You’ll Never Know Unless You Try (Repost)

A few months ago, Bold Strokes did an amazing upgrade to their website. (Seriously, it’s awesome. You should buy all your books there.) Part of that included a new host for the BSB Author’s blog. Since that means the old blog is going away, I decided to snag my old posts for posterity. And since reading them made me smile, I thought I’d share them again here on my page.

A lot has changed since November 2015. The next Cape End Romance, Summer’s Cove, is due out in October. Oh, and I totally had just the right combination of encouragement, backup singers, and alcohol to try karaoke. You really don’t ever know unless you try.

“You’ll Never Know Unless You Try”

BY AURORA REY

A few years ago, I spent my free time baking instead of writing. I’d gotten a small, modestly profitable cake business off the ground and fantasized about fame, fortune, and Food Network. I even passed an initial screening and had the opportunity to submit an audition video to Cupcake Wars. While freaking out about the potential rejection, as well as the chaos that would ensue if I was chosen, my therapist at the time had some words of wisdom: you risk nothing by trying.

She’s a very smart woman, so I took her advice. Unable to fathom doing it in front of anyone, I set up a tripod in my basement bakery, filmed it, learned iMovie, edited it, and put it out there for the world to see (all over the course of a weekend.) I didn’t make it onto the show, but making the video was a blast. To this day, it’s a great conversation starter and my go-to random interesting fact. Sure, I’m a little bitter every time Cupcake Wars comes on, but I’m still glad I tried.

My first stab at NaNoWriMo was similar. A friend who’d done it the year before inspired me to take on the epic challenge of writing 50,000 words in thirty days. At the end of November, I had 50,279 words of novel that wasn’t terrible. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all that good, either.

Undeterred, I set it aside and gave myself permission to start from scratch. I also gave myself permission to write a book I’d love to read (a romance) and to set it in one of my favorite places (Provincetown). And, well, it worked. The result is my first complete novel and my first work with Bold Strokes Books.

Winters HarborWinter’s Harbor features Lia, science writer, and Alex, a pastry chef. Lia arrives in Provincetown after her ten-year relationship tanks. She’s on her own for the first time since college and is pretty sure a girlfriend is the last thing she needs. Alex lives and works in Provincetown. As far as she’s concerned, Lia might be the perfect distraction for the cold and quiet months of winter.

Like many writers, I wrote a ton of witty dialog and self-indulgent scenes and was pretty happy with myself. My editor, on the other hand, pointed out that I’d neglected to create truly meaningful conflict. I huffed. I put my hands on my hips. I whined. How dare some hot shot editor pick apart my perfect story? After about an hour of this, I admitted she was right.

My premise was that getting involved throws both women out of their comfort zones. They enjoy spending time together (spoiler: there’s a lot of cooking and baking), but neither of them is eager to put her heart on the line. It was only when I started to pick apart what that meant, however, that I got anywhere. When I thought about how much our deeply held insecurities drive us to avoid taking the kinds of chances that make life worthwhile.

Ultimately, that’s what it came down to. Lia and Alex had to grapple with the same little voices we all have. The ones that can make us feel content, but that can also keep us stuck. Clever banter and baked goods notwithstanding, Lia and Alex had to be willing to take a chance—on themselves and each other.

This is all starting to feel like a recurring theme in my life, and a lesson it’s taken me a long time to learn. I’ve still never been brave (or drunk) enough to sing karaoke, but I embrace the belief that the risks pay off. And even if I don’t always get what I want, I learn a lot and mostly manage to enjoy the ride. I think that’s what life is all about.

P.S. If you want to see the gem that didn’t win over the Cupcake Wars people, it’s still on YouTube. I’m still impressed with my editing skills. My fierce competitor face? Not so much.

 

 

Do I Make You Uncomfortable?

Like most girls raised in the South (or GRITS, as we’re sometimes known), I was raised to be compliant. Smart, sure. Sassy, even. But when push comes to shove, don’t.

Don’t challenge the status quo. Don’t challenge your elders. And whatever you do, for the love of God, don’t make others uncomfortable.

I’m really good at making people comfortable. Like, freaky good. It comes in handy sometimes. Who doesn’t love making people feel more at ease?

