In celebration of Flamingos

Ah, flamingos! Those bright pink birds that signal summer time – summer time anytime of the year.  There is just something about them that touches my heart and makes me smile.  I LOVE pink flamingos – you know the glow in the dark plastic ones that the word kitsch was invented to describe. Yes, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE them!  There is just something about them that makes me want to stand up just a little taller, put my hand on my hip, grin an half grin, and say, “lead me no into temptation? Hell no! Don’t bother, I am the short cut!”  Somehow I look at a pink flamingo and I find myself channeling Mae West and Yogi Berra all rolled into one.

So, you know I was so very sad earlier this summer when I learned that Don Featherstone had died. At the ripe old age of 21 when Mr. Featherstone was working for Union Products in Massachusetts, he invented the pink flamingo lawn ornament for his company. Imagine! At 21! What insight! What genius! What joy he brought to the world! . . . well, to me anyway.

So, here’s to you Mr. Featherstone! May you rest in joy, cradled in appreciation for the color and delight you brought to our world!

And here’s to the flamingo! A gregarious wading bird, child of the crane family, symbol of individuality and balance (go watch one calmly standing in the water on one foot), always outgoing and maybe just a little flirtatious, ever true to self while loyal to the flock – flamingos like swans mate for life.  I have read that the spirit of the flamingo is a healer of the heart and of emotional imbalances – and who can’t use a little bit of healing and emotional balance in their lives?

In the spirit of perpetual summer, let us all raise a glass with a little umbrella in it to Don Featherstone and the pink flamingo!!

 

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Song of Creation

The other day I was driving along on a side road and I saw a sign advertising a Jefferson Starship concert. I pulled off to the side of the road and stared at the sign. Then I got my cell phone out and checked, and yes it was still 2015, but some iteration of Jefferson Starship was indeed still performing.

Now, to appreciate the significance of this for me, you have to realize that Jefferson Airplane, the group from which Jefferson Starship evolved, was my most all-time favorite group in the universe. I really wanted to be Grace Slick (their lead singer) when I grew up. Then I realized that in order to be Grace Slick I would need to have self-confidence and be able to sing with full throated exuberance.  Two strikes, so I set that dream aside.

But still, Jefferson Starship still performing in 2015! And then, of course, some of their tunes started to play in my head.  “You are the sound of creation.”  And then I thought, no, it is “you are the soul of creation.” And then I thought “you are the song of creation.” And then I thought, “Oh, just go google it.” So I found the lyrics.  Not sound nor soul nor song, but crown. “You are the crown of creation.” Recorded by Jefferson Airplane 47 years ago in 1968. Sung by yours truly on way too many car trips, with the windows rolled up nice a tight – because if the car windows are rolled up, no one can see you or hear you, right?

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little trip down memory lane ….

 

“Crown of Creation” Jefferson Airplane 1968

 

You are the crown of creation.

You are the crown of creation,

And you’ve got no place to go.

 

Soon you’ll attain the stability you strive for,

In the only way that it’s granted:

In a place among the fossils of our time.

 

In loyalty to their kind

They cannot tolerate our minds.

In loyalty to our kind

We cannot tolerate their obstruction!

 

Life is change.

How it differs from the rocks.

I’ve seen their ways too often for my liking.

New worlds to gain.

My life is to survive and be alive

for you.

 

You know that being who I am now, I have to ponder the lyrics for a bit – just a little bit. But, think about it. To be the crown of creation – the crown, the summit, the culmination, that is something, yes? And, life is change. Would that we could remember that! Change really is the only constant. We are the crown of creation, an ongoing every changing creation. Nice, yes? But hang on for the ride, because changes are rarely smooth or easy. But, oh my they can be fun and exciting! So, in the spirit of Manny Gordon: Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy!!!

Happiness: to chase or to be pursued

The other week as I was writing about finding balance in my life I got to thinking about happiness. I remembered way (ok, way, way) back when I was in college. In those days I can remember that my buddies and I would often check in and ask each other if we were happy. Somehow we had decided that happiness was the goal. Then later I got to reading Buddhist stuff and concluded that happiness is more sanely a byproduct of a life well lived. Maybe so, probably so, but as I read somewhere recently, if you are dearly dedicated to the truth, be open to frequently recognizing that you are wrong! So, happiness, goal or by product or something else entirely? I guess I better admit, I’m not so sure anymore. I do know that most days I have more than a few moments of happiness, sometimes the out and out blissful kind of happiness, sometimes the belly laugh kind of happiness, more often a quiet ineffable calm happiness. And I’m here to tell you they are all kind of nice. Oh, and they are all really most noticeable it contrast with other feelings. But that is another blog.

