Turkey Time

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We all have our Thanksgiving memories to cherish. As children, we look forward to the super-sized, special meal. And as we get older, we watch our loved ones prepare the meal, picking up tips for when it will be our turn to prepare our own Thanksgiving meal.

When I was young, Grams always gave me the impression that a turkey took at least twelve hours to cook. She would rise at the crack of dawn, or before, and start shuffling around in the kitchen. By the time I got up, I was met with the sight of her wrestling the stuffing into the gaping carcass.

Once the turkey was in the oven, she began the other dishes. A huge pot of potatoes on the stove, sweet potatoes going into the oven, and the good old green bean casserole being thrown together. And last, but not least, the cracking open of the can of jellied cranberry sauce, plopped into a dish with no attempt to hide its can-shaped appearance.

The carving of the bird never went well, even though it had now cooked three times longer than it should have. Grams would call Dad to carve, but then proceed to tell him just how it should be done. She’d finally just take the knife from him, eventually resorting to using her hands to tear it apart. If that wasn’t appetizing, I don’t know what was!

Although I don’t make the Thanksgiving meal like my Grams used to, I did learn some things from her. Remember to remove the innards from the bird BEFORE cooking. A turkey does not need to cook for TWELVE HOURS. If you must resort to using your hands to carve the turkey, wash them first and DON’T lick your fingers as you work. Bon appetit!

The Pre-Teen Plunge

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Adolescence is ugly. No getting around it. Hormones beginning to rage, coming into your budding body, a roller coaster of emotions, and being forced into all sorts of new experiences. Being thrown into classes at a new middle school with kids you never saw before. Learning locker combinations, following class schedules, finding your way around a much larger school. Trying to find a friendly face in the cafeteria so you didn’t have to sit alone. Taking off your clothes in front of others in the locker room. Just lots of joyful experiences!

The experience of swimming in gym class at my middle school was one of the most awful that I can remember. First, there was the trauma of public disrobing, at an age when what you had, or didn’t have, really mattered. Wanting to check out what everyone else had without remaining naked long enough for anyone to see yours. Then there was the required shower, on an ancient tiled floor that always felt slippery for some reason, and would have never passed my mother’s cleanliness standards.

The pool tiles felt rough and slimy on your feet, and holding onto the sides where the overflow drains were was hardly an option. Usually you’d get a mouth or nose full of highly chlorinated water at some point, and God knows what else.

After the swim, there was the second disrobing to rinse your suit in some mysterious disinfectant, and wring it in the ancient wringer. It was a sweet, sickly smell, unlike any other. Using your tiny bleached towel, you swipe away most of the water, and nervously wrench your training bra and panties on, and finally your clothing, all of it sticking to your wet skin. And what do you talk about while your’e so exposed? NOTHING! ‘Cause you’re trying to do all of this as fast as you can to get dressed and out of there! You just focus on the sound of the shower running and locker doors slamming, and hope it’s over soon.

To this day, I hate having to use a locker room, and am flooded with these visions every time!

They Don’t Call Them Magic Markers for Nothing

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They Don’t Call Them Magic Markers for Nothing

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a love of color. From that first 8 pack of Crayola Crayons to my current more-than-you’d-ever-need-sized collection of coloring utensils, I’ve had coloring fever. Remember your first black tin of Prang Oval 8 watercolors? I remember staring at the colors, touching each one, getting goose bumps, and then, that first dip of color going onto the paper in elementary school. And that dollop of smooth, perfectly purple finger paint placed on the smooth paper by your kindergarten teacher? And remember when your art teacher first got out those vividly colored square sticks of chalk? Oh, my God! Just seeing their bold colors seemed enough for me, but then, that first stroke across the manilla paper! WOW! Then there was the grand moment when you finally owned the 64 Crayola Crayon collection WITH A SHARPENER! And SILVER, COPPER and GOLD! WHAT?!?!?

And just when I thought things could get no better, “magic markers” came on the scene. I remember in middle school, FLAIR pens came out, and with them, the psychoFLAIRapy calendar. With black and white drawings by Peter Max and a set of 12 Flair pens, I really began my journey into the land of all things coloring. My friend and I excitedly compared our color choices each month through that Year of Flair, way before the current coloring craze was even imagined.

