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Catching More Heart Tugs

It’s time to pull out my folder labeled ‘Heart Tugs’ to remember when heartstrings tighten.  Those times amid the busyness of a day – a brief moment, a single sentence, or an experience that grows fonder as time passes.

            When my Grand was eight years old, she spent a lot of time playing in the dirt.  “See these two worms, Gran? I saved them from the driveway.” she said.  “They really like me, but they can’t live with me so I’m putting them in water and they’ll be happy.”  She put the worms that lay curled in her hand in a mudpuddle and used a stick to stir a smaller mudpuddle.

            “I made chocolate milk.  Want to tase it?” Ruth asked.  I shook my head.  “I did and it’s disgusting!  Now I’m going to make a pancake.”  My Grand held a palm size flat rock in one hand and with the other drizzled thin mud.  “That’s chocolate sauce. It’s delicious!”  Her giggle made me laugh.

            Seven of our eight Grands request pancakes for breakfast when they spend the night with Husband and me. Most remind me to add sprinkles or chocolate chips, but one always says, “Just plain.  No sprinkles or anything.”  And each chooses favorite pancake shapes:  stars, bears, flowers, or hearts.  When a friend gave me silicone ring shapes twelve years ago, I didn’t know a shaped pancake tastes better than a round one. 

            Grand #1 is 16 and his breakfast choice has always been bacon and eggs.  Scrambled eggs topped with melted American cheese and crisp bacon.  “These eggs are better than Mom’s, but it’s not her fault,” David said last week.  “Cooking eggs for all of us (his parents and four siblings) is harder than cooking just for me.”   

            I knew 6-year-old Jesse was up because I heard his footsteps in the playroom which is directly above my bedroom.  The clock said 5:50, an hour or so before I usually get out of bed.  I stumbled to the kitchen, made a cup of coffee, walked up the stairs, and then watched my Grand play. 

            “Look Gran, I sorted them,” he said.  Bristle blocks, that his mother had played with when she was a kid, were in groups by color.  “Did you notice that all the big square blocks are red and the little ones are green?”  I nodded.  “And, look, the wheels are the only circles so they’re over here.”  He pointed to six wheels. 

            Jesse stuck two red blocks together and added wheels near the bottom edge.  “I’m making a car,” he said.  He made a car, a house, a tall tower that fell several times, but stayed together.  He talked non-stop telling me who drove the car, who lived in the house, and he laughed every time the tower fell. 

            As we walked down the steps, Jesse said, “Can I have chocolate chip pancakes?  And a heart and a star?”  Yes, every time, anytime.

            Heart Tugs.  I’m catching all I can.

Is Gossip Good or Bad?

           “This might be gossip, but did you hear…..?”  Those words spilled from of my mouth as my friend and I sat on her living room couch.  I repeated what I’d been told about a mutual friend, someone we’d both known many years.

            My friend and I had heard slightly different versions of what had happened and after a few minutes of conversation, we agreed the how didn’t matter, the outcome was the same. And we both wished the outcome had been different. We wished our friend was happy and healthy, not as she is and we talked about how we could help her family.

            Gossip brings people together and creates community.  Yet, most people think gossip is unkind and malicious, but, originally, gossip carried a positive meaning.

            The origin of gossip is the Old English word godsibb.  A word composed of God and the adjective sibb, meaning a relative, anyone who was kin.  It also referred to someone who was a sponsor, a spiritual support, a godfather or godmother to a person being baptized.

            A reliable source stated that during pre-historic times talk among friends and family, was a way to find suitable mates and encouraged stronger friendship and alliances. The word godsibb came to mean talking about others who weren’t present, as well as sharing recent happenings, thoughts and opinions. 

            Writings from the 1300s show that gobsibb was often used to identify women friends who were present at a birth.  A child’s birth was a social event and friends spent hours talking among themselves and giving moral support to the mother during her labor.

            Anthropologists say that gossip was a bonding agent to women in societies where they were granted little power.  

             It’s not known exactly how gossip took on a negative connotation and how the word became associated with women, but through centuries, that’s what happened. So much so, that when we women talk about anyone and anything, we’re labeled as gossips.  When men talk, it’s called networking or lobbying.   

