There are nights like tonight….

…that make all the work you’ve put into creating something so worthwhile. Tonight I had the great fortune to spend the evening at the Mothlight, a venue I really enjoy, surrounded by people I hold dear for a very important cause. The Heartbeat Sessions is a project we started last year at Echo Mountain thanks to the amazing people at Arts for Life NC. It all started when the talented Melissa Hyman from the band The Moon in You was in the studio singing background vocals on a session for NPR’s World Cafe with the River Whyless. I mentioned to Melissa and some of the other musicians in the room how I had seen the documentary Alive Inside, which shows the incredible impact that music can have on people with dementia or Alzheimers. I wanted to see if I could use Asheville Music Professionals as a platform to connect musicians with music therapists or nursing homes that work with individuals struggling with memory loss. That’s when Melissa told me about her work with Arts For Life, which is a non-profit dedicated to supporting people facing serious illnesses, especially children with cancer. Melissa uses music to help nurture the minds and spirits of sick children and their families.

She told me she had this great idea where she wanted to get a stethoscope to record the heartbeat of some of the kids, and then use that as the backing beat of a song of their choice. I told her that if she was able to get the stethoscope, Echo Mountain would offer the studio time to record the song for the families. It took some time to get details worked out, but by November of last year, we had our first date booked.   To date, we’ve recorded 4 songs, for different people (I hesitate to use kids because I don’t think a 14 year old is a kid) and this is just the beginning.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Clay Miller, audio engineer extraordinaire who makes these sessions sound so amazing.

Tonight Arts for Life presented Heartbeats, An Interactive Arts and Music Show for all ages. It was here people were able to experience the Heartbeat Sessions live, with a myriad of the local musicians who have made this project possible. All four songs were played live and Melissa shared some information about each person and why the chose that particular song.

When she introduced the second song, a cover of Jason Mraz‘s I’m Yours,  chosen by a young man named Daniel, she told the audience that he had just passed. This was news for me, and a number of other people involved, and we collectively felt a wave of grief as the song started.  For the recording session, Daniel’s mom made sure to give some photos to Melissa to put up in the studio which was really great for everyone to see who the song was chosen by, and whose heartbeat was the foundation for the song.  This was one of a number of times during the evening where I bit my lip to hold back the emotions that swelled inside me.

At the end of the evening Leigh Glass and I were talking to Melissa about how we were caught off guard when she mentioned Daniel’s passing. Melissa had said she thought she had caught a number of people off guard as she had not had the opportunity to let everyone know. Just as we were finishing that conversation, Daniel’s father walked up and thanked the three of us for all the work we had done recording this song for him and his family and he looked at Melissa and said, “Thank you for making the last 10 months bearable.” I didn’t cry then, in public, but I can do so now, in the privacy of my own home thinking about the support that Melissa, Rachel Zink, and Annie Rogers (both also from Arts for Life) have provided for these families. And Daniel’s parents will have this song as way to remember him, made by a group of artists that wanted to help preserve his memory.

At the beginning of this year I made a conscious effort to focus more on projects that have a bigger meaning, that are about lifting us up collectively as one human race. It was a leap of faith as I had to give up some good paying gigs to make room for the things that pay me in other ways. I felt like I was on the right path, but tonight made me realize there’s no turning back.

Here’s a video for the first session we did for 10 year old Jesse. Check it out.

The Heartbeat Project: Jesse from Erin Derham on Vimeo.

You Never Know…

…how someone is going to be affected by the way you choose to show up in the world at any point in your day.   Think about it, you make a decision on how to react to a situation and then carry on into whatever comes next for you, meanwhile, a whole chain reaction happens based on that one interaction you just had with someone or something. It could be something so minute as putting fancy mustard in your shopping cart at the grocery store in aisle 7 and then you get to aisle 2 and you decide you don’t want it and your lazy ass won’t walk 5 aisles over to put it back where it belongs. So you put it next to the crackers and Cheez Whiz. And you walk away and that’s it for you as far as fancy mustard goes.  But what happens next?  What happens to that mustard? Is there a pregnant woman entering the store that is looking for the just right snack to satisfy her craving?  And all of a sudden she sees the crackers next to the Cheez Whiz AND the fancy mustard and she thinks, THIS IS THE MOST BRILLIANT SNACK IDEA EVER!  Then her baby grows up to cure world hunger creating a product called Cheeztard.  Or maybe you put it back on the shelf but not fully on the shelf and you walk away but then the fancy mustard falls and gets all over the floor.  Then a soccer player walks in to grab some beer and snacks after a game and he accidentally slips on it while texting in aisle 2 and he tears his ACL and BAM! He’s out for the rest of the season with a huge medical debt because he didn’t have health insurance.   I’m pretty sure there are at least 2 movies in not 2000 based on this whole idea.

