stepping out, stepping in

I’ve been gone for a while, I’ve been in a season of decision making, prayer and probably too much thinking.

Situations happened that catapulted me out of my norm, and shifted me back to a hope that had dissipated years ago. That hope, soon became a reality and stepping into the reality of a hope can be scary and intimidating, no matter how you perceive it.

Stepping out of the norm of routine, familiarity and ease, and into something different requires much more than walking away, signing a paper and ordering some books.

 It’s times like these, when I make a conscious decision to march to my own drum, to step out onto my own beat… it’s times like these you really find out who your back up drummers are.

And, back up drummers matter.

Sometimes, we are given chances to be back up drummers, chances to help echo faith and encouragement for somebody stepping out to a new and unfamiliar beat. And, other times we are stepping out alone, facing a new journey ahead.

And, other times we glide comfortably into the rhythm of life.

This summer, I made the decision to home school. Something I had always hoped to do, but life never fell quite into place for it.  And, I also have decided to document this first year. Mainly, to help those understand homeschooling, and perhaps to encourage others that may be feeling led to march away from the norm of society.

My decision to home school has nothing to do with the school choices I have before me. I know that there are talented, blessed teachers more than capable of teaching my daughter.

But, I also know my daughter.

I can teach her aligned to her intelligence style, and customize learning just for her. If she doesn’t get something, I can work with her on it, without time restraint. And, to be blunt;

I learned more in life outside the classroom.

We learn the basics between walls.

We learn life by living it.

Therefore, I am stepping out into this.

So far, I have already encountered the first of many condescending, snide remarks from members of society, such as:

So, you home school? So you’re like her teacher and mom?

As parents , we are teachers whether we chose to home school or not. We are our children’s first teacher.

What’s wrong with school? You think your kid is too good for school?

Nothing is wrong with school, there are amazing talented teachers out there, many kids thrive in a classroom setting, however, my child preforms better in an individualized setting.

What do you teach? Where do you get your materials?

I dumpster dive behind the local schools.

Just kidding.

There are thousands of curriculum choices out there. I chose mine based on my own child’s learning styles.

I think home school kids end up socially awkward, what about things like clubs, sports, prom? Kids need to be socialized.

Homeschooling is huge. I am a member of a homeschooling group with hundreds of children. We have group park days, field trips, choir, sports, music, art, prom and even classes in a schoolroom on a weekly basis. To be honest, my daughter has four group  field trips in September. More than she had all year in school.

Oh you’re lucky you get to sleep in all day.

Ummm, no.

What about college?

Although I am not at high school level right now, if we chose to continue through high school there is accredited curriculum and dual enrollment available for home schoolers, they are also eligible for the same scholarships and grants, as a non home schooled child.

So far, that’s been what I have experienced.

Of course, I could always just say: None of your business to all of the questions, and march on my merry way….

But, people ask questions because they want answers. Kids ask questions because they want answers. We are all teachers when we take the time to answer.

Take the time to answer.

No matter what the question is. :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

buffalo macaroni and cheese

buffalo mac and cheese Sometimes mellow, mild  and creamy macaroni and cheese is just what you need for ultimate comfort food.

Other times, you need a little kick, but not just a few splashes… you need a kick that’s part of the dish, where it’s fiery flavor mingles with the creamy cheese and chewy pasta.

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That’s where this comes in.

Taking a good thing and making it even better.

It’s recipe refinishing.

Speaking of refinishing… I must share my latest project:

furnitureI found the bench months ago in a curbside trash pile (yes, months ago and I finally got around to do something with it)

The paint was a high gloss spray version and the fabric was Walmart. Total cost was around $6.47, and I even had fabric left over to make a pillow.  Woo hoo to that.

I took something very 70’s and made it very Keys-ish. :)

It’s summer  time, after all.

And here I am sharing a “hot” recipe….

 

 

 

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I know it’s summer, and the last thing you may want is something spicy; but…. you know those stormy, rainy afternoons? Yes. This is what you make for those.

If you need something for the sweltering dessert days… hold tight, I have that, too.