            A 2019 study reported by BBC.com found that workers, men and women, gossip about 52 minutes a day.  Most conversations weren’t positive or negative, but neutral.  Gossip helps workers realize shared values and experiences and bring workers closer.  Office workers might call this ‘water cooler talk’; teachers call it ‘playground talk.’ The study concluded that gossip is a good thing.

            By Webster’s definition, gossip is talk about other people, sometimes involving details that are not confirmed as truth.  The word gossip does make us think of people who maliciously talk about people and like to spread rumors, but when a conversation about other people isn’t harmful and mean, it is good.  

            I wish the Old English word godsibb had survived through the centuries. With all its negative connotations, no one wants to be labeled a gossip.  But calling someone a gobsibb -wouldn’t that be a compliment?

            When my friend and I talked about our friend, was that good or bad?  It was good, and maybe I should have said, “This is godsibb.  Did you hear…..?”

Squelching Smadness

Quinn was upset.  As six-year-old girls can be, she was a bit hysterical.  Crying.  Wailing.  Lying on the floor.  Quinn’s mother checked her daughter quickly, determined she wasn’t injured, and hugged her.  “Are you sad or mad?” the mom asked.

            Between sobs, Quinn said, “I’m smad.”  She sniffed, then said, “I’m sad and mad.”  Quinn was unhappy and angry.  When her grandmother shared this story, Quinn’s reason for being upset wasn’t remembered.  That a young child could describe her feelings was remembered. 

            Smad.  What perfect word.  Sad and mad tangled and meshed together.  A big snarly mess.  Right now, I’m smad about several happening going on in world. 

            Recent natural disasters have been devastating. In Haiti, over 2, 200 people died, about 300 are still missing, and 53,000 homes were destroyed by an earthquake.  A flood in Waverly, just 160 miles west of Cookeville, took twenty people’s lives and destroyed 270 homes.  Devastation caused by Hurricane Ida is still being evaluated. Did these disasters bring memories of the tornado that struck here in March, 2020? 

            The news from Afganistan is heart-breaking.  Senseless deaths and violence.  Death always hurts – people loved every person who died and they grieve. 

            After being vaccinated for Covid 19 and family and friends receiving vaccines, I had hoped that this virus would lose its grip on our daily lives.  Now, the delta variant is on a rampage and while the vaccine should prevent serious illness for me, how I wish my young grandchildren were vaccinated.  I wish everyone were vaccinated and would wear masks.

            One day in 2006, while eating lunch in the teacher lounge with young teacher friends, they talked about Facebook and encouraged me to set up an account.  Since then, I’ve used social media and liked connecting with former students and long-time friends, and I post this column on Facebook. 

            But now I’m smad because I see Facebook posts that are intended to tear down people and/or create conflict.  Those posts are sometimes questions. I’m smad that people write words that hurt and purposely cause disagreements to divide people.

            I could wallow in smadness.  Be sad and mad all day long, every day, but I don’t want to live that way.  My best antidote to smadness is counting blessings – literally numbering and writing blessings in a lined spiral bound notebook.  It’s a morning habit I began several years ago after reading One Thousand Gifts, an inspirational book, by Ann Voskamp. 

            Voskamp was challenged by a friend to list 1000 gifts so she took pencil in hand, and while caring for her five children and doing chores alongside her husband on their working farm, she wrote.  As I write blessings, words of thanksgiving, smadness is pushed aside. 

            When I heard Quinn’s coined word, I knew I’d take it as my own.  It’s okay to be smad.  It’s not okay to stay smad. For me listing joys, even something as simple as a yellow finch snatching seeds from my birdfeeder, helps squelch being smad.

When Children Leave Home

            My friend Celeste is sad.  Life at her house isn’t the same. It’s not loud and messy. No homework or junk on the kitchen table. Instead, it’s bare and clean. No stuff on the steps to carry upstairs.  And she can park her car in the garage. Her house is too quiet, and she’s counting the days until her son’s fall break.

            Celeste’s youngest child packed his bags and moved from home to a college dormitory.  She was quick to tell me that she is really good and she trusts God through this season of life, but she thinks no one prepares parents for this chapter of parenthood.

            I think she’s right.  Who prepares parents for an empty nest?  Bookstores’ shelves are filled with information about caring for babies. There is advice for dealing with the Terrible Twos and Middle-Schoolers and Defiant Teens, and school counselors help high school students and their parents apply to colleges and seek scholarships.  But who gives support to the parents when their children leave home?   