This year has been off to a rough start for me.  It could be worse, and I will survive, because that’s what I do, but shit twice and fall back in it, I’m ready for the tide to turn!  I’ve decided that the best way to mentally deal with this situation (and for others that have to deal with me) is to make sure that I focus on gratitude everyday.  I look for the little things around me that enrich my life and I make sure to pay homage to those things and people involved.  Today I was grateful for the Duke Energy contract employee who came out shut off my electricity because I hadn’t paid the deposit.  It’s crazy that they wanted a deposit from me in the first place, because I have had good standing service with them for years. I don’t have terrible credit either.  I also didn’t have the money to cover the deposit.  I didn’t have to beg the guy to keep it on, he was so kind and told me that he wouldn’t shut it off.  He asked for me to call them to speak to someone but he was moving on to his next assignment.  And if they sent him out again, he said he would come and talk to me first before doing anything.  This man didn’t know me at all.  He could of been a jerk, not cared about my situation, and I’m sure he’s heard every excuse in the book when dealing with people who don’t want their power shut off.  But instead he was compassionate and this was my first interaction with another human this morning.  I was having an incredibly hard time getting my act together this Monday morning and was about to be late to a meeting, and I’m the type of person who is early to everything.  So yea, my day could of started off much worse depending on how my interaction with him played out.

The last part of my work day took me to absolute Bummertown, which is what I like to say when things go to shit. Someday I will probably write a song called, I Had A One Way Ticket to Bummertown. It will be a country song with a great hook that will get stuck in your head. Seriously, just wait.  One day I will post it here first and then it will be huge and you can say you saw it here first.  And you knew me before I was all mainstream and sold out to the man. All four of you that read this. I’ve digressed. I’ll address my hit songwriting skillz in another blog.

After I hit Bummertown I was ready to go home and start drinking and watching crappy television.  But then I thought about the guy this morning and I realized that I could of started the day off completely different, had it not been for his kindness. I recognize the need to be accountable on how others affect me and not let one experience ruin my whole day.  But I also know that had it started badly AND ended badly, then I would most likely be drinking vodkas and watching gross television right now. But instead, I am writing and drinking tea.

So thank you, contractor man with the thick southern accent. Thanks for making this day better than it could of been. You inspired me more than you know.

And if you need to be inspired….check this out!

What Are You Leaving Behind…Part 1

I have been reading to kids at the same preschool in Weaverville, NC for 12 years.  That means the kids that I helped teach how to read at the age of 4 are now 16 years old.  This thought just dawned on me, and gives me a feeling of being both old and completely satisfied with my life.  When I started this many years ago, I was a nervous wreck, not knowing how the kids were going to receive me, how good was I going to be at telling stories, who knows if they would even listen to me?  Well, what I can tell you is that 12 years later I get more out of it than I ever have.

There’s this book, called Big Green Monster.  Most of the books that I read I get from the library.  The program I read through is called the Preschool Outreach Program.  Every other week I pick up a bag of books that have a theme to them and a puppet.  Each time I read, I name the puppet something that starts with the same letter of the animal.  This is a typical start to my storytelling session.

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Me: “I’ve brought a friend with me today.  And his name is Marty.  Who can tell me what letter Marty starts with?  Raise your hand.”

Kids: “Oooh, me, me, me!”

I call on child, “Tell me what letter Marty starts with.”

Kid 1: “Banana!”

Me: “Banana is not a letter, try again, what letter.  Sounds like Mmmmm”

I call on another kid. “What letter does Marty start with?”

Kid 2: “A Giraffe”

Me: “Giraffe is not a letter, it’s an animal.  M, Marty starts with M.  What kind of animal starts with the letter M?”

