Category Archives: family life

Diwali

I grew up in a small town in upstate NY which had a surprising number of Indian families given the population and diversity of the town. My family was friends with all the other Indian families and we got together often. As a community our biggest celebration was for Diwali. We would rent out a church basement or town hall somewhere and throw a big bash with lots of food and fun and all the kids could just run around like crazy way past our bedtime. Someone would always make a trip across the border into Canada and buy a mountain of sparklers to add to the festivities. Since fireworks were out of the questions we had to make do with sparklers.

Some families were more religious than others, but there was always a Pooja at some point during the night. I didn’t really understand it (we were one of the non-religious families) but I did love to gather around the deity and hear the singing and feel the reverence of the moment and bask in the tradition of it.

Sometimes the kids did a talent show or put on a play. We weren’t terribly organized but one year we rehearsed and rehearsed a play about Akbar and Birbal. I don’t recall now which story we were acting out, but I do remember that my part was that of a very strict palace guard. My older brother was Birbal and was to try to gain access to the palace I was guarding. I mentioned that we weren’t terribly organized. My brother only told my mom a few minutes before we were leaving that he needed a beard for the play. The best my mom could do was to cut up a piece of fake fur she had used for doll hair and tie a rubber band around it to keep it on. Considering the time and materials she had available,  she did a pretty amazing job. However when my brother came around the corner with this piece of fake fur on his face I just about wet my pants. I forgot all of my lines and just stood there laughing hysterically.

Needless to say, those Diwali celebrations of decades ago had a big influence on me. I try to celebrate Diwali with my family in whatever small way we can. Sometimes we just cook an Indian meal and light a few candles, sometimes we have friends over, and sometimes it just goes by unnoticed. This year I wanted to do something special but Diwali was so close to Ulka’s birthday and I just couldn’t do it all. So on Diwali itself we didn’t do anything, but when we went to my parents for Thanksgiving we celebrated with my parents and my sister-in-law and my nephews. Unfortunately my brother (aka bearded Birbal) had to go back home for work.

I have always loved the idea of doing a Rangoli for Diwali. I had never done one before but they are so beautiful and I have always thought it would be fun to try. It is an interesting idea- spending so much time creating a lovely piece of art work that will just blow away or wash away in the next rain. Rangoli is made with powdered chalk and I was able to buy it in wonderful colors in the Indian grocery store near us.

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When I told my dad about it he seemed very excited. He had never done it before either, but as a boy people would come to his house in India and make beautiful Rangoli designs outside the door.

We started in the afternoon and by the time we finished up it was just getting dark. Andy and I looked at hundreds of patterns and examples on-line and Andy sketched out something similar to what we had seen online.

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The outside lines are all done in white chalk and then filled in with color. It was pretty amazing watching Andy let the chalk dust slip through his fingers making an incredible pattern as if he had been doing it all his life.

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Once he had outlined the whole pattern in white we all filled in with color. We decided which colors would go where before we started. All the kids helped and everyone had a great time.

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We finished up just as it got dark. It was right outside the dining room window so we could see the candles flickering all through the amazing meal we all helped to prepare.

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After dinner we lit sparklers which the kids thought were pretty amazing, especially the little ones. All in all it was a wonderful Diwali celebration- one that will be remembered for a long time.

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The trouble with reading

It is the middle of August. That means it is time for me to freak out about school planning and get all anxious and crazy. The anxiety and craziness came way early this year.  At the beginning of July I had a complete and total homeschooling mom breakdown. From time to time I do second guess my homeschooling decision and wonder if the kids would be happier in school and then I remember why we are doing this and go back to being really happy with our choices. This time my melt down was far worse. Within 2 days I went from my typical second guessing to actually calling the school district to find out how to enroll my kids in school and calling the department of special ed to get Ulka evaluated. I was a mess and spent most of those two days in tears. Andy calmly looked on and let me go through my craziness without saying much. He knew that I would come around back to where my heart really lies.

The forms came from the school and I sat down to fill them out and got completely overwhelmed by that process. SO MANY FORMS. Wow. Who knew it was so complicated to enroll your child in school? Then, I saw my more sane and stable friend Sarah who so patiently listened and nodded and agreed. When I saw her two days later, she talked me off the ledge and reminded me of all the benefits and pluses of homeschooling and offered encouragement and support and suggestions.

