The “Not Offensive In Any Way” Post

I’ve been writing without any whimsy lately, and the name of my blog is Bring On The Whimsy, so let’s shake things up! I don’t know how whimsical today’s subject matter is, but it is decidedly lighter than race relations in America (last post).

I went to Emory a month ago, and the doctors I met said they wanted me to go on a medication–let’s call it Bill–that is known to highly increase one’s risk for weight gain. I’ve already gained about 45 pounds since beginning my fistful-of-pills journey ten years ago, and I’m currently on three medications that screw with my metabolism and make me intensely crave carbs. So when they said I’d have to manage the weight gain from Bill with diet and exercise, I started coming to terms with my “half a large pizza for dinner”, devil may care attitude toward taking care of myself. At a family meeting with my counselor a few days later, we talked about nutrition and exercise again. The poo hit the fan on high speed.

For some reason, that poo poo fan really motivated me. I started by acting out the drama I always perform when I have a self-betterment project. It’s a one-woman show called “I Am Completely Obsessed and Self-Absorbed.” I tracked every bite of food for the first two weeks with the My Fitness Pal app, and I checked it constantly. It produced in me a painfully strange mixture of pride and disappointment. My counselor suggested I try not tracking for a while, and that has made eating food so much more enjoyable. I was also pretty dang hangry for the first week or so, but thankfully I didn’t maim any patrons or co-workers. ALLLLLL I thought about was food.

Since all I thought about was food, I did a good bit of research into what my goals could be. What I’ve been doing is trying to eat whole foods, paying attention to portion size, trying to cut out starchy stuff like bread and potatoes, and really reducing refined sugar intake. (Also, I haven’t been inhaling my food.) That’s it in a gist. It is CRAZY how much sugar is added to processed food! It is CRAZY how easy it is to be swayed toward processed food products just because they’re organic! (Or maybe you aren’t swayed because you think organic food is stupid and unnecessary. I dunno.) Example: I picked up my usual organic milk at Kroger and saw that it had omega-3 fatty acids in it. “Awesome! I read about those!” said me, not thinking about how those omega-3’s got in there. One morning I looked at the label and found out it had fish gelatin added to it! After that, every splash of milk in my tea made me feel betrayed. Stay out of my dairy, finned ones!

Y’all, I probably have not eaten this many fruits and vegetables since I was sucking down baby food. Even stranger, I’ve found myself craving them. Also weird: if I eat sugar other than what’s naturally found in dairy or fruit, I can actually feel how my body responds to it. If I pay attention, I recognize that I crave food much more quickly if what I ate last contained refined sugar. The less you consume refined sugar, the less you crave it. You can eat sweet, amazing grapes instead and feel very satisfied.

Unlike any time in my recent past, I’m just easing myself back into exercise, rather than “committing” myself (ha) to being the Goddess of Fitness. I’ve just been going on 30 minute walks a few times a week. I’ll step it up gradually, but for now, while I relearn how to feed myself, that’s about all I want to do.

Part of the reason I’m writing this publicly is because I so desperately need for this to stick, not necessarily for weight loss, but for the regulation of my mood and energy and the prevention of diabetes. I’ve started so many self-improvement projects, but taking care of myself needs to be the one that sticks. Will you help me? If you’re reading this and you feel led, send me a message sometime soon and ask me how it’s going! By that time, I hopefully will have ended my performance of “I Am Completely Obsessed and Self-Absorbed”, so I’ll ask you how you’re doing too.

Good tidings, readers! Have a safe and happy Halloween.

P.S. A little FYI:

https://www.addiction.com/3275/americas-sugar-addiction-how-our-need-for-a-sweet-fix-has-expanded-our-waistlines/

 

 

 

 

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What I’ve Learned, Part 2

Here’s a little taste of what I’ve learned from some white, right wing Americans lately:

*Protestors who participate in the BLM movement are actually saying, “I hate this country and want to move.” It couldn’t be that black people simply want to live—it’s that they want to live somewhere else. Racism does not exist anymore.

If you see a picture on Facebook of a black man helping a white woman in Houston, or if you get along with your black co-worker today, or if a black couple has started coming to your lily white church, there’s your proof that there is no racial divide in America. We all get along, and we’re only being told that there’s inequality or injustice by the media—you know, like how TV programs showed Bull Connor’s attack dogs during the Civil Rights Movement just to get everybody riled up. Remember: racism does not exist anymore.

