Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Staycation: Day 3

On Sunday, we met some good friends at a local park near the coast for a little picnic lunch and geocaching. The park is really beautiful. It's full of climbing trees and interesting sculptures. And, today, people. The crowd was unexpected, and made for challenging geocaching, as it's important to keep random people from noticing the caches in case someone decides to make off with it. Really, it's not much of a threat, I think. These caches never have anything of value in them. But some have gone missing, so we play it safe.

Here's another view of the park and the adjacent bay. There's a kite shop nearby, and some real beauties flying in the park.

This was probably my favorite. When it got up in the air, the tail waved slowly and gracefully.

The unexpected crowds were the result of an event taking place in the park: a gathering of local classic Chevy enthusiasts. Many of these cars have been taken from transportation to works of art.

Beautiful, but not enough to keep the attention of the kids for more than a moment. The trees were far more interesting to our little aerialists.

After lunch and little tree climbing, it was time to go hunting for caches. Two were secreted among the rocks along the bay wall. The kids enjoyed climbing around on them, looking in the crevices for the camouflaged tupperware containers that these caches were made from. We found one little one, but the other eluded us, despite some pretty specific clues in the cache's description. Oh's more fun looking than finding, sometimes.

Down closer to the water, the sea wall rocks make a nice home for hundreds of little crabs. I spent a few minutes just watching them scuttle around...and trying to get a decent photograph. Not easy in the strange reflected light, while dodging sea spray.

The other two caches were in the nearby shopping area: our first "urban" caches. Here's the family, pausing for a quick group photo. I need to get a haircut!

Along the seaside promenade, a man had brought out his family of parrots. He was happy to put birds on shoulders for photos. Here's Sarah, with a rather scraggly looking little fellow.

And Isabella, with a much happier looking yellow parrot.

We found this shop in our wanderings. We've got pretty deep Scandinavian roots, including Norwegian and Swedish. Couldn't resist taking this shot!

And buying this shirt...

The geocaching went well in this built-up part of the park. We found one tiny cache, held magnetically under some pipes. The last was very challenging. It was located in an area very near a band stand in the middle of the little shopping village. OK, no problem. Except that a band was playing there. And they were good. And the massive crowds thought so too. We tried once, found lots of people literally sitting/leaning on the area where we thought the cache might be, and gave up. Thankfully, when we came back about a half hour later the band had gone home, and the tourists with them. We found the cache, surreptitiously traded out a few trinkets and signed the log, and got it back in place without tipping the public off.

We had a great day. Food and fun with friends, in one of the most beautiful areas of our home town. Just what a staycation should be.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Staycation: Day 2

After a long day yesterday, we decided to kick off the staycation in earnest, by literally staying home all day. We did some arts and crafts projects with the kids, caught up on some chores, and puttered around our burgeoning garden. The summer crops are showing signs of rolling in, with first fruits showing up all over the garden.

The sprawling watermelon has set three fruit so far. Unfortunately, the overcast and cool weather that's made for a very pleasant August has also brought on a severe case of powdery mildew. Kathy tried dosing the mildew with a weak milk solution...we'll see how that goes.

The banana melon plant is doing a little better. Less mildew and, so far, one whopping fruit.

The squash are, and have been, producing like crazy. The pattypans we harvest are silky soft and saute up beautifully. The yellow crooknecks are tasty and plentiful.

We've got a solitary green pepper out there. I've got my fingers crossed for these babies. I love peppers, but we've had little luck growing more than one or two really pungent specimens. Maybe we're not giving them enough water? This year, we've got drip irrigation going for consistent hydration, and little cardboard walls ringed with diatomaceous earth to keep the cutworms and rolly-poly bugs away. We'll see...

The first Druzba tomatoes have ripened. We've been looking forward to fresh garden tomatoes since before these beauties went into the soil. These two were YUMMY. But, we found signs of trouble on the vines. See those nibbled leaves? Well, those chewed fronds are everywhere, and some of the green fruit have been well chewed too.

And here's the critter. A tomato hornworm. This was the largest one we found but, after a careful search repeated over many visits to the patch, we've pulled something like twenty smaller worms off the plant so far. We're determined to keep after them, to save the crop. Tomatoes are, to me, the best reason to have a backyard garden. No way I'm letting the worms get them all.