Then I became a teacher, and was able to fulfill my need for color on a daily basis. That brilliantly colored chalk went from manilla paper to my chalkboard, announcing the date and any important announcements to my students. Brightly colored construction paper became letters and characters on my bulletin boards, mounted on a black background to make the colors pop. Colored wet-erase markers on the overhead projector to accent the sentence diagramming or math I was teaching. Colored pens for grading papers…anything but red. And eventually, white boards opened the world of dry-erase markers, which still give me a thrill to use on my wall calendar.

And now, well into my adult years, I am still drawn to color. I collect those paint chip cards from the hardware store even when I have nothing to paint. I repainted the bedrooms in my house bold, bright colors. My parents, if they were still alive, would gasp at my not-eggshell-white walls! I purchase markers and pens in a rainbow of colors almost every time I’m in a store that sells them, even though my supply at home is more than ample. I spend hours admiring the writing and coloring utensils in the office supply stores, lusting after new colors and brands.

When the coloring craze took off, I was in heaven! I started printing coloring sheets from the internet, and then started purchasing coloring books, and, of course, more markers, crayons and colored pencils. I started giving coloring books as gifts, foisting my love of color on others. Each time I choose a page to color, I make that bold decision as to what media to use. Then I agonize over each color choice, wanting the combinations to be perfect on my page. I even put together and colored a ready-to-color jigsaw puzzle I got for a birthday present from a friend who realized how serious my addiction had become.

Although my addiction to color may seem a bit over the top, and can create some angst for me, I consider it my therapy. Color makes me happy, whether I’m seeing it, wearing it, or creating it. I color with friends…I color alone. I own what you might believe to be way too many coloring utensils and coloring books, but frankly, SCARLET, I don’t give a damn! (I’m punny like that, too!)

Fishin’ For Deer

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Do they really not get it? Season after season, they MUST see it coming, don’t you think? Animals have senses we humans don’t…they can sense danger. Creatures of all kinds learn to avoid their predators…some with disguises, some with clever antics…all to avoid being eaten. Yet every year, the deer and fish seem to be totally scammed by us humans who sneak up on them with rifles, arrows, lures, and bait.

I’m not a hunter at all, and not much of a fisherman, but I just don’t get how these fish and deer haven’t figured it out yet. Surely those deer can hear the hunters crunching through the leaves to assume the position. Surely they can spot the bright orange clothing, just as other hunters are supposed to do. And when they hear the gunshots ringing through the woods, and witness the murder of their comrades, don’t you think they should put this all together in their little deer heads and RUN and HIDE? But no, they saunter around, and sometimes, even walk right out in front of the hunter with the weapon. What’s up with that?

And it’s not just during hunting season that the deer appear clueless to danger. Surely by now they have learned to identify the sound of vehicles motoring down the highways and byways. Surely they have learned to associate the sight of bright headlights with danger. Surely the sound of a large vehicle barreling down the road towards them would cause them to RUN and HIDE. But no, they leap directly out in front of the large, speeding vehicle, or even ONTO the large, speeding vehicle. C’mon, deer…we expected so much more from you!

And the fish. There they are, swimming along, eating whatever passes, pooping as they go. Resting under some weeds, or hunkering down in the cool sandy bottom of the lake. Racing the other fish, doing fish flips…really enjoying fish life. But then, they see the bottom of the boat above them. The first sign of danger. Does this scare them off? NO! Then the lure drops into the water. Does it really fool them? Does a wooden, plastic or metal lure controlled by a human at the end of the line REALLY look like live food to them? Does the fact that this food plops into the water, is jerked along, and then rises to the top of the lake and disappears, only to reappear with the next cast not clue them in to the fact that this is NOT natural, live food?

Yep. Every time. They suddenly lose all sense of survival. Just doesn’t make sense. Perhaps this is why I am not much of a fisherman, and not at all a hunter. I’m always rooting for the deer or the fish. RUN! HIDE! LIVE!