And, If you need me to inspire you to go diving in the neighbors trash for things to spray paint…. well, I guess you can blame me for that one, too.

Happy Tuesday everyone. :)

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buffalo macaroni and cheese
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8 ounces cooked macaroni noodles
  • 3 TBS butter
  • 2 TBS flour
  • ¼ cup beer
  • 1 cup shredded Colby/jack cheese
  • 2 cups milk
  • 6 TBS buffalo wing sauce
  • salt/pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Cook macaroni and set aside
  2. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.
  3. Add flour to make a paste and slowly pour in the beer
  4. Cook and slowly add the milk and cook until mixture is smooth and thick
  5. Stir in the cheese and stir until melted.
  6. Add buffalo sauce and season to taste.
  7. Fold in cooked noodles and place in a casserole dish
  8. Serve immediately or top casserole with panko crumbs and bake in a preheated 350 oven for 15 minutes, or until golden on top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

mango salsa and summer stories

Mango SalsaThis is summer in a bowl.

Sweet, salty, tangy and fresh, with a slight crisp from jicima, it’s a tropical vacation for your tongue.

I live in an old neighborhood. And, with old neighborhoods, come established trees. An established home with a yard that feeds you is a perk and a blessing.

A friend once commented to me, “Mangoes are such generous trees.” And, she is right. This time of year,( this summer in particular), locals have more than they can handle.

It’s the zucchini of the south.

Continue reading mango salsa and summer stories

Little Havana Culinary Tour

Throughout the world, there are several areas where culture and history make such a footprint, they become interwoven with the fabric of the society, an ethnic enclave that pieces together the people and roots of our country.

I was born and raised in South Florida. I’m a third generation native Floridian,  This is my home, humidity and all.In addition,  my home is where the produce  stands sell cups of fresh fruit with chile and lime, where  a hot loaf of Cuban bread is at every market, and where you never have to search far for a good cup of cafe Cubano.

Little Havana Food Tour_0739

But, I was told- (by my Cuban neighbors) the best of all of it is in Little Havana.

Little Havana, a mere spot on a map in Miami that is so saturated by history and culture that it permeates throughout the state. Of course, the best part  (to me, at least) is the food. Over this past weekend, I was able to attend one of the Culinary tours offered by Miami Culinary Tours.

A word about parking if you go: The metered spots on the street have a 2 hour limit, – I highly suggest you use the pay by phone option; most of the machines could not print receipts. We stayed a bit longer than two hours, and we got lucky, with no ticket upon return.

Our tour guide began our tour at the art studio/gallery  of Agustin Gainza

Little Havana Food Tour_0748His bright, story telling creations range from classic oil on canvas masterpieces, to intricately small  masterpieces painted on matchboxes. He believes that if you appreciate his art, you should be able to afford  to own a piece.

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It was quite evident he stood by his belief, when he handed my daughter a print bookmark.  She asked me to keep it safe in my handbag, and throughout the day questioned me for the assurance of the safety of her piece of art.

 

Little Havana Food Tour_0752Our first official food stop was “El Pub” (1548 SW 8th street)Little Havana Food Tour_0796When we got there, we were quickly seated in the dining area, where refreshing ice water and neatly arranged paper placemats awaited us.

The restaurant, walls decorated with clipped recipes from thier menu held a timeless feel of a 1950’s diner, a wraparound counter to satisfy a craving for a media  noche (Midnight sandwich) and an outdoor walk up window for a fast spot of cafe cubano.

We were served beef empanadas, wheat pastry filled with picadillo (seasoned ground beef) Little Havana Food Tour_0776

Little Havana Food Tour_0779Next up were the tostone rellenos

Little Havana Food Tour_0781They consisted of small cups made from mashed plantains and filled with diced seasoned chicken and potatoes.

Little Havana Food Tour_0794Seeing the full entrees being served all around us, definitely made me want to take another trip down to revisit.

Little Havana Food Tour_0799Our next stop was at Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company    and this happens to be Mr  Don Pedro Bello  himself – he is the most photographed man in all of Miami.  My husband informed me that they are ga-zillionaires, and it made me smile that  is still quite content to smoke his cigar in front of his family business, absorbing the rhythm of Calle Ocho.

Little Havana Food Tour_0821Little Havana Food Tour_0815After this stop, we walked down to a small ventanita..

Little Havana Food Tour_0828Our tour guide, Ralph  re-enacted a typical coffee experience , you see Cafe Cubano is not meant to be shared….

Little Havana Food Tour_0848You can see why.

In this tiny cup, there is the same amount of caffeine as 8 ounces of coffee. It’s brewed from a almost talcum fine grind, and served sweet and black. If you prefer a creamier variety, you can always order a cafe con leche (coffee with milk).

_DSC4249And this is where we were treated with one of the tastiest Cuban sandwiches around. For those of you that are unaware of what a Cuban sandwich consists of, let me attempt to explain the flavor explosion between bread.

In it, you have  sweet  ham, savory roast pork, salty crisp pickles, creamy Swiss cheese and yellow mustard. It’s all placed between slices of Cuban bread (a type of baguette) and pressed in a flat iron sandwich press, (although some places will press them using a hot foil wrapped brick). There are several mutations of the sandwich that can be found throughout  Florida, some made with media noche bread( with is a denser, chewier bread made using eggs). It’s known as the midnight sandwich, because people would order them at street side stands in the wee hours of the night , perhaps to absorb one too many Mojitos.

Little Havana Food Tour_0878Fortunately, our tour had the option of Virgin Mojitos available.  At  The Ball and Chain Little Havana Food Tour_0860

The Mojito, is a tropical cocktail that has gained it’s popularity recently.  Refreshing and crisp, it is a mixture of clear rum, simple syrup, macerated mint and lime and a splash of club soda._DSC4294

 

….  further down the road, we stopped at Los Pineranos FruteriaLittle Havana Food Tour_0949 A fruteria,  is an open air produce stand where the flowery sweet aroma of ripe mangos perfumed the air like Mother Nature’s Febreeze. We drank fresh pressed guarapo (sugar cane juice) and enjoyed the escape from the blazing sun amidst tropical fruits and spices.

Little Havana Food Tour_0931Little Havana Food Tour_0950Little Havana Food Tour_0959  We were treated with a small lecture from a mango expert along with a sampling of fresh mango….

Our next stroll down the street brought forth more small walk up eateries, alive with color and energy and people that were alive with the beat of the city, caffeine and, perhaps  rum. A city, sharp  like its coffee, but with a sweetness and endurance beneath.

Little Havana Food Tour_0903Little Havana Food Tour_0906

 

 

The sweetness of the tour did not stop with the coffee or cane juice, it continued with a visit to a small bakery, to experience Guava Pasteles  (Guava Pastries)

 

Little Havana Food Tour_0926

Not overly sweet, with a light flaky crust and filled with a fragrant tart tropical paste that perfectly compliments the mild and flaky pastry.

And, although this could be considered dessert for myself, we stopped at Azucar for some fresh ice cream.

Little Havana Food Tour_0968Little Havana Food Tour_0972 A sweet finish to a day.

In all,  Little Havana holds way more than delicious  culinary stops and art galleries. It holds onto a people, a culture, and a vibrancy that’s like nowhere else on earth.  A small strip of community, heritage and culture that speaks into all walks of life.

 

 

 

 

chicken and yellow rice

Chicken and yellow rice~ sans the yellow dye

chicken and yelllow rice

A few months’ ago, my mother gave me stacks of old cookbooks. In the stack of dusty and tattered bindings were titles ranging from diet fads of the 70’s (grapefruit diet, anyone?) to more modern gems like Nigella.

But.  the diamond in the bunch was an old navy blue cloth covered binder, it’s once pointed corners now frayed,  worn and rounded with time… bursting with handwritten recipes collected over a span of 70 years, small amber colored  clippings from newspapers and magazines, and assorted labels from wine bottles, that were carefully soaked off and dried, and noted on in my grandmother’s old world penmanship, “Good”  “Too Sweet” or “Excellent”. I never knew my grandmother was such a connoisseur of wine.

After spending several hours absorbing the contents of the binder, I also learned that my grandmother loved carrots. A slew of carrot themed recipes, from carrots in aspic to carrot souffle to classic carrot cake, pages of assorted clippings and notes that all had one ingredient in common; carrots.

Another noteworthy ingredient/theme she seemed rather fond of was spaghetti sauce- spaghetti sauce recipes, in particular. There must have been 15 of those at least… I wonder if it was one of her culinary quests while she was here? The search for that “perfect” sauce recipe?  It seems everyone has a favorite food that they search to replicate. For me, it’s the pink frosted cookies I had at a department store when I was 6. It was in celebration of the introduction of Belle. (Snoopy’s girlfriend) I have yet to re-create those.

You can learn a lot about someone by seemingly random belongings.

For instance, she had my aunt’s handwritten recipe.

My aunt, her daughter in law’s sister.  I had no clue they were close enough to exchange recipes.

So, oddly- first recipe from the batch that I decided to try was, in fact, not my grandmothers,  it was my aunt’s  My aunt who is still living today, who I want to  need to visit, and who, also, was the first person to take me to Disney World when I was 13.

My aunt, who drew these fantastic, whimsical  pictures for my grandparents of them every year for their anniversary. Pictures of the two of them, and their little home was a tiny castle, with rabbits and squirrels and frogs scampering about their feet, as if the castle were a haven for all life.  I need to find out what happened to those pictures…..

The pictures hung in a green room, with a huge rounded couch and a small glass top table where they would have their lunch at. On top of the table a small fish tank with two small pet aquatic frogs living in it. You see, my grandmother loved frogs. And, my grandfather loved her so… they had pet frogs at the lunch table.

Love makes you do stuff like that.

Back to the recipe:

chicken and yellow rice no dyeThis recipe has always been one of those recipes I have hunted for, living in South Florida, a walk around my neighborhood in the evening brings for a slew of heavenly aromas; smoky grills, pungent garlic, roasting chicken… and there is that smell; that comforting chicken soup on a cold day smell that makes you long for home.

This is that smell, folks.

Dinner always tastes better when you can smell it cooking hours before._DSC3965Most recipes for yellow rice call for a package of yellow rice, which is commonly loaded with dyes, sodium and preservatives. This one, however, uses saffron.

Real saffron.

I am fortunate enough to be a part of the Raw Spice Bar, a company that sends you small batch herbs and spices from around the world (and recipes) every month. For $6 it’s well worth it. As you can guess, this month I got saffron. (YAY!)

 

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I hope you enjoy this recipe.

And, take the time to enjoy your loved ones while they’re still here.

 

chicken and yellow rice
 
Author:
Serves: 6 servings
Ingredients
  • 3 lbs fryer chicken cut up
  • ½ cup Spanish olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large ripe tomato, peeled and chopped
  • ½ green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 cups long grain rice
  • ½ cup peas
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbs salt
  • pinch toasted saffron
  • 1 cup hot chicken broth
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 1 sprig parsley
  • 2¼ cup chicken broth (in addition to the 1 cup)
  • 1 pimento cut into strips
Instructions
  1. In a large oven proof saucepan with a tight fitting lid brown chicken until golden
  2. Remove chicken and set aside
  3. Add onion and green pepper to drippings in skillet, saute until transparent
  4. Add tomato, garlic, lemon juice, bay leaf, salt and mix well.
  5. Dissolve the saffron into the hot chicken broth (1 cup) and combine with ¼ cup wine
  6. Pour into skillet and add parsley
  7. Add chicken to skillet and cook over medium heat 15 min
  8. Add rice and stir in the 2 /4 cups chicken broth, bring to a boil
  9. Cover and place in a preheated 325 oven for 20 min.
  10. Alternately, you may reduce heat to simmer and continue to cook 20 min over stove
  11. Once rice is tender, garnish with peas and pimento and sprinkle with lots of dry wine. Allow to set 15 minutes before serving

 

10,000 steps and other journeys

image   I try to take 10,000 steps a day.  there are days when it’s an easy task. Then, there are other days where each step is a journey. Days when my patience is tested, I grow weary and weak from the challenges and obstacles that lay in the path of life.

You see, it’s not only in the physical steps that we move forward. It’s in the spiritual steps that we really get somewhere.

The days when you realize how you have moved beyond periods of life, or the days when you realize that you haven’t.

I have crushing days, days filled with drama, sadness, illness and heartache. Days where I feel that the steps I made have been washed away from the shore of life… I spent 8 years raising a (now recovered) drug addict’s daughter. And in one remarkable swoosh of a wave, everything I did evaporated in the grasps of her biological mother.  Like seeing a  crisp clean wave break through the depth of the dark ocean, the destruction of the element is  always apparent in the aftermath.

So, I step forward and get used to a new normal, a smaller family with one less place at the dinner table. I get used to walking past an untouched room… and I keep walking.

Accumulating steps, and lessons in between. Would I have trekked differently if I knew the destination?

No.

Because I have not made it there yet. This is just a road block. Construction is underway on the road of life and I have the choice to sit and wait, stew and stomp my feet and go nowhere.

Or…..

I can continue. Keep the journey going and enjoy the sights of life, with or without whoever chooses to walk along my side.

I chose to take my steps.

I chose to embrace even the most difficult terrain, because I know that the construction crew God uses in my road is for His road, and His path.

Chances are, there may have been a huge sinkhole He had to fill.

So, take your steps and enjoy your journey. Embrace the road blocks and detours, and know that something far greater is at work, and something far beyond our expectations  lie at the end of our paths.

 

 

 

 

 

homemade pretzel buns

homemade pretzel buns My husband thought I was a bit crazy making these once he saw all the steps involved.  He had no clue what goes into pretzel making I suppose…

You see, pretzels have that chewy, slightly  briny exterior for a reason. They take a swim before they bake.

And, that extra step makes all the difference and yes, it’s well worth it to make your own. Pretzel buns are expensive, and It’s just plain  fun to save money. That was my logic when the hubby raised an eyebrow as I heated up the big stockpot.

Then, when they came out of the oven… he swiped one to eat (which annoyed me because I wanted to save the best looking ones for a photo shoot and when I asked him if he got an ugly one to eat he said they all looked the same which made me realize he clearly needs a training in food styling.)

Anyway, he ate one and had that “wow-this-is-really-good” reaction that all home cooks strive for. SCORE! :) Total. keeper. recipe. Insert happy mama dance.

So… speaking of family: here we are creeping upon summer,  flip flops and beach days are calling me like church bells on Sundays. I cannot wait to embrace summer’s freedom. I’m blessed to be in a realm of existence where summers matter (ie; I’m off during summer) But… I know not all of you have that.

I know that summer is dreaded for many; it’s expensive with camps, or it’s expensive with worry , it’s stressful-and; as parents,  you  cannot wait for school to be in session again.  But: it’s still summer.

Try to remember back to your own summer days: free from the desk, and uncomfortable chair, bagged lunches and cafeteria food, schoolwork, mean kids and test anxiety.  Having to wear uniforms and shoes that are too tight because your mom doesn’t want to buy anymore school shoes before next fall, and don’t even get me started on worn out school clothing. I think by the end of the school year I had a years’ worth of stains on everything, and none of my socks matched. Ever.

Ahhhh.  I am so glad I’m not a kid anymore. Sometimes.

Being a kid is way overrated. Sure, you don’t have typical adult worries; bills, money, health, work just  to name a few.  But with a lot of the adult problems, adults have somewhat control over.  Have a budget, live a healthy lifestyle, do your best at work….

But, when you’re a kid? You’re stuck. Totally stuck in the grasps of childhood. Stuck with whatever mom made you for lunch.  Stuck with the tight shoes, stuck with meatloaf Mondays. And stuck sitting side by side with the third grade bully, because you have the same last name. Stuck with assigned everything.  Let’s face it: childhood isn’t all that great. We just think it was because we didn’t have the worries we do as adults.

However, kids still have worries…. just because they don’t seem as important as your worries , it  doesn’t negate them.

They are real.

So: embrace summer. Understand childhood. Being a kid doesn’t mean life is perfect.

When you pay attention to the “little” problems today, they will come to you with the big problems later.  Because the last thing you want -is them to seek advice for that big problem from the wrong person….Okay. Rant over. You’re here for pretzel buns anyway.

pretzel bunsI slightly cheated on this:

I have a bread machine that features a dough cycle (most do) so I just let my trusty device do most of the work. I got to do the fun part. Playing with the dough.

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This recipe came from Publix family style magazine- it’s basically a free magazine from my grocery store, with drool worthy photos. I’m a sucker for good food pics. Who isn’t? 😉

PS- For the record, this is NOT a sponsored post, Publix has no clue who I am, and I am not getting perks in any way for this post. I simply wanted to share the recipe with proper credit.

homemade pretzel buns
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ⅓ cup water
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 1½ TBS sugar
  • 1½ TBS active dry yeast
  • 1½ cups bread flour, divided
  • ¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 TBS malted milk powder
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • For the brine:
  • 6 cups water
  • ½ cup baking soda
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 TBS water
  • coarse salt
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan, heat and stir milk, water, butter and sugar until just warm, and butter melts
  2. Transfer to a large bowl and sprinkle yeast on top
  3. allow to sit about 5 minutes until foamy
  4. Add ¾ cup of the bread flour, whole wheat flour, malted milk powder, and salt
  5. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl often
  6. Beat on high speed three minutes
  7. Using a spoon stir in as much of the remaining bread flour as possible
  8. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead 8-10 minutes
  9. Transfer to a lightly greased bowl, cover and place in a warm place until nearly doubled in size (about 1 hour)
  10. Line a large baking sheet with foil
  11. Spray with cooking spray
  12. Punch down dough and separate into 8 equal pieces
  13. Shape each section into a ball and place on the baking sheet.
  14. Cover and let rise 30 minutes
  15. Preheat oven to 450
  16. In a large stockpot bring the water and baking soda to a boil
  17. Using a slotted spoon, Gently place dough ball into the boiling brine and boil 2 minutes, turning once
  18. Place on baking sheet, and score with a sharp blade or knife
  19. Brush with beaten egg yolk, and sprinkle with salt or sesame seeds
  20. Bake 12-15 minutes

 

 

 

 

The New Spring

I use every Springtime as a sort of “do over” for New Years.

A time to clear out, not only excess clutter form my home, but also my life and my mind.

  Every year, I cut out processed foods, meats, dairy, and sugars. In addition, I cut out processed society, too. I eliminate the endless chatter of newsfeeds and social media sites.
The first few days are always a challenge. You don’t realize how much of a habit it is to just pick up your device and do a quick scroll.
That quick scroll usually ends up several minutes.

Several minutes you can’t take back.

Then, you have an assortment of miscellaneous stories and status updates taking up space in your thoughts. Disturbing news stories, useless quizzes and polls, not to mention the slew of ads that randomly pop up.
Pure mind clutter.
The thing is, we don’t realize how much it clutters out thoughts and our days until we take it away.
Stopping social media not only decluttered my thoughts but it also gave me more mental clarity than ever before.
It was like spring cleaning my mind.

The times I caught myself wanting to scroll a news feed I filled with The Word, and my mornings were refocused on devoting my day and life to Him, not them.

The same way a freshly cleaned house livens up your mood, a freshly cleared mind livens your soul.

I have never felt more joy, peace and purpose in life.

Sure, there were several friends and aquatences I wanted to keep up with… Babies coming due, birthdays, and prayer requests were still tugging at me, but: God always makes a way for communication in His time.
There is a time for all things.
It’s in the acceptance of that time we can find the peace that we all long for, a peace that surpasses all understanding.
My time here is limited, and I won’t allow it to be stolen by distraction.
I encourage each of you to take the challenge:
Spring clean your mind. Take back your time.
Don’t let your days be stolen by distraction.
You can’t get back time.image

A little food, a little fun, and a little laugh in between, enjoy!