Don’t Forget to Look Up!

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Figured I’d take a few minutes to add my two cents to the wealth of information, opinions, perspectives, and recommendations out there on traveling solo while living in an RV.  Hopefully it provides a little bit of help to anyone considering this or a similar lifestyle change.

First, solo RV living is one of those situations where being an introvert is an exceptional benefit.  Having time, peace, and quiet to linger around in your own company and knock around in your own head–assuming you like yourself at all–is energizing.  Introverts unite!  Or maybe just form a loose-knit group that occasionally keeps in contact over thousands of miles and many weeks or months.

That said (I really don’t like that phrase, but couldn’t think of anything better to start this sentence), it is AWEsome if you have some kind of four-legged buddy willing to come along for the ride.  I don’t know what I would do without my Dawny.  As much as she challenges me with her inappropriate barking, vigorous shedding, and other such doggie behaviors, her unconditional love and loyalty is irreplaceable.  Plus, she provides excellent cover when I start talking to myself a little too animatedly.  I can quickly look down at her and pretend that was all for her ears.

If you are the opposite of claustrophobic, this may be the life for you.  Do you feel drawn to the tiny-house trend that is valiantly shaking its little sword at the McMansions that continue to creep all over this country?  Then take up that sword and move on in!  It is amazing how much we can do without, and how much we appreciate and use what we have when our pile of stuff is reduced to bare necessities (plus a few pretty keepsakes, knickknacks, and photos to make your cozy abode into home-sweet-home).

To keep your home-sweet-home a pleasant place, it helps to be neat and organized, perhaps to a fault.  I am so organized that I drive people close to me crazy (and sometimes away–thank heavens for introversion).  Everything in its place… now!… otherwise my stress levels start to boil.  Nice thing about my 25 foot long house-on-wheels is I can reach everything in just a few steps so it is easy and fast to keep neat and clean.

Here’s one where I fail miserably:  troubleshooting and dealing with mechanical and maintenance issues.  Handy people (proficient with such mysteries as engines, plumbing, electricity, solar, auto body work, etc.) will enjoy the inevitable challenges that arise from driving their house around, up to 75 miles or more per hour, often over rough roads, for thousands upon thousands of miles…  each one of those miles outside…  through rain, hail, wind, burning sun.  Takes quite a toll!  But even if you are mechanically-challenged, like me, you can still do this.  Persist.  Try not to let fear get in the way.  Make Google your best friend for the day, and tap into some of the RV forums and other resources out there for some terrific insight and great advice.  Discover and delight in the fact that it’s not just old dogs that can learn new tricks!

Most importantly, don’t forget to look up.  We are so programmed to look ahead, scan side-to-side, watch our feet, and check over our shoulders.  Stop.  Take a break, take a breath, and look up.  Often.  I found the stately eagle in the picture for this post by doing just that.  After basking in his magnificence for a good ten minutes, I felt inspired and energized enough to go back to my little house and investigate an annoying little leak.  Even though I haven’t figured it out yet, I will persist!

(Speaking of introverts, I bet you’ve never seen a flock of eagles.)

Autumnal Ball

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Greens on blue

so fresh so bright

nature’s artful palliate

of false forever promises

while Celestial Queen

reigns on high

warming Mother Earth

with radiant

capricious

smile

 

But She tires with time

(as do we all!)

and

sighing deeply

draping back of graceful hand

photo 2gently on cool forehead

she reclines

ever so slowly

towards the distant promise

of the southern horizon

 

photo 3And the trees

awake

to the task at hand:

weave a plush blanket

for beloved Mother

from their most precious attire

 

photo 4But first!

A celebration!

A bole dance!

