Tuesday, July 27, 2010
New Yorkers and Cruisers
Everyone that reads this blog already knows that the Soggy Duck adventure this year was down in La Paz with Whatcha Gonna Do as base camp. Two Soggy Ducks (Steve and myself) plus my wife Sue traveled from NY for this adventure.
I think the story that best describes how you accept the new life of the Mitgang family is to share with you our departure from La Paz story. Mike and Barb both strongly recommended that the most efficient, comfortable, and affordable, transportation for the 2.5 hour trip back to the airport would be the bus that goes directly from La Paz to the airport twice daily. It is a modern deluxe bus with air conditioning. However, us New Yorkers know better and decided that if we hire our own taxi we will have more control of our schedule and more security that we will make it to the airport on time.
So the morning of our departure, Steve and I walk into town and hail down a mini van cab. We negotiate a price and confirm that the taxi has air conditioning. We agree that the driver will pick us up from the marina at 9am. This is the same time the bus is scheduled to leave from across town. The taxi shows up early and Steve, Sue and I start the more “expedient” transportation to the airport.
We drive for about 5 minutes and the cab pulls into a gas station to spend 10 minutes filling up on fuel. Keep in mind that he had an hour between the time Steve and I hired him and when he came to pick us up to take care of this chore. Once filled up with gas, we drive another 5 minutes and then he turns to us and asks which airport we are going to. When we confirm which airport, he begins an argument that his price was based on going to a different airport and proceeds to give us a new price to get us to our airport. We argue for a few minutes and tell him we are paying the price we agreed upon originally. Since he doesn’t speak any English, we only hope he is still driving us to the correct airport.
About an hour into the drive he pulls over at a grocery store to pick up some snacks for himself. As we sit there waiting for him, the bus zooms by us on its way to the airport. We end up driving directly behind the bus for the next hour and a half. And of course, the air conditioning in the taxi breaks. So Steve, Sue and I just sit there laughing at how smart us New Yorkers are!
If any of you are thinking about visiting Whatcha Gonna Do, we strongly recommend it. The Mitgang family are great hosts and Harrison and Danielle are amazing. Those kids act like they have lived on the boat their whole lives. I had the pleasure of having Harrison give me tours around town while I motivated him to sleep outside on the boat’s trampoline with me.
No matter where they are docked, you must make the effort to visit.
PS. The bus ended up pulling off the road 5 minutes before the airport. We don’t know why. The taxi ended up winning the race!
As you can see, we were pretty busy on the dock getting all our gear organized and managing the comments and “input” from wives and kids!
And, with 11 people on board Wednesday and Saturday night, we had people sleeping in beds, on the trampoline, in the salon and in the cockpit. It was a full, fun house!
Thursday morning, we took a panga (small fishing boat) out to Espritu Santo and Partida Island to camp for a few nights. The conditions and coast line were great although the first day was so hot we had to hike up to a cave in the hills to get out of the sun! (View from cave at left.)
We also managed some good down time as well in the shade, away from the sun.
One night, there was so much wind, (we estimated it at north of 40 knots) that one of my tent poles bent and it was so strong that the wind was blowing me over inside my tent. It caused such a sand storm that it felt as if we were in a winter hail storm – the only difference being that it was warm outside. We returned to the boat Saturday night and Sunday morning, the New York contingent took a taxi (see separate blog for that experience) back to Cabo San Lucas airport and flew back to New York. The California contingent (Duck, wife and kids) stay four more days and we sailed back out to the islands for more fun boating.
Michael (in La Paz)
Monday, July 26, 2010
So, I was recently in the market for a new pair of sandals and many people recommended that I get a pair of Crocs sandals. They are very comfortable, are made of strong rubber that holds up, are well made and will last a long time, they said.
So, I dished out $35 a pair for not one, but two, pair of Crocs Athens sandals. They are described on Crocs website as:
“Crocs™ Athens, the trendsetter. The first Crocs™ sandal to feature the double cushioned footbed for additional comfort and support and with a croslite™ material toe post your feet will be thanking you. This shoe is classic Crocs™ style in an amazing flip-flop.
- Offers a double-cushioned, extra soft footbed and the standard Crocs™ circulation nubs.
- Slip-resistant and non-marking soles.
