marți, 13 decembrie 2011

Man’s Search for Meaning

When you are left with nothing but yourself sometimes the resolution becomes clear as an end. But what can you do in face of repeated adversity and conditions no man/woman should ever feel?  Viktor Frankl’s answer to this question emerges from personal suffering and having to put up with conditions that threatened his existence. The answer he gives is that one must find a meaning in everything he/she does, even in pain, in simple pleasures and in trial that every life contains.

To be able to create a meaning out of pain is truly an exercise I can only compare to those made by Buddhist monks, because I imagine that only after meditation or intense thought one can accomplish that the essence of all things lies in the purpose that our actions pertain.

The horrors of being in concentration camps in Auschwitz, Dachau and others and afterwards finding out that those people that made you find a purpose for the pains endured are dead can be hard to live with. And wet his theory of finding a purpose for all there is to life, to ones life, give him strength to carry on living, to find people, things and action that can fulfill the need for meaning, a personal purpose to an individual life.

The book was really inspiring and made me think and realize the meaning behind my actions, and the purpose of chosen paths in life. It made me more aware and more responsible and yet it made me free. I strive to find the purpose of my life, the meaning of my actions and to endure with courage and optimism all that lies ahead in the great unknown of my life.

I also started reading about logotherapy and found it very useful in my work.

marți, 29 noiembrie 2011

"Risipitorii" / (The Wasters)

Being young is always seen as something similar to being free and able to take any course of action or make any decision. Youth is not seen as a period of confusion, indecision or inability to do great things in life. M. Preda sees the young adults as individuals who take great decision easily and are sometimes stunned by small ones.

“Risipitorii”/ The Wasters is a novel of a brief period in anyone’s life, when major decision are prone to take place and some of the decisions made are haste and have an effect that contours the entire life. Decision taken too easily can make an impact on people triggering turning points in a persons search for purpose in life. A young woman who marries a young doctor without having a clear idea about married life, finds herself, after an abortion, left for another woman, and thus seems to forget the purpose of her existence. In the confusion set by her depression she learns to enjoy life once more and knows that from now on she will forever keep a mark of what it means to be without meaning, but will continue to live for a meaning discovered as life succeeds this crisis.

Other crises are described, for instance the meaning of living with the person you love, can appear for those who live it complicated, and yet simple for those seeing it from outside. The search for professional achievement can sometimes fail and leave the person with the impression of uselessness, trying to live with a new purpose. The search for love and fulfillment in a family life can seem daunting and like a purpose for many who see it as eluding their life. 

Many times the thing which we seek most and consider as a purpose is the thing we cannot attain. We continue to force our mind and actions into creating new alternatives for reaching the same idea over and over again, without even considering for a second time if that thing/idea is really what we need to be happy. Sometimes the happiness lies in the process, as it is described throughout the book, Flow. The psychology of optimal experience, and I believe that the process of creating and achieving your purpose is one of the most personal things one can do with their life.

luni, 31 octombrie 2011

"Adam si Eva" / Adam and Eve

Rebreanu's novel tells the story of a search for love and how the soul goes through stages in order to meet it's destined partner.

The story of how souls come to existence is drawn from an indian mythology. Incapsulated in a human body, the soul is destined to be purified through love, and with each life it comes near to its purpose. It takes seven lives for the soul to find its partner and to be united once more. These lives are presented in different times and places. The book contains eight short stories and in each story we see a different life of the soul. Only in the last life, when the soul has found its partner, we see a completion and the human is destined to relive his past existence.

I liked how the author portrayed the life in Sumerian times and in the times of the Roman Empire. The details are abundant, yet they lack the power to stimulate thought or to create a sense of imaginary flow. 