Sports Shorts

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As many of you know, I don’t follow sports much. But I do pay enough attention to it to notice that it’s taking over. For those of you that love sports, this is great. But for those of us that don’t, it’s a real annoyance.

A friend recently told me, “It’s all about the money.” Don’t even get me started on that! The cost of a ticket is outrageous. The prices and vast selection of sporting apparel are outrageous. Salaries are outrageous. And if we compare the salary of a football, basketball, hockey or baseball player to that of a teacher, nurse, firefighter or social worker, it’s just plain sad.

But I want to talk about the invasion of sports into our daily lives. Sporting events are broadcast all the time now. Seasons have been extended, and now overlap, so there is never a time when you can’t find a sporting event on TV. When I was young, I remember my dad getting geared up to watch the big football game on Sunday. Then came Monday Night Football, and now, we have games on Friday nights, Saturdays, and now Thursday Night Football. Really, it would be easier to just say Football Free Tuesdays & Wednesdays, eh?

And on the news every day, we hear about all of the injuries taking players off the field or court. I never knew, nor wanted to know, what a blown ACL was until they started reporting it on the sports shorts. We hear every detail of the aches and pains of these professional athletes, right down to the pinkie toe that is keeping someone out of the game. Someone who is being paid a MILLION dollars to either play or sit out that game. Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be if this was done with other professions? Pittsburgh science teacher John Renfro is out of the classroom with ongoing hemorrhoid issues. He will be benched for at least two weeks (with a rubber donut) as he recovers from surgery. Or Daytona plumber Nathan Johnson is sitting out this cooling season with carpal tunnel, which has thrown a wrench into his busiest season.

And we also are inundated with the “news” of well-known sports figures. Assault charges, drug deals, rape, theft…we hear it all. But you rarely hear Nasa research scientist Nils Pederson was pulled over on Sunday for distracted driving while searching the internet. Or Dallas vet tech Lucy Amondson was cited for the possession of 7 dogs within the city limits…5 too many according to city ordinance.

I’m just tired of missing TV shows due to sporting events. I can understand when programming might occasionally be interrupted for a 10-minute severe weather update or the report of a massive attack on the US by some terrorists, but we are regularly forced to miss our favorite programming for a 3 hour football game, complete with overtime and the all-important post-game commentary. Boy! They really played the hell out of that game, eh? Or Just look at the disappointment on their faces. All I wanted was to see the season premiere of Madame Secretary.

Think B4 You Eat

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The other night I was waiting for a friend to finish an evening class at the high school. There was nowhere to sit, so I strolled the halls a bit while I was waiting, perusing the various things posted on the walls. Among the homecoming and National Honor Society signs, there were several Think B4 You Eat posters. Each poster contained a comparison of two foods…one healthy choice, and one not so healthy choice. Each picture was accompanied by the number of calories in each food, and the amount of time doing a certain physical activity it would take to burn off those calories. I learned a lot that night.

My thoughts first turned to what a typical high-schooler might think of these posters. The healthy foods pictured looked appealing, so I figure some might choose to go healthier next time they are faced with a choice of what to eat. The difference in the amount of exercise required to burn off the calories was striking, so that may make an impression on some. I started to think that these lovely posters might be somewhat effective, but then it dawned on me that the choices in the vending machine that was just around the corner from these posters likely did not contain those healthy 2 cups of popcorn, but rather the bag of chips that took 20 times the exercise to work off.

Kids don’t always have healthy choices available, and the unhealthy foods that are available to them are also usually cheaper and quicker than the healthier choices. You can get a burger at the drive-thru, but making a nice turkey sandwich with fresh lettuce, tomato and whole grain bread will take you longer and cost more in the long run. So, maybe the posters might not be quite so effective.

As for me, I had to chuckle. As I studied the first poster, I learned that if I ate that bag of chips, it would take me 2 and a half hours of stair climbing to work off those 900 calories. But if I chose the 2 cups of popcorn, it would only take me 7 minutes of stair climbing. What made me chuckle was that I’m in such bad shape that I’d never even make the 7 minute climb! Heck, just climbing the stairs once to go to bed sometimes seems to take 7 minutes! I also learned I’m doomed!