- Ergonomic Italian styling; wide, roomy foot bed; made with croslite™ material.”
I have never in my life actually heard of a pair of foot wear shrinking, but these Crocs have done it!
So, while Crocs is “the brand” everyone seems to love, these just did not impress me. Hopefully, if Crocs reads this blog, they may add a comment on how they might correct this problem. Otherwise, I am giving them to Danielle who is now 11, because they are way too small for my feet but fit hers just fine.
Michael (in La Paz)
Saturday, July 24, 2010
While Michael was away on his Soggy Duck trip (21st annual), I was left to run the ship, so to speak, with two other wives, and four kids aboard. As Sue and I were cutting salad for dinner, Monica entered the galley (kitchen) and excitedly stated that there was a cockroach in the cockpit. I ran out, and the two of us tried to locate it, not quite sure what we were going to do once we found it. Sue then came out to join us. Every time we moved something in the cockpit, the cockroach darted out quickly to find another hiding spot. Monica jumped and shrieked with each scurry. Sue started shouting to the kids to get something to catch it in. I’m handed a cup. We finally catch the roach by placing the cup over it. Now what???
Sue tells the kids to get a flat cutting board which we slide under the cup. In the meantime, Sophie, Monica’s seven-year-old daughter, started screaming, “I’M NOT SLEEPING ON THIS BOAT ANYMORE. I’M NOT SLEEPING ON THIS BOAT ANYMORE.” Monica, herself taking deep breathes to calm herself, is trying to calm her daughter. I then ask for a knife. "What are you going to do with a knife?", Sue asked perplexed. "I have no clue," I respond. But when Monica comes out carrying the huge knife that Sue was using to cut the salad, I say simply, “But that’s the salad knife.” We were laughing so hard that we couldn’t breath.
Sue then politely tells me she cannot kill the cockroach. Of course, neither can I. So we send Harrison and Danielle down to the dock with the cup held in place by the cutting board, and this huge knife. The women couldn’t look, but Harrison and Danielle bravely slaughtered the bugger. They cut off its head and sent it into the ocean.
Ridiculously, this was a highlight of our weekend together. Many laughs followed. Girlfriend time cannot be beat. And we haven't seen a cockroach since. I hope we get to wait at least another nine months for that one.
-Barbara (still in La Paz)
Friday, July 23, 2010
Michael and three of his Business School buddies took their 21st annual Soggy Duck trip last weekend, kayaking around the islands near La Paz, BCS, Mexico, in the Sea of Cortez. Two of the wives, one with her kids, joined me, Danielle and Harrison. Here’s what one of them, Sue Fuirst, had to say about the weekend:
I knew it would be an adventure, but besides that I arrived with little luggage and big apprehension. Let’s face it, I was choosing to spend my Soggy Duck time in close quarters with other people’s children. Soggy Duck time is when my husband and his fellow Duck’s go away on a camping adventure for several days. I love it, an empty house and bed! Who wouldn’t look forward to that? Plus, my own kids were at camp or off on their own adventures.
But this year the Duck wives were invited to tag along and join Barb on Watcha Gonna Do. Who knew it would rival some of the best weekends ever?
We all promptly fell into our roles. Monica bravely (or delusionally) brought her two young kids: Sophie bordering on independence and Max still in diapers. Her job was to manage them. Barb was our captain/navigator/cruise director extraordinaire. I was to keep us on schedule. Danielle succeeded in filling my need for a 12-year-old girl by my side, as my own daughter that age is at camp. And everyone needs a Harrison to negotiate for them. We travelled as what Monica coined as a seven-headed monster, a well-oiled seven-headed monster.
We dragged a cart carrying Max and groceries through La Paz and walked for hours in the heat. We raced to catch buses to the beach and hurried up to wait for boats to lunch. We compared bras. We talked and we laughed… and laughed. Danielle kept asking what was so funny, why were we always laughing. I’ll let the other’s give their details. But all I know is that there’s a new kind of Soggy Duck weekend going forward. Liz, start packing.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
You first started hearing us talk about them back in May when we ended up traveling with them during our Copper Canyon trip, almost by fluke. We’ve been with them ever since – very purposefully.
