

I miss you.

Your reassurance.  When I sometimes had not had a chance to work on the book that week and we spoke on Sunday, I knew you were disappointed, but you always said such kind words. You knew I had other responsibilities. You never pressured.  You had faith in me to carry on after you were gone.  And I feel so bad that sabbatical is over and the book is still not finished.  I’m sorry, Grandma.  I’m still working on it. I thought I’d get farther.  Of course, I traveled a lot to research the book settings and stories.  And that was a jolly good thing I did since I found so much usable information that the book is being transformed into a much fuller account.  You’d hardly recognize chapter one anymore, Grandma.  Did you know that Grandpa Skaug’s mom was illegitimate?  Did you know your Dad’s relatives were soldiers back in Sweden?  Did you ever hear about the shipwreck at Kløkstad, Norway?  Did you know our famiiy church was built in 1240 and is still standing?  Did you know that the sea off the coast of Bodø can be as still as a pond and turn savage within minutes? Did you know in Sweden they had a big stick in church to poke people with when they fell asleep during the sermon?  No, you never knew these things.

I miss you. Lately all I want, suddenly, is write your story.

But timing is everything.  I know you’d say now that I ought not to be too hard on myself.  That I have to work and take care of my family.  You’d never begrudge me that.  I was thinking only the other day about the story you told me of when my mother was a baby and Grandpa wanted to go to a movie (always go go going, that Grandpa).  So you swooped up the baby in a blanket and got your coat.  In the theater, you wondered what was poking you, only to find the coat hanger still inside the coat you were wearing.  I understand such exhaustion. I know it’s okay with you that this project is taking a while longer than anticipated.  After all, we moved at a snail’s pace, and I asked you if you wanted me to speed up.  You said, “Do it right!  It’s more important for it to be good and to be read than for me to see it finished.” So you died without seeing it.  And here I am pluggin along over two years later. Still.  I’m sorry, Grandma.

I miss you.

Trondheim, Bergen, and the Open Sea

Sorry that I’ve been off-line for a while, folks.  Odd that it’s been harder to get internet in Scandinavia than in Peru….  Anyway, here’s a recap on the last part of the Scandinavian portion of my trip.  Tomorrow I’ll post on the UK part.

TRONDHEIM:  Discovered a few key things of use there for my book.

(1) Lovely woman at the folk museum called her father on her cell phone to ask him about Trondheim in 1879, the year my Norwegian relatives left.  Her dad is a historian.  Found out the railroad had come there in the early 1870s but had not gone north to Bodø yet.  So my ancestors’ week in Trondheim would probably be the first time they had seen a train. Also, the city was just starting to industrialize then, with a few machine shops popping up.  They made iron stoves, among other things.

(2)  Lovely tour guides at the cathedral helped me put the pieces together that the ancestors would have been there during the time when they had just started restoring the ruined nave of the church.  I saw drawings of what it looked like then — much diminished from the grandeur of today.  That visit to the cathedral, the holiest sanctuary of Norway, made me start thinking about what my relatives would have done in Trondheim while waiting for that boat…. Ah, pray and attend church, I think.  They were very religious.  The tourguide ladies sent us to another old church that they thought my relatives also might have visited.  Yup.  Looked like their church in Bodø but only bigger and a little more ornate.

(3) Also discovered that they would have stayed at a boarding house down on the canals.  Interesting because there are also canals in Göteborg, where my Swedish relatives started their journey to America.  Canals, I know.  My own town is full of them.  Anyway, got a good view of that area.  Short stay in Trondheim, less than twenty-fours hours.  But fruitful research.

We also visited a decorative arts museum and an old fort that had been taken over when the Germans occupied the city in WWII.  I’ll write more about WWII stuff in a post after I return home.  It was very interesting how this kept cropping up….

BERGEN:  Flew to Bergen as the train would have to go all the way to Oslo and then Bergen. A short, uneventful flight.  I did not expect to discover anything of note in this city.  It was merely a stopping point, or more accurately, an embarkation point for our sea journey.  But, as has happened repeatedly on this trip, I gained in understanding.  Perhaps the most interesting thing was just to see this part of the coast and to realize that the immigrants hugged the coastline all the way south before crossing the North Sea.  Bergen was a major port at that time.  While their ship did not stop there, they were traveling in waters frequented by many ships.

By the way, it rained in Bergen.  Anyone at all familiar with the place will not be surprised.  It is like saying, “It was Bergen in Bergen.”  Charming city but we mucked about with our heavy backpacks in the rain for far too long to say we enjoyed Bergen fully.  Had a terrific meal at an Italian restaurant set off the tourist road one block.  Not a soul in there when we first arrived, but we were starving.  We sat down and had dinner while listening to loud Michael Jackson music. Waiter chose the music: “I LOVE Michael Jackson! He’s a great singer!!”  Surreal.