To me it seems a novel in which the author put a great deal of effort. At times you get carried into the atmosphere of the past times, but the cruel details in which the characters die is enough to deter those who seek a happy ending and to remind oneself that life can be easily terminated. I'm not convinced that souls reincarnate and go through stages of existence but I can understand the desire(maybe the existential need) that something which cannot be completed in this life is believed to be accomplished in another one.

marți, 25 octombrie 2011

The Blind Watchmaker

When I look at the world around me, I see things which simply are and things that seem to complex to exist without having a designer. Yet, what I see is not all there is and sometimes I need to open my eyes to understand more than these apparent features of things like complexity and adaptability. Dawkins tells the story of evolution using an approach that answers to my need of order, of things I can and cannot understand. By using the blind watchmaker analogy he makes a clear point in drawing attention to what we see and what we can understand at a certain time and with certain basis. For me, the basis of evolution has been laid some time ago, with the reading of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, but the understanding grows deeper every time I read something new.
In this book I’ve understood more clearly the fact that what we see is not what is perfect, but merely what it is functional from an adaptability point. Even with adaptability it must have started with something, and that something isn’t as glamorous as one might think. The grand scale of evolution is the ticking of the clock that got perfected, not the clock itself, and the ways in which this process occurs can be resembled to a blind watchmaker in action. Although we can see the watch, the watch is always changing, even if we don’t perceived as such, or we would never live in a scale of time that would enable us to perceive the changing. The variation of change can be in any direction (to give an advantage or disadvantage) but ultimately the selection favors those variation that tend to make an improvement and therefore they’re more likely to survive and be passed on to the next generation and further submitted to change.
The examples in the book are very useful and especially the way the “biomorphs” evolve can convince almost anyone that there is indeed evolution and when certain restraints from the environment are applied, the forms that take shape can be different and may even resemble some of the creatures that live in our world. The fact that the environment sets the rules and acts as a pressure to everything that is, might be seen as a law in our understanding of how life evolved in our planet. But the fact that life exists and evolves can’t be put to question in my opinion. If somebody sees in nature a perfect watch that needs no adjustments she/he has surely find one of the greatest wonders and perhaps the probability of that happening is so small that it is not even sufficient to be written on the scale of time in which we evolve from the Big Bang on. 
One of the greatest question for me is not how can we have evolved from something but why aren’t we using our intellectual power to evolve in a way in which we can adapt to our environment? Although I state my question I know the answer and just hope that time will prove me wrong.
A great book to read and think about.

marți, 6 septembrie 2011

River Out of Eden

I’m always interested in how things are created and how they strive to survive. The idea behind this book is to explain how life generates itself and how certain environmental forces pressure all organisms into finding ways to survive. Reading it was like taking into account that all the information that makes us who we are, is sealed in tiny part of our every cell. All humans, animals, plants evolved from this eukaryotic cell which set itself on a path to replicate itself and every successive mutation that has given it an edge over other cells has brought us here. I hope to make myself clear… or at least I try.

I understood the analogy between a river and the river of DNA which all organism posses. I found the examples in the book to be convincing, maybe because I’m well accustomed with Dawkins writings and with the Natural Selection Theory/ Darwinism. I liked it and it gave me once more a clear understanding of our motivations and aspirations in life. Because we are living creatures we must accomplish many tasks to survive and what is important for that survival is mediated, at least, by the environment in which we live, although the forces of the social environment sometimes work in pushing ourselves into wanting more and achieving more than our mere survival. Our own individual survival might seem of great importance to us, and for me certainly is, to think that we are here only in order for the genes to pass on to the next generation might seem cruel, but in light of the evidence presented seems more real that believing a fairytale heaven awaits you at the end of your life journey. (I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I think being aware and respectful towards other people is crucial for our better existence and it gives us a sense of belonging and caring that no other promise might give us- I’m thinking of the promise of heaven if we’re good.)

The more I think that I am here as a creature that can pass information received from parents, the more I find myself involved in my family’s life, my community and the world. This idea has given me the huge responsibility of being aware of myself and the messages that I transmit in a conscious way. Maybe I’m giving myself too much credit, after all, the genes might be passed on, and only if I can fundamentally make a difference maybe I can pass a meme. It seems so grandiose but in the end it’s just my brain trying to put a meaning to all the information that reaches me.

duminică, 28 august 2011

“Nunta in cer”/ (Marriage in Heaven)

Eliade’s novel continues a theme that I’ve encountered in “Intoarcerea din rai”, which is the theme of love without limits, which can only solve itself through acts of sacrifice and is ultimately an all or nothing game. A young writer that is cynical and full of himself to the point that his attitude is one in which he firmly believes he can decipher any woman or man within seconds or minutes, finds himself in love with a woman (Ileana), but unable to truly commit and live his love earthly, as opposed to what he thinks is the ultimate love, one that can be lived/felt only in an ethereal place (heavens).

