Last Volunteer Workday

With the entire show run ahead of me, on the other side of hell week, it’s hard to believe my own departure is rushing towards me. The final week in the studio completely snuck up on me.

It crept in with the final volunteer workday, which I started in a stressed out mood anyway. The chaos of finding work for unskilled labor when so much is down to fine-detail finishing touches bustled around me, as I was pushed from work table to another, constantly having my set-up taken over for some other project.

After finally establishing a work zone and grinding through some wing-painting, I had lunch alone at the coffee shop, sitting in the little upstairs balcony, to clear my head. A kind text from Matto, following up on our game night fun, surprised me, and helped turned the day around. Especially once I was able to vent to Dave a little, I was able to take a moment to get a handle on my attitude.

I have been extremely fortunate that our intern crew meshes so well. There has been minimal conflict, and for the most part we all genuinely enjoy each other’s company. My competitive edge and love of structure has definitely put me in tension with some of the freer spirits, but over all I’ve been so proud of our ability to take those two approaches and appreciate each other for what we bring to the table. The fact that it took until the last studio-work weekend for me to really get teeth-grinding frustrated with people (not projects, I’ve been frustrated with projects PLENTY) is a blessing.

Also, eating a sandwich and having a cup of coffee did wonders. Never underestimate the hanger.

So I got back to the studio, and was able to stay focused on painting more of the remaining wings with Meghan and Sally. The rest of the day passed in a flash, and next thing I knew we were cleaned up for rehearsal the following day and it occurred to me that we were done with Saturday workdays. Just like that.

Jennifer was the only volunteer still lingering, having seen us through clean up. She is an older lady who has been here every week, and is better than paper mache than I am at this point. I took a moment to thank her, and give her a shout-out to the rest of the crew too. She’s a quiet, dedicated worker, so I know she may have flown under other people’s radar. It’s part of why I liked her so much.

She accepted the praise demurely, and I was glad to see that Donovan took a moment to thank her personally.

Jennifer did say she was hoping to help out during performance weekends, and I do hope we see more of her. She’s the perfect example of why all the stress of the volunteer crowd is worth it.

Then we were standing in an open studio, no more volunteers. I felt the lurching thrill that is the emotional translation of ‘here we go’.



I’m having trouble keeping track of what happened when as I try to re-count the time between Dave’s visit and start of hell week, where I am as a I write this.

At some point, I attended to the reception for the gallery at the local arts center, ostensibly to schmooz and represent paperhand, but really to hang out with interns and drink free wine and eat free snacks.

I arrived early, and bumped into Jan and his wife Emma and their three-year-old daughter Niko. It was weird to see Jan in a button-down shirt and not covered in paint.

Emma is always very kind to me. I’ve sat with her and Jan for lunch a few times, and she is always an engaged conversationalist. I talked to her about my experience with long distance, and she shared how she and Jan struggled through a year apart nearly twenty years ago (so, only phone calls every couple days!), and how they recovered.

She invited me to join them for pizza next door before the reception got rolling. She is always very inclusive. Every time she actively invites me along, Jan seems to have this small blip of surprise, not that I would be included, but like he forgot that overt invitations are nice sometimes.

The opening was fun, and as expected I spent as much time socializing with paperhanders as not. I did get to demonstrate a few puppets for some delighted gallery browsers.

Sally and Hannah were the only other interns who could make it, and after we had seen through the reception, we walked down to the local fancy-schmancy grocer and had popsicles. It was nice they invited me along, my insecurity has been flaring up a little lately.

They are among the free-est of spirits among the interns, and I’ve had trouble finding a way to mesh with them. Spending a little time just having a treat and dishing a little low-scale drama (just whatever small stories of paperhand history we had heard) seemed to be what we needed to have a better understanding of each other.

Honestly, the fact that the worst relationship I have among all the interns is “I can’t quite tell if we mesh” is an amazing thing to be grateful for. What a great crew.


Root Structures

Suddenly realizing how quickly we are running out of time, especially for the interns who won’t be a part of the performances, there was a scramble to create a gathering on the last free Friday we’ll have (which was also our last day off before the first weekend closes, geez).

Being the last day off made it highly desirable time, however, and I had double-booked a game night with my writing group. Not to mention wishing for some time to just…not be doing anything. I went into Friday wondering how I had given away nearly all of my precious free time. But by the end of the day, I had no regrets.

