Monday Musings: And Jonathan said hello

One of my dearest and oldest friends just chimed in this morning after I had sent him messages on Viber and Facebook asking about how he was.  He had appeared in one of my dreams (which, superstitious as I am, I take as a call or nudge of sorts from the universe), and I sent him the usual “How are you?  Hope all is well.. dreamt about you” kind of e-mail.  It took him a while to respond but I was relieved to hear things couldn’t be better.

He’s probably one of the few guy friends I have who have known me for decades and still know everything that is current about me. Well, almost.  Our lives make it hard to catch up in real time, but when we do, we update one another as if we just spoke yesterday.  He was also one of the few friends I saw during my last trip home in December 2013.   He is not only one of my closest friends but has been designated my personal lawyer and executor.  (Reminder to self: Finish that holographic will.)  We never miss each other’s birthdays because we were born just 2 days apart — so when he greets me, I greet him.  It has become a race of sorts as we try to beat each other to greeting the other one when our birthday month comes.  So how can we forget?

He was there during the most painful time of my life where I didn’t know where else to turn.  When I shunned seeing most of the other friends I would have run to, the one guy I called straight from New York was Jonathan.  There are certain people who we know will catch us when we fall, no matter how long ago it was that we last spoke with them.  They will always be there.  Jonathan is one of those people in my life.

His counsel is one I value not just because the advice he gives is deeply thought out and deliberate, but because I know I will always hear it straight, coming from him.  No matter how the truth may hurt, he will give it to me but with the gentleness and compassion of a brother at heart.  I remember around the time I was hoping to settle down just over 15 years ago, I had gone out with him and our usual group of boys from college — half of who were already lawyers like him and me, and others equally successful in their chosen careers.  I was seeing someone who seemed to be “the one” but was not quite nestled in my comfort zone the way I wanted him to be.  Jonathan never met him, but when I told him about this one who made my eyes twinkle, he flat out told me this guy was no good for me in plain and simple terms.  (The reason for which I will keep between Jonathan and I.)  And that was that.  It was like the truth was revealed and I took it as just that: the truth.  As bull headed as I can be, the truth is not always something I take to hearing kindly, more so when it runs contrary to what I hold it to be.

But not from Jonathan.

Happy to hear that all is well with you, my friend.  I have missed you but you are always in my heart.  I hear your voice and laughter in the background when the memories come, more so when I feel alone and needing your counsel.  There are so many things I want to tell you, and in time, I will.  Very few people know the whole story and because you do, no explanations are necessary.  You know because you know my heart.

So maybe we will get to do a joint birthday celebration next year, even if belatedly.  And we can laugh and drink and catch up then..

 

Pseudo Siblings (or those people who are almost but not quite the real thing)

Even after living in New York the last 14 years, I haven’t quite gotten used to being away from my siblings who are all in Manila. Despite all the technology that allows me to talk to them as if they were just minutes away and not a half day ahead, or being able to spend 2-3 weeks with them in person practically once a year, it’s just not quite the same. It doesn’t even help to know that the distance has continued to keep us closer than ever, and has not affected our bond as family — it actually makes it even worse. But I continue to try and cope my way…

I have always cherished the way my siblings and I have continued to build our relationships with each other. I feel so blessed to have been given each of them. And that includes my older brother who went to heaven after but a few hours on earth. He and I have an even more special relationship, because I know he watches over me and never fails to move me when he visits me in my dreams. I’ve only seen him as a baby, yet I know it’s him when he pops up in my nocturnal adventures.

The hardest part of being here in New York, is that I am 10,000 miles away from them. One of my coping mechanisms has been to take out their friends when they land in my part of the world for one reason or another.  Yes, even those I’ve never met before but whose connection to me is that they are “superfriends” or “buddies” of any of my siblings back home.

Most of them are surprised by the warm welcome — but it is always easy for me to be warm and friendly and cozy with those who I know share a special bond with the most special people to me.  Be it for a single dinner or a walk around the city or what have you, I cherish those moments when I find myself with them again, even if only vicariously.  I miss them that much even if we see each other every other year (or even every year like in most recent times) and even when they are but a touch of a button away on Viber or Facebook or a dial away on the cellphone.

