Monday, May 23, 2005

Shattered Visions

Sometimes it takes a girlfriend in order to have a really good shopping trip. It takes having someone who knows you very well either urging you forward on a contemplated splurge—-or holding you back before you plunge ahead on one she knows you’ll live to regret.

Such was the case last Wednesday, when my oldest childhood friend, Leslie, came to visit us from Philadelphia. Her goal was not to shop, but to see Nick firsthand, and to lend both emotional and physical support as needed. As it just so happened that Nick had a built-in break in his chemo protocol, we had more time on our hands than we had previously anticipated. So we filled the days with long morning coffees, long lunches, and long walks. And-—on the last day-—more fun shopping than I’d had in a long time.

By the time we walked past the resident designer at the Lillian August Warehouse, we were both pretty much in shopping mode. Or at least she was. Part of her “Ridgefield ritual,” she started getting geared up for her Lillian August experience while sipping her skinny chai latte at the Starbuck’s next door. With shopping excursions there in years past yielding some amazing finds, a stop to the warehouse is always at the top of her list. And this year was no exception.

While she was waltzing around the place-—it’s expansive and set up with themed rooms (the Ralph Lauren equestrian look, the farmhouse style, the Shabby Chic thing, and a room filled with yummy Country French treasures)-—I zoomed in on a trio of French apothecary jars. They weren’t arranged all together; I spotted one jar in one room and the other two in another. But they were incredible. I’d had my eye out for some for a few years, ever since seeing a pair at a tony antiques shop a couple towns over. My pockets weren’t deep enough then, and although they’re still fairly shallow, they held a Mother’s Day check which seemed to be burning the proverbial hole. Money was meeting imagination in a big way, and the momentum caused by this combination was on the verge of igniting a commercial explosion.

Leslie was busy lining stuff on the counters while I was carrying delicate apothecary jars from one end of the warehouse to the other. Being a visual person, I needed to see how they looked stacked up next to each other. Envisioning them filled with all sorts of wonderfulness-—fruits or soaps or loofahs or shells or stones-—they were now nestled quite comfortably in my brain, as well as anywhere from my dining room to my master bath to the newly renovated kitchen that is still a few years down the road. I only needed my girlfriend’s ok, and I would be “there.”

She was all over it. Loved the vision. Loved the look. Loved the lines. Loved the price.

Purchasing these things was an event. It required a quick trip to the bank around the corner (they were an unexpected find, and, even selling at warehouse prices, were still more expensive than what I would have hoped). It required George, the sensitive and thoughtful designer who had offered his help the minute we walked in the front door, to be in on the whole “where-are-they-going-and-what-are-you-putting-in-them conversation.” It required the warehouse guy with the muscles to painstakingly bubble-wrap them and carry them to my car, strapping them in with more care than I routinely gave my four toddlers at launch time in the mini-van.

Leslie did her fair share there, too, purchasing a lamp and shade, as well as a handful of fabulous decorative accessories. We giggled to the car, which was by now filled with four huge boxes, strapped into the middle seat belts and edging out the gym equipment which ordinarily occupies my trunk space. It was off to the next stop, and the next and the next, before catching up with the kids at our favorite local diner for supper. Gosh. Shopping certainly works up one’s appetite.

Too exhausted that night to un-bubble my new jars-—as well as to imaginatively fill them, display them, and situate them—-it wasn’t until the next night that I had the physical and creative energy to do just that. I waited until the kids were out of the house—-some were at orchestra rehearsal, one was at baseball practice-—and until I had gone through the stack of papers on my kitchen desk. Among bills and school stuff was a disturbing newspaper article and letter from a dear friend. It seems that a mutual friend of ours was going through a tough time, the alleged details of which made headline news in the city which each of us had at one point or another called home.

So by the time I started un-bubbling my jars, I was nearly emotionally distraught. As the first jar carried a layer of dust, I carried it to my kitchen sink and gave it a light rinse. Ditto for the second jar. Dried off, both were now safely standing on my dining room Welsh cupboard, looking absolutely gorgeous as they caught not only the light of my folk art chandelier, but the glow of the sterling silver displayed there as well. But the exuberance I enjoyed while purchasing them couldn’t withstand the deeply-felt angst I experienced while un-wrapping, cleaning and situating them. With the largest jar saved for last, I un-bubbled it and carried it to my sink. But this one proved too large for the light water rinse undergone by the other two. For somehow, gently twirling it under the barely-running water, the tip of the jar touched the sink with just enough weight to send it shattering to smithereens.