Since I had evening plans, I went to Jake’s house early, meeting him and Maya there. He introduced us to his local family, consisting of a gaggle of women with progressively heavier accents and one uncle who arrived later to help with grilling.

Jake then took us out to his studio space, which is a collection of barns and sheds that used to be his Grnadpa’s work shop and livestock housing. The main building, the old work shop, is a wonder. It’s a long building, lined by work benches mounted with old, sturdy tools and collections of bones and found items from with Jake was reclaiming the space from being over-grown. In the back, an old Dat-Sun sits under a cover, lit by christmas lights. Jake’s paintings, which are angular and full of movement, are alternatively in places of proud display or stacked along the shelves.


Jake cranking the door open for us

He showed us where some of the brush has regrown since starting paperhand, revealing also just how much the initial clearing out must have been. Not only that, but most of the power tools were fiddled with by his grandpa, making them testy and uncertain, especially those in need of repair, so he did much of it with meat cleaver and raw determination.


Maya being amazing

He has lofty goals for the other buildings as well. He walked us through his plan as he toured us between the garage and old barn/chicken coop, and I was amazed by the life in that place, both what it had been, when his grandfather was building it, and what it could become, as Jake reshaped it.

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I feel like this is one of the first places I’ve lived where I can really see the benefits of putting down roots. Other examples of long history have always felt intangible. Here, I see the puppet studio, and Chris’ workshop, and Jake inheriting his grandfather’s legacy, and for once I understand the pull to root in and stay.

Many of these same people have a history of wanderlust, Donovan traveled extensively in his youth, as did Cara and many of the cast, but they all share an experience of finding their home in North Carolina, and becoming entrenched.

When I met our Stage Manager, Piper, and learned that between touring and other jobs she had worked in nearly every state in the USA, I asked her how she liked NC, having stayed put for a bit.

I’m never leaving.” She said, with a confident smile.

At game night, with Rachel and Matto, Rachel was talking about her plans to move to England in the coming month. She hasn’t lived in one place for more than a few months in years, though North Carolina is where she is from and has been primarily based out of.

This is the hardest it’s ever been to leave.” She said, as we laughed over board games and roasted chickpeas. “So, thanks for that.”

I thought about how many difficult departures I have had myself. My constant state of intermingled homesickness and wanderlust churned, but I turned my focus to the next move on the game board instead.


Nyssa and I have finally started carpooling, after paying the idea a lot of lip service. She rides her bike to work frequently, happy to spend the first two hours of her morning exercising, because somehow these work days aren’t enough for her. I’m seriously amazed at her energy sometimes. She’s not quite crazy enough to ride back however, so usually she pops the wheels off and I drive her home.

Even she has limits though, and some days she does decide to just drive. On one such occasion she let me drive her car so I could practice driving manual. I didn’t stall or anything, although she did have to help me get her gearshift into place a couple times. I miss manual….but particularly of the two-wheel variety.

One day, when Nyssa had taken her bike, we were cleaning up at the end of the day and I was expecting to give her a ride home. She had been painting these massive banners, one of which was her own design, and she was working on the line work as the day closed out and I checked in.

I really wanted to get this done….but I can wait if you wanna go.” She said.

Nah, but I’ll help you so it goes faster.”

After I had grabbed my own paint brush and started working the lines, only then did she tell me her boyfriend was staying at a farm nearby and she was thinking about just cycling there.

So you tricked me into working late?” I said, in mock horror.

Oops, I guess I did….”

And then she laughed. Her laugh is the most wild and free laugh I have ever heard. She is not sparing with her laughter, in either quantity or quality, and I love it.

It was really fun to stay and work on the banner with her. Being in the studio with only three people (Donovan lingered as well, ostensibly to keep working himself….but he ended up mostly gabbing with us) was a lovely experience. With most projects put away and people departed, the mounting stress got obscured for a while, and I got to simply enjoy the meditation of line-painting. I forgive her the deception.

We also drive one of our volunteer performers, and young man named Sol, home with us most Sundays after rehearsals. Inevitably, these are the drives when we wind up having the silliest conversations. We typically talk about travel, family, and our artistic goals. The first day we drove Sol home, we giggled over who in the cast we thought was particularly cute. Poor Sol.

