Monday, December 8, 2014

Death: It Happens

I think about death. A lot.
I haven't always been that way.
As a child I would think about it when we talked about Jesus, in school or home. When you are about 6 or 7 and learn that there was a person who sacrificed himself for you, even though they didn't know you or even about your existence, it makes you think about it.
But when you're 6 or 7, death to you is a concept, a notion, an idea. It's something that only happens to very, very old people, or very special people for some strange reason. It is distant. It does not have to do with me. Not now.
I used to hold my breath to see what it would be like to be "dead". What does it feel like to stop living? What did Jesus feel like? (Yeah, I was a bit devoted in my Catholic upbringing.)
The thoughts were fleeting, as only they can be at that age. It was a mere curiosity and then it was gone.
Years go by.
Teens feel invincible. They go off and do crazy things because they feel death can't happen to them.
This is a stereotype. It wasn't me.
I purposely avoided things to avoid death. I didn't smoke, or try drugs of any kind. I was the goodie-goodie kid. As I got older, I never let anyone drink and drive me anywhere. I was the designated driver. I knew death could happen to anyone, but it was unlikely that it would happen to me. Not now.
When I was 27 one of my best friends in the whole world died. Suddenly and without warning, his heart failed and he was gone. His sister was the one who called to tell us. To this day I don't know how she did it. To this day I feel his absence. Death can now happen at any time, to anyone of us. Hopefully not now.
My thirties brought on a new level of death thoughts. My husband and I now had three children and they were still very young. My family often talked to me about my weight and how it wasn't healthy. My husband mentioned that he wanted me around for a long time, so he wanted me to be healthy. Health versus death. Something new that entered my brain. With every year that passed, death was creeping closer. It is, after all, inevitable. It is going to happen some day.
The panicked thoughts would creep into my mind, ready to paralyze me. Then I thought of something. My children are small. They need me. I need to be here for them. I will be here for them. I am not going to die in my 30's. Not yet. It is too important for me to be here. Raising my children is my purpose here.
Paralyzing death went quietly to a place far back in the recesses of my mind. To haunt me another time.
I can't pinpoint the exact day or moment, but some time around 39 or 40 the death thoughts visited again. This time with a new sense of purpose. With a whole new sense of fear to share with me.
It's not that something dramatic happened to me. It wasn't one thing that sent death spiraling through my head. It was simply life happening. Life happens so consistently, it's sometimes hard to keep up.
Life goes on and people pass on. People who have lived good, long lives. They made it to a nice old age and died of natural causes. They've left us to move up the ladder of life.
Now, in my 40's, I have moved up a good few rungs of that ladder. I see others around me move up as well. Some are very close to the top. Death is welcoming them in like a long, lost friend.
Death visits my thoughts now like an annoying creature. He's noisy and loud and colorful. Too much so for my comfort. he comes into my head and stays for too long. He likes to make my heart pound, palms sweat and thoughts race. It's like he's mocking me by enhancing the things he will one day take away. I feel the life in me more clearly in those moments. I feel how I don't know what I will do without them. I panic. He stays and parties for a while, thinking it's all fun and games.
I've learned to push him away. I've learned to distract myself to quiet him. Not now.
I welcome distractions like I never have before. I like keeping my head busy, louder than death partying in the not-so-back of my mind.
Why does he paralyze me so? Does he do that to everyone?
Not now, please. Shhh.
I know it has to happen. I just hope that it is easier than it seems. The piece of wisdom I will take with me this decade is from my father; we are always afraid of the unknown. He is right. I am always afraid of what I don't know. Yet that hasn't stopped me from doing things I don't know.
Death will be one of those things. I will rise up to shake hands with him one day. Even though afraid of what I don't know, I will be confident that I will follow the millions of others who have done it and I will make it through.
Just not now, thanks.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Guilty Pleasures

Everyone has them, right?
Those things we do that give us pleasure, but we don't want anyone to know.
We keep it a secret.
We keep it close to the chest.
Because we enjoy it, but it's so bad.
It's so bad, it's good.