This jar—-no, this EXPERIENCE!-—wasn’t out of the heavily-bubbled cardboard box for three minutes before it was hopelessly destroyed in my kitchen sink. This jar-—which forced my brain to develop brand new synapses as I imagined a dozen different decorative scenarios and my checking account to suffer brand new debits as I added up not one nor two but three different price tags—-was now a jagged memory. Hundreds of tiny slivers of glass filled my double sink and my vision of this lovely apothecary jar adding design panache to my family’ nest was completely and totally shattered. In a second.

I could only do what any highly educated, intelligent woman (in menopause) would do. I stood at my kitchen sink and cried—-or perhaps I sobbed—-for ten full minutes. Or maybe it was fifteen. Then Nick walked in the room, asked what had happened, and told me to get a life. First, I grabbed the nearest chocolate bar, which immediately made things a tad better. Then, I picked up the glass-—bit by bit and cutting my fingers along the way-—and collected it in the cardboard box which only a few minutes before held the apothecary jar of my dreams. Then I left the room to gather both my thoughts as well as some decent perspective.

My mind kept going back to my friend and his recent trouble. His vision was shattered, too. But unlike mine, which involved a mere material thing, his involved relationships. I have had shattered visions of material natures before. Plenty of times: I shifted my brand-spanking-new van into reverse in my garage, with the rear hatch door still opened, only to completely destroy it; I ruined a new Laura Ashley dress by inadvertently splashing Clorox onto it while doing laundry; brand new linens from France got ruined when I decided to use lilies in my centerpieces; the movers dragged a heavy piece of furniture across our newly hard-wooded floor only to leave a scratch stretching from one end of the room to the other. My list goes on and on.

But shattered visions strike marriages and friendships each and every day, only to yield oftentimes devastating consequences which often take years of counseling in order for any hopes of healing or restoration to take place.

It might take a girlfriend to have a really good shopping experience, but it sometimes takes a child suffering a serious illness, or a spouse enduring a gut-wrenching financial loss, or a neighbor proceeding through an agonizing divorce to expose a truly shattered vision. Shattered visions take all shapes and sizes and forms. Bereavement. Relocation. Injury. Divorce. My apothecary jar? A shattered vision, yes. But not the kind intended for heartache. We have each experienced shattered visions in relationships to one degree or another. Because we’re fully human. Shattered visions are never easy to endure. If your week includes a minor mishap, a tiny disappointment, or a “fender bender” of sorts, count your blessings. If you are experiencing a shattered vision in a relationship, rest assured that you are not alone. It’s all part of this difficult, painful excursion through life. It’ll be woven into the fabric of your existence and will, one day, provide the lesson or the insight or the perspective which you’ll need to fully become the person God is working in you to become.

I pray for healing. For picking up the broken pieces and forming something-—in the end—-which is wonderful and beautiful.

Monday, May 16, 2005

5/16/05 RM Newsletter: Gift of a Letter

Today's Quote: "What cannot letters inspire? They have souls; they can speak; they have in them all that force which expresses the transports of the heart; they have all the fire of our passions." Letter from Heloise to Abelard (from Gift of a Letter by Alexandra Stoddard)

Just returning from the National Stationery Show in New York
City, I was struck by the energetic "forward motion" of the
thousands of vendors still enthusiastic about the power of the
hand-written note. Artists proudly displayed their watercolors on
letterhead, invitations and place cards; sales reps extolled the
creative spark of polka-dotted and beribboned stationery; and
entrepreneurs remained full of hope that the power of the hand-
written word might overtake the power of email. They all came out
in full-force and crowded the aisles of the Javits Center in
downtown Manhattan for the four-day event.

