Category Archives: Relationships

Thanksgiving, How Sweet the Sound.

My grandmother’s love language was food.

Biscuits and gravy.  Bacon and eggs.

Pancakes, stacked high with butter and syrup, sausage on the side, mixed and crispy-hot in the pan just before daylight.

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Home fried chicken.  Ham and beans.  Cornbread in an iron skillet.  Mashed potatoes, perfectly white, whipped to an inch of their little lives.  Homemade cinnamon rolls, homemade ice cream.  Chocolate chip cookies.  Banana splits.

My grandma made iced tea so sweet it crunched, and then she sent me out to the garden to pick little sprigs of fresh mint. She laid the green leaves gently on top, and the smell of that sweet mint tea was as fresh as the sun.  We are Southern after all.  There’s really no other way to drink it.

In the winter she made hot chocolate, and cappuccino from a tin.

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She made grilled cheese.  Macaroni and cheese.  Sandwiches with three slices of American cheese.  Cheeseball.  Pimento cheese.  Fruit and cheese.

Oh, and pepper jelly on a Triscuit.  With cream cheese.

Fresh.  Everything so fresh.  And almost all from scratch.  Pie crusts rolled out early in the morning.  Fruit picked from her own trees and sugared by her own hands.

Berry pie.  Cherry pie with whipped cream.  And apple pie with melted cheddar cheese.  The first time she handed me that delicacy, I thought someone had gotten confused.

But it was good.  Like all of it.  So good.

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And Thanksgiving?

Move the chairs out and bring in some tables.  Turn yourself sideways to make your way through the bounty, stack up your plate, and don’t be shy, honey, come back for more.

On Thanksgiving, my grandmother cooked for days around her teaching job.   Deviled eggs could be done early. The pies too, they could be done ahead.  Salads, chopped the day before and tossed in the morning.

She still made jello molds, maybe the only thing she made I didn’t love, but they were pretty and somewhat gravity defying, and what kid isn’t entertained by carrots jiggling in gelatin?

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My grandmother was a schoolteacher and a children’s librarian.   Besides cooking, she dressed in costumes on the holidays.

On Christmas, she was Mrs. Claus, Santa hat, red sweater, matching skirt, and a huge black belt with a shiny gold buckle.

And on Thanksgiving, she alternated years, one year a Cherokee maiden with construction paper feathers in her hair.

And, other years, a pilgrim in black and white, complete with a little collar and funny hat, flaps around her ears.

And she did it all while caring for my grandfather, wheelchair-bound from polio.  My grandmother sold everything she had after he came home from the hospital, and she went to school to become a teacher.

She was loyal to him until he died in his fifties, and she never remarried.  She still wears her wedding band, even though I’m not sure she remembers why.

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She doesn’t know us anymore, and she gets upset if she forgets where she is.

But her love language is still food.  She got afraid at my house the other day, and I said, “Grandma, do you want a cookie?”  She nodded.

I gave her two cookies.  “One for each hand,” I said, like I do for my kids.

She smiled and took a big crumbly bite.

It wasn’t until I had my own kids and tried cooking for a family, day in and day out, that I realized what a gift she gave us.

After I had stayed home for ten years, I realized that I had prepared over 10,000 meals, many of them spit out and proclaimed “disgusting” by children who had just been eating dog food.

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I know they did.  Dirt, too.  I saw it with my own eyes.

Even so, I baked and meal-planned and hunted recipes to delight them.

One time as a young mom, I tried to make beans.

I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to make the whole bag at once.  When the water boiled, I happily watched the beans soften and swell.

Until I realized they were swelling right out of the pot.

I called my grandmother.

“What do I do?”  I asked her.

She laughed so hard.  Couldn’t even talk.

“Grandma, stop laughing,” I said, “they are seriously coming out the top!  What do I do?”

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“Just get another pot, honey,” she gasped.  “Start spooning them in to something else on another burner, add more water.”

“Ok, Grandma,” I said.  Her laughing made me laugh.  I spooned some in another pot.

The beans kept swelling over the top.

I called her back.  “Grandma, I think I should just throw it away.  There’s too much, it’s still overflowing.  I give up.”

She thought this was hysterical.

“No, honey,” she said.  “Don’t you have four burners?   Just keep adding pots, keep spooning it out.  You can fix this.”

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It was a vote of confidence from a woman who knew her food.  I did fix it, on the phone with her, laughing and spooning and babysitting beans.

She kept asking, “What does it look like now?”  and laughing.

I wish I’d had a cell phone back then.  I would have texted her a picture of the four bean volcanos erupting on my stovetop.

I think she got the idea.