I call on yet another kid.

Kid 3: “I got new shoes.  Wanna see?”

As the year progresses, the children get better with their alphabet, with their words, with their ability to comprehend, it’s really awesome to watch happen.  Each time we get through all the books on themes such as Grandparents, Beaches, Feelings, or Scary Stories we then finish with Big Green Monster.  Because I’ve been reading this book at this school for so many years, it’s now the book they use for the kids to read to their parents during their graduation.  Today, I had a moment for the first time, where the kids read aloud the book to me.  They stumbled along, had the first few pages down and needed my help but I was really getting to see my work to help these kids really paying off. I had such an overwhelming feeling that I still can’t put it into words.  Reading and development at this age is so important and I definitely felt like a proud mama to this group of 8 kids.

This past November, I started my One Amazing Year, which I have explained in a previous blog post.  I have decided that I was going to make my commitment to service and helping others one of my top priorities in life.  What I can tell you is that while it’s been a lot of work, I have been having one of the best years of my life.  Things are going well for me in many aspects of my life, both professional and personally and I know it’s because I have realized that this is part of my calling in live.  To serve others.  I am trying to do my part to make this world a better place to live by improving the lives in one or another and I can tell you that there are many people that are doing that for me as well.  What an amazing world this place could be if we all just worked from the mindset that we were put on this earth to help others.  Maybe we aren’t all destined to do that, but I can tell you that I was, and it’s making my life better for it as well.

Maybe one of these days, I’ll meet one of these kids that I read to when they were 3 or 4.  We’ll be at a music festival, or an art show, or in line at the grocery store and they’ll look at me strangely.

Stranger: “You look so familiar, do I know you?”

Me: “I don’t know.  Are you from here? What’s your story?”

Stranger: “Yes, born and raised since preschool.  I’m from Weaverville. Wait a minute, is your name Story Lady?”

Me: “Why yes, yes it is…”

These kids have given me material for comedy over the years as well.  Let’s just say I had no business being in charge of a group of 3 and 4 year olds when I was 22.  I thought playing If You’re Happy And You Know, Bang Your Head was a great idea right after snack time.  No bueno. I have many more stories like this, but for now, I’ll just keep this blog post more heart and less comedy.

6 Overrated Things In Asheville

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Many people have been up in arms over an article from the Huffington Post that named Asheville on a list of most overrated places to visit.  Now we Ashevillians pride ourselves on our unique and eclectic little town.  But it got me thinking about all the things that are not so great about this place.  I didn’t have to think about it for too long, before these examples became glaringly apparent to me.

The Blue Ridge Parkway – The name is a little misleading.  If it truly were a “parkway”, then I should be able to drive up right next to the elevation signs at the scenic outlooks so that I can have my picture taken while my ass is still firmly “parked” in my car.

Dog Friendly Restaurants – Don’t these places know that my dog incessantly begs for food at the table?  Allowing me to bring her on the outdoor patio really takes away from my locally sourced dining experience.

Arts Community – This city is supposedly known for having a large and diverse art scene.  But I can tell you that I have not been able to find one Thomas Kinkade replica print to send to my Grandmother for Mother’s Day.

Independently Owned and Operated Businesses – In today’s economy I really need to be thrifty and look for bargains.  But shopping downtown or in the river arts district can prove to be not so consumer friendly. Just the other day I tried to use my two for one fish taco coupon from Mamacitas to buy a pair of skinny jeans at Union and they refused to take it.  The nerve of some of these business owners!

Marijuana – Now, I don’t know about this one personally because I for one, would never do anything, and I mean anything illegal. Hell, I won’t even cross Coxe Avenue until I hear that creepy voice tell me that it’s okay.  But I would like to think because of the tree huggin’, Phish lovin’, congo playin’ granolas in this town that there would be at least 3 to 4 strains of the gnarliest shade grown, fair trade, organic nugs around at all times.  Strains with names like Purple Nurple, and Oh Shit, What Did I Come Upstairs For Again?  But what I’ve been told by folks is that sometimes it’s hard to find some of the ole wacky tabaccky in Cackalacky and it sometimes comes from as far as California.  Could this be the real reason James Franco is at Norman Nelson College?  Should be calling him, Mule Franco???  Note to self, find out if you can be sued for what you write about someone in a blog…

