Who wants to be the entrepreneurs’ daughter?

My parents' newspaper stand

When I was born in Vietnam, my parents were young entrepreneurs.  They opened a small newspaper stand next to the mail station.  In a few years, that small stand became a small shop that housed the three of us.  Soon, my parents saved up enough money to rent a small apartment where we lived for some time.  Their business began to bloom.   A few years later, my little sister was born.  We became a small,and happy family of four!

But…everything changed when we immigrated to America, my parents were brave enough to start over and opened their own business with the little money they saved up within the 5 years of living in America.  This made my sister and me, the entrepreneurs’ daughters.

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My parents bought a small failing grocery shop near where we lived at the time and worked hard to rebuild it.  All of our time, including free time, if there were any…,went toward running the shop.   At age 14, I was old enough help out at the store.  This includes memorizing about 1,000+ product prices (since we could not afford a system to keep track of the products), restocking products, providing customer service, and performing many other miscellaneous tasks, such as making ordered sandwiches and bagging vegetables.  One time, we had a family emergency, and although both my parents wanted to travel back to Vietnam, one had to stay with the “kids” meaning my sister, me, and the shop.  Since my mom taught me how to manage the shop, I was responsible for running the store by myself while my dad went to pick up the products.  I would often get panic attacks when customers asked me to ring them up and it happened to be that ONE product that I forgot the price for it.  Or, the situation when a customer gave me too much money and that made me nervous, causing me to give them back more change than necessary.   I think the first few times I helped there, I accidentally gave away $100 change back to the customer after ringing her up for a bill of $100 dollars.  It was terrible.  I hated being at the register, I would rather restock products all day long if I could.

I often resented the shop because it placed so much pressure on my parents financially and emotionally, causing high tensions and fights would often spark at anytime.  The “iron curtain” was drawn from time to time, my parents would not speak to each other for several days.  My little sister didn’t know any better, and I always felt terrible when it happened.  I often got stressed out because I had to play the role of the messenger.  I often I wished that if the store didn’t exist, perhaps we would have been a much happier family.  I suppose it was a selfish wish since it was the store that employed my parents, and put the food on the table.  However, the amount of work and time it took to keep the shop running, was taking its toll on all of us.  Truthfully, I thought it was a burden, a boulder chained onto my shoulders and I could not put it down.

Yeah…That’s me right there.

One of the things I learned during that time was the meaning of sacrifice.  At an age of 15, what valued most to me and other 15 year olds, were free time to spend with friends, relax at home, and…I don’t know what else, I didn’t get the chance to do much anyway.  When I graduated from high school, I had no other choice but to commute to a college near home because I was needed at the shop on the weekends.

Once in a while I would get a chance to go out for a short break to hang out with my friends.  But by then, I was so used to being at the store, guilt would eat me up while I was away from the shop.  I remembered my cousins wanted to take me out to the movies after visiting a nearby Buddhist Temple, however, after about 1 hour being there, I started feeling antsy and guilt-ridden.  I was so worried about customers piling up and my mom would be flooded with sandwich orders while multitasking on other things.  As a result, I ended up pleading them to take me back to the store, can you believe it?  I wanted to go back to a place that I felt trapped.

This went onto half of my college years, when the store finally closed its doors.  My parents struggled to keep the store afloat while trying to compete with big chain stores like H-Mart and other large Asian markets.  I kind of miss the days I helped my parents cleaned up the shop, restocked items, carried bags out for customers, rang up customers, and regurgitated product prices from memory.   Those were the hard days, and suddenly it ended.

We all felt a sudden wave of freedom.  The curse that bounded and tore our family apart, was lifted.  We suddenly didn’t know what to do with ourselves because for the first time in 6 years, we have free weekends and week nights.  We could finally spend time together without killing each other!  Yay!  Looking back, the store played a large part in shaping me.  It made me a stronger person in times of great stressful situations when I had to managed the store on my own, and in times when my parents were at war with each other.  I realized all the sacrifices however small they might be, compared to my parents’, these sacrifices were worth it to keep the family together.

