Archives for category: Mental Game

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That picture above. Right there. It’s gorgeous, right? Only a few miles from the road, yet wonderfully rugged. The North Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Hours from home. Fresh air, steep terrains, squeaky pikas, bear prints in the snow, flowing mountain streams. Stuff I’ve been traipsing in and around for almost 10 years.

I had a panic attack in the valley. Deep in the forest. Just out of the photo frame. Bottom right.

—–

This was part of the Annual Ladies Backpacking Trip. Organized by one of my favorite outdoor ladies, it was guaranteed to be a good time. Get in a heart-pounding hike up and over a few ridges, with the potential to camp by a lake and even bag a peak. Most of us on the trip are constantly hiking and climbing with boyfriends/husbands/male partners, so the women’s trip is a refreshing change of company.

Despite all the promise of a trip with lovely company and views, part of me wanted to stay at home and just … stop. I’d just ended five months of absolute insanity. It’d been two weeks since the last of it, ending with the massive bike ride from Seattle to Portland.

I even complained to Maria a week before the trip. “I’m so exhausted and tired, I have no desire to leave my house.” No, you have to go, she said, don’t bail. I’ll even drive.

* sigh * Ugh. OK. I guess.

As email traffic increased leading up to the trip, I started to get excited. I started packing Monday night, even though we didn’t leave until Friday morning. I also had no choice, as apparently my life of insanity had not stopped and I had no time Tues-Thurs evenings to pack. I also was determined to go as light as possible, so I gave myself time to go through my gear and ditch things (and, well, buy a smaller pack). I eventually got down to 17 lbs of gear and 13 lbs of food and water = 30 lbs in a 50 liter pack, with room to spare! That’s a RECORD for me. However, just before we hit the trail, I added meat, which brought my pack up to 41 lbs, the heaviest of the group. FAIL. Seriously, 11 more pounds of food? I was so mad at myself.

We met the other five women at the trailhead and heartily started up our first trail: 4 miles and 3,000 feet to Easy Pass. With all the chattering and excitement, that seemed like a piece of cake and before we knew it, we were having lunch three hours later at the pass in the shade, with Fisher Basin open before us.

From there we could see the rest of the day’s route: drop down to the valley, climb out the southern end of it, scramble up and over some rocky ledges (a.k.a. “The Cakewalk”) and then drop down to Silent Lakes for base camp. Great! (Even if “The Cakewalk” looking nothing like that).

We started down to the valley, dropping 1,500 feet in 2 miles, under the oppressive heat of the July sun, and swarmed by mosquitoes and black flies. We reached the bottom of the valley near Fisher Camp and turned southeast, following a rough boot path with some log hopping.

At this point, I was doing OK. I’d enjoyed the climb to the pass, but something started to bother me on the way into the valley.

It started slowly with a sense of not wanting to be there. I felt guilty about that but then those feelings started to get raw: Damn my pack is heavy, why the hell did I pack so much food, I was totally cool with 30 lbs last night, I’m so exhausted, I guess I’m still trashed from the past few months, damnit it’s really hot all I want to do is go home I want to be in my gardens if I’m going to work this hard I want it to be at my house working with iced tea brewing on the backporch and feeling a sense of accomplishment why do I do this to myself–

Then came on the shallow breathing followed by a racing heartbeat, then a feeling of suffocation.

Maria was just a few yards in front of me.

“Maria?” my voice breaking to my surprise, and then suddenly feeling myself mentally, emotionally and physically crumble. “I’m… done. I’m just … done.”

She turned toward me.

“Oh, yes I know I am too. We bit off more than we can chew. And it’s really hot right now.”

“No, it’s not that,” I said as we met in the middle, my trekking poles dragging behind me like a toddler with a blanket. “I’m, like, DONE. I can’t go any more. I’m just …”

I then burst in tears and collapsed in her arms, and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

Like body-goes-limp-but-trying-to-catch-my-breath-while-trying-to-get-it-all-out-sobbing. I can’t remember the last time I cried so hard.

Maria held me for awhile before she gently guided me to a log to sit down and collect myself while she went to catch the girls.

I sat there dumbfounded, numb. I wanted to turn around and march right back up that hot hill and then back down to the car. It was only 5 miles. It was not hard. I knew I was still trashed from the past few months but I didn’t realize it would hit like this. I’m supposed to enjoy these types of outings. These types of outings are supposed to relax me. Take me away from everyday life.

