Weird Weather

Weird Weather

Grandpa Charlie May used to say:  “Don’t like the weather in Missouri? Stick around a day or two; it’ll change.” For all that it is now early November, the lawn’s still green, my trees still have a lot of leaves, and we’ve felt temperatures up around 80 this week. Usually we’ve had a good hard frost by now, if not a dusting of snow. Don’t misunderstand me on this, as I am not complaining . . . it’s just weird!

A few days ago I read a post on social media that mentioned a lilac bush putting on buds. As you can see in the photo above, some branches on the south side of my Forsythia bush have blossoms.  A little anemic-looking, but blossoms, nonetheless. And last weekend while visiting Daddy, I saw a really nice surprise:  a violet, peeking out from between the autumn leaves by the steps of the deck out back. Later that morning I found two more while Sis and I were helping him rake leaves (and huge acorns!) from under the big Burr Oak tree.  Violets.  Pretty, deep purple violets!

To say that violets are one of my favorite flowers is, perhaps, an understatement. More than a thing of beauty, violets hold a sentimental significance dating back to my early years. They grew scattered around my grandparents’ lawn, like tiny treasures sprinkled randomly by the Easter bunny each spring. I found them sprouting around the ivy and the ferns and the Lily of the Valley in the yard at home, and would occasionally pick one and take it to my mama. It turned into a sort of ritual, as each year after I went away to school, and even in the years beyond, when the weather began to warm, she’d pick the first violet she saw, press it between a tissue or paper towel, and send it to me.  I would do the same, either with a violet, or a dogwood blossom, or both, just a “Thinking of you” tradition we had.

After Mother’s funeral last April, my sister came in the back door of our parents’ house, and advised me to go sit on the swing under the arbor when I had a moment. Curious, but too numbed by grief to ask why, I did as she’d instructed. Sprouting up around and between the bricks and stones of the walkway were dozens and dozens of violets. . . a deluge of emotional symbols, right there at my feet. Sobbing, I sat on the swing for a long time. “I haven’t left you,” it seemed my mother’s voice was saying to me through those flowers. “I’m right here.”

So. Say what you will about global warming or weird weather or whatever. I’ll take violets in November. Any year.

21 April 1990

21 April 1990

 

Henny Penny

Henny Penny

During twenty years of having laying hens on the farm, only twice have I encountered the issue of an overgrown top beak. When my late husband Larry kept pigeons (Pensom rollers – show birds), it was not unusual for the upper portions of their beaks to grow long and lap over the edge of their lower beaks, but this might have been due to the fact that they were not allowed outside to forage and peck around in the gravel. The chickens here, however, are outside almost daily. That’s why I was a bit surprised to notice this hen one day last week.

Chickens kept in a coop or pen with at least a partial concrete floor, or that have some exposure to graveled areas, have ready abrasives to help keep the fingernail-type material of their beaks in trim. As they hunt and peck for seeds, bugs, worms and greens, the frequent scrapings of their rigid mouth material against the surrounding rocks seems to prevent the problem of overgrowth. Exactly how the hen got into this condition, I don’t know. Perhaps she’s a delicate eater. Regardless, with a top beak that long, she would soon be having a problem being able to eat at all, and a little careful pruning was in order.

After doing chores at the barn, I picked up the troubled bird and brought her down the hill to the house. She graciously posed for photos before the procedure, and sat fairly still in my lap as I used nail clippers to remove most of the excess material from her upper beak. Not having a metal nail file to hand, the coarse side of an emery board was employed for the final shaping and smoothing, and then a few “after” pictures were taken for comparison. Bless her heart, this little hen didn’t even doodle on me. What a gal!

Since the Ordeal, I have read that some folks put a cement block or a piece of sandstone in their chicken pens to provide the birds with a tool to prevent this problem. The enclosed pen outside my coop has an older concrete floor with several rough areas, so you’d think that would suffice. Who knows? If not for that, I might be trimming beaks right and left. While it would be a small price to pay for all the nice fresh eggs they provide and the bugs they eat, I’m putting a landscape block or something like it onto my shopping list for the next time I’m in town.  Just in case!

