30 July 2011

some things

Some things are worth revisiting. Today a conversation reminded me of a favourite poem, copied in this blog post from May 2008.

The conversation, as so often happens here, turned to beauty, aging and our aversion to botox, lifting, or any other such things. A skype video call revealed that I have cut my hair quite short, and while I like it and feel perfectly ok about the new look, my neighbours simply look, their mild shock registering on their faces, and they politely refrain from comment in my hearing.

My equally wrinkled friend with an even shorter haircut said "I felt a wonderful freedom when I stopped worrying about what other people thought about me. If they don't like what they see then they are the ones with the problem, because I am perfectly happy with how I look".

Freedom. It is a wonderful word. Freedom to be oneself, without being judged, shackled, assessed in any way. Freedom to be unaffected by the comments, the thinly veiled criticisms.

Tonight as I look out from my studio to the historic village, or across the hundreds of lights to the towns on the other side of the valley, I feel free. Free to appreciate, to enjoy, to feel wonder at what I see.

I am not quite ready to wear purple, but I will soon be a "year" older. In actual fact, when my birthday arrives, I will only be one day older than I was the day before.

But I do, quite often, wear my slippers outside when it has been raining.

When does the "third age" start? I think I have to wait another year. And until then, I shall cut my hair when I like, wear it as short as I like, and let it be as silver as it likes. And the wrinkles? Well, if every line represents ten years of laughter then so be it. Laughter is, after all, the very best of medicines.

Today I am grateful for courage and independence.

and it's done

It started like this...and finished like this:

Not so obvious in the photo is the change to the lemon tree. it was a bit too real, and intruded in the elegant room. I have toned it down quite a bit now. I am almost regretting not painting a different pot for the lemon, but I did enjoy painting this rather rustic one.

Here is the change I made today, I am much happier with this now. The wall is higher, the leaves a better background for real plants and flowers.

Today I am grateful for the satisfaction that comes from working hard.

29 July 2011

one more day to go...

One more day to go, she said, half believing it. A few leaves to add to the vines, two flower pots to empty and repot into one (I don't like them so much now that the lemon tree has been added) and the pavement to finish. And then, she said confidently, but holding her breath a little, we are almost done! Almost, because there is ALWAYS something more I think I can do. But there comes a time to say STOP and we are not far from that point.

Today I focused on blending the painting in with the house and furnishings, and bringing the lemons to life a little. Here are some details for the artists among you. Please imagine that the masking tape is not there :-)
I like to think that this has been a really successful change, breaking up the blank expanse of wall and linking the picture to the surrounds at the same time. I am pleased that in this photo the angle between the rocks and the flat wall doesn't look like the 90 degrees that it is.

The lemon tree was added at the client's request. It has complicated things a little as the painting was well underway before the request was made. I will have to adjust the wall on the other side to compensate for this a little, but I am going to accept that there will be an inaccuracy here (there is no right or wrong, just what was in my imagination and original sketch) rather than do a massive repaint. The right hand side will have a vase of real flowers in front of it so I am going to tone down the flowers, lift the wall a little, and add more greenery.

This corner (bottom right of painting, photo below) will be closest to the dining table. The wall tile is a perfect match for some of the rocks in the wall, and I didn't notice that until after I had painted them. My sub-conscious mind must have been at work when I mixed the paint. I want to lift and widen this low wall to balance the lemon tree, and that should also have the effect of tucking the painted wall in behind the actual wall of the room, thus anchoring the painting well and truly.

Matching the terrace to both the flooring in the house and the wooden ledge has been challenging. In the end I decided to use the colour of the wood, but then sponge the floor colour over it to give an aged effect. It seems to be working, but tomorrow I may think differently.

And a close up... light not good again today because of a thunderstorm.
Please try to imagine this without the masking tape on the bottom edge.

Today I am grateful for happy clients.

back to work again

I lost the light early this evening so the picture is a little dark.

I am hoping that in another two days the work will be finished, but realistically...?

I want to "remove" a little stucco on the wall (ie, paint the stones that are under the stucco in these houses) to balance the other side where the real stones come in a bit. Then I need to make some firm decisions about the shadows, something I have been messing about with a bit too much. After that it is hopefully just a matter of tidying up details and bringing the foreground to life a bit more.