When Maria returned, she didn’t have her backpack, which immediately crushed me.

“We’re going to stop just a little ways up here and make camp,” she said. “We won’t go all the way to the lakes and one of the other women is pretty done too. The heat is getting to all of us.”

“Oh… I was hoping we could go home.”

“No, now that’s silly. We’ve come all this way. We can’t leave now. We can just sit in camp, we don’t have to do anything.”

With a heavy sigh, I got up and trudged on. My body felt heavy but my head was completely void of emotion. I was just floating now. Not really engaged but still aware of my surroundings: that creek we had to wade, the boulder field we had to navigate, help make decisions on where we’d camp that night. Just barely.

But I continued on. Our group made the decision to camp below The Cakewalk and the next day, those who wanted to could do a trip up to Silent Lakes and Fisher Peak.

We camped on a rocky outcrop with established tent sites, with a stream to our left and a snow patch to the right. The southern end of the valley rose above us, with Fisher Basin behind us. We established campsites (Maria had to call my name a few times to get my attention as I stood there mindlessly just holding one end of the tent as she was trying to set it up), rinsed off in the creek, changed clothes, pumped fresh water, had dinner and drank snow-ritas (margarita mix and tequila poured over cups of snow – WAY better than anything served in a restaurant.). We shared stories of previous trips and read outloud from the trip’s Official Literature, “Woman’s World Weekly.”

I explained to the ladies that I didn’t think I had the mental capacity for the climb the next day. They completely understood, and said they’ve been in my place before, where all you can manage is just one foot in front of the other just to get to camp. I was so thankful for these ladies. I may not have been all “there”, but I knew I was safe. If there was an emergency, I could snap into rescue mode, that wasn’t problem. But, at this particular moment, I didn’t have to do anything. I could just … be.

The next day, I woke up only feeling a bit better. Still in a funk but at least rested. I was wondering if I’d step out of the tent and see the day’s objective and wonder if I’d be struck with the usual “OMG I should go, I’ll feel guilty if I don’t, I came all this way, I should take advantage of this, I’m weak if I don’t go!”

Nope. Nothing. I mean, I felt a slight twinge of desire to scramble something but not necessarily do the weekend’s objective. I could have climbed to the edge of valley to peek over the other side, but I also felt completely OK with just staying in camp. Maria would be staying too. In fact, I entertained the idea of a nap after breakfast.

After the ladies took off for their climb, I straightened up camp, organized my food and took stock of what I had (why the hell was my bag so heavy?) and made it an objective to eat as much food as possible during the day, even if it meant stuffing an entire block of cheese, several landjagers and a log of sausage down my throat over the next 12 hours.

After I finished my food organization and made a list of lighter gear to research, I moved to the tent to organize my other gear. Maria was reading inside, shaded and away from the bugs.

“So what are you doing there, Tiff?”

“Oh, just organizing, putzing, nesting … Wait! I’m NESTING! Which is what I want to be doing anyway but just right now it happens to be while I’m seven hours from home and in the middle of nowhere!”

We both laughed.

That’s when I realized it.

It took me being in the wilderness to force myself to stop. To put myself in an environment free of any stressors, to simply just survive. To not be distracted by anything. No projects to tackle (even if that’s what I thought I wanted to do). I love being in the outdoors for those reasons – to simply survive and not think about all things I should be thinking about.

How to mitigate the bugs, what layers should I work with right now, when should we fill up the group water jugs, how much food can I eat today, when can I steal Maria’s book after reading Woman’s World Weekly from cover to cover again…

After coming to that realization, I finally relaxed, finished my putzing, then took my pillow and sit pad out of the tent, laid out on the ground and thought, “Here’s the vacation I’ve finally wanted. It may not be on a beach, but it certainly was warm, outside and quiet. No family, no work, no Internet to distract me.”

And I was OK with it. I even took that nap.

Later that night, when the ladies came back from the climb, the first thing Eileen did was march right up to me, embrace me, and exclaim, “Smart decision!” Apparently that climb was not for the faint of heart. Or the mentally unstable.