On happiness, I came across this little story in Wisdom Stories to live by at https://philipchircop.wordpress.com/  hope you enjoy it. Hope it brings you a few moments of happiness….

STOP CHASING YOUR TAIL

A big cat saw a little cat chasing its tail and asked, “Why are you chasing your tail so?”

Said the kitten, “I have learned that the best thing for a cat is happiness, and that happiness is in my tail. Therefore, I am chasing it: and when I catch it, I shall have happiness.”

Said the old cat, “My son, I, too, have paid attention to the problems of the universe. I too, have judged that happiness is in my tail But, I have noticed that whenever I chase after it, it keeps running away from me, and when I go about my business, it just seems to come after me wherever I go.”

Source | From C.L. James, “On Happiness,”
in Caesar Johnson, To See a World in a Grain of Sand
(Norwalk, Conn.: The C.B. Gibson Co., 1972)

Austerity or Exuberance which path will you follow?

Once upon a time, during the time of Siddhartha Gautama, when he was an embodied enlightened one, Siddhartha would send out traveling disciples to carry his teachings and to enable communication among groups of monks who were practicing his middle way.

I have read that one of those traveling monks was called Sadhonna.  On his travels, Sadhonna came across a monk who was a dedicated and faithful practice of Samadhi, the practice of self-denial. This monk took asceticism to its highest level. The fellow was bone thin, literally you could see his bones under his skin. As he sat and meditated in the lotus position, Sadhonna noticed that the fellow was sitting on an anthill, and that he did not even twitch as the ants tugged and nibbled on his skin.   Sadhonna asked him, “Brother, I am on my way to see the Buddha. Is there any word you would like me to carry to him?”

Brother Samadhi grimaced and said, “Please ask the Buddha how many more lifetimes I must endure before I attain Budddhahood.”

Sadhonna promised that he would pass this question along to the Buddha. And Sadhonna continued along on his way.

In another day or so, Sadhonna heard some slightly discordant singing. As he walked on, he came across a fellow dressed in monk’s clothing exuberantly singing and dancing in a clearing in the woods. Clearly this monk was a bit inept, but was delighting in the song and dance none the less, and was putting his full heart and soul into it.  Sadhonna watched for a short while and then inquired of the monk, “Brother Ebullience, I am on my way to see the Buddha. Is there any word you would like me to carry to him?”

The monk paused in his song and dance, thought for a moment, smiled and said, “yes, would you ask him when I will reach my enlightenment?”

Sadhonna promised that he would pass this question along to the Buddha, and he continued malong on his way.

After a while, Sadhonna returned and found Brother Samadhi. By then his flesh was thinner than paper, with his bones protruding through in places. Sadmonna told him that the Buddha had answered his question and said that in four more lifetimes he would reach enlightenment. Brother Samadhi grimaced, thanked Sadhonna, and continued his practices of austerity.

Sadhonna continued along on his way and found Brother Ebullience who continued to sing and dance with unbridled enthusiasm, still discordant and disjointed in his efforts. And to this monk Sadhonna also offered, “The Buddha has answered your question.”

The dancing monk paused and queried, “How many more lifetimes?”

Sadhonna pointed to a huge fig tree growing near where the two men were standing. The tree had thousands of leaves on its branches each dancing in the sunlight singing with the wind. Sadhonna said, “As many as there are leaves on the branches of that tree.”

The dancing monk looked up at the tree and the leaves and laughed, and instantly attained enlightenment.

 

And the point of the story for me? You are going to be alive anyway, you might just as well enjoy what you are doing!

And, so in the words of William Purkey, you might just as well, “dance like there’s nobody watching, love like you’ll never be hurt, sing like there’s nobody listening, and live like it’s heaven on earth.”

We are so lucky

We have all made it through the crazy hecticness of the holidays. We’ve started a new year.  Life is sweet. Or at least it should be. But then many folks are back to work with too many demands pulling in too many directions.  Sometimes we just need to be reminded to take a deep breath, to inhale, exhale … and repeat as necessary.  I found this story. It invited me to smile.  It invited me to take a deep breath, to inhale, exhale and repeat even as I smiled. Because if we are still breathing, we are so lucky.

 WE’RE SO LUCKY

“Honey, would you drop the kids off at school this morning? I’ve got a lot of shopping to do and errands to run.”

“Well, dear, I’ve got a pretty hectic day myself (sigh) …  OK I’ll do it.  But hurry, up kids!”