The problem is that I often make people feel better about things that they shouldn’t. Through the years, I’ve helped family and friends rationalize some pretty bad/selfish/immature decisions. I’ve also all allowed people to get away with some pretty bad/selfish/immature things.

I’ve owned that this is cowardly on my part. I’ve accepted that confrontation is not my forte and I’ve given myself permission to choose self-preservation over standing up for the myself. At times, I’ve truly needed to do that. But not always.

The thing is, it’s not all about me. Sometimes–most of the time–it’s about standing up for what is right. And not even “right” in the vaguely morally superior way. I mean “right” in the way that keeps people from getting killed.

I was reminded today (by my brilliant editor and friend Ashley Bartlett) that silence is death. True, it might not be my death. I am, after all, an educated and well-employed feminine-presenting white women who lives in a progressive community. But many queer people (and people of color and people in poverty and people with disabilities) aren’t so lucky. And by making my majority culture family and friends more comfortable, I am making life more dangerous for those not in the majority.

Hate crimes don’t exist in a vacuum. People who shoot up black churches and queer night clubs and mosques are acting out hate that simmers, not on the fringes, but in the mainstream. Around the supper table. At holiday parties. On fishing trips. At the gym.

My fellow citizens–the ones who shrug off racial slurs and gripe about “illegals” and tolerate presidents who joke about sexual assault–are a greater danger to me and to my community than the radical terrorist I’m told to fear. My own uncles–the ones who screen the packages I send to my mother for fear I might try to sneak her another of my novels–enable bigotry just as much as as guy on the street corner who screams about my eternal damnation.

Now that I think of it this way, it’s a no brainer. Danger beats discomfort. The days of smiling and nodding have passed.

If it’s any consolation, I’ll be uncomfortable, too.

 

For the Love of Gumbo


It’s February! That means a few things.

One: Crescent City Confidential is out! If you haven’t got your very own copy, what are you waiting for?Crescent City Confidential.jpg

Two: it’s gumbo season. Nothing warms a winter evening better than a bowl of Cajun goodness and a glass of old vine Zinfandel.

Three: those things are not mutually exclusive.

Crescent City Confidential is an Aurora Rey novel, after all, and it’s set in New Orleans. That means lots of food and lots of cooking. Oh, and a cooking lesson. Because who doesn’t love to flirt and make dinner with the woman you’re trying to get into bed?

Today’s lesson? Gumbo. Tess shows Sam how it’s done. And because I love y’all, I’m going to show you, too.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

1 chicken
1 lb. andouille sausage, sliced
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
2 onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 T. apple cider vinegar
salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste
gumbo file (optional)

  1. Put chicken in a pot with enough water to cover and boil until the meat begins to pull away from the bone (about 45 minutes). Remove chicken and separate meat from bones, discard bones and reserve stock. Note: You can take a shortcut (and not sacrifice much flavor) by using a rotisserie chicken and a few cups of purchased stock.
  2. Combine oil and flour in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Whisk over medium heat until the color of milk chocolate. This will take a while. Be bold, but don’t burn it!

    It starts out looking like this.

    Keep whisking so it browns evenly.

    When it looks like peanut butter, you’re getting close.

    When it’s the color of milk chocolate, you win.

  3. Add chopped vegetables and stir until they begin to soften.

    It will look scary. Fear not.

  4. Slowly add chicken stock and pepper flakes.

    It will look a lot less scary.

  5. Add chicken and sausage to pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer about an hour. Add vinegar. Add salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste.

    Perfection in a pot.

  6. Serve over rice. Add additional hot sauce and a sprinkle of gumbo file, if desired. If you want to be authentically Cajun about it, serve potato salad on the side. (No, I don’t know why. It’s just a thing.)

I hope you enjoy both the recipe and the book. I’d love to hear from you about either!

 

Marching Orders


This weekend, Andie and I drove down to D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington. It was amazing, inspiring, energizing. While it’s still fresh in my mind, I wanted to capture the highlights of the day.