Did I mention this bug was big? Three inches long and about half an inch wide. That long reddish spur on its hind end gives the hornworm it's name.

The garden is looking great, and we had a nice, relaxing day. Would have been even better if I'd gone to bed on time the night before. I made up for it that night, crashing hard at about 10:00pm.

Staycation: Day 1 - picture update

I had a few minutes to clear out the old camera yesterday, and found a couple of keepers from the visit with my grandfather. Here's the patriarch himself, with my mother (in white) and my wife Kathy.

And here's one of the two of us. Family resemblance much?

My uncle, grandpa's youngest son, was a traveling salesman for a long time. He tells a story about walking through Chicago's O'Hare airport. He passed a man going the other direction, took a couple of steps, stopped, and turned around. The other man had done the same. They'd never met, and lived thousands of miles from each other, but both instantly recognized the family chin.

OK, back to the not-travel-logue...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Staycation: Day 1

Yesterday was the first day of our week-plus-two-weekends-and-a-day staycation. It started off with something of a bang. Our girls have been in Oregon all week with my mother, and returned home this morning. Early this morning. As in, they woke up at 3am to get to the plane on time.

But apparently they did very well with it. Rather than sleep in the car (as I'd assumed they would), they delved into their books for the hour-long drive. Now that I think of it, I think this must mean they were reading by the strobe of passing streetlight...something we often remind them not to do...hmm. Anyway, by 9am their plane had landed safely and the girls and my mother were here.

We stopped home long enough to pack up a picnic lunch, then drove North for an hour, to visit my grandfather (my mother's father) and my step-grandmother.

Grandpa is well into the recovery phase of some surgery a few months ago, and looks like his old self again. He's doing his physical therapy exercises regularly, and his smiling, laughing nature is shining through.

Of all of my grandparents, he's the one I'm closest to. When I was growing up, grandpa was an optical surgeon. He was a busy man, but always made the time we spent with him count. He taught me to play pool on his billiards table, taught me to play all kinds of card games, and inspired my interest in all kinds of hobbies (the man tied his own fishing flies, painted beautifully, and even tried his hand at violin making). Summer days spent with him and my uncles in and around his backyard pool are the cornerstones of that collection of memories which, for me, define childhood.

More important than all of that, grandpa taught me a lot about how to be a good man. He loves his wife dearly and closely. He spends time with a person, not just near them. He has a constant, gentle manner. And he knows how to make a point without making you feel condescended to. I love my grandfather very much, and am very glad we made time to go up and visit. We should do that a lot more often than we do.

After a short visit, we headed South again, in order to get Mom to her plane home in time. In the evening, some friends dropped off their four children so they could go out for a little date night. Loud? Yes. Very. A constant demand on one's attention? Yes. But there's something very familial and fortifying about being surrounded by children. Maybe it's knowing that, yes, we can handle seven children at once. At least for a while. Don't get me wrong...three is enough for this family, and it was some small relief when their parents arrived to retrieve them. But it was also fun, and satisfying, and a very small price to pay for the reciprocal child-sitting we get in return.

So, one day of our staycation is over. But it was well spent. Today, day two, is all about spending time together around the house. More on that later, but I'm really looking forward to it.

Food log:

Breakfast: lots of chopped stonefruit, dressed with vanilla yogurt and granola

Lunch: turkey and provolone on whole wheat bread, and some baked potato chips.

Dinner: pepperoni pizza and milk

Snacks: three homemade chocolate chip cookies, a very small handful of Jelly Bellies.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Return of the Food Log, Stay-cation begins

Time to start the food log up again. I find it makes a big difference to actually hold myself accountable for everything I eat in this way.

Or that's the theory. And it works! But occasionally I slip. See "Dessert," below...

Tomorrow is the first day of a week-and-a-day stay-cation. We have all kinds of simple plans to enjoy the bounty of our home town, and spend all kinds of time with the kids. I'm really looking forward to it.

Our girls have spent the last week in Oregon with my mother. From the phone calls, it sounds like they all had a terrific, if exhausting time. The girls are a little homesick, and we're looking forward to picking them up at the airport early tomorrow morning. I miss them dearly. I've enjoyed spending time with my son, very much. But it'll be nice to have the whole family back together again.

