Monday, July 28, 2014

A Haunted Family and a Haunted House




Since Rebecca Makkai snuck on to my radar with The Borrower I have been waiting patiently for her next book...and here it is.  The Borrower is one of those books that I loved because of it's quirk; experience has taught me that I should be cautious about recommending books that fall into that category, but I can't help it. They make me giggle at the wrong times, and by turning the world upside down they push me to see the life differently.  I don't always like what I see but as a result, I have stopped questioning whether or not there is life on Mars and go about my days taking what is given to me and accepting people for who they are no matter what they think or do or believe.  

One of the responsibilities of the written word is to challenge us to look again, to reevaluate and to consider other ways.  Quirky books do that for me, and so for me, they are valuable.  That is not the case for everyone, however, and that is just fine.  That is, unless it's the 50 shades books that are influencing your life. Not going into that again, except to say ...forget it, I won't get on my soapbox again about cruddy writing and cruddy books.  (And that is not an opinion, that is fact - 50 shades books are crud.)  OK, I have stepped off the box.  

Don't confuse The Borrower with the young people's stories by Mary Norton.  That is The Borrowers - with an "s" - clever little stories about tiny folk with borderline evil intentions - living under the steps in a family home.  Makkai's Borrower tells the story of a young boy who kidnaps a librarian.  Try topping that for excitement.  I double dog dare you.

Here's the scoop on this new book...which you all should read!

A haunted family and a haunted house... in reverse.

When Doug’s mother-in-law offers up the coach house at Laurelfield, her hundred-year-old estate north of Chicago, Doug and his wife Zee accept. Doug is fascinated by the house’s previous life as an artists’ colony, and hopes to find something archival there about the poet Edwin Parfitt, who was in residence at Laurelfield in the twenties (and whose work happens to be Doug’s area of scholarship). When he learns that there are file cabinets full of colony materials in the attic, Doug is anxious to get to work and save his career—but his mother-in-law refuses him access. With help from friends, Doug finally does access the Parfitt file—only to find far stranger and more disturbing material than he bargained for.
Doug may never learn all the house’s secrets, but the reader does, as the narrative zips back in time from 1999 to 1955 and 1929. We see the autumn right after the colony’s demise, when its newlywed owners are more at the mercy of the place’s lingering staff than they could imagine; and we see it as a bustling artists’ community fighting for survival in the last, heady days of the 1920s.

Through it all, the residents of Laurelfield are both plagued and blessed by the strange legacy of Laurelfield’s original owners: extraordinary luck, whether good or bad.

Thanks for stopping by.


Even though I no longer teach, I still read this book each year at the end of August.  It reminds me of what an important job teachers have,and  of how how hard they all work.  I think of my friends who continue to teach, and admire them for it.  I hope they are thanked each and every day.

This August, when I read UTDS, I will be thinking of Bel Kaufman, who passed away last Friday at 103. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Bestseller that Bombed (for me)

Oh my goodness, what didn't I like about this book?  The style, mostly. Wait.  The characters, mostly.  Then again...mostly the plot.  So, there you have it.  Looks like I was not fond of this book.  

What am I reading now?  Still Life with Bread Crumbs by the ever reliable Anna Quindlen.  Quindlen's easy style is a nice contrast to the themes running through this novel.  Rebecca Winter is an accomplished photographer with national recognition.  As the story opens, her career is in decline, her saving account in tow.  She sublets her NYC condo and takes a year lease on a secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere. This gentle story of unexpected love at times reminds me of Under the Tuscan Sun, and that's not a bad thing.  Rebecca is a relateable character with dignity and an admirable presence.  Above all, she is not angry, vindictive or one-dimensional. And she is sane.  

Quindlen charms.  She has a delicate sense of humor that is always well-placed.  For example, although a bit over 60, city born and raised Rebecca has never seen a cow close up.  To her "They always seemed a little frightening, like farm machinery with an unpredictable personality."

Let me back up to Gone Girl for a few lines.  If you have read this book and liked it, that's good.  I always say there's the right book out there for everyone..  The popularity of this book baffled me, so I started digging around and found several sites dedicated to trashing and hating it.  I am not alone.  However, most people were unhappy with the ending and that colored their experience with the entire book.  I struggled right from the beginning, and by page 100 found the heavy narrative tedious and angering.  The story is told from two (supposedly opposing perspectives) but the characters share a common voice and syntax.  One in indistinguishable from the other. Neither one is likable.   Sentences are too long with little dialogue to break up the monotonous rhythm. 