It made me a bigger person who values those I loved over my selfish desires and needs.  I now do not find it hard to give away or give up things for my family because they are whom I treasure.   In addition, I find that it made me less selfish, more caring, and compassionate toward others.  During all the times working at the shop, I learned so many sad and touching stories about each customer and his or her troubles.  It was more than a store, it was a place to share life experiences in a 20 minute chat that would continued the next time he or she returned.  Well, technically, I listened in to the conversations because back then, I was a shy kid.  Having conditioned to work there for so long, I developed a sense of responsibility and self-discipline.  Perhaps without the store, I could have been a total childish, selfish, destructive? person, but thankfully I was not.  🙂

Looking back, it was a love-hate relationship with the store but I recognize now that it made the family stronger.  Through the tough times, my parents did not gave up, and persisted.  Watching them, I learned to be a goal oriented, focused, and persistent person.  Without the store, we would not have know how valuable free time and family time were to us.  And although the times being at the shop together as a family  provided us with many opportunities to bond, it was a bit too much…

BUT!  The best part about being the store owners’ daughter was, I got “unlimited” amounts of snacks and drinks.   Who wouldn’t want to be me?    😛

Me!

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What do pots and lids have to do with being single?

I must admit, I AM like the majority of single women who dream of marrying “the one.”   Dreaming of that one day, walking down the aisle, holding hands with the one I love.  I often get lost in these fantasies that are fueled from television shows, romantic movies, and love stories.  I realize that these media often exaggerate the bubbly, sweet, bright perspective of the relationship.  I was a naïve woman, well, I still am in some aspects, but after being apart from my ex, I wonder about the things could have gone right, and wrong.  I think that the best part in any relationship is the thrill, the excitement, the part when you are falling madly in love with that person.   How can I get that same feeling, now that I’m single?

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Being single again, sucks.  It’s that uncomfortable feeling being around couples, being self-conscious at the “single” cardboard sign hanging around your neck or a sticker on your forehead that says, “I’m single.”  It’s that dreadful feeling when you have to keep yourself busy because your friends are all busy with their lives.  It’s the constant battle between my thoughts and me, and it’s me fighting that feeling of loneliness when I’m all alone.  I’m still trying my best to adapt to being single, I have been single most of my life, so why is it so hard now?   Truth is, once you find something better in your life, and loose it, you will miss it.  Imagine what it’s like to live without iPhones, cars, and other great things in your life.  See? You would miss it too.

The next best thing that you could only do is to move on and hope for the best.  Moving on can feel extremely awesome like a great wave of fresh air, or it can feel like crap.  It is like someone push you into a dark room, or down a cliff that you don’t want to go, and you can only feel self-pity and melancholy.  I can say I have experienced both sides of the coin, and I’d rather be happy and looking forward to positive things than feeling depressed, and more depressed.   The only way to move on, is to accept my current state

—> being single<—

and find some way to embrace it.

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Since the day I am single, I have tried doing many things that I haven’t done before.  I tried rock climbing, I learned how to swim, ski, use a gun and rifle, yoga, and more.  Within these six months, I have done so much more adventurous things I have never done in my entire life.  I have made my life so busy and fulfilling that I’m just happy being single.  Why does it have to be that breakup event, that lead me to this point in my life?  Looking back, I’m grateful that it happened, else it wouldn’t have pushed me to do so many fun and exciting things.  Of course, I could have done these things before, but I guess I needed a push, and I got one.

One, no, two of the things my wise dad says to me about this topic is, “Every pot has its lid.”  He says, just like how every pot has a lid that fits it, you will one day find your “lid.”  True, but, how long will it be?  Why don’t they just invent little “timers” that we can attach to our wrists that will tell us how long until we meet “the one?”  from Timer, a 2009 film by Jac Schaeffer.  I guess the exciting and tedious part is just waiting for the surprise, waiting for that person to pop up any time between now and ….until the day we die.  From looking around, we can see that some may never get the chance to meet that someone, and some may already meet that someone but doesn’t know it.  There are some that become couples, and things just didn’t work out.  Afterall, the ideal persons we all want to be with, are REAL beings, not some fantasies we made up.  Perhaps “the one” may match our personalities or not.  What are we to do but to continue our search and take small detours along the way?