Food log:

Breakfast: a bowl of granola with milk, eaten while holding a cat in my lap. Purrrrrrr.

Lunch: leftover mandarin chicken with rice, and sauteed summer patty pan and yellow crookneck squash direct from the garden. You know, as a kid, I HATED squash. Now they're one of my favorite foods. It's amazing what a difference it makes to eat really fresh, vine-ripened anything. A Diet Coke.

Dinner: thai beef lettuce wraps, two chocolate chip cookies. A glass of milk.

Snacks: a piece of my wife's zucchini bread. A Nature Valley granola bar.

Dessert: I was having an OK day, living up to my promises to myself. Until my wife suggested ice cream in front of the TV after our son was in bed. My will flagging, I dug into a nice bowl of Extreme Moose Tracks.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Blogstorm: Meet Oli

Some weeks ago, we added a pair of cute and cuddly little kittens to our family. But there was another kitten, you see. A third brother. He was (also) adorable, and affectionate. A purr machine. We were just sure he'd find a home in short order. But four weeks passed, and still no takers. Not even any calls about him. We just couldn't leave him there by himself.

So, about three weeks ago, Oli joined the family. The first days were a little rough on him. He spent all of his time in the bathroom, meowing in a low, plaintive, constant cry. But little by little, he relaxed. Little by little, the other cats came to accept him.

These days, he's a cuddly, happy cat. He and his brothers play, and chase each other, and share each others' food. He loves to be petted, but still isn't quite sure about being held. He's learned to run on the hardwood floor without spinning out. We're one big happy family, and we have one more warm and snugly, funny ball of fur to warm our hearts.

Early days, in this picture. Loki (the smallest, but clearly the alpha cat) asserts his dominance by coming into "Oli's" bathroom and heading into Oli's carrier for a little sit down. Oli watches from the relative safety of the bathtub. Please ignore Oli's luminous blue eyes. Really, he's not possessed.

Thor, meanwhile, left it to Loki to put the newcomer in his place. He and I sometimes do Yoga together in the mornings. Wish I could stretch like that!

Blogstorm: Dinner at the beach

One Friday afternoon, I drove straight to the beach after work. My family and some good friends had been there for an hour or two already, and I got to join them for a dinner my wife had prepared and carefully packed up. Our children love, love, love the beach. My wife has gone out of her way this summer to get them down to the water once a week. They've turned into avid body surfers, beach combers and castle builders.

Here's our middle child. The smile says it all. Well, almost. The blue lips tell the rest of the story...she won't leave the waves until she's shivering and we make her.

Sand castle time. Actually, our eldest (in darker blue) and two of her friends are making a sand castle. The one in the background is making a Hollywood Walk of Fame star for Lucille Ball (who never got one, she tells me). No, really, she is.

Our beaches really are spectacular. When you've lived here for as long as I have, you take for granted how special this place is, unless you stop and take notice once in a while.

Blue lips, a big smile, and a fine dusting of sand. It was a great evening.

Blogstorm: Summer picnic in the park

A couple of weekends ago, our church held the "first annual church picnic." The Knights of Columbus and the parish youth group got together, grilled a few hundred hot dogs, hamburgers and sausages, and threw us a summer party at a local park. Between the good food, the sunny day, friends all around us, and the games on the lawn, our family had a great, great time.

Here's our middle child, all sparkling smiles, getting ready to have some fun throwing water balloons. She and partner beat out a dozen other teams, eventually ending up about fifteen feet apart, still tossing the balloon back and forth while those of the other teams had all burst.

Mom, and our little son. Those dimples!

Middle child again, in the sponge relay race. The goal is to fill a bucket at the other end of the run, by carrying water in a big sponge from the bucket at the starting line. Our eldest - the blonde in the yellow shirt - waits for a teammate to hand off the sponge.

Our little son is ticklish, ticklish, ticklish.

After the picnic, we headed home. Our son, so tired he was hyper, went straight for the swings. These motion shots are a lot of fun and, I think, really convey his joy in the moment.

Of course, it couldn't last. He doesn't often nap anymore, but a long day can still send him straight to snooze land. I wish I could nap whenever I needed to. I think we should take a lesson from the Spanish and Italians. Siesta, anyone?