Building Steam

As we fill out the puppets and the roles they play, other things are taking off as well. Particularly the birds who have been nesting in the lantern-fox puppet’s snout. Shortly after Dave left, they hatched and fledged, peeping and hopping all over the studio. The entire crew stopped when they dropped out of the nest for the first time and gathered to coo and watch as they made their first floppy attempts at takeoff.


hey, I’m fledging here!

We also had a return of our other visitor. The other night, the black rat snake came to rehearsal, this time crawling out into our actual work space. As if it were nothing, Chris simply picked it up and gently carried it back outside. I hope those birds had moved on by then.


So chill

We interns have been taking off as well, as Donovan and Jan become increasingly absorbed in other details, and we are forced to use our own discretion on how to move forward with projects.

After Dave and my’s great success with the Lyrebird, I have been feeling bolstered in my own abilities. More and more, I find that I can get further, or start stronger, without needing to stop and consult. It helps that Jan and Donovan are getting less picky as well, of course.

I’ve been particularly proud of my improvement on my painting skills! As we reached the final stages, the paint jobs are growing, and I’m glad for it because I’ve actually been very successful and had a lot of fun. Particularly on a pair of puppets that were being transformed from tadpoles to fish, where my direction for the look was “done”. So I got to basically do whatever I wanted.

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The toughest part is matching previous work, but even then I’ve started to get a grip on it. After painting an extra hillside to match a set, Meghan even teased me that I had no more excuses for avoiding paint jobs. I’m not afraid to admit it’s been a huge ego boost.

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Still, for as much progress as we make it feels like every rehearsal something comes up that we need to tweak or fix or just plain forgot until now. I foresee a lot of scrambled last-minute work during tech week.


Unfamiliar Familiarity

Dave’s visit was perfectly timed, because since he’s been gone the schedule has been getting progressively more intense. Each week there are additional rehearsals, and the studio days are unofficially extending as we push to get projects fully finished before calling it a day. Even my few days partially free get jam packed with playing catch up on mundane activities.

Going back to breakfast video chatting with Dave felt strange, in that “was it all a dream” way. It’s still less familiar than actually being with him, but it has it’s own routine, especially for me here in NC. I’d never prefer it, but I’m glad there was a precedent to fall back on.


Friday morning after Dave went home, I visited Sarah Howe to help out with getting some rehearsal videos onto the shared google folder. This happened to be the first morning of the second half of my time here in NC. It is incredible to think I officially have less time left here than I’ve had already when there is so much left to do.

I was able to get to Sarah’s house from Jenny’s without any gps, and because she was busy with her day camp kids, made myself at home at her bedroom desk and easily found what I needed with minimum location clues. It was weird to be back, seeing it overflowing with summer life, and remembering the quiet, unexpectedly chilly May weeks that I had spent there.

The shift in my relationship to this area was boggling. I know routes between and through the cities, and personal connections to stops all along those routes. I have a preferred grocery store and gas station. I have not just friends, but multiple social groups. I know enough coffee shops and bars to need to put an effort into trying a new place.

I remembered how on my first morning in Durham, I had tried to stop for gas only to find the station closed and I wondered just how small this town was. I know now that was just a weird anomaly, but still, that is definitely not my preferred gas station.

When I arrived, I wished I had brought more warm clothes, as I was constantly too cold with only my light hoodie. That Friday was the first day in weeks that I didn’t wind up pouring sweat at some point, which, is usually my entire day.

I’ve come a long way from my lonely introduction to this place. It’s amazing how fast novelty fades. But I am no less enamored for it.

I think it helps that Dave has seen it now. It makes everything feel more real now that I’ve shared it with him. It’s nice to know when I say a name or talk about a place, he has a clear idea of it in mind. It makes it feel less like it’s own world, and is instead just yet another node on my personal map.

Anyway, I finished my little tech support session, and then I headed back into Chapel Hill. And later, I tried a new coffee shop.

Through the Wringer

Dave’s visit passed in a whirlwind. I had a whole list of things ready to pull out to fill free time, but I think we got around to maybe half of one of them.

We intended to spend more time with Matto and Lily after they had us over for dinner, but besides one quick happy hour with the writing group to celebrate Matto’s second book coming out, the week completely got away from us.