BOAT:  Boarded the Queen of Scandinavia the next morning at 8 a.m. and found our cabin.  La dee dah!  When I booked, I decided to go for the room with a window because I was worried about being sea sick.  Didn’t realize that Commodore Cabin essentially means first class.  Oh, my, aren’t we special?!  It was a lovely room (for a boat, that is) and I learned to thank my lucky stars for that window once we hit the open sea.  Before that, however, I made an appointment to interview one of the crew about travel from Scandinavia to England.  Kim from Denmark was super helpful (except for his comments that seasickness is purely psychological and HE never gets sick). What I learned from him that is useful:

(1) There is a very dangerous and rough patch of sea between the north coast of Denmark and south coast of Norway.  Our Swedes must have had a rough time traveling through there on their way to England, about a day out of the port of Göteborg.  Also, they sailed at the worst time, in October, after the start of storm season.  This explains why great-great grandma Lotta was so very seasick.  I knew that from my grandma’s story, but I didn’t know they had very good reason to be ill.

(2) Norwegian steamers would have followed the coastline even if they did not go into port.  One can totally see this after traveling by boat there.  A huge difference between the sheltered coastline with its many islands and deep and easily navigated fjords and the open North Sea where the wind sweeps down from the north and huge waves can make sea travel treacherous.

(3) The coast of England just appears out of nowhere, and it is relatively flat with a few hills with churches or ruined castles and a few lighthouses dotting the coast.  A strange contrast to the rugged fjords of the north.

When we hit the North Sea it was almost supper time.  Ugh. Within an hour I decided to take the little motion sickness tablet they give out free at the information center.  I went to bed and let it take effect. My friend had no problem with seasickness at all — thank goodness!  When I awoke from my nap, I felt better.  Decided to go to dinner as planned.  Ah, but I hadn’t counted on how the sight of odd sea-related food sitting out in a buffet would make me feel, plus the difficulty of getting to the buffet and back my seat with a loaded plate.  Oh, and the woman at the table right next to us who vomited on the table, poor dear. I ate a digestive bisquit and a few bites of lovely salmon, with my head turned to look out the window at the horizon.  Finally started feeling clamy and made a run for our lovely cabin where I applied a skin patch for seasickness and went to bed for good.  Awoke in the morning feeling much better.  I kept my equanimity overall.  Bed is sometimes best.  Even ate breakfast that morning.  But was heartily glad to get off the boat soon after that.

Good thing that I took that trip, too.  I discovered soon after boarding that the route is being discontinued in September.  This was my only chance to trace the ancestors.  Whew!  What a lucky duck I am!!

And now to bed. I shall write about the UK tomorrow (more interesting stuff)…unless I can’t get the internet connection to work again.  Took an hour this time before I managed to make it work, and I’m not sure how I did it.  Ah, well, homeward bound soon.  Missing the family. Will be good to be home.

Goodbye to Landegode, Goodbye to Norway

Our last day in the far north of Norway, my cousin arranged for us to take a boat ride out to the island of Landegode. From every village on the coast for miles, this is THE major landmark, and even more importantly for fishermen trying to head back to shore, Landegode has been a crucial navigational aid. It is also a place almost deserted these days, with few people living there. But my traveling companion and myself were amazed to discover that many people in town have never been there.

The island is very important to me and my Norwegian cousin because that is the place where our mutual ancestor lived. It was an incredible ride out to this island that rises straight out of the sea in jagged spikes. We stopped a little ways from Landegode to throw a line off the side of the boat, no bait, just a flashing lure and some empty hooks. After a few minutes of my tugging on the line up and down to fool the fish, we reeled in two lovely pollock, which we ate for lunch upon our return.

The water is crystal clear, and we enjoyed an unusually calm ride out to sea. By the time we turned toward shore again, however, a cold wind picked up and the clouds moved in to obscure the peaks of Landegode. The island’s name translates into good-land. Yes, what land exists on the shore in tiny patches is good, I suppose. But more so, it is a land to inspire awe. My cousin says that when he goes fishing on a beautiful day like it was when we started, he doesn’t care if he does not catch a thing. It is enough just to view the rugged land and calm, blue sea.

The elderly relative we visited twice during my trip, Kristianna, told us: “…beloved Landegode, most beautiful thing I know.” She lived with the sight of that good land for seventy years before moving to a nursing home. Above her head on the wall hung a painting of Landegode in winter.