The Innsbruck Mall – Now, I have to say, this place wasn’t so bad.  And I rode up the escalator  I started to get a little stressed out about the overwhelming shopping choices I was about to be bombarded with.  What a pleasant surprise it was to see that there were only a few choices, and what quality ones they were! After spending an hour reading back issues of the Christian Science Monitor without paying for them, I strolled over to the insurance office to compare rates on my  current homeowners and vehicle policies.  From there, I figured I mine as well get a second license plate while I’m here, since I’ve been considering buying the school bus that’s parked in my neighbor’s  front yard. Alas, I was still slightly disappointed as they didn’t have a Chick-fil-a or even an Auntie M’s Pretzel place to satiate the appetite I had acquired on my shopping excursion.

Perhaps I am jaded because I have lived here so long.  Or maybe I just need to get a way for a bit.  I’m looking into a time share in Myrtle Beach for the whole month of August.

I Was An Assassin In A Former Life

Here’s another story I shared as part of the Listen To This series at Asheville Community Theatre.

I usually end this story by telling people that I was born and raised in Detroit. I casually offer this information as an answer to the looks of horror and bewilderment that this story tends to solicit. The truth is I am really trying to make it seem that my brother and I were products of our environments, instead of the little monsters we really, truly were.

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You see, my brother and I had already established a history of violence between us at a very young age.  We are two years apart and he is the older of the two.  We were continually doing so many things to one another, that it’s surprising that one of us didn’t lose an eye.  I mean, literally didn’t lose an eye.  When I was 5 and my brother was 7 I was trying to follow him to the neighbor’s house to hang out and he threw a flathead screwdriver at me.  He threw it, and from a pretty far distance I might add, and it came through the air and hit me right here, and stuck in my face. Just missed my eye!  I ran into the house screaming, ended up getting stitches….you get the point.

I was no angel though.  I had an affinity to dropping tonka trucks on my brothers face.  There was a time, when we were actually getting along and we were going to push one of his trucks down the slide together.  I climbed up on the top of the slide and he took the truck up, rung by rung and then handed to me at the top before he was about to join me at the top.  When he looked up to take the next step, I dropped the truck on him, watching him and the truck tumble to the ground.

I can say with certainty though, that he was much worse than I was.  Being the older of the two of us, he was definitely stronger than I was.  There were the times he would try to light the ends of my hair on fire. And many of my attacks were from getting sick of his shit.  And there was one night in particular that I had just about enough.

My brother and I were coloring on the hearth of our fireplace. I was coloring a Care Bears book and I think my brother was probably coloring a He Man book.  My mother was in our bedroom.  I say our bedroom because the three of us shared a bedroom.  After my parents divorced, my mom rented out our rooms and so the three of us slept in a king size waterbed together.  Oh, the 80s, waterbeds were one of the worst inventions of all times…..  There was a tiny color television in the bedroom with a coat hanger for an antennae.  This is were my mother liked to watch her “stories.”

So my mother walks into the living room and announces, “Tonight is the season finale of Dallas.  If either of you walk into my room during the next hour, you better be fucking dead.”

Now, I was six years old but I can tell you that these were my mother’s exact words.  This wasn’t one of those, “I will remember this for the rest of my life” moments.  It was more that she had instilled the fear of God in me.  She is a very patient woman but when she gets pissed off, you do not want to bear her wrath.  She would get this vein that would pop in her neck and you would know you were in for a serious ass whooping.

I would like to think she at least got through the first half hour without incident but I can’t really remember those details.  Just what happened next.  I was coloring and all of a sudden my brother took the purple crayon right out of my hand.  Now normally I would be pretty cool about just letting things go.  But I was coloring Share Bear Care Bear, and she just has to be purple.  She’s the one that encouraged people to share their feelings.  Well at this point I was ready to share my anger with my brother. We argued for about 5 minutes.  Then, all of a sudden, I don’t know what came over me but I grabbed a newly sharpened Number 2 pencil with my right hand.  Sharpened end pointing towards my pinky finger.  I then stabbed him right in the face, underneath his nose.  Not only did I stab him, I snapped my wrist so that the lead broke off in is face, leaving me a sharp pointy object as a weapon if I needed it.