            I remember the days when Daughter and Son moved from home to college and my feelings were a garbled sad and happy mess. I’m not a counselor or a family relationships expert so my thoughts are based on experience.

            Empty nest syndrome is real.  Parents grieve. We spend eighteen years raising children and when they no longer sleep at our houses every night and eat most meals at our tables, we are sad.  We miss them and their busy lives: practices, ball games, recitals, last-minute changes of plans, friends visiting.  Suddenly, our houses are much too quiet.  

            So, Celeste, as you adjust to a new chapter in your family’s life, it’s okay to have a few lonely times, and then celebrate that you’ve done your job well.

            Successful parents give children wings – the confidence to leave home.  Be like the mother bird when she pushes her young out of the nest and watches him fly.  She flaps her wings as if in applause and chirps and sings like a standing ovation.  Celebrate that your son has become independent to move away and that he is continuing his education.

            This is a time to look back at the days before you were a parent. Reconnect with friends, maybe those who were your high school or college friends.  Spend time with people you haven’t had to time to be with.  Take your mother and aunt to lunch or visit a neighbor who you hardly know.  

            Try something new.  Do the things you’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t have time.  Learn a new skill or take a college class yourself.  Help out at your favorite local charity.

            Celeste, relish this time as your son becomes a young adult. He’ll be home to visit and expect his favorite meals and put his stuff on the kitchen table and park in your garage space. And, believe it or not, there will be a time when he leaves and you’ll enjoy quiet and calm.

Traveling Letter

“Will you participate in a group letter?” I texted to six college girlfriends.

            “I don’t like chain letters. Please don’t send one to me,” one friend responded. I explained that I wanted to begin a traveling letter and each of us would write a brief note and pass it on.  Like the letters we sent each other years ago, before email.  

            “I want to know how long it takes a letter to get to all of you and back to me.  It’ll be fun to read your writings. I’ll include stamps, and it’ll be fodder for a column,” I wrote.

            I smiled as I read the responses on the text thread.  “Is there a time limit?”  No.  “Only if you promise to share it with all of us after we’ve all written.” Yes. “Count me in! I love getting mail!”  “A column, of course!”  My friends texted laughing emojis and agreed to participate.

            In the late 1970s, we girlfriends kept a traveling letter going for several years.  When I received it, there were seven letters. I took out my letter, wrote a new one, and mailed it along with the other six pages to the next person on the list.  How I wish I had those letters.  

            So recently, I mailed a letter and suggested that writings could be about anything.  Weather. Dreams.  Pandemic.  Anything.  I wrote a paragraph about my backyard bluebird box.  Each person would add a few lines, to this same page and the back if needed, or write on another page, and mail it on.

            It took fifty-five days for our letter to travel to five addresses in Tennessee, one in Florida, and one in Kentucky.  Because two friends were vacationing when the letter arrived in their mailboxes, it took a bit more time than expected.  

            I received a fat envelope that required two stamps, and I didn’t open it immediately.  I waited until late afternoon after the day’s busyness.  With a glass of wine, I settled onto my front porch rocker and took five pages out of the envelope. 

            Snippets from each person’s writing are similar.  Frustrations with changed plans.  One wrote, ‘I have been reminded yet again that making plans is over rated.’

            Changes caused by the pandemic. ‘Harry (her husband) and I have been together more than we have in our 53 years of marriage.’  ‘No friends came to our house for months until we were all vaccinated.’

            Finding positives. ‘In my garden, flowers bloom, birds sing, the sun shines.’ ‘During the pandemic, we cooked more, visited with family, became friends with close neighbors, had time to read and exercise, and took up birdwatching.’ ‘It’s a beautiful quiet, peaceful Sunday afternoon.  The dappled sunlight is magical as I look into the woods.’

            I treasure my friends’ writings and have read our traveling letter several times.  Each time, I read something new, and after sharing it with friends, I’ll keep it.              This time next year, it’ll be history, and I’ll suggest we write a 2022 traveling letter.

Technology Needs High-Touch Balance

Husband and I have always had our differences.  He listens to the Blues; I choose Smooth Jazz.  He relaxes in front of TV; I unwind while holding a book.  He tops salads with Thousand Island dressing; I like Bleu Cheese.  When our home thermostat is set at 72°F, he’s cold and I’m hot.