The next poster compared fried chicken strips to 3 bites of grilled chicken with 3 small pepper rings and a sprinkle of parsley. The fried option would require 1 hour and 15 minutes of swimming to work off the 585 calories. The little grilled bits would only take 20 minutes of swimming to do away with the 160 calories, but there’s also the fact that a basket of chicken strips is way more food than 3 bites of chicken with some garnish. I’m not sure 3 bites of chicken is going to fill me up, and it certainly wouldn’t fill up a teenager. And, again, for me, I don’t even know if I could swim the 20 minutes for the healthy choice. And that 20 minute swim doesn’t include the rest of the food you ate all day! Definitely doomed!

Quit Bugging Me!

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Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a real fan of bugs. Sure, there are some good bugs, and some that are even beautiful. You’ve got your butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs…they do their thing, and they let you do yours. They’re attractive and graceful. They have a good reputation, and are loved by most. Even I like the little buggers. But then you have your nasty and scary bugs. I’m talking cockroaches, spiders, wasps, centipedes, and any others of those that fall into the creepy category. You know…the ones they make into those B movies where the giant, nasty, scary bugs take over New York City or something. As I’ve aged, I’ve moved from total panic and unnatural phobia to a more manageable panic and strategic planning.

When I was very young, I had a couple of encounters with those nasty and scary bugs that shaped my mindset about bugs. Once when I was around 4 or 5, leaning against the kitchen doorway, I felt a tickle on my neck. My dad said, “Hold still a minute,” and swatted at my neck with the newspaper he was reading. As it turns out, the cockroach had been doing the rhumba on my shoulder, and Daddy saved me from a terrible fate. I’m not sure how long I cried, hyperventilated, or screamed, but it’s a crystal clear memory to this day. Then, when I was around 8 or 9, I was headed out the door, put my hand on the door frame, and out of the corner of my eye, caught a glimpse of a centipede sitting on the door frame, centimeters from my hand. The vision of that skittering creeper is etched in my memory. Again, it was Daddy to the rescue.

During much of my childhood, I was completely incapable of eradicating any of these horrible creatures that may have wandered into my territory. I actually would call for someone else to take care of the bugs that came into my life. The thought of squishing these bugs was unbearable. Most of the real creeper bugs have a hard shell and some meat to them. Feeling them crunch and squish would just be too much for me, even with a shoe between me and the bug. And then there’s the idea of getting close enough to the bug in order to smash it. You run the risk of the bug running up your leg or arm, as soon as it gets wise to your plan to pulverize it. And what if, despite your super vigilant squishing, it lives through the ordeal, and when you peek into the paper towel, or look at the bottom of your shoe, it suddenly springs back to life, and comes after you with a newfound vengeance? Once I lived on my own, and was forced to deal with these tragic encounters independently, I gradually worked up to the spraying, drowning, and even swatting with something long methods of creeper destruction. Then you don’t have to touch them, or feel their bodies imploding at your hand. I sometimes would use the vacuum cleaner to assist in the takedown, but then I developed the irrational fear that IF that bug didn’t completely die before I sucked it up, it could and would surely come crawling back out of the vacuum after I turned it off, and that would never do.

But eventually, you get to the point where it’s you or the bug. You mature to where you can muster up the courage to conquer the creepers on your own. You develop the skills needed to think and act quickly. Time is of the essence, especially with a super speedy variety like the aforementioned cockroach. If you hesitate a moment too long, and miss your window of opportunity, that roach is gone in a flash, only to reappear somewhere else within your personal space at a later time. And the not knowing where it is lurking, or when it will pounce will get you every time. If you plan poorly, and use the wrong equipment or approach, you will also miss your opportunity, no matter how fast you are. You have to do a bit of mental jockeying to convince yourself that you will conquer the creeper, and not the other way around.