I walked for six straight hours, on a personal mission to nail
down a packaging supplier for a new product I'll be launching
this fall (see below for details). Besides finding several
vendors, I walked 'til I dropped...safely into my van...only to
fight excruciatingly heavy traffic back home, with the popular
Henry Hudson Parkway closed from a mudslide last week (did you
see video on the national news?? It was horrific!! Traffic going
in and out of Manhattan is still a nightmare!) Perusing the
aisles and booths of the largest national trade show for the
stationery and paper goods market, I came away with a few
creative strategies for ROCKET MOMS everywhere:

1)Elevate your deskwork from boring to brilliant. Many of the near-
daily tasks we are required to perform at our kitchen desks
involve mundane and repetitive routines: paying bills;
reconciling the checkbook; dealing with medical statements
(ugh!); RSVP-ing to social invitations; and writing quick notes
to teachers, carpool moms, coaches, etc. This stuff can bog you
down...especially if you are a fun, sanguine personality type who
holds general disdain for all things administrative. Take heart!
There are literally thousands of colorful, creative papers on the
market today, giving you a myriad of options from which to
choose. Run to your nearest stationer to elevate this arena to
one of artistic brilliance. One of the simplest strategies for
ROCKET MOMS is transform the mundane, everyday realities of
motherhood into highly creative endeavors. This area is no
exception. Choose beautifully designed papers to respond to
invitations; convert favorite photos to stamps (check out; invest in a wonderful seal as well as some
colorful sealing waxes...and you will find yourself thoroughly
enjoying the previously dreary, dull task of paperwork. Make
yourself a cup of organic coffee, turn on the stereo and deal
with this everyday reality with an artistic twist.

2)Start a stationery wardrobe. Keep your eyes peeled for gorgeous
papers, envelopes, stamps, seals, waxes, and labels. Have you
seen the newest way of delivering sealing wax? It comes in "glue
stick" form, ready to load into your low heat glue gun. It evenly
distributes the hot wax to your envelopes, ready for stamping
with your favorite seal. Watch for beautifully packaged gift
enclosure cards, writing papers, and cards. Keep a birthday and
anniversary journal near this stash so that you will better
remember all-important dates of those in your circle of love.

3)Collect pretty storage containers. Beautiful options abound! Be
they beribboned baskets or miniature suitcases or papered boxes:
all present wonderful options for holding all of these fine
papers and accoutrements. Display them in full view so that you
will remain inspired to delve into them frequently, pulling out
your favorites and sending them for all different occasions.

4)Commit to catching up on written correspondence one day a week.
I confess to being hopelessly behind...but I also admit to always
trying to do better. Can you become convicted to writing at least
one personal letter on your "correspondence day"? With pen in
hand--filled with a beautifully colored ink (hot pink? lime green?
bright blue? purple?)--write a note of thanks or a note of
condolence; respond to an upcoming social event; or simply
transpose your children's activity calendar into your Filofax.
Try to stay on top of these things as they have a way of quickly
getting out of control, leaving you feeling guilty for being
hopelessly late, as well as feeling dreadfully irresponsible for
missing important deadlines.

5)Contribute to a letter-writing renaissance. Email has its
purpose, to be sure. Few of us could live without it. Yet who
could argue that a hand- written letter has significance beyond
what any words electronically transmitted could possibly convey?
You have been tremendously supportive and encouraging, both in
your blessings on Nick in his health battle, as well as in your
encouragement in my endeavors with ROCKET MOM. Most weeks bring
hand-written correspondence from readers whom I do not personally
know. While this yields my full support for the beauty of the
internet--without which our relationship would never have
formed--it is the hand-written notes which I especially cherish
and save. I keep a file into which each and every one of them
falls. Email may, in the end, prevail, but I am hopeful that,
like the thousands of vendors with whom I came in touch today in
New York, the hand-written letter will remain a most valued gift
from the heart.

Monday, May 09, 2005

5/09/05 RM Newsletter: Heart of the Home

The world is too much with us; late and soon
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers...Wordsworth

It started with my need for a new mixer. OK. Well, maybe not exactly. It probably really started when we bought our home in Connecticut around two years ago. The kitchen needed a make-over. Not a complete renovation-—as some do-—but a make-over, to be sure. Its footprint was fine, as was its size. Windows and doors were good, too. But it was dreary. Dark, drab and dreary.

But a re-do—-no matter the scope-—was out of our reach at move-in, just as it is now. So I’ve tried to not think about it too much.

That’s tougher than it sounds. What with me being a “visual person”-—energized by color and proportion and pattern—-and kitchen tours taking up space on every New England town’s calendar within the next few weeks, it’s almost impossible to not notice renovated kitchens. Nor to salivate over their inevitable appeal.