It’s a little memory.

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But I’m so thankful for it.

The food is a small thing too in a way, but in another, it’s the soundtrack of my childhood as much as any music.

A soundtrack of flavor and love poured out and laid before me by a servant of God and family who lived to bring us comfort.

My grandmother worked hard in her gardens and at school to provide the food for a big family she fed all the time.

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And then, unless you’ve planned meals like she did, and gotten up at all hours of the day and night to make sure it came out right, and tended to every little bite like it mattered, it’s hard to explain the time and the effort, the cuts and the burns and the sweat and the tired arms over a hot steamy stove.

I remember conversations at these meals.

Conversations that often ended up with someone raising their voice and walking away mad, and the awkward silence that followed.

And I remember my grandmother leaving the angry adults and swooping us all up in her arms.  She had holiday books that she read in the most soothing, sweet voice, a voice and a cadence made to order for children’s stories.

I’m sure the conversations mattered to her, but her babies mattered more.

She had worked hard to make a beautiful meal and space for gathering.  She was not about to let them ruin it for her or for us.

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She was a woman who never stopped smiling.

I’m amazed by her restraint, and inspired by the way she always chose love.

I want to give that same gift to my kids and my family.

I’m planning what I’m cooking this year.

My kids have never seen a jello mold.  This may be the year that changes.  That jiggly delight just might find itself a place on my table.  Some old things are worth resurrecting.

And I’m planning what I’ll say.

“Hey kids, want to read a story?”

And.  My sister has this hilarious game.  Telephone pictionary.  Great for a crowd.  Directions here.  Might play that, too.

There’s a time and a place for everything, it’s true.

But Thanksgiving is about making a joyful noise, not an angry or fearful one.  And about making memories that will still be sweet for a long, long time.

***

I’m praying for love, words of love, sweeter than honey, and more savory than turkey, and sweeter than music, to grace your lips, your ears and all your gatherings.

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.  Prov16:24

The Day I Set the Lamb on Fire, or, How to Not Blow Up Your Propane Grill.

My little sisters are twins.

One year on their birthday, I had them over for dinner.

It was quite the affair.  I planned for weeks.  I made place cards and a centerpiece.  I scoured the internet and cookbooks for recipes and decided on a menu.

Pear and walnut salad.  Herbed mashed potatoes.  Challah bread.  Honey glazed green beans.  Fennel and leeks.  Baked brie.  Figs.  And for dessert,  raspberry brownie bites topped with white chocolate mousse, and served in tiny, homemade, chocolate cups.

And the main dish.  Lamb.  Beautiful tenderloins.  About thirty-five dollars’ worth.

I do not normally spend that much money on meat.  So, I am not used to cooking that kind of meat.  But it was my sisters’ birthday, and I wanted to go all out.

I found a recipe for grilled lamb, and my husband had just gotten a new propane grill.  I thought the smoky flavor would taste great with the lamb, so I decided to try it.

When the day came, I got up early.

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I said a short prayer.  I prayed that I would not be stressed or lash out at my kids.  That I would be peaceful and calm, no matter what happened.

I’m not sure I would pray that prayer ever again.  In hindsight, I think I should have just prayed that nothing stressful would happen.  But that was not what I asked for that day.  I’m learning.

Anyway.

First, I started ironing the linen table cloth and napkins.

However.  My ironing space was cramped.  I had squeezed the board between the table and a wall, and the iron cord caught on a chair.  The hot iron jerked out of my hand and hit the wood floor, hard, and bounced two or three times.

I didn’t want to look, but I had to grab the iron up quick.  It did not even leave a scratch on the floor.

And.  It had missed landing on my bare foot by about an inch.  I grabbed the iron.  I repeated my prayer.  Not getting stressed.

I kept going.

Next, I set the table.  I laid out the pad and the linens and my white wedding china.  I got out the crystal glasses.

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My son wanted to help and picked up two of them.  As I stood at the table arranging glasses and silverware, he walked across the kitchen to bring them to me.  And he dropped one.  I jumped.

Crystal shatters.  Like ice.

Tiny pieces of glass.

Everywhere.

I took one look, stepped out of the kitchen, breathed deep, and went back in.

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I cleaned it up.  I told the kids to put on their shoes, just in case.  I prayed again.  I kept going.

The raspberry sauce.  The white chocolate mousse.  The salad, chopped and tossed.

Finally, the meat, potatoes, green beans, and brownies had to be done at the end.  The last hour of cooking a meal is busy.

I put the lamb on the grill and came back inside to peel potatoes.  Two of my kids stationed themselves in chairs near the glass door to watch the grill.