First, I should note that I found myself on the fence about going in the weeks leading up to the March itself. I was afraid it might be a rather amorphous thing of (mostly) white women without a true agenda. And then the platform was published. As I read the four-page document–articulate and unflinching in its focus on progressive issues and social justice–every hesitation vanished.

We booked a hotel near the end of one of the Metro lines and drove down Friday after work. We arrived at the Red Roof after ten, tired and still shaking our heads at the alarmingly nationalist tone of the inaugural address. I had a hard time falling asleep.

The next morning, we woke at five. A knot of anxiety sat in my stomach. I was excited, but didn’t know what to expect. So many people had encouraged us to “be safe.” We diligently wrote each other’s phone numbers on our arms in Sharpie, just in case.

We arrived at the train station around 6:30. Dozens of cars were already there. People in pink pussy hats, people with signs and clear backpacks streamed in. As I waited in line to buy metro passes, people explained to each other how it worked, what they needed. We rode the escalator to the platform and I soaked in the energy around me. I knew then it would be a good day. Our train was already full–moms with their teenage daughters, an older straight couple who clearly weren’t new to marches, couples with small children, packs of friends.

We were in D.C. by 7:30, wandering in search of breakfast and coffee. Most places weren’t open yet. The couple that were had huge lines. We walked on, figuring we’d find a food truck or something along the way. By the time we arrived at the National Mall, hundreds of people were there, taking selfies and hugging and buying buttons. I chose “Pussy Power” and “I Like Girls Who Like Girls.”


We made our way down 4th Street, along the side of Museum of the American Indian. The crowd was thick–mostly women, but more than a few men; black and brown and white;  differently abled; women in head scarves; old and young and everything in between. We walked to Independence Avenue, where the rally stage was set up, then backtracked to the museum, taking up residence on small ledge a couple of feet off the ground. We had a view of one of the screens and some of the crowd. By the time the rally started, the entire street had filled in, with only a single-file line of people moving in either direction.

There were so many people, but we had no idea the true scope of the crowd. We also couldn’t hear the rally speakers. (Don’t worry, we watched the videos after.) We chatted with women from California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York. Our little posse on the ledge consoled a young woman who’d been separated from her friends, helped create a clear path for wheelchairs trying to pass.

And the signs. So many signs. “Don’t Tread on My Ovaries.” “A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance.” “I Can’t Believe I Still Have to Protest this Shit.” “You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This March Is About You.” And this one:


By 1:30, the rally was still going and the crowd was getting restless. Chants of “Let’s march now” gathered steam. Then the message came, passed through the crowd like a hot potato. There were too many of us to march.

Hell, no.

Rather than trying to make our way to the march route along Independence, we headed back to the Mall. So had thousands of others. The throng was massive and felt, at times, disorganized. We were all heading in the direction of the White House, but didn’t really know how we’d get there. Even then, everyone was friendly. People paused to let others pass so that groups wouldn’t be separated. At one point, we bent low to walk under a swimming-pool-sized Constitution.

We were funneled eventually to Pennsylvania Avenue, the route of the inaugural parade. The police offered direction; everyone listened and thanked them. It felt like a march, then. Chants broke out. “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.” “This is what democracy looks like.” “Women’s rights are human rights.” “Black lives matter.” “Trans lives matter.” “We will not go away, welcome to your first day.”

The bleachers, notoriously empty the day before, were packed. Cheers and waves and solidarity. I heard there were some counter-protesters, but I never saw one. One guy in a “Make America Great Again” hat passed in the crowd at the rally. No one said a word to him. The news made a big deal about a crowd that size without a single arrest. More than than, though, there was no shoving, no fighting. I felt profoundly safe. And while I know that being a crowd whose majority was white women made us “less threatening,” I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of it remaining a peaceful demonstration.

Around 5:00, we peeled off from the crowd. I think the ellipse in front of the White House was full and the march had essentially stopped. And we’d yet to eat. (I know, poor planning on our part.) We went in search of sustenance. We snagged two precious seats at a sports bar and laughed about all the hungry and thirsty women pouring money into local restaurants. We were exhausted, happy, proud.

We took the train back to Maryland. At our hotel, we showered, scrubbing off the Sharpie ICE numbers we’d not needed. We caught up with the news (there was absolutely no phone signal at the march) and were asleep by 8:30.