So, my most recent encounter with a creeper was on my vacation last week. I was reading in bed, and felt that tickle on the back of my neck. My thoughts rushed back to that awful day when my Daddy saved me from the big, bad cockroach creeper. I jumped out of bed, pulled the pillows away, and there it was. A slim little thing unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It was sort of like a cross between a cockroach and a moth and a walking stick. But I could see right away that it had the potential to be a skitterer, and I knew that if I let it get away, I would never be able to sleep in that cabin, not knowing where it was. I knew I had only one quick shot. I also didn’t really want to totally squish this creeper all over my pillow, so my strategy was to do a grab-sweep-squish move and hope for the best. I got a paper towel (aka sword and shield) and took a second to do the mental jockeying I mentioned earlier. Me or the bug. Me or the bug. I grabbed, swiped, and squished, and kept squishing until I got to the toilet, where I made my deposit. I had to watch for a while to be sure he didn’t come flying out of the toilet, having survived my attack after all. Nothing. And just to be sure, adding insult to injury, I peed on him, and flushed him down. I was mighty proud that I could get back to my reading, and didn’t even have any creeper nightmares.

Relaxing With Toddlers

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I just returned from a very relaxing, quiet vacation at a cabin in the north woods of Minnesota. This gem of a historic log cabin resort is the perfect place for peace, solitude, and communing with nature. It’s quite the fishing mecca, as well, but that’s not why I went there. There’s also a nice beach, and I’m sure in the heat of the summer it’s a great family spot for splashing about. There are also options for hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and viewing great sunsets and the night sky, full of a bazillion stars.

This particular vacation was a solo affair…some time alone, away from the computer, the car, and work, but there are times it’s also fun to vacation with others…a spouse, friends, family. I do remember some fun family vacations as a kid, and as a grownup human, I can appreciate my parents’ patience and diligence in taking us places. But I feel it’s important to think about the location of your vacations, and the age-appropriateness of your decision to bring along the kids.

I can see that this resort would be a great place for school-age kids. Kids who are able to walk on their own, understand the basics of safety around water, fire, and in the woods, and are eager to explore nature. Kids who want to find birds in the woods, and who might appreciate watching quietly as those two deer come out of the woods, right into the resort in the early mornings or evenings. Kids who love s’mores, but understand that fire is hot, and it’s the marshmallow that needs to get melted, and not their sneakers. Kids who are ready to take a boat ride and learn to fish, able to sit down in the boat, wearing a life jacket while whooshing about the lake. Kids who want to try new things, like baiting a hook, eating new foods at the lodge, or using binoculars.

But…I’m sure you know where this next part is going. In my four days at the lake, I saw a total of four families who brought along babies and toddlers. As I said, I’m all for family vacations, but I had to wonder what made them choose this place, and to bring along the tiny kiddos this time. As I watched these families navigating the up north vacation with tiny ones, many reasons came to mind why this would not be the best place to bring the babies.

I’ll try to sum it up briefly, and spare you the lengthy whining and complaining from this childless old fart. Just because you put the life jacket on the 2 year old while she’s in the boat does not mean it’s safe to take it off as soon as you set her on the dock for her to toddle on her way. And just because you like to take a solo trip in the boat, and leave the kiddos with mom for a bit, don’t assume that your toddlers will enjoy seeing you pull away without them, and wave goodbye quietly. Observation: if a kid screams in a cabin, and daddy isn’t there to hear it, it still sounds like a kid screaming its head off.

Just because the lemonade you ordered for your one and a half year old came in a cute kid’s cup with a bendy straw doesn’t mean he knows how to drink out of it. Tipping a cup upside down, as if it were a sippy cup, when it’s not will only end in a small child, his high chair, and the dining room floor covered in sticky lemonade. And you paying no attention to this delightful behavior, and saying to your in-laws when they alert you to the situation, “I’m not going to say anything because he will just keep doing it,” is not going to make him any less sticky when you get him out of that high chair.

Just because you think the soup will be something your baby will eat does not mean you should allow him to eat it with his hands. Soup does not stay in a baby’s hand for long.

Just because you said to your toddler, “Come this way, Jimmy!” does not mean that he will do what you asked when there is a cool lake and beach toys tempting him to do the opposite. And turning your back on him and walking away, when he is 40 feet from you, and inches from the water, will not prevent him from drowning in the 4 minutes that you decided to depend on a 2 year old to make the right decision.

