Thanks for Everything, Cuenca!

It’s been a blast! ūüôā I really love life down here. I trust I will be back before too long. But for now, the road home is calling me onward. And I feel blessed to be able to stop along the coast for a week or so to help out with the ongoing earthquake relief efforts. More to come on that next time…

I know I have been slipping in my reportage on here lately, moving along at roughly¬†a monthly pace…but I have certainly been active around town, and I am deeply appreciative of the many opportunities to be involved with life here. I had a chance to share¬†a piece I wrote about the earthquake at a relief benefit, and I will soon be joining the efforts in Canoa where all proceeds from the benefit were directed. There is no shortage of places to help here…as the rebuilding on the coast will be going for years to come.

Realizing I would be leaving town so soon, I finally got up to Cajas National Park, a short busride from Cuenca, and enjoyed an incredible day with my dear friend, Sol. She has been in town since mid-May and has been finding various opportunities to teach yoga, share singing workshops and perform her great music live in concert. Anyone who comes to Cuenca would surely be grateful to spend a day up in these amazing mountains. Cajas truly blew us away.

Another popular attraction around¬†Cuenca is¬†the thermal spas – Los Ba√Īos. A meditation client who has become a friend invited me to join him to the swanky thermal spa where he has a membership. It was an incredible morning. The skies were blue and we spent hours pampering ourselves in the saunas, Turkish steam room, mud pools, naturally hot and cold baths, among other amenities. It was amazing.

The month of June has seen me hopping around a bit, house-sitting in one place for the first half of the month, and then dog-sitting for the last half. I am now feeling geared up and ready to move. Though I didn’t get as much editing done as I wanted to in this home-stretch, I have accomplished a good amount of work overall and feel ready to press on to whatever comes next. I am excited to see family and friends back in Canada and I am looking forward to my older brother’s wedding next month. It will be nice to shift back into summer at home. ūüôā

I won’t go on much longer here as I am getting my backpack in order for a bus ride tomorrow morning, but I just wanted to send out a heartfelt thanks to all I have been blessed to encounter here in Cuenca; my writing groups, meditation circles, drum circles, my dear musical friends, the Love Tribe, church friends, one-off poker pals, random street encounters, ¬†and many other friendly faces and open hearts. It has been a delight! And to my favourite restaurant in town, Govinda’s, I would be remiss if I didn’t express my gratitude for the many fine meals I have enjoyed…and the Richard Clayderman playing on repeat… ūüėČ

I hear that internet is scarce where I am headed, so I will likely be offline for a while, but I will share a full report of life on the coast when I am back online.

Much love to all! ūüėÄ

As usual, a few photos to follow:

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Another Month Done

It’s amazing how the pages on the calendar keep flying by. I am due to move flats here in Cuenca tomorrow and just realized another month has passed since I last posted anything here. So I felt like offering a brief update, covering the month in a couple of broad strokes. My morning writing regimen carried along strongly for the first half of the month and I am making progress on this curious project of mine. Around mid-May, I had the pleasure of welcoming a friend to stay with me and my routines began shifting somewhat.

Many of my routines carry on; I continue to study Spanish slowly, attending formal class once a week; I continue to guide weekly meditations; and I enjoy sharing excerpts of my writing with my weekly writing group, grateful to walk away each time with a stronger piece of work. Also, I continue to keep up with my playoff basketball on many evenings. ūüėČ I thoroughly enjoyed the Toronto Raptors’ deep playoff run! That was a lot of fun.

I like the balance of getting a lot of work done in the mornings and feeling free to relax more in the evenings, dabbling in casual entertainment and good company. I am blessed with plenty of both around here and feel fortunate to be so well-provided for in life.

Last night, my friend, Sol, and I went downtown with some friends from my writing group to enjoy a dinner out and the excitement in the town square. Corpus Christi festival was winding down after a busy long-weekend and the city was alive with action. The streets were lined with various sweets sold in stands and as the sky grew dark, elaborate fireworks displays were set off in the main plaza. Several bamboo towers were outfitted with bright colours, spinning wheels and other bells and whistles, each setting off explosions in sequence (though not too rigidly sequenced), squealing alongside bands blowing their horns. Cuenca seems keen on celebrating anything with festivals in the streets.

