Thursday, August 31, 2017

August 31, 2017

Good lord...I have not made a post since June 11th.  Suffice it to say that I have been very busy.  Where to start?

Well, I guess I have spent a great deal of my time at my restoration project for the FPDWC.  This calendar year so far, I have put in over 300 hours of volunteer time.  Most of that has been out spraying invasive species. I have gone into so many areas at the preserve that I have lost count.  On days that were to be really hot, I would go out as early as 6:00 AM to beat the heat and would be done already by 9:00AM.  The reward is that the prairie looks fantastic this year with all of the work and the burn that was done earlier in the spring. I have already started to do some seed collecting as various seeds are starting to ripen.

The weather this summer was not too bad in the really hot department and for the most part, we have gotten sufficient rain.  I did have to water the garden a couple of times, but not bad at all.  I have spent a lot of time canning and making preserves with the bounty from the fruit trees and the vegetable garden. 

I made a batch of "Whimpy Ass" salsa, pickled the beets, made two batches of sweet relish and multiple batches of dill, sweet and bread and butter pickles.  I found a new canning book on sale and have tried a couple of the preserve recipes that turned out really good.  New preserves I made were Bananas Foster Butter, blueberry and raspberry mojito jam, and I also made some of the old favorites. 

Things are starting to wind down in the garden and I have already cut back a great deal of it already.  The task is very time consuming and labor intensive, so since I am retired I can now take it a day at a time and it seems less daunting.

 I have raised 15 black swallowtail caterpillars and am currently finishing up raising some Monarchs.  The black swallowtails were very successful, but I have had some mortality issues with the monarchs.  I still have a few monarch cats that appear that they will make it.

I decided not to do tagging of monarchs again this year as I am just happy to find and raise eggs/cats from my yard and send them on their way. 

Butterfly monitoring this season was really not great in the early part of the season.  Gradually as the season went on, I did start seeing more butterflies, but overall it was not a stellar year.  I hope to get out to monitor one more time this month before the season is over.



Another thing I got into was thanks to the Mokena Public Library.  My arthritis is getting so very painful that I was looking for more non-medication relief.  The Library offered some free Yoga classes so I thought I would give it a try.  I actually like the Yoga and it seems to be helping with my joints so I purchased a yoga mat and I sewed a few shirts to go along with the yoga pants I got.  I also found a yoga tape that I like a lot and I will often do the yoga tape early in the morning.  As always, I am looking for free/inexpensive activities now that I am retired.  I can honestly say that I keep so busy that I often ask myself when did I find time to actually work.

Where I do not do many Star Wars events anymore, I have tried to do a couple per month.

Right after the JLSWD, the Historical Museum held a SW Trivia contest on 6-21-17.  A few of us members from Nar Shaddaa Base signed up and formed a team.  Our team won the contest!  I guess I was surprised at that as some of those trivia contests can be very difficult.  We had a great team and everyone seemed to have their own areas of expertise and we soundly beat the competition.


Next up was a last minute 4th of July parade in Warrenville.  It was a lot of fun and the people along the parade route were some of the most enthusiastic Star Wars parade watchers that I have ever encountered and I have done a lot of parades.  Usually my "character" in the parade gets little notice, but there were lots of folks that were asking for high fives and fist pumps...lol.  I guess they were happy to see us.




On July 19th I did an event in New Lenox.  The Village presents movies at their public square and for July it was "Rogue One".  It was a very hot night, and a lot of sweating was done in my Rogue One Fleet Trooper MP costume. 
It was nice to have another RFT there too.  Costumes like the RFT are always better received if there are more than one.  I didn't stay to watch the movie as I was soaked with sweat.


On August 13th I participated in the Montgomery Parade in the same costume.  Usually it is really hot for the Montgomery Parade but this year it was not too bad.  The parade itself is short but finding a place to park near the parade start area is usually challenging, so I have to add a lot more walking just to get back and forth to my Jeep.




                                                                            On August 26th I did the White Sox game for their annual "Star Wars Day" game.  It is also generally hotter than hell for this game too, but the evening was fairly cool so I was able to wear what is probably my hottest costume in terms of just so many layers that really make me sweat my ass off.  Fortunately, the Resistance X-Wing costume I made I didn't bother getting a helmet for so it is always a little cooler if you don't have something on your head too.  As usual, my costume got a luke warm response from the general public.  I guess they realized I was NOT Poe Dameron...lol..  Tonight I am signed up to do a midnight release of the toys for the new movie "The Last Jedi" at the Toys R Us in Orland park.  I will wear the Resistance Pilot costume again as it should be a cool evening and does tie into the new movie.