His eyes got wide and as the shock wore off, he ran into my moms room with his hand over his mouth.  He opens the door to the bedroom and she turns around and I can hear her say, “Damn it Jason, this better be good!”  He removes his hand from his face to expose the piece of lead sticking out of his face.  I want to see what’s happening so I’m kind of careening my head from the hallway, while also hiding to see what she says.  The next thing I hear is, “Goddamn it.”  But at this point I began contemplating the deep amount of trouble I was about to be in.  My mom called the emergency room to find out if she had to take him in.  It turns out pencils had not been made of lead for quite sometime at this point and she wouldn’t have to worry about lead poisoning.  All she had to do was remove it and put a little peroxide on it.  What was I doing while all of this was going on?  What any other 6 year old would be doing, lying on the couch pretending to be asleep.  I figured, I can’t be punished if I’m asleep, right?

My mom came out after she took care of my brother.  I was just waiting to see what kind of ass beating I was going to get.  Was it going to be a pants on or pants off spanking?  What it going to be by hand or by belt?  First thing she did was tell me to go take a shower.  Not to wash the shame off, but most likely because I was disgusting.  I hated bathing as a kid and I guess my mom figured that I certainly wouldn’t put up a fight now since I was in such deep shit.  So I went to take a shower and then she did one of my favorite things.  She cleaned my ears.  I loved it when my mom would clean my ears.  I would lie on her lap and she was so gentle and it felt really good.  I was waiting for her to freak out on me, or yell at me, but she didn’t.  We talked about it and she realized that I had probably gotten to the point where I just couldn’t take the older brother pummeling anymore and just let him have it.  She did chastise me for STABBING HIM IN THE FACE, “Look” She said,  “This is one of the first of many times you are going to get fed up with some male’s shit” “But you can’t go around stabbing every boy in the face that makes you mad.  Next time you need to be the bigger person and walk away.  And if you’re backed into a corner, well then you just hit them in the nuts.”  They’ll recover eventually but they’ll remember the pain and normally don’t have to go to the hospital over sore nuts.”

The stab wound left a perfect blue mark on my brother’s face, which stayed there until he could grow facial hair.  Which regrettably for him was much later in life.  That blue dot would cause many of fights between us for years to come.  I think sometimes he would get teased at school about it and then come find me at lunch time at school and punch me.  Or I would taunt him about it myself which would end up in a beating as well.

That blue dot is finally gone and now my brother and I laugh about it.  I will say that we still have a tendency to want to beat the crap out of each other although it’s not very often.  We live in the same city now and see each other on a somewhat regular basis.  We verbally pick on each other but we don’t actually come to blows anymore.  We save that behavior for when Mom comes to visit.

My dog is Femous….err….Famous

This picture is from the latest Rolling Stone Magazine.

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This is the band Dawes.  They are very awesome dudes who are very awesome musicians.  We had the pleasure of working with them for 5 weeks this past fall and the love between Femi and them was mutual.  As my good friend Dub Cornett says, “Don’t trust a studio that doesn’t have a dog in it.”

Femi has become friends with many famous people throughout her 5 year tenure as one of  Echo Mountain’s studio dogs.   She’s let it go to her head, unfortunately, and refuses to sleep on anything less than a soft couch and eats only the grossest of garbage.

I am surprised this is the first post about my dog.  I am the equivalent of an old, crazy cat lady spinster, however I am in my mid thirties and my dog is my only child. This will be the first of many posts about her.  You’ve been warned.

This amazing photo is the work of the lovely and talented Shane Peters.  If you ever need any video production work done, he is the man!

Stay Pumped, Y’all!

I have been always been a gym rat, meaning I thoroughly enjoy getting “swolled up” at a fitness center.  I’ve been a tomboy all of my life, even in my days of fake nails and bleach blonde hair. I made my mom sign me up at Powerhouse Gym in Detroit as soon as I got my license and I spent a number of years hanging out and training with guys who most likely had shrunken testicles.  I’ve belonged to a gym as long as I’ve lived in Asheville as well and while it’s a different city in a different part of the country, some things certainly remain the same, just on a smaller scale.