So, I'm going to break the silence on some of mine.
Because, why not?
It's fun to share a secret, sometimes.
Here we go.

  1. Sugar. I've spoken of it before, but it really is a pleasure of mine. It's becoming a social outcast, but I don't care. I am trying to cut it back in my days, but every time I eat it, I enjoy it just the same.
  2. Gaming. Yup, I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'm a gamer. I love playing first person shooters, and have met people online through gaming. It's fun, addicting, adrenaline-pumping, and I could do it all day.
  3. Sleeping. I love my sleep. I am glad to lie down in my bed at night, and drift off to who knows where. I hate getting up most every morning. I wish I could stay in bed and just lounge and rest, until I feel like getting up.
  4. Jewelry. Or, as I called them in my childhood, "Jewleries." I love jewelry. I mean, I really do. I look at certain pieces and just covet the B-jesus out of them. It's one thing that if I had endless sums of money, I would have a ton of jewels.
  5. Fur. O M G , did she just say fur? Yes. Yes, I did. My grandmother had fur coats when I was a child. I always thought they were the most marvelous things I'd ever touched. I have one of them hanging in my closet today. It still smells of my grandmother, which I love. I don't know if I ever dare wear it in public, as it's so politically incorrect, but I don't care. I love it.
  6. Cheesy movies. I love movies, tv, entertainment. Sometimes I get a big kick out of films others consider not-so-hot. But I don't care. Some of them are; Legally Blonde, Mean Girls, The Twilight Saga, Flash Gordon, any 80's movie, among others.
  7. Being alone. Being a stay at home mom, I got used to be surrounded by noise and children most of each day. Then my children grew, and they started school, and with each one, it got a bit quieter. Now, with all of them there 5 days a week, and the hub at work, I am alone. At first I thought I'd lose my mind. What do I do now? How am I going to fill the hours and hours without interruption? It took a few years to figure it out, but I keep busy with homemaking, and writing a story. Oh yeah, me, a writer. Who knew? I've learned to enjoy my time alone, no matter where or when it happens. It makes the time with people more enjoyable.
Well, there it is. 7 of my guilty pleasures. I have others, but why share everything all at once? It's more fun to spread out the fun, no?

Share one or two of your guilty pleasures with me, won't you?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Thoughts At the Kitchen Sink

If you could spend a day in my body
You would believe.

I have aches and pains
Every day.
I push through it most of the time.

If you could spend a day in my body
You would see.

Beauty is everywhere
You need only look.
My eyes are my greatest gift.

If you could spend a day in my body
You might be surprised.

My inner thoughts are true.
My personality is real.
I am genuine.

If you could spend a day in my body
You would know.

I know I am judged by the way I look
Not what is inside, to some.

What is inside is so much more
Than what you see on the surface.

If you could spend a day in my body
Then I could spend a day in yours.

Then there would be complete and total understanding.

Monday, October 20, 2014

COMBO! Personal Week and a Few of My Favorite Things

Today is my sister's birthday!
Happy birthday to her!

She's my only sister and I couldn't have asked for a better one (and I did ask for a sister)!
I thought today I would pay tribute to the awesomeness that is her!
I love making slide shows with photos! I found a bunch from the past and put them together into this grand slide show!

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow
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Monday, October 13, 2014

Random Thoughts: Why Do We Complicate Life?

It's officially autumn now:
Colder weather, bright colors, less daylight.
I love this time of year (accept the daylight part).
The crisp air smells so amazing.
There are festivals, and harvests that are always fun.
The leaves are a glorious blaze in their final moments.

Final moments.

Some people associate autumn with death. The leaves, plants and flowers dying off before winter.
I never see it that way. All of these things do what they do in order to survive the cold brutality of the coming months. They slumber, waiting for their turn to come back.
It looks deathly: dried leaves and stalks of things that were lush and green only a few weeks earlier. It can feel a bit daunting.
It reminds us that everything comes to an end.
A bit depressing, because that means that we, too, come to an end.
Sometime, it's out there, waiting for us. We don't know how or when, but we know it is inevitable.

