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Sometimes breaking vows is a good thing. I think.

I vowed that I wouldn’t blog again until I’d finished my book.

Well, I haven’t quite finished that humdinger yet, so it seems the fact that you’re reading this is pretty clear evidence that I’m breaking that vow.

For new readers or those who’ve forgotten what I’m on about, I’m penning the story of the stroke that sizzled my brain’s ability to read and write, made a sieve of my memory and took my average-ish math skills to a new low. That’s among other important, life altering things. Generally speaking, I was not capable of doing meaningful work or meaningful just about anything.

But I battled back and — despite some pretty deep scars — I’ve made quite a remarkable recovery.  Even if I do say so myself.

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What gnaws at me, though, is I promised myself if I ever got my words back, I wouldn’t let them go to waste. I’d write the books that I’d been putting off all my life, either too afraid of failure or too lazy pre-stroke to complete.

But even for an ex newspaper reporter well accustomed to pumping out copy every day, writing a book is quite a grind. Especially, it seems, when virtually every page conjures up painful memories. I’ve had to put together a process that works for me and my turtle slow, technology aided reading style. And that’s taken some time to figure out and try to perfect.

At the same time, I’ve had to learn to deal with the gut ripping pain that reliving the memories of my brain battle conjures up. Hemmingway, I believe, said that writing is easy – just sit down at the type writer and bleed. OK. But sometimes I need a tourniquet when I’m penning this brain battle stuff. It’s good not to forget, but it’s also hell to remember.

Sadly, what I’ve noticed is that dealing with the hurt sometimes – often, actually – has led me down the path of avoidance. Back to that old nemesis of wasted time.

There are loads of powerful quotes that drive home the importance of spending one’s time well. Stuff like:

Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can’t afford to lose. ~Thomas Edison.

An ounce of gold will not buy an inch of time. ~Chinese Proverb.

Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it. ~M. Scott Peck.

Those quotes have a sting to ‘em for me. Especially that last one. But what really stings is that I’ve been battling this wasted time demon going way back to high school. That’s when my amazing English teacher John Rollins gave me a graduation present in the form of a short letter. The gist of his epistle was that hours turn to days, days to weeks and weeks to years in the blink of an eye. He warned that I wouldn’t want to blink too many times and find that my aspirations were untried with the last few minutes on the clock of life ticking away.

It struck me as I’ve been working on the book in recent days that time can be pretty cruel, even when it’s not wasted. Things – life itself – can end pretty abruptly. Even with my best efforts I may never get to see my book completed or published whether or not it finds its way to bookshelves and e-readers.

I’m not meaning to be a downer, but it’s true.

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy novels are worldwide best sellers that have been turned into movies. One was a Hollywood block buster. But he died of a heart attack at age 50 before seeing the success that was coming for his stories.

Pondering some recent events, it struck me that I’ve been wasting the gift of blogging. Its instant nature means that no matter what, I can get at least some of my story out there every week. If all goes well, a book, maybe books and who know what else will follow. But nothing can stop the blog. Nothing can stop it but me, that is.

So Brain Food is back, not instead of my book and not as a drain on the process of writing it.  It’s back as a piece of the pie. And if I lose my way again?

Well, if I start feeling lazy, there is Simon Fitzmaurice to think about. If he can’t inspire effort and dogged determination, there is no hope of inspiration. In 2008 the multi award winning writer and film director was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, as it is also known.

He was just 34 with a young family.

The determined Irishman had two more children following his diagnosis and kept on writing. He uses a wheelchair and is attached to a ventilator that enables him to breath. He can’t speak and he’s immobile. But he continues to write and communicate using his eyes via an eye-gaze computer.

I can’t imagine how tough that must be. It seems that it would be furiously frustrating and that it would be simple – understandable, even – to give up. But Simon doesn’t seem to think that way. In fact, he wrote and directed his first feature length film, My Name is Emily. And it wasn’t just good for a guy with disabilities. It won a wack of awards last year.