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender-8Perennial pines

work their magic

with ever-busy needles

knitting mossy slippers

for the dancers’

knobby toes

 

Some

come early

standing bright sentinel

photo 4as chill sets in

(Damn you, Celeste!)

and still green sisters

bicker

over wardrobe and jewels

 

 

Others

too tired

to put on the fancy

photo 3go straight to brown

barely mindful of their fall

dreaming private dreams

in breathless silence

too aleuf to care

 

 

All soon joined

by skinny old ladies

scantily clad

in elegant vinery

waltzing in the breeze

photo 1til long gnarled fingers

grasp unadorned

for rings upon rings

they insist

are mislaid

 

 

Finally

subtle

shifts

signal the party’s height

photo 4wild yellows

orange

reds

fairly scream silent farewell

 

 

 

Barely batting a twig

they stretch lithe limbs

lace long fingers

and shed bright gleaves

photo 1spinning slowly

to the soft

forest

floor

 

 

Many bold displays

of slightly wilted

self-made corsages

loosened

by tenuous fingerholds

photo 4with a gentle rustling

dampened to plush silence

as Mother

pulls up

her blanket

 

 

Though bark naked they now stand

proud

tall

weary, too

their hearts remain warm

FullSizeRender-15memories aglow

as embers within

awaiting

their Queen’s

return

The Art of Standing Still

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Well, we’re not exactly standing still, but after zooming through 7,500 miles in three months, it’s pretty close to it!  It has been lovely to slow down and enjoy our old home turf in Virginia.

Tonight my son came to the campground with Dawny and me.  He really likes our little house on wheels, and amazingly, it doesn’t feel cramped with someone else rambling around inside.  He is all set up with his computer, Kindle, and phone on the corner bed in the rear of the house and I am in my usual spot at the dinette.  The TV is on up front, above and between the driver’s and passenger’s seats, providing easy viewing for both of us.

I’ve had a chance to convert the dinette into a bed and try it out, now that we have a guest.  It sleeps quite comfortably.  I am really happy that I got a floor plan that has a permanent bed in it, since I would not enjoy breaking down and setting up a bed on a daily basis.  For the occasional guest, this works great and offers some very handy flexibility.

Dawny is relaxing in her comfy bed behind the passenger seat and across from the dinette, after having announced some critter was apparently rummaging around outside.  She sure takes her job seriously, much to the distress of my ears.  Everyone who knew her before we left has commented on how great she looks.  Not an ounce of fat on her and as strong as steel.  Not bad for a 10+ year old doggie.  Today we had a wonderful walk with an old friend and her sweet, little poodle.  This is actually great progress for Dawny and our goal of socializing her more easily with her fellow canines.  Next time we get together, my friend is upping the ante to two poodles!

The campground is located conveniently close to my son’s neighborhood.  Many nights we just stay parked in front of his house (I checked with the neighbors first), saving some money in campground fees.  I have been welcome to use the shower there, too, which conserves my fresh water supply so I can be lazy and not fill up as often.  I really like being back in the campground tonight, though.  It is lovely, quiet, heavily treed, and has great space for terrific walks.  And it’s extra special tonight since we have special company.

I am learning to drive my house more like a car, putting a lot of local, stop-and-go, heavy-traffic miles on it.  I had been wary of navigating tight-fitting lane changes, as this area (not unlike many others) is notorious for people speeding up to cut you off if you put your blinker on for a lane change.  Amazingly, most people slow down and give me the space to move over.  I suppose they don’t realize I am a weeny, so they are cautious about my girth and heft.  Please don’t laugh, but I had been very nervous about night driving, and in all of those 7,500 miles I had only driven at twilight once.  Now I am (almost) comfortable driving at night!

I will take advantage of the extra time we are here to take care of paperwork, banking, and medical appointments, including taking Dawny back to her old vet.  I am also looking forward to learning how to use the crock pot I bought while visiting my friend in South Dakota (it is bright red!).  I have become way too reliant upon cans, so real food will be a treat.

“Standing still” grants space to ponder, appreciate, absorb, reflect.  Time to dote on loved ones and friends.  Energy to stretch, and to take care of necessary tasks.  Here’s hoping Father Winter takes his sweet time getting here and we can enjoy a long, colorful autumn!

Above All Else

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Wow!  Dawny and I arrived back in the old neighborhood yesterday.  My son still lives in the area, and he is doing great.  He is a caring, responsible, strong, highly creative young man, perfectly able to survive without my daily interfere–errrr… presence!  He’s been awesome about keeping in touch but I can’t describe how wonderful it is to actually see him again and to hug him as he towers over me!

