Two Steps Back Today

Currently, as I write this, I am flaking out on exploring an interest. Again. I was going to volunteer with…, well, I guess it doesn’t really matter. Because I didn’t go.

I started worrying about it actively yesterday afternoon. Although, subconsciously I knew I wouldn’t go when I finally got around to sending in the paperwork. I think I try to cross all the “t’s” and dot all the “i’s” in an attempt to get myself to follow through with things. I even told people this time, in hopes that social pressure would make me go.

It didn’t.

I don’t know when I started believing I wasn’t capable of a lot of things. I get super panicked if asked to do something that is not squarely in the middle of my comfort zone. So I’m stuck on the edge, not able to pick up my hat and follow through with a new experience. At least, not today. The silly thing about being stuck on the edge is the longer you are there, the more you have time to over think how you’re going to fall.

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Hat on Edge

I used to just not think anything of it and show up to help with xyz despite being a tad nervous. Sure, I was always shy and introverted, but I felt like it was more acceptable when I was a teenager/early adult. I felt like someone would be responsible for me, my short-comings, and my flaws. They would make up for me being there. So maybe I always thought I wasn’t particularly good at some things, but it wasn’t a huge deal. I had support. Now in my 30’s with my first few gray hairs showing, I feel like people just throw me into the pool because I look as if I’m a capable adult. They assume I know how to swim. Maybe because I come off laid-back people assume they don’t need to explicitly walk me through things? This is very wrong. Yet, my introvert/shyness prevents me from directly complaining or sticking up for what I need at the beginning. So I float along like a little bundle of stress until I get out of the water abruptly or explode and sink to the bottom.

People are surprised when I do that. I feel like they should have seen it coming, which is completely arrogant of me. I do think I vent a lot about my unhappiness or stress. But maybe it’s all swirling inside my head a lot more than on the outside. I doubt it though. I sometimes think I should be permanently quiet since a lot of things I vocalize are negative.

Which brings me back to wanting to focus attention off of myself (since I’m obviously sick of thinking about myself) and try to find a commitment to do good for the sake of others. Think about others. Live for others. However, I question the sincerity of my intentions. Am I wanting to live for others simply because I don’t know what I am living for yet? A sort of phantom purpose.

The answer is: it doesn’t matter because I don’t do them anyway. I start thinking about all the energy, all the unknowns, all the time spent, etc. and end it before I begin, before I fall. Maybe it’s a sign that I can’t use projected ideals to find my way forward. I keep taking two steps back- retracing my life in hopes I can find where I took the short-cut that left me so lost.

So yeah. Two fold problems:

1.) Not thinking I am capable to do things

2.) Discovering if I actually want to do them.

I feel like when I used to be able to follow through and do things I had a clearer idea of what I wanted or who I was despite feeling underqualified. Now, I feel like I’m sometimes still acting on things I like the IDEA of instead of things I actually like. Yet, this is also hard to determine when you can’t bring yourself to try them out. It’s been hard disappointing myself so often these days. I look forward to the day I can have the confidence to take that one step forward. I haven’t lost all hope, just some.

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I call this “Partial Hope Loss”

But for now, I’ll put on my hat and write about my plight. I know I can do that. Thanks for listening.
My hat’s off to you,

Sharon

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A Reluctant Meditation

 “I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today
I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence…
Sometimes quiet is violent”

~Lyrics to Car Radio by Twenty-One Pilots

I read about meditation. I read about contemplation. I read about prayer. I read about musing and pondering and imagining. I read about concentration. I read about it. I read about how others do it. I read about all the benefits. I read about the accoutrements and got a friend to fashion us personalized seiza meditation benches. I read about the methods, the breathing, the effects, the percentages of things in your life which will increase or decrease because of it. I read about it.

And… I don’t do it.

Well, I don’t consistently do it. I would say once or twice a month I find time to sit. To be still. To check in with silence. I do still consistently read about it. I do want to do it. And for a time, I used to. I used to go to a Soto Zen Buddhist Sangha for an hour-long meditation every Wednesday and would often find time to do 10-15 minutes on other days.

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Meditation isn’t always pretty.