Granted, I'm a purist when it comes to style.  Straightforward,  Simple.  Not a lot of ornamentation.  (I prefer music with the same qualities.  No baroque or crazy frilly sonatas for me).  The author uses far too many parentheticals, which are like little speed bumps (and in most cases, the info she offers in parens does not further the plot.).  Usually words captured by  parens are like theatrical asides - a character sharing a secret with the listener, or in this case, the reader.   But since the chapters are already narrated by the main characters, isn't everything written already a confidence shared between writer and reader, rendering the parenthesis redundant, or am I obsessing on those two little curved lines?

I won't trouble you with my thoughts on the Swiss cheese plot or the lame characters.  The whole book is like really, really really bad Shakespeare.  Lots of disguise plots, plots within plots and go nowhere plots. The Bard used those techniques sparingly, masterfully, and not all at once.  Flynn, not so much.

For me, the most interesting characters were the cat and the ottoman.

So, if you're reading this, liked the book and are feeling a little beat up, just remember, my book group threw rotten tomatoes at me for The Family Fang. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, The Lonely Polygamist, The Lady Cyclist Guide to Kashgar,...the list goes on.  Still, I read.  Still I enjoy the search for characters that jump off the page and speak to me, settings that take me places I haven't been, real or imagined, and plots that get me thinking...and sometimes arguing and defending.  And that's where the fun begins.

(Anyway) thanks for stopping by (today).

Monday, July 7, 2014

Just Enough Time for a Few Short Stories


With the hoppin' city picnic and fireworks on the agenda for the weekend, I figured there wouldn't be much reading time available.  I did manage to finish Cold Dish and start our discussion book, Gone Girl.  I flew through the final half of Cold Dish.  That's the way it works for me and mysteries.  Once the plot gets rolling, I find it hard to walk away and I plow through to the end.  At some point, I can't rest until I know whodunit and why.  For me, this book was more about character than plot, although the plot kept moving, jumping, twisting and never boring.  I was disappointed with the end, however (Sorry Steve).  Too many suspense novels resolve with a common reason for the perpetrator having committed the crime.  Well, that was a convoluted statement, but I don't want to give anything away.  That single disappointment did diminish my enjoyment of the book, and I will  read another Craig Johnson book soon.  You should too.

In fact, Johnson has a collection of short stories coming out soon and I know I will buy a copy.  Short stories were on deck on Sunday due to the busy weekend.  I first discovered Graham Greene when I saw the film version of The Quiet American.  The first time around I was so taken with the cinematography that I missed the story.  I never imagined there could be such lush,serene beauty in Saigon.  Breathtaking.  The second time around, I was able to concentrate on the story of a CIA agent working under cover in Vietnam. Since seeing that film, I have read  one or two Greene novels.  His main characters are generally highly scrupled individuals who face a major moral dilemma forcing them to question  closely held beliefs.  These personal moral issues are frequently entwined with political issues - shady political issues.

The few stories I read from this collection kept to those themes, but one or two strayed.  Although Greene is not often considered a mystery writer, he wrote several crime novels and shorts stories.  In "The Basement Room" he skillfully crafted a psychological drama based on lies and  pangs on conscience.   The truth V. lies cat and mouse games move quickly and the anxiety driven protagonist finds himself locked in a web of lies because the truth appears unbelievable.

Hawthorne wrote some dark (really?) and challenging short stories.  Haven't read many of them since torturing my high school student with them.  Maybe it's time....Watch out Dr. Heidigger...I'm coming for you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Go Ahead, Blame Steve

If you stop by my house over the holiday weekend, I will graciously greet you at the font door, but you are not getting inside.  You can thank Nebraska Steve for that.  You see, he has been torturing me for several years with reference to Craig Johnson books, the Longmire series.  Then he began nagging about the Longmire series on A&E so I decided catching an episode or two of that would be less painful than reading what I pre-judged to be a half-baked mystery series with stock characters and predictable plots set on the edge of a Native American reservation.  