So in the last couple of months, I’ve met up with two of my sister’s friends, and a pair of my brother’s.  Each one has been a different encounter but rich with a lot of laughter and reminiscing and just plain getting to know you.  I relish those moments shared because they translate to time spent with the sibling who is our common friend.

Val visited a few months back and had helped me to get a better insight into my sister’s current circle and world.  Although it is not the same as meeting up with my sister’s friends who I had known from their shared childhood or high school years, Val gave me a window into my sister’s world outside of the circle I normally see her in.  She was quick to laugh like my sister, and it touched me that she told me she had connected with my sister between the first and last time I got to sit down with her here in New York, and she had told Ofie, “Mahal na mahal ka ng Ate mo.”  (Your older sister loves you so much.)

Then came Edlyn who I had known from a visit a few years back and who, like Ofie and I, is a Paulinian.  (We all shared the fact that our formative years were spent with the Sisters of St. Paul.)  We were supposed to attend aparty in Freehold, NJ the same evening Edlyn was free, but it was more important for me to see her, so I sent father and son off without me and planned a special night.  I picked a restaurant that I had been wanting to go to for the longest time, Esca, and I went into the city on a Saturday evening not knowing it was the start of the (in)famous traffic-snarling UN Week here in New York.  (I would’ve loved to pique your palate with the sumptuous photos I had taken but I lost my iPhone two days ago.. along with the thousands of pictures I had stored in it.)

I have always loved Edlyn’s positivity and vivacious personality.  Even on Facebook, her page drips and oozes with optimism and words of encouragement without being soupy or overly religious.  (Although I don’t mind those, in general.)  She had an infectious laughter (tossing her head back in wild abandon, several times almost hitting a server sidling up behind her — caught unaware by her sudden jolt of joy).  I was there to just have a dose of that, but I got so much more.  A professional life coach, she was in town for a spiritual conference and to take on several other events from coast to coast.  We discussed so many things over that sumptuous meal that I would’ve stayed longer at her apartment, but I didn’t want to rob her of a chance to catch up with some Zs in preparation for the long day ahead.

She doesn’t see my sister as often as they used to see each other, but she is close enough to know the latest that’s been going on in her life.  Edlyn’s focus, though, was me — and she shared her heart so openly and with no reservation that I soon realized we were brought together for a reason beyond catching up about my sister.  Of the many things Edlyn told me and asked me, she told me “It all comes back to ‘YOU’.  Always remember that — you are the most important thing.”

Even now, that gives me pause to think and reflect.  And I see her tossing her head in wild laughter again. =)

Just a few days ago, one of my brother’s friends arrived with another friend/officemate in tow.  They were a nice pair of young travelers trying to take in the city — very pretty Anna and my stand-in Nikki superfriend, Romeo.  (Nikki is my youngest brother who is now a physical therapist in one of the bigger hospitals in Manila.)  Never met them, and I never even started communicating with Romeo until Nikki connected us just before he left.

First, I took them out to lunch which caused quite a stir with the boss for the length of time I was away.  (I was royally scolded!)  Then we met up again at night to take in the lights and sounds of Times Square, Fifth Avenue and Central Park.  I played photographer, tour guide and jokingly, “Pimp”.  We managed two sets of photos with New York’s finest which were the biggest hit in their photostream of photos taken here in NYC.

Sitting across the table from Romeo at dinner at Rosie O’Grady’s felt like sitting across the table from my dearest Nikki.  He came into our lives when I was 18, and had always treated him as my baby, even now when he’s a 30 year old professional.  I had always told myself that if I were never blessed with a child, he would be the one to fill that gap in my life.  But even now that I have my own son, I look to him as the baby I saw grow up before my eyes into the beautiful person that I am so proud of right now.

I wanted it to be Nikki in those pictures we shot — and I went all out in the hopes that seeing Romeo here would make him want to come here and join me — finally.

These people were brought into my life here in New York through my siblings, but they have touched my life in a more direct way and I feel that my life has been enriched by these encounters.  Beyond the care packages they brought, they brought me a piece of my siblings that I wouldn’t see otherwise, viewing it from the perspective of being one of the family.  And over and above that, they all brought something different to add to my life experiences.  For the special friendship they shared with the people who mean the most to me, I let them in with open arms and was able to find new friends of my own and for that I am a better person.