Or do we?

I can't help wonder what all the busy-making of life is about? Why do we busy ourselves with the daily chaos of life?
Do we really have to sign our kids up for lessons of all sorts?
Do we have to play a sport, or use a musical instrument?
Do we ever use what we learn in school?
Do we have to keep up with and own all the latest technology?
Must we be seen in all the latest fashions and fads?
Why, when I see so many people complain about the daily things in life, do we do those things in the first place?
Why do we complicate life?

Now I'm not saying that everything we do is rubbish. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't do anything. I know that a lot of the things we do is for the pure enjoyment of them, or to learn and grow, to push ourselves further than we've ever been before.
I wonder about when it bogs us down, when it overwhelms us, when we wonder why we're doing it in the first place. When we are forcing our children to practice playing their instrument for the forty-sixth time, or to do their homework as soon as they get home, or to push themselves harder during their soccer game. Despite their constant desire not to do those things.
When we don't enjoy it. When it becomes a chore or job, not recreation or happiness. Why do we complicate life?

Life can be so simple. Many of us are so lucky to live in an environment where our survival is so secure, we are allowed to think of and do other things. Recreation in any form is just that. It's a distraction we have the time for because our survival is all set. It is entertainment. Sports, music, learning something new for the hell of it, experiments, philosophizing, religion. These are only some of the things humans have come up with in addition to surviving.
We are a fun bunch. We like to play. With our bodies, with our minds, with our souls.
So, why do we complicate life?

Why did we also have to come up with things like currency, government, taxes, wars? (My children have asked me this question frequently.) With the good came the bad. It's human nature. We are all living with both every day in some form. We work hard to make enough money to pay our bills and taxes then still have enough leftover to play. Always to play, we love it.

Do we raise our children to only survive, or to be good, contributing members of society? Do we force them to learn things they don't like or want to learn or will never use? How does this impact a child?
Everyone is born with strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has their own, unique combination of the two. It's kind of beautiful.
I want to help discover my children's strengths, and help them develop them to be the best they can be and also contributing members of society. Sometimes the chaos of life gets in the way. I have to tell my children that they must to this thing or that thing because it has to be done. They argue with me, or whine at me about it, because they don't understand the reason in it.
Sometimes I wonder what children would do if we didn't ask them to do anything? I know, Lord of the Flies. I watch it happen in my backyard when they play with friends. So they need guidance, obviously. How much is the right amount? Do we push them to do all the things we want them to do? Or do we let them pick and choose, guiding them along the way? I try to understand my children. Encouraging their strengths and giving them tools to help with their weaknesses. I see my job as a parent, not as a dictator, but as a guide and teacher.
Why do we complicate life again?
I think it might be the fear of death. (I know, I sound like the mom in Moonstruck.) It's distraction from the inevitable. Maybe that's just me, although I prefer to live a simple life.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes In a Tree

My niece/Goddaughter had a birthday recently. Every year I get the privilege of making her cake (or cakes). This year, she requested chocolate chip cupcakes with a Magic Tree House theme. I was up for the challenge!

I took a vanilla cake recipe that I like, and tweaked it a bit to resemble a chocolate chip cookie in cupcake form. They turned out great, so I wanted to share the recipe!

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

     3/4 cup unsalted butter                   2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
     3/4 cup white sugar                        1 teaspoon baking powder
     3/4 cup dark brown sugar               1 teaspoon baking soda
     3 eggs, lightly beaten                      3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup yogurt: regular, low-fat or non-fat, plain or vanilla
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 10 ounce bag mini chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)

Bring butter, eggs and yogurt to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place cupcake liners of your choice into muffin tin.
Beat the butter in a large mixing bowl until light. Gradually add the sugars and continue to beat for 5 minutes.
Beat in the eggs, beating all the while and beat until light colored.
In another bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.
Mix the vanilla and yogurt together.
Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl, alternately with the yogurt and vanilla mixture. Begin and end with the flour mixture. Stop beating before mixture is blended. Add the mini chocolate chips, and mix just until blended.
Bake @ 350° for 20-25 minutes (ovens vary, so check them at the earliest suggested time, and see if they might need longer).
Yield: 3 to 3 1/2 dozen

I used my favorite butter cream frosting to decorate them. You can use your favorite, or if you don't have one, use the recipe on the back of any confectioner's sugar package.
First, I gave the cupcakes a base coat of frosting, to give them rounder tops.