Dawny was thrilled when she saw “her boy” and insisted on full-mouth kisses.  She has enjoyed taking walks in the old neighborhood, and I think it is fascinating that she doesn’t give our old house a glance.  She knows where her boy lives now, and heads right up the correct driveway when we are done with the walk.  I had thought that maybe she missed the old place and would be confused being so close to it but not going there, that she would be hauling me up the old driveway to get to that beautiful back yard.  Turns out she has her priorities perfectly straight:  loved ones above all else.

Dawny’s behavior brought back memories of how hard it was to leave that old home of ours, for me at any rate.  I can look back at some of my woe-is-me blog posts from June, and I feel at peace.  Yes, it was a very real challenge to downsize to such an extent and to make such a drastic change.  To leave my son, surrounded by a support system, but  otherwise on his own as he navigates life as a young adult.  To leave my own support system and pursue a dream, with all of its attendant unknowns.  Yes, Dawny, loved ones above all else.  No matter where we are, those are the ties that remain strong–invisible, intangible, steely strong.

We will be enjoying ourselves amongst family and friends until the cold weather chases us South.  I am hoping we get to stay through Thanksgiving, but we shall see.  At this point, I will be grateful for every day we get, every moment with my son, and every visit with dear friends.  And when we eventually hit the road again, all of that love will travel with us, enriching every mile.

We are blessed.

(Photo of Dawny sharing a grassy snack with some local horses at our last stop up in Pennsylvania.  She sure has chilled out!)

Home Sweet Home

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Dawny and I have been visiting my big brother and his family in Pennsylvania.  It’s been fun showing off our little house to them and relaxing over good meals and lovely visits.  Dawny has been treated to some terrific doggie walks and has fallen in love with my brother and his cooking–she got grilled salmon skin one night!

My brother escorted us to Gettysburg one day and we spent hours strolling around the battlefields and perusing monuments.  Long an avid Civil War buff, he provided vivid descriptions of the history, the people, the battles.  We encountered a gentleman on Cemetery Ridge where Pickett’s charge took place who had a small display, including photographs of a reunion on the 50th anniversary of the battle.  In 1913, 60,000 veterans from Gettysburg returned.  Blue and Gray.  Old antagonisms and griefs were buried by their most basic, common bond:  soldiers, brothers, Americans all.

While being welcomed, entertained, and spoiled, I’ve been able to quietly observe and celebrate my brother and sister-in-law’s post-retirement lifestyle.  They are great examples of staying connected, active, and productive.  They travel to interesting places when the mood strikes.  They have two wonderful children, both married, who live close by.  And they are blessed with a grandson that they get to see and enjoy often.  This sweet little charmer even graced me with a little kiss–a special gift that I will be able to pull out of my memory-pocket anytime I need to lift my spirits.

Both my brother and his wife volunteer at a variety of places, using their expertise from their working years, as well as their interests and passions, to make their corner of the world a better place.  Between the two of them, they are helping with pet adoptions, working at a historical library, assisting ill people with paperwork, and serving as a volunteer ombudsman at a group home.  All of this is in addition to taking care of their grandson two days a week.  My sister-in-law has Fridays open, but does she sit back and kick her feet up?  Noooo… she is trying to find another volunteer opportunity to fill that day.

This is a wonderful time for my brother and sister-in-law, and I hope it lasts for many, many years.  That their health stays strong, their family loving and safe, and their home warm and secure.  I hope their children and grandchildren appreciate the solid foundation passed along to them, enriching their own years and families, and that they pass the love along with generosity and grace.

When I first arrived, I was asked a couple of times what my favorite place has been that I have visited so far.  I was at an unexpected loss for an answer.  Don’t get me wrong–I love what I am doing and do not regret my choice of vagabond lifestyle for a moment.  But now, near the end of my visit, I can easily say this has been my favorite spot, where my little house on wheels met my brother’s sticks and bricks.

Home is where the heart is, and as I continue down the road, my home and my heart are warm and full.

(Photo of the fields at Pickett’s charge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.)

Full Circle

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Camping in Ohio today, I feel like I’ve come full circle.  Not a closed circle.  More of a gently spiraling motion.  Let’s just hope the spiral is moving up!