I opened my heart to them as if I had known them forever, and because they saw an older sister in me, they did the same.  We became instant friends because one of my siblings was a very dear friend of theirs — and now, they are my friends, too.  For that I am eternally grateful, and I can’t wait for the next pseudo-sibling to come along… hopefully soon.

 

 

 

You have taught me well

Daily Prompt: We can be taught!  What makes a teacher great?

A few days ago, one of my favorite teachers from grade school celebrated a birthday. She had taught hundreds of young girls during her years teaching in St. Paul College of Pasig where I spent my elementary years. Batch ’79 was the last batch forced to seek another branch for high school because they started building a high school year by year after.

Mrs. Milagros Mercado was my sixth grade teacher. I have been fortunate to have had some of the best mentors during all my years in school, as far back as elementary to the time I walked the august halls of the Ateneo School of Law. They all contributed in some way to who I am now. Whatever my brain has digested and tucked away through my 47 years on this earth was sparked or molded by others’ thoughts and knowledge. To all of them, I am eternally grateful.

It is difficult to answer the question “What makes a teacher great?” because each teacher is different.  Some dazzle us with their sheer brilliance, and some have that uncanny ability to pry out the best in us that we never thought was there in the first place.  Some drive us to the lowest of lows and torture our souls only to have us find ourselves looking back at that experience as one of the better lessons we ever had. In my mind, I have a list of the various teachers and professors who touched my life in one way or another.  They may not remember me, but their imprint on my life will forever be there.

Mrs. Mercado has a special place on that list — but more so in my heart. The best way to write about her and what she had done for me is to say it to her straight by way of this blogpost, so if you will — please indulge me.

“Dear Mrs. Mercado —

I had posted a greeting on your Facebook page last year (if not the year before that) and greeted you a happy birthday, knowing you probably will no longer remember me. After all, it has been over thirty years since the year we spent together with you as my homeroom teacher, or “teacher-in-charge” as we termed it back then. I was one of forty-something students in your sixth grade class.

I was eleven going on twelve at the time, with a lot of insecurities and confused thoughts, seeking a means to unburden my heart. My parents were both busy with the family business, and I needed a sounding board to help me through. I don’t recall how it started, but I started writing you. I don’t remember what I wrote, only that it was about my own hurt and pain, and I wrote you long letters on a regular basis.  My letters were scribbled on stationery, sometimes on sheets of intermediate pad paper — and I poured out everything I couldn’t verbalize into those words that found themselves on paper.  You gave me a chance to express myself without fear of recrimination — and I did it without having to worry about looking you in the eye and being judged for how I felt or what I said.

You were there although I felt that strongest as you stood in front of the class teaching us. It meant so much to hand you those letters and to simply know you were reading them. In many ways, you taught me to face my fears and insecurities by acknowledging them in those letters.  Because of you, I can write about the way I feel with honesty.  And for that, I am a better person.

You taught me more than science — you taught me about reaching out to others.  You showed me the power of words in an abstract and yet very real sense.  You made me feel somebody really cared — and that was reassuring enough until things got better.  And they did.  And I became a stronger person.

Thank you, Mrs. Mercado.  You have taught me well.

With deepest gratitude — Dinna”

O.K.

I’m waiting for the bus that will take me to the city, but since it’s an “off” hour (10am), I am at the mercy of the 10:10 bus coming or not at all. (In which case it’ll be the 10:40.). No pressure. I took the morning off.

Which is just as well as I had difficulty sleeping last night. The last time I checked the clock before finally dozing off, it was 1:25. Blame it on all the papers I had to fill out and sign for the start of the school year. I was all done a few minutes after midnight but I guess it jogged my brain and “woke” me up.

Angelo and I walked to school and I dropped him off and walked back. It’s not hot nor cold but the skies are gray. Is that okay? I guess it’s good for a “between summer and fall” day. Summer’s practically gone — and here we are almost into the final quarter of the year. And before you know it, it’s 2014.

When I look back at the things that have happened in my life the last year and a half, it hits me. It gives me another angle from which to see the oft-repeated line that “(l)ife is short.”. Indeed. I somehow managed to get from then to now, and I think I’m okay with how things went — finally.

Acceptance. Yes, it’s okay. We all have our place under the sun — it’s up to us to embrace it or fight it. And maybe things will fall into place. Perhaps they have.