I'm well into the second season of the series now and am looking forward to the third. On Sunday, I cracked open my first Walt Longmire novel, The Cold Dish.  Granted, I was looking for an excuse to not clean, but this book pulled me in from the first page.  

Dust bunnies reside happily in corners, HAR scrapbooks are piled high  to be riffled through for historical articles and pictures, magazines remain in stacks to be sorted, tossed or re-assigned to another reader, two half painted signs for the store wait for finishing touches on the dining room table. That is just the beginning of the chaos that will keep you visiting on my front porch if you drop by.  Again, you can thank Steve for that.

Now about the book - I have a little literary crush on Walt Longmire. Come on, who doesn't have one of those?  My friend Valerie thinks that 80-year old Major Pettigrew (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand) is sexy, and I know you have a book crush, too.  Walt's an earthy, common sense kind of guy, and he reads people well.  He's scrupled and fair and he has a wicked sense of humor.  

Admittedly, I have been a cowboy fan since Sky King rode across the skies.  Gene Autry and the Lone Ranger were also favorites of mine growing up, and "Talent round-Up Day" was my favorite theme day on The Mickey Mouse Club.  Cold Dish starts fast with the discovery of a body.  The victim is tied to another crime and this appears to be a revenge killing.  That's about as predictable as it gets.  Intertwined, and well constructed characters, enter the story randomly, leading me in new directions.  It is clear who will be the leads throughout the series.  I like them all and so I am afraid I am committed to another Longmire book after this one.

Johnson is a no nonsense writer, except for an occasional simile for which I will forgive.  I hate similes.  I am a fan of the metaphor, personally.  His clean, direct style supports Walt's solid persona, and the story arc ebbs and flows bringing in just enough personal info on Walt and his companions along with Native American culture and lore to keep the mystery itself from growing stale.  All in all, a masterfully crafted mystery.

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Here's my rant for the week....Let me begin by saying that most self published authors are excited to talk with me and are grateful to see their books on our shelves.  But I ran into one who wasn't.  He put together a nice looking non-fiction book, well written, well organized, great pictures.  I agreed to start out with five on consignment.  I could tell he was disappointed that I didn't want cases of them, but five is always where I begin.  We signed the contract, and his parting words were "Five is good for you, Bev.  I'll make my real money at B&N and on Amazon.  None of you small stores are going to last much loner anyway."  I was floored that he was so rude to someone from whom he had just asked a favor.  I tried hard to think of a cheeky comment to finish off this rant, but can't come up with one.  The "writer's " comment will have to stand on its own.

All in all, it was a good reminder to me to try to be less caustic.  Had I been heeding those words I wouldn't have shared that last story now would I?


Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Who Gets the Letter?



My word.  I just got off a phone call that quickly became a real life rendition of  "Who's on First?"  It won't surprise you to hear that the conversation was with an insurance carrier.  Here's a little history for you. Because of last fall's hailstorm, I needed a new roof here at the store along with some drywall and painting inside.  Work has been done - although the ceiling leaked again last night but that's a story for another time, as my friend Chet the dog would say.  

During all the fal-der-al in filing the claim, I asked the adjuster once and the voice at the insurance end if this claim would cause my insurance to go up or - horrors - cause them to cancel me.  All responded with a resounding NO each time.  I was assured that my claims was small, nearly invisible compared to the bulk of the claims they get.  Well, you can just about guess...no cancellation but  - a 25% premium raise.  So, I switched companies.  

Part of the switching process includes switching my workman's comp policy.  I thought that was taken care of until I got a letter from AmTrust, an insurance company that should called Am-not-trustalbe.  Anyway. I have to fill out a form and return it.  Trouble, is the top of the letter gave me one address saying I had to return the form via "registered certified mail, personal delivery or via facsimile."  Also included was an envelope with a totally different address pre-printed. So, I made the big mistake of calling the provided number for clarification. 

Here's how that went: (I'm in italics)

I have a quick question.  (Silly me thinking THAT was true)  I have this form, and two different addresses  on where to send it.  Which one should it go to?

Yes.

Yes, the one on the letterhead or the one on the envelope?

One on the letterhead.

OK.  Then what is the envelope for?

