craving rituals: the kid inside all of us (cathy meredith).

Oh friends, it is Tuesday and y’all need to get ready for a story.  You may remember my friend Cathy from last year, when she let us into that voicemail that saved her life.  And I’m telling you, she does it again. She’s family – distantly, somehow, I don’t always remember how – and she’s a friend; were she to live closer I have no doubt that we’d begin a weekly ritual of eating together.  So, do yourself a favor and enter in to a story that is all her own.  Enjoy. 

Photo cred: Emilien Etienne.
Photo cred: Emilien Etienne.

Growing up, I did not have a lot that was consistent regarding family rituals. My family moved around…a lot. I was born in Newport, Rhode Island. Shortly after that, my family moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia. A few years later, we moved to San Francisco, California. Then we moved to the Chicago area. First, we lived in Oak Park, Illinois (suburb of Chicago)…then Elmhurst, Illinois (another suburb of Chicago), then BACK to Oak Park, Illinois. By the time I was seven years old, we had moved five times and lived in five different cities/towns (one of them twice!). 

At the end of our second round of living in Oak Park in 1979, my parents broke the news to me that we were going to move again…this time to Portland, Oregon. My stomach began to tie up in knots as they showed me pictures of the majestic pine trees and sandy dunes of the Oregon coastline. They tried to show me how wonderful it would be, but I dreaded moving again. I was finally making friends. So I went through one of the few rituals I had come to know…saying goodbye. I told my friends that I wouldn’t be coming back to St. Edmund next year, because we were moving to Oregon. My teacher, Ms. Carroll, even let me make a tearful announcement to the class that I would be moving. And then…. we didn’t. We did not move. I was breathing a sigh of relief, when suddenly the other shoe dropped.

My rickety world as I knew it fell apart. My father suddenly moved out of our small condo (and unbeknownst to me, in with his lover, David) and my parents began an unnaturally long “separation” (that would end up lasting seven long years until their ultimate divorce) while my father explored his sexuality and my mother took on the job of raising me on her own. Any rituals we may have built as a family at that point quickly disintegrated, as my mother had single-parenthood foisted upon her unexpectedly.

Why did Daddy move out? Don’t you love each other? Doesn’t Daddy love me? If he loves us, why would he leave? These were the questions I asked my mother with a tear-streaked face, day after day. They seemed like very simple questions to me…but she could not answer them…probably because she couldn’t answer them for herself.   I did not understand this new reality. I thought moving around was bad, but now I had lost my family. My dad was gone. I only saw him occasionally when it suited his schedule. I distinctly remember a friend coming over that summer to play, and we had a tea party on the lawn with our dolls. It was a Saturday, and my dad was not there. She asked, “Doesn’t your daddy live with you?”. I hastily made up a lie, saying that my dad worked on Saturdays and that was why he wasn’t around. The truth was, he hadn’t been living with us for months. But I was broken hearted about it. I was ashamed. I wanted to be like everyone else…I wanted a mom and a dad that were together

The reality of my situation was painfully highlighted by the fact that at the time, Oak Park was the kind of place where large Catholic families raised their kids. I was at a parish school, St. Edmund, where it was commonplace to be from a family of eight or nine kids. One family I knew, The Dransoffs, whose mother actually babysat me and other kids from St. Ed’s after school, was 12 kids large. And I was an only child in this sea of big families. I was an oddball, and I felt it. I watched these large families go through their daily rituals of mealtimes, play and chores with a mix of admiration, envy and fascination.   My friends complained that they had to be home at 6 PM for family dinner, or that they had to watch their little brother, or that they always had to go to church with their family on Sunday. I said nothing as they told me I was “lucky to be an only child” and that I should be so glad my mom didn’t “make me do stuff”. Silently I would think, “You have no idea. You are so lucky. I wish I was you.” I was the “adopted” kid in a lot of these large families. While my mom was working late or working weekends, I would hang around their big Victorian worn-at-the-seams houses like a groupie, watching them fight and play and laugh. This is family, I thought. Even during the times my friends complained about it, it seemed amazing to me.