Such was the case this past Friday when a friend and I tromped through six fabulous kitchens throughout Ridgefield. An annual little ritual, it’s practically inescapable. Carefully calibrated to Mother’s Day-—not to mention the bursting of daffodils, the budding of most trees, and the flowering of rhododendron-—it coincided perfectly with spring fever and, as it turned out, Nick’s chemotherapy schedule.

And so it was that my friend, Nancy, and I enjoyed most of the afternoon together…roaming around gorgeous homes, indulging in wonderful treats catered by local restaurateurs, and commenting on what both appealed-—and what didn’t-—to our strong aesthetic sensibilities. Nancy is an artist, too. And she just finished her own dream kitchen a few months ago. So she has not only a good grasp of the whole kitchen re-do thing; she has a similar eye to mine and is highly motivated by strong visuals.

Interestingly, we were both struck by exactly the same things. An enormous, albeit completely--perfect home, didn’t do it for either one of us as it did for a friend whom I bumped into while there. “Isn’t this absolutely incredible?” my friend exclaimed.

Nancy and I looked at each other.

“It’s perfect,” I dead-panned.

Too perfect. Perfectly painted, perfectly appointed, perfectly accessorized, perfectly clean. Was it possible real people really lived there? Could anyone have ever actually sautéed onions and garlic at its immaculate stainless-steel Viking range?

As we walked to the car, Nancy and I reflected on what truly makes a home, anyway. And where does one stop? In this real estate frenzy of the new millennium, where success is measured by capital gains, square footage and location-location-location; how much is enough, after all? Do we really need commercial-grade stainless steel Wolf ranges and double Sub-Zero’s? Granite countertops and farmhouse sinks with copper faucets? Islands with pull-outs?

Seems like we do. A Harvard University study found that Americans spent $233 billion on remodeling and repair projects in 2003, with kitchen re-do’s topping the list. A stunning 4 million Americans will do a kitchen remodeling project of some type in this year alone!

Staggering in scope, it is easily understandable. We have everyone from Home Depot to Pottery Barn to Williams-Sonoma to Target to HGTV to thank. Oh, sure. You might not need a kitchen transformation. But seriously, do you have enough fortitude to walk out of Williams-Sonoma fiscally unscathed? And have you seen the summer plastic ware at Target? As if I needed another lime green line item in my was pure will-power that prevented me from grabbing a dozen of the cutest soda-fountain-style tumblers in my favorite color on my weekend outing there...

I read recently that most people do a major kitchen remodel for one simple reason: their friend did it. Oh great. Ernie will never buy that. A brilliant tax break? We get that. Increasing the value of your real estate. Get that, too. But peer pressure?

It’s easy to see why. I mean, a wonderful kitchen is a lovely thing to behold. I totally get it. Want it. But can’t yet have it.

So in case you’re in the same state (and I have to suppose that many of you are, given the success rate of these kitchen tours) here are “5 Strategies for Infusing-Your-Kitchen-With-Beauty-If-You-Don’t-Have-The-Designer-Kitchen-You’d-Really-Like-To-Have-But-For-Whatever-Reason-Don’t:

1) Inject bold bursts of color. Be it via woven placemats at the breakfast table, colorful pottery on your countertops, or brightly-painted kitchen towels hanging from your oven bar: use generous strokes of color to put your brain on a heightened state of alert. Your cabinets might be dreadfully tired (as our mine) and your outdated appliances might leave you feeling totally uninspired. But take heart: a few brilliantly colored decorative objects can provide just the punch your sleepy kitchen needs.

2) Treat yourself to one new kitchen accoutrement. Seen Le Creuset’s latest red Dutch ovens? Or Kitchen Aid’s new apple green mixer? How about a shiny chrome coffee grinder? If a total kitchen overhaul is out of your reach, perhaps one modest indulgence will give your room that little kick-in-the-pants that it needs.

3) Change the lighting. My Country French rooster chandelier ala my latest birthday, elevates my eyes upwards...out of the direction of my drive-me-crazy-cabinets and onto something much more beautiful and intriguing. Considering its relatively minor expense, it proved a clever way of adding serious visual interest to a space which otherwise drags me down visually. Shop around. While not as cheap as a new box of candles, a new lighting fixture is often a great way to go.