And so we have left the far north now, and today visited Trondheim. Tomorrow we fly to Bergen, moving south in great leaps. The next day we board a ship to take us over the North Sea to England. We are tracing the immigrants as best we can.

No internet, I expect until we arrive in the UK in a few days. Meanwhile, I leave you with my hope that all is well and you are living in a good land, a land that you call beloved.

“Mom, they listened to me!”: Writing Makes a Difference

Today, my son received a letter from IHOP responding to his first summer writing assignment, a business letter complaining about their use of Styrofoam cups. You may recall that he was upset when they served him his juice in one of those atrocious cups, so I suggested he try to do something about it by writing to the company. He did NOT receive an automated form letter but instead a letter clearly written specifically to him to address his particular concerns. The writer had investigated the issue and came up with a response. My son’s reaction was elation. Seriously. He was so excited, he just kept jumping around. “Mom, they listened to me! They ACTUALLY listened.”

Yup. Writing can make a difference.

Their answer, by the way, was that sometimes Styrofoam is used if all the plastic cups are being washed or used at the time. They don’t want you to have to wait for your drink. That said, my son’s concerns were being forwarded to the appropriate department and he was assured that IHOP cares about the environment. He took all of this to mean that they will change their policy. I think the writer left IHOP a tad more wiggle room than that, but who’s to say that his letter might not just push IHOP over the edge to ban Strofoam altogether. Let’s think positively.

Hey, come to think of it, if any of you are IHOP customers, too, maybe you can drop them a line and encourage them to stop using Styrofoam (since that substance can’t be recycled and becomes pure garbage.) Certainly if they hear from enough folks, then they really will change their policy. Here’s where to go on their site to contact them. Now wouldn’t that be lovely if they really did make a change? Writing can make a difference.

I heard recently that for us to cut back our CO2 emissions to the needed 80% reduction by 2050 (or something like that) that we really only need to keep cutting back emissions 3% each year. That is SO do-able. Less garbage to burn = less CO2 released. If IHOP stops using Styrofoam, that helps us get there. If we all switch to CF light bulbs, we go down by even more than 3% (and save a lot on energy costs, too). If we stop idling the car in the parking lot while waiting for the kid to finish school, or soccer, or dance class, or whatever…well, we reduce our emissions as well. Addressing climate change is not as overwhelmingly difficult as one might think.

Just 3% a year. Can we make a difference? Yes. My son thinks so.

Mother’s Day Weekend: Ferry Beach, Maine

Just got back yesterday afternoon from our annual all-church retreat to Ferry Beach, on the southern coast of Maine. About 250 people usually come from our Unitarian Universalist church to this yearly weekend away. It’s always held on Mother’s Day weekend, and pretty much every year my husband stays home and let’s us have our special weekend (besides, it’s chaos there, and though my son and I like a little chaos every once in a while, it’s not the hubster’s cup ‘o tea.) Anyway, as always an awesome time! And as always, I’m exhausted. 🙂

About my lovely weekend…

It takes a village. The most notable thing about this annual weekend is how we work cooperatively to take care of one another. We cook together (everyone signs up for one chore during the weekend) and eat together, sleep in dorms, hang out on the beach (if it’s not raining!!) or in the common areas, and care for the children in small groups or what have you. The weekend is relaxed and slow-paced, with a variety of activities, planned and spontaneous. The retreat center where we always go is lovely though fairly basic. I like that it is not a luxury hotel or some such nonsense. I like it’s age and homey-feel.

To give you a taste, here is a picture of a sign out front. Cute!

No nonsense here! Just good old-fashioned fun. “If the rock is wet, it’s raining.” Yup. And the rock stayed dry all three days! Having no rain all weekend was a special treat — that’s a rarity this time of year. More times than not it rains at least half of the weekend. One year, we all stood on the deep, covered, wrap-around porch and watched a huge lightning storm rage for an hour. That year the majority of the dunes were destroyed, and I returned home to a city flooded at 100-year stage levels. Yikes! But this year, no rain. Cool but sunny about half the weekend and quite bearable cloudiness the rest of the time.

…which meant that my son and I were able to spend a lot of time on the beach. He dug a huge pit with his pals. Of course. What else would a ten-year-old enjoy half as much?

That was pretty much most of Saturday. Then on Sunday we took a walk on the beach down to the breakwater (HUGE granite boulders piled in a line a mile out to sea). Last year we discovered a quiet cove right on the other side of those rocks, so we returned this year to check it out again. Along the way, we searched for flat rocks to skip into the water. Here’s my son proudly holding up his latest find:

Amazingly, before going to bed last night, I managed to do most of the laundry and get us unpacked — as well as get my son packed and ready for his week at nature camp! Happy Mother’s Day to me, boo hoo. 😦 No, I’m just joking! I got what I wanted for Mother’s Day — a lovely time with my son on the beach in the morning and squeaky CLEAN front windows, when I returned home, washed by my hubbie!! Yipee — life is grand!

A-Mazing Trip to Museum of Science

Last week was my son’s school vacation, and like many families in Massachusetts, we scrambled to find cheap and enjoyable things to do.  Playdates were very high on our list, and we managed to squeeze in three, including a sleepover.  My son has been bugging me for months to go to the Museum of Science in Boston, and since our membership is about to expire (tomorrow!) and we still had not used our free IMAX theater passes from this year (or last year), I figured a visit to the museum was a must for vacation week.

We watched two films at the IMAX: one on Mummies of Ancient Eqypt and another on the Colorado River and Grand Canyon.  Both were very well done.  The Grand Canyon one, though, actually brought tears to my eyes.  The message of the critical state of our planet’s fresh water supply and the damaged world we are leaving to our children was so poignant.  Though, not at all overdone, I thought — you know how sometimes it’s all doom and gloom?  This was more subtle, plus hopeful at the end.

We also saw a planetarium show about the questions that scientists can’t answer and how the latest discoveries have only added more questions to the list:  are there other living organisms in the universe, what is dark matter, etc.  Fascinating and hard to wrap the ole head around!

After that presentation, my son was ready for some hands-on activities, so we headed to the children’s discovery area.  It’s clearly deigned for younger children, but he didn’t care.  We had been sitting outside that exhibit earlier eating our lunch, and he had spied an angled blower that was holding up a beach ball.  As soon as we were free of the shows, he made a bee-line there to investigate.  From that, he moved to the magnet maze wall shown here:

Each piece of pipe has a magnet bolted to its back, so the pieces can be arranged on the big metal wall however one chooses.  Kids can create mazes that balls fall through, ending up (ideally) in a bin below.  This activity was good for over twenty minutes.  After a while, I jumped in as well ’cause it was fun!

We meandered around to other exhibits and ended the visit with a lightning show in the weather exhibit.  LOUD!  When our son was younger, he hated loud noises.  We tried to attend this show back then, but he had to be led out after the first bolt.  He’s certainly grown up since then.  “No problem, Mom,” he answered when I asked if he were sure that he wanted to attend this show. He tossed me a look like, duh, I’m not a baby!

As we drove home in the dark (we had been at the museum for almost eight hours!), we talked about the mysteries of the universe. Maybe you’ll grow up to be one of the scientists who solves these mysteries…

From the back seat came the sound of his small, quiet voice, “Yeh.  I might just do that.”

Summer Preview: Kids and the Fine Art of Having Fun

Yesterday my son went to a friend’s house for a playdate while I went to work and attended a department meeting. Spring has finally arrived in New England, and it was over 80 degrees. YEEHAW!

Soon after we arrived, the kids were already soaked by the sprinkler, running gleefully through the shooting water, cackling loudly and squealing as the cold water pummeled their legs. Ah, summer! Yes, I know, I’m getting ahead of myself. The trees are blooming but not leafed out yet. Flowers have magically appeared all over the place but there are still bare branches. It’s only April, for goodness sake. Not August.

But it was a lovely summery day yesterday, and the children knew exactly how to spend it. Spend. That’s an interesting idiom, isn’t it? We SPEND our days. And what does spend mean?

The Oxford English Dictionary provides these relevant definitions (among others):

  • To pay out or away; to disburse or expend; to dispose of, or deprive oneself of, in this way
  • To employ, occupy, use or pass (time, one’s life, etc.) in or on some action, occupation, or state.
  • To use up; to exhaust or consume by use; to wear out.
  • To suffer the loss of (blood, life, etc.); to allow to be shed or spilt.
  • To waste (time).
  • To allow (time, one’s life, etc.) to pass or go by; to live or stay through (a certain period) to the end.

Some might say running back and forth all day over the same ground, getting soaked by cold water, is a “waste of time.” But because they are children, somehow this is acceptable, even desirable. Why can’t adults do this without censure? Perhaps the world would be a better place if every once in a while we actually lived in the moment and just “allowed time to pass” without a constant attention to efficiency and work and lord knows what else.

I hear that in Scandinavia, they have learned the fine art of relaxation and that they think Americans are nuts because we are such workaholics. Perhaps they have a point. Perhaps our children know the best way. Or at least they know how to seize the day and “use up” every last minute in fun and exploration and healthy exercise and companionship. Perhaps they spend their day in the best way possible.