I carefully observed these rituals in these large families like a little scientist. My life at home did not have many of these traditional family rituals, and I craved them like a glass of water on a hot summer day. I wanted to do these “boring” things my friends spoke of with great resentment. So I watched. And participated when they invited me to. And I stored away those family rituals like a little squirrel hoards nuts. Someday, I thought, I will do these rituals with my own family.

Finally, after many years, I am getting some of these rituals established with my own little family…just as I had hoped as a girl. Ironically, I married an actor, which is not a recipe for a humdrum ritual filled life. My 22-month-old son and I have spent the last 18 months touring the country with my husband as he performs in a Broadway national tour. Despite our ever-changing landscape, we have carved out rituals for our family. Naps, bath time and bedtime rituals are always the same, no matter the city. And while we have been home at our house in Oak Park the last few months, we have started going to church every Sunday. As our son grows, we will continue to add to these rituals, and I pray he someday can bring his friends to our house, and complain to them about how “boring” his parents are.

image1Cathy Meredith is a full-time stay at home mom with her 22-month-old son, Evan. Currently, Cathy and Evan are accompanying hubby/daddy James Vincent Meredith on his national tour of the musical, The Book of Mormon. Before becoming a stay at home mom, Cathy worked as an elementary school teacher in the Chicago Public Schools for four years. Prior to her career as a teacher, she worked for ten years in the not-for-profit world as a Program Director for an arts-education organization. She loves travel, photography, being an amateur “foodie”, and writing (when she has time!).  You can connect with her on Facebook.  Bada bing, bada bang – it’s Cara again, and I for one am humbled and blown away by Cathy’s honesty, by how she invited us into her story.  Show her some love and encourage her as she craves rituals, will you?

i pretty brave.

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 5.26.44 PM
All the New. (This, 3 blocks from our house. It ain’t all bad).

I’m drowning in newness right now.

New house, new grocery store, new church, new neighbors.  New Target, new freeways, new gas stations, new views.  New Starbucks, new Peet’s, and even a new Philz Coffee set to open at the end of the month, a mere 4.4 miles away.

There’s a whole lot of new in our lives right now, and it can be overwhelming.  It can make me feel like I’m barely staying afloat because everything I’ve known – from shortcuts to street names, from barista faces to checker faces to neighbor faces – has been erased.  I’m living in an Etch-a-Sketch world of my own doing.  

At home, we unearth one box at a time, hoping that with possessions in place we’ll somehow feel more grounded ourselves.  But still, I can’t find the coffee beans.  Still, I wear swim suit bottoms as underwear because I’m not exactly sure what box my unmentionables reside in.  Still, the pain of newness remains.

But then, me and the boys, we lather on the sunblock and we go on a walk.  I hitch Frodo to my chest, and Cancan makes do in the Bob, perched on the front or nestled in the back, watermelon juice dripping down his chin.

“New park, Mama?  New park?”

“Yeah, buddy, we’re going to a new park,” because everything is tinged with the colors of New right now.

When we get to New Park, Cancan becomes a more timid version of himself. He surveys the scene, checking out the equipment, looking around for a pint-sized person his age to race down the slide beside.  This morning he wasn’t too keen on the slides, he just wanted to go higher! higher! on the swings.

So we did.

I pushed him, as he begged for higher, as his giggles skyward bounced from him to Frodo to Mama.  And then, he said it:

“I pretty brave, Mama.  I pretty brave.” 

“Yeah, you are, buddy.  You’re pretty brave.”

Because he’s brave with the New Park and and he’s brave with the New Swing.  He’s brave as he shouts to go higher! higher!, and he’s brave with All This Change.

A few minutes into Bravery, a little girl a year or so older than him, came up to us.  She hoisted herself up on the swing, and turning her face toward my son, she yelled out her name.  Cancan looked at me, and he looked at her, and then he bellowed skyward again:

I’M CANCAN!!!!  

I don’t think she could actually understand his gleeful yell, but that didn’t matter: she smiled and gave him a thumb’s up before jumping off the swing and bounding toward the climbing wall.

And my little buddy looked at me again, and said those same words again:

“I pretty brave, Mama.  I pretty brave.”

Yes you are, buddy. Yes you are

And I melted, right then and there.