You need to send the form back to us in that envelope.

Oh.  I should make a copy and send one to both addresses?

Yes.  Just to us.

Right.  What about the address that I am supposed to send via (here I read the top of the letter to the voice)

Oh.  Let me bring up your policy.

You haven't done that yet.?  I thought you brought it up when you first asked for my policy number.

Yes.  You just have to check the appropriate box and return it.

Well, I would be happy to do that, but there are no boxes and I don't know which address to use.  Could the envelope have been included by mistake?

Yes.

For sure?  So I really only have to send it to the place that needs the info via certified mail etc?

Yes.  You can use the envelope provided to do that.

But it has a totally different address in a totally different state.

Oh. That will be fine if you do that.

Do what?

Send it to us.

To you?  You're sure?  I won't get thrown in jail if I don't send it to the other place that requires a certified letter?

Did you say you're in jail?  Is that why you're having this problem?

I'm not in jail. 

Oh.  Perhaps my supervisor can help.

(Here I wait for about three minutes and when does she return?  Just as I am about to break my record score in Mahjong solitaire)

We don't know.  Call your local agent.  He might know something. By the way, can you tell me why you are leaving us?

Um....ineptitude.

What?  My phone just cut out.

Nothing.  Really.  Thanks for your help.

Now, before you go jumping to any conclusions, the voice on the other end was not foreign!  And to be fair, her phone did cut out periodically but I am sure she thinks it was mu jail cell phone that caused the problem.

*********************************************************************************


This is not a formal Dog Blog entry but it is a secret worth sharing.  On Saturday night You-Know-Who came home from Metro Jam well after 9 pm.  I had waited patiently for my walk, and what does she do?  Plops down to watch some PBS mystery.  I am getting so tired of them.  Those people talk funny and the stories are always continued.  I have thing to do.  I can't be expected to remember things like what cop was chasing which criminal.  There is sunshine to follow around the house and birds and chippies to watch.

Anyway, I got irritated.  "My walk" I finally demanded.  So, YKW reluctantly turned off the TV, grabbed my leash and off we went.  Me looking proud and trotting along at a brisk pace, taking in all the local smells...YKW in her pajamas!  I was happy.




Monday, June 16, 2014

A New Series from Ann B. Ross (Miss Julia)


Anyone who loved an laughed as Miss Julia fell into one misadventure after another will be thrilled when, on August 19th, Ann B. Ross begins a new series set in the town of Abbotsville.  This time, she writes about Etta Mae Wigging, a woman with a heart of gold and a lot of rough edges.  Etta lives in a trailer park, has a rotten family and dreams of a better life.  

Working as a home health nurse for the elderly and obscenely wealthy Howard Connard, she sees her chance.  She will use her feminine wiles to get him to marry her.  That is until his money hungry son gets wind of her plan and stops Etta at the front door.  When one of Etta's ex husbands shows up in town with a winning lottery ticket things get hectic.  Goose chases ensue with everyone from the trailer park to the mansion born grabbing for easy cash.  A couple local thugs and Miss Julia even join the fray.

This is all good fun...and silly deck reading.  We all need that, don't we?

Over the weekend, I also read a new young adult novel called Eleanor and Park.  This book left me speechless and heartbroken...and not one single person dies in the story.  If it weren't for an opening filled with some creative cussing, I would freely suggest this to all my teen readers.  If language scares you, or you fear that reading a book with the "F" bomb in it will change your life or in some way make you a doer of evil, then stay away.  If you can read a book without being altered by profanity, then pick this up and be altered by the story.

What's next?  My book group is reading Gone Girl for July.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Rainy Day Websites



What to write about on Monday?  I can't write too much about Tom Rob Smith's The Farm until I finish and know just what I can and can't say in order to not give too much of this twisted plot away.  You see, at this point, the lines are blurred.  One of the three main characters is living in reality, but I can't tell which one. Sharing the wrong info about the book could end up being a spoiler, so best to wait until next week with that one.