If you can find a black person who disagrees with the NFL protests and will speak up about it, then you as the anti-protester are right (as if you didn’t know that already), and racism does not exist anymore.

If you can find a black person who supports Trump and will speak up about it, you should rejoice because “one of them” agrees with you, and this is your playing card in the pro/anti Trump argument. And why do they agree with you? Because racism doesn’t exist anymore. (Trump’s not racist. He just wants to make America great again. And he said he wanted to unite our country in his inaugural speech, which is as good as actually doing it.)

If you see a Nazi or Klansman in the street, fear not. He’s just exercising his right to free speech. Despite the existence of organized groups whose sole purpose is the denigration of minorities and the exultation of the white race, racism does not exist anymore.

If you have a black friend, racism doesn’t exist. If you’ve cheered for a black defensive lineman on your school’s football team, racism doesn’t exist. If you’ve personally never experienced racism, racism doesn’t exist. If you say racism exists, you’re criticizing our great country. And if you criticize our great country, you should GIT OUT. 

*See above.

What I Learned This Week

Peter

  • First, I learned how long it’s been since I was truly impacted by hatred. The images, video, and articles covering Charlottesville horrified me. The pictures I saw Saturday morning of those angry racists in polo shirts holding torches were bad enough, but seeing that car slam into the crowd with bodies flying and then speeding into reverse sealed it for me. I’ve been mentally and emotionally consumed. It embarrasses me that it took this tragedy to wake me up again.
  • I learned that witnessing those evil men dressed up in military gear, holding Nazi flags and chanting slurs, didn’t seem to have much of an impact on a significant portion of America. Evidently these neo-Nazi monsters whom our grandfathers fought a war against, these Klansmen who terrorize the South, were simply exercising their free speech. According to some folks, that’s really all this was about: free speech and a statue of Lee. (And if it helps to clarify one’s position, that’s straight from the mouths of the white supremacists.)
  • I learned about the group that seems to have had the biggest impact in this national conversation: antifa. I have to admit, I didn’t know about them before. I didn’t know about their role in the Black Lives Matter movement–an unwelcome role, according to the organizers–and frankly, I didn’t know much about the violence that accompanied some BLM protests. I take responsibility for this; I don’t diversify my news sources enough.
  • I learned that I have some pretty strong feelings about antifa. I disagree with their approach, their tactics, and their mindset. They are heavy-handed and obviously forceful and take it upon themselves to decide just who is allowed to speak or not. They’re authoritarian while claiming to reject authority. (I stole that line from an article.) And most importantly, they are setting the movement for peace and justice back. We should have rejected them a long time ago; instead we laughed when an antifa adherent punched Richard Spencer at the inauguration. How does this help us? I saw an article this week that instructed white people to stop invoking Dr. King. (?) Well, I’m going to. What would Dr. King say? Non-violence is the best means of achieving our goals. Period.
  • I learned that some politicians seize national tragedy as a chance to claim that they’re totally against a cause, then return to making legislation that ultimately advances that cause.
  • I learned that one particular politician doesn’t understand how to unite a country during a national tragedy, due to his equivocations and bloated ego. I learned that the Republicans in Congress get talking points to use every time that particular politician opens his mouth, to explain away his specious logic and inaccuracies. And yet again, I learned that just when I thought I couldn’t dislike that one particular equivocating, bloated politician more, he proved me wrong.
  • I learned that Robert E. Lee was a kind man who never owned slaves–he just cared for his father’s slaves–and he was very conflicted about the Civil War. When the war was over, he worked tirelessly to reunite the South.
  • I also learned that Robert E. Lee was a cruel slaveowner who separated families. During the war, he acted viciously toward black Union soldiers. He wrote that it was white men’s Christian duty to keep blacks enslaved and that they should only be emancipated through divine intervention.
  • I learned about the timing of the erection of Confederate monuments, how most were erected during the establishment of Jim Crow laws and as a response to the Civil Rights Movement.
  • I learned that a lot of white people think that because they’re fine with the Confederate monuments, everyone else (black people) should be too. I also learned that some black leaders like Andrew Young feel that taking down the monuments is a waste of time and energy which should be directed elsewhere.
  • I learned that because I am a privileged white woman, I’m not allowed to think the Tina Fey sheet-caking sketch was funny or smart.
  • I learned my favorite new political quote: “The favorite sport of liberals is destroying other liberals for not being liberal enough.”
  • Finally, I learned that the best you can hope for in a Facebook “discussion” is openness and engagement, but you likely won’t get it…especially if you throw out an opening salvo to kick things off.