I have a bestfriend from elementary and high school who passed away tragically during our college years. We had drifted part after high school, but she had always been special to me. In fact, she was one of the reasons I had created one of the categories here: “The People in my life”. I had wanted to write about her and how I missed her and how we had such a special bond. We kept each others’ secrets — and she is forever going to be a part of my life.

What even made it sadder was I was unable to say goodbye to her at her wake because this was one of those periods when Dad was gravely ill back then and we were caring for him.

At the time of her death, she had a little boy. Yesterday, from out of the blue, one of our high school batchmates working at a Costco in Nevada announced to our high school FB group that she had met this boy, now a grown man, and had chatted him up — he wanted to hear stories about his mother.

I texted him for his e-mail address and he texted me back. Just getting that text from him almost brought me to tears. On the way home, I wrote him an introduction of who I am and who his Mom was to me. That was a very emotional e-mail for me to write. It brought back memories.

I am waiting to hear back from him. I suppose reading what I wrote was just as emotional for him as it was for me when I tried to describe his mom.

I can almost hear her telling me “It’s okay.”

Two syllables. It speaks an ocean. More often than not, it is enough to calm one’s heart.

O.K.

Downtown

Yesterday was the last day that Donna and I saw each other in New York, as she and her family are getting ready to fly out to Las Vegas before heading back Down Under to Sydney next week. it was a simple spend-the-day-together kind of day, and while I would’ve loved to spend more time with Donna, she was feeling under the weather, so I brought her all the way to NJ via the Path train and doubled back by late afternoon.

Donna is one of my dearest friends from high school.  Although we met in high school, we only became close halfway through, sometime in my junior year.  We also ended up in different universities, but this didn’t prevent us from visiting each other in our respective campuses.  Our lives had its ups and downs just as our friendship did — and her departure for Australia and then my subsequent move to New York even brought us farther, but there is something about real friendship that keeps it alive through time and space.

We spent the day Midtown and at the end of the day, I brought her all the way to New Jersey via the PATH train, and then I doubled back after I had safely deposited her to Tita Doy who graciously fetched her at the train station.  It was a lonely ride back.  I’ve had several of those rides after I brought Mom or Ofie to the airport during their prior visits to New York.  I’m trying not to dwell on it, but there’s no denying it.

I ended up downtown where I chose to be adventurous and look for the express bus stop which I found on Park Place.  I used to know the twists and turns of this part of Manhattan, back when I worked for a non-profit on Wall Street in 2001.  The landscape has changed and continues to change.  It is the same that it is not.

I looked up and saw this stark contrast of the new and the old, side by side.  One day soon it there will be a building in front of these two concrete giants.  There is a construction site from my vantage point which is still in its early stages.  Perhaps next year, when I go back (IF I find myself there again, that is,), I will see the new building rising.

I was exhausted by the time I got home.  I know it wasn’t just the physical exhaustion exacerbated by the summer heat.  My heart has a way of taking my body over when there is a dark cloud hanging over me.  I’ll get over it.

Donna will always just be heart beat away.

Downtown

Postcards and pampering me

Postcards on the wayFor the first time in a long time, I worked from home Wednesday. Although I was hoping to do so much more, I think I was able to accomplish a lot while staying at home. Working from home is actually not as easy as most people would think it is, because not only are you taking care of things at home (like a nine-year-old wanting to go through every line of his report card), but you have to be able to answer calls and monitor e-mails like you normally would at work.  But I was happy, and it was refreshing, and I’m actually hoping I could do it again.

I managed to spend the afternoon with my boy, enjoying some play time at the local McDonald’s, then walking around the stores by the corner to grab a few things.  I decided to go for a foot spa treatment at this nail place which has been around a while, and it was surprisingly good.  I am already making a mental note of going back in 2 weeks.  I am trying to take better care of myself, and while most people would consider it an indulgence, it is an indulgence well deserved.

I’ve been writing on some postcards I’m sending to Manila with some lenticular or 3d postcards I raffled off to the Postcrossing Philippines group on FB.  5 of them made it to the post office today.  (If you’d like a postcard from New York, please send me an e-mail at postcardmailbox@gmail.com).  I’m trying to get some swaps ready, too, what with a 20-pc ATC swap ending this weekend.  19 ATCs heading out this Saturday.