Two of the biggest things I did this month was that I headed downstate on Friday August 18th for a visit with my relatives down there, a chance to see the Missouri Botanic Garden and butterfly house AND of course the Solar Eclipse. 

I left on Friday morning and hit the Missouri Botanic Garden Butterfly house first and then went to the Missouri Botanical garden itself.  The MBG had a glass sculpture exhibit that was simply amazing. 

I was not able to spend a lot of time at either of the venues, but made the most of the time that I had.  I tried to avoid the St. Louis rush hour to get back to the hotel in Highland at a reasonable time. 


After all, I had got up at 2:00 AM, drove over 300 miles and spent hours walking around both venues.  I did, however get in a massive traffic jam anyway, but got to the hotel in not too bad of time and spent some time that evening wandering  around Highland and got a visit from my cousin Steve and Alanna.  It was nice to just sit and talk and get caught up.










The next day I went driving around to some of the old haunts.  I visited my cousins Paul and Ralph on the farm and then later in the afternoon headed to Glen Carbon to my other cousin Marks house where they had a Eclipse party and family reunion.  Again, it was nice to see a lot of the cousins that I have not seen in a very long time. 



 It was hotter than hell and very humid the morning of the eclipse.  We drove to Harrisburg Illinois to the home of Mark's wife Donna's sister.  Harrisburg was in the 100% zone and was about 30 miles east of the epicenter of So IL eclipse "happenings" at SIU in Carbondale.

The eclipse was an awesome sight and it was great to view it with my family.  My brother had been looking forward to the eclipse since the early 90's when he clipped an article about it out of a magazine and had been carrying it with him all those years.  My family started talking about going down together for the viewing for over 2 years.  It all worked out very well.  Probably the most mind blowing part was the ride home.  I was caught in a 300 mile traffic jam from Harrisburg to the Peotone exit on I-57.  It took me over 10 hours to get home and it should have only taken me about 4.5 hours.  As mind numbing as the drive home was, it was all part of the "experience" and most of the drivers in that same traffic jam just took it in stride, there were not a lot of asshats in the bumper to bumper traffic...no road rage.  I did rent a car for the trip and was glad that I did as I would have burned up probably 3 times the gas in the trip home if I took the Jeep vs the crappy little Mitsubishi that I had.

August 29th also marked a very busy and great day as one of the "usual suspects" (Mark Bettin) secured us restoration volunteers a very nice behind the scenes visit to the Field Museum.  It was incredible to see parts of the Museum's plant, insect and bird collections.  We spent about 2 hours at the Field seeing as much as we were allowed to.  I got a chance to hold one of the Museum's passenger pigeons and where it was a huge honor to hold the stuffed body of a creature now extinct was so very sad.  The stuffed passenger was from the late 1800's. 

We saw plants that were pressed by EJ Hill in the late 1800s.  We even saw a book on gardening in the Museum's library that was from the 1700's. 

There is so much behind the scenes at the Field Museum that I am contemplating being a volunteer there in a "behind the scenes" capacity.  There are people volunteering that do some of the duties of sorting and labeling where it does not require you to have a degree.





After the museum, we went to Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham.  Always nice to see what the prairie is supposed to look like.  We saw amazing blooming plants, some strange insects and as we were leaving, R. Panzer (one of the founding fathers of the restoration movement) happened to come by to do a little work.  Where he is now partially disabled, he still gets out to the prairie to work because (in his words) - "there is no one else".



I also went to the Will County Fair this year to volunteer for the Master Naturalists.  I helped man an information table and I brought some of my monarch caterpillars with me.  Folks that stopped by seemed to really like seeing the monarchs.

Whew....busy, busy, busy and the next couple of months will be no different as my calendar is stuffed with commitments already.









Sunday, June 11, 2017

June 11, 2017

I didn't realize how busy I have been until I looked for what I posted last here and what to add since. 