The night before, after my friend, Sol, hosted a great singing workshop in town, we hosted our friends Zach and Kristen for a night of dinner and music. I love jamming with friends here, sharing our own songs and covering others, learning together, banging a drum or blowing a harmonica alongside our guitars and Venezuelan cuatro.

Last week, we joined a Sunday drum circle, which was great fun. About a dozen of us met in a big park and one guy brought a great variety of djembes, hand-drums and other percussive toys, opening the floor to any and all to join in. Many folks stopped to watch and some even joined in, staying for a while or soon wandering on. It was a great afternoon.

These sorts of opportunities to connect with folks in easy ways seem so plentiful here in Cuenca. I love so much about the life here, and can easily imagine returning in the future to spend more time enjoying the simple joys that seem so available here.

I only have one more full month here for now, though, that being June. I am moving from my great flat on the outskirts of town to a more central place tomorrow and will then make my way north for the flight home from Bogota.

As ever, here is a little taste of life in a photo mosaic. ūüôā

Keep enjoying life as best you can and being gentle with all you meet!

How the Time Flies…

It’s hard to imagine that a month has passed since Easter, when I moved into my new flat. I kicked into gear as soon as I got here and have been putting in 30-hour writing weeks since. That may explain my recent¬†online¬†silence. I notice I¬†am¬†doing less writing ‘on the side’ after¬†I put in my daily hours, even simple e-mail correspondence.

But life continues to open up in beautiful and mysterious ways. Even in the midst of what I might have previously called ‘mundane routine’, the stunning gift of simply being here is so clear. It’s crazy that we ever pull ourselves away from this simplest of truths, our very presence. We can never acquire more, nor accomplish anything greater than our own¬†being. It’s already here – the true ‘juice’ of life. It’s completely free. Unencumbered. Unimpressed with our efforts and successes. Yet ever-willing to hold our ‘failures’, softening our hearts into their natural openness.

***

Last week I felt the earth move. Within the relatively small South American nation of Ecuador, I was about as far as possible from the epicentre of the earthquake, but it still shook my home and my body. I scurried about my second-storey apartment wondering where the safest place to stand was. I pulled on some pants and ran outside. By the time I got out, it was done. But it was a humbling experience. A valuable reminder of our tender place¬†on this planet. I can’t imagine how intense the earthquake must have been for those closest to it.

Many people have died. Others have had dreams, plans and properties ruined. But life carries on. The support effort is in full swing throughout Ecuador. All around I see people collecting supplies and others heading for the coast in an attempt to rebuild. I see, once again, the gift of life at work in this. At once subtle and stunningly obvious – the connective fabric of love is driving everything, stirring each of us from the very heart of life. We want to help others in pain. It’s so natural. We want to help others survive, to rekindle their health and hope.

I suppose this is what drives my writing, too. Certainly at the depth level – just love expressing itself. But as it filters through my heart and my life experience, I want to support people on their journey through the mystery of existence. Having trudged through incredible density and darkness (all self-created), I want people to see that we can become free again (realizing we never left) and that we can dance anew in the land of our birth – pure levity and light. There are no lasting walls – they are all imagined.

By entering our softer spaces, by honouring our uncertainty, we can open into ourselves more honestly, seeing this ground to be firmer than all the concrete on earth. This is where life arises from. But we cannot hold it in the way we are used to clutching our ideas and experiences. This ground calls for a continual opening, a blossoming, stretching us out through our hearts.

I am grateful for the¬†freedom to express my heart so casually here.¬†As I move through my daily writing, I am often brushing aside these more ‘esoteric’ stretches, keeping things more ‘grounded’. But even this ‘grounded’ work is only a bridge into the spacious mystery of the heart.

It sometimes feels funny to be pouring myself so earnestly and with such discipline into something that I know doesn’t matter in itself. Like anything else in existence, my story is a vessel at best. Perhaps its lone purpose is growth – a snake-skin to be shed once exhausted. I simply don’t know. But the freedom from any need to know spurs such trust and peace that I can continue pouring love into the project daily without worry.

***

I also feel grateful for friendship here in Cuenca. Since I have been ‘working harder’ and writing more consistently, it has been important to be out and about around town, bumping into friends here and there. I appreciate my weekly writing group. I am grateful to have had the chance to share yet again at the Spoken Word event last week, and another chance to sing songs with friends at Open Mic. And I am grateful for the full house I had here at my place last night…hosting ten for a meal, six of us staying for games night. Cranium was so much fun! ūüôā And of course, lots of music carrying the evening along.