As if all that wasn’t enough, I’m excitedly awaiting BFF Donna’s arrival this weekend from Australia.  We have a lot of catching up to do — what with 5 years having passed since we last saw each other here in NY.  We’ve kept in touch through emails and FB, but in person is still something else.  We have her birthday this month to celebrate and a host of other things.  I’m already smiling from ear to ear just thinking about it.  Tonight she lands on my side of the world, and tomorrow, we’ll talk while in the same time zone.

She’s one of the oldest friends I have — and I’ve told and retold our story here many times.  We were at a party waiting for our respective La Sallite guests when she approached me and told me she had always wanted to be friends with me but was afraid I wouldn’t pay her any mind.  We became inseparable, then we went to different universities. We had our own little squabbles but the years brought us back to each other each time.

And once again, we get to be together — really together.

Thoughts that take me home

Three days ago, I woke up to an update from a dear, dear friend I have known for probably 41 of my almost 47 years on this planet. She belongs to a select few who I consider my true “kababatas” or people I grew up with, although we did it in the confines of the classroom. These days, the ladies in Manila are fortunate to be able to meet up and have reunions and catch up on the challenges and joys of motherhood, married life and work. I am green with envy. My best means of being a part of those heart-warming get-togethers are the pictures they post on Facebook, and the occasional e-mail.

I try to keep in touch through the birthday prompts I get. Not much, I know.

We always expect good news when we get an update from friends and family, but I wouldn’t consider the update I got as good nor bad — but it made me pause and sigh a prayer to the heavens.

I know that the e-mail update took all of my friend’s strength physically and emotionally to pull together. There are letters like those that I wish I could muster the strength to write, but the subject matter is, by itself, too heavy a burden to sit through with pen and paper. So I let the thought linger and fade.

All I can do is say a prayer.

I see my friend in the pictures — and she’s still smiling. That makes me smile with hope because it shows me she is fighting on. I close my eyes and I think about her and I picture myself surprising her and giving her a hug.  I smile but the tears threaten to come. I am reminded yet again that life is short. I send another prayer to the heavens hoping I be given another chance to hug her, even if I don’t know when I can go home again.

Even writing about it can bring me to such emotional ambivalence. 

I have been fortunate to have been blessed with many dear and true friends.  In that respect, I consider my wealth priceless.  During those times when I felt like I was at my lowest point, they have helped to bring me back to my senses and have showed me that I am more than blessed beyond the treasure that my family is to me.

These are the thoughts that take me home… to my dear, dear friend for whom I pray for the healing touch of God.

 Central Park in the fall (Great Lawn)

A must-watch video featuring Atty. Jonathan John O. Sarte

I know I’m biased.  He is one of my dearest friends from way, way back but this is one video worth watching, more so for those with families back home with issues or possible issues regarding succession or inheritance.  Atty. Rod Nepumoceno was also a friend from Ateneo Law.  This is a very enlightening discussion that makes it easy for any lay person to grasp these legal issues.

At last, we meet!

Since I started blogging here in August 2004, I’ve gotten to know other bloggers or just plain strangers who have strayed into this space of mine.   There was Jeannie in Paris (!), Elaine here in NY, and now Lou from Chicago.  (Lou was actually the reason I signed up for Multiply ages ago.)  These blogfriends have gotten to be more than just readers and bloggers I read after the years that have passed.

I regret that I have yet to meet some of the more remarkable ones like my favorite couple, the Two Jeromes, Jerome and Jher.  Despite the many times I’ve gone home since we met online, sometimes it’s not that easy to pop in and sometimes things get too hectic.  I remain hopeful that we will meet one day.  Many of those who have interacted with me in this blog have come and gone.  There are those who keep tabs on me, though, popping up here and sometimes at my Etsy shop’s website.

We’ve “known” each other through life changes and the shared grief of lost parents.  I’ve discovered new hobbies like lomography which I’ve always been interested in but I just don’t have the energy or time to get into.  Lou is a fantastic photographer as well.  We’ve shared with each other our ups and downs and hobbies through our own spaces on the web.  In words and in pictures, we took a peek into each other’s lives.

When Lou left me a comment here that she was headed for New York after Christmas, I thought I’d just ask and see if she might have the time to meet up.  I know how vacations can get hectic.  I am the last person to take it personally when I cannot be scheduled or when people schedule and don’t end up confirming so we don’t get to meet up at all.  If it happens, it happens — and happen it did!

