San Francisco

My Visit to San Francisco

6 months after I left the U.S. and 4 months after I came to Antigua, I boarded a flight to San Francisco. It was the first time I really removed myself from the bubble I’d been living in, and it was to go back to what I once called home.

Home is a difficult word for me. Is home where I grew up, New Jersey? Is home where I chose to make my life for a while, San Francisco? Is home the place I would go if shit hit the fan, Vermont? Is home where I now pay rent and work, Antigua? None of those really feel right but they also all do at the same time. I declare my status homeless.

Anyway, as I left my new home for my old home, I knew I had a lot to look forward to. I was going back for my sister’s wedding! I’ve been to family weddings and a friend’s wedding but nothing is the same as going to your only sister’s wedding. Not only would I be involved in a variety of stages – from a pre-wedding celebration of Kara (aka a bachelorette party but we’re not really using that word) to a flower market run to hair and make-up the morning of the big day to giving a toast at the reception – but I would also be a part of a family changed. My sister would now have a new first family with her husband and a new branch of the family with his family. I would now have a brother and extended family through him. The Brodgesell’s would now be a fivesome or a trio at holidays.

I wondered how this change would hit me. Would I feel the losing a sister or gaining a brother side more strongly? In truth, I didn’t really feel either. I simply felt happy for my sister. That she has a partner in life, one who I truly believe is right for her and genuinely like, and that they had a celebration of their love. It’s not like things will drastically change, they already live together and share pretty much everything, but we were all able to take a weekend to recognize how wonderful they are together. Isn’t that the point of weddings really? For everyone to be happy together because the couple is so obviously happy that it wafts over everyone like chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven?

Mmm chocolate chip cookies. What’s a girl gotta do to get some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in Guatemala?

Leading up to the wedding I got to have some great San Francisco time with friends and family. I revisited my old neighborhood and ate all of the food I missed (burritos, sushi, udon, pizza, a legit burger, even a ridiculously expensive kale cesar salad) and drank all of the drinks I missed (IPAs and bourbon). I was fortunate enough to be in town for Easter, a day typically known for its drunken debauchery amongst my friends that was noticeably tamer this year, but at least I got to see friends and then see adults race down a serpentine road in costume on big wheels at the Bring Your Own Big Wheel Race, an event I forever associate with my first weekend living in SF. In between the bigger activities I just hung out with my friends, the real highlight of being back, in the city I love so much.

And then there was the family time. The bonus of being at your sister’s wedding is knowing most of the guests. Family from both sides were in town for the weekend so I got to see everyone on this visit. The longer I’m away the more I truly appreciate spending any time with family, so it was wonderful to see them all this time around.

The wedding itself was beautiful, perfect, seamless, and fitting for Kara and Noah. They looked fantastic. The ceremony was touching and candid. The dinner was tasty and filled with joyous conversation. Then everyone danced until they told us we couldn’t dance anymore. So we went to a bar two blocks away and kept going for a little while longer. Surprise of the night? The dance off between my dad and my sister’s husband. I never expected it and will never forget it, for better or for worse.

All in all, it was a fantastic visit to San Francisco. I couldn’t have wished for anything more. I would be lying if I didn’t admit it made returning to Antigua more difficult than I expected. But I wouldn’t trade my trip for anything, it was magical to be back in my old life for a little bit.

My Unexpected Reaction to Being Back in San Francisco

I approached the Bay Area at perfect sunset timing. The sky was beautiful, and its vivid colors were reflected on the shimmering ocean. I resisted the urge to take out my camera. Just enjoy it, I told myself. San Francisco was welcoming me home with a stunning nature show.

Returning to San Francisco didn’t worry me when I left Antigua. I knew that I had a flight back, that this trip was just a vacation from the life I had begun in Antigua. I mentally prepared myself for the inevitable culture shock – I can flush toilet paper! I can drink the tap water! I can understand everyone around me! – that I had experienced before. I also mentally prepared myself to face the changes that had altered a city I once loved and called my home. A city that, just the day before, I permanently marked on my body in a new tattoo I got with my SF roommate.