 At the end of April I started a project for the Master Gardener/Master Naturalist program.  I built a "little library" for the CASA program in Joliet.  My job was just to build the basic structure.  I had some scrap outdoor plywood and some plexiglass from other projects so I built the structure and primed it in white. 





After I finished my part it was handed off to another MG who put a cedar shake roof on it.  After the roof was on, it was given to yet another MG to paint the outside of it.  It came out pretty good considering I had warped wood to work with so fitting things together was a real challenge.  It was very important to make it sealed from the weather so everything was caulked within an inch of its' life.  Hopefully no rain will get in and ruin any books. 

On May 6th I gave a talk on the monarch issue at the FPDWC Sugar Creek Administration building.  It was well attended and it went pretty well.  I had a lot of the participants come up to me after the talk to say that they learned something and a teacher came up to me and said that she has gone to several of these talks before and came away from mine with better facts and understanding than all the other ones she attended.  That made my day!

 The Endor Bunker was all set up and ready for its' premier - the Joliet Area Historical Museum's Star Wars Scavenger Hunt.  We had a good turn out of costumed characters to add to the atmosphere and the Bunker was a huge hit. 

Attendance was double last year's event and everyone that came seemed to have a good time.





The Bunker was definitely ready for the Joliet Library Star Wars Day festivities.

I did another event on 5-4-17 for the Children's Miracle Network.  Fellow Nar Shaddaa Base member Robert Redden had a fundraiser for CMN at his WalMart store in Orland Park.  We were there taking photos for several hours.  It was a nice, cool day so a perfect opportunity to wear the really hot TFA Resistance Pilot costume.  It was a "May the Fourth" event so it was on a Thursday night.  Considering it was not the weekend, we still managed to get a good amount in donations.
May 28th brought another Star Wars costume event.  This time it was Legoland up in Schaumburg.  I haven't done a Legoland event in a number of years.  I felt that I owed myself a "get away" from the house.  The wipers on my Jeep finally quit working and rain was predicted, so it was a bit of a "throw caution to the wind" thing to drive to Schaumburg with no wipers.  Fortunately, it didn't rain and I made it home with no issues.  I didn't really stay at the event that long as issues with arthritis make long costume events not something I am that crazy about anymore.
 On June 3rd was the "big day" - Joliet Library Star Wars Day.  The weather had been great right up to the event but the "day of" it was hot and very humid.  It was yet another "sweat fest".  Things went surprisingly well and the day went pretty quickly.  I didn't leave the Museum to see the rest of the event and stationed myself at the Bunker pretty much all day. I spent most of the day at the roped entrance to the bunker and tried to wrangle donations out of everyone who wanted to have their picture taken behind the ropes at either the bunker or the speeder bike or both.
We raised just over $600.00 for Bugs Pals from the public who came to take pictures.  Many of the people who attended both 2016 and 2017 said they felt that the crowd had grown again.  It was hard to tell since I spent the entire day inside the Museum.  This year we were also spread out over 3 venues instead of just 2, so that probably made things a little less hectic.  The Museum didn't seem to be as "crushed" but that could have been because we actually had more room this year with the R2 Builders at the Rialto Theater.
 On May 26th I had my new bay window installed.  The old one had been a mess and was rotting away.  Ants were being attracted to the rotting wood and the window had been fogging up between the glass panes for years and years.  The old window actually started to fog up only a couple years after  I had moved into the house in 1986.  I hated that old window and the casement windows on the side.  The new window looks GREAT!!  I can't believe what a difference a window makes.  The new window has double hung windows on each side of the picture
window instead of those crappy crank out casement windows.  It is so nice to open windows at will without dealing with the awkward screens that had to go in the old windows.  I also finally fixed the screen on the front door.  That has been torn away for years and fixing that went unexpectedly well.  I also fixed the toilet last month that was "running" way too often.  I thought that since the toilet was so old that I would not be able to find parts, but it was an easy, universal, $5.00 fix and no more wasting water.

May 31st I attended the "Invasive Species Symposium" in Champaign IL at the Extension Office.  It was a good event even though a lot of the topics were on invasive species in the waterways.  Good information but not anything I will likely use.  I rode with Mark Bettin who is another FPDWC restoration volunteer and on the way home we stopped off at a cemetery prairie called Prospect Prairie.  It was truly an amazing place.  I have to remember to get out more.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

April 23, 2017

Stick a fork in it....it is done!!