Amazing. Inspiriting!

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Riding the rails and drinking in TO and Montreal

Smart as I am, when the signs on the stores we passed on our VIA Rail train were no longer written in English, I figured out they were in French. And that meant that we’d crossed the border between Ontario and Quebec.

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Seeing Quebec roll by from the ground for the first time was tres bien. And entering Montreal on the train route was a complete different experience than driving in from Pierre Trudeau airport. Very cool.

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We walk out of the VIA station, roller suitcase in tow just after noon. We found a patio on Phillips Square — Le Grand Comptoir — and fortified ourselves for the afternoon. We had a great, simple lunch under perfect patio weather, just shy of 30 C. The square out front and the slow traffic creeping past us provided perfect views for taking in the city. The only downside were the Canadian, German and Brit business dudes sitting next to us. They were all trying to impress each other with their biz smarts and used F bombs as verbs, nouns, adjectives and just about everything else. I’m not against a good Fbomb. I just appreciate variety and creativity in cursing. And I try to avoid the nastiest words in all-age public settings.

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These boys were more amusing than disturbing though.

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After eating, we headed towards Patricia and Kristina’s friend, Francois’s place. It was a great stroll, even with the bag in tow. He lives near Ste Catherines’. Which we strolled along much of the way. We also had a coffee on Ste Denis. It was great to sit there and restore my memories of Montreal.

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We met Francois after he was done work and went for dinner at Le Steak House Du Village — a great choice for us Albertans. After a long meal on the patio combined with great people watching and conversation, I now count Francois as a friend.

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We had a fabulous time in Montreal — great dinners, amazing walks, incredible sites. The pictures attached tell the story best. Old Montreal, Crescent Street, up and down Ste. Catherine’s street. Wow.

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We took the train back to Toronto on Saturday. Dinner in Leslieville and then Saturday afternoon we watched the Blue Jays beat Minnesota, staying on top of the American League East pennant race. We watched the sun go down at Yonge and Dundas square.

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Monday we paid a visit to BMV books and then strolled over to China Town and Kensington. I still can’t visit Kensington Market without humming the King of Kensington theme song to myself.

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All of this brain food from TO and Montreal is nicely feeding my writing. I’m making good progress on the fiction stuff.

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Classic rock, a few beers and Fat Man

Years before I started making a few shekels as an ink stained wretch, writing paid off for me.

Starting in Grade 5 I figured out that my language arts and English teacher’s dug what I put to pen. It got me through all the way to graduation and balanced off my failings in math.

Almost.

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This has nothing to do with the blog. But i thought it was pretty cool. Clouds in downtown Edmonton shot from the 18th floor of Commerce Place.

Short stories, essays, reviews – I seemed to always hit the mark. I was also able to write my way through social studies. It was just a shame about math. And the sciences.

Anyway, I always took the writing thing for granted until…well, regular readers of this blog know all about my putting off the book writing thing until a stroke buzzed my brain’s ability to read and write, the struggle to relearn my abcs and all that jazz.

I’ve pumped out some good stuff since getting my writing groove back. But I’ve also struggled. When I was a news paper reporter I pounded out the stories of the day. In writing a feature on my stroke recovery, it was pretty easy to connect the dots. But I’ve done some flailing away on the edits to the book I’ve been working on about my stroke. And I’ve struggled with keeping my focus on the blog.

There’s just been something. Something wrong. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it.

Then my bride asked me if I’d like to go to the K97 classic rock show Friday night in Edmonton’s Hawrelak Park. I try not to live in the past, but David Wilcox was playing. Non Canadian readers may not know this blast from my past’s work. If not, you should look him up and give him a spin.

Back in the 80s I quit a job to go see him play at a Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (I think they now call my Calgary alma mater SAIT Polytechnic) cabaret. When I asked for the night off to see David play, my boss asked me what was more important, the concert or my part time job doing grunt work at his crappy little motel.