I’ve been a member of the Rush for a number of years now and it is a logical choice as I can spit from my house and hit it.  Well, it’s not that close but it’s certainly in walking distance. It’s your typical big box gym, with ugly day-glo colors and really bad music.  If you call them on the phone they are required to say “It’s a great day to feel the rush!” and when you leave, they do say, “Stay pumped!”  Not every time but I’ve heard it enough times to justify making fun of it.  And it makes it only funnier to hear it in a homosexual southern drawl.  Don’t judge me, if you live in the South, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you are offended by this then I urge you to stop reading now…

I do not have any set schedule when it comes to working out.  I go when I have the time and I try to go early in the morning or on the weekends.  I enjoy the early morning workouts but I also love how dead it is on the weekend.  The mornings are filled with people who are on a schedule, getting in before work and have a daily routine.  The weekends tend to be filled with people who are more spur of the moment; the type who decided to go to the gym over say, seeing Les Miserables for the second time.

This last Sunday I was at the gym minding my own business as I tend to do.  This is a small town and you just have to deal with the fact that you will run into people everywhere you go.  I have no problem with this, even when you run into people whom you don’t care for or drive you crazy.  So when I was approached by this first person, I took it in stride.

I was on the stationary bike and just happened to look up when our eyes met.  There was no going back so I decided to do the polite thing and engage.  It is highly unlikely said person will ever read my blog but I still need to make sure that I practice some discretion.  Let me just say that no amount of peddling got me away from the situation.  I will say however, that working out harder to become out of breath so you cannot speak to someone only helps your physique and nothing else.

I moved on to my chest and tri workout (that’s code for pectoral and tricep muscles for you lazy people.) I had two sets of weights with me, listening to some Southernplayalisticadillacmusic. I am usually sort sighted, just paying attention to my immediate surroundings and making sure I don’t get in anyone else’s way while I work out.  So you can imagine that when I’m approached by this scrawny young guy I think that I have some weights or the bench he needs.

He approaches me as I have my right arm bent behind my neck, stretching my tricep muscle.  I have my headphones on, basking in my early nineties hiphop and practicing restraint not to shake my ass to the music.  This happens to me often while working out, having the need to resist dancing in the gym.  Perhaps I should try one of the dance classes they have at the gym and just get it out of my system, even though it’s not my style. He starts talking to me while I have my headphones still on.  I immediately assume he wants the extra set of weights I’ve been hoarding.

As I begin to take my headphones off I say, “I’m sorry did you want these 15 lbs weights?”

“No, I wanted to give you some advice on your technique.”

Now if there is one thing you should know about me it’s that I don’t take kindly to advice I didn’t ask for.  Maybe this developed from  hearing many diatribes from my mother that started with, “You know what your problem is?  Because I do.” Which many years later I am eternally grateful for, but alas, I was not grateful for the advice from this early twenty something waif-like guy.

“I’m a massage therapist and I noticed that you are overextending your elbow with your stance.”

Have I mentioned that I worked out with a trainer for years?  Also, said elbow had no weight on it as I was making sure to focus on tightening my core (that’s stomach muscles, just in case my parents are reading this.)

“I’ve seen people with joint problems after many years of doing what you’re doing.”

Me: “Are you finished?”

Scrawny massage therapist: “Yes.”

Me: “Okay, two things. First, I’m double jointed in my elbows and I have no pressure on said elbow that you think is over extended.  Second, let me give you a tip.  Before you give someone your unsolicited advice you might want to ask them if they want it first. Because I don’t give a shit about your opinion.”

His eyes grow wide. “Have a good workout.”

He turns to walk away as fast as humanly possible and trips over a free weight on the floor and falls on his face.  I did not laugh outwardly but I have to say it was pretty damn funny.

I know this may have seemed harsh to some people but I saw it as a small victory.  I know all too well about the intimidation of being in a predominately male world. All I could think about was that hopefully this guy would think twice before just offering his supposed expertise to a woman.  I think it’s easy to just fall into the stereotypes that we were so used to growing up.  This guy clearly thought I was new to working out and didn’t even think to ask me about my experiences before just offering up his guidance.  I often see guys with bad techniques working out at the gym.  Can you imagine if I walked up to them and said, “Let me show you how to do that the right way?”  How would they perceive that?  How would you perceive that?

Just food for thought. Stay pumped y’all…..