A few minutes later, my youngest stood up and opened the door and stuck her head out.  I was peeling potatoes at the sink.

Paige looked at me and said, “Mommy, you might want to come look at this, there’s a fire.”

I said, “I know, I just started it, I’m cooking the lamb.”

She said, “No, Mommy, it’s a big fire.”

My son said, “Um.  Yeah.  It’s a really big fire, Mom.  You might want to come look.”

I was like good grief.  These kids always exaggerate.

Set my potatoes down and walked to the door.

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Smoke poured out of the grill to the ceiling, and flames were shooting out, maybe three feet on each side.

And I decided right there.  I was not going to let that day beat me.

I closed the door, walked back to the sink, and went back to peeling potatoes.

I needed to think.  I needed to stay calm.

Think think think.  What puts out a fire.

Kitchen fire.

Baking soda.

Yes.

Open cabinets.  Three boxes of baking soda.

Awesome.

I got this.

I took the baking soda to the porch.  I squared off at that grill.  My husband was not home.  I was the adult in charge.  I had to open the grill to put out the fire.

I knew that I could call 911, but I did not have time for this.  Dinner was in one hour.

I looked at the flames and thought, “I don’t think it’s going to do a wall-of-fire if I open it.  I really don’t think it’s going to explode.  It could, but I just think it’s not.”  I had an oven mitt.  I took the top handle of the grill and threw it open and jumped back.

The flames shot straight up, almost to the top of the vaulted ceiling over the porch, six and eight and twelve feet in the air.

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I threw baking soda on the base of the flames, all over the thirty-five dollars worth of lamb sitting on the grill rack.

The flames had gone down, but not completely, when I ran out of soda.

I turned off the grill heat, went back inside, closed the door, and went back to peeling potatoes.  Kids were screaming by now.

“Mom!  What are you doing??  Potatoes??  No!!  FIRE FIRE!!”

I’m like.

I know.  I have to think.

Think think.

No time for panic.  No time for fear.  Got to keep the kids safe.  I prayed over this day.  No fear.

Think.

What’s the next closest thing to baking soda?

Salt.

I am a homeschool mom.  I make play dough for a living.  I had buckets of salt.

I grabbed two brand new containers of salt and walked back out on the porch.  The flames were healthy and growing.

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I shook out all the salt.  The flames went out on one now completely black piece of lamb, and a few small flames still burned on the other piece.  I picked both pieces  up with the grill tongs and set them on a cookie sheet.  I turned the last burning piece over and over until the flames went totally out.  Stop, drop,  and roll.

I carried that cookie sheet full of charred lamb back into the house.  Company coming in 45 minutes.   What to do.  Think think.

No time to get more meat.  No going back.

I peeled back enough of the char that it looked like meat again and put it under the faucet, rinsing off as much of the soda and salt as I could.  And then I put them back on the cookie sheet and stuck them in the oven at 325 degrees.  If it was awful, I would have a funny story and order pizza.  Moving on.

Finished desserts, potatoes, salad.  Finished centerpiece and table settings and dishes.

Took out the lamb and cut it in slices to arrange on plate.  Held breath.  Tasted.

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Seriously??

It was amazing.

Ok. Don’t call it grilled lamb.  Call it blackened lamb.

Moving on.

Both of my sisters enjoy quality.  And one of them, Jane, has what I would call “very exacting taste.”  She worked in fine dining for a while in college.  She knows all the gourmet words for everything, and she has eaten some good lamb.  Like, really good.

When they came in, they commented on the delicious smell.  “You grilled for us?!?” They were so excited.

I’m like.  Oh.  You have no idea.

We sat down to eat, and I had to look away when they tried the lamb.  Felt like laughing.  Maybe time for pizza.

Then I heard Jane say, “Oh my word.  This is the best lamb I have ever tasted in my life.  It has this salty crust on it.  So good.”

Ah.

Sweet victory.

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***

Takeaways?  

One.  Lamb is a fatty cut of meat.  Lol.  Learned that the hard way.  Never walk away from lamb on the grill.  Two.  I am not a firefighter.  Most days.  But, some days I am.  And.  Three.  Saying no to fear makes all the difference.  The difference between being able to do something and not.  

I could have cowered down and called 911.  But, if I had, that fire would have grown and grown in the fifteen minutes it took for the fire department to arrive.  I’m not saying we should always “fight our own fires,” but in this case, I kept the grill from exploding and my house from burning down.  I would have been the same person either way.  But I would have lost the chance to learn something important about myself if I had let others come in and fight my battle for me because of fear.  