My dear friends, Zach and Kristen, are a wonderful couple that have connected me with countless other good people around town and I am especially grateful for their friendship. And there are always fun people passing through town for a month or a couple of weeks, and it is great to connect with them too! I love the community life here in Cuenca, even as I continue to value my solitude, mining it for its own treasures.

On a semi-related note, I think I can admit (with sufficient humility) that my guacamole is getting pretty darn good. I am looking forward to taking my recipe and patient approach home to Canada in the summer and sharing it with family and friends! Keep your eyes peeled for me, and have your taste-buds ready!

***

I guess that’s about it for today… ¬†As ever, here are some more photos from around town, and out my window, and one from the couch upon stirring from a siesta just about an hour ago… ūüėČ

Panorama from my flat...

Panorama from my flat…

Only Truth Lasts

All I want to do is serve truth. It’s the only thing worth putting my¬†life into. And it’s a complete mystery. It isn’t objective. It can’t be held in any shape or displayed in any singular way.¬†It can’t be figured out ahead of time. This mysterious truth pours through us only when we’re open, when we’re being ourselves. In the end, it isn’t complicated at all…only when we want to figure it out, or try to explain it.

Trusting it is free. I’m still talking about truth. This is trusting yourself, ultimately. The very heart of life itself. Anyone can try it. It will show you how worthy it is of trust. But you can’t taste it beforehand. You can only lean out and give it a shot. No strategy can follow you into this space, even if it¬†brought¬†you to the door. Everything must be dropped.

I have no idea¬†what I’m talking about. Really. ūüôā It can’t be conceived. It is conceiving. These words just tumble out. And I feel so lucky to be so deeply HERE. Nothing else exists. The rest is just memory or projection. These ideas still pop up here and there, but the host is this moment. Always now. Everything rests on this. This is what all the true sages and saints and saviours are pointing to. Right here. Right now. Don’t miss it. (Don’t worry, you can’t…not for long.)

This truth is what Easter is about at it’s heart, too. Conquering death by accepting it. We can be born to something that doesn’t die. It’s who we already are. There are many paths to the pathless present. No need to worry about finding ‘the right one’. It will find you. Just take a step.

Surrender to yourself. Your true self. Not the story. Not the habits and concepts. Your mind is not the doorway…don’t be fooled by passing thoughts. (And don’t get stuck on terminology…catch the drift.) Only the heart truly knows. But it won’t show you any more than the first step. Again and again.

***

I attended Easter worship this morning in¬†a beautiful community of locals and ex-pats. The pastor spoke passionately and the energy was warm and inviting. The music was uplifting. The smiles were authentic…as were a few tears.

The pastor had us hanging on a valuable question from the scripture: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The angels had asked¬†this of the women coming to Jesus’ tomb. I had never focused on this phrase before, but it struck me today with considerable force. It got me thinking about where I invest my life. I want to invest it right back into life itself.

I feel that what is destined to die is already as good as dead. We are wasting our lives by feeding death so much attention. Death can be a vessel at best. Let’s not confuse what is truly alive. Why cling so desperately to what will inevitably be taken? Let go and see what is realer.

Some come to the cross still hung up on death. Others rightly see the cross as an opportunity to come back to truth, to serve life from a deeper space of our being.¬†Let’s invest in this truth, this life, unfolding in this mysterious moment.

It’s hard to talk about this stuff. The subject doesn’t lend itself to inspection and intellectual clarity. The path of truth is unique for all. It’s usually¬†obscure. We can’t seize it as we do normal objects and ideas. We are pointing back to ourselves, in THIS moment, right now – never to be captured. But we can allow ourselves to be who we are, to unravel a bit more, to explore our own hearts.¬†This is where we grow.

***

I won’t go on much more now. The last few weeks have been beautiful, even when challenging. My writing routine has fluctuated a bit, but I keep coming back to the desk and chipping away at my work.

I have shared my writing at another Spoken Word event this past week, which went well. And I sang some songs at an Open Mic the night before. I have been connecting with new friends regularly, and seeing my path open up naturally…sometimes despite my best efforts. ūüėČ

I am now sitting back where I was two years ago at Easter, looking out upon the green hills of Cuenca while writing. My then couch-hosts and now friends have left the flat to me for the next two months as they travel the world.