Because friends, moving is hard.  All this Newness, as you may well have guessed by now, is hard.  But me and Cancan, Frodo and the HBH, we’re practicing bravery.

We’re learning what it means to be pretty brave, even in and with and by All the New. We’re learning that it’s okay if things are a little scary, and it’s okay if we don’t all the way feel like we belong.  But still, we can be pretty brave.  We do things we never thought we’d be able to do, as we beg to go higher and yell out our names to all our new friends.

Because at the end of the day, we’ve got each other.  We’ve been given Life back, because we can be together as a family again.  So we cling and we hold tight to each other.

We practice being pretty brave together.

So, what about you?  How are you practicing being pretty brave?  How can I cheer on bravery in your life?

my bags are packed…

As you may know, our family is (again) in the midst of this:


Except that it’s not exactly a vacation of sorts, and I’m pretty sure the HBH (Hot Black Husband) has only owned a cowboy hat and a pair of shitkickers in my wildest, most exotic, Pioneer Woman of dreams.

Instead, the reality of packing and sifting, sorting and discarding is here, as we’re moving to Oakland on Saturday.  

Really, we didn’t think we’d be moving again anytime soon.  You may recall this post, written about a year and a half ago: we’d had a big break-in in the city, so we decided to hunker down and move to a quieter, safer neighborhood.  We said good-bye to big city lights (or at least a view of big city lights from our residential pocket of San Francisco), and we eagerly waved a hello to a gated community with views of the Pacific, if you took the time to walk fifty feet to the path on your right.

We’ve gotten to know our neighbors, barbecuing and ordering in sushi, watching football and baseball, drinking chilled wine out of plastic tumblers on the common playground.  We’ve invited people into our messiness, and they’ve invited us into theirs.  I grew a baby here, and we brought that baby into this space (enticing my mother, I might add, to stay for two weeks in our make-shift guest bedroom of a single-car garage – bless you, woman). Cancan has morphed from baby to toddler here, Frodo has spent the entire span of his short life here, and I’ve turned into a Real Live Writer here.

A lot of life has happened here.

But there’s also been a whole lot of Messy Hard.  

As much as I sometimes desire to ignore and flee from and paste a happy smile over the top of these Messy Hards, sometimes we have to jump into the muck feet first and try our hardest to gain footing.

And that’s what we’re doing now.

You see, the HBH started working in Oakland this past fall – and for the first time since I’ve known him, he’s in a job environment that’s healthy, at a company that values him for who he is, that desires to see him succeed and thrive.  But the job has also come with a cost, a cost that has included upwards of a two-and-a-half hour commute everyday.

And deadly commutes are not for the faint of heart …not for those who commute, and not for the families they come home to.  Deadly commutes don’t make for a healthy quality of life, and frankly, they don’t make a fifty-feet-to-the-right ocean view nearly worth it.

So, we’re taking the plunge, again.  We’re packing our bags, excited and delighted and giddy to hunker down in home that’s just over a mile (a mile!) from the HBH’s work.  We’re excited to be in a place brimming with diversity, “…with people who look like both Mama and Dada,” as we tell our boys. We’re excited to be in a house that’s a 92 on the walkability scale, mere blocks from Lake Merritt and Trader Joe’s and independent coffee shops alike .  I can’t wait to string up lights in our backyard, Parenthood-style, and not make my mother sleep in the garage when she visits.

Mostly, though, I can’t wait to have Life back.

Like anything, with gladness comes sadness, too, because we’re leaving behind Our People.  And that, I suppose, is another post for another day, because I don’t think all the newness and the starting over, the rebuilding and the good-byes and the want and desire to be known has quite hit me yet.  Because really, “We do not see thing as they are; we see things as we are” – and the we of our story involves those we have shared in the messiness with, it involves Our People.

So for now, I’ll leave you and I’ll leave me with this picture of our future city, of the place we Really, Truly Can’t Wait to Call Home:


But until then, I suppose it’s time to get back to packing…

xo, c.

What about you?  What sacrifice have you made for the betterment of you or of your family?  What is moving to you?  And if you have any “must-see’s,” “must-meet,” “must-do” in Oakland, please let me know!

saying good-bye (& peanut butter s’mores bars)

We’ve been saying a lot of good-byes lately.  While each of these departures are for good, excellent, better reasons – marriage, a new job, a cheaper place to hunker down and start over – I mourn the loss of My People.