And now I’m home. I’m disgusted that the President couldn’t even be presidential enough to acknowledge the millions of people who showed up to express their concerns, the issues that matter to them. I remain horrified that his racist, homophobic cabinet picks will likely go through without a hitch. I am deeply worried about my right to marry the person I love and the future of public education and the consequences of diplomatic clusterfucks.

But I’m resolved. I’m resolved and energized, knowing that there are so many good people out there, fighting for equality and justice. I’m resolved even though it estranges me from my own family–most of whom “like” all the pics I post of my dogs, but didn’t even acknowledge my half dozen posts about the march.

The true work begins today. It begins with the Ten Action Items and with calling my representatives. It will continue. The complacency that helped to create this situation will not return. The future is not entirely female, but it’s feminist. Or, as my sign said, Feminist AF. And I’m going to help make it so.

Lessons and Leaving

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I just finished the final round of edits for Crescent City Confidential. Because the book is set in New Orleans, I decided to dedicate the story to the Southern women who taught me a great deal and helped me become the woman I am today. Grandmothers and aunts and cousins, teachers and nuns and neighbors. These women taught me about resilience and grace, perseverance, and not being afraid to be smart, or strong.

And then the election happened and everything about that felt cheap. I felt betrayed. Betrayed by some of those same aunts and cousins and neighbors and friends. But even in that darkness, I knew that the lessons I learned were still there. Things like believing in myself, social justice, and not being afraid to stand up for what’s right.

Perhaps more than anything else, they taught me it was okay to leave. That I needed to leave. It was a lesson I didn’t fully understand until much later—that staying was tantamount to a death sentence. Every single day of my life, I’m profoundly grateful for having left.

What started out as going away to college turned into a full and satisfying life in a place I didn’t know existed and with people I couldn’t even imagine as a kid.  I can’t fathom what my life would look like had I stayed. I may have never come out; I may have never taken myself seriously as a writer. I might have gotten married and had kids and aspired to a (little pink) house in the suburbs and vacations (down at the Gulf of Mexico).

Without these women, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to imagine something else.

But they saw something more. And even though they probably never fathomed that I’d live in New York and be a dean at a college and write lesbian romance, they sensed that I was different, needed something different. They laid the groundwork and offered the encouragement that set me on my way to becoming me.

I think the process of becoming is at the core of all my books. As much as my characters find love, they find themselves. This is definitely the case with Crescent City Confidential. Both Tess and Sam have strong feelings on who they are and what they want. Their identities have been shaped by family and geography and life circumstances; they are happy, but not complete. They fall in love, sure, but they also become themselves—more authentic, more whole.

It feels ironic now that I set this story in Louisiana, the place I needed to escape from. As I write this, I’m here visiting my mother and godmother. I feel a bit like a stranger in a strange land, counting the hours until I go back to my life a thousand miles away.

But I like to think I’ve come full circle. I know I’ll never again call Louisiana home, but it will always be part of me–messy, contradictory, infuriating, enchanting. I’m not ashamed or afraid of it. It’s mine.

I like to think maybe there’s a little girl somewhere with a big bow and a feeling she can’t quite put a finger on, a feeling that tells her she doesn’t belong. She might not be the next lesbian romance writer, but maybe this lost little girl turned romance writer can show her there’s more to life than the world she knows.

In the meantime, you can pre-order Crescent City Confidential from Bold Strokes Books. Catherine, Claire, Dr. Rosser, Dr. Landry, Mrs. Kurtz, Sr. McFayden, Cindee, Laura Lee, Leslie, Sara and all the rest of you fabulous women, this one’s for you.

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Name that Series–GIVEAWAY!

You may know that I’m embarking on my first series, a set of four books set in Provincetown. Winter’s Harbor, my first book, kicks things off. I’m working on Summer’s Cove now, with Spring’s Wake and Autumn’s Light slated for release in 2018.

It’s all very exciting with one major exception–I don’t have a name for the series as a whole. And, as I’m sure you all know, Provincetown Tales is taken.