I just felt like sending some love and encouragement to anyone who may see this. That means YOU! Life is so deeply worthy of our whole hearts, our complete trust. Dare to lean out into the raw winds of change and let yourself grow. Become who you are.

ūüôā

Now, a few photos…

Ever Unfolding, Life Carries On…

It has been almost two weeks since I last posted and I am feeling like whipping through some of what I have been up to. Folks seem to enjoy hearing that sort of thing and I am happy to share of the life I am living down here. But as interesting as any of the events or connections may be, I feel it is important to honour the silence and spacious emptiness at their heart. These experiences call for no greater investment than a simple passing smile.

Similarly, we need not aspire to be more than we are nor acquire any more than we have. We are already maximal, both in terms of experience and stuff. Our lives are spilling abundance, usually¬†in unseen ways. To simply honour our hearts and be fully ourselves is the highest good. The ‘joy of being’ spreads effortlessly, igniting others. We need not manage or manipulate it.

***

I had the pleasure of sharing a small portion of my memoir with a group of writers and other keen listeners at a Spoken Word event a couple of Thursdays back. I met some great people there and I was happy that my work was so well-received. I was invited to another writer’s group (which meets weekly) where we share feedback on whatever we may be working on at the moment. I enjoyed my first session with this group and look forward to attending regularly while I am down¬†here.

A young couple I met at the Spoken Word event invited me for dinner last night to their gorgeous property just outside of town. They live on a small farm-like patch of land by the mighty river and we enjoyed good company and food mostly plucked from their garden. Zach and Kristen, both from the United States, are living on the property with a few good friends. I look forward to future visits with them.

It was great to connect with them at just the same time as my friend, Keith, headed south for Vilcabamba. We had been running mates for the month of February (which was wonderful) and I have been spreading my social wings a bit more widely since he wandered on.

I promptly moved into the charming (and very affordable) flat where Keith had been living atop our Spanish school. I found out a day later that Zach had lived here for about 6 weeks a couple of years ago. Another curious alignment. ūüėČ

I have been invited out for a variety of lunches and tea visits over the past weeks, connecting one-on-one with various folks from writer’s groups or meditation circles. My hosted meditations continue to move along smoothly and quietly. I will host another one in English here at the school tomorrow evening.

Living where I study and work is certainly convenient. And it is absolutely quiet in the mornings and evenings, allowing me to write in peace. The work carries along steadily, pleasantly uneventful. I am grateful for the beautiful view here, always able to glance up from my writing to the surrounding green mountains. It is a big step up from my last flat which was essentially a basement with no windows to the world. Of course, there’s always a window within… ūüėČ

***

After posting an ad offering at-home-meditations, I have had three private sessions and I am enjoying sharing in this new way, taking the practice of group circles and personalizing it as best I am able in each context.

I also attended my first free symphony this week and I was rather impressed with the quality of the musicianship. Apparently there is a free symphony nearly weekly here in Cuenca. I am looking forward to attending this Friday at a theatre very near my flat.

A young Chilean traveler named Rodolfo was welcomed into the spare room here at the Spanish Institute, my teacher (and the manager of the school) Mariana, taking him in off the street where he had been performing circus tricks for a few coins. He is a pleasant young fellow and we enjoyed a film night together on Friday (we watched The Revenant), first making some delicious guacamole to enjoy with locally-made organic corn chips. They are so crispy! Rodolfo will be on his way to Peru tomorrow.

I am settling nicely into my new flat and I am enjoying better Internet access also. After a chat with my Nanny earlier in the week, I was able to Skype my parents earlier in the week. We had a lovely face-to-face visit. It felt great to see and hear my folks (as well as my Grandma and Aunt Lynne).

I would be remiss if I didn’t also send a quick little ‘shout out’ of love to my dear (great) Aunt Irene and all of her nearest and dearest. Aunt Irene was set free from her wonderful journey on earth this week, now mingling with the stars and other loved ones in the great beyond. I don’t know how ‘beyond’ it is…as I sense everything is so deeply connected. Either way, I have a lot of love for my ‘wacky’ Aunt and all of her immediate family. I hold them all in my heart! ūüôā

And, come to think of it, that goes for all of you, too!