This idea stops him and blinds him, as he cannot understand the woman he loves, nor how she feels about their love. He thinks that writer can/must only create art during times in which something is missing from their lives, in a sense that the urgency to create some imaginary world compensates for whichever lacks in one’s live. It is a very selfish point of view, from my opinion. As the action continues he separates himself from his love, to the point that he asks her to only love him, that their love may be sterile, without a child. The obvious happens, and after an abortion of which the main character is unaware of, he finds himself left, abandoned, as the girl could not live in his fantasy of how his perfect love should look like.

To add a mystery to the story, the author introduces another friend to whom the young writer confides his lost love. This elder man confides as well of a love he felt 8-9 years in the past and the story this love, which he thinks represents the love of his life. After finding out that the heroine has a similar name (Lena), the reader is left with a feeling that the book is more about a woman than two men telling their regrets of a one true love that escaped without them noticing it. We find out that after the First World War a teenage girl is separated from her aunt while traveling in a train and a young man helps her to the nearest train stop. This teenage girl is then seen as a young woman that falls in love with the man that helped her, years after. Their love ignites during a trip through Europe, during which they get married and start a life of their own. Due to their age difference their ideas of love are different: she wishes to live their love by themselves, he starts wishing for a baby, and because neither explains to the other their idea of love, they argue and ultimately they divorce, and decide not to see each other again.
The story is about love, and a woman through different times in her life, and with different men. It made me think about the damage an unspoken idea of love might due to a pair of lovers. Just imagine two lovers which are in love, but feel as if their love should be in some way, a way which is incongruent to the how the other feels. It indeed can destroy a relationship if there is no communication, or so I think anyway.

An interesting novel to read.

sâmbătă, 20 august 2011

The Steve Jobs way: iLeadership for a new generation

For a book which claims to give an insight into the way in which Jobs leads his company I find it very brief and short of introductory. Granted, I don't have a serious knowledge in management, mainly just heard of it and read some books on the management of creative ideas and people, but it seems rather to skim the surface and to portray some autobiographical memories as source to increment and to provide an argument to ideas. It did indeed brought me a new perspective into the history of Apple and the way in which Jobs managed it alongside with Next and Pixar.

At times I found the book to be inspiring, in that it tells one to believe in an idea that motivates oneself and to be honest with ourself about the products of our work. Nonetheless it gave me an impression that Jobs is merely an exception, that his way might work in some fields and in others he might have been just another great guy which is tormented by the idea of greatness. The good thing for him is that he picked his field of work right and stand by his choices and was his own prophet and agent of his prophecies.

Do I feel like I've enriched myself be reading this? Surely. Any book provides a way to perceive the world differently and this one put great emphasis on being dedicated to your ideas, knowing when you need to take the idea from the beginning or when you just need to discard it.

miercuri, 3 august 2011


Many people I know claim to have been inspired by this book. I decided to read now and I must confess that because I read it as an adult woman I’m a little amazed at how greatly the author describes male characters, Old Shatterhand and Winnetou, compared to how poorly the women are viewed. I must say it is probably due to the conception of the late XVIII and beginning of XIX century, but nevertheless it felt wrong. I mean how can you say that any society can be made on the “courage and force” of men? It applies only at war, and again the context in North America at that time was one of intense colonization and the Civil War.

I was disappointed. I enjoyed the reading but was disappointed in how some characters seem to possess out of normality traits and at times it felt a bit farfetched. I kept telling to myself that the author wanted to describe the tale of two great warriors and it wasn’t the place for me to start analyzing the social implications of the stories. How can one not think of human condition in that time? I was amazed to see how little respect the great Indian warriors got from the “white skins” and that afro-american people were even less respected. I’m glad that at least the two main characters had their moral integrity and seemed to respect all people, irrespective of their skin color, and I say seemed, because women weren’t given any chance at being equal to man, not even one. Old Shatterhand even admits that a union with an Indian woman would ruin his life, a clear indicator that interracial marriages where seen as something to be feared because you would lose respect from society (?!? Those were the times), and that a good marriage might be one where social status meets and educated woman, that is not Indian or afro-american.