That’s where you come in! I’m looking for ideas and I’m not too proud to beg. Or barter. So here’s the deal. Comment below with your idea and, if I use it, you’ll receive a signed, advance copy of Summer’s Cove and the chance to name a character in one of the final books. You want this, right? Right.

Entries will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, September 18th.

 

Aurora the Brave

I like to think of myself as a moderately courageous person. I went to college a thousand miles from home without having visited–the campus or the state of New York. I and my fledgling cake business auditioned for Cupcake Wars. I work with college students (and faculty, for that matter) for a living. On top of that, I’m an out lesbian. As we’ve (unfortunately) been discussing lately, that mere existence implies a certain amount of bravery.

But as much as I embrace some of life’s big challenges, I can be a bit of a chicken. I’m prone to many of the same insecurities and fears of embarrassment that plague a lot of people, especially women. I’ve spent years angsting about whether or not to bare my arms (or thighs) in public. I’ve allowed the fact that I can’t carry a tune hold me back from karaoke. I worry that people won’t like me.

As I’ve gotten older, some of that has gotten better. While I’ve yet to free myself from body image issues, I no longer tie my self worth to the number on the scale or the size sewn into the back of my skirt. I can laugh at myself (at least most of the time). I attribute a lot of that to simply growing up, coming into my own. Not to mention the wonders of having a good therapist, great friends, and a partner who loves me exactly as I am.

I think, though, that joining the lesbian literary community has a lot to do with it as well. First, there is something liberating about the act very act of writing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard-ass work, but the ability to create characters and situations–to control the outcome of those situations and the fates of those characters–is profoundly satisfying. It’s exciting and, truthfully, addicting. (I could go on about the fact that it remains an act of defiance to write women-centered stories, but that’s another post.)

Then there’s the lesfic community itself. Part of that is how supporting and welcoming everyone is. Part of it is getting notes from perfect strangers who’ve enjoyed my books. (Seriously, it’s the biggest thrill. If you want to make someone’s day, email an author whose book you loved.)

I’ve decided, however, that it might also have something to do with using a pen name. Although I don’t keep my identities secret or even completely separate, being Aurora is different than being Dawn. And there’s something powerful about that.

Aurora isn’t bogged down by the teasing Dawn got on the school bus in middle school. For all anyone knows, Aurora is a sassy, confident femme who loves herself and her body. She’s not afraid to be flirty or try new things or stand in front of a crowd and read a sex scene. Aurora can be the best parts of me. Kind, but also bold. Clever, but in a halter dress.

dress

Dawn eyed this dress for months. Aurora bought it to wear to the Golden Crown Literary Society awards. And a crinoline to make it extra flouncy. (She might still wear a little cardigan with it. Sorry, Carsen.)

It’s become a running joke at my house that Aurora gets away with things Dawn would never even try. All joking aside, though, it’s been lovely to open up in new ways and to new things. At the end of the day, I’m left with me and I like the not new, but definitely improved, version.

I don’t think there’s some magical switch to be flipped. But if I can do it, anyone can. So try something you haven’t before. It’s okay to start small. Maybe it’s a new kind of food or speaking up in a meeting at work. Maybe it’s writing that novel that’s been kicking around in your mind for years. Maybe it’s as simple as wearing a flouncy dress. Whatever it is, I’m already sending you a virtual high-five.

In the Face of Terror

So often, when something terrible happens, my first instinct is to retreat. I want to limit the amount of detail I have to absorb. I don’t want to see the horrible things horrible people say about it. I certainly don’t want to talk about it. It’s a combination of being an introvert and (perhaps too) sensitive.

After a little while, though, and like everyone else, I start to process. I feel all the usual things–anger, sadness, hopelessness, resolve. And then I try to make sense of it in words. No surprise there.

After the horrific shooting in Orlando yesterday, talk in my household went to the idea that, with things like marriage equality and a President who vocally supports the LGBTQ community, we’ve been lulled into a certain feeling of security. Yet, even in that security, we never completely forget that we are different and, often, not safe. Whether we don’t correct the woman at the nail salon who asks about our boyfriend or we discuss before going to a wedding whether it will be okay for us to slow dance together, being gay is still a dangerous existence. The gratitude we feel for being able to marry who we love, the acknowledgment that we have it so much better than those who came before us–those things cannot overshadow the facts of bigotry, hatred, and violence.