Jenny and family were on their own whirlwind. July 4th we got home just after the kids finished shooting off fireworks, and everyone was crashing. Shortly after that the kids were back with Ben and we barely managed to get Jenny and Cara to sit down for dinner Friday night. Thankfully, Dave knocked his house red sauce over pasta so far out of the park they simply couldn’t resists.

After that Jenny took off for the beach with the kids, while Cara stuck around for another couple days before going to join them.

Saturday, after the wild volunteer day, we got home and decided to dig through the fridge to cobble together a round of our favorite game, Magic Kitchen. We still wound up with a short grocery trip, more to be prepared for the rest of the week and the Sunday rehearsal potluck than for dinner, but with what was available we cooked up some pretty mean meatball subs and invited Cara to join us.

The conversation took a philosophical turn early in the evening, and next thing we knew it hard turned into a long night of introspection about religion, partnership, and a whole host of other subjects. Finally going to bed was more like hitting pause, as the next morning we picked it up again.

By the time we were actually taking off for Sunday rehearsal, Dave and I were both feeling mentally exhausted and emotionally wrung out. Not just from the deep conversation, but the amount of team and community building we had done as well.

Sunday was the last night Dave was in town, and after coming home with the hope of a quiet, intimate evening, we discovered that my computer had died. No attempt to turn on, no indicator lights of any kind. I checked my warranty and discovered that there was five hours left. When I called tech support they claimed my warranty had ended and I had to direct them to the details, where it clearly said “11:59pm” was the official cut off.

So about two hours of the evening went to that. Hardly ideal. Since we had been dragged into logistics-headache land anyway, we also set up Dave’s August visit. That was much more pleasant.

It took a little bourbon and staying up a bit later than we had intended, but we got the night back on track.

Monday morning hit with a jolt. The visit had been so packed, and so many things were left undone, I could hardly believe it was already time to part again.

We did our best to ignore it. We went on a walk through the trails near Jenny’s house. On the way we were accosted by a very friendly neighbor cat. Dave finds cats everywhere. Anyway, we walked until the day’s heat really sunk in, and then came back. Again, we were so exhausted, and so invested in just being together, that staying in seemed like the best possible use of time.


Cat’s name was Jake

We cooked together, just a quick pan of bean-and-peppers tacos. The kind of busy day, scrape-together dinner we frequently make at home. Dave packed his one bag, always one to travel light, and I was grateful for the minimal time spent on it.

Then I drove him to the airport. Still sort of stunned it was all over. As we were saying goodbye curbside—suddenly unhappy about traveling light and how quickly that meant he could leave—it felt like I kept remembering how long it would be and I’d grab him for another squeeze.

I had rehearsal to go to immediately after dropping him off. I was very grateful for the distraction. It made me feel like I could just as easily have dropped him off for another field trip and would see him when it was done.

I mean really, that’s not so far off. It will only be about a month until I see him again, half as long as we were apart to start. This is just another temporary separation. It’s all pretty manageable. Except for going to sleep, and, sometimes even worse, waking up alone.

I will say though, after the joy and accomplishments we achieved in his short visit, I am feeling stronger than ever about getting through this Summer. It’s not easy, but we’re in it together, even as we’re apart.

Teamwork is Dreamwork

After the festivities on the 4th, it was back to regular studio work. I’m super grateful to have work that is not only fun and fulfilling, but able to be shared. Dave put in volunteer hours every workday he was in town, including recording rehearsals.


Happy to be in the studio together! (I am not barefoot when we’re building, only rehearsals!)

Wednesday, first day in the shop together, we were huddled around “The Big List” which was erected to keep track of all the projects left to be constructed. Donovan and Jan went over things, roughly in order of priority. Near the top, was the Lyrebird, aka dusty-deathtrap puppet. I was clearly still shackled to the project, as Donovan addressed most of the notes about it in my direction, despite claims I didn’t have to be the one to do it. However, I was ready to ignore it for another week in favor of picking something a little easier, and more fun to work on with Dave.

As they were asking who wanted which project, Dave turned to me and said, “We’ve got to get that bird done.”

I was so mad. He was right. I love that he is the kind of man who sees a need and tackles a challenge, but in that moment all I could think was that he had signed himself up to hate this studio by the end of the day. Plus they assigned Jake to the other project I wanted so I didn’t have anything else of high enough priority to attend to.