            He worked in the business world.  I was an educator.  He was a fish out of water in my elementary school classroom; I never understood what he did every day at his office.  In retirement, he continues to serve on business related community boards; I volunteer for projects for children and their families.

            When our working and volunteer paths have crossed, we’ve worked well together and still do.  Before I submit a writing for publication, he edits it and always catches omitted words and typos.  Recently, he had an opportunity to write a column for a health-care facility publication and asked me to read it for errors and to make suggestions.  

            After reading quickly, my first response was a question: “May I use some of this for my column?”  His writing speaks to all professions and all people, working or retired. Maybe Husband’s and my occupations were more alike than I ever knew, and I wish I’d read the book to which he refers while I was in the classroom.  The following is an excerpt from Husband’s writing.

            We use technology routinely to do our jobs, communicate, shop, to entertain ourselves and more.  With one click, a package is delivered to our doors.  Siri or Alexa stream music or videos.  The world is at our fingertips.

            As I think about the technology we use each day, I am reminded of John Naisbitt’s book Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives.  The book was published in 1982 and was a best seller. In the second chapter of the book, “From Forced Technology to High Tech/ High Touch,” Naisbitt proposes “that whenever new technology is introduced into society, there must be a counterbalancing human response that is, high touch—or the technology is rejected.”

            Megatrends was published before many of you were born, but the book was standard business reading in the 80’s.  I believe Naisbitt’s writings are still valuable as more and more technology is introduced into our lives.  There is a need to offset the no-human-contact high tech with personal interaction, high touch.

            What did you miss most when our country was locked down for COVID?  For me, I missed being with my family and friends, personal interaction.  Yes, we Zoomed and FaceTimed, but that was not the same as actually being in the room with family and friends.  We had a yearning to hug our grandchildren and look into the eyes of our best friends.

            As we depend more and more on technology, it’s important to understand the need for personal interaction.  In Megatrends, Naisbitt wrote, “We must learn to balance the material wonders of technology with the spiritual demands of our human nature.”

Welcome Back, Hummers!

I heard a low rumbling noise.  A short high-pitched squeak.  A barely audible rattle. Was he back?  I put my book down and looked.  I couldn’t see him anywhere.  While sitting comfortably on my front-porch white wicker rocker as the sun went down, I began reading again.

            I realized a something flashed a few feet in front of me and saw a bird perched on my hummingbird feeder.  “Oh no,” I thought, “don’t drink it.  That sugar water may be spoiled.”  The hummingbird turned his head side-to-side as if rejecting the cloudy liquid inside the plastic feeder.

            If we could’ve had a conversation, I’d asked, “Where’ve you been?”  He flitted off rattling, and squeaking.  Did he say that he’d be back and he’d like fresh sugar water?      

            I prepared fresh food for Mr. Ruby Throated Hummingbird.  One part white sugar dissolved in four parts warm water.  I washed two feeders, one for our front porch and one hanging on a shepherd’s hook in the back yard, and filled them.  Sure enough, Mr. Hummingbird and a friend came for breakfast and supper.  And the next day and the next.

            Where have my birds been all summer? I hung feeders the first of April because I’ve been told ‘scouts’ come early to identify good feeding spots.  By mid-April, I’d seen several and expected, like past years, to watch hummers all summer, but a month later they were none in sight.

            I didn’t give up.  Through the spring and into summer, I emptied and rinsed and refilled the feeders regularly.  But when Mr. Hummingbird showed up in mid-July, those feeders held week-old water. Hot weather demands almost daily cleaning and refills.

            Hummingbirds are now coming to my two feeders.  The general rule to know how many use a feeder is to count the most birds you see at one time and multiply by ten.  I doubt twenty hummers are feeding; I’m happy to see two. 

            One friend said she’s seen hummers at her house all summer and as many as seven at one time, but most friends said they haven’t seen any until recently. Birdfeederhub.com offers reasons. 

            Maybe our hummers have been eating flower nectar or choosing more protein, and less carbohydrates.  While nesting, the female gathers gnats, spiders, fruit flies, mosquitoes, and aphids for herself and her young and then returns to feeders after the babies leave the nest.  