I mean, I learned a few other things: Cheese dip for dinner twice in one week is a bad idea. Always take the garbage out before you leave on a trip. Mow your leg hair before you get a pedicure, to create a less-ashamed, more-relaxed experience.

But that’s what was really on my mind.

Family

Unlike serious writers, who make themselves write whether they’re feeling inspired or not, I tend to wait for that “zing” to strike. It usually becomes clear to me all at once what my next topic should be. This morning the zing said, “FAMILY!” So here I am, happily obliging the zing.

Hyperbole often runs rampant on holidays celebrating family, in Hallmark Cards and on social media. “Happy Mother’s Day to the best mom a girl could ask for!” “Happy anniversary to my best friend and the greatest man on the face of the earth!!!!!! I hope everyone reading this is jealous of our relationship!!!!” I’m not going to go down that road–your family may be your personal best, just as mine is to me.

And for the record, I’d like to see a more honest line of greeting cards that says something like, “You’re not perfect, and neither am I, but you’re perfect for me.” Or, “Mom and Dad, thanks for paying my student loan debt after I got the manic notion to become a minister, which I know you thought was ridiculous but watched me pursue it anyway because you love me.” I’m here to tell you that if my family didn’t accept my imperfections, I would be up shit creek. Just swimming in it, with my tummy-control, full coverage suit on and no floaties.

I don’t want to make this post about my numerous screw-ups, though. That would be a book-length list. Rather, I’d like to talk about my dear, precious family. Here goes, in snippet form:

-Did you know that my mom made a cookbook for me for my 35th birthday? First, she painstakingly copied her own favorite recipes by hand. Then she enlisted her friends and our family to contribute their own recipes and provided addressed, stamped envelopes for them to send to me. (Mail! The good kind!) I’d asked for a cookbook months before because the women in our family always get them when they get married. I didn’t know if I’d ever get one, and Mom knew that upset me, so she spent hours lovingly crafting this treasure for me. It is so precious and is just one example of how my Mom moves through life giving of herself.

-In his later years, my dad is becoming a student. His subject of study? Learning how to talk to his bipolar daughter. I am a tough one to nail down in terms of psychological needs and wants, as they change with my mood and over time. What sounds encouraging one day can send me into a tailspin the next. The challenge of communicating with me when my mood fluctuates so must feel insurmountable. Yet Dad comes back for more, over and over, wanting only to be as helpful as he can be. We struggle, but we both keep learning. I couldn’t ask for more. I love you, Dad.

-If you are lucky enough to have someone in your life who simply listens and then makes you laugh when you’re struggling, hold on tightly. My brother Mark is that person for me. A couple of weeks ago, Mark picked me up for lunch during his busy work day, because I was having “the bad thoughts.” We ate pizza, he listened, and then cracked some jokes. (Cheese and laughter might just be the magic combination against depression.) Then he took my medication hostage so I couldn’t OD on it and said I had to come to dinner at his house that night to get them back. I had a lovely night with Mark and my wonderful sister-in-law Allison, who said she was sorry I’d had a bad day, and she was glad Mark could be there for me. She takes me in stride, just like Mark does, and for that I’m so grateful.

-I have a beautiful, precious, angel buddy nephew named Cameron. He is 18 months old tomorrow! I hope I can fully express to him someday how I felt instantly connected to him on the night he was born. He looked at me so seriously, straight down into my soul. He is so loving and kind and playful, and he is very generous with his little friend Thomas. It is a joy to watch him grow.

That covers my immediate family, but there are so many more. Like…

-The original cousins: my cousin Rachael, who has always told it exactly like it is and loves me so, and cousin Mitchell, who was my partner in crime in our impromptu family musicals before Granny T passed away

-Cousin “Baby George”, who is about to embark on his adventure to Auburn University!