Still, I cling to that last hug.  Sometimes the tears come, but usually they show up later.  Because later  is when it’s going to hit me.  Later is when the void of their presence becomes real to me.  Later is when I’m going to wish that I could gather all my favorites together, and not let them go.  So, maybe I’ll dead bolt the doors, or drug them, or simply move us all to a commune so we can live off the land forever – whatever my mode of containment, I’m bound and determined to keep them close.

I suppose that’s why therapists cite that moving can be one of the most vicious forms of grief: because that person, those people, they still exist.  They’re still around, but they don’t live three doors down any longer.  You don’t gather on the front lawn to throw the ball with your dogs anymore, nor do you meet up over the lunch hour to trek the side streets of South San Francisco for a walk any more.

They’re not where you left them.  

And life, as it tends to do, goes on with you.  Their lives go on without you in it.

I was reading my friend Erin’s book the other day, and I can’t get the following quote regarding adult friendships out of my mind:

‘Professor Rebecca Adams was quoted in a New York Times article called “Friends of a Certain Age” explaining that the three conditions for adult friendships are “proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.’

Because there are those friends that will stay with you forever, the ones you’ve known since you were five.  You know their families and you hold every juicy, dirty detail of their adolescent lives; you love them still despite the ways you’ve both changed, the separate paths you’ve taken.  But friendships formed in adulthood are different because these are the ones we choose, and, as Adams shows in the above quote, these are also the ones that choose us.  

We said good-bye to one of those “Friends of a Certain Age” earlier today.

The zoo, as we do.

Jen (or “Auntie,” as Cancan’s taken to calling her), along with her husband Ryan and two young boys, have lived just a couple doors down from us for the past year and a half.  To say that we conquered proximity in friendship is therefore an understatement.  Then, because there’s this joint playground in the middle of our neighborhood, we became friends whose children play on the playground together, and friends who occasionally drink a glass of cold chardonnay on the side of the playground together if it’s been One of Those Days.  And that led to us becoming friends who do dinner together, and friends who watch football together, and friends who walk miles at the San Francisco zoo together.

And eventually we became friends who enter through each other’s backyard gate, which really, if you ask me, is the best kind.  You no longer knock, because it’s just assumed that you’ll open the latch and let yourself in.

By doing so, you essentially say:

You are welcome.  You are welcome here.  I let you in.  

For those are the words that classify My People.  We celebrate and we mourn, we laugh and we tell stories, we hope and we commiserate and we do real life, one with the other.  And on our last night together, we let Chef Ryan do what he does best and cook, but our family also brings over a plate of perfectly gooey, perfectly messy, perfectly brimming-with-life peanut butter s’mores bars to share.

Because, Auntie, those treats seem to perfectly capture …us.

Peanut Butter S’mores Bars*


1/2 cup unsalted butter + a sprinkle of sea salt over the top
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 8 graham crackers squares)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup marshmallow, cut-up or minis


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9×9 square inch pan with aluminum foil, letting it hang over the edges.

In a large bowl, mix together nearly melted butter and brown sugar.  Grab a fork and mix until combined.  (I know, amazing.  You can just use a fork to mix ingredients together – who knew?).  Add vanilla extract and egg, mix and set aside.

In a separate bowl, toss flour, graham cracker crumbs and baking powder together.  [Don’t have crumbs on hand?  Grab 8 graham crackers from your child’s stash, throw in a Ziploc baggie and pound mercilessly.]  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  Mix well.

Press 2/3 of graham cookie dough into the bottom of the pan.  Spread marshmallow creme on top – or, if you’re like me and don’t happen to have marshmallow creme on hand, cut up a bunch of marshmallow, covering the dough.  Same thing, people, same thing.  Sprinkle chocolate chips on top, in between and around the marshmallows.  Then, melt the peanut butter in the microwave for about a minute and pour yummy, delectably salty peanut butter all over your creation.  Top with remaining third of dough.

Bake the bars for 25-30 minutes.  Do yourself a favor and don’t stick a toothpick in it, because if you do, it will come out perfectly gooey and you might get worried.  Well, fret not.  The bars are perfect.