I’m really glad I have this day in my memory.  God used it to show me that He is with me and that He has put strength in me.  It’s something I draw on when I ask myself, “Can I handle this?”  Hashtag #lambonfire.  Oh.  Yes.  I can.  I pray He reminds you of these moments for yourself.  Hashtag #reminders. Yes.  You can.

And.  Four.  Next time, just pray for a good day.  No reason to complicate these things.  

I’m learning.

What memories do you draw strength from?  Even inspiration from other people you know or movies or books?  Story drives us in powerful ways.  Would love to hear your stories in the comments!!

Shoplifting, Lego Robots, and the Brené Brown TED Talk on Courage and Vulnerability. {WATCH}

One time, I shoplifted.

Actually twice.

Once, when I was twelve, I took a lollipop from the candy store.

I ate it, but it tasted like death.

The second time, I was 18.

I know.  My character should have been more developed by then.  It was not a proud moment.

I was with a friend when I saw a package of six tiny Christmas bows.  They were the size of a penny.  So shiny and cute.

Tons of kids shoplifted in high school, but I never went along with the crowd, until that day.

I don’t know why those little bows stole my heart.  When my friend saw how much I wanted them, she said, “just take them.  They will fit right up your sleeve.”

So I did.

I stole.  Christmas bows.  At Christmas.  To put on Christmas presents.  To celebrate Jesus’ birthday.

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I could never open them.  I did not know what to do with them.  I never knowingly took anything again that wasn’t mine.

I was reformed.

That package of Christmas bows sat in my Christmas box until after I had kids.  I finally gave them to Goodwill.

Confession is good for the soul.

And not just the person confessing.  Allowing each other the freedom to fail is a gift.  And accepting each other, failure and all.  And loving, in spite of it.

Fears of failure and of rejection break relationship.  Fear of being left out or misunderstood because of imperfections we can’t control, our body shape, our age, our family tree.  Fear of being unlovable because of screw ups and missed opportunities and bad decisions.

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These fears cause us to try to cover up and act like something we’re not.

And healthy relationships can’t be built on lies.

I don’t know why humanity still struggles with this.

Like we think anyone is perfect.  Like it’s a surprise that people make mistakes and don’t know everything.

It shocks me when my kids cry over something new they learned at school, and they can’t do it perfectly the first time.  Like, kids, seriously, it’s school.  The whole point is finding out how much you don’t know and learning how to do some of it, right?

But when their little egos confront their own ignorance, that bubble of thinking, “I’m the best Lego builder in the world!” gets busted. They discover that, not only can you build awesome Lego structures, but you can also mechanize them.

Lego robots.  A whole new level.  Dang.

And they have to do the hard work of focus and self discipline until they achieve some level of mastery.

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And then, when they conquer that thing, they are elated.

It’s a cycle.  That is repeated often.  And it makes me look at myself.

How often do I encounter my own weakness and suddenly hate my life?

Like it’s a surprise.  Like it’s never happened before.

Right.

There is a thing that well meaning people do sometimes when you confess a failure.  They will say, “Oh, you didn’t really steal.  Or, let’s reframe that.  You didn’t really fail/sin/screw up.  You are a great person.  Don’t beat yourself up about it.  God loves you just the way you are.”

I love the heart of encouragement, but it seems to me that there is a hidden fear of failure in that kind of response.  Pushing back the idea of failure with both hands so that no one has to be embarrassed, or not know what to say, or see each other with eyes wide open.  Like when you walk in on someone in the toilet.  That one awful moment of being frozen with the door open and seeing that thing you can’t unsee.

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But, um, you know, people go to the bathroom.  Is it really that shocking?  And people screw up.  All the time.  Really good people.  Pretending we don’t and being afraid of admitting it makes for some seriously pointless conversation.

I love when I say, “Wow.  I did this thing.”

And the person next to me says, “Amen.  Thank You, Jesus.”  Or, “Oh.  Yeah.  Me too.”

Like they are happy for me when I see something I need to see.  Like they aren’t afraid of it.  Like they might even like me more, because I was willing to go there.

I appreciate that level of real.

It’s why I love Brené Brown.

I’m a huge fan.

Her viral TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” was one catalyst in my walk away from fear and shame.

It’s my favorite ever TED Talk.  The guy who plays eleventy million  pop songs on the ukulele is a close second.  And the lady who power poses like Wonder Woman in the bathroom.  If you don’t know yet, I love when people maximize time in the bathroom.  It’s just so efficient.  People go there.  Might as well admit it and use the time wisely.

This talk is funny, deep, honest, and life changing.  Seriously.  If you only ever watch one TED Talk, this is the one.  Click here for link.  Over 26 million views and counting today, for a reason.