4) Change things in stages. Perhaps by giving your cabinets a new paint job, you can change the look of the whole room. My girlfriend, Leslie, contracted with a house painter as well as with a decorative painter to dramatically lift her entire kitchen into a veritable work of art. The decorative painter glazed and then hand-painted different floral designs on each cabinet panel, elevating the room into one of lightness and pure beauty. The end result is stunning! Maybe by simply replacing a worn-out dishwasher you can inject a dash of modernity to an otherwise out-dated room. Or perhaps the relatively easy job of changing your countertops will give you more of the look and function that you desire.

5) Enjoy your collections. Not only did my recent trip to Paris cement my affection for le coq; it heightened my awareness of any and all fabulous renditions seen since my return. I can hardly pass by a rooster without checking its craftsmanship, size and price tag. (Sorry, Ernie.) Infuse your environment with the things that you love. Be they pictures of friends and family magnetized to your fridge…or cows or pigs or roosters (we really are a silly bunch, aren’t we?) don’t be afraid to show off your collections to their fullest. When your day is looking particularly gloomy or your hormones are raging; the little things that bring you joy will help to blow both those black clouds away from your precious little head as well as more evenly distribute those swirling shivers of estrogen.

Finally, reflect on the relativity of materialism. Nancy and I, walking back from “house perfect” on the kitchen tour, talked about how it’s all relative anyway. For what seems like extravagant indulgence (or a vulgar display of wealth, depending on your perspective) is just that: it’s a perspective. It’s all relative. What seems ridiculously unnecessary to me might seem perfectly legitimate to you. And remember that most of what we possess is viewed by some 90% of the world as pure luxury. Keep perspective. If your kitchen drives you nuts, try to maintain some level of thanksgiving for what you do have, rather than some level of misery for what you don’t.

The kitchen isn’t called the heart of the home for nothing. It’s where we put love into what we put into our body. Where we infuse our food with energy. Where we sift and dice and shake and bake. Where we laugh and learn and read and relax. Do your part to make it the heart of your home…whether you like the way it looks or not.

I wound up getting a new mixer for Mother’s Day. As bizarre a request as it was—coming from someone whose least favorite word in the English language is “practical”-—I got the desire to actually mix something up in there. (Bake a cake...or something along those lines, anyway.) And I have a funny feeling it will actually send me into my kitchen more often...whether I like it or not.

Monday, May 02, 2005

5/2/05 RM Newsletter: Marching towards Mother's Day

Today’s Quote: Mother: the most beautiful word on the lips of mankind. Kahil Gibran

This coming Sunday is our “big day,” moms. It’s the one day a year when we get officially honored for what it is that we do. I don’t know about you, but I usually find myself reflecting on exactly what my role is, anyway. Motherhood has evolved over the past two generations into a job which, many would argue, looks far different than the job our own mothers knew. And given the unfortunate—and oftentimes divisive—dichotomy between “working mom” and “stay-at-home mom” with which many categorize themselves, the job description sometimes gets fuzzier, rather than clearer. Does extensive volunteer work place you under the “working” or “stay-at-home” group? Does a part-time position at your kids’ school or at your church push you out of the group with which you always identified yourself? And our role changes, after all, as our kids grow up. Options—as well as the resulting disequilibrium in shifting family dynamics—intrude on what once was a fairly easy job description to comprehend.

Controversy about motherhood is nothing new. Thousands of books, articles and commentaries have been written about our dilemmas ad nauseam. As if forty-and fifty something moms haven’t wrestled long enough with their career-parenting decisions, young moms get additional fuel for their fires with glaring mainstream media headlines—just in time for Mother’s Day. Throw in a new poll or two—as well as more advice and analysis by traditional parenting “experts”—M.D.’s and Ph.D.’s—and you have more psychobabble than the baby-burble running down these sleep-deprived mommy’s sleeves!

Articles like the New York Times “The Opt-Out Revolution”; best-sellers like Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety; and critics calling motherhood everything from a “trap” to a “cult” to a “myth” to a "mess," turn notions about our role upside down and leave moms everywhere confused and conflicted. Look at some recent media messages:

• Author/journalist Judith Warner of Perfect Madness fame claims that: “a substantial number of GenX moms (are) too focused on perfection, too focused on their children, too competitive with one another, and that it’s driving all moms crazy and providing their kids with no benefits.” She asserts that there’s an “oppressive culture of ‘total motherhood’ that “leaves no room for mothers’ own interests” with “suffocation” the direct result.