Allow bars to cool for 10 minutes before serving and eating the entire pan yourself.  Say “I love you, self,” and shove another in your mouth.

The end.

* = adapted from this original recipe

So, what about you?  How do you do with good-byes?  And do you agree with the above quote about adult friendships?  As per the recipe, do not pass go.  Do not collect two hundred dollars, but get your hiney to the kitchen and make these, STAT.

advent 3: sojourners in the land.

Today is the third in a December and January series on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Following Sarah Arthur‘s new book, Light Upon Light (which I can’t recommend highly enough), this third week looks at the theme “Sojourners in the Land.” You can find week one and week two here. Check back each Saturday to see what’s new, and in the meantime, enter in and enjoy!

Flickr Creative Commons: Daniel Shah.
Flickr Creative Commons: Daniel Shah.

Another text popped up last night: What’s your address?  Did you move again?  I can’t remember…

And I’m like, I GET YOU.  I can’t wait to see your crew of smiling, effervescent faces in my mailbox, but I understand why you’d be asking me that question, again.

Because here’s the truth: I’ve not lived in the same place for more than two years since I was 18 years old – and y’all, I ain’t no spring chicken.

The upside is that I’ve become a master at packing and unpacking, a guru at visualizing a space and revamping living quarters appropriately, and an expert at constantly schlepping through stuff for the weekly Goodwill drop-off.

Martha Stewart would be so proud.

The downside, though, is obvious: I hate moving.  Although I’ve moved past enlisting friends and family to join in for “Free pizza and beer!” (because let’s be honest, that charm begins its rapid descent after or around the age of 25), I’m done sifting and sorting, filling and wadding and sorting our junk into cardboard boxes.

But I’ve accepted that, for whatever reason, this has been a part of my story, the marking point that’s kept me from getting too comfortable, from taking home for granted.  It’s helped me to understand what it means to be The New Girl, to start over in a neighborhood where you don’t know the back roads and you’ve yet to run into that friendly face in the grocery store.

It’s also helped me to understand what it means to be a sojourner, to be someone who resides temporarily in one place.  Because I, too, am a sojourner.  I wait for my final place, and I wait to hunker down and lay down roots.  I wait to make house our home, as I wait for home.

Certainly, this idea of sojourning is not new to the liturgical season of Advent.  Mary and Joseph, en route to parenthood, sojourned as they looked for a place to lay their heads.  The magi who practiced astrology – those three “wise men” who really did believe in signs and wonders, in a heavenly message communicated through the stars – were said to have trekked nearly a thousand miles in search of the baby boy.  Likewise, those dirty, stinky shepherds tending sheep in fields nearby, had to pick up their skirts and wander through the desert a few hundred yards at least.

And this doesn’t even begin to touch the greater idea of a wandering nation, a symbol of the Jewish people who have been cast out, ever yearning for home.  (Nor, for our purposes, does it begin to touch the bigger spiritual idea of one’s final eternal homeas well).

Because no matter where or how or why you sojourn, you search.  You search and you seek and you, too, yearn for a place to lay your head.  You sit by the rivers of Babylon and you remember Zion.  You wait and wonder how long… how long… how long… you’re to sing this song.

But then, perhaps because you’ve embraced this whole notion of sojourning as a part of your story, you put one foot in front of the other.  Step by step, you begin to believe that that is enough, that “The earth is enough and the air is enough/ For our wonder and our war…”*  You begin to dot your words with the occasional exclamation point because you trust in the journey, in the sojourn, in the temporary nature of it all.

Perhaps your mouth even whispers these ancient words:

“Lead, Kindly Light, amid the circling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home –
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene, – one step enough for me.”*

So darling, let’s be sojourners.


What about you?  Are you a sojourner?  How or where or why did that happen?  

* = “The House of Christmas” by G.K. Chesterton

** = a prayer from John Henry, Cardinal Newman

the insteads.

Photo cred: Eat Simple Love Yoga.
Photo cred: Eat Simple Love Yoga.