Time with family and friends. A beautiful afternoon. Food cooked with love and honest brotherhood. Being the grateful beneficiaries of others' graciously donated time and effort. What a great day.

"First annual" anythings are a little optimistic, by nature. But we hope this event does, indeed, turn into a thriving annual tradition.

Blogstorm: Glorious morning, a stressful season, and the calm that's followed

As I drive in to work each morning, the last stretch of my commute faces my car and I almost due East. Dry and rocky hills line the horizon and occasionally, just occasionally, the skies fill with fluffy clouds and the sun cuts through in hundreds of shifting lancets. About three weeks ago, we had one of those glorious mornings. Thankfully, I had my camera with me, and fifteen minutes to spare.

By midday those wonderful clouds had cleared, leaving the skies empty and the sun blazing down. I work on the fourth floor of an eco-friendly office building, with a long balcony along one side. It's a beautiful and, sometimes, peaceful place to work.

On this particular day, I was feeling bloated and chubby again. Triamterene is a diuretic. Getting off the drug is, in the long run, a great thing. But, short term, it left behind a parting gift: five pounds of weight, gained in three days. It's water weight, but it's weight just the same.

Over the next couple of weeks, I struggled with the removal of the drug from my daily regimen. My blood pressure never got dangerously higher. In fact, it never really got much higher at all. But I had headaches for days. I felt tired and down.

It didn't help that I went through a very stressful time just then. Each year, as in most companies, our company conducts annual reviews of the employees. I manage a small team, and lead another, separate small team. So I had reviews to deliver, and more to contribute feedback to.

I take this part of my job very seriously. Feedback about performance should be constant, honest, and always constructive. It's a year round responsibility, and the part of my job that I take the most pride in. The annual reviews, however, are special. They're the one moment, during that year-round feedback cycle, where everything comes together, on paper, and transforms itself into adjustments to salary, and into bonuses.

So, for each of the people I manage, I gather feedback from many of their peers and leaders. Each person writes a self-review. I add my own opinions and notes into the stew and boil it down into, hopefully, a meaningful summary that balances recognition of all of the great talents and experience each person brings, with opportunities to improve, and to have a broader and more impactful influence on the team and the business.

It's important. I love this part of my job. But it's a LOT of work. And here's the really difficult part: the other part of my job, keeping up relationships with the other teams that depend on us, managing changing priorities, running interference for the team and removing their roadblocks, doesn't stop during review season.

So, for about two solid weeks, while my body was screaming and complaining, I was working all day, then going home to work on reviews at night. Often until the wee hours. The stress brought on another relapse of snacking, a reprise of my Diet Coke addiction, and a lapse in my exercise regimen.

Here's the good news: my reviews are finished. And well, I think. We're on to the next phase in the annual cycle: setting career development goals for the coming year. The stress is gone, replaced with a sense of accomplishment and some new energy. I've been working, over the past week, on renewing my commitment to eating well and exercising. And enjoying the little, very good, things in life. More on those as this blogstorm blows on.

Blogstorm warning

It's been three weeks since my last post. Time to catch up. So batten down the hatches, brew yourself a cup of cocoa, and let these posts rattle against your shutters for a while.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Summer evening fun

We had a normal, peaceful Sunday today. Church in the morning, followed by an hour of easy socializing with friends in the hall over donuts, then off to the farmer's market. Stone fruit are still king, and we came home with some beautiful peaches and nectarines. The peaches have been so plentiful lately that my wife made peach ice cream yesterday. So, so good. Today we bought six baskets of strawberries. Three to eat fresh, and three to flavor the next batch of creamy icy goodness.

We hit up Costco for lunch and a little shopping. Then I introduced the children to Return of the Jedi. Star Wars and Empire Strikes back were last weekend, and they've been waiting very patiently all week to see how the story ends. Empire is my favorite, for it's plot and character development. But Jedi was the clear winner with the kids. Must be all those Ewoks, and the big bad guy turning good in the end.

Exchange of the evening:

MIDDLE CHILD: does Darth Vader die in the end, or does he turn out to be a good guy?