And finally, just because you have learned to tolerate the whining and crying that your baby seems to do in response to everything, which sounds like a loud sheep who is very unhappy, does not mean that those staying in nearby cabins will come to accept the sound of your adorable toddler as part of their quiet vacation getaway.

Maybe I need to find a no kids resort next time.

Puzzling Behavior

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I’ve always loved the challenge of a puzzle. Crossword, sudoku, word find, mind benders, memory games, jigsaws…you name it, I’m up for it. But I go absolutely NUTS when someone “cheats” at such puzzles. I take my puzzles very seriously…the very definition of a puzzle is a challenge. If someone looks at the solution, tells someone else the answer, or gives someone so many clues they give away the answer, they’ve just gone down a few notches on my internal scale of character. I mean, where’s the fun in that?! It’s a PUZZLE!

I’m pretty radical about it. When I open a jigsaw puzzle and find a few pieces connected, I quickly pull them apart, trying not to look too closely, so I’ll have no chance of remembering what I saw. If there’s one of those upside down solutions under the puzzle in the newspaper, I will physically cover it or fold it under so there’s no chance of me seeing any part of the solution.

When I was teaching, and I’d give the kids a puzzle, their impatience was disheartening. They didn’t share my excitement for the challenge. They just wanted me to give them the solution. When they’d ask for the answers, my reply was always, “That’s why they call it a PUZZLE!” I’d hate it when someone would blurt out the answer for all to hear. I would have them try it alone for the first five minutes, and then I’d let them work with a partner if they wanted to. But even then, I had to teach them how to give each other clues without just telling each other the answers. There’s a skill to giving clues. I stuck to my puzzle morals, but I’m sure my students thought I was the cruelest teacher when it came to puzzles.

Recently, however, my puzzle standards were put to the test. I attempted a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. I did my usual routine – make sure all the pieces are detached, and I had no advantage. I noticed it was one of those super-difficult puzzles with oddly shaped pieces. You know, the puzzles that have pieces that look like straight edges, but aren’t quite straight at all. Well, after an hour and a half trying to find the straight edges and corners, let alone connect any of them, I gave up. I came to the conclusion that a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle would more likely fall into the category of a lifetime achievement, rather than a fun challenge for a 4-day vacation in a dimly lit cabin. In this case, I’d have gladly left those few pieces attached, taken whatever advantage that gave me, and just never have admitted it to anyone. Puzzle morals be damned!

The Lists Have Taken Over Again

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I know I’ve talked before about how compulsive I can be about making lists. But recently, I’ve been able to give up some of my list-making, which is quite contrary to my usual obsession with the small sheets of paper loaded with bulleted items. I’ve found that I can do without the weekly chores going on a list…the ones that you repeat every week, like laundry, cleaning, etc. I was pretty proud of myself for getting to this point, and it actually lowered my stress level about getting things done. Imagine! Less stress! YAY, me!

But I’m getting ready to go on a short vacation. Just a few days at a cabin up north. Pretty simple planning…no planes or trains…just an automobile. No fancy clothing needed, and just me, getting in the car and driving up there to relax for a few days. Easy, eh? Well, not so much.

It started with the list of things I needed to do before I go. Then the list of things I wanted to bring along to do…puzzles, books, writing materials, camera, coloring materials, etc. Then the foodstuffs for cooking in the cabin. And I couldn’t neglect a clothing list. Then I had to create a list for my house/pet sitter, because I’m sure she couldn’t find the cat food on her own, without my detailed directions, right? Oh, and speaking of directions, there’s the sketch I had to make of the route to the cabin, even though I have a smartphone that can guide me right to the door! Hey, I can’t help it if I’m a visual person.

And I’ve already revised these lists several times, as I change my mind about things, remember something, or if I’m not quite happy with the organization of the lists. And each time I add something to one of the lists, it causes me to adjust at least one of the other lists in some fashion.

Yes, I’m totally hooked on the list making again. And how much stuff does one person need for just a few days? Why can’t I just toss a few things in a bag, get in the car and go? What would that even be like? Are there people that can do that?