“Thank’s for the clarity, boss,” I like to remember myself saying to him. “I’ve unplugged my last toilet for one of your guests.”

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David Wilcox

It was off to hook up with Joe, Jack and Brad, then off to see David and his band play.

Later, when I was entertainment editor of the campus newspaper I got to interview Wilcox before a show. Just me and him. No rush.

I asked him a question he told me nobody had ever asked him before. That was cool. As I recall, I asked about the way his eyes seem to bug out as he plays a solo. Also as I recall, he speculated that it may be because when he started out and he’d get into a riff, he stair off into the crowd, lost in his guitar. The thing is, the beautiful young woman dancing with her insecure and bulky boyfriend would think David was gazing into her eyes. And the trouble would begin with beefy boy and David. So, as a peace loving man, Mr. Wilcox said he just stated staring safely into the sky when he made his Telecaster sing. And that, he said, may be the cause of the eye thing.

That’s how I remember the convo, anyway.

Friday night David’s show was just as tight as it was back in the mid 80s. And he looked to be having just as much fun. It was awesome. Wilcox was followed on stage by Randy Backman of Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive fame.

He put on one hell of a show.

I don’t have the emotional connection to Backman that I do with Wilcox, but I was blown away by how great he sounded. And by how much fantastic music he’s pumped out. But better still, the passion he had in playing and in telling the stories behind the songs blew me away.

Backman shared intimate details of where he was when he wrote one classic. He explained nuances in the music and the work to get the stuff from his brain to his guitar to the radio. 

What a great night.

But it wasn’t until the Saturday night over a few beers at a bbq my wife and I through for the neighbors that I connected a few dots.

According to Google – and is Google ever wrong? – Randy Backman is 72 year old. Another Google search put David Wilcox at 67. Backman is a gazillionare world wide selling artist and will likely make more in royalties in the time you take to read this blog than I’ll ever make. Wilcox is a journeyman musician doing just fine but on a smaller scale.

And there they both were, on stage looking in love with what they were doing after all of these years. I’m sure there are lots of reasons. But a couple came to my mind over beers in my back yard 24 hours after the show, my ears still ringing from what poured out of their Marshall amps.

These guys has the courage, the passion the whatever to do what they were meant to do. No matter what. It worked out on different levels. But it worked out. They didn’t do this music thing half assed. They did it full assed.

And that’s where Fat Man comes in.

Back in grade 5 I thought I was a pretty good story teller. And for a class early in the year I started working on a short story. My first effort was some kind of gumshoe crime fighter. Then I took a stab at a cowboy bit. Both were boring and un inspiring.

It was then that a sketch I did for art class caught my eye. I’d created and un-hero called Fat Man. He looked kinda funny in a loveablish way. I decided to call my short story The Adventures of Fat Man and I managed to put together a yarn that had all of the teachers at Chris Ackerman Elementary School in North East Calgary laughing.

The trick, I realized back then, wasn’t a trick at all. Being a writer is one thing. But to be a good or even great story teller means being true to who you are and telling those stories in the way they need to be told. Don’t try to be a great classical violinist if you’re a blue grass fiddler.

I’d like to be a jazz bassist. But I may be a punk rock guitar player. Gotta live with that and make it work.

Oh, by the way, my first born has a new blog. It’s westmeetseast.wordpress.com. The kid has game.

Oh again…if you have an Amazon Kindle, you may want to take a look at my short story, The Gunman Who forgot Who to shoot.

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Blogging volcanoes and crickets

It’s been a few months of blogging now and it’s starting to make me feel like an insecure kid in my early 20s. Again.

Maybe you know what that’s like? If not, I’ll fill you in.

There are some weeks where you feel like a million bucks. The “beautiful” people have all the time in the world for you. No matter what you say, they’re digging it. At work or school you’re a rock star. You can do no wrong, your ideas are brilliant, your execution flawless. Folks tear up laughing at your jokes. No wrong can be done by you.