So we dragged the lyrebird out. To his credit, Dave only showed a little disdain when he saw the broken, twisted form we were trying to wrestle back into shape.

You see what you signed us up for?” I said.

So I guess you think finishing this puppet before I leave is an ambitious goal?”

I thought back to the days I had spent wrestling with this puppet with that same lofty goal in mind, only to huck it back into storage, barely progressed.

Uh. A bit.”

First order of business was attaching the fabric neck to the head-mask. My acidic mood at being back on this monster was still fizzing as we struggled to align the mis-matched fabric and head shape. Dave’s first idea devolved into a mess of it’s own with the thread from his sewing getting tangled beyond belief in the spring of the mouth-mechanism. I moment of anger, Dave snapped the scissors recklessly, and gouged himself in the flesh of his hand, just above his thumb.

I’m not glad he hurt himself, but it was a much-needed reset point for both our attitudes. By the time he returned from the first-aid station, I had decided that I absolutely could not continue forward with a mindset that was setting us up for anger and injury. Dave, likewise, seemed to have to taken dressing his wound as a turning point, and when he returned to the puppet was in surprisingly high spirits. True, he also needed the work to distract himself from a throbbing hand, but not everyone can do so with such a good attitude.

While Dave was dressing his wound, Donovan had come over and showed me what he had been thinking for the neck—which wasn’t what we had been attempting at all anyway. The sting to my pride of that, coupled with the new determination to get back to positivity, had me and Dave enacting decisive action on that bird.

With whatever negativity had started our day shaken loose, I was amazed by what we achieved. Where I struggled with some technical aspect, Dave identified efficient solutions. When feathering over the transition from paper mache to fabric, he followed my lead on the aesthetics.

The head was attached and feathered by lunchtime. That afternoon we had set up rigging for the puppeteer and repaired the worst of the framing damage. Just having a partner that I felt confident asserting my ideas with, and whose input I likewise felt I could trust, made a world of difference.

By midway through our second day working in the shop, we had the Lyrebird in a state that could easily go onstage, lacking only a few finishing touches. Additionally we knocked out some last touches on several other puppets before breaking for lunch.



After the lunch break, I sent Dave to Chris Carter’s shop for a field trip. Chris handles all the metal work and any serious engineering that needs to get done for Paperhand. A couple weeks ago I had toured his shop and homestead, which is entirely off grid thanks to a solar and wind set up he created himself, and knew I had to send Dave over when he was in town. I knew he would have questions I didn’t know enough to ask, and be doubly inspired by the self-sufficiency and pure gall of Chris’ lifestyle.

It turned out to be a good division of labor anyway, since we spent that afternoon mostly shooting promotional photos with our newly finished puppets, including the lyrebird! Watching these puppets come together in their full glory was amazing and made the show feel so much realer…and closer. Their are still far more puppets not yet ready for their close up.

It was very endearing when, as we were assembling for the afternoon’s work, Donovan asked “where’s the new guy?” and then scoffed in disdain when I said I had sent Dave off. Dave’s ability to claim his own space in the shop makes me so proud—not that I had any doubts.

It wasn’t just Donovan who appreciated his company either. After rehearsal that night, Dave and Chris set up another work session for the following afternoon, so that Dave could actually put some work in. While I was a little put out to lose a chunk of what limited free time we had together, I couldn’t deny the unique opportunity Dave had in his hands. Plus, it was an opportunity to finish out one of the most exciting elements of the Summer show….but I’ll be keeping that quiet at least til opening weekend is through.

Finally, on Saturday, Dave and I grabbed two fairly small-scale (no pun intended, but I was building fish…) projects and tackled them on the same work table as the volunteer hubbub swarmed through the studio.


I  made these fish fins!

With the Lyrebird victory still buoying us, we were feeling confident. We may have slightly underestimated the level of franticness that this last month of build time is descending into. I was building fish fins and Dave was creating magical star-wands. Both of us were pulled back and forth as we received directly contradictory instruction from the two artistic directions. At one point Donovan had me move a fin’s placement, and then watched from up a ladder across the room as Jan moved it back to exactly where it had been before. He laughed, shrugged and told me to go with that then.

To their credit, they both know it’s happening, and never hold us laborers accountable for their conflicting instruction. Usually, it’s accompanied with a good laugh….and then one of the acquiesces. Or the project stalls for a bit. But there’s less option for that as time goes on.