-Beautiful cousin Courtney, who is real and honest and brave, and my lovely cousin Ashley, who saw a different path for herself and pursued it boldly

-My cousin Kai, who moves through the world quietly and honestly

-My wonderfully soft-spoken, kind-hearted Uncle Mike and my precious Aunt Jean, who I’ve always thought of as a slightly spicier carbon copy of Mom

-My frank, generous Aunt Deb, with whom I’ve had many profound conversations and laughs

-My incredibly giving Uncle George and tender-hearted Aunt Lisa

-My wonderfully saucy and lion-hearted Uncle Don and my beautiful, generous Aunt Barbara

-Last but not least, my wise soulmate Uncle Mike and my Aunt Mary, my fellow introvert who’s not afraid to speak the truth

If I’ve forgotten anyone, I can only plead the hour of the morning and my self-imposed caffeine restriction.

For me–squirrelly, imperfect me–it just doesn’t get any better than this. My family makes me happy. They love me with full, generous hearts. I hope you have at least one person in your family who makes you feel the way I do about mine, and if you don’t, I hope you find people who become your good family. We weren’t meant to be alone, and I can’t begin to know what I’d do if I were without these incredible people. I love you, family.

 

 

 

Swinger

For the past two or three months, my mood has been overwhelmingly depressed: sleeping a TON, unmotivated, hiding out in my little condo from the world. I made few plans and cancelled the ones I made. It was really difficult to brush my teeth, take a shower, and get up to take a glass to the kitchen sink. And forget about physical activity; walking around at work was the entirety of my “exercise.” I was a zombie.

Two weeks ago, I fell into an even deeper depression. I thought about suicide frequently: how to do it, if I could do it. I was incapacitated. Eventually the veil lifted a bit, just enough to get me into “the danger zone,” where you’re still having suicidal ideation but now have ample energy and motivation to do something about it. I knew enough from past experiences to get my doctor and counselor on the phone and to reach out to my family and friends–my incredible support system.

And just when I thought the suicidal ideation would never end, it stopped abruptly in a big way. I woke up last Thursday ready to take on the world again, with a strong desire to buy a purse (my go-to expenditure when I’m hypomanic). Life was glorious again, and productivity was my middle name. I wanted so badly (like always) to believe that I was just having a good day, but I knew I was hypomanic.

Hypomania is the slightly tamped down version of mania. It’s characterized by a surge of ideas, the desire to acquire (read: late night Amazon binges), increased social and sexual activity, difficulty sleeping, and an increase in goal-directed activity. Suddenly, mopping the kitchen floor seems not only pleasurable but also very pressing; you give off and pick up on sexual energy; you pace impatiently until 7:00 in the morning, when you can finally call someone you’ve been wanting to talk with since 2:00. Until the sleepless nights catch up with you, hypomania feels amazing. (At least it does for me.) And for that reason, hypomania is very seductive. It’s tempting not to call your doctor to get a med adjustment because you’ve been waiting so long to feel good again. Who doesn’t want to feel enviably attractive while pushing her overflowing TJ Maxx cart toward the checkout, where she’ll spend money she doesn’t have to buy things she doesn’t need?

But I did call my doctor. I was immediately put on higher doses of mood stabilizers. At the same time, I started a new “thought organizer,” which is a kind term for the anti-psychotic class of drugs. And y’all, in only seven days, this thought organizer has changed my life. Martha Stewart would be proud: my squirrelly little brain has never been so organized. My counselor informed me that thought organizers regulate the dopamine in your brain, which basically means you get more hits of pleasure. So when I do a load of laundry and feel good about finishing it, I want another hit and do another load. I’m able to slow down and totally be in the present moment and enjoy it thoroughly. I really taste my food; I keep my environment clean because it makes me feel good; I focus on the task at hand at work and get pleasure out of checking items off my list. I am experiencing more joy than I have in months and months.

You know, despite being bipolar, I’m extremely fortunate. I can feed and clothe myself. My parents still help me with expenses when my paycheck won’t cover it, partly because I’ve never had a job that would cover things like psychiatrist and counseling visits. They want to see me well and do whatever they can to support me. I live in a great little home in a safe, lovely area. My brother, his wife, and my nephew are just ten minutes away, and they’re always there for me. I have wonderful friends who are supportive and thoughtful. But when I’m depressed, I can’t generate gratitude. All that registers is pain. I just withdraw into my shell and often try to shut out the people who love me.  My couch is my security blanket, and I lie there for hours with Walter.