            As I watch these tiny birds dart, I’m amazed.  Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards because their wings rotate 180º in all directions.  An adult weighs about 1/8 ounce, the same as a nickel.  A hummer’s nest is the size of a half dollar, and its white eggs are the size of jelly beans.             Hummingbirds are the smallest migrating bird, and usually travel alone, not in a flock, up to 500 miles. When these little wonders of nature go to Central America in October, I’ll store their feeders until next April and they can come back wherever they want.  Rumbling and squeaking and rattling.

Where I Am 2021

Recently, Husband hung two pictures on our bedroom wall: 8” x 10” black and white pictures of himself and me.  Pictures we gave each other while we were college students.  Pictures made a year before he put a diamond ring on my finger.  His picture sat on the three-drawer dresser beside my twin bed in my college dorm room. 

            My young Grand looked at the pictures and asked, “Gran, who are those people?” 

            “That’s Pop and me when we were dating,” I said.  Her furrowed brows said she didn’t believe me.  Why should she? Husband had hair; my hair was long and brown.  Those people didn’t have wrinkles or double chins.  My Grand doesn’t know those people, and somehow her doubt made me think of something my aunt said when she was about the age I am now.  

            While visiting Aunt Doris, she told me she’d been to three funeral home visitations and baked cakes for grieving families during that week.  I said, “I’m so sorry.” 

            Aunt Doris’s reply gave me the title of this column and a mantra for life: “It’s okay. This is where we are.”  In her gentle voice, my aunt encouraged me to take stock of today and to accept life and its changes.  This is where we are. 

            Even though I’m not a student, I still like to learn and ask questions.  I want to learn something every day, although I sometimes forget and learn the same thing another day.

            I’m no longer a granddaughter or daughter; I’m on the other side of those relationships. I attend more funerals than weddings.  A rocking chair on my front porch welcomes me. 

             I try to do something every day that I’ve never done before.  Last week I held a one-month-old kid, a baby goat, and it wiggled like the puppies I dressed in doll clothes when I was a child. 

            I like celebrations.  A gathering for fun or birthdays or Friday night pizza supper is a celebration. I’m still a country girl.  I’d choose sitting outside under a shade tree over a shopping trip anytime.  

            Exercise feels like physical therapy.  Stiff joints move slowly. I do chair yoga and Silver Sneakers exercise.  I walk around the block, not for fun, but to keep my bones strong.  I tiptoe, not to be quiet, but to stretch the calves of my legs. 

            I solve newspaper Sudoku puzzles and play Words with Friends online for brain exercise.  Writing my memoirs (which my children might read and appreciate when they are my age) and this column, forces me to think in complete sentences.

            I’m thankful for technology to easily and quickly communicate with friends and family, especially my teen-age Grands. I like board and card games – even when Grands ask to play the same game time and time again.  I’ll never read all the books on my to-be-read list.            

That girl in the picture is still in love with that guy. And the older we get, the more I embrace life as it is.

Everyone Needs a POP-IT

My ten-year-old Grand sent a text message from his parent’s phone.  ‘Hi, Gran. Here’s what I’d like for my birthday,’ he wrote.  He shared a link for a Bubble Push Pop Tie-Dye Sensory Fidget Pop Toy and the picture showed a blue, white, and red circle.  It was advertised as a stress, anxiety, and tension reliever, great for anyone with autism, ADHD, ADD, and a gift idea for all ages.

            The price was $14.99.  (Is anyone fooled into thinking $14.00, not $15.00?)  It was five inches in diameter and had 28 bubbles. So, I thought, if my Grand thinks this toy is worth requesting for his birthday, then I’d get one for all our Grands to play with when they visit, and I can always use something to relieve stress and tension.  

             I ordered two.  One for the birthday boy.  One for me.  

            If you don’t know what a POP-IT is, then you probably haven’t been around a child recently. On a shopping trip to a toy store with two Grands, ages 6 and 8, we saw a POP-IT display that would fill a grocery store cereal aisle.  Every color and color combinations.  Every flat geometric shape and designs from apples to bears to rainbows to unicorns.  Priced from $3.00 – $25.00.  All small enough to fit kids’ hands.  