So, the back story. Ulka has really been “struggling” with reading. By this I mean that she isn’t reading where she “should be” if she were in traditional school. As a homeschooling mom it is sometimes hard to gauge the children’s progress and I fall prey to all the school standards that I am so desperately trying to avoid. I looked up reading  by grade level, researched how to determine fluency, measured her reading in words per minute and basically made myself and Ulka crazy. I convinced myself that if there is a problem it would be best to find out sooner than later so I decided to have her evaluated by the board of ed. Every single homeschooler that I talked to said clearly “DO NOT DO THAT”.

I know that every child learns at her own pace and I knew that in my heart I was not convinced that Ulka had a “problem”, but that she is just taking her own time. I didn’t get her evaluated and am so thankful that I didn’t.  She has been practicing a lot recently and has made some good progress. I know that schools have to have standards to measure students progress. There are certainly kids who really have a need for intervention and it is great that those resources are available to them. But some kids are just ‘late bloomers’.

Some kids potty train at 2 and some at 4 . Everyone tells the frustrated mother not to worry, that she will do it when she is ready and that she won’t be in diapers when she goes to school. Some kids learn to ride without training wheels when they are 3 and some not until they are 8. If a child is still riding with training  wheels at 7 nobody freaks out and says that there must be some sort of problem and that the kid should be evaluated for a physical problem. It is similar with reading. Ishaan read Tom Sawyer in the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade and Ulka is still sounding out words. But she will get there, I know she will.

So now onto the fun of planning the school year. I have lots of fun ideas, trips and projects in the works and am looking forward to this year. More on school planning later. Now I have to go and do it!

Blackberry Jam

I can finally cross ‘making jam’ off my summer bucket list. Every summer I swear that it will be the year I make jam. We go berry picking, I look up recipes, I’m all ready, and then I get cold feet. I don’t know what it is about making jam that intimidates me, but whatever it is, I overcame it this year and made blackberry jam.

We went strawberry picking early in the summer but the picking was slim and we didn’t get enough to make jam so instead we had a huge strawberry shortcake for dinner. Yes, once a summer we allow ourselves to have strawberry shortcake and nothing else for dinner.

Then later we went raspberry picking and came home with plenty of berries for jam, but they all ended up in little bellies by the handful and in cereal and yogurt.

So, onto blackberries.

There is a huge blackberry patch over at Andy’s parents house. Rather it is a huge patch of stinging nettle, but if you trample down and make paths through the nettle you can discover a bounty of blackberries.

We went early in the morning on four different mornings and harvest blackberries before it got too hot and until we’d had it with the stinging nettle. (If only Ishaan had been around to tell me which plant soothes nettle- I think it might be Jewel Weed but I’m not sure. ) We finally had enough berries for jam.

On advice from my experienced jam making friend Sarah, I used Pomona’s Pectin.

It is a low-sugar pectin, which I found out allows you to make jam using less sugar than a no-pectin jam. There was a simple and straight forward recipe in the pectin packet and I just used that for the first batch. I borrowed a food mill to mash up the berries because wild blackberries have that hard center bit that I didn’t want in the jam. However I didn’t want the jam to be a uniform texture, so I added a few spoonfuls of the seed/pulp mixture that was left in the mill.

mashed berry goodness

left over seeds and middle bits

It’s a messy process

For the second batch I made a Blackberry Mint with Bourbon jam. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly because this recipe didn’t call for pectin. I had to just guess at the amount of sugar to use. Wow, I think this just might be my favorite jam ever!

Well it was jam fever at our house for a few days. The kids and I went blueberry picking at the nearby orchard and farm and came home with many pounds of blueberries. We played around with two kinds of jam. First we made a blueberry lemon with lots of fresh lemon juice and zest. Super yummy! Then I had an idea to make blueberry with ginger and vanilla. I used a good amount of ginger and when I tasted it I thought it was right so added vanilla. I guess I added too much vanilla and it sort of overpowers the nice ginger quality. It is not bad but not as delicious as I was hoping.