Nearly there... but I certainly wont be sealing it until after the owners are home from their holiday and have lived with it a bit. It would be sad to leave them with something that bugged them, like a stray leaf on the ground or a flower that needs picking off...

28 July 2011

pics for ann

You'll have to overlook the edges where the stucco needs replacing.

I am learning to "drive" the handles to get the options I want where the windows move in different ways. And I am soooo much enjoying the novelty of a proper door handle on my kitchen door!

Not only will it be warmer in winter and cooler in summer, but the doors and windows are almost sound-proof. If only I could do the studio too!

Today I am grateful for cooler temperatures.

proud of their work

This morning the team leader called me down to inspect the work. The finishing touches are taking place. He wants me to take photos of the completed door, with all the trimmings.

How great it is to see people taking pride in their work.

I did ask about the wooden panels over the glass and was assured that they were only for darkening bedrooms, and not used on kitchen doors. This sort of thing happened to me in NZ too, when what I ordered was changed in my absence because the worker thought it wouldn't look right. (I had measured up for wheelchair access into the house, leaving some of the steps exposed to place lovely pot plants on. I came home to a dangerous, steep ramp not the gentle one along the side that I had requested, and nowhere for the pot plants because the men involved thought I had made a mistake. GRRRR!!!! If it happened now I would have insisted on it being changed, but back then I didn't really stand up for myself). In this instance, though, I did get the darkening panel on the kitchen window; presumably they thought it was for another bedroom. I don't like curtains in kitchens so am very glad about that one!

I'll add the photos to this post later.

27 July 2011


It was the strangest feeling, looking at my new kitchen doors. The order is not quite what I had asked for; I was expecting the wooden shutters on the door as well as the window. However, I imagine the request was a little unusual for a kitchen door. The expectation is that I will put huge metal security doors outside and not need the shutters as it is not a bedroom. Aaah well, I'll give it time.

But the strange feeling was not the disappointment of the order being incorrect, after all I had had the chance to check the order - only briefly, but my fault for not taking a copy - and perhaps I didn't understand what I was looking at. The strange feeling was looking through the glass with no bars on my window. When I arrived here I absolutely hated these doors. Ugly. Rusted. Cracked glass. And bars. Bars inside my windows. In fact, for four years I have tolerated these doors only because I was powerless to change them.

Have I become institutionalised within my own home? Last night I slept happily on the couch with no doors to protect me. The night camping was an adventure, coils burning to ward off zanzare and other nasties. Today I felt odd looking through a wonderful expanse of double glazed plain glass. To see my doors shut yet open to the wonderful view brought a strange sensation. I felt oddly vulnerable.

I don't think it will take me long to adjust, and I MIGHT even enjoy keeping these ones clean!


And in the bedroom, what the kitchen ones should have looked like. But I have had a sneaky peek, and I think that the shutters can be added later.

PS: Just as I finished this blog "the boss" called me down to explain to me that I needed to organise the big metal security gates for both doors, and gave me his recommendations for these. I need another solution. I don't want to drill holes in beautiful pieces of stone that have stood as silent doorways for 500 years or so. The thinking cap is back on again.

back to the original

Last night Zacchi, Piccolina and I slept "on guard" in the kitchen as the house was completely open to the elements and any potential intruders. Luckily we slept well and there were no disturbances during the night. We booby-trapped the main entrance just in case we had visitors!

Today what was once a doorway, but was a smaller window space when I bought the apartment, is a doorway again.

It will be exciting making a lovely little courtyard off the bedroom - but that must wait a little longer. For now I will simply dream of it.

Sorting out a few problems:

I'll get the "after photo" when the door is properly fixed and there are not five men consulting in the space.


Later... and here it is. Note that I can still tie up my mule outside? I suggested it was for the knight on the white horse, but the workmen agreed that there are more donkeys than horses around here!

No, I haven't really got a mule, just these little darlings who have been so good in exile down in the garden today!

Today I am also grateful for intelligent and obedient dogs.

for my grandchildren

This is the window at the top of my stairs. The old one had a fixed panel above, a nice arched top, but that had to go. The shape was nice, the object itself was not exactly pretty, with cracks in the wood and layers of badly applied varnish. Windows are almost twice the price with a curved top. Instead I opted for plain windows with a fixed panel below so it is safe for my grandchildren (and other guests taking photos of the view). I was always afraid that an adult or child might lean out too far and overbalance; the wall is below knee height for an adult and there is a long way to fall.
There is a lot of dust and noise. One of the workers asked for an asprin earlier. Now I think it is my turn to take one.