But just for today, as they say in AA, I’m not on that damn couch! I am living and thriving. It feels good to be a human again. I AM grateful for the multitude of gifts in my life, and I’m not taking anything for granted.

Will this last? Maybe, but if the past is any indication, all signs point to ‘no.’ In the world of bipolar disorder, as in gravity, what goes up must come down. But I choose to be thankful for the past seven days: a whole week of wanting to be alive, a week of loving and breathing and feeling my heart fill with joy. That’s a real gift. Thanks for reading.

Wonders, Part I

There’s something about Christmas and cold temperatures and oversized sweatshirts that makes me contemplative. All three criteria are met at the moment: we are under 2 weeks from Christmas, there’s a chill in the air, and I am wearing the incredibly soft and cuddly hooded shirt that my Aunt Lisa gave me Saturday. It seems like a good time to write.

I’ve been mulling over a few wonders lately. Here’s one; I’ll share the others over the next few days.

Major Wonder #1: The baby Jesus attracted shepherds AND wise men. I am no Biblical scholar, but I think we can assume that the shepherds were a dirty lot. Tending and herding animals must have been labor intensive and messy and probably stinky. At the very least, they were outside day and night, sleeping on the ground and what not. And yet these were the men (or boys) to whom the angel of the Lord appeared with news of a Savior. These guys did what we might call realistic work; they dealt not with signs and symbols but tangible entities. Sheep they understood; celestial beings, not so much. And as the Bible says, when an angel appeared, “they were terrified.” So I think it’s beautiful that the angel immediately tries to calm them down—“Do not be afraid!”—and then gives them a direct message about the Savior and what they are to do about it. It’s very simple: The Savior is born, and this is where you’ll find him. I guess the angel could have been a little more specific; “you’ll find a baby in a manger” isn’t quite as helpful as “second inn on the left, in the stable out back.” But God was sure of their faithfulness and knew they would take what they saw in Bethlehem and spread the word. The lowly shepherds had the privilege of sharing the good news first. I think that’s marvelous.

The wise men just had prophecy and a star to guide them; it may seem a little less beneficial, but this was a language that they could understand. The shepherds may have needed a direct message, but the wise men were comfortable with symbols and in fact required them as confirmation of truth. God knew what they needed to feel assured that the Savior had come. But out of the two groups, God chose the shepherds to find out directly and immediately. God’s voice spoke straight to them through the angel. Isn’t that crazy? So typical of what we learn about Jesus as he grows: that he came for those who were low of station just as he came for kings.

I’m still really wrestling over Christianity; I have been for a while now. But I’m telling you, I love that the shepherds get the big announcement, that they are so overwhelmed with what they see and hear that they can’t help but spread the word. What a beautiful way to usher Jesus into the world. I don’t know why it’s taken so long for this wonder to start percolating in my brain. Maybe it’s because we tend to lump the shepherds and wise men together as figures in a nativity scene. Yet we do this story a great disservice if we disregard their differences. These were two groups of men who would never mix in daily life. (And of course, they don’t actually mix in this story; their visits to Jesus don’t occur at the same time.) But despite these differences, the baby Jesus attracted both groups to him as Savior. Wowee wow wow!

I hope you too are having a contemplative Christmas season. I’ll write more soon!

Elf on the Shelf

 

Image:
(AP Photo/CCA&B, LLC)

It occurred to me today that Scrooge ought to have a conversion name. If Peter became Paul for recognizing Jesus as the Savior, Scrooge should get renamed for his rebirth too. Sage, maybe? Or something really lofty like Loveplenty. I know it’s too late to change it, but sometimes I like to revise literature in my head.

Scrooge is on my mind because there’s a little something about our contemporary American Christmas that makes me feel particularly grumpy: the relatively new phenomenon known as Elf on the Shelf. Elf on the Shelf (or Mensch on the Bench if you’re Jewish) created one of many modern parental expectations that serve as birth control for me. As if getting ready for Christmas morning isn’t stressful enough, now EVERY DAY FROM THANKSGIVING TO CHRISTMAS requires a surprising, staged message from the Elf to your child. It stresses me out, and I’m basically childless except for Walter, who makes scented surprises for me all the time, no holiday needed.