So now I have many lovely jars of jam sitting prettily on a shelf. We have opened two jars already but it is hard not to ration it and think of it as being totally precious and to be used sparingly. After all it is just jam and I made it so we could enjoy it!

Healing Lessons

The title of this post might be very similar to my last post, Healing Herb Garden, but this is a  different sort of post. It is not about school or gardening or anything else that you might find useful. It is a mini revelation of sorts. We all have them from time to time and these days mine usually involve some sort of wake up call, reminding me about who I want to be as a mother.

A few days ago Ila, our five-year old, fell off a little exercise  trampoline at our neighbor’s house. We were busy getting ready for a yard sale and frankly didn’t have the time or energy to console an over-reacting child. There were a whole lot of tears and a good bit of screaming, but that is just kind of what Ila does when she is hurt. And besides, it was not a serious fall.  But the crying didn’t stop so I took her inside. When I sat her on the table and gave her my full attention I could tell immediately that this was not just Ila over reacting. Her cry was different and something wasn’t right. She said that her shoulder hurt and when I looked it was clearly not ok- even I could tell that her bones on one side didn’t look the same as the other side. The on-call pediatrician could tell just by looking that she had fractured her collar-bone.

It was a low point for me. Not because she broke her collar-bone, but because of how I reacted to her. Lately I’ve been snapping at the kids and yelling too much. I am out of energy and patience most days and just generally feeling unmotivated as a homeschooling mom. The school year is wearing on me and I am yearning for beautiful weather when we can just be outside all day.

Over the last few days Ila has needed, and deserved, extra help kindness patience and love and I give it readily. My sweetness with Ila has overflowed to the other kids too and our days are just more gentle. I am trying to be the kind of mom I want to and strive to be.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not living in some sort of dreamy existence. There is still yelling and fighting and frustration but Ila’s injury, though not terribly serious, helped to put things back into perspective for me. It reminded me of how resilient kids are but also of how fragile their spirits can be and that I need to take care of them and be gentle with them all the time, not just when they are hurt.

Healing Herb Garden

Ishaan is, at the moment, very interested in learning about medicinal and edible herbs and plants. The other day he went out into the small woods behind our house and came back with a bag of what looked to me like grass, weeds, and dirt. He told me he had collected edible plants and asked if he could cook them up for his breakfast. Now, I must admit that I was a little bit distracted and just said sure. I realize that I probably should have investigated a little bit more, but really what do I know about edible plants. He has learned a lot in his wilderness class so I trusted him. He sautéed them in butter and sat down to a plate of who knows what for breakfast.

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we can take these interests and ideas that the kids have and totally run with them.  It also works out very nicely because we are currently in the middle of his Farming and Gardening Block. I love it when things work out like that!

In our back yard we had a row of huge peonies. I love peonies, but we have them in the front of the house too and I’ve been wanting to do something else with that space in the back so we decided to turn it into a healing herb garden. I checked out a few books from the library and we did a little bit of research. The book I ended up liking most and getting the bulk of our information is called The Medicinal Herb Garden: How to Grow and Use your Own Medicinal Herbs by Anne McIntyre.  We looked through it for ideas and then decided to narrow it down to about 6 types of plants. We thought about what ailments we wanted to make remedies for and chose plants based on that. We are going to grow Echinacea, Feverfew, Marshmallow, Lemon Balm, Stinging Nettle, Calendula and a whole bunch of cooking herbs. We’ve got plenty of Plantain growing in the grass in the summer.

I had Ishaan look up each plant and write down what it is used for and draw a picture of it in his garden journal. We dug out the peonies and gave them away to several different friends. We certainly didn’t want to throw them out, so it is nice to know that they will be making other people’s gardens beautiful.

We weeded that area and sectioned it off using bricks from our chimney that were removed when it was rebuilt after the trees landed on the house. Now we have to spread some compost and natural fertilizer on it and it will be ready for planting.We ordered seeds from Bountiful Gardens and High Mowing.

The Bountiful Garden seeds came a couple of days ago and today we will plant them in small pots inside and them transplant them once they are a couple of inches tall.  Some of them we can sow directly in the ground, but I don’t like doing that because when they first come up they all look the same to me and look just like the weeds, so I’m afraid I will pull them out while on one of my weeding rampages.