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Back to my regular self

By this point, I was back being OK with life. I also made a few decisions, such as to truly zero in on my desires in the moment (mountains, city or home?). I also realized the mountains weren’t where I wanted to be this summer. I’d been biking since March and really loved it this year. So I mentally cancelled my Mt. Baker trip that was in two weeks. Once I made that decision, and started making plans for fun things to do around town for the month of August (including more bike time and yard time and yoga), I started to feel immensely better.

Just because it’s summertime in the Northwest doesn’t mean it always needs to be spent in the mountains. In fact, I LOVE my house in the summertime. The front porch is great for sunsets. The backyard (when it’s weeded and cleaned up) is cozy and lush. The light in the morning in the living room is lovely.

Then there is the question – am I living the life I want? Every year, I’m faced the issue – I want to do EVERYTHING. With EVERYONE. I need to climb mountains to stay strong for mountain rescue, which I absolutely love, almost more than life itself. I want to kayak though. I want to enjoy Seattle in the summer, with picnics with city friends in the little city parks. I want to spend time at home enjoying my investment. I want to be closer to the water these days, and not be far away in the mountains.

How do you find balance so not to burn yourself out or be overwhelmed?

Talking with a friend the other night, he said, you just have to learn to say no. Truly listen to what you want to do and do it. It doesn’t make you weaker or less of a person if you don’t climb mountains all the time, or decide you want to have an in-town weekend, or if you want to do yoga all the time instead of sports, or embrace your new found love for biking, or pick up a water sport.

Fay offered a quote that stuck with me: “You have to let go of the life you expected in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”

Basically – go with the flow. Do what you want. Do what makes you happy.

Three days after that emotional backpacking trip, I was sitting at a campground on the Pacific coast. I was there for two days of work but I couldn’t bring myself to find a hotel or sleep in the Jetta. I wanted to sleep as close as possible to the ocean. So I tossed the tent,  sleeping bag and pillow in the car. A few snacks. Backpacking stove and a dehydrated meal for my dinner, which I delightedly and slowly ate on the beach as I people-watched. I could feel the sticky but refreshing layer of the saltwater on my skin. I’d been excited by the idea of sleeping by the ocean, by myself. Ironically, all completely forced by logistics of work.

And maybe my friend is right.

Maybe I should buy a surfboard.

I make a lot of excuses for everything. I know this. I’ve always known this. I’m actually a lot of talk and no action, contrary to what y’all think.

These ideas have been brought to my attention recently. On a deeper level. Don’t ask. Just go with it.

I woke up this morning with the uncomfortable feeling, like, yeah, get off your duff and actually do something. You ARE all talk and no action. I’ve been bitching for years about things I REALLY want to do and have I done them?

NO, because I am the QUEEN OF EXCUSES. Look at my past relations and jobs and extracurricular activities – why I can’t/don’t/shouldn’t get out of it, change it, do it.

F that.

I sat down with breakfast and a scrap piece of paper and a pen and scrawled across the top:

What makes me feel alive?

Answers:

(Speaking of, at this moment, a Florence and the Machines song just came on KEXP. It’s not the song that reminds me of my trip to Australia in 2011, but this band had a song that came out around that time that was totally the theme of that trip. And that trip made me feeling so fucking alive.)

Answers:

Running

hiking/skiing uphill

dogs

good home cooked food

my favorite people

sunshine

busy work

helping people

cleaning/organizing

creating things with my hands

music

traveling and exploring

gardening

……

NOW, this list is all fine and good but HOW or WHAT am I going to do about each one.

Next to each item, I started writing out ideas:

Running – sign up for a trail run once a month. it costs money but whatever. Sign up early enough, it’s not as expensive. Every time I got off a trail run in 2014, it was the best feeling ever. Better than climbing, hiking, biking, swimming, whatever other sport i’ve tried.

hiking/skiing uphill – it’s winter, so it’s snow season, so I need to get my knee brace fitted which I’m doing next friday. YAY! Then I can cross country ski this year!

dogs – Don called me out last night on every excuse for not having a dog, as I’ve been moaning for years that I’ve wanted one. I essentially live in the equivalent of a big apartment (big indoor space, no fenced yard). Start researching good types of dogs for me – one who enjoys exercise and being worked but also knows how to chill.

good home cooked food – CHECK. ALL THE TIME.