Vicki is a labor and delivery nurse and doulah by profession. It’s perfectly suited to her, as she has an element of calm and confidence, together with incredible kindness (Michael will attest to the several batches of oatmeal raisin cookies she’s baked because she’s known it’s his favorite!). She is also incredibly and naturally beautiful. She fishes (has her own fishing pole!), cooks gourmet meals with fewer pots than I have, rolls her own sushi, is an accomplished sailor, and, although a contemporary of ours, – hold onto your hats – is a grandmother!! She has great stories about her family life. She is amazing with animals of all shapes and sizes (from the little 2 week old kitties in El Fuerte at the hotel to the horses eating apples from her hands), and it’s an adventure just walking down the street with her as she seems to find all kinds of strays wherever she goes. She’s teaching herself how to play recorder and flute. She has a beautiful voice. She swims in cold waters (for which I am thankful – she’ll get in with my kids when I won’t). She’s a great yoga enthusiast and has taught me a thing or two. And she is a little bit of a rabble rouser – putting her and Michael together with some expired flares, for example, is frightening. She told us the story of when her teenage daughter decided to shave her head out of protest for the importance put on female beauty, Vicki decided to shave her head too. Of course she did. That’s just what Vicki does. She really doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything.
Larry is no slouch himself. He worked for a dialysis company for many years – an instant connection from the outset given that my dad was on dialysis for 15 years before he died. He is also an accomplished sailor, knows his boat technically (I have no clue what he and Michael are saying when they talk engines), is incredibly dedicated to Vicki, loves fishing, loves kids, loves fishing with kids… Need I say more? But yes, there’s more. He’s an accomplished musician (guitar and harmonica), and in fact played professionally for several years. As he goes through different towns, he’s also played the ‘gringo’ bars to many fans. We’ve had many wonderful jam sessions with him and Vicki. He is kind and gentle – perhaps what attracts Harrison, who calls Larry one of his best friends.
Vicki and Larry hail from Seattle, WA, where their blended family of 5 kids and their families now live. We have been impressed that, together, they learned Spanish in preparation for this trip, and have helped us with it along the way. They are wonderful with our kids, who love them dearly. They are both adventurous and game to try almost anything. They love exploring, swimming, hiking, and life in general. And they have great senses of humor. Positive vibes all the way around.
As we mentioned in a previous post, Larry and Vicki have headed north into the Sea of Cortez, in order to leave their boat in what is hopefully the outside of the hurricane zone while they return home to Seattle for about a month or so. They’ll be back around the same time we will be, in mid-September. We are hoping to continue our travels with them at that point. We’ll miss them in the meantime, and look forward to sharing our adventures together when we reunite in the fall.
-Barbara in La Paz, Baja California Sur
*Who or what is 'Rocinante' (pronounced Rosen-UN-tay), you ask? According to Vicki and Larry, Rocinante was Don Quixote's horse. 'Rocin' means 'old steed', and 'ante' means 'formerly', as in, "The horse formerly known as an old steed" (makes you think that Rocinante would have been a better choice for The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, no?). Supposedly, Don Quixote found the old steed and nurtured it into a reliable horse. So too with their boat - it's been beautifully and lovingly brought to life by Larry and Vicki. They do all their own wood staining - and there's loads of beautiful wood. It's a gorgeous boat.
Monday, July 12, 2010
of Partida, we had a bonfire on the beach with two guitars playing, a lot of kids after a long lull, marshmallows toasting, and a great time. There were at least 15 boats anchored there on that one particular night. Danielle and Harrison had met some other kid boats, one of which had a fabulous tube, a strong motor boat and a generous dad on board. Danielle met another 11 year girl, Ines, from Spain with perfect English after spending the last year living in San Diego, and she joined us for the bonfire. Coincidentally, the girls found out they were born 6 days apart, both at New York Hospital! I cut Michael’s hair again, in the same location I did it the very first time last fall – and just as satisfying.
We revisited Los Islotes where we swam with the sea lions last fall. This time, there were not as many sea lions in the water, but the fish were incredible and made for really enjoyable snorkeling – in our new jellyfish suits. We kayaked around the island too and were in awe of the beauty of the sheer rock cliffs plunging into the ocean. Somehow, the sea lions still find nooks and crannies on which to sunbathe.