Keep breathing and enjoying life, appreciating that all the friction is a necessary component of growth. Life just wants to blossom, and it needs to do so through you! So let go and embrace the mad mystery of it all…be torn open if need be…let the love flow.

***

And, as usual, here are some photos from the past days…including more street art!

Never Too Busy to Sit Still

Time sure seems to be flying by down here in Cuenca. I was hoping to get a new post up a few days ago but my last week has been surprisingly busy. Even though my friend Keith is on his way over here for a movie night, I feel¬†like sharing news with all who care to hear of it. ¬†So I will rattle off¬†a quick update for the moment…

I am keeping up with my morning writing routine, of course, but my days have otherwise filled out with a variety of activities. There is no shortage of opportunity to meet people and get involved with various¬†groups around town. ¬†Some meet weekly, others monthly, and after dabbling in a number of different groups, I am even leading my own weekly event. ¬†I mentioned last time that I was planning to lead a meditation at my Spanish school…what I didn’t know then is that it would actually be IN Spanish!

Last Thursday came around and I learned that none of the people coming for the Friday meditation spoke English.  It ended up being a great opportunity to share in a new way.  I had a chance to get somewhat prepared, translating and writing down a few things I tend to mention when I lead a meditation.  Last night I led another meditation in Spanish and it went even better the second time around. We will be continuing them every Friday evening at my Spanish school.

After having joined a Gringo group for two weeks of meditation, I was invited to lead it this last week. We had about 22 or 23 there and the mood was very receptive. I have been blessed to connect with some special souls there.  I am beginning another weekly night of meditation this coming Monday, hosting one in English at my Spanish school. We will see if that also becomes a regular event.

This past Monday I went to an Open Mic, having missed it the previous week. I met some interesting characters and felt very welcome, enjoying a number of nice conversations, but I didn’t fall in love with the atmosphere. I ducked out early and doubt I will return..but you never know. There is another Open Mic on Wednesdays and I think I will check it out after meditation this coming week.

***

In the midst of these various meditations, I managed to secure my Visa extension this last week. After reading about potential delays and various hurdles others had encountered, I was surprised that the process opened up so effortlessly for me. I had built it up to be more than it was. There was a lot of paperwork to do, which I had to wade through slowly, but it was over in a matter of days. Now I can legally stay in Ecuador until early August. Having overstayed previous visas (once by nearly a year), I am feeling good about respecting the process this time around.

I found out that the writing group I sat in on a couple of weeks ago is hosting a Spoken Word event this Thursday and I have been invited to share an excerpt from my book. I chose a portion of the introduction and I look forward to letting it out into the air. I imagine it will be a fun evening.

In the interest of ‘keeping it real’, I will share that I am also dealing with a case of Montezuma’s Revenge…or as my buddy Keith is calling it, ‘The Aztec Two-Step’. I have been through a round of antibiotics (something I am not fond of doing) and I am hoping it will resolve itself shortly. It seems to be a normal part of life here…nothing too serious. And it is surely worth it as a trade-off for all the other joys of life here.

***

Beneath all these details of daily events is the more important undercurrent of silence that gives rise to everything. I have been bathing in this silence more deeply than ever before (so to speak) and it continues to blossom forth from my heart. I am learning to stop and honour it more consistently, always grateful that its invitation is endlessly available.

I sincerely hope that all of you can take a moment to give yourself the gift of your own silence. Even an apparently noisy mind can’t stop this inner quiet. It is almost like a sense of ‘seeing’ that resides deep beneath everything else buzzing about. We are closer to it than we can know. Indeed this ‘seeing’ – this space, this silence, this being of ours – holds all ‘knowing’, along with all other passing phenomenon. Relax. Pay attention.

***

Here is a bit more street art from around town:

And one night we happened upon a traditional Quechua dance (and human tower):

IMG_20160213_174338

Ciao for now everyone!