I did not mentally prepare myself for wanting to move back. Within the first 24 hours of being back I was riding Andy’s hoverboard (technically it’s called a OneWheel but hoverboard is way more fun) through Crissy Field with the Golden Gate Bridge in front of me. Then we stopped for empanadas before meeting friends at a bar to watch March Madness, where I happily drank a Lagunitas IPA and Chainbreaker White IPA, my two favorite Bay Area beers. More beers and empanadas followed, and my night ended in the bar we’ve affectionately nicknamed “the littlest bar” talking literature with men twice our age. My San Francisco was still here. It wasn’t totally the same, but after two years neither am I. The point is, new me and new SF can still hang out.

Shit.

It hasn’t even been two days, so I’m not saying I will feel this way by the time I get on that return flight. But if it’s only taken this little time to feel at home here again, I fear for what will happen when my entire family comes to town next week. Best friends, all my family, and feeling again like this place is my city soulmate. I’m in for one hell of a trip.

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San Francisco, I Still Love You but I’m Happy I’m Not Moving Back Yet

Going back to San Francisco I had conflicting feelings. When I left I knew that I would return one day to live for a long time. After dreaming about moving there for 15 years and having the best time of my life while I lived there, I had developed the feeling that SF was my place. And then that feeling was confirmed as I saw other cities around the world and still maintained a love for SF. So naturally I was worried that I was setting myself up for trouble. Would I be able to leave once I returned? Or once I set foot back in the city I saw as my place would I want to forsake my plan to continue traveling and settle back into a new version of my old life?

At the same time, I was looking forward to it. I was about to return to my place as my enhanced self, and even better I was about to see all my close friends and family who still lived there. The anticipation was palpable.

Both the worry and excitement stemmed from a strong love for the city. So imagine my surprise when, after just three days, I was ready to get the hell out of there.

It felt so strange to be back. The city still looked like San Francisco but it didn’t feel like it. Something had shifted. I don’t want to repeat the conversation that everyone is having about the gentrification of SF, but suffice it to say that I felt it was no longer the city I had idolized since I was 8 years old. It’s hard to express what exactly it was – I could talk about any of the usual suspects like the unavoidable homeless situation or tech industry dominance – but in the end it comes down to a feeling. In the year I was away, we, San Francisco and I, had grown in different directions.

Being back around talk about rent prices, office life, and IPOs was jarring. There were times I went silent and just observed the conversation around me. It wasn’t just an inability to contribute but a feeling of distance. The subject matter was so vastly different from what I had grown used to and, in all honesty, not something I missed. I had spent a year talking to people who found value in experience not in the workforce, and it’s not that either one is better than the other it’s just a difference of opinion. I had chosen the experience, removed myself from the workforce, and fallen in love with that decision. Now that I was back in that world I could see just how divergent I felt.

I was happy I had planned the trip to wander around Vancouver Island for 6 days. I needed to get out of there, and the first night sitting next to a campfire on a random beach underneath the stars I felt more like myself than I had the whole week. It was a necessary break from the shock of returning.

When I went back to SF the second time I felt much better. This could partially be because the first week back was such a whirlwind of seeing people, trying to say hi to everyone I possibly could while I was in town (something I did to myself and in no way regret), and this time I was much more low key. But I think it also has to do with expectations. I had gotten the initial “this isn’t what I thought it would be like” out of the way and was okay with the fact that I did not want to be there. I was even happy about it; if I had still felt such a strong connection to the city then it would have been much harder to leave again. How things turned out, I have no doubts in my mind about staying away for a couple more years. It made the nomadic choice easier to accept that I thought it would.

Having said all that, I am incredibly happy I went back to San Francisco en route to Vermont. I couldn’t imagine not having seen my SF friends when I returned to the US and I had a fantastic time catching up with them. I was able to celebrate my birthday and my friend’s birthday in the same week with tons of friends at some old favorite places and with food I didn’t even know I’d missed (BBQ and tacos); I got to experience some of the best parts of wedding planning with my sister and her fiance (a catering tasting and dress shopping); I played laser tag in the streets of the Marina to celebrate the big 3-0 with the craziest twins I know (it was as fun as it sounds); and from brunches, lunches, and dinners to late nights at apartments I got to be a part of my friends’ lives again. It was everything I wanted my time in town to be and I thank you all for welcoming me back with open arms.