So Dad and his children jump into the car and they’re off. The busy father glances at his watch. “Why is traffic so slow this morning? Certainly people should drive safely, not speed, but this little old man in front of us must be sight-seeing! I’ll pass him as soon as I can… take a short cut maybe … Oh, no!!”

Wouldn’t you know it! The car approaches a railroad crossing just as the lights begin to flash and the safety gate comes down. Dad’s first thought: “Darn it! We’re going to be held up by a train and be late.”

So, as Dad is fuming in the front seat, anxiously tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, reviewing, in his mind, how to make up some time … a sweet, childish voice calls out from the backseat: “Daddy, Daddy, we’re so lucky! We get to watch the train go by!”

Source | Based on a story told by Jerry Braza, Moment by Moment
(Tuttle Publishing,1997) page 3

 CONSIDER THIS

Awareness of the present moment is always a wonderful reminder to stop and enjoy what the journey has to offer along the way. Often the “now”, called by some “the sacrament of the present moment” or “the Sacrament of the blessed present”, is filled with many gifts if we have the eyes to see, the ears to really listen.

From Philip Chircop’s Wisdom Stories to Live by

 

Brownie in a mug

 This is not exactly a story. But, I am sure there MUST be stories that will flow in your life if you try this!! So, as Manny Gorden used to say, “enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!!!”

I was trolling the internet the other day, and saw a link for this on a friend’s facebook page. Of course then there ensued the relentless google search for the BEST recipe. I think this is it – from simply recipes.com. It makes single serving brownies, in a mug, in a microwave. It only takes 5 minutes start to finish (not counting the time you will HAVE to exercise to work it off).

 From http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/brownie_in_a_mug/

The folks at SimplyRecipes noted that you really should not use extra virgin olive oil for this recipe, it’s too strongly flavored. Rather, corn oil or canola oil work best. A pinch of salt helps make the chocolate more chocolate-y. They also add some vanilla and a tiny bit of cinnamon; and suggest that you could also add a speck of instant coffee to take it up a notch. The brownie lacks for structure (no egg) but that’s okay because it’s contained by the mug. When it’s done, it’s HOT. Perfect for topping with a little vanilla ice cream or whipping cream. The trick is getting the cooking time right for your microwave. Every microwave oven model is different. Our 1000 watt microwave cooked these brownies in a mug perfectly at a minute 40 seconds. If you have a stronger microwave it will likely take less time. Enjoy!

Brownie in a Mug Recipe

  • Prep time: 3 minutes
  • Cook time: 2 minutes
  • Yield: Makes one serving.

Some mugs don’t microwave well because there is metal in their ceramic glaze. They’ll work but they may get very hot. Best to use a plain old everyday un-fancy mug.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup flour (50 g)
  • 1/4 cup sugar (70 g)
  • 2 Tbsp (13 g) cocoa (natural, unsweetened)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Tiny pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup water (60 ml)
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil or vegetable oil (NOT extra virgin olive oil, it’s too strongly flavored)
  • 1 to 2 drops vanilla extract
  • 1 small scoop of ice cream or 1 or 2 teaspoons heavy whipping cream to serve

1 Place flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and cinnamon in a microwave safe ceramic mug. Stir with a fork or spoon to mix well and break up any clumps.

2 Add the oil, water, and vanilla to the cup and stir until the mixture is smooth and there are no lumps.

3 Place in microwave and heat on high until the mixture is cooked through, about a 1 minute and 40 seconds for a 1000 watt microwave. You may have to experiment and adjust the time for less or more powerful microwaves. If you don’t know the power level on your microwave, start with 60 seconds and increase until the brownie is done. It should still be moist when cooked through, not dry.

4 Let cool for a minute and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a teaspoon or two of whipping cream poured over.

 

And what does this have to do with justice? Well, in my delusional utopian world of justice, compassion and rights, we would all be able to wantonly indulge in this – with the ice cream, of course – and the end result would be willowy, svelte, sculpted bodies that were all muscle, with just the right amount of curves and with perfect cholesterol readings!! But then, it is summer and I am at the beach.

Just Standing on the Crest of the Hill

On a lovely day in a merry month, several of the Sisters of Mary Magdalene were out walking in the woods surrounding the cloister. As they perused the plants along the path, one of them looked up and noticed Mother Magdalene standing on the rise of the hill just ahead of them. Sister Beatrix turned to the other sisters and asked, “Why do you think Mother Magdalene is standing up there on the top of that hill?”