Dinner with Francesca tonight; I invited myself! This is what my kitchen looked like half an hour ago...

Today I am grateful for safe houses.

26 July 2011

a privileged life

I am thinking today how privileged I am. I meet so many interesting people, and am allowed to share some special moments with them.

Yesterday I drove a little over 200 kilometres with my house guests, following the progress of the 19th Armoured Battalion from their waiting place at Piedimonte d'Alife some distance south of Cassino. There was varied and interesting conversation, and of course there are always interesting things to see along the way. Each time I take visitors on such trails I travel new roads myself, and learn more.

Thanks to information gleaned form the New Zealand Official Histories available on electronic texts and a photograph in the new book The Battles for Monte Cassino by Plowman and Rowe I was able to take the daughter of a veteran to the street where her father was injured, and to places where he was most likely to have been before and during the battles for Cassino.

It is a very special experience sharing days like these with visitors from New Zealand and other parts of the world.

Today I am grateful for new friends.

24 July 2011

working on the wall

I've had to make a few corrections along the way... when you alter the composition "on the job" it's a good idea to go back and note it on the original working drawings too! I had to alter the angle of the pergola and remove its shadow on the building that I had faithfully copied from my original drawing. Somehow I had overlooked that the change in structure meant a change in shadows too! How basic, how avoidable! Thankfully I noticed immediately I stepped back to look at it and hastily reworked the wall. Just imagine doing that in buon fresco and having to chip away all the intonico again!

Today I am grateful for fresh air and sunshine.

22 July 2011

i forgot

to take progress photos today. I was too busy concentrating on my painting. It is a strange space I paint in...

It's a very beautiful home, everything spotless, scary for a messy pup like me romping around with paint close to gorgeous furniture. The clients keep popping home from work to watch progress, and while I don't notice the silence at all when I am painting alone, when there are people seated on the couch watching my back view as I paint I find the silence most disconcerting. The good thing is, though, that apart from the odd question they don't try to talk to me, understanding that I need to concentrate.

I am sitting in the studio listening to music wafting up from the valley. I'd love to go down, but I need to eat, walk the dogs, and rest up for two 4 hour painting stints tomorrow, punctuated by an informal English lesson over lunch.

At the end of tomorrow the fresco will be in its final form, but still lacking shadows and detail.

If I forget to say happy birthday until evening (you know who, down in the valley) please forgive me and take it as being already said!

Today I am grateful for frozen food and an oven.

21 July 2011

genius painter

This evening I read that Lucian Freud has died, aged 88.

One of the few painters to have a profound affect on me, not painting-wise but emotionally, was Lucian Freud. In this article you can read more about him.

When I walked through the exhibition in Venice in 2005 I was both drawn in, completely captivated, and repulsed, wanting to avoid the powerful naked images. I say naked images because, while the figures were obviously nude, there was something more. Freud did really expose the soul, take you into the private places where you became a voyeur, no longer an appreciator of art but an intruder in the lives of his subjects.

How powerful the brush and some paint can be.

Earlier this month Cy Twombly died. Another highly respected painter. I appreciate his contribution, but his art is of academic and mark-making interest to me only.

Two great names. Twombly has been described as a genius. For me, though, only one was a truly great painter. Lucien Freud, every time.

And other artists I admire? Yes, there was one in particular, and we lost him a while ago too. In 2009 Andrew Wyeth died.

Sometimes I think I should be doing other things. Get a "real job" perhaps? Today I am very happy to be a painter.

This evening I spoke with an intense, broody and often discontented artist who devotes his life to his art more than I could ever do. Do balance, contentment and comfort create great art? Perhaps I will never know. And if I don't reach great heights, does it really matter?

But intense or not, I hope that these great artists all left this world feeling happy with their lot too.