Passing through the liquor department at Festival Foods solved my problem.  Right there, displayed  for all the world to see was a beautifully handwritten sign saying 

Sangria
Red "OR" white

I should have taken a picture.  Instead, I had the following short conversation with the nice young lady at the checkout:

What are the quotation marks for?
Quotation marks?
Yup.  Right here on your sign.
Oh.  We have red and white Sangria.
Right.  But what are the quotation marks for?  (By this time I was understanding that she was clueless when it came to issues of punctuation)
Oh.  We have red or white - using air quotes this time.
That's great but...
They're for emphasis.

So, there you have it.  A new use for quotation marks.  You all know that I make plenty of spelling errors, and I seldom take the time to check on whether the period goes inside or outside of quotation marks. I am confident that my regular readers either accept my laziness, or forgive my mistakes on a weekly basis.

Anyway, instead of book bytes, today I will share some of my favorite word and book related websites and blogs.

To show that the sweet girl I maligned above is not alone in her quotation mark quandary, go to www.unnecessaryquotes.com.  The web name is self explanatory...and it has morphed into a pretty funny book.

I won't go into detailed descriptions of each site, since, in most cases, the name says it all.

I'm not suggesting you dig into these right now.  Rather, savor these beautiful Lakeshore days, and bookmark these sites for rainy days, sick days, or those days you skip work "just because".



verbivore.com  - my top site.  Created by Richard Lederer, former host of "A Way with Words" on WPR.  It's an all purpose word site with definitions, games, hilarious misuses and more

engrish.com - celebrating outrageous misuse of language 

chetthedog.com - an interactive blog from my favorite book character, Chet the sleuthing canine.  Really, your dog can correspond with Chet, send pictures, or just read about the cases that Chet and Bernie have been solving.


realitysteve.com - This is my guilty pleasure site and has naught to do with books or words.  Somehow Steve gets the scoop on what will happen on future episodes of reality shows like "The Bachelor".  He's right nearly 100% of the time.  So, if you dig reality TV and don't want your favorite show spoiled, stay away from this site.

Those are some of my favorite sites.  I'd love to hear about yours.  You can share them on our FB page.

I began talking quotes, and so I will end with the same.  

Today....."No one buys and sends greeting cards anymore.  They're dead," said the customer who just purchased $56.00 worth of cards.  Truth.




Monday, June 2, 2014

My Miser


This is Paul Involdstad, my high school theatre director.  He called me on Saturday and I am still smiling from hearing his voice.  If there is such a thing as a twinkle in a voice, Paul had one - a bit elfish, a bit sarcastic, and always tired from working way too hard.  I remember seeing Paul for the first time on day one at Washington Junior High School.  (I think it was Paul's first year as a teacher, so we were sort of even.) Coming from a Catholic school, I was scared beyond belief that I wouldn't find any friends.  I found one quickly and at lunch that day we saw him bounce through the cafeteria.  We couldn't quite define him - either a sharp dressing kid or a real cute teacher.  The later seemed impossible to me having been face to face with nuns for eight years - but that is exactly what he was, a real cute teacher.

When I got to Lincoln, Paul was teaching Brit Lit and directing plays.  And that's what he called about. Saturday was sort and rescue day for him.  Someone had given him a keyboard, and while rummaging through piano tutorial books, he ran across mementos from my short theatre career at Lincoln.  He will be sending me his prompt book, ticket stubs, news articles and some photos from a Moliere play called "The Miser."

Paul and I had reconnected a few years back when he sent copies of a CD of songs he had written and recorded.  But this phone call was different, and if it hadn't been for a group of five ladies coming int o shop, I would have talked and talked.  He talked about directing, and how he felt that perhaps he had gotten it wrong - that there were better methods of getting his point across.  He though he was pretty rough on us.  

I don't remember that.  What I do recall is that he was miserly with the compliments.  I would go home at night wondering how I was doing.  Now I know.  I must have been painful to work with.  Clumsy.  No confidence.  Clueless on how to interpret lines. Once he discovered I had no talent, he clearly chose to be kind and not say anything.   Despite that, I learned a lot.  I learned from watching Paul, and although he failed in transforming me from a lunk he gave me was a thirst for theatre.  Theatre history. Theatre technique.  Theatre literature.  He helped me discover the foundations and from that my appreciation and knowledge grew.  What a debt of gratitude I owe this guy.