Sister Septimus said, “She must be up there because it is cooler and she is enjoying the breeze.”

Sister Beatrix looked to Sister Bryda and asked her, “Why do you think Mother Magdalene is up there on the top of the hill?” And Sister           replied, “That hill is the highest point on the cloister grounds, she must be looking to see what can be seen off to the distance.”

Sister Beatrix then asked Sister Visentia who said, “It has been a long and trying year for Mother Magdalene, for us all certainly, but particularly for Mother Magdalene. I believe she is standing there re-collecting the events of the year, perhaps thinking of Sister Ludwika who died in Hurricane Sandy.”

After some time of walking, the good Sisters achieved the rise of the hill and came up to Mother Magdalene. She was still standing there. They asked her to say which one was correct concerning her reason for standing where she was.

Mother Magdalene asked them, “What reasons do you have for my standing her?”

“We have three,” they replied. “First, you are here because it is a bit cooler and to enjoy the breeze; second since the hill is the highest point within the cloister, you are searching out the distance to see what can be seen; third because the year has been a trying one, you are here to re-collect the year and to remember Sister Ludwika. We do not mean to intrude on your practice and your thoughts, but since we found you here, we are hoping you will share your intentions with us.”

Mother Magdalene smiled at the sisters and said, “Dear ones, I was just standing, standing in the presence, in the presents of all that is. That is enough. I am; we are. That is enough. That is everything.”

Ms Regina Brett and her 45 Life Lessons

I love the internet and its ability to expand, amplify and exaggerate. Urban legends can be kind of interesting and intriguing, and maybe even a good source of blog inspirations. I received the material for this blog in an email attributing it to Regina Brett, who was said to have written it when she was 90. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered that Regina Brett was born in 1956, making her 4 years younger than I am! Since I am not especially a math wizard, for a very brief moment, I pondered if that meant that I was 94!! But I got over that quickly enough as I read further and discovered that she wrote this column when she turned 50, not 90!! Ah, typos can take on a life of their own on the wonderful wide web.

But for all of that, have a read at Ms. Brett’s 45 life lessons … Originally published in The Cleveland , Ohio Plain Dealer on Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ms. Brett wrote: “To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me. It is the most requested column I’ve ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more:

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short – enjoy it.
4. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don’t have to win every argument. Stay true to yourself.
7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.
12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye, but don’t worry, God never blinks.
16.Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful. Clutter weighs you down in many ways.
18. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
19.  It’s never too late to be happy. But it’s all up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ‘In five years, will this matter?’
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.
35. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
36. Growing old beats the alternative of dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood.
38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
41. Envy is a waste of time. Accept what you already have, not what you need.
42. The best is yet to come.
43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Yield.
45. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.”

As I think about this blog, I think about lessons that will help each of us become the kind of individuals, families and communities that will more fully honor the dignity of each human being, that will more deeply respect and life lives of fairness that honor justice. Ms. Brett’s life lessons seem to have some resonance with those goals.

100th blog

 Celebrations are important in life – for individuals, families, circles of friends and communities. Celebrations are part of the goo that holds us together. It is worthwhile to re-member, to mark moments of import, to note change and growth, gain and loss, to pause and reflect and to ferret out the lessons life may be offering in the course of events and our actions within those events.  I know this. And, yet, for me, personal celebrations are not easy. When I think of marking personal accomplishments or mile stones, I remember the proverb that says: the nail that stand up invites the hammer. 

But on this occasion I believe that I will invite the attitude of MC Hammer and “you can’t touch this” and full out celebrate 100 JustAlchemy blog entries!! May justice, respect for the dignity of all sentient beings and JustAlchemy thrive for 100 years!!!

And, in that spirit, here are three wishes for you: May you live 100 years, five simple rules to be happy, and good wishes for you. 

 May you live 100 years (Sto Lat!) is a Polish song of celebration. We sang it at every family celebration I can remember.

 Sto Lat! – May you live a hundred years.
Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje zyje nam.
Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje zyje nam.
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz, niech zyje, zyje nam.
Niech zyje nam!

Sto Lat (English version)

Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years.
Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years.
Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years.
One hundred years!

 

I once attributed Five simple rules to be happy to Abraham Lincoln. Now I am not sure whose rules they are, but they make sense to me.

 Five simple rules to be happy:

  • Free your heart from hatred.
  • Free your mind from worries.
  • Live simply.
  • Give more.
  • Expect less.

 

I first heard ‘good wishes’ as a song at a Paul Winter Celebration of the Winter Solstice. ‘Good Wishes may be a Druid Invocation, a Welsh festive song, or a Scottish Blessing.