I was really glad Dave got some quieter build time in the shop. Volunteer workdays frequently get out of hand, and Donovan and Jan rarely have time to invest in individuals or their projects. I am so grateful they actually got to get know Dave, and that he could feel truly integrated and welcome in the community there.

July 4th Fun

It was good we rested Monday, because Tuesday, July 4th, was hot, heavy and high-energy!

We joined Paperhand at the Festival for the Eno, an annual festival at a local park to raise funds to protect the Eno River and associated nature preserves and parks. We would be performing another parade, this one even bigger and badder than the Greensboro festival, based on the amount of puppets overflowing from the two vehicles.

We went through the puppet-hand-out scramble, some people needing coaxing just to carry a banner, while other kids needs to be convinced they should take a smaller, hand-puppet over a big, sweaty full-body one. I was hoping for a slightly more puppety experience than the previous parade, but the priority was still putting puppets in the hands of those who wanted to participate. Right at the last minute, as Dave and I handed off our sunflowers to a couple curious lurkers, a solo volunteer popped up, and I had him join the two of us to hoist up the last remaining towering three-man puppet.

I took the head, feeling that as senior puppeteer in our little trio I should burden that responsibility, but even having carried and swung these puppets around the studio, I was not fully prepared for the effort of parading with it! Plus, this parade was considerably longer.

I have no regrets though, and would gladly do it again. Gotta build up those puppeteering muscles somehow! The real struggle was dodging low-hanging trees, while I had a face full of fabric. Thankfully, I had my navigator riding right-hand duty, and Dave got us around every obstacle with style.

After the parade, with my arms searing, we were ready for some breathing room. We wandered some of the woodsy trails that led away from the festival proper. After seeing the crowds at the festival grounds and down at the river, I couldn’t believe how quite it was just a few steps away. It felt wonderful to break away from the crowd for a moment, and celebrate an excellent collaboration. Soon though, the effort caught up to us and we had to hit up the hospitality tent for some food and hydration.

We didn’t stay too long after that, just long enough to take in a little music and grab a poster. But we had dinner plans with Matto and Lily and after that parade were in no state for cleaner company.

After the run home and back, we joined Matto, Lily and DASH at their home where they made us a wonderful hot-pot dinner. It is a perfect communal meal, much sharing and messiness (well, maybe that was mostly me…) and they had actual legit Daifuku Mochi for desert. Five years before, I had eaten decidedly American food while in Japan. I love when life circles itself.

Despite still being in recovery, from both ailment and parade exhaustion, we lingered long after dinner. The company was excellent and the meal replenishing. We could not have wanted for more.

Crashing before Liftoff

The day after Dave arrived, we both woke up feeling less than our best. Dave often doesn’t travel, doubly so when he’s already been busy and overworked. I was still feeling the effects of severe dehydration and maybe a cold.

We were staying at Ben, Jenny’s ex’s house, since he didn’t have the kids and was also staying with his girlfriend, so we had the place to ourselves. It was a wonderful chance to sleep in, something I haven’t done in weeks, since even on days off I’ve been getting up early enough to video chat with Dave over breakfast.

However, it did mean not feeling comfortable using the kitchen, especially since it was left in a sort of half-cleaned way (nothing gross, I just didn’t feel like spending time finding out where things were supposed to go if I needed space). So we went out to breakfast, way past our usual breakfast time, and lingered over coffee.

After breakfast, we debated going for a hike, but since the coffee had only loosened the cobwebs and not truly shaken them off, we opted for just going to local park instead. Halfway around the loop of trails, we stopped at a bench, both tuckered out far beyond reason for such light exertion. It was time to accept what we both knew was best.

You wanna just take a nap?”

We went back to Ben’s and crashed hard for several hours. To be perfectly honest, I’ve had lots of activity, and talking is the one thing we’re still able to do when apart, so an extended session of just being close to each other was pretty perfect. I miss him the most when I’m tired, after all.

We did get back out for the writing meet up, which Dave used for programming time, and to get a beer with Matto afterwards, but the energy levels stayed decidedly low.

In retrospect, I can safely say that this was the best possible way to use the day. Things ramped up big time from there and we set ourselves up for better energy and health with which to accept it.