I’m veering dangerously into “back in my day” territory here, but bear with me. I have nothing but the fondest childhood memories of Christmas. My parents always made Christmas morning feel magical, and I count my blessings that they were able to afford to buy us gifts. What I remember most about the Christmas season as a child is going to the tree farm, pulling out ornaments, the warmth of Christmas Eve, the excitement of Christmas morning, and our delicious breakfast and fried chicken dinner afterwards. I feel so fortunate for those memories.

Yes, we talked about Santa when we made our Christmas lists, and we’d wonder what Santa would bring us. But the season really wasn’t all about Santa or presents. It was about family and Jesus and Nat King Cole and cookies. It was about Mom’s total love for Hallmark ornaments and my parents’ insistence that we spend Christmas in our own house, with our little family and with Mom’s tree. It was about Advent, about seeing my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, and drinking Russian tea, which made me feel quite grown up.

My point is that I didn’t spend the whole season shitting bricks about what Santa thought of my behavior. Santa used to be the guy who was kind of paying attention to what you did, but you knew he’d come anyway. Now Santa sends out a legion of 10-inch spies to check up on children on the day after Thanksgiving. His Elves on Shelves wreak havoc and reward behavior with treats.

Did your son take out the trash without asking? Sprinkles the Elf should leave him a new set of Christmas pajamas! Did your daughter hit another little girl on the playground? Crinkles should write a note in his non-dominant hand saying that Santa’s watching. Was it a slow day in the behavior management realm? Tinkles should take all the toilet paper off the roll and pull a Toomer’s Corner all around the house.

Realistically, parents are probably “elfing” some time after 9:00 at night, after a long day of work, watching children, cooking, cleaning, homework, baths and bedtime stories. Instead of sitting down with some wine, you’ve got to create a trail of marshmallows between the 1st and 2nd floors or draw a toothpaste smile on the bathroom mirror that you’ll eventually have to clean up because the kids will just smear it around.

Aren’t you exhausted? I’ve never seen a child reacting to an Elf’s antics, so I honestly can’t say if the extra work is worth it or not. If I were a single parent coming off a long shift, I can tell you that it would take Academy Award-winning morning reactions to get that Elf moving every night. Personally, I would have the most minimalistic, lazy ass Elf on the block. I’d make my kids let me name her Saggy.

And doesn’t Elf on the Shelf make your children laser-focused on presents? Doesn’t it make Santa a bit of a shady, backroom director of central intelligence? In my mind, whether you believe Jesus is the reason for the season or think Christmas is about family, Elf on the Shelf meets none of those criteria. Sure, kids have long been bombarded with the message that Christmas IS all about the presents, but should the weeks leading up to The Big Night be tied so explicitly and consistently to reward?

This last objection might sound a little crass, but do children really need one more magical tradition for Christmas? They pick out trees and watch their parents string them with twinkly lights inside their homes—magic! They drink hot cocoa and have school Christmas parties and make macaroni necklaces for Mom’s present—magic! Then there’s good old, pre-espionage Santa—who could be more magical than that? Do they need more joy and wonder than a sanctuary full of candlelight on Christmas Eve, more excitement than that walk down the stairs on Christmas morning? I’m not sure it gets any better than that.

Maybe some of you parents really like Elf on the Shelf. Far be it from me to declare it categorically wrong for everyone. Maybe it’s worth it to have your kids behave for a month when you’ve got lumpty umpteen things to do. Maybe it truly is a joyful tradition that makes your family’s Christmas season precious and eventful. If so, go forth with Twinkie and Buttons and Dora the Explorer on a Shelf! Draw messages in spilled flour! Hide secret notes in the kitchen cabinets! Take videos of your child shrieking with joy when she finds Dunky upside down in the Jello pudding!

Maybe you just can’t get out of having an Elf. When Brick and Gryffin and Persimmon and Maddy Cate all have Elves, it’s hard to deny your own child, I’m sure. For you, I cry genuine tears.

So if you need a break from all that, Walter and I will just be hanging out over here with Baby Jesus and Santa. That’s about all we can handle. I have a hard enough time processing my role in the season without Saggy tapping me on the shoulder wanting to come out and play.

Oh, and if I have a Christmas conversion experience, please refer to me henceforth as Gingersnap Tinysmall. I just like the sound of it.