While they are starting to grow we will research how to use them properly. Some, like plantain and nettle, you just mash up and apply directly to the skin. Some, like lemon balm are used to make tea, and others require more of a process to extract the good stuff so I’ve got a lot of learning to do.

The Egg Dye Failure

Several years ago I started a family tradition of making hot cross buns on Good Friday. I think I have used a different recipe every year, but this years’ were my favorite so I need to record the recipe somewhere. I found it on a blog that I enjoy called The Pioneer Woman. Here is the link to her hot cross buns. We made plenty to share with our neighbors and also our friends who we were visiting that day.

 

Our family loves to dye Easter eggs and for a while now I have been curious about making natural dyes.  I have wanted to try this as much for the sake of experimentation and learning something new as for limiting our use of artificial colors and dyes.  I know people have had good success making natural dyes and their eggs look beautiful. I did a bit of research to find out what to use and how to do it. There are a ton of  resources online for doing this.

I boiled red cabbage which made a lovely deep blue color, but when I added vinegar it immediately turned an incredible pink.

I boiled spinach for green, and chili powder for orange. I though if I got good results with these, I would try some others the next day. Now, I am not a patient person, so I kept checking the eggs every 5 minutes and nothing was happening. I let them soak in their pots of natural dye for hours and when I finally took them out this is what I got- brace yourself……

 

So, it was a little bit disappointing and also kind of funny. My eggs clearly looked nothing like those lovely deep colored Easter eggs I saw on various websites. Obviously I did something wrong. I’ll probably try again next year, but fortunately  my friend Sarah had gone ahead and mixed up dyes using food coloring.  Lovely bright colors which made lovely Easter eggs.

 

Andy also loves to dye Easter eggs, so our family did another round of egg dying on Saturday morning using good old PAAS pellets.

Andy is kind of an expert over achieving egg dyer, so it fun to watch him. He is also ridiculously good at blowing out  eggs – when you poke each end of the egg with a pin and blow out all the innards so you have just the whole shell that you can dye and keep out as decorations. I had planned on making an egg dish for Easter brunch so we already had a plan for all those egg insides.

I washed off all the gunk from the failed naturally dyed eggs and we re-dyed those and they came out great too.

I know some of you have dyed eggs using natural dyes, so if you have any tips for me for next year, please do share them!

Mondays revisited

You might remember my post a few weeks ago with a desperate plea for suggestions on how to make our Monday school days less painful, and even a little bit fun! Thank you to all of you who responded with great ideas. My hope is that this blog isn’t simply a way for me to post pictures of my kids and “our perfect life”, but to be part of a supportive community that shares ideas, so thank you!

Last Monday I was sort of off the hook because it was Ila’s birthday and we had a day off school.  Yesterday was my first Monday with my new approach. I have decided to not even attempt to sit down at the table for school first thing.  I asked that the kids be completely ready: dressed, breakfasted, beds made and rooms tidied, and chores done by the time I got home at 8:30.  To my surprise they were actually ready so I took them out to Five Rivers Nature Center. We go there often so it is a place they are all very familiar with.

It was chilly and I wanted all the kids, including Kairav to walk the whole time, so we chose the short 1/2 mile Beaver Trail, which is loop around a pond, and then headed into the education center to watch the birds and look at the owl and the turtles.

We headed home around 10:00 to start the “school” day. I had laid out all of their materials before we left so the transition would be smooth. They had a quick snack  and got down to work with no complaining.

I think the fresh air and running around was a great way for everyone, myself included, to start the week.  We had a great Monday which I think will set us up for a good school week. The kids are excited to have a good week and keep reminding each other about staying focused so that I don’t yell. Even the little ones amused themselves and stayed (mostly) out of trouble.

In addition to starting the morning differently, I also spent about 1.5 hours at the library on Sunday afternoon laying out the whole week. If I start the week off with a solid, yet flexible, plan everything goes much better. I know exactly what I want to cover and have realistic expectations of the kids.  I decided to have a week of some inside reading and writing work, but a lot of outside hands on stuff.  The kids haven’t had a break week since Christmas, and I think we are all feeling a little bit burned out and ready for a break- which comes next week!