The second thing he says is, “If you want to meet someone who likes what you like to do, and share your interests, go to places where you want to go.  Perhaps one day, that one guy who is doing exactly what you like, will want to get to know you.”  It’s true.  The places where you want to hang out describes a bit about who you are.   It gives others an idea of what type of person you are.  If a guy meets me at the bar, he would think I’m here like everyone else, just having short conversations, looking for sex, whatever.  Being at the bar doesn’t really shine a good light on me, besides, bars have little light anyway.  You could barely tell what the guy sitting next to you looks like!!  😛   If a guy meets you at a volunteer event, it says a lot of different things about you.  Perhaps you want to help the community, or enjoy helping others.  Now, don’t you all run to volunteer just to pick up a guy, he’s going to know you are faking it.  Just do what YOU want to do.  People who have similar ideas will do similar things.  For example, guys who love to work out and do sports will spend most of their time at the gyms, so go to the gym if you are into those sorts of guys.  If you like guys who loves comics?  Go find them at the comic, errrh, Anime Conventions.  🙂  (No offense, I like anime and manga, too.)

To sum things up, we singles, are not alone, everyone else is also looking for that someone.  Perhaps during our life journeys, we discover more about who we are, or what we like along the way.  Don’t give up and just keep LIVING, do the things that make you feel good.  If you happen to find that someone?  Good for you!  If not, you already found a BUNCH of things that make you happy.  🙂  Good luck!!

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My Music Quest

In elementary school,Barney would twirled me around to happy tunes.  Sesame Street friends filled my small baskets with fruits containing letters and numbers, and Mr. Rodgers shared with me bite-size desserts of life lessons.

(Not sure if I would like to relive those days…)

In middle school and high school, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese artists dazzled me with shiny and colorful outfits, and the hot, asian singers melted my heart as they serenaded me.   (I’m exaggerating!)

(Cute aren’t they?)

In college, everything changed.

The day that my life has changed for the better, at least, I think so, was when I discovered Indie Rock music.  OH MY GOSH.  Where have you been all my life??  There were many moments that no Barney song or asian songs could describe how I feel.  The first time I heard this beautiful genre was when my coworker played his songs in the office.  This coworker of mine was a self-claimed hipster.  He was playing one of his playlists in the office, and this shy, yet mesmerizing melody caught my attention.  How beautiful it was and how it made me feel so strangely…happy?  This song is Collect Call by Metric.  From that day on, I wanted to find more songs that make me feel this way.

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(That’s how I feel every time I listen to my favorite songs.)

From that day on, my music quest has started.  I no longer wait for music to come my way, I must now go find it.  Here is a short list of my on going discovery:

  • Metric
  • Franz Ferdinand
  • Foster the People
  • The Lumineers
  • Imagine Dragon
  • AWOLNATION
  • The Hush Sound
  • The Strokes
  • The Black Keys
  • Company of Thieves
  • Cage the Elephant

However, Alternatives aren’t the only source of happiness for me, I find that listening to instrumental music is just as awesome.  Artists like 2 Cellos, The Piano Guys, Yiruma, and Lindsey Stirling can change your negative opinion of classical music or instrumental music into a positive one.  The Piano Guys, especially, just give an awesome twist to the oldest, classical tunes like Cello Suite 1.  They also set the most popular songs on fire with their unique interpretations to those same songs, try looking up “Titanium” or “Paradise” by the Piano Guys.

What type of music do you like?

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt

http://www.smileyme.com

A few days ago, I volunteered to help out at a math competition event.  It was so much fun to watch the middle school students compete.  During the “showdown,” I watched as the questions go up for less than two seconds and one of the contestant answered it so swiftly.  It was amazing to see how fast these kids can do their calculations!!  For me, I got a chance to work behind the scenes by grading and scoring their math problems.  Since I was a newbie, they asked me to partner up with the older man, who apparently, worked as a camera man as well.  He guided me through how to do the grading and so on.

Since I have great interests in cameras and photography, I figured it would be best to ask someone like him.  I was not sure if I was being too sensitive to what he’s saying but I’d let you decide on that.  I asked him about his camera, he explained some stuff, then I went into more questions about aperture, exposure, sepia, and film developments.  He got to the point where he explained that exposure is when one left the film out and allowed the photons to hit the film for certain amount of time.  When I got a bit confused in my attempt to picture what he’s talking about, he asked,

“So what did you studied in college?”