Road Trip South Island: Wanaka

I love Wanaka. From the minute we arrived in this town I instantly I knew it would be hard to leave. Now that I’ve left, I want to go back. As I’m writing this I’m actually wondering if it’s possible to go back before I fly out next week. No, it’s not possible, but if at some point in the future you hear I moved to Wanaka don’t be surprised.

There is something about Wanaka that is addictive. Maybe it’s the picturesque setting on a perfect blue lake with postcard worthy mountains in the distance. Maybe it’s the laid back vibe of the small alpine village. Maybe it’s the chill people you meet who at one point or another also felt like they didn’t want to leave, and actually followed through with staying. Maybe it’s the clean mountain air. Maybe it’s all of this and more. Hell we didn’t even see it during the peak ski season or in warm summer… One day.

I would call the drive between the coast and Wanaka breathtaking but that would contradict the video footage: it has a soundtrack of “oh my god” “wow” and “beautiful” on repeat. With mountains on one side and first Lake Wanaka and then Lake Hawea on the other side, it is easily the most beautiful road I’ve ever driven.

Frank and I spent our first night in Wanaka sitting at a lakefront bar, outside underneath heaters, enjoying good local beer – a tasty IPA! – while staring at the landscape. We talked to the bartenders, one moved here from New Jersey for ski season, and JB met up with us for a beer as we all waited for the eclipse to happen. Night one and we saw a glowing red moon. The universe aligned and gave us yet another reason to gawk in Wanaka.

The next day Frank, JB and I hiked Mount Iron, a lovely hour and a half return hike with a view over the town and lake. We hung out on top for a while, doing handstands and just laying there taking it all in. After the hike we said bye to JB, it was time for him to move on to Queenstown, and Frank and I continued exploring. We walked along the calm lakeside path and up to the Rippon winery for a free tasting (of 7 wines). This has to be the most stunning view I’ve seen at a winery; sorry Sonoma, but don’t worry, your wines win by far. Another afternoon spent wandering through gorgeous scenery just chatting with Frank, and another afternoon that solidified our friendship.

When we got back to the Matterhorn South Hostel, a cozy, friendly place that I definitely recommend, our new friend Karim was back from work and ready to play frisbee golf. This introductory round of frisbee golf was our first of three games in two days. The frisbee golf course in Wanaka is, of course, amazing. There’s nothing quite as enjoyable as following your frisbee around rolling hills and pine tree obstacles while sharing a 12-pack of Speights with new friends. For those of you who have ever seen me try to throw a frisbee you won’t be surprised that I started out a little shaky to say the least, but I soon caught on (or maybe it was the beer?). Game two the next afternoon we picked up a new player Alex, and game three he brought a soccer ball. After all the frisbees were in we had to juggle the soccer ball until it also made it in the basket. Because why not invent new fun outdoor games in Wanaka, home to all the outdoor awesomeness you could ever want?

The night after our initial frisbee golf game (Wanaka night 2) we had burritos for dinner. Really good ones from a food truck. I actually ate the entire thing. I have no idea how that was possible, but I think going over 4 months without a San Francisco burrito had something to do with it. Over burritos and beers Karim successfully convinced Frank and I to stay another day. Queenstown could wait.

The next morning I went for a run around the other side of the lake, my first run in I don’t even want to admit how long. As I ran I thought to myself: “Hiking, running, IPA’s, wine tasting, burritos, frisbee golf – is this San Francisco in New Zealand?” It felt like home in a small lakeside mountain town. It was everything I love combined, which of course confused the hell out of me. Did I really want to move to NZ?

I didn’t really set out on this trip expecting to solve any life dilemmas or find the real me. I knew there were parts of my personality that it would bring out more than others and of course I would discover more about myself, but I didn’t leave because I felt lost or confused with who I was before. As will happen with any major life experience like this, along the way questions have arisen about what comes next when this is over. I admit there are times that I say I hope it’s never over, I’ll travel forever, but sometimes I have to acknowledge that it may end. And then what?

I have gone back and forth before – Chile for example – between thinking that I am meant to live in a small town surrounded by stunning nature, and thinking that a city is the right place for me. Wanaka didn’t help at all. Leaving Buenos Aires I thought that I wanted city life, but now maybe I preferred rural. So what did I leave Wanaka thinking?