So this week we started the farming and gardening block with both Ishaan and Ulka. Ishaan will do a more detailed study of seed development, plant and flower structures, and pollination and both kids will keep a gardening journal and help with the planning and preparing of the garden. We started some seeds inside yesterday. Today we will turn the compost and start getting the garden ready for planting the greens and peas.

I am hopeful that this new way of entering into the school week will continue to work well for us. I feel bad that it took me so long to recognize that Monday mornings were a problem, but at least now I know and we can try to fix it.

Happy Spring to all of you.  Go plant a garden- in your yard, on your fire escape, on your window sill- where ever you can!

Earthling turns 5!

Five years ago our, Ila (meaning Earth), our tiniest package arrived. Three weeks early and a little pipsqueak.

She is still our little pipsqueak but she has a lot of heart and a lot of person in that little body!

Birthday anticipation and excitement was in full force last night at bedtime. I told her the birthday poem that I love so much and say to all the children on the eve of their birthday. I’m not sure where it comes from originally but it is one my friend, a Waldorf teacher, sent me years ago.

When I have said my evening prayer,
And my clothes are folded on the chair,
And mother switches off the light,
I’ll still be …… years old tonight.

But, from the very break of day,
Before the children rise and play.
Before the darkness turns to gold
Tomorrow, I’ll be …… years old.

… Kisses when I wake,
…, Candles on my cake!

I stayed up too late last night finishing up her birthday garland, which will become our spring garland when her birthday passes. I enjoyed making our heart garland so much I decided to try a flower one.

Ulka ran out and cut 5 daffodils and a hyacinth from the garden and we set the table for birthday breakfast- her choice, Daddy pancakes.

After pancakes was present time. We usually have the kids wait until after supper and cake to open gifts, but we decided to let her open them this morning. Ishaan made her an awesome necklace. He cut out little house shapes and drilled holes in them so he could thread them onto a thin wire. One each little house he wood burned one letter of her name and made into a necklace

A few weeks ago Ulka went up to my moms for a few days. While she was there she made a doll quilt of Ila’s doll Lulu. It is pretty amazing. She sewed the squares together,machine quilted it and then sewed the binding by hand. My mom was there looking over her shoulder, but she did it all by herself. Ila loves it.

Andy needed me to take Ila out for a couple of hours so that he could finish up a project that he has been working on. More than happy to oblige, I took Ila out on a big birthday date. Now, anyone who knows Ila knows that she is “passionate” about hair. If you have long hair and you come over, watch out. Ila will persuade you to let her comb and style it for you. Ila doesn’t have long hair and so wishes that she did, but it is so thin and brittle that it just doesn’t grow long.  I decided to surprise her with a trip to a hair salon. I have always cut her hair for her so I thought it would be a special treat. She was a little nervous at first, but I think in the end she enjoyed it (at least I hope she did).

Ta Dah!! The after shot. It was a bit to  little girl pageant-y for me with it all styled, but it’s a super cute cut that I think will look great once we let it do its own thing. Ila loved how puffy and shiny it was.

We went out for lunch at the local diner and I let her order anything she wanted. Mostly she was excited that she could have orange juice and hardly ate anything!

When we finally got home, Andy told her she had one more present waiting for her. While we were out, he (nearly) finished her new bedroom. Her room was damaged when 4 trees fell on it during the tropical storm last year. She has been sleeping in Ishaan and Ulka’s room since then. The renovation project is a very long story that will get its own entry soon.  Ila was so thrilled with her new room and just couldn’t stop saying thank you. It was worth every ounce of effort that went into it. It is an amazing room though- I would love it too. Tomorrow Kairav will join her in there, but for tonight it is just hers.

Mimi, Andy’s grandmother came over for supper and cake. I do the baking and Andy does the decorating. I think we are a good team- when I decorate it looks like a 4-year-old has done it.

Good night my little Ila. Sleep soundly in your new room. We are so happy you are here filling our lives with your sunshine.

The trouble with Monday

Today was a rough school day. It was a very rough school day. It started badly, with me frustrated and yelling and only got worse.

Ila was being difficult and annoying, Kairav was being clingy and annoying, Ulka was being obstinate and annoying, and Ishaan was completely unmotivated and annoying. I was incredibly mean and annoying.  A rough day.