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A Frog of My Very Own

A Frog of My Very Own

While I often extol the many benefits of living the country life, the truth is, I really do mean it. This little piece of farmland in mid-America is a very good place to be. Nearly every day, I see something in my surroundings that makes me smile.

In the Spring when the weather was cooler, my sister and I were chatting on the phone when she asked: “What is that noise, a locust? Are they out already?” She knew I was sitting on the porch swing out front. “No,” I told her, “those are frogs. Tree frogs, I think.” Just then a baritone voice joined in the song. “And that’s a bullfrog,” I added. His voice was loud, as he was located near the vicinity of the ornamental pond in the flower bed just in front of the porch. We agreed that he was probably trying to lure a lady frog to his pad. Sure enough, the following evening there were two froggy voices bellowing from the area.

The photo above might not be the same frog as the one I heard, but it was fun to see one sitting on the artificial lily pad in the goldfish pond a month or two after that conversation. It brought to mind a memory from my childhood, one involving the bitterness of disappointment, and the sweetness of the eventual outcome. The story goes something like this . . .

Our parents had taken us to visit my dad’s brother and his family, and during the course of the summer afternoon, Daddy and Uncle David took my cousins, my brother and sister, and me on a brief outing to the creek.  It was either Coon Creek or Cuivre River, I’m not sure which. (That’s pronounced “Quiver”, and until about ten years ago, the correct spelling was unknown to me!) Anyway, as the men tried out a new handgun on a snake that was lurking in the shadows, we children looked for snail shells and dried locust skins and other sundry treasures. My brother and sister each caught tiny brown frogs with buff-colored bellies and throats, and cousin Bruce tried to help me catch one, too, but we failed in our efforts before it was time to leave.

“Noooo!!” my three-year-old self moaned to my dad, “I dinna get my fwog yet!” He sympathized, but explained that we had to go, that we’d already been out longer than originally planned, and that Mother and Aunt Evelyn would be worried. My sister assured me that she would share her frog with me. My brother named his frog Herman, and let me touch it gently on its little head. “But I wanna fwog of my vewy own!” I sobbed.

It was a long drive home.

Thirty years went by, and one day, quite out of the blue, the mail brought a little parcel, wrapped in brown paper, from my aunt and uncle. As I removed the paper, the words on the white cardboard box brought the memory rushing back. Uncle David had written “A Frog of Your Very Own” on the side, and within the box was a small, molded resin frog with the sweetest expression on its face. I laughed, and then I cried, and then I called my uncle. “How did you remember?” I asked him.  “How could I forget!” he replied.

So among the knick-knacks and souvenirs on the shelves by my kitchen doorway, there sits a smiling little green frog. He greets me each morning as I come downstairs and head to the coffee pot to start my day, and he’s one of the last items I see as I shut up the house for the night; a symbol of an uncle’s kind heart, and of a wish fulfilled.

A frog of my very own!DSCN4166

Turquoise Table, Anyone?

Turquoise Table, Anyone?

Sunday of last weekend being Father’s Day, I had to brag on my Daddy just a little. He claimed it was overdone, but I assure you, it was the mere Tip of the Iceberg, as they say. But in an effort to keep myself out of trouble, this week we’ll focus not on my dad, but on his neighbors. Oh boy, does he have great neighbors!

My parents watched their house as it was being built in 1955. Several blocks of similar-style homes were erected in those post-war years, and young families full of Baby Boomer children filled the suburbs. But as the kids grew up and went off to college or work, and moved in to their own homes, it seemed the ol’ neighborhood wasn’t as fun. Housewives didn’t visit over the back fence while hanging out the laundry to dry, because they were almost all gone to work now, or had the luxury of electric clothes dryers, or both. There weren’t as many school-aged kids on the block, or maybe it was just that, with their own offspring grown and gone, my parents had fewer connections with youngsters. It seemed a bit of a blue time.