Then there are the other days where you could swear you bathed in garlic and that your brain and mouth are horribly out of sync. You can do no right.

This is how it feels with the blog. Some weeks I hit ‘publish’ and the readers flow like lava from a volcano. I’m on fire. The reader numbers tick away faster than I can count ‘em.

Other weeks, it’s crickets. The reader numbers seem to be going in reverse.

What did I do wrong? Why don’t they like me anymore? Why? Why!?

That’s part of the reason why I haven’t hit ‘publish’ for a while on a new blog. There are two other reasons, though.

First is that my bride, Patricia has had a new hurdle thrown at her on her health battle. We’d thought she was on a steady road to recovery when she got a sucker punch. Now she’s facing a few more tough rounds in her fight. She’s gonna win, but damn.

It really pisses me off and I’ve let it mute my words for a while.

The second thing is that my oldest daughter, Kristina, is heading to Toronto for school. It’s unbelievable that the little bundle we brought home from the hospital in what seems like not that long ago is going to be working on a post grad program in the Big Smoke.

What a mix of joy, sadness, excitement and fear. There’s no reason for fear — it’s going to be amazing for her — but she’s lived with me and Patricia all of her life an now…

…Sorry, I needed a moment there, I’m verklemmt!

As I write this, it’s our last day living together as the family that became complete when my youngest, Anna, was born 19 years ago. Very, very weird.

But there is an adventure to be had. We spent yesterday filling a rental truck with all of Kristina’s worldly goods. Tomorrow, she and I will hit the road for Toronto. We’ve got ‘till

Thursday to get there. For all the times I’ve made the flight, I’ve never done this trip by ground.

So to mark the journey – and the experience — I’ll be posting daily Road Blogs.

Stay tuned!

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Wow, thanks!

It may not be Thanksgiving, but with Canada Day and Independence Day this past week and with summer in full swing, it’s pretty hard not to be thinking about what a fella is thankful for.

There’s life itself, great parents, an amazing wife and daughters who’ve managed not to inherit my faults and have taken in all the good stuff – and there’s plenty of that — their mom was able to pass on to them.

There are friends, travel, work, volunteering and seemingly random experiences that have enriched me and challenged my thinking.

There’s also a great country and province to call home, a place where the son of a bricklayer and secretary gets the same breaks and has the same opportunities as anybody else.

Of course, there’s also the shite. But there’s even stuff to be thankful for there.

Post stroke Tim looks at a stunning mountain range, a perfectly maintained ’64 Porsche and hears the subtleties of a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo differently than pre stroke Tim did. The moment isn’t to be taken lightly; I drink it in and savor the taste. I try to lock it in my memory banks as brain food to draw on later. This sounds a little dorky when I play it back out loud with my robo reader.

But it is what it is. And it’s true.

Post-stroke, I write every day, I put out this blog, I’m sprucing up a book and I may even have a bead on a publisher. Pre-stroke Tim mostly just thought about writing.

I’m also thankful for timing and science.

If I’d stroked out when Canada was born – 148 years ago – I’d have been done for. The damage would have been even worse and the rehab non-existent.  I can’t bear to think about what life would have been like if I’d had a family. I’d have been useless to them and myself.

Even if I’d stroked out 10 or 20 years ago, I’m not so sure that I’d be working and living a life I’d call living.  There has been loads of improvement in stroke awareness and treatment. I’m sure that I benefited from this knowledge and thank God for that.

Had I stroked out today in another part of the world, I fear that my brain buzz would have had more dire consequences.  Would I have gotten the treatment I needed when I needed it? Time is money when it comes to this stuff. The more a brain fries, the more damage is done. And that makes it much harder to put humpty dumpty back together again.

I sometimes wonder if there’s another guy about my age who stroked out at the same time that I did in the same part of the brain, the only difference being that he lived in a part of the globe without the access to care that I had. What’s that guy’s life like today?

Yikes.