I look back with wonder. I can’t sit still now for 5 minutes. I wonder why I’m so unsettled.
But then I look back further. And I know it’s because I feel scared.

I remember my first entry into meditation with that Sangha. I remember settling into big cushions. I remember the incense. The crisp and quiet smoke littering the air with spice. The singing bowl sang and I remember being led into the art of letting go while we all turned to stare at our individual patches of wall, glowing under the soft light of a church basement.

Then after about 10 minutes, I remember being absolutely terrified.

I wanted to panic, but I couldn’t really panic in front of these people I just met. I was also very confused as to why I felt like somewhere in the shadows someone was watching me. I felt like prey. The hair on the back of my neck pricked up. I wanted to revert to amusement, because I certainly felt silly. Sitting there, in a sculpted heaven of a moment, being petrified. I had to do something. Laugh, cry, leave?

I almost left. I almost opened my eyes. I almost ruined my confrontation with deflecting to humor. But, like the lyric above: I just sat in silence.

And wow. This first silence of mine was very violent. This rush of fear flooding out of you, drowning you. I was completely caught off guard by why it was I was feeling this threatened, this anxious, this wild.

I think it was because I was only used to who I was on the surface. I never had stopped long enough to excavate myself. This falling down into my core felt out of my control. Feeling physically afraid was a manifestation me being afraid to look behind the curtain and really check in with myself in the here and now. No magical hats to hide behind. Just silence.

Oh, but the silence is relentless no matter how comfortable the cushion you’re sitting on is. If anything, you peek behind your curtain from sheer mind-wandering boredom. Your ego screams “DON’T!” but it’s too late. You just made eye contact directly with yourself.

I’m glad I did. During that hour, I felt dreadful for forever when somehow it clicked. I started trusting myself to honestly and gently accept what was happening. I accepted I was afraid. I accepted myself and my life. Moment by moment I accepted, I let go. I accepted, I let go. Then suddenly, I wasn’t fearful. I was simply feeling fear.

Read that again:
I was not fearful.
I was feeling fear.

The subtlety of such grammar invokes powerful mental shifts. I am filled with gratitude for the silence that night. I knew I felt anxious, but I didn’t know how deep it went emotionally. I didn’t know I could feel that strongly.

So that’s why I think I’ve been avoiding meditation. Right now, my life feels pretty aimless. I’m not unhappy, but I don’t want to sit with my own discomfort about it. I don’t want to wade through the slow process of developing flexibility, patience, and courage. I know it will take discipline. I know it won’t always leave me feeling amazing. Empowered, yes, amazing, no. It’s like medicine. You take it to make you feel better, not because it necessarily tastes like gourmet meal.

On the surface, meditation looks like a free, floating, hippie, dazed, lazy, and happy thing. But it’s a practice. There is work involved. There’s commitment. A particularly hard part is there isn’t any grading scale telling you how well you are doing it. You rely on awareness and practice.

Yoda the Jedi master explains it the most succinctly “Do or do not, there is no try.” You sit and mediate or you don’t. There isn’t such thing as “trying to meditate.” If you sit in silence and think you are trying to meditate, you are meditating. Easy. Accepting the silence, sitting through discomfort, letting go of how you compare. Not easy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had good experiences in meditation as well. The feeling like you are soaring. Opening my eyes and feeling like my brain was just massaged. I just think I had these incorrect ideals and expectations about what I would “get” from meditation because in trying to attract people to actually sit down and do it, people overplay the overtly positive benefits. I was definitely caught off-guard my first time and because of my definite resistance this time, I can only imagine I might be in for a ride again in order to rebalance myself. And I am reluctant.

But, this time around its different because in all my research and the bit of practice I did have before- you become aware of everything loud and busy that we have become so good at filling silence with so we don’t have to be with ourselves. So this time, I am fully aware when I’m purposefully distracting myself. When I make sure Hulu or Spotify is on when I eat. When I scroll through other people’s lives on social media because I don’t want to look at my own. When I talk about nothing out loud so I don’t have to think about something in quiet.