By 1:15  we had barely accomplished much more than a bit of reading and a bit of writing and a lot of yelling. I gave up and told everyone to pack up their stuff, the school day was over.  It is not unusual to be finished with lessons and work by 1:00, but we normally have a whole lot more to show for it. Today we just had a lot of hurt feelings.

I complained to Andy that I was cranky and that the kids were uninterested. I was feeling like no matter what I do I can’t seem to make school fun and exciting these days. It feels like we are plodding through work just to get it done. I was feeling like I might as well buy a pile of workbooks, circle “to do” pages everyday and leave it at that. But I know that is NOT the way I want to homeschool. One of the reasons we are homeschooling is because we want the kids to enjoy it and we want it to be fun and interesting. So when I feel like I am failing at that it all falls apart.

Then Andy calmly said “it’s Monday”. Every Monday is just like this. You need to change the way school happens on Mondays. And it suddenly dawned on me. It’s true, every Monday is like this, especially if it’s been a busy weekend and I haven’t done enough planning for the week.

Now my challenge is to re-think Monday morning school. Do any of you have this same Monday re-entry issue? How do you handle it? How are your Mondays different?

With the warmer spring weather quickly approaching I am considering starting the day outside, giving us all some space to get our heads in gear for the week. There is plenty of yard work to do and gardening to get started. We could also head out to the local nature preserve and take a hike. I’ve thought about walking to the library and looking at books, but I think that might be too controlled for what we need.

I’d love to hear your suggestions! Now, Monday is finally over. On to Tuesday which is bound to be better.

Oh, cram!

We try to live as simply as we can in our hectic world. We really do. However, like everything else, our ability to accomplish this simplicity living seems to be seasonal. We are currently in a season of failing miserably at living simply.

 

I feel like everyday is a rush of school, running around, cleaning, cooking and working and we are missing the simple joys of the day.  By evening I am exhausted and just glad the day is finally over and hopeful that the next day will be easier, but the next day hasn’t been turning out that way.  Lately I have been overwhelmed by the number of tutoring students that I have. With the hours I spend with the students, prepping, and getting to and from the library I have had to carve out about 15 hours a week.  I just don’t have 15 hours a week to spare, so something has had to give. There must be something I am letting slide or not getting done.  At first it wasn’t obvious, but then I realized that what I am not doing is pausing for a moment to look around me and actually see things. Really seeing what my kids are doing, learning, and making. Seeing how Kairav is changing every day. Seeing how much Andy has been pitching in around the house to make it possible for me and pausing to say thanks to him. Pausing to have a quiet moment to thank God for all that is good in my life. I’ve been cramming every moment of every day full of doing doing doing that I’m missing all of it.

On top of it all, I just realized that Ishaan has to take the NYS 4th grade tests this year. I was under the delusion that he had to take them in 5th grade. So now, we are cramming for that too. I always promised myself that I wouldn’t stress out about these tests and that I would never  “teach to the tests”. But here I am stressing out and teaching to the tests. We are doing this test prep on top of all his other, more interesting school work, so the school days have become significantly longer.

I am confident that Ishaan is learning as much as he should be and that school is going well for us, but I feel all this pressure for him to do well on these pointless tests. Pressure from people in my life who question our decision to homeschool, pressure from the school district, and pressure from myself to prove to all of those others that we are doing a good job and that Ishaan is a bright kid and a good student. I wish so much that I wasn’t this way, but I am.

Lent starts today and it seems like the perfect opportunity to give up some of this rushing around to pause and be thankful. I know that is not going to happen right now though and I’m not going to pretend that it is. Last year Andy and I gave up Netflix for Lent. We don’t have a TV but watch our fair share of Netflix nonsense.  Giving it up “forced” us to spend that hour in the evening with each other- talking, playing Sequence, and just being together in a more meaningful way than staring at the computer screen together. When Andy first proposed that we do it again this year I was annoyed. My days are crazy and having a beer or a glass of wine, knitting, and turning off my brain is what I think I need at the end of the day. I realized though, that right now in this crazy season of cramming what I really need to do at the end of the day is pause, give thanks, and just be.