After months of work and a continual mess in my house, the Endor Bunker has moved out!  On Wednesday, the walls I was working on met the framework that one of the other members of my Base in the lobby of the Joliet Area Historical Museum.

The day before the "move in" I went to the museum to put up "drapery" that I made from black tablecloths so that people could not see into the back of the Bunker's "innards".

It took a crew of us all day on Wednesday to get the walls mated to the frame and a lot of things were left to cut and fit as we went along because we were not sure how everything would come together.  At the end of Wednesday, the Bunker was, for the most part, up!  It looked pretty amazing.

On Thursday, I went back to the Museum along with fellow base-mate Laura Smith to finish up a few things that needed to be covered and add set decoration.  I brought along my R2D2, my Endor Commando costume and a few bits and pieces of other "Endor" props.  We added a little moss and greenery and called it a day.
I do plan on heading back to the Bunker this coming Wednesday to add more moss and to do some final paint touch up.

On Saturday, there will be an event at the Museum in advance of the annual "Star Wars Day".  It will be a scavenger hunt in the Museum for kids of all ages.  Where I initially intended to wear the costume on the mannequin, it was such a pain in the ass to dress the mannequin that I will wear another costume!


I really have not been doing that many "Star Wars" events this year.  I did make an exception and went to the Lego event at the Joliet Area Historical Museum on 4-2-17.  I try to support the people who support Nar Shaddaa Base and I can't think of another group of people who supports us more than the people at the JAHM!  I had just gotten (mostly) over with a severe muscle strain/spasm and a really bad bout with my ulcers, so I didn't stay at the event all day.  It was nice to get out a bit though.

Spring is a crazy time of year for me because not only am I working in my own garden, there is a LOT of work to be done at my FPDWC restoration site.  There is a brief window in the spring to start to spray some of the invasive species like garlic mustard and reed canary grass.  I have been out spraying as much as possible and as long as the weather is cooperative.  The one thing about going out to volunteer in the spring is that the spring blooming woodland wildflowers give you a real show that you get to see up close and personal.  Where a lot of the plants can be seen from the trail, it is much nicer to get away from the trail and further back into the woodlands to see them.


My own garden has been under water for months but is finally drying out a bit.  We got a lot of rain the past couple of months and the yard just never seems to drain off.  The neighbors had the large willow that was on our property line cut down.  It has been dying off and looking pretty ratty for many years.  The stump was over a yard in diameter.  It was so sad to see it go!   So many of the trees on their property have been lost in recent years.  When I first moved in, there were two large willows that draped over my yard, the first one was removed years ago by the previous owners and the willow that was left was really looking bad.  Sad that both of them are gone now along with the beautiful ash tree that used to be out front.


The trees in the yard are in full bloom and it looks like I will get another great crop of tart cherries from my tree as long as there is no really bad frosts. 



I also removed one of the shrubs out front to make room for my latest "venture" which is growing concord grapes.  There really was no good place to put the grapevine in the yard.  Most of the places where there was room it was simply too wet of an area when the spring flooding begins.  I also did some other pruning of shrubs that were looking pretty bad and today I will be taking the chainsaw to the pussywillow in the back of the lot.  It has never done very well and is mostly dead.  I will saw it down but NOT herbicide the stump and see what happens.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March 14, 2017

Like I said the last time I posted, it seems that now that I am retired, I have even less time to post.  The last post was over 2 months ago.

Where I seemingly have all the time in the world, I also seem to be busier than ever.  I have not done many actual Star Wars events this year, fact of the matter is that I have only done one event and that was in Oakbrook.  I finally had a day on a weekend where I was not doing a workday for the Forest Preserve District so I did the Special Olympics Polar Plunge in Oakrbrook on 3-4-17.  I didn't plunge this time and was just there to cheer on two members of the Midwest Garrison and all of the other teams that went in.  It was a beautiful day.  Not too cold and not too hot to wear the Hoth Trooper.

The other Star Wars thing that occupied most of February was the construction of the Endor Bunker that Nar Shaddaa Base is to display for this years Joliet Library Star Wars Day in June.  We are supposed to  have the bunker finished and set up by the end of April and it will stay up till June.  As always, it will be part of the NSB display in the lobby of the Joliet Area Historical Museum.  On January 28th and 29th I had two "workdays" on this project and had several members of the Base on hand.  Robert Redden picked up the foam board and delivered that on Saturday morning and it was nothing but cut, sand and paint for the next month.