I shyly replied, “Computer Engineering.”

Right then, he’s said, “An engineer like yourself, don’t you remember about photons and what they do and such?”  Or, “didn’t you study about black bodies and lights in physics?”  At that moment, I felt so inferior to him.  I didn’t understand why though.  I felt so ashamed of who I am for the fact that I’m an engineer.  He’s right, shouldn’t I know??  I turned into a rock, and I began to sink farther and farther into the quicksand.

Then, I questioned myself, why was I feeling this way?  I studied way too hard to graduate as a computer engineer.  In college, I studied along with my other classmates, 80% of which are men.  I graduated with “Magna Cum Laude.”  Why should I be ashamed of who I am?  Even if I didn’t remember about physics, it didn’t mean I’m incapable of learning it, or understanding about photography.  I learned a long time ago that it’s useless to get angry and lose myself in the middle of it.  So, to get out of this hole, I reversed my situation and accepted him comment.  I let him pass a few more of his sly comments, and I continued to politely ask him more questions about photography.  Eventually, his comments stopped hinting about me being an engineer and he became engrossed in his own topic.

Just to clarify, being an engineer does not make me any better than any other person.  My skills and what I learned are specific to certain application, one cannot blindly clump them together and expect that I am an expert on physics or other matters.  I can program you a really awesome webpage, or write you some kick-ass Android apps if I wanted.  Everyone’s good at something, not at EVERYTHING.

But seriously, what happened next, I amazed myself.  I just took control of the situation, and made it beneficial to me.  Regardless of what he said after that, I refused to let him make me feel inferior to his “photography” knowledge, instead, I turned myself into his student.  I continued to ask more and more questions because I wanted to know more about photography.  I didn’t care if he thought lowly of me, I was a stranger to him and vice versa.  As a result of that day, I walked away feeling good because I had volunteered, and as a bonus, I gained a lot of knowledge about cameras, and film development.

I learn that it’s smarter to act “dumb,” and gain knowledge from others, than act smart and learn nothing.  Also, you should never feel inferior to another person just because he/she knows more specific information about a certain topic.  There are other things you are good at, that he/she isn’t.  So why let her/him make you feel bad?

Be proud of who you are.  I’m often afraid to admit to people I’m a computer engineer because they would either make sly remarks to make me feel bad or compliment that I worked hard to become an engineer.  It’s one or the other.  I’m still struggling to not let others’ comments affect me negatively.  My trick is to turn the situation around and just become a curious person.  Ask lots of questions!!  If he/she makes you feel inferior because he/she feels greater than you, then, tell him/her to go ahead, take the stage and answer all your questions.  Say,

“I want to learn.  Give me all that you know.”

In the end, tell me, who benefits from this?  You or him?

I can cook? Shocking!

Ever since the day I left home to live on my own, I confidently claimed that I could manage without eating Vietnamese food.  In truth, I grew up eating my mom’s homemade food all of my life.  In expressing “I’m independent now” to my parents, I decided to quit eating home-cooking and move on to bigger, and better food.

For a while, I thought I could just survive on take out and fast foods.  I decided to make it an adventure and went on a restaurant hunt, looking for the best restaurant in town.  I have “conquered”  almost all the chain restaurants like Applebees, Popeyes, Outback SteakHouse, Sushi Restaurant, Korean BBQ Restaurant, and a few others.  I was doing this rotation of restaurants until I have tried almost all the food there.

Within two months or so, I became tired of eating all these non-Vietnamese food and I finally caved in.  With an empty kitchen, I did not have neither the proper kitchen tools nor food supply with which to cook.  So, I decided that it is wiser to hunt for a Vietnamese Restaurant first before I unleashed my “fantastic” cooking skills.

Unfortunately, none could match the delicious cooking made by my mother.  Also, I was craving this one particular dish that none of the restaurants was willing to make for me.   As a result, I concluded that the only way to get rid of this constant nagging voice that kept telling me to eat this Vietnamese dish was to cook the dish myself.  The next day, I armed myself with cooking tools and supplied my storage with fresh vegetables and some condiments.  I have to satisfy my cravings for this particular dish once and for all.  This mysterious dish I’m talking about is called, “Tom Kho Tau,” meaning “sauted shrimp with its roe.”