I’ve traveled nearly 7,000 miles since picking up my little house on wheels in Indiana in early July.  Yesterday I looped through Indiana once again, after having wandered through a dozen states in the Midwest, Southwest and far West–Go West, old girl, go West!  And what a difference all those miles of roads, all those curves, mountains, and valleys made in my confidence level!  I now feel secure enough to drive through a major city like Indianapolis, rather than sticking to secondary roads and giving wide berth to major cities like I did when I set out.

The circle touched Ohio today.  This was my first time camping in Ohio since I was in my early 20s, living in Cleveland with my folks.  I remember camping in the Fall one year, and there was only one other group of people in the campground, which was very remote.  I gathered small twigs and scattered them around my tent so that if anyone–human, bear, some other ornery critter–approached in the night I could hear them as the twigs snapped.  My pocket knife was within easy reach as I slept an uneasy sleep–for cutting my way out the other side, not for cutting anyone!  Now I have a locked door between me and the outside, and all the comforts of home inside (including the greatest doggie in the world).

Speaking of my sweet doggie, Dawny, and speaking more specifically of my circle of fears, the first post to this site mentions my fear of dog attacks while we are out walking (“On Bears and Muffins,” June 10, 2014).  One of our greatest challenges has indeed been encountering dogs off-leash around campgrounds.  Often I can spot them, and we change our path to avoid them.  Sometimes they come running towards us and the owners have to call them back.

Last week, however, we were three miles into a lovely walk around a small lake and encountered a HUGE dog coming down a hill towards us, with no owner in site.  I yelled at him and he backed off.  We turned around to retrace our steps and when I looked back, he was coming towards us again.  I yelled.  He left.  When I looked back again, he was practically on top of Dawny.  I already had my hand on my pepper spray canister and I got him right in the face.  He gave me a surprised look and went running back up the hill.  I gave myself a surprised look… sweetened by a feeling of empowerment… ah, the circle is inching up!

Finally the dog’s owners appeared, totally oblivious, including to the stream of pepper gel on their dog’s snout.  When I told them their dog was coming after my dog, the man just laughed it off and said he wouldn’t hurt us.  How would HE know?  HE wasn’t even in earshot.  He reluctantly leashed the dog so we could continue our walk in that direction after they passed.  I did not tell him about the pepper spray figuring that could trigger a case of human aggression.

So, yes, I am still dealing with the same old fears.  I suspect it will take quite a few more loops before I can master any of them…  Dogs, ignorant dog-owners, snakes, spiders, bears…  Heck, today’s news reported a young man died when a black bear mauled him in New Jersey!  A black bear!  New Jersey!!!  It’s one thing to face your fears.  It’s another to have them face you.  Time to upgrade from pepper spray to bear spray!

(Photo dedicated to my dear friend Debra, a gifted florist.  I was blessed to be able to watch her at work during my recent visit.  Now, whenever I see wildflowers and flower gardens on our walks, I think of her, and smile.)

Dawny Has a Say

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Sheesh!  Hard to get a word in edgewise with this one.  Well, she does do all the driving.  And shopping.  And cooking.  And planning.  I suppose she gets first-dibs on blog posts.

I’m just happy to report we are back on that rolling ribbon known more mundanely as “the road.”  We spent about a week on a farm in southern South Dakota so Mom could visit with her good friend.  I had to sit around in our house an awful lot while Mom was off doing her thing.  I had to remind her that, hey!, I’m still here… we’re in this thing together, right?

I am almost ashamed to say (“almost” being the key word) that I resorted to naughty behavior to try to help light a fire under her and get us moving again.  I am not allowed on her bed until and unless she invites me, usually just for naps and right before we get up in the morning.  Well, I decided that was my new spot and she was forever having to shoo me offa that thing!  Heck, she’d come back to the house and I’d wait til she opened the door and come in before I’d jump down from there with a big, tail-waggin’ grin!  I tried to stick out my tongue but it didn’t translate somehow… she just offered me water.