But change is inevitable, and sometimes if you stick around an area long enough, you’re blessed to see things turn around for the better. My dad might be one of the few original residents on his block now, but some really fantastic people have moved in around him. And a few houses down, Leah and Forrest Hall have opened their front lawn–and their hearts–to create an area of welcome. Following the example of Kristin Schnell (http://www.kristinschell.com/the-turquoise-table/ )they set up a picnic table parallel to the street, delivered invitations to their neighbors, and are fostering a feeling of community every week with a bag of bagels, coffee and conversation, and smiles all around. Everyone is welcome. Ideas are exchanged, family news is shared, and an aura of peace prevails. It’s a ministry of sorts, and one of the best kind, in my opinion, as it involves reaching out to those in one’s immediate vicinity. For while it’s perfectly fine to write a check to provide aid to people half-way around the world, there is something true about the old adage that “charity starts at home”. In this case, it’s an offering of self; of time, of friendship, and of acceptance.

Now, if I could just figure out how to convey the concept of the Turquoise Table to my birddog Jethro BoneDean and the cats, there’d be peace around this ol’ farmhouse, too.  Oh, Leah . . .?!

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For Dads Everywhere, But Most Especially for Mine!

For Dads Everywhere, But Most Especially for Mine!

From the looks of the social media sites on the internet today, it would seem that a preponderance of people share the notion that their dad is (or was) the greatest one of all. If you subscribe to the belief that we are all Children of God, then we can each have the idea that our Father is supreme over all, and be right! When it comes to human fathers, though, not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and that’s a sad thing.

Before the era of training wheels and child helmets–say around 1959 or so, my dad jogged alongside a little blue Schwinn bicycle, simultaneously bending over at an awkward angle to the side to steady the vehicle and the tenuous rider (my brother) as he learned to achieve balance while coasting or pedaling. Over the next several years, he repeated this process as my sister and I each became old enough to graduate from the tricycle. He also built and demonstrated stilts, rigged a makeshift swing out of a sanded board, a rope and a pulley in the garage, taught us how to play ping pong, pool, chess, and word games, and helped us memorize poetry.  He played the guitar or mandolin for sing-alongs, got us all started on learning piano as children, and even now, at almost 88 years old, is teaching the complex Classic Finger-style 5-string banjo method that he knows to my sister.

My siblings and I have always known that our dad is super smart, and that any new subject that truly interests him will be read about, studied, and analyzed until Daddy has a firm understanding of the matter. Among many other talents, he can sketch, paint signs and pictures, began learning German in his 60s, and can tell a joke better than anyone I know. A lifelong willing student, these past two months he’s been learning things that he might well have hoped he would never need to know:  those various duties that go along with living alone. It’s been hard, and he’s grieving, but he is trying, and it shows.

Daddy, I am so proud of you. Just remember, you weathered the challenge of raising me. That should mean you can do anything!  Happy Father’s Day!

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Weathering the Storms of Life

Weathering the Storms of Life

For almost 33 years, I have been truly fortunate to be employed by the claims department of a Mid-Missouri based insurance company. (No, this isn’t a commercial, so I’m not mentioning their name). With decent pay, very good benefits, and some really fantastic co-workers, I consider myself lucky to have happened into this career just a few months after college graduation. But as anyone in the auto and/or property claims industry can tell you, storms can make things pretty hectic. As one of my former supervisors put it:  Job Security. It didn’t take me long to realize he was taking a challenging situation and describing it in a positive light.

Our lives are full of challenging situations, aren’t they? Does it ever feel to you as though you keep moving from one trauma to the next? Have you ever stood with your back to one mirror while holding up another little mirror in front of you, just to make sure you weren’t wearing a target? If so, I know the feeling! Truth is, I’m betting we all do.

Somewhere I saw a poster that said:  “Be kind.  Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” It struck me as simple, but surely true. It’s frustrating, aggravating, or even hurtful, when we feel disrespected or simply ignored, when–with little or no real effort–the same people doing these things could offer a listening ear, a word of encouragement, or a sincere smile.

Here’s a little poem, written by Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-1870):

“Life is mainly froth and bubble

Two things stand like stone

Kindness in another’s trouble

Courage in your own.”

That pretty much sums up my message, right there. Here’s to seeing things in a positive light. Remember, once in a while after the storm, we catch a glimpse of a rainbow!