To be able to read about past times is like taking leaps into the unknown, only to be taken back and realize that progress isn’t a step you can take, it’s rather a slow process, which only through changing of moral attitudes can achieve it’s purpose. In that respect, May’s book is like a far cry for change, for human rights and for considering that is he choose to believe in something supernatural than we must take into account that others might believe in something else, and respect that belief and treasure the core idea, that is life is only a fraction and being good to others and yourself might help you enjoy more your time in the sun.

Considering that it is a sort of manifest of human rights with the aid of literature I am pleased with the book, and more pleased to see that the perspective of human rights has changed for the better, and even women get more and more opportunities to prove(although proving seems irrelevant) that they are equal.

In retrospect thinking of other books I’ve read that dealt with the problem of human rights, To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the most prominent that come to my mind (where the innocence of a girl is shaped by the experiences that her community have). Because it addressed a different time we can see the woman condition changing for the better, and the afro-american people condition taking turns in order to reach equity(although the change is not present in the book yet). Another great book which uses fiction to draw attention to how we can change our moral attitudes sometimes without knowing is Cloud Atlas (and I must direct to the story of Somni, which is relevant for the point I’m making). Of course that there might be other great books that I’ve omitted, due to ignorance or because I haven’t read them yet, which could have made a great point in how literature can awaken the thought and provide a reflexive means of change. After all, isn’t this the reason we read? To gain knowledge and reflect of the various implications of things read?

duminică, 8 mai 2011

Frenchman's Creek/ "Golful francezului"

When you see the title you immediately seem to expect pirate story and it’s… exactly what you get! Well, not the pirate from Pirates of The Caribbean, but a more elaborate, bourgeoisie kind of pirate (the one which is rich enough and has the middle life crisis just in time to pillage some English coastal villages). I must admit it was a bit far fetched to empathize with the sorrows of being rich and not understood in your ideals to be free but I understood the general idea.

Most of us think their free, we were set to think this in order to want more stuff and to motivate ourselves into doing, achieving more. Are we really free? Could we all be pirates or just wander around in nature and find food and piece of mind for ourselves? Why are we not all tramps? What keeps us from experiencing total freedom?
All these questions made me look for answers and because I commute by train I’m immerse in the real flow of many human lives so the answer comes quickly: Most of us don’t have the luxury of being bored by our life, position, friends or a limited social circle, most of us are concentrated on living, on having the necessities we think are necessary.

But are we all not happy with what we do or how we make a living? I’m sure that’s not the case as it’s not the case with the idea of freedom. One can be free even subdued to all this necessary but arduous day to day work. What’s important is the conviction that you chose what is to happen in your life (on a general level).

I’m beginning to think that free will isn’t as free as we make ourselves think. For instance, if we were to really chose what to become in life and be sure that it is a completely free decision than we must be sure to choose from all the things we like to do and commit to some decision process before proceeding. We don’t do that, we often find the path that is more attractive and seems in a way tailored for us. Is this free will or destiny one might argue? I would have to say neither. I assume it is part of our genetic predisposition to do what we are good at, even though sometimes we might found later in life that we were good at something (and I attribute this setback to the environment, stimuli or however you may call it). It might be the influence of other books and of a comment made by aproapealb that I’m questioning the existence or the influence, if any, of free will. What do you think?

The book was ok, two characters bored by their rich life finding love and freedom in a more rustic environment near the sea. Their adventure marks the need for exploration of one’s limits and for understanding our life and the important things, people that are in it.

duminică, 1 mai 2011

The lottery ticket / The Lighthouse at the end of the world

Jules Verne account of two different fictional stories was a delightful way to take a journey into different times and places.

The first, The lottery ticket is set in Norway and it has as characters a family who owns a bed and breakfast and is struck by a tragedy: their beloved cousin Ole Kamp has delayed his return from a fishing expedition in Newfoundland, America. His cousins, Joel and Hulda(future bride) are deeply saddened by this and with the help of Sylvius Hog, whom they rescued from falling into a waterfall, they manage to reunite with Ole. Sylvius Hog manages to help the family in many ways, as he offers material and spiritual support and guidance. In the end all turns out fine and the joys of life seem to enter into the story like the ending of a fairy tale.

The lighthouse at the end of the world is more adventurous as it has pirates and brave shipmen as main characters. The tale is entrapping and provides good reading and entertainment and of course is set to have a somehow happy, or should I say, morally and socially correct ending: the evil is being punished for its bad deeds.