NOW I’m being good.  We had a short road-day today, but made it to a pretty campground and we are sitting on a pretty hill looking at a pretty lake.  Had a couple of great walks already, and there is a path that goes alllll the way around the lake.  I’m trying to talk Mom into doing the whole loop.  Maybe tomorrow after she gets a good night’s sleep.

All righty folks, dinner is done, dishes are done (now that is somewhere I am a BIG help… my middle name is Prewash), and it is walkaroo time!  Talk to you somewhere down that road again, I hope.  Meanwhile, you be good and I will try to, as well… when it suits me!

Two Suns

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Science fiction tales sometimes have worlds where there are multiple suns or moons.  Very cool.  Imagine my surprise when I looked at this picture I took at sunset in Utah and saw two suns.  Wow!

Now that I have returned from the Wild West (crossing the Missouri River into Central South Dakota), I look back at my time in that other world and am amazed at the contrasts.  Yesterday my house on wheels got a lovely washing as we drove through constant rain, and today I look out my window upon shockingly lush, deep green.  Until then, I don’t think I saw a raindrop since leaving Texas over six weeks ago.

It was so dry near Reno, NV that the “lake” I camped at was a puddle surrounded by parched earth lined with deep, gasping cracks.  Entering Utah via the Great Salt Lake Desert would have been surreal had I not already been acclimated to a drought-starved moonscape–er, landscape.  I must say that I was thankful for the constant signs Utah installed along that glaringly white desert straightaway to remind me that it was best to stay awake if I wanted to arrive alive.  I entertained myself by counting the number of tire tracks that wandered off one side or another–the drivers perhaps seeking a ghostly mirage deep in the salty flats.

Southern Wyoming was a land of pastels and gentle surprise.  Just when I thought I had it figured out, I would round a curve or crest a rise to find the terrain changing from wide and open to rolling hills or sharp peaks.  The one constant was a beautiful, soft, chalk green in everything from the long, blowing grassland to the lichen on rocky outcrops.  Oh, and the signs constantly warning you that when the lights were flashing, the road ahead would be closed.  How does anyone travel through that state from October to May?

Next up–and I do mean UP–the Black Hills of Southwestern South Dakota.  The park office that took my camping fee had a deceased mountain lion perched high on a shelf behind the check-in desk.  He was huge, and fierce, and beautiful.  Apparently, he was also stalking campers in his former life.  Hence, his afterlife was doomed to be spent spooking new campers from his position on the wall.  Despite the beautiful campground, lake, and dog-walks, we only stayed one night at that park.  My nerves couldn’t take any more… always looking up in the trees and over my shoulder!

We crossed through Native American Reservation land on our way to the Missouri River.  The sky began its weeping about half-way through.  Terrain softened, clouds rolled.  Greens and grays soothed the frayed edges of my traveler’s soul as pow-wow music played on the radio.  Beating drums and undulating voices, punctuated by occasional cries, startling shouts, rolling back into the sweet, proud rhythm of a peoples’ soul.  It was beautiful.  Alternately fierce and gentle.  One song was kindly translated, as follows:

I remember all of them times we shared together

We laughed and cried all night long

And I know that I will never forget you

You are a sweet angel to me

(Trying to find name of artist.  Will give credit and provide link, if possible, when she is found.)

(Photo taken at Rockport State Park, Utah.  The second sun–the small one to the left–appears because of the first sun’s reflection on smoke rising from a local landfill.)

You Know You’re in the Wild West . . .

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You know you are in the wild West when you see a sign that says:

Report Shooting From Vehicles

Yup, Dawny and I are back on the road!  We encountered that particular sign in Northern Nevada.  Made both of us chuckle… then peak quickly at our fellow travelers as they drove by…

Just wanted to do a quick post to give an update on what happened with the RV, in case anyone reading encounters a similar problem.

The electrical gremlins that made the dash indicator lights go on and off like crazy and did all sorts of other stuff turned out to be caused by a faulty Smart Junction Box.  This is apparently a smart new name for a vehicle’s fuse box.

The RV shop that we were towed to at first pulled some of the fuse box wires out but could not figure it out.  Plus they were super busy because the Burning Man Festival was starting soon (crazy annual festival in a Northwestern Nevada desert that draws over 50,000 people, many in RVs).  Apparently everybody’s RV was in this shop for a tune-up or something.  So they passed the baton to Ford.