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photo credits:  “Storm Clouds” by Kelly Zimmerschied and “Double Rainbow” by Kendall Wills Sterling

 

Beautiful Bird

Beautiful Bird

In spite of the fact that the weather is warmer and many plants are budding out–even blooming–I am still in the habit of filling the bird feeders that are suspended from my front porch overhang.  Sure, there are bugs aplenty crawling and buzzing around already (the winter wasn’t as bad as expected), but I enjoy watching the cardinals and sparrows and finches so much, that I just can’t resist filling the feed troughs that bring them close to my front windows.  Besides, they provide hours of entertainment for Tripod Jack, who loves to perch in his carpeted “kitty tree” just inside the dining room window, and the busy birdies keep him from trying to monopolize my desk or computer keyboard quite so much.

So, perhaps it was Divine Intervention or just pure luck that saw the feeders empty a few days ago, when I glanced out of the glass of the storm door and saw something large on one of the branches of the cottonwood tree.  Just a small sapling when we moved to this farm back in ’92, the cottonwood now towers above the house, a mere 30 feet or so from the porch and the bird buffet.  But the object I saw was fairly low in the tree, and the size of it must have been what caught my attention; it was considerably larger than the usual winged visitors who are so often in those branches.  Using the zoom feature on my camera, and staying just at the edge of the doorway and on the inside, so as not to frighten the newcomer, I snapped several pictures.  Alternately preening and studying the area, the sleek gray head turned around almost completely backward, the clear golden eyes focused intently in my direction.  I know you’re watching me! it seemed to say.

Watching me, watching him

Later, I took the time to research exactly what type of bird this is.  That it was in the category of Birds of Prey was obvious.  The Missouri Conservation Department has some great information on their website, and I started there, then moved on to a search for various types of hawks that frequent the vicinity.  Two choices stood out:  the Sharp Shinned Hawk, and the larger Cooper’s Hawk.  The coloring and markings of these two types are very similar, according to my reading, and they’re not always simple to tell apart.  In the case of this specimen, I am thinking it is a Cooper’s Hawk, partly due to the size, and partly to the shape of its head, and the way the lighter neck feathers sort of wrap around toward the back.

Here’s a link to one of the websites I used in my attempt at identification:  https://www.audubon.org/news/a-beginners-guide-iding-coopers-and-sharp-shinned-hawks

Take a look at it, if you have time, and let me know your opinion.

And in case you’re wondering why it was a good thing there was no bird seed in the feeders?  Well, hawks don’t eat bird seed, but they just love to take little songbirds out to dinner, and I bet you can guess who pays!

 

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A Tiresome Problem

A Tiresome Problem

The photo you see here is not the problem; it’s the solution.  Nothing like starting a joke with the punchline, right?

Last weekend I drove from West Central Missouri to the Dallas area of Texas, to visit with my sister’s family and join them in celebrating the marriage of Danielle Renee Hardy and Wade Clinton Jarman.  The preparations had been meticulous, the site was perfect, the bride (my niece) was stunningly beautiful, the groom handsome and heroic.  With mountains of scrumptious food at both the rehearsal dinner and the reception, I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all.

The problem arose during my drive toward home, when the outer layer departed the right rear tire of my old Suburban, to flop dejectedly onto the shoulder of the turnpike in Northeastern Oklahoma.  Having always been somewhat of a tomboy, I can thank my Daddy for teaching me how to change a tire before I ever left the driveway with my first car.  It’s a skill that everyone who drives should know, and believe me, living out here on the gravel roads, I’ve changed plenty of them.  The weird thing is, in almost nine years of owning the Suburban, I’ve never changed a tire on this vehicle.  Added air from the compressor at the barn? Sure.  Had a slow leak fixed at the shop in town?  Check.  But actually retrieving the spare out of the carpeted cover in the back and figuring out where to put the jack?  Umm . . . no.  And with thousands of vehicles of all sizes whizzing past on the asphalt just mere feet away, it didn’t seem like the optimal place or time to learn, even if the affected specimen was on the lee side.