The fishing was pretty pathetic as far as eating goes, but Harrison hauled in at least a 15 pounder skipjack – nothing to eat so we threw it back, but it sure was exhilarating. Then, at Caleta Partida, the cove between the islands of Isla Partida and Isla Espiritu Santo, we stopped into the fishing camp, and for about $8 we bought the best sushi fish (yellow snapper) we may have ever eaten. The fish also held us for a fish taco dinner the next night. It was so good that we went back for more, this time for the barbeque (half with blackening seasoning and half with a grill seasoning). Michael laughs at how satisfying I find it to be able to create delicious, nutritious and beautiful meals while on a boat with limited kitchen resources. I think my kids have learned that from me as they have started to treat us to a dinner once per week (or maybe it’s that they get out of dishwashing/setting/clearing duty for that night?). They made home-made pesto, home-made croutons, home-made ceasar salad dressing, and luscious lemon squares. A complete hit. I can’t wait to see what they’ll do for next week!
Caleta Partida was also a cool anchorage in that you could dinghy over the sand bar that runs between the islands to the west side of Isla Espiritu Santo where there are several caves big enough to dinghy into. The kids and Vicki even swam in them.
At Ballandra Bay, we kayaked through the mangroves into a beautiful lagoon. Danielle stepped on a dead puffer fish on the beach there – think: porcupine quills. She is fine now but it was certainly painful for her. We spent 4th of July there (our first as American citizens) and launched some expired flares. For better or for worse, all the flares went off without a hitch, and luckily, the Mexican Navy did not appear.
Here we are now, back in La Paz, and on the docks for the first time since Mazatlan. We are preparing for our friends who are coming from NY and CA. Michael’s “Soggy Duck” annual camping trip is in its 21st year, this time a kayaking trip through the islands of the Sea of Cortez this coming weekend. Two of the other three wives are coming to keep me and the kids company, one of which is also bringing her kids. It will be great to reunite with old friends. Michael got a panicked look on his face when I told him I might take the boat out for a spin…
We have bid adieu to Vicki and Larry on Rocinante as they head further north into the Sea while we will be delayed for 10 days. We are sad to see them go but plan to reunite in September, back in La Paz.
It’s great to be back in familiar territory. La Paz has an amazing cruisers' community, coffee hour three times a week at the clubhouse with a book and CD exchange/library, and everything is in walking distance. We've pulled out our bike and have started looking into getting a second one. We are taking care of the regular business, like getting new glasses for Danielle, regular doctor check-ups, getting the boat cleaned, and so on. Our homeschool program is finished for the year, although we will continue with some low-key homeschooling over the summer once our friends leave. It includes weekly blog posts by the kids, so stay tuned!
-Barbara (in La Paz, Baja California Sur)
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Last week Harrison and I had the opportunity to help crew on Estelle, a 56 foot sloop that was going to be loaded on to a ship and transported, rather than sailed, through the Panama Canal and on to Florida. This was quite an interesting experience. We met the owner of Estelle at 6 am at the Marina de La Paz dock and, along with our friend Larry on Rocinante and two other crew, departed for a bay just outside La Paz. While I am always saying there is no wind when we are sailing (or rather motoring), of course this morning there were 15-20 knots and a 3 – 5 foot swell.
Dockwise is a specialized transport company that ships luxury motor yachts (100 foot plus), sailboats of all sizes and specialized boats. It is used to transport boats quickly and safely over long distances and without the wear and tear that otherwise can occur on a boat when traveling over such distances. On this day they already had a huge dredger onboard with a drill bit the size of a house (see the right side of this photo), as well as several motor yachts and a smaller (36 foot) sailboat.
Before we could be loaded, a sailboat that had been transported south from BC had to be unloaded. So, to load and unload boats, the ship is lowered into the water (basically swamping it) so that the cargo area is submerged 7 – 10 feet or more, depending on the boats being loaded. Once the ship is submerged, boats are able to motor in or out. Those going in get strapped to the ship. Once strapped to the ship and before pumping out the water, the Dockwise crew sends divers under water to weld support brackets to the bottom of the ship to support the boats in cradles. The water is then pumped out.
So, with the other sailboat now off the ship, we were ready to motor in. Again, with more wind and swell than we would have liked going into a narrow entrance, our entry required careful maneuvering. With Dockwise crew on catwalks on either side of our boat, we entered the ship, tossed lines to the crew and carefully came up to the fended wall of the ship. The Dockwise crew then strapped our boat to the ship. We were one of four boats that were loaded that day, including another sailboat and two power yachts.