San Francisco is the right place for me. It has the city that I love, but the access to the outdoors that I crave. If it’s at all possible to spend half my time in SF and half my time in Tahoe I think I really could have the best of both worlds. So maybe I found my happy place already in Northern California, and I just had to go to the opposite side of the world to realize it.

But don’t hold me to that. I still have 5 months to go before I have to make any decisions.

My last night in Wanaka, Frank, Karim and I made moussaka and hung out at the hostel. Leaving the next day was so sad but I refused to say goodbye, first to Karim – see you in Sydney buddy, and then in the Austrian Alps, and maybe one day in Cairo (please?) – and then to Wanaka. I just couldn’t say goodbye to a place that will undoubtedly be my favorite part of New Zealand.

Bucket List Results

I know you’ve all been dying to know how I did on my San Francisco bucket list, or #brodgesbucketlist as it’s now known. Below is the entire list – maroon text is completed, black text I didn’t get to do. What do you think?

The Bucket List

The Bucket List

I think I did well! 34 out of 40. There are a few missing, unfortunately, but for all the ones missing and more I did plenty of #unofficialversion bucket list items. Plus there are a few that I did part of – my last weekend I did make it to Bootie and then Aces, we just happened to nap during what was supposed to be the EndUp time so I didn’t count it. And then there are a few that I admit are a bit of a stretch – I did go climbing at Dogpatch Boulders when I stopped by my friends’ climbing competition, and we did have a growler from Magnolia at their apartment after, so technically that counts right?

In the end I am just so happy that I was able to do as much as I did, and I’m even happier that so many people joined me for the fun!

I’ve posted some highlights already, but really everything I did could have had its own post. I had the best time exploring all the city has to offer. My last months in SF could have been filled with sadness about my upcoming departure, but instead they were a celebration of the wonderfulness of the city and all my friends.

There are still plenty of activities to do and places to visit in San Francisco, so when I return one day I hope more of you will join me again for my #brodgeisback list.

 

So Many Restaurants, So Little Time

It’s a well known fact that San Francisco has amazing food.

It’s a well known fact amongst my friends that I love following food blogs and local sites to find out about the newest and best restaurants in San Francisco.

So it was no surprise that I had a lot of restaurants on my bucket list.

I had to limit myself to these restaurants, I still had plenty more in a mental restaurant-only bucket list

I had to limit how many restaurants made the list. I still had plenty more in a mental restaurant-only bucket list.

This meant that I ate absolutely amazing food my last couple months in SF. Thank you to my friends and family who accompanied me to these restaurants, I hope you enjoyed them too (I’m pretty sure you did). To avoid writing a multiple page food post, or turning my blog into a restaurant review site, I’m just going to pick two highlights to add to my bucket list section here. When people ask me about the restaurants that I went to they usually want my top choices anyway, so here they are: Rich Table and Frances.

Just by chance, I ate at both of these restaurants with the same friend in the same weekend. After dinner Sunday we did a plate by plate breakdown to try to decide which one we liked more. I’ll give you those results at the end.

Rich Table
(Friday)

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Rich Table has been in the news constantly since it opened. It’s one of those places that is known to have a crazy wait but is entirely worth it. So imagine my surprise when on a Friday night at 7:30, me and two friends decided to just walk in and see what happened, and were seated at the corner of the bar within 5 minutes. Personally I love sitting at the bar, and the corner was perfect for a group of three.

We started with the bread – seriously amazing, and I’m not one to usually eat the bread at a big dinner and I wanted more – then the sardine chips and porcini doughnuts with raclette sauce. The sardine chips are pretty famous, and honestly, they’re strange. There is actually a sardine in a chip. But the porcini doughnuts might be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Savory and warm and airy, they were so satisfying and the sauce was a perfect complement.

We had a main of pasta with a side of asparagus and one more thing that I can’t remember, I just remember that the bartender told us we might need one more dish and by the end of the meal we decided that wasn’t necessary and we could’ve just stuck with the pasta and asparagus. But the asparagus was fantastic. Our friend had the steak which he seemed to thoroughly enjoy. We washed all this down with cocktails and wine.

Everything was well done and the flavors worked so well together, but it definitely lives up to its name – it is rich food. We stumbled out so full but happy, knowing that we had experienced a San Francisco gem of a restaurant. Impressive and tasty, I recommend you go.