my favorite people – who in my life makes me feel happy and real and myself. mentors and people i respect and look up to.

sunshine – continue to take 3,000 IUs of Vitamin D, go to the tanning beds or just fucking move.

busy work – i’m trying hard at work to do this while we’re in a slow season, as most my people are at their computers doing reports and data crunching, so field season is slow. time to plan long-term projects?

helping people – mountain rescue allows for this, but not enough. my job allows for this, but not enough. my career counseling last year shed light on working in a non-traditional teaching environment. Both my job and mountain rescue allow plenty of opportunities to do this. I need to sit down with a calendar and resources and do some research on how to incorporate this.

cleaning/organizing – i’m really good at this, no matter what it is. it just comes as required.

creating things with my hands – woodworking is the first thing that comes to mind. I just signed up for a free online four-day creative class. I would like to sit down and go through it, but see, I’m not creating an action plan here to make sure I follow through with it. I guess a bigger priority is the pile of fabric in my living room for two sets of pajama pants, three quilts, a dress and lots of mending …

music – most of the time, KEXP. Also, I have a ukelele and a guitar in my living room. In their cases. Someone told me to buy music stands so they’ll sit out and I’ll pick them up more. I need to buy two music stands. Cheap.

traveling and exploring – this takes planning. I see on Facebook (yes, the Facebook syndrome) all the trips and ideas and think, man, I need to plan some trips. Yes, I know I just went to Ireland (which was amazing) but wanderlust is getting to me again. I WILL BLOCK OUT THAT LAST WEEK OF MARCH FOR MY WEEKLONG ROAD TRIP FROM CALIFORNIA TO WASHINGTON DAMNIT. I’VE BEEN WANTING TO DO THAT TRIP FOR SIX YEARS NOW.

Gardening – that pink binder on the table? the one you keep meaning to organize by month so you know what to do for each plant, as well as layout where each plant is in your gardens? that needs to be done. again though where’s the action plan to make sure it gets done?

(Irony? KEXP is now playing ALIVE by Empire of the Sun)

it feels good to get all this out, but it also means planning and budgeting. that’s where i get blocked. when do i have time to sit down and plan and budget? that’s my problem.

the other question – in a year, after i do all these things, will i finally be happy? i constantly feel like there is something else there, something else that i need to satisfy me, because apparently my charmed life right now (i’m not going to lie, i know i have it good, on paper, my life looks fantastic) isn’t enough.

there you go.

No one ever said i didn’t wear my heart on my sleeve.

 

 

 

 

 

I tend to do sudden Facebook vacations. Actually, I think about it all the time, wishing I could get off it but give myself some excuse why I have to stay on (see pictures of my nephew, read anecdotes about his little 3 year old life, keep on top of social events, get sucked into posts about cats dressed as sharks riding roombas, need to keep my account active since it’s connected to my work account). But this one was inspired by a friend who announced a Facebook vacation in August and I thought, “Man, that sounds pretty good right now.”

I tend to post post post (well, maybe not so much lately-been more of FB stalker really) and then announce I’m gone and then bam, I’m gone and it feels so good. And honestly who should really give a rat’s ass whether I’m on or not, but apparently a fair amount do. My email and/or Facebook comments/message inbox (Really? After I just said I’m not getting on FB? How bright are you really? Why are we friends anyway? Did you really read my post?) will usually fill with messages from folks, asking “OMG really? You’re on it all the time, you put up good stuff, are you OK, is someone stalking you?” (no joke, that last one really was asked the last time I did this).

For eff’s sake, no. Calm the hell down. Here’s your goddamn answer. (I know some of you are asking, “Why do you need to explain yourself?” Good question. Excuse to write on the blog?)

I find myself on it all the time and frankly, it’s really annoying me. I’ve tried to control it, put myself on a schedule to check it and even block it for hours at a time. But honestly, I’m so bored with life right now, it’s a way to fill up that boredom and avoid/procrastinate things that I should be doing. Anything from cleaning out that closet to working in the garden to planning out that trip to doing some bigger and deeper soul searching for what’s next in life.

Yes, I’m also confirming right now, publicly, that I do have someone special in my life right now and I’d like to focus on that (no, it’s not THAT serious but it’s fun) as well as some professional ideas that I’d like explore.