Courage, shame, and vulnerability.  I’m praying for all of us to get that breakthrough.   

Courage, the original definition of courage..it’s from the Latin word “cor,” meaning “heart.”   And the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. . . the courage to be imperfect.   

–Brené Brown

***

If you find yourself wanting more of Brene’s insight, her follow up talk, “Listening to Shame,” where she discusses dorm room break-ins, vulnerability hangovers, and the fear of shame, can be found by clicking here.  

Empathy is the antidote to shame. . .The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me, too.  

Brené Brown

Confess your faults to each other, and pray for each other, that you might be healed.  Jas5:16.

A Good, Good Father.

These dads.  The difference they make for mothers and for children.

A great father brings identity.  The lack of a good father can steal it.

A study published in 2013 says that the absence of fathers in mice   causes brain damage in offspring, in the part of the brain that controls social and cognitive behavior. The implication is that the same could be true for humans.

But, we already know that.

Children do not need scientists to tell them how much pain is caused by an indifferent or angry parent, how they question everything about  who they are and why they were born when a parent is cruel or habitually careless.  Or how much fun a Dad’s love can bring, and confidence, and courage.

The wonderful inverse of this fact is that the presence of healthy fathers encourages healthy brain development in children.

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The good news is that, no matter the condition of our earthly fathers, each one of us has a devoted father in the form of Abba God.  He made us and loves us and likes us, even in our brokenness and mess and mistakes.

No exceptions.

And in that unconditional love, we get to see our worth. Our value.

When my husband came in to my life, he saw me for who I was.  He saw my wounded and damaged heart.  He saw my hopelessness in relationships.  He saw my cynicism and my anger.  And he promised to love and cherish me in spite of all of it.  And he has done so, every day since.

I knew he was the one when he came over to paint my house.

I was in the middle of trying to fix up a horrible dump that I was renting in a terrible neighborhood.  I was young enough to think that painting the brown walls a pale yellow would make up for the strange man that walked through my yard at night, whistling ballads from another time under my window.

That one act of kindness would have been enough to show me who he was, but then he showed up with a box of tools.  And he went through the whole house fixing everything.

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He worked two jobs during the week, and, on the weekends, he drove two hours to come to my city. When he wasn’t working on my house, he came to the mall and waited for me to finish my shift so he could take me to dinner.  He walked the mall while I worked and bought me presents to pass the time.

He wasn’t flashy. He wasn’t a smooth talker.

He was good.

He was quiet.  He was tall and tan.  He was dark-haired, but there was such a golden glow about him that my mother always called him blond.

He was generous, and he was a caretaker.  “He would make such a great dad.” I remember being surprised at the thought.

A great dad. That was one of the most important things to me that he could be.

I wasn’t even dating him at the time, and he still wanted to be around me, no agenda.

I felt safe with him.  I didn’t feel that queasy twinge of regret, vaguely wondering why I was with him.  I didn’t feel a mania either, but something different, something deep and sure.

He was unexpected.  And yet, he felt like someone I had known all my life.  He always says he wished we met and played in the sand box as kids.  He wanted to share his whole life with me, even the moments that had already passed.

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I was dating someone else, and once, just once, he told me, “I hate to see you with him.  You deserve someone who treats you better.”

And then he waited.  And he worked on my house.

And I came to my senses, and I left the other guy.  And I went with him.  And he treated me better.  And we got married.  And we had a bunch of kids.  And he’s still treating me better, all the time.

And watching him be a great dad to our kids is one of the best gifts of this life.

So thankful for my good man and for all the good men.

You make a difference in this world just by doing your best, giving your all.

You can be so hard on yourself.  Please know that just being here means you are helping us live our best lives.  Even in situations where you can’t be there all the time, thanks for making yourself known with cards and calls and texts and gifts.  Everything you do to reach out, we notice, and it has an impact.  Nothing is wasted with a child, with relationships.

Early mornings and late nights at jobs that are sometimes boring and challenging and infuriating and uncertain.  Trading your time to pay for football helmets and baby food and stuffed animals and college tuition.  For the things a family needs, for houses and medicine and braces and cars.  Thanks for fixing everything around here, for opening jar lids and for cleaning all the yucky messes.

Thanks for being generous with yourself.  For giving your all and not giving up when women are moody and the kids are testing.

There is a song about the way the love of a good father influences his children.  I love this line,

You’re a good, good father.  

It’s who You are,

It’s who I am.

It’s who I am.

The love of a good father defines his children as good.

Thanks for your love and for all that it carries.  Thanks for showing us that we are good.

Thank you for everything.