• Sumru Erkut of the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College, asserts that: societal expectations for moms have been “racheted up by professional moms who’ve ‘upgraded motherhood to a bigger job than it used to be’” and views these moms as having “misplaced vigor.”

• New York Times book critic Judith Shulevitz, commenting on Warner (who said that motherhood has gone from “art” to “cult”) calls the job a “mess” and motherhood a “trap powered by fear of a loss of face.”

•A recent article by journalist Meredith O’Brien in an online Boston paper headlines with: The Mommy Myth: Mothers pay a high price to be perfect. (Since when did we start attaching the word “myth” to “mommy?”)

Pretty bleak picture of motherhood, huh? Hold onto your pantyhose. These journalists only paint part of the story. I dug into the facts, studied their articles, read the data and checked out their credentials. I came up with a totally different picture of motherhood and boldly challenge their assertions:

• A brand new poll (April 25) by ClubMom reveals that 63% of moms admit to feeling no pressure to live up to a “society-driven version of the ‘perfect mom.’” This same poll finds that most moms are “happy” with their family relationships.

• 51% of those GenXer’s they’re talking about have traded super careers for motherhood because when they viewed the trade-offs required to “gun” their own careers (and some believe, through direct observation of their own working moms), they decided that the sacrifices required just weren’t worth it.

• 79% of moms overall rate their own sense of well-being an “A” or “B”; 84% believe they are able to keep their minds sharp and active; and 76% rate their overall health (mental and physical) as high.

• In stark contrast to the “trap” or “mess” that these experts call motherhood, polls find that only 10% of working moms would choose to work full-time if money were no object, i.e. some 90% of moms would prefer the “trap” of motherhood to the workforce.

• Of Harvard Business School’s women graduates of ’81, ’85, and ’91—women currently in the fortysomething crowd—only 38% are working full-time.

• 26% of women at the cusp of the most senior levels of management do not want that next promotion, choosing more time at home with family over career advancement.

This job of motherhood is huge, it is vitally important, and those of us on the frontlines know it. Moms at home raising children today are there because we view our job as the most important one ever invented. I am working hard to help “put motherhood with excellence back on the map.” That’s what “rocket mom” is all about. I uphold with unapologetic optimism the distinct role we mothers play in shaping human destiny. If that’s called “over parenting” or a “myth” or a “cult” or a “trap” or a “mess,” than somebody better wake up and flip the pancakes.

I don’t have all the answers; in fact, I have only a few. I don’t pretend to be the world’s best mother; just ask my kids how often I throw up my hands in frustration and resignation. But I am intent of helping moms—and our culture at large—review and renew the importance of what we do. I don’t care if you work in the home or work in a beautiful office; divisions among moms are unhealthy. Truth is, once we have children, we’re all in this together.

I just wish to inspire you, encourage you, and celebrate with you, the honorable role we play in shaping this whole next generation to greatness. On Mother’s Day. And everyday.

Happy celebration!

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A Nick Note

Nick started a new round of intensive chemo on Monday. It is almost exactly the same as the initial induction round first taken when he was diagnosed in order to get him into remission. He's taken it beautifully. On Wednesday, during the ride up to Guilford (where the clinic is located), Nick commented to me: "You can't let your life revolve around chemo; you have to let chemo revolve around your life." I admitted that if I were to be diagnosed today, I'm not at all sure that I would exhibit the grace which he has. He delights us with rapidly developing maturity, and we have all found that leukemia is, in many ways, a gift. I'm sure that sounds bizarre.

We thank you for your prayers for his total recovery. They are
coming in from all over the world. They continue to bless us in
ways in which you will perhaps never fully grasp. For them, we
are extremely grateful.

A Quick Note

I will use the upcoming seminar: "What do I want to be now that the kids are growing up?" to uphold the royal calling of motherhood. The seminar will be at St. Stephen's Church, Rector Hall, 351 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT 06877 from 7:00-9:00 PM. It's open to the public and is FREE! Questions? email: