Archive for September, 2015

Curious George’s Author and Star Gazer

In my husband’s family lore, his older brother wrote a letter to H.A. Rey, the author and illustrator of the Curious George picture books for children.  I don’t know if the letter was an elementary class assignment or if the letter was an inspired, solo effort, but the letter was written in order to thank Mr. Rey because his Curious George books helped little brother(my husband) learn to read.  Mr. Rey was so touched, that he wrote back a reply.  I need to find out if my dear mother-in-law has saved this letter!

When it came time to select picture books for my husband and I’s first baby,  it was a no-brainer to make sure we had Curious George books in our home.  If you aren’t familiar with the Curious George books, H.A. Rey and his wife, Margret, wrote and illustrated 7 books in all, following the adventures of a cute, curious little monkey trying to understand life in a big city, with the guidance of his owner and friend, the Man in the Yellow Hat.

Curious George book

During the years that I homeschooled our kids, every year I’d get a fantastic, very large catalog: Rainbow Resource.  The IL company still exists and it offered, and still does, lots of  homeschooling curriculum to purchase at reasonable prices.  The catalog also includes honest critiques of each curriculum, too.  Educational games, children’s books, and a lot of teaching aids,  fill the catalog.

One homeschooling year as I was going through the catalog, I came to the Children’s Books section.   All of the children’s books that H.A. Rey and  his wife Margret had written and illustrated were on sale.  To my surprise, H.A. Rey had written two picture books for children, explaining the constellations and how to locate them in the night skies.  One book in particular, peaked my interest and I ordered it to use that year in our homeschooling journey.

Find the Constellations is a a charming book and it explains very well to children, and adults, how and why the constellations got their names, where they are in the night time skies, and why they change with the seasons of the year.  The drawings are cute stick figure types of children, and the constellations are also drawn with night time sky charts also depicting the constellations and how to recognize them.

Rey did take a few liberties with his drawings of the constellations, for example his drawing of Gemini, or The Twins, shows the twins holding hands, when more traditional drawings don’t depict this.  As a mom of twins, I like Rey’s depiction better!  Over the years, Rey’s constellation drawings grew in popularity and are now in quite a few Astronomy Guides.

For a fun way to teach children about the constellations, their histories, and also lessons about the seasons of the year and how the constellations tie in with them, get yourself to the library and find H.A. Rey’s Find the Constellations and The Stars: A New Way to See Them.

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Announcement: WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon 2015

I’ll be joining in on this blogathon fun, and writing about English character actor C. Aubrey Smith. 🙂

Once upon a screen...

WE’RE BACK for number 4!

WAC2

WHAT A CHARACTER! a phrase borrowed from Turner Classic Movies (TCM) so that we could dedicate a blogathon to those whose names few remember – the players who rarely got leading parts, exhibiting instead a versatility and depth many leading actors wished they had.  Kellee, Paula and I never tire of seeing them or paying tribute and as the previous three installments of this event proved, neither do you.  So, here we are with the fourth annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon.
WAC3

To say we’re thrilled is an understatement and we hope you’ll join us in spotlighting the Edmund Gwenns and Spring Byingtons of the world, the oft forgotten names that never appeared above the title.  If this is right up your movie alley then give us a shout out…

Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled and (@IrishJayHawk66) and Kellee Pratt

Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club

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Thank you Ward 2 Councilman Crowell!

I was reading the Rolla Daily News a couple weeks ago, reading the article about the budget workshop  that the City Manager, Mayor, and City Council attended.  This workshop was not open to the public, but a reporter was allowed to relay what he saw and heard.

As I read the article, I wanted to give a shout-out, a high-five, a thank you to one of my councilmen, Ward 2’s Matthew Crowell.   During this budget workshop, he questioned why the city of Rolla paid $95,000 to the RREC(Rolla Regional Economic Commission)?  What is the purpose of this entity, and what does it do for the city, and what economic boons has it actually brought to the city of Rolla?  I would add, when was the RREC created and has it performed as to it’s original purpose?  If it hasn’t, why keep giving it that money each year?

Money

As a taxpayer I applauded this series of questions.  $95,000 is a lot of money for the city to shell out each year, especially when the administration recently gave a report that The Centre will always be needing an influx of city dollars to stay open.  That $95,000, if it’s shown that the RREC isn’t actually doing a lot to bring in economic growth to Rolla, St. James, and the rest of Phelps County, could go to The Centre.

A few other councilmen also asked some pertinent questions about the city’s budget, but as I don’t live in their wards, I decided to just thank my city councilman for his good questions.   The reporter went on to state that the City Administrator said that a meeting would be arranged for the RREC’s Director to give a presentation to the City Council to explain what it is that RREC does and why paying it the $95,000 is a good idea.  I have been waiting to read about this meeting in the Rolla Daily News, but haven’t seen an article about it, yet.

When my 15 year old twin daughters were 5, they overheard their grandmother liken the playing of the lottery to throwing one’s money down a rat’s hole.  A few weeks after hearing that phrase, one of them wisely said that wasting money on a cheap toy was like throwing money down a rat’s hole!  I was tickled that the child had remembered her grandmother’s phrase and the wisdom in it.  I now hope that the city of Rolla will wisely re-look at the entity that is the RREC  after this presentation is made, and decide if giving it $95,000 a year is wise.    As a taxpayer, I expect the city to use the  money  I’ve paid to them wisely.

The Lauren Bacall Blogathon: Written on the Wind

lauren-blogathon

A couple weeks ago fellow classic movie fan, Crystal, invited me to be a participant in her blogathon, dedicated to the late, great actress, Lauren Bacall.  I immediately said, “Yes!”  To read other great posts on Ms. Bacall and her career, be sure to visit In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

Sometimes, even though it’s not the healthiest meal choice out there, you just want a burger, fries,  and an ice cream sundae, with a soda chaser.  It tastes great while you’re eating, but what all those calories and sodium and sugars will do to your body, you don’t want to know!   The same can be said for some Hollywood movies: they are fun to watch, with over the top performances, a ridiculous plot, shot in bold technicolor and added stereophonic sound.  The movie can be so bad, that it’s good-good for a mental escape from the real world for an hour or two. 1956’s  Written on the Wind is one such movie-a colorful soaper, with Ms. Lauren Bacall as the brave heroine of this ensemble piece.   Written on the Wind

Written on the Wind existed first as a novel, written by Robert Wilder and published in 1945.  It’s plot loosely based on  scandals that had  plagued the RJR Reynolds family of tobacco wealth.  Wilder moved the location of the story from NC to TX and changed the family’s names and their fortune to oil.  Universal-International bought the rights to make this best-seller into a movie and they hired Douglas Sirk to direct, and George Zuckerman to write the screenplay.  Besides Bacall, the stars in this film included Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone(who is still with us today!), Robert Stack, and Robert Keith.

The plot isn’t too difficult to follow.  Robert Keith is the patriarch of the wealthy TX oil family, the Hadley’s.   Jasper Hadley(Keith) is a widower, he has  tons of money, a gorgeous home, a very successful company, and two adult brats/losers for children.  Those two, Marylee(Dorothy Malone) and Kyle(Robert Stack) belong in a mental ward: Marylee is an alcoholic nymphomaniac, and Kyle is an alcoholic jerk.  These two horrible people have no real friends, just their partying crowd who probably like hanging out with the two richest kids they know, and I suppose that’s pretty sad if you dwell on that.  Why these two drink like fishes isn’t really delved into, and Papa Jasper has pretty much washed his hands of  them.  They still get to live in the fabulous mansion, drive flashy cars, throw parties, and spend, spend, spend money.  Stack and Malone are so great in their roles-they really gave these two icky characters flash and sparkle and tons of energy, despite being a couple of drunks for some of their scenes.  It’s not much of a surprise that both were nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Actress Academy Awards, only Malone winning.

The good people of this movie, Mitch(Rock Hudson) and Lucy(Lauren Bacall)

The good people of this movie, Mitch(Rock Hudson) and Lucy(Lauren Bacall)

The two baddies of this film, Marylee(Dorothy Malone) and Kyle(Robert Stack)

The two baddies of this film, Marylee(Dorothy Malone) and Kyle(Robert Stack)

To counter-balance the wildness of Marylee and Kyle, we get two more characters: Miss Lucy Moore(Lauren Bacall) and Mitch Wayne(Rock Hudson).  They are the stoic, wise, and quiet calm of this movie.  Lucy is an executive secretary for the Hadley Company in NYC.  She meets Kyle and Mitch( a geologist for the  Hadley Company) when they jet there  for a series of business meetings.  Kyle falls head over heels for Lucy,  and successfully wows her with suggesting they fly to Miami for the weekend.  Lucy agrees, but when she sees all of the lavish gifts Kyle has sent to her hotel room, and the strong hint that he expects to be repaid that night, she sneaks out of the hotel to the airport to fly back to NYC.  Mitch, who also is falling in love with Lucy, admires her virtue.  Kyle finds out what Lucy’s done and races to the airport, promising to woo her correctly, and that he’s in love with her.  After a whirlwind courtship, the two marry, Lucy gives up her job, and they arrive in TX to live at the Hadley estate.

Kyle whisking Lucy off to Miami

Kyle whisking Lucy off to Miami

Marylee has always been in love with Mitch, but has never been able to lure him into a relationship.  She figures out that Mitch is in love with Lucy, and cruelly tells Kyle a lie, that Lucy and Mitch are having an affair.  Her timing of the lie is bad enough-Kyle had been on the wagon, trying to be a good husband and son, but his wife wasn’t pregnant yet!  He quietly consulted a doctor who tells him that Kyle’s sperm count is too low, and that he’ll probably never be a father!!!  With the lie that Mitch is fooling around with his wife, Lucy, and Lucy eagerly telling Kyle that she’s going to have a baby-well, that’s the last straw!!!  Kyle, who decided to get hammered with booze, thinks that the baby is probably Mitch’s and  lashes out violently at poor Lucy.

Marylee trying to seduce Mitch at a party

Marylee trying to seduce Mitch at a party

I’m going to stop my relating of the film’s plot right there.  To find out how this movie end’s you’ll have to find it and view it for yourself.  It airs from time to time on TCM, there are quite a few clips of the movie on Youtube, including this opening sequence for the film.  It is also available to purchase at Amazon, there are several dvds to choose from.  It used to be available at their instant rent format, but isn’t now.

Lauren Bacall, in the mid-1950s, didn’t want to make this movie, but her husband, classic film actor Humphrey Bogart, convinced her to go ahead and make it.  I’m glad that he did.  It’s a different role for Bacall.  In past roles, she played the tough-talking sexy gal who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid of anyone to get what she wanted.  In this film, while not a mouse, she plays a much quieter character, a polite, sensible lady who wants her new husband to change his bad habits and to become a successful man.  She’s willing to help him achieve this goal, and she’s so supportive.  Goodness just radiates from her persona.  Rock Hudson is also good, as Mitch, who secretly loves Lucy from afar, and doesn’t want to be a homewrecker.  He knows Marylee is no good, and tries several times to tell her he’s not interested in her.  Oh beware the woman scorned, Mitch!

For a great movie to sink into, to  escape from your troubles for a while, to probably see the granddaddy-or perhaps great-granddaddy of 1980s tv prime time soapers such as Dallas, Knot’s Landing, and Dynasty, find Written on the Wind!

For the William Wellman Blogathon: The Story of G.I. Joe

Who  was William Wellman?  A classic film fan would immediately recognize this man’s name.  For those who have no idea, and might think it a question found on Jeopardy!, he was an American  film director.  On a Top Ten List of Great American Movie Directors, he’d be on that list.  On a Top Five, he’d be on that list, too.   Just a few of his famous films: A Star is Born(the original one, made in 1937, not the one starring Barbra Streisand), The Ox-Bow Incident, Battleground, The Public Enemy(where James Cagney famously shoved a grapefruit in Mae Clarke’s face).  Wellman won the first ever Best Picture Academy Award for the silent film, Wings, 1929-that film is a must-see, the aerial shots of WWI pilots is excellent, no cgi, and the actors had to really fly their planes!!  When I learned that classic movie fan and blogger Now Voyaging would be hosting this great blogathon to look at Wellman and his body of work, I had to participate.  Be sure to visit Now Voyaging to read other bloggers’  excellent pieces on Wellman and his movies.

William WEllman blogathon

I chose Wellman’s WWII picture, The Story of G.I. Joe, made in 1945, and featuring Robert Mitchum in his first major movie role.   Mitchum would be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his efforts.

Robert Mitchum as Lt. Walker

Robert Mitchum as Lt. Walker

                                                                          The story of gi joe pic 1

The Story of G.I. Joe is sort of a biopic, as it is about  Pulitzer-Prize winning American journalist Ernie Pyle(ably and warmly played by Burgess Meredith-my kids mainly know this classic movie actor as Rocky’s coach, Mickey!) as he travels with a group of American G.I.s, writing reports about their battles  as they march across the Tunisian desert and finally arrive in Italy, fighting the Nazis.

Actor Burgess Meredith with the real Ernie Pyle

Actor Burgess Meredith with the real Ernie Pyle

This group of infantrymen are with C Company, 18th Infantry, U. S. Army, and many are untested soldiers.  Pyle writes about a few of these men and they are, of course, the characters in the film that we get to know.  There is Lt. Walker(Robert Mitchum), promoted later to Captain, who is in charge of this group of soldiers.  Sgt. Warnicki(Freddie Steele), who is bothered by the fact that he has yet to meet his baby boy.  Private Dondaro(Wally Cassell), the Italian-American from Brooklyn who always has women on his mind.  Private Robert “Wingless” Murphy(John R. Reilly), who was too tall for the Army Air Corps and earned his nickname.  Private Mew(William Murphy) the orphan from Brownsville, TX who finds a real family with the men in Company C and leaves them as his beneficiaries in his life insurance policy.  Director Wellman’s wife, Dorothy Coonan Wellman, plays an uncredited role as Army Nurse Elizabeth, who falls in love with Wingless, and weds him during a lull in the battles.

The men of Company C

The men of Company C

The wedding scene

The wedding scene

What I appreciate about this film is that it is a gritty, unflinching look at a group of soldiers, slogging away at their job for the country that they love.  They all wish the fighting would be over and done with soon as they are eager to return to the U.S.  Pyle sees all of their longings, their disappointments, the deaths, and the costs of survival that are too high for a few of these men.  He writes about all that he sees, in honest prose, and the men appreciate his being there amongst them.  He’s not a journalist flitting in for a bit then flying away to a safer spot to stay in a hotel with running water, indoor plumbing, a real bed, and decent food.

Mitchum and Meredith

Mitchum and Meredith

The making of this film was the idea of producer Lester Cowan.  He wanted to make a film to showcase the Army as well as the 1943  film Air Force had done for the Army Air Corps.  After he secured the funds from United Artists, and gave them the distribution rights, he came up with the film’s outline, basing it on Ernie Pyle’s columns, compiled in the book, Here is Your War.  Cowan contacted the Army about his film idea and they gave their approval in November of 1943.  Ironically,Cowan did have a lot of trouble convincing Wellman to direct this movie.  Wellman, himself a veteran, having served as a pilot during WWI, disliked the Army due to negative encounters with soldiers during WWI, and when Wellman directed his award winning movie, Wings, the Army sent over an Infantry Commander who so irritated Wellman, that the thought of making another movie to benefit the Army just caused Wellman to keep insisting he would not direct Cowan’s film!  Finally, a personal phone call from Ernie Pyle himself, with an invitation for Wellman to visit him at his home in NM to discuss the film, finally changed Wellman’s mind and I am so very glad that Pyle’s efforts worked!

Wellman had his cast train with U. S. Army veterans of the Italian Campaigns, setting up a camp for this training in CA.  He also insisted his cast grow beards(except for his wife, of course!) and that the actors speak in GI lingo as much as possible.  He let it be known that if any of the actors objected to the training, that they would be dropped from the film and replaced.

The Story of G.I. Joe will air on Turner Classic Movies Nov. 3rd, at 10:30 am est/9:30 am cst.  Set that dvr and don’t miss this film!!  It’s available for purchase at Amazon in various dvds, with various prices.  There are a 7  video clips of the film  here, courtesy of TCM.

A collaborative effort, a thorough, thoughtful film, exploring the life of the infantrymen in the U.S. Army.  I am indeed glad that journalist Ernie Pyle convinced William Wellman to direct this film!

GIJOE+movie+B+half+sheet+1945

 

My Classic Movie Pick: Father of the Bride

This weekend I’ll be traveling with my family to attend a niece’s wedding.  With the wedding on my mind, I thought I’d write about the original Father of the Bride movie, made in 1950, that starred Spencer Tracy as the father, Joan Bennett as the mother, and Elizabeth Taylor as the bride.

Elizabeth Taylor as daughter, Kay, and Spencer Tracy as her dad, Stanley

Elizabeth Taylor as daughter, Kay, and Spencer Tracy as her dad, Stanley

Fotb screen shot

What I appreciate about this film is the family’s dynamic.  In a flashback we meet Stanley Banks(Spencer Tracy)as he remembers and regales us with what has taken place in his family’s life during the past 3 months: his beloved daugther, Kay(Elizabeth Taylor) announcing to the family at dinner one night that she is in love with Buckley Dunstan(Don Taylor-no relation to Liz!) and she has accepted his proposal of marriage.

Spencer Tracy as the father, Stanley, and Joan Bennett as the mother, Ellie.

Spencer Tracy as the father, Stanley, and Joan Bennett as the mother, Ellie.

Stanley immediately realizes that this wedding is going to cost money, especially as he listens in on wife Ellie(Joan Bennett) and Kay’s animated discussions on dresses, music, food, flowers, caterers, registering for gifts, the cake!  Younger brothers Tommy and Ben(Russ Tamblyn-the future Biff in West Side Story, and Tom Irish) wisely keep quiet and out of the way.

There is the obligatory dinner with the groom and his parents.  Buckley only has eyes for his fiancee, and can’t see how annoying his ultra chatty and flighty mother(the good witch from The Wizard of Oz herself, Billie Burke) is, nor how his father(Moroni Olsen) and Stanley really have nothing in common.  The uncomfortable dinner isn’t helped when Stanley drinks too much liquor and falls asleep in the Dunstan’s living room!

Stanley keeps urging a small, simple wedding but with Buckley’s mother now in on the plans with Kay and Ellie, Stanley’s ideas are ignored and he quietly resigns himself to the ladies’ plans, and to be there to walk Kay down the aisle and to give her away.  As the wedding date draws near, Kay is upset when she finds out that Buckley’s idea for a honeymoon is a fishing trip in Nova Scotia and she calls the wedding off! It’s up to Stanley to calm her down and get her to see that she loves Buckley and that the two of them can work this disagreement out, and they do.  There’s also a funny dream sequence Stanley has about walking Kay down the aisle and how it goes horribly wrong.

Reassuring Kay that the honeymoon disagreement can be solved

Reassuring Kay that the honeymoon disagreement can be solved

In 1991, Buena Vista -part of the Disney Company, re-made Father of the Bride, starring Steve Martin as the harried father.  While I enjoyed that version, you really owe it to yourself to see the original film.  Spencer Tracy is excellent as the harried father, worried about the wedding costs, and also sad that his baby girl is all grown up and getting married.  He gives the role  warmth and tenderness, with a  wry touch of humor.  He is the calm center of the film, while all the other characters are running around due to wedding prep activities.  Elizabeth Taylor is just gorgeous in this film, and she also put forth just the right touches as the young bride to be, full of love for her fiance, excited about getting married, emotional at times, but understandably so.

I am now wondering if this dress style was all the rage for weddings in the early 1950s?

I am now wondering if this dress style was all the rage for weddings in the early 1950s?

Gorgeous shot of Elizabeth Taylor in the bridal dress for the movie

Gorgeous shot of Elizabeth Taylor in the bridal dress for the movie

MGM made a good profit from the film’s box office success and a sequel was made in 1951, Father’s Little Dividend, with the plot being that Stanley has to come to grips with the fact that daughter Kay is going to have a baby and that means he’ll become a grandfather.  This film reunited the cast from the first film as well as director Vincent Minelli.

From time to time, this gem airs on Turner Classic, so check their monthly schedule online in order to catch when it will air again.  The film is available on Amazon for purchase or to view through their instant rent program.  The film is also available at TCM’s Shop.

The film, originally based upon the best-selling novel of 1949, Father of the Bride, by Edward Streeter,  is a charming look at a put-upon father and how he copes with his daughter’s new role as bride and wife.  Seek it out, and don’t let the 1991 version be the only version of this movie that you see.

The movie poster for German audiences

The movie poster for German audiences

Why was the Mountain Named McKinley in the First Place??

I was listening to the radio, really half-listening as I was doing morning chores upstairs, and I heard the radio announcer say something about President Obama’s trip to Alaska, and that Mt. McKinley was going to be called Mt. Denali.  In my half-listening state, I thought that the mountain was being renamed just for the time that President Obama was going to be visiting.

Mt. McKinley, now Mt. Denali

Mt. McKinley, now Mt. Denali

 

Fast-forward to later in the day, and I was listening more closely to ABC Radio News, and the reporter informed me that the mountain’s name change was a permanent change.  The reporter went on to say that the mountain was named Mt. McKinley in 1917.  I was waiting for the reporter to explain why the mountain was named after President McKinley, but no explanation came forth.  That bothered me more than the mountain name change.  So, in case you have no clue as to why the mountain in Alaska, the tallest peak in the U.S. was named after President McKinley, the 25th President, I’ll give you that information.

McKinley

President William McKinley, a native Ohioan, was the last U.S. President to have served in the Civil War.  He had begun as a private and by the war’s end, had risen in rank to Brevet Major.  He earned a law degree, began to practice law in Canton and married Ida Saxton.  Politics came calling when he was elected to Congress in 1876, and he also served two terms as Ohio’s Governor, in 1891 and 1893.  His first term of the Presidency began in 1897.  He defeated his democratic rival, William Jennings Bryant, by promising a return to a sound dollar economy.

During McKinley’s first term, there was fast economic growth, he ordered and oversaw the U.S.’s win in the Spanish-American War, and the U.S. gained Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines from Spain.  Hawaii also became an official U.S. Territory.

In 1900, McKinley ran for President for a second term and easily won.  6 months into this second term, on September 6th,1901,  he was at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, NY, shaking hands and greeting fellow Expo attendees.   McKinley loved to greet the public and talk with them and had a hard time agreeing to any protective agents around him.    A mentally disturbed anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, was in this line and when he reached his turn to shake President McKinley’s hand, he shot the President twice, one bullet grazing President McKinley and one bullet entering his abdomen.

An artist's rendering of the assasination of President McKinley.

An artist’s rendering of the assasination of President McKinley.

McKinley  seemed to rally from his wounds, but on the 13th gangrene set in and on the 14th he died, which ushered in his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, to the highest office in the land.(I always find this bit of history amusing.  Roosevelt wasn’t liked by the establishment Republicans who ran the party, so to keep Roosevelt quiet, they gave him the Vice Presidency spot, not knowing that within 6 months the Republican they didn’t like would be the President!)

How did this tall mountain, the tallest in North America gain it’s name after the late President?  One William Dickey, a NH- born, Seattle-living outdoorsman, had led a group of gold prospectors to the Susitna River in June of 1896.  When the gold prospectors and Dickey got back from their trip, the first “real” U.S. news they read about in a newspaper was that William McKinley had been nominated by the Republican party as it’s nominee for the Presidency.  So, Dickey and his chums began to call the mountain Mt. McKinley.  This was also a dig at the many silver prospectors they ran into who were supporters of the Democrat nominee, William Jennings Bryant, who was a supporter of a silver standard, wanting the economic unit of account to be based on a fixed weight of silver and not gold.   With the death of President McKinley from an assassin’s bullet, sentiments grew to honor his memory and in 1917 Congress passed an order to name the mountain after McKinley.  President Woodrow Wilson signed the order into law.

Changing the name of the mountain doesn’t really bother me that much.  There’s been an idea to change it back  to Denali since 1975. (The mountain has also been called Bolshaya Gora, which means Big Mountain, in Russian, back when Alaska was under Russia’s control.)  What bothered me about this news story was the lack of information that was not given as to why the mountain came to be called Mt. McKinley in the first place.  Facts, news folks, I want all of the facts!

Lastly, political cartoonist Michael Ramirez made a funny drawing about this mountain naming brouhaha that I thought I’d share.