Then there are the rules I make up in my head. Maybe you’ve done this with something like exercise or starting anything new. Rules like “I’ll start on Monday.” “I can only do it at this specific time during the day” “I’m not ready, I will start after I read this book about the method I want to try.” “I will start after I get the right equipment.”

Then Monday comes, you start- and fail to continue to Tuesday.
Or you get to Tuesday and your specific time of day comes and goes because you were stuck at work late. So instead of finding time later or attempting 5 of your 30 minutes- you don’t even do it at all.
And you keep putting off reading that method book.
Or you do manage to read it and you are intimidated by all the things you are trying to put into practice at once, then just plain give up.

The only thing we all seem to be good at in aligning our actions to our desires is buying the “right” equipment. Behold our capitalistic safety blankets: Treadmills covered in clothes. Climbing shoes still in the box. Skis and kayaks cluttering garages. Language softwares taking up hard drive space. Expensive kitchen appliances collecting dust. Classic novels you’ve never read on your book shelf.

All these rules and all of these things we buy are just childish ideals. Reality is more gritty. You’ll never be ready and there is no perfect way to do it. The key to actually practicing something is: you just have to do it more than you say you want to.

So right now my hat is telling me to stop being a hypocrite. Instead of reaching for my methods book, or typing more, or avoiding it: I am going to go sit in silence.

BUT!

Before I go, I want to encourage you to try it with me. Set a timer on your phone for 10 minutes. Literally Google: “How to meditate” don’t over think it, and go from there. Expect the unexpected. Don’t be daunted by discomfort. Check in with how your silence feels these days. Let me know how it goes.

If you are interested in learning more about meditation and contemplative living some human resources I’ve found helpful :

Pema Chodron
Thich Nhat Hanh
Richard Rohr
Thomas Keating
Fr Christopher Jamison
Karen Cavanagh inspired by Rumi

Admittedly they are from a variety of mostly religious traditions as meditation’s history is intertwined with many spiritual rituals. Know that there are other philosophical and non-religious practitioners of meditation, because it makes sense the experience of meditation would only reflect whoever is practicing it. I just took who came to me on my journey (mostly Buddhist and Christian sources), and no secular persona has captured my attention yet- the closest person I can think of is Alan Watts, but I think he was relatively spiritual. If you know of someone from your own experience I’m interested.

Hat’s off to you,

Sharon

Eden of Emptiness

There are times when you feel nothing. You’re too empty to fill yourself up, let alone push feelings out again. You have no reactions, yet you are overloaded. I’m not talking about depression. (At least, I don’t think I am.)

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An empty hat can be heavy too.

I’m talking about exhaustion with the rhythms of life. These rhythms are dramatically sharp and staccatoed as you play through them, keeping you hopping from one event, one decision, one paycheck, one person, one love, one city- to the next. They are also completely repetitious. Variations on a theme. Over and over, the solid techno beat of our lives pounds in the background. Slowly numbing our senses. Until one day, you wake up and you can’t join the rave anymore.

Moment to moment we stress, we try, we get upset, we get over it, we succeed, we are still unsatisfied, we start on something else. Over the years you look back are surprised at how little impact most of those things you felt were important had (and maybe they even actually were important on principle). Yet, you continue the pattern of imbuing the next thing that captures your attention with the same weight of meaning. For example, a blog about my hat. So you sensibly ask the void, “well then, does anything have meaning at all?”

Never fear.

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There is something you can do.

When you’re empty,  it is the best time to explore. Dive down into your empty space and imagine. Imagine the most comfortable version of yourself lives there. The version of yourself you’d send into the universe for first contact. The version of yourself you can live with. The version of yourself you could die with.

This is not be the “best” version of humanity you’ve internalized and stressed over, compared yourself with, and have been found wanting again. I couldn’t live with that version of myself. Perfection is rarely loving. I’m talking about just the most you version of you.

So imagine. What would this version of you let into their empty space? What would decorate their walls? Would they even have walls? What are they wearing? (Maybe a hat?) What kind of lighting would fill the space? Would there be anything going on you’d like to do? What colors do you see? Would there be anyone else there? Do you hear or smell or taste anything specific?