Problem is the local Ford dealer refuses to work on RV’s, so my poor little house had to be towed 20 miles to a more friendly dealership.  None of the Ford diagnostics showed what was wrong, so they ordered this junction box in the hopes that it would fix the problem, which it did.  Thankfully, all the work was under warranty.

Everyone is likely aware of this tip, but just in case it is helpful to anyone, be sure to check your RV and all it’s systems out as thoroughly as possible before pulling off of a lot where it has been repaired.  Even though my issue turned out to be solely with the Ford fuse box, some of the components from the house side of the RV are connected up there, as well.

Before pulling out of the Ford lot I discovered that the back-up camera was not working.  Traveling alone, this camera is critical when I am trying to back into camping spaces (Dawny is a very unreliable spotter).  A couple of techs messed with the wires and could not figure out what was wrong.  I pointed out a video connection wire that was not connected to anything, but they could not find anywhere to plug it in.  They blamed the problem on the RV shop, saying that they must have pulled that wire out, and sent me back there.

Fortunately, Burning Man was in progress so the RV shop had plenty of time to help me out this time.  The tech there said he did not pull that wire out but he was able to fix it (Ford had connected the wrong video feed).  He had to tape it up, though, to make the connection more solid, since things got messed up a bit with all the fiddling around with the wires.

Another lesson I learned was that with a vehicle like this, which has a separate warranty for the chassis (Ford) and another warranty for the “house,” and yet more warranties for each of the systems in that house (refrigerator, generator, water pump, macerator, water heater, furnace, air conditioner, etc.), you need to be as proactive and knowledgable as possible in making sure the work is being done by the right party.  When I am bored enough, I have been reading through all the documentation on the components and systems that came with the RV.  I sure don’t understand a lot of it, but at least it is starting to give me some familiarity and some of it is gradually sinking in.

I also found it helpful to research similar problems on the web, as that is a rich source of information.  It armed me with proper questions and terminology when talking to repair people.  When having these discussions, it is wise to take notes on who is saying what and when, unless you have a mind like a steel trap–unlike mine, a steel sieve–and understand all this stuff inside-out.

Okay, enough of all that!  Bottom line, we had a nice, long stay at our last stop–two weeks longer than planned–and enjoyed every minute of it.  We are slightly smarter about our little house on wheels than we were a few weeks ago.  And we had a wonderful, long, uneventful drive today through the wild, wild West.

Phoenix Rising

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I don’t claim to understand forgiveness.  All I know about it consists of glimmers around the edges of something which, I suspect, is one of the most powerful forces available to our puny little human forms.

If forgiveness took on a physical form that we could see, I imagine the mythological Phoenix, reborn and rising from the ashes of its predecessor would serve quite well.

White-hot anger, scalding pain, burning resentment: these are emotions and feelings most of us have felt to one degree or another just by slogging through our daily lives, dealing with everyone from strangers to family members, year after year.

photo 3Way too often we aim these powerful daggers directly at our own heart, piercing it with self-loathing, insecurity, and gloom.

Whether the root source is self-inflicted or gifted from another, these negative forces can feel like they are burning us up from the inside-out, clawing our heart to shreds.  Indeed, the stress caused by holding onto such anger and resentment can make one quite ill.

So what to do?

Let it burn.

Let it burn itself up.

Self-destruct in its own raging fire.

Until nothing remains but ashes.

photo-39How does one do that?  Perhaps a good start is to simply …

… let…

… it…

… go…

Rise above it.  Let it go.

For the burning flame cannot exist in a vacuum.

It draws its life, its fuel from your very soul.

So let it go.

Rise above the ashes, breathe.

Don’t even glance down.

Look up, look forward.

Rise.

photo-40Feel a youthful strength return to your wings as you release the burdens of the past.

Delight in the cool, clean air that gives life and lift to your powerful, graceful flight.

Celebrate your freedom, your liberation…  your humanity in its most beautiful form.

(Dedicated to Art, one of my bestest friends and a forgiving ex-husband.)