For a month, just about every room in the house was littered with pieces of this project and it became a bit overwhelming.  I would wake up at 1:00 AM after only a couple hours sleep and start sanding or painting or gluing or whatever.  When all of the pieces were finally painted it was time to see how it all went together and to try to figure out the support system for the piece.






I had a bunch of the NSB members over  on 2-25-17 to gather up all of the pieces and see how things fit together.  I also have been working on some greenery details and other things while Crix builds the support.  This is all supposed to come together in a few weeks.  I have tried to do my best to make it the highest quality one can get out of foamboard and make something that people will truly remember. 




The project is actually starting to look like something and I am pretty excited about seeing it up with all of the "set decoration" that we have planned for it.

I am hoping that it rivals some of the other builds that I have seen on-line and in person.

Now to wait for April and the big "set up".



Since January 1st, I have already put in over 100 hours volunteer time for the Forest Preserve Dist. of Will County.  Lots of regular workdays and going out to do clean up at HCB and also a good deal of work at LaPorte Rd Access.  We finished a really nice project at LRA that removed a vast amount of honeysuckle so that now you could see into the woods again and what it is supposed to look like.


 Much of the work I have done the past couple months is follow up and clean up at HCB.  Those things never end but a lot of the area cleaned up very well so it will be interesting to see how things progress in the new season.



In addition to the workdays I have been able to do a couple of burns with the District and at Lily Cache with the Nelsons.  The time for burns already grows short and I hope to get another one or two in before the season ends.  The burns were fairly easy ones this year.  At HCB the fuel was still a little on the wet side so managing the burn was fairly easy.  The morning of the Lily Cache burn the weather was nasty and there was mist and fog, but we decided to go to lunch and begin the burn later and it worked out well as the site burned pretty well once the humidity went down and the sun came out and warmed things a bit.


The warm weather had jump started a lot of the spring ephemerals but we had a surprise snow storm the last couple of days that buried everything a bit.  I have the annual Garlic Mustard Blitz coming up next week so I hope the snow melts so we can find the garlic mustard. 


I also got a chance to see my friend Cheryl's new house in Beach Park Il.  I went up there on March 5th to do a little chainsawing of some trees that were too close to the house or dead. 

I brought my Stihl saw with me and as usual, it refused to start.  I got fed up with it and Cheryl and I went to the local Home Depot and I purchased a Ryobi saw that I had been looking at for a time.  The Ryobi started very nice and ran great.  I had another friend look at my Stihl saw to see what was going on with it and he did quite a few fixes to it.  I think I will still keep the Ryobi as a back up though as I no longer trust the Stihl to acutally start. 

I have so many things coming up in the next couple of weeks that I both look forward to and some things that I don't look forward to.  I have to go to Silver Cross Hospital for tests...that always sucks.  I am also having the usual teeth issues so there will be trips to the dentist.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

January 5, 2017

Wow....you would think that since I retired on 11-21-16 from full time work that I would have more time to keep up with my Blog.  Guess that is not so.  Since retiring I have been sorting out a lot of issues with regard to how I will live, healthcare and many other time consuming and mind numbing tasks.  I  have no income right now and am living off of money I had put aside for many years just for this scenario.  I still have to get my 401K issues straightened out.  So, since I have no money coming in right now, I don't get a chance to get out and do much.  I hope that changes soon.  I have done some things during the month of December despite the fact that I did get another bad cold that hit pretty hard.

I had a mad scramble on my last day of work.  I worked till noon on 11-21 my last day and due to some snafu, I had to leave at noon to get some legal paperwork done on putting one of my siblings on the deed to my house.  They had a little send off for me and it just has been so strange not to get up for work each morning and go into Oak Lawn after 38 years.  I hope I have done the right thing.  Some days I am positive about my decision and other days...well..not so much.


11-24-16 was Thanksgiving Day and I had a really nice and full day.  I got up (and still get up) very early that morning to get dressed and head to Forest Park to meet up with the Star Wars folks to head downtown to the City of Chicago Thanksgiving Day parade. 