ME: idea what to say..."Yes?"..."Both?"..."How the heck did you guess he might turn good, you insightful little girl?" I punted: "You'll see, dear."

This evening was peaceful and playful. We made some cold cucumber soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, then set the outdoor table for dinner. The hummingbirds were taking a last buzz around the honeysuckle. The crescent moon was riding high.

We had good food and good conversation. By which I mean that we had four different good conversations, each interrupting the other, often with our mouths full.

Then the kids followed the usual pattern, smoothly transitioning from outdoor dinner to outdoor evening play. Swings, pretend games and hilarity followed, punctuated by brief moments of irritated crying jags as our (exhausted) son lost this or that battle of wills with his sisters.

The kids are in bed. The kittens are snuggling up with us, overstimulated from a long day of attention from the children. My wife and I are catching up on email, facebook and my blog, and soon we'll settle into the couch for a little pre-bed television.

It's been a good day, really.

P.S. It's been a few days since I stopped taking Triamterene. My blood pressure, every time I've checked it, has been normal. So far, so GREAT!!!

P.P.S. These photos represent something of a victory for me. I'm finally gaining enough control of my camera to adjust exposure times (to get that motion shot), and to trigger the camera with the time for long-exposure, to minimize vibration (to get that shot of the moon). I still threw out about twenty photos to get these two, but I'm very happy with these pictures.

Food log:

Breakfast: bagel with cream cheese, banana

Lunch: Costco hot dog, 1/4 slice of cheese pizza, frozen yogurt, and a diet coke

Dinner: grilled tomato, swiss and ham sandwich, cold cucumber soup (yummy, but next time we'll swap mint in the for the dill, I think).

Snacks: two cookies

Friday, July 24, 2009

Photography, and Phamily-sitting

I had a nice walk in the neighborhood this morning, and brought the camera along in case something caught my eye. I'm very leery of photographing people's plants and houses without their permission, and even more leery of waking them up at 6:30am to ask for that permission. So, I altered my route and headed into a local park.

Near the entrance, the path dips down toward a narrow canyon. The walls are water-washed, exposing sedimentary layers, and cutting vertical channels into the canyon walls.

The photo isn't great. The morning light, with the sunlight diffused by the thick cloud layer, was dim. Contrast was minimal, and the wall looks washed out. The interesting ways in which the water has eroded the hillside are hard to make out, as a result. Think I'll go back some other time(s) when the light is different and try for a better shot.

This next one is a little better. The cliff is higher here, and more exposed to the light. I'm not totally happy with the composition of this shot. The palm tree is distracting, I think. Also, the balance is pretty lopsided. Big cliff on the left, little palm tree on the right, uniform gray sky above. This might look better with clearer skies and angled light, but this is the best composition I could find. What you don't see are the chain-link fence just above the cliff, the house hidden behind the swell of the hill, and the drainage culvert JUST off-camera in the foreground.

I played around with this one a bit in an editor, too, making a black-and-white version and adjusting the contrast and white levels to make it a bit more dramatic. Interesting.

A bit frustrated with finding interesting vistas, I turned my attention to closeup shots of interesting textures and colors. The bark of this tree is just amazing. The blues are so vivid. From this perspective, it almost looks like a Google Maps view of some alien landscape.

Notice the slighty-off framing on this shot. The dark patch at the bottom of the frame is the greenery behind the tree (and yes, I rotated this shot because it looked better).

I do like this shot. This bark is full of interest and character, to my eye.

And those, my friends, are the four shots that I thought weren't totally terrible. Photography is much, much harder than I'd thought. Not the technical stuff so much (though I did have any number of blurry shots in the lot...still learning a LOT about depth of field, aperature, exposure, etc.). It's developing a "photographer's eye" that really tough. Finding well composed, well lit, interesting scenes out in the chaos of nature. The upside? It's an interesting challenge, and you get pretty pictures out the other end :-)

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Not a great day for my waistline today, I'm afraid.

My work team and I went to a local restaurant for lunch today. One that specializes in local, organic foods, including pasture-fed beef and sausages made on site. These folks know their sausage! All of the food I've tried at this restaurant is delicious. Fatty, but delicious.

We watched our friends' four children this evening. The kids had a great time, despite a couple of mishaps.