I really enjoyed reading these stories and I believe that many more will follow. I haven’t read Jules Verne when I was little or when growing up so in a way I’m helping with the formation of my fictional sense of traveling.

sâmbătă, 16 aprilie 2011

Sweet Company

An enigmatic title about an ethereal person…

The story of how a Columbian journalist finds herself entangled in a story about angels and the faith and cult that others create in devotion to this idea. It seems once more that the unnatural and supernatural appears only to those open to that idea and which seek ailment from it. In this case an angel appears in a poor neighborhood outside Bogota.

Stricken by the agitation and the need to make an article the journalist goes and is mesmerized by the young and beautiful boy thought to be an angel. At first she discover a hermetic and mysterious world of beliefs, but as she digs deeper she finds only a story of human survival through harsh conditions.

The result of fascination and the love that begins to appear for the angel contribute to creating a coherent story of love and in the same time one that tells of the mysteries of human nature: from its ability to appear a demon and an angel to its harsh reality of a militarized country and a though living.

It was a beautiful encounter to a world only seen through the news of the television and a small introduction to the need for beliefs in supernatural agents.

vineri, 25 martie 2011

Cloud Atlas

When you see the title you start projecting things regarding the book… It’s not a bad thing to do, as the book tells the story of different generations, different times an yet they all are intertwined in a beautiful, whole narration, that makes you think more about your values.

Would you be able to save someone from slavery? Would you be able to save yourself? Could you pursue the truth with the cost of your life? Would you realize that your life is not perfect? Or would you have the courage to speak your mind? These are some of the question that arises from reading the book. Its characters are divided into stories that take place at different times in somewhat different locations.

One can feel a thread throughout the book. It’s the thread which puts the characters into relations to one another, and that thread seems to be the essence of humanity, the building block of moral values, the thing that sets apart good from evil. Finding the thread in your own life and thoughts is easy, because you are to choose from a variety of characters that depict several periods of a life. You not only seem to transcend into different times, but you are left with the longing to return…

A great book to read indeed, astonishing in its narration and real in its dialogues. Truly it is set to make an influence, and has made an influence on me.

miercuri, 16 martie 2011

Flow. The psychology of optimal experience

I have finally read this book. I've heard about it and was curios of the perspective presented in it. I must confess I'm pleased and contempt with what I have found out. Some of the results from research confirm some of my personal beliefs and ruminations, while others provide new ground for philosophical discussions with friends and loved ones. It was the book that marked the arrival of spring for me (for my mind and body).

Because it sums up the result of qualitative and quantitative research it might at first glance sound like a book intended to change everything you know. After a close reading the book opens one of the most fundamental subjects that any human being addresses during her/his lifetime: How can I be happy? How can I live a meaningful life?

The realization and answer must come only after close consideration of purposes, goals and important things in life (including experiences). Only when we invest a little time to figure out what is important for us and what we want to be and be defined of, we will be sure to make the decisions which will takes us close to our optimal experience and ultimately to a life of meaning and accomplishment.

I think it is empowering to find out what things and experiences make other humans feel happy or optimal about their action and life. The huge diversity of examples gives any mortal hope that she or he will find out (if she/he is willing to search within herself/himself) what must or can do to take their lives seriously and on a new level of awareness and happiness.

I took my time enjoying it, but as with all great books it’s purpose is to stir things inside you and then to challenge you to see the importance and relevance of your own decision and to help you keep in mind that order in the mind is the thing that keeps us strong.

May the force(perseverance and order in mind) be with you!

miercuri, 26 ianuarie 2011

Castele de carton/ Castillos de carton

Reading of how a friendship develops into love is always fun and brings up good memories of my own romance.

But what can you do when that friendship and romance involves three people?

Two men, Marcos and Jaime, and a girl, (Maria) Jose, find out that what they have is unique and gives them the meaning of true love. But because of their trio at first they find it fun and liberating but in the long run they cannot escape the social pressures and the fact that even though love can be big, it always is directed more towards one person that the other. So, at the end of their art faculty, they realize that although the year has given them great feelings and they have shared wonderful experiences, they are at a point of rupture. Realizing this they know none of them can become a couple without the third one.