As always, that was a lot of fun.  The weather was a little on the cold side, but not bad and there was no snow or no rain.  We were just about the last unit in the parade this year so there was a lot of standing around.



After the parade, I went to Joan's for Thanksgiving dinner.  Stef and Meryl were in from Utah and it was so nice to see them and to be able to stay later because I didn't have to get up for work the next day.  The family had a little celebration for my retirement and gave me a gift card for travel on Southwest Airlines.  We played Scrabble and had a great time just getting caught up.  I got a chance to see Stef again before she went home.  I had also put up the Christmas tree that morning.

Since retiring, I have been going out to Hickory Creek Barrens to work on the restoration site quite often.  I will go for 2-3 hours and get some work done.  It is a way to get exercise and get something accomplished with out feeling too overwhelmed.  I have started on "small tasks" that I can accomplish in a couple days and that is better than looking at the whole of what needs to be done.  We have been doing a lot of follow up on areas cut before and it is nice to get back into a lot of those areas and give them a once over.

During December, I did do a number of Star Wars events.  On 12-4-16 I did the Toy Con Charity Toy Show.  This year attendance was down by the public, but as always we had a great turn out of Star Wars costumed members.  I always feel it is our annual Christmas Party. 





Unfortunately, the snow flurries predicted for that day turned out to be a lot more than flurries and travel home during what ended up to be practically a white out was challenging.  But, again, it was great to not have to get up the next morning for work and maneuver the snow to get into Oak Lawn. 











On 12-10 I did a "double header" of events.  They were down on participants for the Toys For Tots event at Cantigny so, I put on my Imperial Gunner costume to go to that around noon.  I had also made plans to attend an event in the evening at Fermilab, so rather than go to the Toys For Tots thing early, I went later in the day and then headed straight from Cantigny to Fermilab. 





I had some time to kill in between, so I just stopped at a Dunkin Donuts on the way to Fermilab and had some coffee.

The event at Fermilab was the premier of a SW fan film I had appeared in.  The filming was back in 2008 and I thought they would never finish it.  Well, they did finish it and held a premier at Fermilab because that was where much of it was filmed.  They also asked that the few of us that were there appear in costume to greet the people coming in.  Where I had not planned to wear the costume in the evening too, I did end up putting it back on.  The movie turned out to be pretty good and had a great ending.  The scenes that I filmed were all in the final movie, so that was pretty cool. 

Unfortunately, another snowstorm hit as I was leaving Cantigny and the snow kept coming down while I was at the movie premier.  The ride home on the expressways was a real "white knuckler" as people always insist on driving like a bat out of hell even when the roads are bad.  Also, the Jeep's heater/defroster is not the greatest in the world and the wiper arms are also worn out and erratic...so the ride home was pretty intense.  Things got better the closer to Will County that I got.

I have also started to make preparations for the Frozen Butts workday.  Berkots finally had port butt on sale, so I bought 3 of them and spent a lot of time last weekend preparing the pulled pork for the workday pot luck.  I also am looking over what I have to give as door prizes which will not be as good as previous years because I have no income coming in.  On Christmas Eve several of us went out to HCB to start the brush piles that will be burned for the Frozen Butts Workday.  The weather was really nice that day for this time in December.  There was still snow on the ground, but it was due to be rained away on Christmas Day.


On 12-16, Star Wars Rogue One premiered and I was signed up for a premier showing at Hollywood Blvd Theater.  It was a pretty long day into night and I was definitely not comfortable wearing the RFT costume.  The pants for the RFT are really tight in the waist and the boots are very uncomfortable so by the time my showing of the movie came about, I was just not feeling well. 



I found that I didn't like the movie very much and thought that maybe that was because I was tired and hurting.  I went to see it again on Tuesday and found that I still didn't think that much of it.  I liked it because it was Star Wars...but have to confess that I was not thrilled by the movie. 




On New Years Eve, a bunch of us restoration volunteers went out to work at Hickory Creek, LaPorte Rd Access.  The weather was beautiful.  Sunny and in the 40's by noon.  I brought a little bottle of champagne along and we all had a toast to the New Year.  On New Years Day, I also went out with Mark Bettin and we worked at HCB taking down the last of some very large honeysuckle in one area that I have wanted to get back to for a long time. 

Well, I am sure that I have forgotten a bunch of stuff, but this at least gets me a little up to date on what is going on in my life.