The making of this dish is a bit complicated, if you decide to use a whole shrimp, with its head on, and saute it.  Its roe will come out during the cooking process, coating the shrimp with this orange-y, and heavenly sauce.  The dish is simply delicious but the process of cooking can stink up the house since its roe is a bit smelly.  So, off I go to the supermarket.

Now, I’m back in the kitchen, staring blankly at the ingredients I bought.  Honestly, I don’t know how to cook.  I only know how to wash the rice and put it in the rice cooker.  Does that count as cooking??   Well, I guess not.  After a few hours of doing research for recipes online and contemplating on how I go about doing this daunting task without accidentally burning my new home up…I decide to seek help from my parents.

At first, I thought all Vietnamese dishes, like soup and entrees, are difficult to learn.  However, my dad, once again, shined the way for me, and shared to me the secret to cooking Vietnamese food.  He said that most basic Vietnamese dishes involve the four basic ingredients: oil, salt/fish sauce, garlic/green onion, and black pepper.  The other ingredients are what you want to make of the dish.  I was really surprise of how simple these four ingredients can create so many dishes.

To make this “Tom Kho Tau,” I just need the headless shrimp (no heads, since I don’t like cutting up shrimp heads…or any other type of heads), shrimp sauce jar, onion, salt, pepper, and oil.  With other dishes, it’s basically the same four ingredients with some veggies or meats added to it.  For example, if I want to make spinach soup, I just need to have spinach, shrimp, fish sauce, black pepper, green onion, and oil.  With those ingredients combined with water, I make a delicious spinach soup.

After 6+ hours, including the preparations and cooking time, I finally finish making (drum roll please?)…. 2 dishes, “Tom Kho Tau” and simple spinach soup.  After the long battle, I am exhausted and hungry.  I finally can eat now. Wow, who knew cooking is so easy?  Haha.  I’m pretty sure there are more challenging Vietnamese dishes I could learn, but now, I’m pretty happy that it’s edible!

The most ironic part is that I managed to stink up my home with burnt popcorn smell.  Smoke clouded my entire kitchen as the microwave continues to burn, and burn the 100 calories buttered popcorn.  Thank goodness I saw the black smoke in time, and open the windows before the smoke alarm goes off on me.  It’s sad that it’s not the cooking at which I failed, it’s learning how to operate the microwave….

 Below is the product of my labor. ❤
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Why do I often freak out at work?

Credit: shannonmillerlifestyle.com

After graduating from college, I start working full-time in the “real” world.  Things are not as easy anymore.  No more homework, exams, or getting answers from someone who actually KNOWs how to solve a particular problem.  Now, working in the real world is full of unknowns.  There are more things I don’t know than I do know.  There are handfuls of unanswerable questions that tend to stack up in my mind and not many of my coworkers know the possible answers to all of them.  I often become frustrated and confused because it’s just too hard to finish the assigned task without knowing the answers to my questions.   Another thing that worries me is my career, will I go far if I keep trying?  Like everyone else, I also worry about my job in this economy.  People are losing jobs left and right (I’m exaggerating.)  I wonder, what if I’m next?   I start to worry about the future, and start to look for jobs all over again, just in case, my ship decides to leave me behind.  This in turn affects my work performances and negatively dims my optimistic perspective on my life.

My parents always end up comforting me because they know these obstacles can take time to overcome.  One of the life lessons that my dad teach me is that whatever I’m doing, I should do my best, make sure I finish what I started, so that I can build up my reputation.  By doing so, other people will want to work with me again.  It’s easier to eat the cake than baking a cake.  Since I’m fresh out of college, not yet armed with past work experiences and knowledge.  However, I do have an advantage that I have a fresh mind and that I am willing to absorb any fact, trick, or language that I can get my hands on.  I’m sure many college graduates will agree to this as well.