Paul, if you're reading this...about that piano playing business.  That is one tough instrument.  You have to trick your brain into bringing two lines of text together into one.  I never moved much beyond "Ducks on the Pond" in the piano primer called Teaching Little Fingers to Play."  Still, I persevere and can play an almost recognizable, albeit constipated, version of 'Moonlihgt Sonata."  I know you will will do much, much better.

Signing off, Paul said "I'm glad you're happy, Bev."  He's right.  I am.  I hope that Paul is and that you are as well.

Thanks for stopping by.

What am I reading?  Just started The Farm by Tom Smith.  Suspenseful.

Catch up on the store bunny saga on FaceBook.


Monday, May 19, 2014


Remember Tina Kugler?  She and her husband, Carson, lived in Manitowoc for several and owned Tweedle Brothers, a indie children's bookstore.  Both are exceptional artists, and now you can own a bit of Tina's work in The Change Your Name Store, which she illustrated.


Wilma Lee Wu would like a new name and so she goes name shopping.  She tries on several new names, each of which takes her on an adventure to a far away land.  Scattered throughout the book are names of Lakeshore kids - Teak, Molly and more - all friends of the Kugler kids.

Last week I was reading this book to my three year old friend Dakota while her dad talked with another customer.  Dako's mom is Japanese and several words in that language jumped out at her.  When Wilma tried on the name Sami al Sala, she was whisked to an open air market in Bahrain.  this was Dako's favorite page.  She said "Jey Bev, a supermarket, just the Piggly Wiggly."  (Yes, she did use the word supermarket!) Then she spotted the camel - which she mistook for a horse- and asked her dad if they could go and look for the horses at the Pig.  
 Leanne  Shirtleffe's book is one to fall in love with. The story is told in rhyme and you can't beat the charm and whimsy of the illustrations.  This surly won't be the last book for Tina.

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In other news...once again, my book group did not like our book selection.  We select titles randomly, drawing them form a latte mug.  this happened to be my suggestion, and, like most of the films and other books I have tossed in, it bombed.  What can I say?  How can I explain this?  I can't.  My tastes may have changed a little in the past years - but to have all misses ...really, not one single hit?  Very troubling.  If you have insights, chime in.

What am I reading?  This morning I started readiang The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.  This is a moving book that is holding my attention.  I was sorry to have to put it down.  However, no matter how much I want to do it, I will not drop this title into the latte mug, I will not drop this title into the latte mug, I will not drop this title into the latte mug, I willnotdropthistitleintothelattemug.....

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Complete Education


Heart-A-Rama left me with little time to read, and on those weeks, I spend time reading new kids' books, kids' books I might have missed over time, and favorite book from my kidhood.  Whether you had Golden books as a child or not, the wisdom on these pages is eloquent and simple, accompanied by warm-fuzzy illustrations.

Diane Muldow, longtime editor of the Little golden Books realized that there is hardly a real-life situation these whimsical books don't address.  She has paired the best advice from the collection and paired them with iconic art work resulting in a book that belongs on every coffee table.  I would love to quote the entire book here for you, but I am pretty sure that would be some sort of crime.  Instead, I'll give you first couple words of advice, and you'll see how perfectly true and important they are -

Is your life starting to feel like a circus?
Don't panic
Today's a new day!
Get dressed first thing. (Sweatpants are bad for morale.  Put on something nice.)
Have some pancakes.
Get some exercise every day.
Frolic.
Daydream.
go for a joyride.
Stargaze...
Stroll.
Bird watch.
Treat yourself.

That's just the beginning.  You'll find yourself agreeing with each sentiment, and then sitting back, taking a deep breath and wondering why....why do we demand so much of ourselves?   What's the rush?   Why do we fill our days with doing rather than living?  What do we miss each day because we are blind to the little things in our lives?  How much do we file until tomorrow?

This little book is packd with wisdom about work, play, generosity, humility, thankfulness, happiness and much, much more.

What am I reading?  Don't laugh.  Don't Kill the Birthday Girl:Tales from an Allergic Life.  Silly me.  I thought between these pages I might find a way to stop the itchy eyes, drippy nose, popping ears and constant dizziness that come each spring and fall.  Instead, I have found a solid memoir enhanced with all sorts of interesting info on why allergies are increasing worldwide.  Now if you'll excuse me...I have to sneeze.