I’m also thankful that there’s hope today for the hell and the fear that people are facing right this second. I’m thankful that there are folks – like you and me — that can lend a hand. And that there’s hope for a lot of great moments to come.

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Brainy laughs or, Keep chuckling to prevent madness

This week’s offering was born in a public men’s room at a highway diner outside of Red Deer, Alberta.

It was a Sunday evening and my wife, Patricia, and I were on our way back to Sherwood Park from a couple of days in Banff, where we’d gone to soak in the energy of the Rocky Mountains and to steel ourselves for some upcoming tricky business.

I spotted an odd sign the moment I stepped in to the men’s. It was hand written on white computer paper. It seemed very important, as if I’d better read it before doing anything else. So I put my stroke damaged free style reading skills to work to make out what it said. At turtle speed, I worked through the words. Then I shook my head and gave it a second scan, not sure that I’d gotten it right the first time.

But I had.

The sign said: As a courtesy to the next customer, please flush the toilet.

Now, I thought, why was that sign necessary? Then, before taking another step I had a second thought. If the sign was necessary, maybe I don’t want to be in here.

If I read this pre-stroke, I’d likely have paid it no attention.

But there’s something about putting extra effort into reading that makes a fella put a little more thought into the words read. It’s like investing the added time into making sense of the words has the effect of making you ponder those words more deeply once they’re worked through.

Over the past five years post having my reading skills buzzed by a stroke, public reading has led to some interesting times. Most signs and posters aren’t super text heavy. But one often encounters them on the move, so giving them a full read requires extra effort. And sometimes when I give this scan short shrift, skipping over parts or making assumptions, it’s let to some regrettable moments.

Sign art can ramp up my reading misfires, as well. A symbol or drawing that clearly means one thing to its creator is often clear as mud to me.

Recently out for dinner during a trip in Arizona I encountered unclear restroom door signage. Not an M and a W. Not a man picture and a woman picture. So, figuring I had a 50-50 chance of guessing right, I opened Door Number One.  The shrieks told me that I’d guessed wrong.

“Sorry,” I said, spinning around to door number two.

Earlier, I’d made a similar mistake in another eatery with creative restroom signage. This time I just wanted to wash my hands before dinner and had walked straight to a sink of the seemingly empty room. As I went to dry my hands I noticed a terrible thing.

No urinals.

Then I noticed that one of the stalls was in use. I had to get out of there pronto.  I started stepping toward the door, but I was too late. A woman opened the door before I reached it and gave me a confused look.

“You’re in the right place,” I told her. “I’m not.”

For me, when it comes to signage, globally recognized symbols are manna from heaven. Creativity and details are hell.  This is especially true while driving.

Traditional road signs are easy. Nice, simple symbols pretty much the same throughout Canada, the US and everywhere else I travel.  But street names, especially long one – Sir Winston Churchill Avenue – are trouble for me, often causing a missed turn or two if I don’t have a co-pilot.

That can make you feel like a dunce.

It’s the same but different for others who’ve suffered strokes and other attacks on their brains. Those whose speech is stilted often tell me they’re treated as stupid. People here how slow their words are, not the quality of what they say and they make judgments. They respond to them like they’re talking to a child. I don’t think that slow teachery talk is appreciated by kids and it’s much less so with adults struggling to get their words out.

Abnormal gaits to a person’s walking, wheel chairs and other ‘abnormalities’ seem to also have this ‘let’s treat them as though they’re stupid’ effect.

It’s very, very frustrating.  But a little humility can actually be a good thing.

It can make you just pissed off enough to try harder. It can remind you that you have to try harder if you’re going to heal to your maximum capacity and/or make up for the scars you’re stuck with.  It can even make you better than you would have been without the scars. Sometimes the undamaged waste their gifts. But for those of us who’ve had them ripped away, we’re often able to make better use of what we’re left with.