Another thing my dad said is “do not to freak out about what others think, because if you do your work right, no one can blame you for doing it wrong.”  It seems like common sense but it’s harder to do it right when you don’t know what you are doing.  Also, when all your questions are not answered because not many people around you know the answer as well.  I guess part of moving on is to accept that not all of my questions have valid answers.  I should just move on with what I’ve got.

In the “real” world, I worry about what my boss may rate me and if my coworkers like me or not.  I often worry sick about what my boss thinks of my work performance and try my best to befriend everyone.  This is not a bad thing, but I realize I’m being too desperate.  (Ok, it is bad.  I’m working on it!!)  I realize, I am nice to everyone but that doesn’t mean I have to become everyone’s best friend.  Also, there’s some point that I should worry about my boss, but as long as I am doing my job and doing it well, there’s no need for me to worry about what he thinks.  My work speaks for itself.

Now, I try not to stress out about work too much and focus on just getting my job done.  Taking short breaks during lunch time also help clear my mind and recharge me for the final push to the end of the day.

What do you guys do to help reduce the stress at work?

Spontaneous? Not Really!

To tell you the truth, being spontaneous isn’t really spontaneous at all.  My theory is that all the things that come to your mind are often triggered by the things you see or the things that you think about.  Being spontaneous is just a way you think.  For example, you know you will be going to the park, and thinking about going to the park, you imagine there will be kids riding bikes. You then get the idea to ride a bike.   Sometimes in life, you should not plan every moment.  It is just way too stressful and most of the times, things do not often go your way.  Jane Austen in her book, Emma, wonderfully describes my point, “Why not seize the pleasure at once? –How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!”  If you are open to unexpected things that come to your mind, and act upon some of them, then life becomes fun.  Sometimes deciding to blow bubbles on a windy day or doing a little dance while walking to work isn’t embarrassing or dumb, it’s the little whimsical things you do in life that make life a little more sweeter, and a lot more entertaining.

At times, being spontaneous requires you to accept unexpected things that come your way.  For example, you plan on going to lunch with your cousin, then during mid-discussion, he suggests that instead of going to a nice restaurant, we should go eat at a crab house.  To you, it is spontaneous because who on earth would think of going to a crab house for lunch right?  (I was really surprised.)  For him, he has craved crabs for weeks now, and have not gotten a chance to go!   Then, my cousin and I end up going to the crab house and have a great time eating and cracking crab legs.  Afterwards, we decide to go biking in the park, and finish up the day eating yogurt.  The entire day is really awesome!

“Humor is spontaneous, wonderful bit of an outburst that just comes.  It’s unbridled, it’s unplanned, it’s full of surprises.” – Erma Bombeck

Here’s the top 5 things to become a spontaneous person:

1. Be open to do the things that comes to your mind.  Random thoughts that come to your mind are super fun, once you acted upon it!

2. Be open to the things that come to you.  When unexpected suggestions or events that come to you, accept it and often times, you will be glad you did it!

3. Push yourself to do something that you usually would not do.  Who knows? Perhaps you like it, or perhaps you do not, but at least now, you can confidently say, “I have done it.”

4. Treat yourself.  When you crave something or wanting to do something, just do it!  It is a way to show that you love yourself enough to make yourself happy.

5. Don’t feel guilty about it because you are doing the things you enjoy!

My spontaneous day

I always wonder what it’s like to do archery, but no one could go with me, so instead of ignoring the idea, and limiting myself from trying archery, I just drive myself to the shooting range.  Of course, in my mind, I think I am going crazy!  What would a woman like me be doing at the shooting range?  It’s just so un-lady like!  Well, I push myself even farther, and walk into the office.  My heart is pounding, and I am feeling self-conscious because I am at a place surrounded by men.  I find out that they do not offer archery, but they do offer rental pistols and rifles.  Oh boy.  Since I’m already here, why not accept the situation and go forward?  So I choose to try the pistol.  The first few rounds scares the life out of me.  I am shaking, and nervous.  But excited.  And you know what?  By the end of the day, I come out of the shooting range as a proud woman.  I am not afraid of what they are any more, and the fact that I can control it makes me feel more confident.  I thought, if I can do something like this, that means, there are many other things that I could definitely conquer on my own as well.

What is the most spontaneous thing you have done? 😀