We scheduled lunch for Friday in the city.  I wanted to pick some place closer to where she was staying by the Upper East Side, but I ended up staying close to familiar ground.  Celsius at Bryant Park or Bryant Park Grill.  I’m glad Lou picked the former because it’s a seasonal restaurant that “pops up” in Bryant Park when the rink is on the great lawn.  While I have seen it the last couple of years, I’ve never been in it, and this luncheon was as good an occasion as any can be to explore this restaurant.

Lunch at Celsius NYC in Bryant Park

The food was great from the calamari to the braised short rib I had and the caramel pecan chocolate fudge cake we shared for dessert.  Unfortunately, we were both so engrossed in catching up that I failed to take pictures.  (Lou managed to take a picture of the dessert before we dug in, though.)

It was as if we had known each other all these years in the “real” sense.  I have always been struck by Lou’s no-nonsense straightforward comments and friendly advice.  One thing that struck me in our personal exchange last Friday, though, was this simple line from her:  “Some people come into our lives to stay, and some people are just passing by.”  How true.

I know I have this running joke that I have 8 readers keeping track of the things I write here, all of whom are not related to me nor known to me personally.  =)  I’m happy with the 8.   It is always a blessing to actually talk to them in person when fate brings us together somehow.  And when that happens, it feels like we’ve known each other forever.  Indeed.

Enjoy the rest of your stay in New York, Lou.. until you come back to view its beauty when the trees are green and the flowers are abloom.

Citipond in Bryant Park

"How are you?"

I have been too preoccupied with other things to actually write the past couple of days although like always, I had a ton of things I wanted to write about.  I just chose to vegetate and just “be”, somethng BFF Fe had been encouraging me to do.  Not that I wasn’t doing anything at all — I just chose to channel my energy differently.  Or not at all.  (Plus, Angry Birds has gotten my attention piqued again…)

But sometime during the latter part of the week, something uncanny happened when I received separate e-mails from two friends half a world away—  totally unrelated —  asking me the question I chose as the title of this blogpost: “How are you?”…  One was favorite goddaughter Eeya who is now teaching in Singapore, and the other from long time BFF from high school Ces who is based in Manila.  Both were heartwarming “hellos” which brought a smile to my face and to my heart.  It took me a while to answer their e-mails, although I promised to write more.

There are those e-mails (like the ones from work) which we tend to answer in a rote fashion, and there are those e-mails which make us pause and think about what we want to write about because we just have so much to say.   And between Ces and me, we have always picked up from long stretches of silence as if we were just talking yesterday.  A pick-me-up in the form of a question.. which is a “hello” extended by two words.

Even now as I try to write about it, answering the question leaves me stumped for words — because I literally don’t know where to start.

I’m doing okay.  

Summer’s here so the heat is unbearable but after 12 years, I’ve learned to live with it.  I literally hit the 12th anniversary of my arrival here in the proverbial land of milk and honey last June 29.  In terms of years, that’s more than a quarter of my total existence on the face of this earth.

I had reconnected with Ces just before I left Manila in 2000, and have since seen her during most of the trips home, particularly the last four.  She is always on my list of people I announce a planned (and subsequently a confirmed) trip home to, and again one of the few I see more than once.  (Or try to.)  Eeya, for her part, was “ninang-less” from after her baptism (which was when we officially met) up to my homecoming say 4 or 5 trips ago…I missed her these last two trips because she left for Singapore last December.

Things panned out back home and our family dilemma has been solved.  So the trip last March was well worth the effort, time and money, and mommy can rest easy.  Two years after Dad passed, we’re still tying up some loose ends, but we’re getting things ironed out one at a time.

I’ll write more soon.

Although “soon” can be relative. =)

It struck me that we often find ourselves thinking of other people who mean something to us, but who we leave at that:  as just a thought.  I hate to admit that I’m guilty of not typing an e-mail hello or writing a missive like I am wont to do most times even when I think of how a friend is doing.  It makes me wonder about missed chances to reconnect or to simply put a smile on someone else’s face.  No matter how good things may be going on the other side of the fence, one can never get enough good tidings, don’t you agree?  In fact I just found a “stale” card I had meant to mail to P which I will get on its way today.  (Have to keep the postal service busy before they become obsolete.)

Thanks, Ces and Eeya, for the warm hug to the heart.  

My turn to ask, how are you?