This is your Eden of Emptiness. Plan out as many details you can muster. It is, by your own admission, a blank slate.

Then ask yourself if there is anything from your Eden that you can actually do in your life. It can be small. Like… if you had the aroma of lilacs filling your emptiness (because who wouldn’t !?), maybe you can buy a lilac scented candle and burn it while you take a shower.

Cultivate your emptiness away. Don’t choose the vague notion of trying not to feel empty, aimless, or unimportant. Don’t choose a diffuse goal of “trying to think more positively” when you have no way of getting there. In my experience, trying to weed out negative or uncomfortable, or exhausting feelings works just as well as weeding regular weeds. They are going to come back (unless you use a more toxic and harsh approach), and your energy is wasted.

Maybe we shouldn’t define what grows in unexpected places “weeds” just because we don’t want them there. I’ve always thought dandelions were beautiful. They are so vibrant, like hundreds of tiny suns dotting yards and parks. Maybe instead of weeding something that may not be the problem, we can concentrate on growing other things alongside the rest. Taking care to slowly grow in the directions your emptiness allowed you to see through its dandelion sunshine.

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The harvest from an empty Eden.

 

 

My hat is getting full again. The harvest continues.

 

Until next time- hat’s off to you,

Sharon

 

 

The Power of Nope?

Have you ever noticed that “nope” and “no” weigh differently?

“No” has a gravity to it. It sinks down deeper, it falls faster, lands harder, and indents the face of whoever you must say it to. I will stress right now that there are definitely proper occasions for a solid “no” (and that’s basically whenever you feel a need to say it). But the severity of the single syllable makes it hard for it to cross my lips when I am simply trying to ease away from an opportunity or invitation from a colleague or friend.

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Hat Experiment: When saying no is hard, try saying nope.

You can’t do everything, you can’t be everything.

We know this. It’s old news. It’s just hard to live out. It’s the sad truth of having your whole being wrapped up in a finite and somewhat squishy container called a body. Now, if we were some sort of vapour-like substance maybe we could do everything there is to do within our realm of existence. However, if I remember correctly from science class (who am I kidding? Science class = The Magic School Bus) we’d be stuck doing some sort of water cycle, and while plummeting from the sky to the earth just sounds like heaps o’ fun, I doubt vapour-like substances have the breadth and depth of experiences we are likely to overlook in our current life: the coolness of water on your throat, the vibrations of a cat’s pur on your lap, the electricity of a kiss, the long strrreetch of a sore muscle, the smell of cookies, the smell of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, the smell of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in your mouth… (You want cookies now don’t you? Me too…)

The best and worst part of being bound in a finite squishy meat suit is you get to choose stuff. You get to choose what to drink, who to kiss, and which cookies you’re going to eat first.

Which brings us back to no. You can choose what you say no to.

This week I had to say it.

I say “say” it but really I typed it. People always think that’s unprofessional or disrespectful, but I disagree. Me, spluttering nonsense because the conversation goes differently than what I practiced for hours in my head and being swayed to a different outcome by a more dominant personality which: makes me complain, be overwhelmed, and begrudgingly do a half-way job is unprofessional. Me, irrationally attaching negative feelings to the person who asked for my time or my committment to something I did not have the time nor the energy to give it is disrespectful.

Some of us may think “I don’t do that. I still try. I don’t take it out on the messenger.”

Hog. Frickin. Wash.

The phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t the first inclination we have in our emotional gray matter. Or maybe you’re just a much better person than me. Either way, think back to the last time you were forced to say no very directly. Maybe it was after trying to say it more indirectly. For me, it’s awkward and intense. You brave eye contact only to watch people’s faces get indented when your “no” hits them. They try to hide the wave of hurt or surprise or disappointment in that shallow space on their face. But we all see it. Worse, we know we all see it. (Well, unless you’re from 1950’s movies or North Korea- they are crazy good at facade…)

So for here and now, I think as long as you try to communicate honestly, it shouldn’t matter the form it comes in. I would even accept the initial communication of a break-up or being fired in the form of the written word. It gives a chance to react without judgement. It gives us a chance to explore not only what we feel, but why we feel it. I would still encourage a face to face meeting for closure, but just reacting at someone isn’t going to make you feel better. You entering into a conversation with clear reasoning and important points to talk about will bring healing. You’ll know that you’ve said all you needed to say. It’s worth writing down if it’s important enough to yell about. Otherwise, your words are just wind.