ūüôā

First Full Week in the Rhythm

The week has passed swiftly and I am developing a decent work routine. ¬†Instead of the 5 AM wake-up call which I held to firmly during my previous longer stint of work on this project, I have been getting up at 6 AM. ¬†That seems to be working well. ¬†I drink a big bottle of water and then do roughly half an hour of yoga (starting slowly). ¬†Then I sit still for half an hour and watch my body and thoughts do what they do (AKA meditation). ¬†And by about 7 AM it is time to sit down and write. ¬†This involves a lot of reading, in fact. ¬†I am in editing mode and trying to thin the crop of words I gathered in my earlier work. ¬†Some days move quickly, others a bit more slowly. ¬†I get to laugh at some of the terrible garbage I wrote earlier (in some cases nearly as long as five years ago!), which makes for easy cutting. ¬†I do at least three hours each morning, usually more. ¬†Then I tend to check my email and get some oatmeal started. ¬†I add some banana, raisins, chia and flax seeds to sweeten the mix…occasionally even some strawberries. ūüôā

I have been keeping an eye online for local Gringo gatherings, keen to see what the city has on offer. ¬†On Tuesday I attended a local writer’s group. ¬†It was basically a little writing workshop, with about 15-20 different writers there. ¬†We talked about writing great beginnings. ¬†I shared a bit about my story and made some good contacts. ¬†I look forward to continued involvement with this group. ¬†I am hoping to share an excerpt of my current work at an upcoming evening of ‘Spoken Word’ where various kinds of writing are being shared.

On Wednesday evening I attended a group meditation and discussion about ‘spiritual growth’. ¬†It was hosted by a local Gringo couple. ¬†There were about 25 in attendance and the energy of the meditation was particularly potent. ¬†They are continuing this event weekly and I will surely be a regular attendee. ¬†The mood was beautiful and we gathered for snacks afterwards. ¬†The guacamole was perhaps the best I have ever had. ¬†(As it happens, guacamole has been a large part of my diet this week. ¬†The avocados are so fresh and cheap that it is hard to pass up…)

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I have Spanish class.  My teacher, Mariana, is one of the sweetest women I have ever met.  Her two sons usually come by during our lessons (nearer the end of her workday) and they wait patiently for us to finish up before they head home together.  Every day I try to read over some of the work I have done thus far in order to keep it fresh in my mind.  I practice fairly casually.  (I skipped the weekend.)

As I was speaking with Mariana (in Spanish) about my interest in sharing guided meditations, she invited me to host them at the school.  It looks like we will start this Friday afternoon and keep them going weekly.  This is a great opportunity and I love to share in this way.  I am grateful it is all unfolding so naturally.

We held off on starting the meditations last Friday as I had a dentist appointment. ¬†It went well. ¬†I still can’t believe it only cost $15. ¬†The dentist was very thorough, cleaning my 10-year build up of plaque. ¬†He says I have terrific teeth and great overall mouth health. ūüėÄ ¬†That was nice news. ¬†I have still never had a cavity…a bit surprising considering all the sugar I used to eat!

Before I sat down to write this little update I was on my way to an Open Mic night down in the old city centre. ¬†I found out (after waiting a while) that the buses are not running today. ¬†Fortunately the Open Mic is a weekly event, so I will likely be in attendance fairly regularly. ¬†It finally occurred to me as I waited for the bus that today is a holiday. ¬†Carnival season has officially kicked off and the streets are filled with the voices of kids running around instead of the regular rumbling of buses. ¬†Lots of water balloons are flying through the air, as well as bags of flour and plenty of foam spray. ¬†The kids seem to be enjoying themselves. ¬†I haven’t been too seriously attacked yet.

Throughout my week’s activities I have been hanging out a fair bit with a cool guy from New Jersey named Keith. ¬†We met in the first hostel I stayed at in town and then bumped into one another again in the last hostel I stayed at before moving to my flat. ¬†He is hanging around Cuanca for a while and we often grab a bite to eat together at Govinda’s¬†or walk to the market to shop for incredibly cheap (mostly organic) produce. ¬†We shared a meal and a movie on Friday night. ¬†(Trumbo was a pretty good flick…) ¬†It is nice to have a running mate as I acquaint myself with the city. ¬†We are planning a hike in the national park some day this week.

He and I both enjoy the local street art.  Some of it seems to be sanctioned by the city and most of it is more standard graffiti but I love it all.  Keith has been amassing a greater collection of photos than I but here is a peek at some of my harvest this week:

I guess that will be it for now.  I will keep you posted on how things unfold.

Hugs all around!  Enjoy yourselves!

ūüôā