RIP, Lucian Freud. Thank you for your powerful, honest works.

the story so far

in the studio

Landscape blocked in and waiting for the next coat. The colours are very muted, and it is an extrememly limited palette for me. So far I am quite happy with it, and hope to put another glaze on tomorrow morning.




finding the balance

The main morning chore was a trip to Cassino (yes, again, I was there yesterday) to sort out the name and address on my water bill which goes to someone else instead of to me. In the large waiting room (the wait was over an hour, but that is my resting time) people watching was my number one occupation.

A delightful, friendly toddler played, pushed the boundaries, and finally ran across the room to engage with those of us sitting on the other side. There was something about the way that he moved that had me fascinated. Sometimes he danced on tip toes, odd for a little one probably not yet two. At other times he was slightly off balance and toppled. His two behaviours didn't quite match.

Finally I decided that the smart lace-up sneakers he was wearing were probably both the impetous to dance on his toes and the reason that he sometimes toppled. They had quite a heel, and a platform sole which curved slightly as it reached the toes. Gorgeous with his smart outfit but...


Born to be wild, or born to be free? My treat for the day was a motorbike ride, pillion passenger across the valley and into the hills. Ever since my first scooter ride at university (ok, I'll 'fess up, it was 1970) I have loved being a passenger on a motor bike. There haven't been many opportunities (I'm not sure that the Kawasaki Grasshopper on the farm counts) but the bigger and faster the bike the happier I am! Just when I think I have emptied my bucket list, or that the things in it didn't really matter anyway, I think I want to get a motorbike licence...


And then it was to work. The fresco is underway. I am hoping to complete it in record time, before the clients go on holiday. Photos in a new post. I finished work at 8pm, home to take in the washing, secure all the windows, cover the dogs' water supplies etc before the village is sprayed for mosquitoes and other nasties tonight.

Today I am grateful for fun things to do.

20 July 2011


Studio cupboards cleaned and sorted
Another sketch completed (number 4)
Three canvases primed
One oil composition blocked in
Two client interviews

Large pot of soup cooked
One NZ phone call made
Two shots of amaro for a nightcap to break the diet

...and yes, my Daddy said I could. Diets, he said, must be in moderation too!

Today I am grateful for things achieved.

18 July 2011


Three days, three sketches. I am reluctant to share them here, as they are a huge amount of work and eyestrain for someone else to plagiarise, add colour, and call their own.

Who knows which one the client will choose? It will be interesting to see. Here's hoping that he really likes at least one of them!

One is a romantic look at the past, with a figure, church, hillside and a few rocks. I haven't filled in much detail because if the client chooses this one I need to know how realistic he wants the landscape to be. The church is the first one in the world dedicated to Thomas Aquinas and can be seen from the client's home.

Number two is an escape to gracious columns, a classical portico overlooking the sea. My source was my photos from Ravello but I have taken plenty of artistic license with them to get a dramatic perspective. This one had me using plenty of construction lines and a single vanishing point.

The third is a street scene based on tourist photos of Lake Como, the beautiful little villages with lake and mountains in the background. It is, however, mostly from my imagination as I have yet to visit that area. I needed two main vanishing points and another minor one to make the buildings along the cobblestoned street credible.

Today I am grateful for my healthy lunch :-)

17 July 2011


Did I ever say how much I LOVE my studio?

Love is

an artist at work

with ideas flowing

and the serenity of a hillside village at siesta time.

This time, I KNOW I'm back!

you know the art is going well

...when the tea keeps going cold and there is no time to blog.

On a roll.

At last.

Thank you, inspiration!

Today I am grateful for peaceful places and cicadas.

it was a hard call to make

....but in the end the baritone won!

Those of you who know me REALLY well will know I have this thing for conductors (of the orchestra type. not those scientific ones). Occasionally, in this new life, I have also been known to join the groupies adoring a tenor or two.

Tonight, though, it was a very tough call. The baritone? The conductor? The tenor-presenter? Or call it a draw?

In the end, the whimsical long-haired baritone in the white jacket and shoes won. He was wonderful! Can I have the second part of the concert all over again, please?

Aaah, free summer concerts and opera in the piazza. I didn't realise how much I had missed the concerts last year until they returned this year. It might be too hot in the middle of the day, but that siesta makes concerts that start at 10pm well worth staying awake for! Tonight I went out simply seeking a diversion, expecting a leisurely passeggiata under the festa lights. I didn't know that the concert was on. What a bonus!