After the base coat, I used green frosting with a leaf tip to make leafy patterns all over the top. On some of the cupcakes, I did a toad stool look instead in red and white.

Thanks to my hubby for building the cutest display ever! He made it out of wood we had in the yard. Men and their chain saws, they go so well together.
These cupcakes were a big hit with the kids!

I hope you enjoy them too!

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Favorite Things: Why Don't I Do Them More Often?

I do things every day that I need to do. Everything from personal hygiene and exercise to working, chores, and running errands. I do combinations of these things on a daily basis. I try not to think about them too much, especially if I don't like them. Sometimes I do like some things, or learn to enjoy them, or learn to deal with them. But I get them done. Something gets done every day.
My favorite things:

Playing Video Games (Yep, I'm a gamer.)



When it comes to my favorite things, sadly I don't get to do them as often as I would like. My day fills with obligation, and next thing I know, it's time for bed. (Okay, sometimes, even frequently, I play video games before bed, so I can't complain there.) Sometimes a day simply goes by, and it didn't occur to me to do a favorite thing.
Life just happens, gets in the way, occurs. It's not a bad thing. It's life, after all. It's all the little strands coming together to weave our own cloth, our story.
When I do get the opportunity to do the things I love, especially if it's been a while since I've done them, I think to myself, "Why aren't I doing this every day? Every chance I get? I love doing this! I need to make time to enjoy this more often."
Then life happens. Still. Consistent. Strong.
Somehow I forget how much I enjoyed sewing that last outfit or gift for someone. I forget how much I love swimming, how it makes my muscles happy. I forget how much I love taking a picture for the sake of capturing something I think is beautiful. I forget how it feels to frost a cake and have it turn out exactly as I pictured it.
How could I forget these things? Why would I want to forget something that makes me happy?
Perhaps it is because I go spans of time between doing the things I love that keep them in the "love" category in the first place. By doing them less often than the every day things, they stay fun, enjoyable, loved, special.
(I feel like I just went off on a ramble, but that's how my mind works.)
Today I got to write. I enjoyed it. I will definitely do it again, hopefully sooner than later.
Enjoy something in your day, every day.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Random Thoughts: Things That Run Through My Head When I Walk

Okay, stomach in...IN!
Swing arms.
Heel toe, heel toe...BIG toe.
Swing arms.
Stomach in.
Music feels a little slow today, not that I mind, I feel a little slow today.
Can my iPod read my mind?
Damn, it's colder than I thought!
Should have worn capris instead of shorts.
Swing arms more.
Stomach in more.
Am I hitting that big toe? Yes, good.
Ugh, another car. I'm glad most of my neighbors mow up to the shoulder. Thanks neighbors.
Did that person just wave? Crap, I have no idea who that was. I hope they don't think I'm rude. The windshields reflect, and I can only see a hand. I don't always recognize cars.
Sheesh it's cold! Well, at least it's not raining.
Stomach in dammit!
So many people doing this or even running every day. How many do I know? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6...easily 20 or more people I know. Good for them. I wonder if it's easier for them, cause damn, this is hard. And I'm not even running. No way. That's not happening. Ever.
Stomach in already! How many times do I have to go over this?
♪ Lucy in the sky...wait...what happened? Did my battery really just die halfway through my walk? CRAP.
Now I'll be singing the same two lines of...which song...well this time it's Florence and the Machine...not too bad, but the same two lines for the next 20 minutes is going to suck.
You know what else sucks? This freaking freezing wind! Damn! I wish I could run now! Well, I could certainly double time it. It will make up for the dragging ass on the way out.
Here I go!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sweet, Salty and Chocolate...Need I Say More?