In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, we remain resolved. As my partner eloquently noted, we will still go to the clubs. We will still celebrate Pride. We will still show up. We’re hardy. We’re hopeful.

At the same time, we must act. We must continue to work beyond reassuring statements; we must move beyond thoughts and prayers. So I’m going to say it:

If you have a problem with two men kissing in public, you are part of the problem.

If you think people should have easy, legal access to assault rifles, you don’t get to offer thoughts and prayers. You, too, are part of the problem.

If you believe that violence perpetrated by an evil person justifies bigotry in another form–or if you support a presidential candidate who does–you’re making matters worse, not better. You. Are. Part. Of. The. Problem.

I said a while back that sometimes we can’t just agree to disagree, that the stakes were too high. It’s true. The stakes are too high. And while I refuse to battle hate with hate, I’m done with free passes. I’m done ignoring political differences so that we can all just get along. Because we can’t. Lives are on the line.

The Complicated Art of Simplifying Things — Bold Strokes Books Authors’ Blog

BY AURORA REY I think there’s a switch that gets flipped when we approach middle age. For some people, it’s all about more—more money, more toys, more thrills before youth slips away. For others, the switch flips the other way and there is a burning desire for less—less stuff, fewer demands on our time. I’m […]

via The Complicated Art of Simplifying Things — Bold Strokes Books Authors’ Blog

Homeward Bound

I’m just returned from a trip home. Or is it I’m just home from a trip to Louisiana? Anyone who lives somewhere other than where they grew up can relate to the either/or conundrum of what constitutes home. And for anyone with ambivalence about “home,” it’s even more complicated than that. I used to think that was a bad thing, but I’m coming ’round.

I did, in fact, spend much of the last week in Louisiana, where I grew up. I am now, in fact, back in the city where I reside in upstate New York. My feelings are, in fact, complicated.

I go back to Louisiana first and foremost because my mom is there. She and her twin sister, my godmother, are both in assisted living now. Their siblings do a phenomenal job of taking care of them, so I have the true luxury of being able to visit a couple of times each year to give everyone a few days off, visit, and have fun. They might bicker like an old married couple at times, but I love them dearly and I cherish that time. And while I have plenty of complicated feelings about them and the fact that they are aging, that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about feeling both profoundly connected to a place and also fundamentally uncomfortable while there. It’s the unsettling sensation of being in a place that is at once utterly familiar and completely foreign. Being in a place that is both home and the farthest thing from it. 

For me, it’s about loving that shrimp poboy, but ducking to avoid being seen by a cousin when I go to pick it up at the restaurant because I know we have nothing to talk about. The anxiety of being summoned by an uncle, but then remembering I’m an adult now, that we can talk as something close to equals and I’m not going to be fussed at. It’s cypress trees growing out of the water, but with oil refineries in the distance. It’s taking Mama to Mass and getting a dozen hellos, but wondering if the old folks who remember me would be so friendly if they knew I was gay. It’s a warm and welcoming culture, but one laced with power dynamics and politics that turn my stomach.

This isn’t the first time I experienced this, but it all came to a head on my last day of this trip. After telling Mama goodbye, I drove the hour along I-10 to have beignets and a cafe au lait at Morning Call in New Orleans. I’m using the setting in my next book and, although it was my first time at that particular shop, it felt utterly charming and completely familiar. After, I went to the Tulane bookstore to pick up a tshirt for A (who is thoroughly obsessed with college tshirts). Walking around the campus made me think about how close I came to attending Tulane. (At the end of the day, I ended up at the University of Rochester because the financial aid was better.) That, of course, got me thinking about how dramatically different my life would be. I don’t know if I’d write. If I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure I’d be queer, or at least not queer in the way that I turned out to be. It messed with my head a little, and made me glad to be on the way to the airport.

I’ve been a little out of sorts the last couple of days. I think I’ve been trying to process the trip, the feelings that being in Louisiana always seem to still up. Is it home? Yes. I suppose it always will be. Am I glad to call another place home? So very glad. I guess I’m still coming around to thinking that both of those things are okay.