But I digress most epically…

So yeah, this week I managed to pull some strength out of my mystical hat and typed assertively “thanks, but no thanks,” for being a part of an extra work project. Immediately after the swift resolution and my removal from the project, I wondered why I didn’t say “no” from the beginning. If I’m being as honest as my hat journey requires me to be- it was a combination of a huge, ugly smudge of pride from being singled-out and asked (as in: “yay someone realized how great I am! Now smother me in validation”) and a pinch of vindictive curiosity (as in: what DO people in that department DO all day?).

Once off the project, I was sooo happy compared to even the day before. Maybe my emotions swing in an arc that is wider than others. Maybe I’m unstable. Maybe I’m sensitive. Maybe I’m not that good at having a job. Maybe I’m self-centered. Maybe I’m self-preserved. Whatever the case, it was an amazing feeling not being on that project.

Which brings us to nope.

I believe, whereas I couldn’t say “no” from the beginning, I would have had an easier time saying “nope” and avoided all face-indentation scenarios. Sure, there would be confusion when I reply “nope,” since it doesn’t seem as solemn or sincere at first. However, in clarifying  that confusion, they would see I was genuine in my refusal.

Here’s how I think it would work:

“Hey OhWithAHat – do you want to go – do you want to help with – do you have time to ?”

“Nope! Thank you!” OhWithAHat replied cheerily.

“Wait, are you serious? You’re response confused me.” they laughed.

“Entirely.” said OhWithAHat.

“Oh, well why? We think you’d like it, or be good at it, or fit in well.”

“Because I said Nope! I don’t have the time or energy to do that right now. But thank you.” stated OhWithAHat.

“Oh, okay!” they said.

This is the possible (?) power of “nope” my friends. “Nope” has a lightness to it. It has an element of humour in its usage too. Humor leads to feelings of happiness. Both parties walk away in good spirits, despite you declining their offer. Added potential bonus: the confusion may make them cut the conversation short as they will feel less in control of what’s happening. Awesome.

To prove the negative: imagine if you heard “Just Say Nope,” when you were in middle school and they were trying their best to drill the negative effects of drugs into you. It doesn’t have enough authority to it.  It sounds ridiculous because of the contextual meaning we have given to “no” vs “nope.” Plus linguistically, the pop of the “p” sound at the end of “nope” is just a more amusing mouth movement because it uses your lips to form the sound and can’t be sustained and dragged through the air like the “o” in “no.” Try it. Or don’t. Your call.

Anyway, I am hoping this “nope” strategy will allow me to approach these sorts of situations a little more lightly as well. Ego aside, I obviously put a lot of pressure on myself during those moments to not feel like I’m letting people down when I decline their offers. I know I’m not responsible, I just feel responsible. I think I’ll always feel it. I’m sensitive. Or unstable. Or whatever. At the very least, maybe their hope for a “yes” will transform into perplexed eyebrows and quizzical head-tilts when I use “nope.” Best case scenario is that just maybe they will mirror my weird, misplaced positivity and their face won’t be crushed at all. I’m just trying to keep your faces normal people! Because apparently, I can be tortured using non-verbal communication.

So that’s my crazy/weird plan. That’s the best me and my thinking cap/hat could come up with. I’m going  to test it when opportunities present themselves.  If you try it, I would be interested in how it went. Or, if you have other tips or suggestions for declining things (other than “don’t let it bother you” I need practical and applicable examples at this point in the game), let me know that too.

Until next time.

My hats off to you,

Sharon

Welcome to Oh The Places You’ll Go With A Hat: The Beginning

Girl meets hat. She creates Oh The Places You’ll Go With A Hat. And the rest is “hatstory.”

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Why should anyone be frightened by a hat?”
― Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Little Prince

Yeah, so, all of that almost didn’t happen.