By the way, this is the first blog I’ve posted without having a trusted second set of eyes or two read through. It may show. But I wanted to test my stroke mind’s free bird, technology aided editing skills. Hapfulle their arnoot to maany typooos, ah, I mean, hopefully there aren’t too many typos.

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Technology & research are key helpings of brain food

I always talk, think and write about being back to normal. After a stroke, that’s what a fella wants. Normal = good. You want to blend in. At least for me, there’s still a fear that somebody will notice a slight hesitation in my speech or catch me struggling to retrieve a memory. If a regular Joe or Jane forgets a name it’s just a sign of a busy life. If someone whose brain has been sizzled does the same, could it be a sign that they aren’t firing on all cylinders? Are they damaged goods? Are they capable? Do they require pity? Arggg! I imagine it’s much the same for folks who’ve suffered other assaults on their minds. The fact is though, that you’re never the same after your brain has been blitzkrieged. The difference can be in how you feel, how you function or both. It doesn’t mean that you’re not capable. But it might mean that you need some help or tools to do what you used to do. Imagine if a mind like Stephen Hawkings was trapped inside his disability? What if he was born in a time and place where sharing his mind with the world wasn’t possible? Or if his part of the world had been cut off from the possibilities that helped set his brain free? I fear that that could be happening today. I’m actually pretty sure that it is. I’m certainly not in Hawking’s league. But whatever I have to offer would be largely muted without the help of technology. As I’ve written before, even the healed Tim Seefeldt’s reading speed is just over 50 words per minute. An average person reads at between 150 and 190 words per minute. You can’t do the work I’ve done through my career without being able to read and write. And, you sure can’t write without being able to read. Or to find a cheat. It doesn’t take a mind like Hawking’s to figure out that I’d be up the creek without a little help. More than a little. My equalizer is software originally designed for kids with learning disabilities called WordQ. WordQ literally allows me to keep up to the rest of you in reading the reams of material that comes across my computer each day. It allows me to edit my own writing to make sure that it’s up to snuff. I use it to edit and review everything I spit out, with the exception of very short emails. Bottom line is, without it, I don’t make a living the way I’ve been trained to make a living and I’m in a spot of bother when it comes to paying the bills. And, there’s no book (BTW, agents/publishers I’m still waiting to hear from you!) and there’s no blog. Beyond the practical, a large part of me would be gone without being able to write. Technology is a game changer for many of us in regular day to day life. And it can be especially critical for those of us who’ve suffered a few bumps along the way.  It’s not just high tech tools that can help heal damage and improve brain function for the unbroken, either. I’d also like to be a clearing house of ideas for stuff that’s working for folks whether it’s some form of physical exercise or meditation.  Personally, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the spiritual piece. And today, a big part of my day to day is yoga. My downward facing dog looks more like a rat, but it’s helped me a lot, from shoulders to toes and between the ears. The thing is, there’s so much out there and things change so quickly that it’s virtually impossible to keep up to speed without help. And to separate the good, the bad and the ugly. So, in that spirit, here are a few things readers have mentioned. What do you think? Some American readers have noted the work done by Bioness Inc. Their electrical stimulation devices are being used to help people with arm and leg mobility issues. Their stuff is aimed at helping folks with foot drop or hand paralysis as a result of stroke, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, incomplete spinal cord injury or cerebral palsy. I’d love to hear from more folks who’ve used this and to see if there are other tools targeting these issues. I’ve also heard from readers who’ve read about potential benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for those suffering ischaemic strokes. This one’s right out of left field for me. Are there any professional readers who can shed some light? Let’s try to work as a clearing house of sorts for some of the stuff that’s out there for stroke survivors and those suffering other brain trauma. Also for brain health. The way I understand it, it’s never too late to start trying to make the ole ticker work better. As well, the thinking that the clock was ticking after a stroke and that you could only make improvements within a short window of time is now, I believe, considered bunk. I’ll be waiting to hear from you. Meantime, I’m also waiting to hear from a concussion expert. I’m expecting some pretty interesting stuff to share with you on this front soon. -30-