Frances
(Sunday)

Frances

I was shocked to hear that some people don’t know Frances. It has consistently been named among the top restaurants in the city on lists like Eater’s 38 Essential SF Restaurants and Bauer’s Top 100 in the Chronicle. It is also known for being incredibly hard to get into. Now that I’ve eaten there I understand and appreciate why – the wait here is due to an intimate size and unrushed experience, which were part of the reason we loved dining here so much.

We booked a reservation about a month out on a Sunday at 5:30. We were there until 8. Located in a small space on 17th Street, Frances has a neighborhood feel about it. It is the perfect place to pass an evening catching up with a friend over a carafe of wine. Oh the wine deal – house red or white (the red was great), you’re charged by the amount you drink, which is measured on the carafe. It has to be one of the most reasonable wine deals I’ve ever had at a nice dinner.

Again we ordered small plates over a few courses. Josey Baker bread, yes please. (I swear that’s not normally me but these restaurants just have such good bread!) Applewood smoked bacon beignets – how could you possibly not order that? They were very rich, and good, but had the unfortunate timing of being paired with and completely overshadowed by the duck liver mousse. I have never ordered duck liver mousse before but for some reason this seemed like the place to get it. Definitely the right decision. Like the porcini doughnuts at Rich Table, the duck liver mousse was the highlight of Frances and one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Smooth and flavorful, we were eating it by itself after we ran out of the crostini it came with.

We had another pasta, squid ink this time. Usually squid ink pasta is a favorite and this one was good, but it fell short in comparison to the rest of this round: an incredible, perfectly cooked steak and side of seasoned carrots. Finishing out the meal, we didn’t mean to get dessert until we saw them pour chocolate sauce over one at the table next to us. We just had to. And it was another highlight.

After all of that, we again left satisfied and stuffed. I didn’t move from the couch for a while after this meal, but every bite was worth it. It is no wonder that a reservation at Frances is so hard to come by. It had the feel of a San Francisco staple that will only continue to impress its visitors with its food and its atmosphere.

As I promised, dish by dish comparison:

  • Bread – this is really hard, but the edge went to Rich Table
  • Porcini doughnuts vs Beignets – definitely Rich Table’s doughnuts
  • Sardine chips vs Duck liver mousse – hands down Frances’ mousse
  • Grilled asparagus vs Carrots – this was a close one, but the edge went to Rich Table’s asparagus (although full disclosure I like asparagus more in general)
  • Pasta main vs Squid ink pasta – I think we called this a draw: both good dishes, neither the best dish of the night
  • Dish I forgot vs Steak – duh, Frances’ steak
  • Bonus to Frances for dessert

In the end they come out pretty even, which is why I recommend both. When doing this breakdown, my friend and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was, but we both wanted to give the edge to Frances. The environment combined with the solidly delicious food made us want to go back, as soon as we could possibly fit more food in our stomachs.

 

(Some people may have noticed that Frances was not on my bucket list snapshot above. It was originally on the list, but since I had already planned this dinner with a friend I took it off before I shared the spreadsheet so people wouldn’t sign up for something that was already figured out. This is why it still counts as being on the bucket list.)

Alcatraz

Despite numerous visits to SF as a kid and living there for 3 years, I had never been to Alcatraz. It’s like being from NJ I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty. Sometimes when you live somewhere, you end up skipping the major tourist destinations.

So when I made my bucket list, I knew a visit to Alcatraz had to be on it.

I didn’t know how good Alcatraz would be really. I was skeptical that it was over-hyped, and it always seemed weird to me that a prison was such a destination. This is a place where dangerous people were locked up, kept in an extremely unpleasant environment, detained from the rest of the world. Is this somewhere that should really be an attraction? Then again I’ve toured catacombs in Europe and that’s also a strange idea when you think about it, so why not tour a famous prison? And I’d heard good things about the Alcatraz tour so I was curious to see what it was like.

It was great. I went with my family and we were all so impressed with the tour. It was informative, full of interesting stories, and, as a tourist attraction, it kept everyone moving very well so there was never a back up of people hovering in one spot.