Once Estelle was tied to Dockwise we then climbed up and off our boat, and walked along an approximately one-foot wide catwalk to the front of the ship to disembark. Now this was fun as well! As you see from the pictures, Dockwise was not at a dock so we had to transfer to a tender that would take us back to land. Again, with the swell we had, walking down the ladder into the tender was a challenge. As the swell came up and down, so did the tender (but not the ship)!
An interesting after note: The owner of Estelle thought that his boat was being shipped to Florida. But, once his boat was loaded and due to a Dockwise technicality, the ship would not be going to Florida but instead to the Bahamas. I guess he didn’t get the email notice of the change of plans!
Michael (in Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida, just outside La Paz)
Friday, July 9, 2010
Barb (anchored in Ensenada Grande)
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Tuesday, July 6, 2010
I was also concerned that I had no idea what so many people were up to, while everyone knew what we’d been doing thanks to our blog. One of my friends assured me that life there was like my favorite soap opera. After a couple of episodes, I was all caught up. Everyone still has their daily struggles, their relationship issues, their parent/child issues, their schedule balancing issues, and so on – in a nutshell, all’s normal back home. I love my friends and I love my community.
Now with Mimi’s death, the incredible community back home, of which I am proud to be a part, has once again jumped into action to prepare meals for her family – 20 people or more all together who are sitting shiva. I am sure there will be hundreds of people at her funeral, and hundreds at the shiva over the following days. For us, though, we here in La Paz are feeling a bit isolated and wanting to be back home with friends as we grieve. While there have been times since we left that I have felt that I wanted to be there for a friend going through a tough time, this is the first time I’ve felt this strongly about missing home. I want to hear all the stories about Mimi that are told at the funeral and the shiva. I want to help comfort Bob, Elana and Maya. And I want to be comforted by my friends who knew Mimi.
Yesterday, we spent an almost surreal day at Ballandra Bay, perhaps one of the most beautiful places on earth, kayaking and exploring the white sand beaches and the mangroves. Today we are heading to the islands near La Paz for some quiet time away from civilization with our friends on s/v Rocinante. We are expecting a whole slew of friends next week from NY and CA. And we hope to be back in the Bay Area for a visit and for the High Holidays in early September.
Ballandra Bay (near La Paz)
Monday, July 5, 2010
Since June 15th, we had been receiving daily updates from Mimi's husband, Bob, about Mimi’s condition after she had undergone what was supposed to be a straightforward procedure to drain fluid from her good lung. Unfortunately, and unexpectedly, Mimi's lungs were never able to function properly again, so she remained for the most part on a respirator. Nonetheless, Bob's emails showed signs of hope until about two weeks ago, as we were into the first of our three day crossing from Mazatlan to the western side of the Sea of Cortez, when the tone of his email changed. He noted that we had all become accustomed to Mimi beating the odds over the last five years, but that the window in which she could overcome the current state of affairs was slowly closing.
It was that same day that I received an email from my friend Dennise to let me know that things were really not looking good. Because we would not be close to an internet connection for another two and a half days, Dennise graciously booked me a flight home. I arrived home on Wednesday of that week, to hear that Mimi was, miraculously, once again improving, although she still had a long way to go. I was permitted to see Mimi on two occasions while I was home, and I believe that on the second visit, she may have registered that I was there. I simply held her hand, talked to her a bit, told her that I loved her and encouraged her to keep fighting. When I said, “See you later”, she nodded although she didn’t open her eyes. Little did I know it would be the last time I would see her. It still amazes me that even as we know when loved ones are very sick, we are never prepared when they die.
Mimi's CO2 levels eventually got to life threatening levels. She was transfered to paliative care, and each of her family members got a chance to say goodbye. Bob's email describing Mimi's last few hours was incredibly powerful, and a poignant illustration of how deeply loved she was - and how sorely missed she'll be.