 I understand that Good Wish” is one of the many lovely blessings collected in the Scottish Highlands by Alexander Carmicheal, and compiled into his book Carmina Gadelica.  (Page 282). This wonderful blessing starts out by conferring “power of raven.” Ravens so often get a bad rap but in mythology and folk lore they are the avian equivalent of coyotes, anarchists, feminists, culture jammers – often acting the trickster with their sense of humor, a bit wiser than you might expect, unafraid of weirdness or death, a bit flamboyant and interesting.  This invocation highlights the great powers and riches (“goodness”) of nature.  An interesting  part of this Wish is for  “death on pillow.” This is not something we ordinarily think of as a positive prayer since we’re so alienated from the realities of death in this culture, but by considering the many other ways one may greet death, death on a pillow is not so bad at all!

 Power of raven be thine
Power of eagle be thine
Power of storm be thine
Power of moon be thine
Power of sea be thine
Power of land be thine
Goodness of sea be thine
Goodness of earth be thine
 
Each day be joyous to thee
No day be grievous to thee
Love of each face be thine
Death on pillow be thine
Power of sea be thine
Power of land be thine
Goodness of sea be thine
Goodness of earth be thine

 

In every case, my good wishes to each of you. May you live 100 years in health, happiness, peace and love!

 

Martha Nussbaum and the Power of Stories

I found this in Brain Pickings. If you don’t know it, Brain Pickings is a wonderful weekly blog. You should check it out at http://www.brainpickings.org/The quote is by Martha Nussbaum is from James Harmon’s Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two (public library) – an anthology of thoughtful, honest, brave, unfluffed advice from 79 cultural icons, including Marth Nussbaum, Mark Helprin, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and William S. Burroughs.

Martha Nussbaum is a philosopher who writes about human capabilities. I have been infatuated with her ideas for a long time, so I was pretty happy to find this quote from her. In the quote she writes about the importance of cultivating a rich inner life by by understanding and embracing our feelings. She highlights the power of storytelling as one pathway to a richer inner life and a fuller, more empathic human community.

Do not despise your inner world. That is the first and most general piece of advice I would offer… Our society is very outward-looking, very taken up with the latest new object, the latest piece of gossip, the latest opportunity for self-assertion and status. But we all begin our lives as helpless babies, dependent on others for comfort, food, and survival itself. And even though we develop a degree of mastery and independence, we always remain alarmingly weak and incomplete, dependent on others and on an uncertain world for whatever we are able to achieve. As we grow, we all develop a wide range of emotions responding to this predicament: fear that bad things will happen and that we will be powerless to ward them off; love for those who help and support us; grief when a loved one is lost; hope for good things in the future; anger when someone else damages something we care about. Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger. But for that very reason we are often ashamed of our emotions, and of the relations of need and dependency bound up with them. Perhaps males, in our society, are especially likely to be ashamed of being incomplete and dependent, because a dominant image of masculinity tells them that they should be self-sufficient and dominant. So people flee from their inner world of feeling, and from articulate mastery of their own emotional experiences. The current psychological literature on the life of boys in America indicates that a large proportion of boys are quite unable to talk about how they feel and how others feel – because they have learned to be ashamed of feelings and needs, and to push them underground. But that means that they don’t know how to deal with their own emotions, or to communicate them to others. When they are frightened, they don’t know how to say it, or even to become fully aware of it. Often they turn their own fear into aggression. Often, too, this lack of a rich inner life catapults them into depression in later life. We are all going to encounter illness, loss, and aging, and we’re not well prepared for these inevitable events by a culture that directs us to think of externals only, and to measure ourselves in terms of our possessions of externals.

What is the remedy of these ills? A kind of self-love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings. Storytelling plays a big role in the process of development. As we tell stories about the lives of others, we learn how to imagine what another creature might feel in response to various events. At the same time, we identify with the other creature and learn something about ourselves. As we grow older, we encounter more and more complex stories – in literature, film, visual art, music – that give us a richer and more subtle grasp of human emotions and of our own inner world. So my second piece of advice, closely related to the first, is: Read a lot of stories, listen to a lot of music, and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and lives of those you love. In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others.

 It seems to me that this is sound advise for us all — read lots of stories, develop deep empathy — with our selves, for other, open our hearts to the possibilities of the world, love widely and wildly … and see what happens. Too much for you? Try walking down the street and smiling at the people you pass. See what happens then. It is a worth while experiment.