The Hatstory:

One day in May, 2018 I immediately saw this hat in a thrift store and… avoided it.

Translation: I encircled it like a flipping vulture, eyeing the tasty morsel.

Vultures are not predators, so I also did not actively stalk my prey either. I was wary of my desire. But, this particular hat was completely magnetic to my soul and my scavenging circles became smaller and tighter. Around and around the store racks I went and before I knew it, it tentitively drifted upon my head. I felt the bravery for so many everyday adventures slide into my brain. Taking it off, I quickly looked around, hoping not to be caught in my happiness, my satisfaction. Looking back, I think I had the same epiphany Frosty the Snowman went through, because I almost “began to dance around” in the same way Frosty did when his own spirit-hat found him.

Yet, I STILL resisted. I told my shopping partner that I’d just keep it in the basket and decide later, sounding airily flippant. The truth was I was completely smitten with this hat.

Have you ever wanted something A LOT, but were afraid to admit it? Afraid where it may lead? Afraid you’ll regret something?

I kept thinking of excuses like it will draw too much attention to myself (it’s a pretty big hat), or it didn’t fit pefectly (it actually does), or do I really want to spend $5 on a hat (that’s less than some coffee) or this, or that…you get it.

I’m not sure why we try to fool ourselves so much, or not show that we care about something. I’m not sure why we are embarrased about some of our aspirations, preferences, desires, tastes, or dreams and not others.

Maybe we feel like we need a certain level of knowledge or talent before admitting we enjoy something. FYI: I’m not a hat expert, nor do I want to be, I just really like this hat. The permeation of finger-tip information has so entrenched our conversation that in simply bringing up a topic you sometimes get grilled instead of affirmed. You feel like you can’t keep up with anyone who shares any of your interests.

It’s not like you can tell others to curb their insanely detailed and finessed enthusiam just because yours isn’t as refined- even if they for some reason do it intentionally to make themselves feel superior. Seriously, why do people do that? I’ve already mastered the body language of someone who is wearing a Snuggie made of insecurity during small talk. Trust me, I’m no one’s competition.

But where does all this leave a girl and her hat?

There’s 3 things (a Hat Trick really) I am wanting to come from this blog project:

1). I’m hoping wearing this allegedly magical hat during my not very magical everyday life will help me answer some of the questions I have raised today and uncover what makes me happy. We deserve to enjoy the things we enjoy right?

A wise guy once told me if he followed his dreams he would simply eat tacos more often and take selfies with his dog. The point is that it need not be grand, elaborate, perfect, or exciting. Recently, some my happiness has been discovered in blogging about wearing this hat. I have been having a blast writing this first post. And yes, I’m wearing the hat. Yet, I know there are more things in my life and in my world that my hat and I can enjoy as well. We’ll update you with our activities here.

2). My other goal is not only the discovery of my tastes, dreams, and happiness, but I also want to be able to liberate myself from the fear of my own judgement of those tastes and preferences. I don’t want to be a scrawny vulture all the time, edging my way into my dreams like I need permission from someone else to feast. I want to be a proud lioness, actively going after my own fulfillment.

But, this may be the really hard step for me. This is where it usually falls apart. Where you don’t get the hat. Or, where you get the hat but don’t start the blog. It might be hard for you too. It might be hard for a lot of people. Even now, I’m worrying about the responses of confusion and hostility I may get (it IS the internet). My inner voice is asking- “aren’t you exposing too much of yourself? is a blog about you wearing a hat too abstract? aren’t you scared that someone will critique your writing ability? is this your millenial snowflakism finally surfacing?”  Maybe it’s the hat talking, but I think I’ll be happy if it sparks any recognition in anyone (and I’ll probably even be grateful for the first arguement that follows Godwin’s Law). Thus, my hat and I will try to persist in making this blog and look for ways to dicuss our journey meaningfully here.

3). Community. For others to share their own adventures they have with whatever it is that is making them take the step from vulture to lioness- be it tacos and dog selfies or blogs about you with a hat. So, I’m hoping you’ll throw your own “hat” in the ring with us and enjoy any adventures of self-discovery that come our way.

My hat’s off to you my friends,

Sharon