             According to Wikipedia, a POP-IT is a silicone-based tray of half-sphere bubbles that can be pushed in, thrilling kids with a resulting popping sound.  (I’d say entertaining, not thrilling.)  The pop is like a muffled bubble wrap pop, and after a bubble is pushed down, it can be pushed back up.  

            So, what do you do with a POP-IT?  “Pop it,” said my young Grands. Is that really fun? It is if you race someone to see who pops faster.  Or if you create a design by popping a few bubbles.  Or if you pop only the ones around the circumference or every other bubble.  Or just want to keep your hands moving.

            As an elementary school teacher, I knew students who picked their fingernails or twisted a strand of hair around their fingers or tapped pencils on their desks.  They fidgeted.  Some students kept a piece of fabric to rub or a rubber ball to squeeze inside their desks.  All these kids would’ve liked a POP-IT.

            When I rode in a car for 1½ hours with three young Grands, I was glad they had POP-ITS.  They sat still and were calm as their fingers moved constantly, but there were a couple of arguments about who popped faster. 

            While I wrote this column, I picked up my POP-IT several times. I looked out the window at green treetops, collected my thoughts, popped some bubbles, and put my fingers back on the keyboard.              A POP-IT a simple toy – I wish I’d thought of it – and will soon be replaced by another got-to-have-it toy.  Then, you can ask your favorite kid for the one he discards.  It’ll keep your hands busy and might relieve tension and stress.

Eat More Ice Cream and Celebrate

In honor of National Ice Cream month, my Facebook friends shared their favorite flavors. Chocolate Chip Mint.  Butter Pecan.  Vanilla.  Rocky Road. Fig.  Pralines and Cream.  Coconut.  Butternut.  Chocolate.  Peach.  Cookies and cream. Banana.  Spumoni.  Bubble gum. Peanut Butter Chocolate.

            Some were specific.  Baskin Robbins Nutty Coconut.  Stellar Coffee at Cream City Ice Cream.  Blue Bell Salted Caramel at Cole’s Store. Dark Chocolate at Lazy Cow.  Fudge at Mackinac Island.  Brown Butter Bourbon Truffle by Kroger’s Private Selection.  Mayfield Chocolate.

            Several friends chose homemade: anything homemade, vanilla, strawberry, and peach.  I agree homemade is delicious. Is homemade ice cream really better than that bought in a carton or is the experience of making it and scooping it from a tall cold metal cylinder is what makes it so good?    

            Not one friend named my favorite flavor:  Burgundy Cherry that is sometimes available at Cream City and Baskins Robbins. 

            What ice cream flavors are the most popular in the United States?  According to an article published by Newsweek magazine on May 25, 2021, chocolate is the first choice – followed closely by vanilla.  Plain chocolate and plain vanilla.  That’s really not surprising.  Flavored toppings and nuts and candy and almost anything can be added to chocolate or vanilla to create unique tastes. 

            Toppings brings to mind sundaes and banana splits.  When I was young, Mom, Dad, and I often went to the Dairy Queen on Sunday nights and I always ordered a sundae.  Dad teased that I could only eat sundaes on Sundays, and he had me fooled for a long time.  I hate the slimy texture of bananas, but add ice cream, chocolate syrup, and toasted pecans, and even a banana tastes good.

            Do you eat ice cream in cone or a cup?  Kids choose cones and adults usually choose cups. My friend, Mary Jo, reminded me of the days of past when drug stores sold ice cream.  She remembers buying an ice cream cone for a nickel at the drug store on the square in Livingston, TN. For a dime, she could get a double dip cone.  An ice cream cone for a nickel or dime – those were the days.

             Recently, I took one of my Grands to get ice cream and ordered a two-scoop cone, just like hers – two flavors I’d never eaten.  As we sat and talked and licked ice cream, I declared that ice cream tastes better in a cone.  “Why do you think that’s the only way I eat it?” my Grand asked.

            And why eat only a few flavors?  It’s time to try some suggested by friends and some unusual flavors.  I’d eat Pickled Mango that’s available at an ice cream shop in Ohio, Lobster flavor in Maine, and Creole Tomato in New Orleans. 

            Anyone tried Cheetos ice cream? Vanilla ice cream rolled and dipped in crunched Cheetos, aka Cheeto dust, is sold at a New York City ice cream shop. We could try this at home.  

            It’s July.  Everyone celebrate and eat ice cream!