The movers knocked on our door at 7:33 Friday morning, and we were ready.  Well, mostly ready.  I still needed to pack up the remaining food in the refrigerator and take down the curtain rods and sweep the floors before the cleaners came – because am I the only one who doesn’t want to appear as messy as I really am?  But maybe like brushing and flossing your teeth right before jumping into the cleaning chair, the dentist sees right through it.  As I’m sure the cleaning ladies did as well.

Sorry, Merry Maids.  

By 11 the carefully loaded goods had started to become carefully unloaded goods, and Heidi-friend met me with Pumpkin Spice Latte in hand to help out wherever and however, …because that’s just what friends do.  And the funny thing is that even though I scream Let’s Be Messy! from the blogosphere mountaintops, there’s still that part of me that wants to look presentable and have all my ducks in a row and have A, B and C lined up before said messiness ensues – which completely defeats messiness’ purpose.  So there she and I stood, in the middle of the chaos; she’d brought an eight-pack gift of paper towels, because she knows the HBH’s Great Love of All Things Paper (much to my eco-savvy, recycling chagrin).  And with spray cleaner in hand, she wiped the year(s)-old dust clean from our bedside tables, and she grunted with me as we tried to move the leather chair from our room to Cancan’s and back again.  Sometimes I’d run downstairs to help the movers with an item, and five, ten, fifteen minutes would pass before I remembered that I’d left her upstairs to fend for herself.  So I’d haul up the stairs again, and we’d resume asking questions and telling stories while we dusted and cleaned and unpacked.

And while I intended to simply write, I’m tired – here, watch this Whole Foods Parking Lot rap and get down with your bad self for today’s post, even in bone-tiredness, my fingers just keeping tap, tap, tapping away at the keys.

Instead, I find myself utterly grateful.

I am grateful for friends who dive into the messiness, whose very actions remind me of the God who does the same for us and to us and with us.  More often than not, I think that I need to wear my Super Special, Super Duper, I Love Jesus and I Have All My Sh&% Together clothes before I’m able to enter his Grace (let alone his house).  I forget that it’s not about how much I love him – in fact, that’s not it at all – but it’s simply about how much He loves me.  And this love, His love, is enough.

Instead, I am overwhelmed with peace.

I sleep soundly for the first time in months, and I see excitement oozing up from the heart of the HBH – not only is he delighted at his new digs, but he’s proud to care and provide for his family in this way.  And when I lament the loss of the Coolness Factor with our new zip code, I then remind myself that my own coolness has been on a dramatic decline ever since the scales started tipping the ripe ol’ age of 30, when quoting 90’s songs and other hip parts of my youth officially labeled me OLD.  Because this peace that overwhelms, this peace is worth it.

Instead, I feel the sun streaming in through the windows, warming my arms and kissing my fingers, and I think to myself, Man, this suburban life ain’t bad at all.  

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pour myself a cup of tea and go unpack another box.

xo, c.

What about you?  How have you been feeling the “insteads” in a really, really good way lately?  And more importantly, do you have Teen Spirit?

what kind of mover are you?

[Warning: this post contains total first-world problems.  Just sayin’]

Huge piles of cardboard boxes

I’m currently sitting at the dining room table, surrounded by a newly-found pile of books to sell on Amazon, three garbage bags full of clothes to give to Goodwill …and a box or two packed in anticipation for the move in a couple of weeks.  And I realize – because sometimes it takes me a while to acknowledge that not everyone in the world is just like me – that not everyone likes to binge and purge before a move.

This I muse over…

Because there are those who like to binge and purge before the move, perhaps, quite definitely creating more work than ever intended.  I take pride in my ever-growing Goodwill pile, I’m telling you!

There are those who like to box up all their crap before the move, and then sort through its contents upon arrival in the new abode.  (But do they ever actually sort?  That is the question).

There are those who rally the troops via a “FREE PIZZA AND BEER!” email, but as the HBH says, I’d rather just be invited over for dinner.  He’s over it – but free dinner?  Yes, please.

There are those who hire moving companies, and there are those who, with pride, can still pack all of their belongings into one car.  Books and clothes, books and clothes!  I boasted owning nothing but until about the age of 25.

And then there are those whose moving companies pack and move all the belongings – imagine that, Fancy Pants!


So, what am I missing?  What would you add, and most importantly, what kind of mover are you?