I’m aware of my regular social events. I don’t rely on social media for mountain rescue. The people I stay in touch with the most, I do mostly over email, instant message, text and phone calls.

Plus, despite how much we tell everyone how much it rains and is miserable here in the Pacific Northwest, it is unbelievably goddamn gorgeous here these days and why the hell do I want to waste it in front of a stupid screen?

So, there you have it. The app has been deleted from my phone and who knows, you may see more stuff here.

Now, get off your computer and go outside, you fool. What the hell are you doing reading this drivel?

(And yes, I’m fully aware of the irony of my previous post and this one).

George posted an article recently that caught my eye: 6 Subtle Things Highly Productive People Do Every Day 

I’m always interested in these types of articles (some are drivel, some are useful) and since I obviously wasn’t being productive at the moment, why not get a little edjumacation on how successful people succeed? Not to mention, I’m realizing how addicted I am to my phone in the morning and it’s driving me crazy, so I am always looking for tips to break it. Because I know checking my phone is NOT productive. It should have a minor function in my life.

Start the day easy, calm and happy – establish routine

Since I have a pretty variable schedule in the morning (go to the gym, have to be in the field early, relatively flexible work hours. Also, no kids, not married, live by myself), I haven’t had a solid five-days-a-week routine in the morning for probably 8 years. I thought about this a few months ago and started setting my alarm, no matter what I needed to do, at 5:30 a.m. Then it got switched to getting up between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. If I didn’t get up to go to the gym, I’d snooze for about, oh, 45 minutes… then maybe grab my phone and check email and social media… then get up. So, yeah, that’s fallen by the wayside lately.

This leads to the next point:

Don’t check email or social media first thing in the morning

I notice the difference in my mental function the days I sprinkle checking email/FB within getting ready for the day. It kills my focus. It’s amazing how subtle it is. You wouldn’t think spending a few minutes scrolling the NewsFeed (even while being stationary and just eating breakfast) messes with the head. I find myself more distracted and walking from one room to another, then thinking, what did I need in here? Oh, right. Brush my teeth or put on a shirt or put the towel away or …

This habit makes me question the powerful impact social media has on society psychologically, but I’ll save that for another day. Or for grad school.

It’s like when I turn off the light at 10:15 p.m. vs. 10:30 p.m. Or reading in bed versus reading on the couch before bed. Or watching TV in bed versus not having it in a bedroom at all (I don’t in Washington, but in Ohio, there’s a TV in every room of my families’ homes. I unplug the TV when I’m there so I’m not tempted because I know I feel like hell the next day if I go to bed with the TV on. It’s bad enough I’m usually jet-lagged and not in my own bed). There is a HUGE difference in the quality of sleep I get when I break those subtle rules.

Why the need to check email, I don’t know. I’m not THAT person who gets 500 emails overnight that need to be addressed immediately.

Before you try to do it faster, ask whether it should be done at all

This goes back to a mantra my stepfather taught me a long time ago – Don’t Work Harder, Work Smarter.

I’ve been in the field the past three months and have stories that need to be written. I stare at that list of stories, overwhelmed, on top of the other projects that I need to do and then become more overwhelmed.

When I really stop to look at my list of stories though, I think, OK, that’s just a picture with an extended caption. OK, that’s a story I wrote a few years ago, I just need to update it. OK, that story needs more information, I just need to contact so-and-so. A few sentences, a little research, some emails and phone calls, done.

Basically, it comes down to time management. And knowing when you do your best work (me: Writing in the a.m.; Projects in the p.m.), as well as your best work environment:

Focus Is Nothing More than Eliminating Distractions

The article talks about top CEOs working at home in the morning to get stuff done, “where no one can bother them.” I’m no CEO, but point taken.

It’s interesting the mindset I had when I entered the professional world 12 years ago – the office was the only place where you got work done and that was it. Granted, it was a newsroom and there is something awesome about pounding out stories together under the crunch of deadline in a fishbowl of reporters. But, as technology has evolved (and my job and society’s expectations), it has allowed me to work from wherever. Thus, I can fine tune my most productive environments.

While most of the time the office works well, I have found coffee shops (and only certain ones) are where it’s at when I really need to buckle down on stories and just think. There’s just enough background noise, tasty treats and the ability to NOT connect to the Internet.