The two little boys (one of ours, and one of theirs) "fed" our younger daughter's beta fish. By dumping most of a cannister of food into the tank. The poor little thing was swimming through a multi-colored rain. My wife's quick work with a siphon seems to have cleaned the tank out nicely. Hopefully Moonlight (the fish) will be fine.

For a little added excitement, their little boy had apparently found his way into a box of prunes earlier today. The effect was...let's just say voluminous. And fragrant.

But, peace was found tonight. In the form of cheese pizza, and a good movie for the horde of children. My wife and I even had time to do a little work on some household projects. All in all, a good night really.

Food log:

Breakfast: granola with blueberries (again...need to get out of my comfort zone sometimes :-) )

Lunch: two sausages, purple potatoes, apple slaw and a little slice of Gouda cheese.

Snacks: one Hershey's single, small handful of salted cashews (too salty (again)...apparently I never learn).

Dinner: two pieces of pepperoni pizza

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hiking up Hills, Hiking up Tomatoes

I went on a little field trip at lunch time today. There's an open space park near where I work. I brought the camera with, and spent about twenty minutes exploring and taking photos. I think I took about twenty pictures. There are only four that I liked well enough to share.

Boy, taking decent pictures is HARD. There's so much to consider. Light, shape, composition, and most especially all the brick-a-brack and noisy mess of nature. I can't tell you how many pretty flowers or interesting shapes I saw, for which there was no way to frame up a shot without including a LOT of other junk.

The open space is accessible via a wide dirt trail from the parking lot. This terrain, all chaparral and scrub brush, is typical in our part of the world. The canyons are home to big scrub oaks, but the hills are topped by nothing taller than stumpy Manzanita trees. Unless you count the power line towers.

The skies, though, can be beautiful.

This photo is a good example of the clutter of nature I mentioned. The stump is kind of a mess of twigs, and the other kinds of plants make the bottom part of the picture pretty noisy and confusing.

I found this little rock stack in the middle of the trail. I wonder what it's story is?

I _think_ I needed a narrower aperture and a longer exposure here, to make it possible to capture both the rock stack and the background sharply. That's the correct theory, I think. But even if I'm right, I don't know how to make my camera do that yet. And I would probably have needed a tripod to hold a long enough exposure.

Also, this picture was taken by holding the camera about 3" from the ground, and guessing about the framing. I couldn't get my head into position to look through the viewfinder. Not without MANY more years practicing yoga, at least. :-)

In the shade of another Manzanita, there was a small outcropping of broken, lichen-covered rocks. I liked the textures very much, and the way the high mid-day sun finally found something interesting to cast a shadow on.

I really like this picture. But it suffers from a shallow depth of field, like the previous one. The farther recesses of the rock are a little blurry.

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It was family night in the garden tonight. Dinner outdoors, followed by hanging around and helping Mommy and Daddy build a tomato enclosure. Last year, we tried making a big cube around the tomatoes, then tying up the branches with twine. Twine snapped. Staves broke. The whole thing finally fell over.

This year, we're putting our basic engineering knowledge to the test, relying on triangles to keep things upright. We've used zip ties to secure the cross pieces. So far, they seem to give plenty of grip to keep the cross bars from slipping down the uprights. We'll see. Using the long cross-pieces for support, we then zip tie in shorter cross-cross-pieces, pushing the tomato limbs over/up where they need to be. It's all a grand experiment, like last year, but I'm optimistic.

Also showing their heads in our garden are our yellow crookneck squash, watermelons, and various carrots and bell peppers. The carrots didn't sprout as many as we'd hoped, but we've left room for follow-on plantings.

I'm REALLY looking forward to garden-fresh watermelon in a couple of months.

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My blood pressure was normal this morning. It's only been a day since I stopped taking the Triamterene, so it's early days yet, but I'm hopeful!

Food log:

Breakfast: granola with fresh blueberries and an amazingly sweet nectarine

Lunch: leftover veggie pizza, watermelon, and cole slaw

Snacks: a few cashews...too salty! A big chocolate chip cookie. So bad, but soooo good.

Dinner: a salad of lettuce, carrots and bell peppers from our CSA, tomatoes from our neighbor's crop, olives, dried cranberries and toasted pine nuts, with chipotle ranch dressing.