Mimi and I became friends seven years ago when our oldest daughters entered kindergarten together. I was sitting with her on the bench at the school playground when she was awaiting the phone call from her doctor who would eventually deliver the news that she had stage four lung cancer (she never smoked). Our friendship blossomed after that, but certainly not out of pity or any need she might have had for my support. Interestingly, Mimi was the one who gave me the support over day to day angsts, she was the one who gave me the encouragement and inspiration, and she was the one who kept me laughing.
We had a lot of things in common. We both began our careers as lawyers. She went on to head the mediation program for the San Francisco courts while I abandoned law altogether. Mediation suited her well as she always had a keen sense for right and wrong, mixed in with a good dose of realism. Even after she ‘retired’ with her diagnosis, she still exhibited these admirable traits in her day to day life. She was someone I’d consult in situations where I needed to solidify opinions – she was a clear thinker, ethical, and so smart about people in general.
We both suffered from migraines, which, ironically, also fed our friendship. While on our migraine medications, we would suffer from insomnia and therefore email each other at ridiculous hours into the night. At times she’d be up due to the steroids she was taking and send me the most hilarious emails in the middle of the night, highly detailed about this or that, and signed, “Mimi on Steroids”.
We bonded an awful lot over ‘personal beauty care’ outings. It started when I went with Mimi to source out wigs for when she lost her hair from chemo. We visited the hair salon to get the wigs styled, and the cosmetics counter to find paint-on eyebrows. We went together to a beauty class for cancer survivors where I learned a whole lot about makeup application. We then began to go for pedicures together, which became our regular outing when Mimi could no longer take long walks.
Mimi made it a personal goal to write as part of her legacy. I soon discovered writing as well on this trip as I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this blog – she provided me with much encouragement on this as well. We spent a lot of time discussing her need to put things down in writing for after she was gone, and especially for what it would mean for her kids. As usual, she set high goals for herself, and just wasn’t satisfied with the amount of writing she had already completed.
On the subject of kids, we clearly shared a lot of laughs and information on raising pre-teen girls. We were always so thrilled that our girls shared a friendship. She told me that it was being there for her daughters that kept her fighting for as long as she had.
Perhaps what I admired most about Mimi was her sense of adventure, and her zest for fun and living life to its fullest. While it sounds so trite to say, she really was the poster child for living life to its fullest. Even after her diagnosis, she and her family travelled a ton to places like Costa Rica, Cuba, the Mediterranean and Israel. She would plan great parties with inventive themes (like the costume party where you had to dress as your favorite invention over the last 50 years, or a cruise in the San Francisco Bay, or an Extreme Makeover party featuring Massages, Makeup Consultation, Manicures, Margaritas and Mimi. She even had a life-sized cardboard Barak Obama in attendance at one of her parties. She always took an opportunity to celebrate – often with alcohol. In fact, when we got the news of her death, we immediately pulled out the bottle of rum she had left with us, untouched since last December, and toasted her life (this, of course, together with the crying, left me with a migraine the next morning – Mimi would have laughed).
Certainly the highlight of our friendship was Mimi and her family’s trip to visit us in the Puerto Vallarta area over winter break this past year. We had traveled together before, but usually with other families in a larger group. How blessed I am to have spent extended uninterrupted periods of time with her during that week in December. It included a three-day trip to Punta de Mita aboard our boat, which I can describe as nothing less than exhilarating. It is from this visit that I choose to remember Mimi: We had been on the beach for the day when the surf got extremely high and began breaking dangerously close to our anchored boat. Michael advised that we needed to get to the boat as quickly as possible before the waves would cause our anchor to break, sending the boat to certain destruction on the rocks. He had to shuttle us in two separate dinghy trips back to the boat; Harrison, Michael, Mimi and I were in the first trip. We went over at least three very large waves – the surfers were cheering us on as we made each one, nearly vertical as we rode up the wave, and then taking air before coming down on the other side. Mimi was at the front of the dinghy facing the three of us, hanging on to the handles for dear life as her body would leap into the air right off the seat, the wind blowing her hair, and her facial expressions cycling from massive laughter to surprise to exhilaration and back again. It is this picture of Mimi that I will keep in my mind as I remember her.
Mimi’s funeral is taking place tomorrow, Tuesday July 6 at 1 p.m. She leaves an incredible husband, Bob Rebitzer, two amazing children, Maya, 10 and Elana, 12, her parents, her brothers and countless other family members, and many many friends. We will miss her.
The healing begins.