I bought a jar of unsalted cashews a little while ago. Big surprise, my kids complained that they had no salt. Oh great. Now what am I going to do with these?

Perhaps I'll use them in baking something...but what? Hmmmm...

I bought some salted caramel sauce for ice cream. We used up the ice cream and had all this sauce left! Whatever shall I do with it? Hmmmm...

Cashews...salted caramel...actually those two sound good together! What can I put them in? My daughter found a really good chocolate cookie recipe that we love to use all the time. That would hit the spot for sure! Can I put chopped cashews in those? Why not! What can I do with the sauce?
OOOOHHHH!!! I'll use it on the cookie!!! I can't wait to try these!

Here's my new recipe! I don't have a name for them, so if you think of one, let me know, and I'll pick my fave!

2 sticks melted unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar (or light brown, whatever one you like or have handy)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 - 1 1/2 cups salted or unsalted cashews, chopped
1 bag chocolate chips (I recommend Ghiradelli)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix butter and sugars together well, until they are lighter and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well mixed.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and just before blended, add the chopped cashews and chocolate chips and finish mixing just until combined.
Drop spoonfuls onto cookie sheet and bake for 10 mins.
Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet. Remove and let cool completely. Get the caramel sauce to a workable texture: smooth, flowing, but not runny.

Using a spoon, have fun drizzling the sauce right over the cookies! You can use any way you like. I just used zig zag lines for now. It would be fun for kids to do too!

These turned out so splendid, and very satisfying! You don't really need more than one!

Of course, you might just find another one in your mouth before you realize it!

You could also sprinkle just a wee smattering of salt on the top, for looks and a little more salty flavor. That's up to you.
Have fun, and let me know how you liked these!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Winging It

Today I'm just gonna write.
Right here.
Right now.


I'll see where it takes me.
Where I end up.
What is my brain thinking about?
So many thoughts swirl through at once.
I glimpse a piece of something...
Then it's gone.
What was that?


It's Labor Day.
Do I need to blog about it?
I think not.
Not that I've read anyone else's,
But I don't want to write about that.

Right now.
Right here.


I'm hot and muggy.
Sweating for no reason.
I've wiped my brow more times than I can count.
I'm just sitting.


Did I really just write about the weather? 
Oh man.
I guess I did.
But that's how it is...

Right here.
Right now.

Winging it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: The Best Cobbler In the World

A few summers ago, probably more than a few, I made my first peach cobbler. I used a recipe I found in one of my favorite and trusted cookbooks. I went by the book, as I do every time I try a recipe for the first time. It turned out well, and was easier than I thought.

A while later, perhaps the next summer, someone had left some sugar cookie dough in the fridge at our cottage. My mother didn't know what to do with it, as she knew that no one who was there at the time would want to eat the cookies from a store bought dough (some of my fam are kind of baking snobs since I like to bake from scratch a lot). I thought a minute, and then came up with something kind of fun. I used it as a topping for a peach cobbler. (By now I was happy to adjust and tweak the recipe to my liking.) It was a hit! Even those who snub the store bought dough liked it!

So, I got to thinking...what other types of toppings could I use on a cobbler? And what else could I put in with peaches? At one point, I saw a recipe for blueberry/peach cobbler, and at some other point (they all have smooshed in my head at this time) I decided to use a recipe I received from my husband's grandmother for molasses cookies as a topping, and combined them into the most wonderful cobbler recipe in the world! I have been making it ever since, every time the peaches and blueberries are looking ever so beautiful in the markets!

Because I made this recipe up, I had to come up with approximate measurements for an actual recipe. Before that, I didn't really measure anything except for by sight. So, if anything sounds like it could use a little more, or a little less for your own liking, feel free to tweak it to your pleasure.

Here we go!

First I make the molasses cookie dough. You can use your favorite recipe here if you have one. This is mine from "Grandma B" (of course, I tweaked it a bit).

1 1/2 cups melted butter
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs

Sift together:
4 tsp baking soda
4 cups flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt

Add sugar, molasses and eggs to melted butter, mix well. Add sifted ingredients to wet mixture, blending well. Chill for 1 hour (can be overnight as well).