Jaime and Jose start to feel more love towards one another, Marcos is in love with Jose, Marcos is much more talented at painting than both of them are, is afraid of manifesting his talent through his work, of fear of losing them both.
When he finally decides to submit some painting to a gallery he is received with great success, but left alone by the other two, and without someone to share his success with. This is the final moment for their relationship. They grow apart and although Jose gets back with Marcos, she will be all her life in love with Jaime, but knowing that nothing can be as it was when they were twenty and art students, sharing their love, passion for painting and feeling a harmony in being the three of them.

Marcos becomes the greatest painter of his generation and receives unanimous praise from both art critics and general public. Jose immerses herself in her work, and Jaime is being himself, managing to go through life as the opportunistic he always was.
Only at the funeral of Marcos (he commits suicide) they realize that although when being a trio they felt like they were complete, they could never feel the same again because a part of that is irremediably dead, and because that state was not powerful enough.

In a way they wanted everything and discovered, too late, that in order to have something you must make some compromises, to want and achieve only what is important, but then they were too young, and only with time they could achieve that wisdom.

marți, 25 ianuarie 2011

Oranges are not the only fruit

Another great novel and I loved it! I like how the author makes this great autobiographical account of a teenager trying to discover her way in faith, life and love.

Jeanette was brought up in a Baptist setting by a mother obsessed of the fear of devils and sins and the permanent battle for saving your soul in case the end of the world comes sooner (every next day) than expected. She first starts to question her upbringing when she attends to public school and there, her biblical messages are not well received by others, students or teachers. There she sees that people are different and starts to question her mother intolerability towards anything that doesn’t match her system of belief or values.

Most of the things in her life fall into that category after she starts to have feelings towards a fellow Christian, Melanie. They start to have a friendship that ends up being romantic and the community is outraged by the prospect so they organize session of exorcism for her and Melanie. Melanie leaves the community, but Jeanette takes the decision to continue her work in the church, but to be still true to herself. In a way she keeps the orange colored devil inside her (the Baptist church, apparently, have a way of dividing devils by their color).

Adolescence is the period in which she discovers a lot of limitations for women and , because, her feelings had their one way she starts falling in love with Katy, which is much more open in sharing her feelings as well. They commit a small mistake when they decide to take a holiday at a pension and the community finds out that she is “possessed” once more and try to figure out the course of action. This time Jeanette leaves the church, starts to work on her one, she leaves her family home, only to return in visit after two years and discover that no matter how much you feel that you family is odd(she is an adopted girl) there are some strings in place that can make you come home. In a way we don’t have the possibility to change or to evolve without making peace with the past or letting the door open for the moment when we would like to look at our past actions or events.

Growing up is difficult, and finding out that what you knew or know is not all that is can be confusing or liberating. For Jeanette it was the latter.

duminică, 9 ianuarie 2011

Bag of Bones

Ok, so I got this book for Christmas. I’m always grateful to receive books and to find out a bit how other view my literary interests.

About the book: it’s big, and reading it I couldn’t stop thinking how I would’ve liked to be the editor because some parts of it could have easily been erased and the story would have retained its consistency and maybe would be less appealing to the eye (due to its physical shrinking: from 800 pages to about 300 for my fashion).

I was a bit perplexed about how the author seems to throw in every piece of artillery that he has just to make a book, a consistent one with an intrigue and all. Crime, ghosts, the sense of a community hiding a dark secret, the loss of loved ones- all these are found in the book. It might seem cluttered when I presented them, but due to the length of the book they were all generously presented (how I wish I could have edited it). It seemed like some classic American story, the one that you could find it has been put in many movie scripts. It’s in a way gripping and it does have the authenticity of style, but I must say I didn’t quite read before too much ghost stories.

Some thoughts about the characters:

Well, Mike Noonan seems to be a bit empty of substance but the author seems to pour into him the substance of other characters, because he most resembles to a mirror, a receptacle for everything that his life gives him. He is thrown into the secret of his summer house by the ghost of his late wife, and the he finds out the secret of the community residing in TR. From there on he is only in a way possessed by ghosts of the dead or the ghosts of threats felt from the community. His wife helps him to keep his mind integrity and gives him the chance to protect a little girl which symbolizes the unborn baby that died along with its mother. Kyra is the girl that will bring a new order to things, she will in a way help break the curse that fell upon the community of Maine, after a terrible crime committed at the beginning of the XX century.

Thanks to Diana and Dan for the present!