You see, even though the tread layer of rubber had peeled off, the formerly 10-ply tire was still holding air!  It looked fairly ragged, and the impact had knocked the fiberglass running board loose from the wheel well, but it appeared that I might be able to coax a few more miles out of the thing.  Just as I was looking up “nearest tire shop” on the map program of my trusty iPhone, a Good Samaritan stopped to offer help.  He agreed to follow me into town “just in case”, we both activated our emergency flashers, and, using the minimum speed of 40 mph, limped on into the edge of Joplin, Missouri, to the Ozarko Tire Center on Highway 43, just south of I-44.

These guys were fantastic.  In spite of the fact that it was almost closing time on what must surely have been a busy Monday, they cheerfully agreed to check the soundness of my spare, and, finding it fit for use, promptly installed it on the truck to get me back on the road for home.  What do I owe you? I asked.  Travel safe, and have a good day! the boss replied.  Surprised, I tried to argue the point, to no avail.  Neither the store manager nor the kind young man who had done the work would accept a penny for the service they’d performed.  I was blown away by their kindness, and feel very fortunate to be able to give them a shout-out here.  I climbed back into the Suburban, snapped a quick photo from out of the window on my way out of the lot, and drove the last three hours back to the farm with a warm feeling in my heart.  And then on Thursday, the local shop put four new 10-ply tires on the truck so this problem won’t happen again on my next trip.  After all, that last set had seen me through six years and many thousands of miles.

So here’s my challenge to you: The next time you observe someone with a problem, ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to help.  Maybe you can be like the guy who bothered to pull over and offer assistance, or the fellows who changed out my ruined tire for the spare.  If you’re in the Joplin area, maybe throw a little business to those Guardian Angels at the Ozarko Tire Center.

Either way, Travel Safe, and Have a Good Day!

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Pecking Order

Pecking Order

Bird watching is a hobby that demands so little for what we can reap in return.  This time of year I try to pay more attention than ever to the little cedar feeders that are suspended from the overhang of my front porch roof, keeping them stocked with a steady supply of food for the wild birds. When the landscape looks barren and brown, I figure the birdies can use a little extra help in the meal prep department, and their antics can be pretty entertaining.  As I am sitting here typing this, I can glance out the windows to my left and see sparrows, chickadees, cardinals and snowbirds (a.k.a. dark-eyed juncos), all jockeying for position at the buffet stations provided for them.  Now and then a bluejay shows up and tries to convince them all he’s the Boss, but they all get their fair share eventually.

On decent days–meaning it’s not raining and there’s little or no snow on the ground–I let the chickens and guineas out of their pen to forage, even in winter.  Of course, they have grain in the feeders inside their coop every day, but by nature they love to roam around the yard, hunting and scratching for tasty tidbits.  I figure happy hens lay healthy eggs, and it makes a noticeable difference in the feed bill when they’re able to get out and about.  Recently a couple of the younger Highland Brown hens have occasionally found their way onto the front porch, where they clean up the loose seeds that have been scattered by the wild birds during the day. After tossing that freshly killed rat snake (see prior post “Unwanted Gifts”) onto the top of the concrete steps after measuring it, and then finishing my phone call inside, I returned to the porch with the intention of removing the thing to the ditch, only to find it halfway down the throat of a brave little hen already, and another hen running up to see just what sort of big fat worm her friend had found.  The chickens have a pecking order amongst themselves, with Rojo the Rooster as the obvious ruler.  Even the guineas don’t challenge him!  IMG_2551

While the farm cats and the barnyard fowl all coexist with no squabbles, the cats most definitely have an unwritten hierarchy.  Last summer a new tom cat wandered in from somewhere, and the whole balance went Kablooey.  Sammy, the youngest of my bunch, began challenging the newcomer to fights, even though Sam and all the other kitties here have been “fixed”.  Seeing Sammy getting the stuffing knocked out of him, Wally jumped into the fray, and the next thing you know I’m doctoring wounds on two cats, and trying to decide whether to run off the stranger or try taming him, so I can get him to the vet for neutering.  It’s taken a while, but finally the last few weeks I’ve been able to pet the new guy (now named Louie), and can pick him up and carry him around with no problems.  He’s not as aggressive toward the other cats, and has learned to keep his distance from Mary Alex (the Queen of the Outdoor Cat Community, just ask her!)  IMG_2403

Of the three inside the house, Tripod Jack wants to think he is Top Cat.  Once in a while, the older gal Pepper has to put him in his place when he gets a little too rambunctious in his play.  They both have their bluff in on poor Sugar Baby, who won’t stand up for herself, no matter how many times I tell her to give it a try.  They’ve all been together for years, with Jack being the youngest at seven.  And yet, it was just this past November that I was finally able to capture them all in one photo.  Bet you can guess which one is Jack.