These are perfectly delish on their own, and I use any extra dough I have to make cookies! Roll into 1" balls and roll in sugar. Bake @350 degrees for 10 mins. These never last past the day I make them!

Now onward to the cobbler!

I make this when the peaches and blueberries look like this! I can't resist! They are gorgeous! That's when I know it's time...
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel and slice 8 to 10 peaches (the ones in the picture were huge, so I used 8 of them). Wash up 2 pints of those little blue beauties, and put them in a large bowl with the peaches.

Add the following into the fruit:

1/4 cup molasses
1/2 - 3/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark, whatever you like)
1 tsp. cinnamon
2-3 tbsp honey
3 tbsp maple syrup
(I use both honey and syrup if they are on hand, otherwise use whichever one you have, and make it about 4-6 tbsp total.)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp flour (for thickening)

Butter the pans. Mix the fruit until all the ingredients are blended together. You'll know when the juices start to flow, as the sugar mixes into the fruit.
Pour the fruit into a 9" * 11" and about a 9" square pans. (So, yes, I make two pans for our large lake family.)

Next take the cookie dough from the fridge, and roll 2" balls. Flatten them into little patty shapes, and dip into sugar. Place each dough round on top of fruit, slightly overlapping each one on another.

Once covered completely with the dough, place in oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Keep an eye out for bubbly juices, that's when it's done. It may drip in your oven, this is good for the dish, meaning it's deliciously juicy, but you can place a tray or pan on a level under your dishes if this bothers you.

You can serve this dish warm or cold, but everyone in my family seems to prefer it warmed with ice cream and or whipped cream.

It's such a pretty dish, makes the whole house smell like a piece of heaven, and it's not going to break your calorie count, as it's mostly fruit, with a little cookie! (Of course, that's not counting what you might want to put on top of it!)
Every time I make this, I get compliments galore! I hope you do too! Of course, if this is too much for you, feel free to cut the recipe right in half, and enjoy it for a smaller gathering! We just never have that problem in the summer time!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer Family Time

Yesterday was spent at the lake. Like so may other days in summer.
We met up with my whole, nuclear family to celebrate two next generation birthdays.
The next generation. They are here, and they are awesome.

I mean awesome in the true meaning of the word. They evoke awe in me and my generation.
Life is an amazing thing. When you can watch it happen, from the beginning, it is a privilege. So many changes, so much chaos. All as time goes consistently by.
Two births celebrated. One on her fifteenth year, the other on her third. A span of twelve years, but celebrating together. Watching my two nieces, my two Godchildren celebrate their lives was awesome.

I am appreciative of celebrations at the lake in the summer. We cram dozens of family into that tiny kitchen to sing happy birthday, and it’s always amazing to me. It’s a magic home of love and life.

There, you can see so much. There are all the stages of growing up, growing old, and many memories of those who have gone. They always come to join us for the celebrations. They are with us in words, stories, jokes, even poking fun at them in a happy, beautiful, funny way, bringing them to life at our parties.
I look at the children around the large, wooden table, whose faces are barely above the table’s horizon.

I smile.
That used to be me. Peering over to see the birthday guest blow out their candles. Having a grown up snap a candid shot. Feeling a little embarrassed by the moment.
I see the same feelings through my lens, but experience now the new feelings of the grown up who snapped the candid shot.

Awesome. Truly full of awe to live such a moment.
This week we will also celebrate my mother’s birthday. So many great people born this month! It will be another great day of celebration. Another great day of life.
It has become a popular phenomenon to write out a beautiful moment in your life here in the world wide web, and hash tag it, “blessed”. It is a wonderful thing that so many people out there are appreciating the little things in their lives. Of course, it gets abused, misused and overused. That’s the nature of us, after all. I still appreciate seeing people being thankful for what they have.
Happy even.
It’s those little things in our age of technology, plastics, fast services, instant gratifications, that make it come together in a way that no technology can do.
It is life.

Consistent, but changing.