As usual I was torn - not only in choosing my favourite singer. The children run about, playing almost at the feet of the performers, racing through between the seating and the rotunda. Half of me finds it a distraction; the other part of me thinks how wonderful it is that hearing live opera of this quality is just an ordinary part of a Saturday night if you are lucky enough to grow up here. I love seeing the little ones clapping and swaying to opera. And mostly I am so transported by the music that the stampede through is not a real problem.

Life... it's pretty wonderful really!

Today I am grateful for live music.

15 July 2011

glasgow abstract

and by contrast

One of the many beautiful glimpses of the past...I love the pace, beauty and history of Edinburgh but Glasgow is growing on me.

architects' delight


Glasgow has so many diverse, interesting, imaginative new buildings and some gorgeous old ones. It is surely a "must visit" for every student of architecture.
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MIL on the loose... or was it S-I-L?
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I had already eaten the best one. A dark chocolate cup with rock salt on a firm and not too sweet caramel filling. Sinfully good! The strawberry pepper was a little too sweet but looked pretty.

Yes, N, you can have those...
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In a tiny little cafe in Glasgow, where fine teas and hand made chocolates were all one could wish for!

Today I am grateful for self control!
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12 July 2011

home again, home again...

There comes a time in life when it is an absolute pleasure to hand over to your kids.

I remember how much my Dad enjoyed it when I started driving my parents around New Zealand and he could simply be the passenger.

I am home from a week of rest and relaxation in Scotland, where I gladly hand over responsibility to my daughter and son-in-law and I simply rest!

It took a few days to become human after a busy and stressful time, but now I am home (sweltering in the heat, 30 degrees and almost midnight) feeling far more relaxed and even a little fitter despite failing at boot camp!

Photos later, perhaps, of exquisite cups of tea, interesting architecture, but not too many photos taken over all.

My hand luggage was over-weight with all the lovely tea I brought back into coffeeland. I am overweight after a week of interesting cuisine and second helpings. Scotland has that effect on me. Blame A...., I think, as I seem to now associate Scotland with food, the result of dining too much some time ago with wonderful servings from a certain Carnock kitchen!

Today I am grateful for adult "children".

oh dear...

Health camp: fail!
Boot camp: fail!
Exhibition proposal ready to send? Gone to be proofed in Australia. (Pretty please?) It's a Google documents first for me; here's hoping it is successful way of communicating.

No exercise today, unless walking around the city counts.

The diet?
Last night, Italian followed by a Scottish supper.
Today, a huge afternoon tea in town followed by Mexican for dinner.

But... today I discovered (thanks Kate and Alice) "Shaun the Sheep". Wonderful. I think we are now watching about episode five for the evening...

And the doors and windows... can't wait until they are installed :-) Exciting times!

Today I am grateful for helping hands from friends and family.

9 July 2011

patience rewarded...

My doors and windows are on their way! I can't wait to see the difference they will make to the house. (Let's not think about the dust, the noise of installing them or covering or moving the furniture, much better to think of latches that close properly, double glazing, locks that are secure).

I failed on the exercise routine today, mutiny at boot camp but I was well looked after at health camp. Now to see if I can have some treatment to set all to rights and I'll be on top of the world again ;)

Tonight's meal was Chinese... around the world in cuisine, that's the way to travel!

This evening we watched a very poignant film, made special as it was all done in animated watercolour paintings. The music was also gently edgy, not quite sad, not always beautiful, but always pretty. (Don't click on the link if you don't want to know the story ahead of seeing the film). Silvain Chomet's "The Illusionist" based on a screenplay by Jaques Tati was in effect both a farewell to Vaudeville and a lovesong to Edinburgh. The painted backdrops are delightful, and watching it with folk who know the buildings well added to the appreciation of the artists involved in the production. It was well worth watching for the art and the music alone.

Today I am grateful for cherry and cinnamon tea.

7 July 2011

food, glorious food...

Monday evening Italian pizza
Tuesday evening chicken and salad
Wednesday evening Japanese
Thursday evening Indian
And tomorrow? Thai? Chinese? Or vegetarian shepherds pie?

Yesterday a 4 mile walk then later another half mile walk to the train.
Today I managed only 3.5 miles.
Tomorrow it's hot pools...