It’s the same routine with the horses in the pasture.  Since there isn’t a stallion in the herd, one of the older mares seems to think she’s in charge.  Even Bindi the Very Good Dog has recently taken to putting on airs a bit, since I adopted a bird dog, Jethro Bone-dean, from the shelter in town.  All in all, it turns into quite a show.  It’s no wonder that I haven’t watched a soap opera in years!

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Unwanted Gifts

Unwanted Gifts

Now that the holiday hiatus is truly over, the pool of memories from which to dip for writing subjects has refilled, although the Midwest weather this weekend has it rather frozen-over at the top.  Having pick-axed my way through the surface (that means downloading photos from my iPhone to my computer), I will start this year with the subject of Unwanted Gifts.

Part of the peril of living in a rural setting–and having a house that is almost 100 years old–is the intrusion of various forms of wildlife when the temperatures outside become frigid.  Spiders hide out in my upstairs bathroom.  Mice leave their calling cards in the potholder drawer of my kitchen.  Snakes slither their way up the drainage pipe end from the ditch by the road into my basement.  None of them are invited, nor welcomed.

IMG_2450One morning about a month ago, I found my Roomba stopped dead in the middle of the living room.  Programmed to run daily in the early morning hours, the little sweeper is usually done with his task and back on the charger base by the time I wake up.  If he stalls and shuts down, it is typically because he got hung up on a floor register, or his dustbin got full, but this was not the case that day.  Picking up Roomba and turning him belly-up, I saw something wrapped around the paddle wheel that sweeps debris into the device.  Sheesh, that looks like a snakeskin, I thought.  Indeed, it was, and what’s worse, the snake was still in it.  My best guess was that one of the cats had found the little rat snake in the basement, played with the thing until the snake went belly-up, then brought the prize upstairs to leave in a highly visible area where I could not fail to find it come morning, like somewhere between the stairwell and the coffee pot.  “See what I brought you?  I am a fierce protector!” Roomba had simply foiled the surprise by trying to do his job.  No cats were praised.  IMG_2453

 

This week, as I was on the phone in my office, a stramash broke out in the living room.  It sounded as though Bindi the Very Good Dog had turned wrong-side-out as she scrambled her way out of a previously peaceful nap on the couch, only to stand in the doorway and stare at me with a look that  spoke volumes.  Thanks to the convenience of cordless phones, I was able to investigate, whereupon the party to whom I was speaking was treated to something unprintable, also spoken at volume.  Another rat snake, this one in a heap on the floor, mostly dead.  But as Miracle Max says in The Princess Bride:  “Mostly dead is also partly alive”, which was apparently as unacceptable to Bindi as it was to me.  Tripod Jack the ornery cat was perched on the kitty tree by the window, pretending with great nonchalance to watch the birds outside at the feeder.  I hadn’t actually seen him bring the repulsive reptile up from the basement and drop it onto the sleeping dog, so I couldn’t officially blame him for the episode, but once again, no cats were praised.

Today, no snakes.  No spiders, no mice, and no major upsets in the household.  There’s a thin layer of snow on the ground, and the wind chill is brutal. But the sun was out, and I managed to bundle up and get to the barn, where the chickens were thankful for some kitchen scraps, and for fresh grain in their feeders. They rewarded me for my efforts with several nice big, brown eggs.  Upon my return to the warmth of the house, I rewarded myself with a bit of that St Louis specialty, Gooey Butter Cake, which I had been hoarding in the deep freeze since Christmas, when it arrived courtesy of my wonderful Daddy & Mother.  THIS was NOT an unwanted gift.  This brought back my attitude of gratitude. This, with a cup of fresh coffee, made all seem well with the world.  And no cats were blamed.

But they weren’t praised, either.  If you know cats, they’re probably plotting something, right this very minute.  IMG_2520Happy New Year!