Have a personal system

This goes back to routine. I liked the statement “self-discipline is overrated.” I know I don’t have it unless I’m at the gym or outside working or hiking or on a project I’m REALLY passionate about (these days, it’s project management or grant writing). (Post-edit: When I think about it, those activities – working, hiking, passionate project – have end goals, steps, SYSTEMS to achieve an end result).

And I know systems work (bedtime routines, writing in the morning). These questions are good to keep in mind.

  • What handful of activities are responsible for the disproportionate number of your successes?
  • What handful of activities absolutely crater your productivity?
  • Rearrange your schedule to do more of No. 1 and to eliminate No. 2 as much as possible.

Define your goals the night before

I do this but not on a regular basis. There is a feeling of satisfaction of leaving the office with my yellow “sticky note” on the computer with my to-do list for the next day. Now, as to if and how that list gets check-marked off the next day … it goes back to establishing routine and managing distractions.

So, to help implement some of these ideas and see how much of a difference they make, I started Monday night by turning off my phone.

Tuesday – DAY 1

Routine established:

5:30 a.m. Radio goes off, 5:45 a.m. Alarm goes off (I’ve been doing this FOR YEARS, to help ease the brain awake. Also, I’m a horrifically chronic snooze-bar hitter. Ask my college roommates.)

6 a.m. Got up to make tea and do some editing for work

7 a.m. Dropped everything, made breakfast, got ready for the day

8 a.m. Driving to work!

8:30 a.m. Sitting at desk assessing how I did – and felt pretty damn good. Mind was clear, not foggy, felt like I was making progress! Was focused on the morning!

10 a.m. Finally turned on phone (put it on silent though) and checked email on work computer. What did I miss? NOTHING.

3:45 p.m. – WHEN is this day going to end!? It’s been a long day!

10 p.m. Again, turned off phone.

Wednesday – DAY 2

5:30 a.m. Radio goes off, 5:45 a.m. Alarm goes off

6:20 a.m. Out the door to the gym

7 a.m. Came home, made breakfast, got ready for the day

8 a.m. Driving to work!

8:30 a.m. Sitting at desk assessing how I did – and again felt pretty good. However, I DID check email/social media and turned on phone (still on silent) a little earlier than the day before. Yet, I didn’t spend an unnecessary amount of time on those things. And turned off the phone at 10 p.m.

Thursday – Day 3:

Stuck with my routine until about 8 a.m. (Alarm at 5:30, run at 6:20, out the door by 8 a.m.), when I took off for a coffee shop to work instead of the office (Tip #4 – Eliminate Distractions/Change Environment!). Turned on phone earlier than previous days (8 a.m.) but I still stuck with routine and got out the door when I wanted to, with a fresh clear head to attack my backlog of stories.

Friday – Day 4: 

OY. WAY TOUGHER. Partial fail.

Alarm went off 5:30… but got to the gym by 6:15. Good!

But after coming home at 7:20, the morning was a haze: tried to make breakfast, got lazy, realized I needed to make lunch, traded making lunch for eating out for breakfast, needed to gather a few things for this evening’s hike, load up the car…

Out the door by 8:30. Ugh. Not what I wanted. Breakfast was nearly two hours after workout (NOT a good idea) and I’m exhausted and cobwebby this morning.

There are several factors to blame for this morning’s fogginess, including the constant bedtime of 10:45 p.m. – 11 p.m. this week, which is not ideal for me.  That can be next week’s goal:

9:30: Shut down everything, get ready for bed

9:45: On couch for reading. I’ve also realized, unless I’m extremely exhausted, I’ll spend 30 minutes reading, not matter how much I try and watch the time.

10:15: In bed, lights out.

But back to today: Funnily enough, on most Fridays, I’m the most productive from 1 p.m. until I shut down shop for the day, around 4:30, 5 p.m. It’s the strangest thing but I think it feeds my former reporter-deadline habit.

ASSESSMENT:

Having a routine in the morning really helped me focus and stay on track and start the day with clear head (yes, Captain Obvious here, proving what you figured would happen), but I didn’t get nearly as much done pre-work (chores or workout) as I’m used to in the morning. But the payoff to be at work earlier than usual lately is MORE than worth it.

Early In, Early Out, Early Weekend!