Yes it is a prison, and some of the most dangerous people were held here. But what I didn’t realize was that Alcatraz was created to scare the country – it was meant to be a high security prison that would strike fear into criminals in the hopes to quell crime. The impression of Alcatraz that is so famous was created on purpose. This fact somehow makes me more curious about what it was like to live in the mob boss and gangster era.

Mixed in with the history of the prison and daily activities of inmates were fascinating stories of escape attempts and well-known prisoners. And did you know that in 1970 a group of Native Americans took over the island in protest? I didn’t.

Now having gone to Alcatraz, I highly recommend it to people. It was definitely worth the trip. Our only sadness about our visit was that the rest of the island was closed for bird mating season. My dad had heard wonderful things about the gardens, so we were a little disappointed we couldn’t see them. If you have all year to go to Alcatraz, try to go when the whole island is open.

One day I hope to return to the night tour – it’s the only time the hospital is open, and I hear it is especially eerie.

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Transition Time

I’m in limbo right now. I have left San Francisco, but I haven’t left for the big trip yet. This is the time frame that when people would ask “when do you leave?” would cause me to hesitate over my answer – “leave San Francisco or leave for the trip?” Often I would get the response: “both!”

So here I am at part 1 of 2 of that answer. I left San Francisco on Wednesday May 28, but I am still in the country till June 21.

It still hasn’t sunk in at all that I moved away from SF. I think part of it has to do with how hard it was to say goodbye to everyone and to the city that I grew to love so much. I haven’t thought about it enough to process it, and honestly I’m kind of avoiding thinking about it much because I’m a little worried about what will happen when I do finally process it (the reason this post is not about that, I’m not ready for that post yet).

The other part is that I feel like I’m just on vacation. Less than 24 hours after flying out I was already in a car on my way to my 5 year college reunion, which I just got back from late last night. There’s no better way to ignore the emotion that comes with moving out of SF than spending a long weekend pretending you’re in college again. And there’s no better way to recover from that kind of a weekend than not having to go to work after it – I slept for half of today.

Due to all of this – moving, goodbyes, reunion – I have a lot of posts I need to catch up on. I sat down to write about things like how I did on my SF bucket list, my travel insurance decision, and the pain of moving all of my stuff out and shipping it across the country. Instead I find myself writing this noncommittal post about how I am physically and mentally in between the realities of SF and my trip. I have a feeling these posts I mean to be writing will be usurped by more reflective posts about what it’s like to be unemployed and homeless, and beginning to spend all the money that I just spent 5 years saving.

So for now, I am just trying to recover from the craziness that was the month of May. For the next few weeks I’m spending my time with family in New Jersey and friends in New York City. The farewells will continue, just like the planning, and I’m still working on processing the fact that this adventure is beginning.

But that is the reality for me right now – this adventure is beginning.

Bucket List Reflections

I want to preface this post by saying that I love my bucket list. It’s motivated me to go out and do so many things throughout San Francisco that I never got to before, and it has been a great excuse for get togethers with friends and in different neighborhoods. But there is a mentality that comes with a bucket list that I am trying to shake before I go on this RTW adventure.

Lists in general are made to check things off. Who doesn’t get some sort of satisfaction out of putting a check mark next to or a red line through an item on a list? I have even added things to lists just so I could cross them off. When planning a visit to a new place, it seems natural to me to make a list of what interests you and try to get to as much of it as possible. I am guilty of traveling this way in the past, but I am trying to remind myself not to focus like this going forward.

As everything I read keeps telling me, a RTW trip isn’t about checking things off your list. It’s about being there in the moment. Say I miss a big tourist attraction because I get lost – this isn’t something to stress about. Wandering the streets of a town is just as good a way to get to know it as hitting the highlights; often it’s actually better. I may find some off the beaten path site that is even more interesting, or maybe I’ll have a chance to interact with locals, or just get a better feel for the architecture (I am an architecture student after all).

And isn’t this how I grew to love San Francisco anyway? It took me years to get Alcatraz, I avoid Fisherman’s Wharf like the plague, and despite living on a trolley car line I never take it. I like exploring the neighborhoods of SF without an agenda just as much as anything on my bucket list, so I should enjoy other places I visit in the same way.

So even while I make amazing progress on my bucket list (seriously, I’m almost done!), I am still trying to keep in mind that lists will not be a main focus of my RTW trip. The things I see and do will happen as they happen, not because I needed to write a check mark.