My wonderful red goretex rain jacket bought in NZ for cycling in Italy has been doing great service in all sorts of places.

Today I am grateful for being able to sleep in.

4 July 2011

you call that a walk?

Honestly mum, you have bathed us, poked syringes of medicine between our gritted teeth, and generally been less than kind today. Then you go out for dinner, come home latish, and all we get is a short walk around the village?

There were all those new blue poles to sniff at and pee on. There were cats by the rubbish bin. With all the new folk in town for the summer there was rubbish escaping from the bins. And you PUT US IN THE CAR and drove us down the road to walk back? Why couldn't you leave the car where it was? Would it have mattered if the doorbell had rung and you had to move it early in the morning so they could put up the festa lights? Sleep in? What's that?

OK, so we walked up and down the village first, checking out where the red and white tape was. And you could have just left us at home while you moved the car.

And you do look stunning in that fluoro vest you know.

Maybe we'll stop complaining...

For now

Today we are grateful that Mum walks us, sometimes!

showing her strength

When I close the garden gate and get out the bath tub two little dogs do their best to make themselves invisible. Water? You've got to be kidding. It's wet!

Zacchi, however, is well accustomed to my tune "This is what love looks like" and having made his obligatory attempt to hide from me he growls at my approach, allows me to lift him into the tub, and growls again. When I take his collar off though, he stays in the tub, pretending to hate it but I suspect loving the attention.

As soon as he is rinsed down I lift him out and he stands, glowering, knowing that he looks absolutely hilarious and not at all the "dominant male". He slowly shakes himself, setting a good example to Piccolina, then runs about madly rolling in any vegetation he can. Bravo Zacchi!

Piccolina, however, now by far the heavier and stronger of the two, runs, is caught, escapes, runs again. Third time lucky I think, and lift her into the tub. The minute her collar is off, so is she! No, Pickle, non sei brava.

For this she gets a double bath, the nice smelling shampoo and then the smelly one prescribed by the vet. I notice that her hair still comes out a little, but it is thickening up and growing far faster than any falls out.

I check Zacchi anxiously, his hair and his toenails, but so far no evidence that he has any problems.

Now, when they are nicely dry and confident that I am their friend again, it's time for a dose of tonic via a syringe. It's funny, isn't it, what love looks like?

Today I am grateful for healthy dogs.

3 July 2011

to the civilians

This is in some way a tribute to the Italian civilians, the women who found incredible strength to carry on in their occupied country, without their menfolk, not knowing their fate, their crops destroyed, their animals taken, living in freezing conditions without even firewood to burn once the front line had passed them by.

For now, the painting is finished. I know I'll come back to it, but this is enough. Propped on my easel it keeps pulling me back, not to paint it but to read it. That's what a painting should do.

nearly there

I am at the point where I know that I will never be satisfied with this work so I have to look at it differently. If it were beautifully framed in an exhibition, would I be drawn to have a closer look at it? The answer is a definite yes, so it must have something about it that is compelling. Up close though, technically it frustrates me. I can see what was in my mind, and it is not what is on the paper. I know that I will be painting this one again.

The source photograph is less ambiguous. It is part of a larger photograph of local civilians being driven out of their homes, with some changes to make the composition work. The women and the children formed a long train of cold and hungry residents with nowhere to go. I wonder, what nationality was the person who took the photograph? I am guessing, from the fear in the faces of the children, that it was a soldier. The woman in the photograph has a strong, resolute but also haunted look.

I hope that I have painted these figures in a more ambiguous manner. I'd like to inspire more questions than answers. The boy on foot is wearing what looks like an army uniform. It is far too big for him, but the sleeves are rolled up, perhaps to keep them out of the mud when he picks grasses to eat along the way, leaving his hands frozen. Why is the mother carrying the bigger boy when the little girl is crying? Is the child in her arms wounded? Is the little girl turning back to look for her own mother?

In the photograph there are several children, and only one adult. There are sacks of possessions along the path, and one imagines that she is hoping that someone will come to assist in this weary journey. The mud, the children with bare feet, the desolute nature of the travel give a sad and haunting image. I hope that there is a little more hope in my painting, that the person they have turned to might be bringing some hope and assistance to the group.

It's time to put it aside now... if I can.