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January 2011

January 31

I've started several posts in the last month and before I could get them published, life interrupted and the words just seemed to disappear into the chaos of another day.  Try try again.


It's been another spell of introspection starting with a workshop I attended on the second.  "Manifesting Your Dreams in the New Year".  It was held at the Hearthstone School in Sperryville, a wonderful place that has a huge stone fireplace in the lobby and smells like cedar and sage and mountain air.  I always always feel better when I visit the mountains.  It's almost as if I pass through some energetic shift on Rte. 522 as I drive through Scrabble, where the speed limit changes to 25 unexpectedly and with threat of aerial enforcement.  Have you ever wondered exactly what that means?

Anyway, the workshop was facilitated by a very dear friend.  I've known Christen for at least twenty five years and back then she did readings in her lovely old farm house.  I remember that she always had the windows open just a little so that  a breeze  could gently play with the curtains.

Back then she was a channel.  Bringing through information and counselling from Spirit Guides and Guardian Angels while in a meditative state.  I was always mesmerized and a little envious that she had this whole circle of unseen friends who were wise and compassionate and 'no nonsense' when it came to living your best life.

Christen has grown and evolved in her practice and counselling and in 2000 created Spirit School for the Intuitive Arts ( ).  I attended one of the first courses of study, learning meditation, communicating with your Guides and Angels, releasing old belief systems and habits and energetic healing.  Well, I tried to learn.  For most of my adult life I listened for the voices of Angels or God.  I never believed that God simply quit talking to us two thousand years ago, believing instead that we forgot how to listen.  So I did.  Listen.  Until Shannon returned to Heaven.  At that moment my inner hearing seemed to go deaf.  It was wonderful to imagine benevolent beings watching over us, trying to communicate, keeping us from stepping into harm's way, until my own heart broke and the shattered pieces tried to follow Shannon there. 

I was desperate to hear her voice, see her face, hear her laughter...but I'm not sure how I would have reacted had she simply appeared, a bright filmy apparition floating down the hallway.  I know that she would never have wanted to frighten me.  So she was subtle.  And I was deaf...and often blind, to the whispers from my Angel.

There is a fine line between what we think we want and what we actually want.  We walk that tightrope daily.  I went to the workshop, hoping to figure some of it out.  I don't do crowds very well anymore and I was expecting the usual thirty or so attendees.  As the room continued to fill, beyond the first thirty, I had to hold onto the seat of my gray metal folding chair to keep from running.  Close to one hundred people were there that day.  There was some comfort in knowing that none of knew what we wanted but  were all hoping to figure it ... together.

We were initially asked to write on a piece of paper, what our dreams are...and then manipulate the words to remove any negatives.  I never really cared for positive affirmations although I know they can be incredibly effective.  I was just never able to believe , " I am happy with my beautiful healthy body exactly as it is."  I could say the words until the cows come home but I knew I was NOT happy when my thighs rubbed or my tummy rolled over on itself.  I knew I did not think it was beautiful as age and gravity and lack of discipline made me resemble a melting candle when I stood before a full length mirror without clothes.  So I was very happy when Christen suggested that we create the statement with the words intent and manifest in there so that it resembled truth.  I intend to manifest a beautiful healthy body.

Now I knew we would be sharing and so I was careful to write only words that I would be willing to expose to a room full of strangers.  I intend to manifest a relationship that makes me feel loved and cherished by my husband.  Seemed honest and straight forward and safe.  Who doesn't want that?

Well.... When I was asked to read it aloud, all eyes were intently focused on me.  It was perhaps the first time any of them had really seen me that day as I have mastered the art of invisibility quite well post retirement.  

"I intend to manifest a relationship that makes me feel loved and cherished by my husband."

"HMMMMMM..... not quite there yet," our group leader coached.  "Try leaving out the manifesting part."

"I intend to feel loved and cherished by my husband."

"HMMMMMM..... almost but it's just not quite there yet."

I was starting to flush and sweat and squirm in my chair as she prompted me to leave out the 'intent' part.  The whole exercise was starting to feel incredibly uncomfortable and my manifesting statement was being ironically transformed into a positive affirmation right before my very eyes.

"I feel loved and cherished by my husband."

"Ahhhh.... Now.... how does that feel?"  she asked with enthusiasm and a tiny bit too much satisfaction.

I hesitated for just a moment and then blurted out with a tiny bit too much enthusiasm of my own... "LIKE A BIG FAT LIE !  That's how it feels."

There was an audible gasp from my group as our group leader unceremoniously moved on to the next participant.

I sat there feeling guilty.  Afraid that I had offended.  Worried that I was missing the whole point and that I might have discouraged some of my fellow travellers.

When the circle was complete we were given a break.  At that point a tall thin mountain man, with long gray hair and beard sauntered over to my chair.  He knelt down as if to share a confidence.  We were practically nose to nose, his blue eyes  bright, "Thank you so much for saying exactly what I was thinking."

Several other people made a point of giving me hugs or advice or a 'high fives'.  I have to tell you that those few moments of open honest connection were the highlights of the day.  Once again, I was reminded that we are more alike than we realize because we are so afraid to take off the mask.  The mask that allows us to feel safe, hidden behind an image we hope to project.  An image that will be acceptable.  Approved of.

It's hard to be authentic when you're not sure what authentic really is.  It's hard to be honest when most of the time no one really wants the truth.  We want to do the best we can.  We want that to be enough and we want to know that in our endless struggle for perfection we are not alone.

Think about it.  Pick one person who you imagine has it all.  One person who has achieved perfection.  Got it?  Okay now ... gourmet cook, immaculate home and garden, tireless romantic, beautiful physique, polite, charming, educated, well read.... you get the idea.  Now... is it realistic to think that they never lose their temper?  Never forget to brush their teeth?  Always rinse their coffee cup.  Always smile at strangers and never lose patience with their children or parents or friends.  They never eat onions or garlic or work up a full stinky sweat.  They never drop crumbs on the car seat... heck, they never eat in the car !  They are never late and always wear sunscreen. 

I could go on and on... that is the fantasy world that I have created for myself, and the endless struggle to belong has worn me out.  This morning I was at the lab at 8 for blood work.  There were five of us in the waiting room.  I had on black pants and a black turtle neck and both were covered with cat hair.  I usually carry a lint roller in the car but this morning I forgot.  Reality check... the little old lady snoring beside me didn't care.  The young African American man engrossed in his Blackberry conversation didn't care.  The young woman with the baby unhappily screaming because she didn't want her nose wiped certainly didn't care.  So why was I sitting there fretting over a few cat hairs?  I took a deep breath and happily read an article in More magazine about menopause and mad angry women.

Revelation... I am NOT the center of the Universe.  

What a wonderful marvelous delectable cat hair covered relief !!

January 25

It's incredible how much better I felt yesterday after I took some time to funnel my thoughts onto a page.  Of course, it could also be that every once in a while we need to stay in our well worn, faded pink striped flannel pajamas all day.

Can you guess how many "web results" you find when you type in the word "GUILT"?       Eight million, five hundred and thiry thousand !   The third entry is Wikipedia, defining guilt as " a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation".

The rest of the page delves into the theories of psychiatrists, physicists, theologians and philosophers.  After I got past the definition, the rest was registering as "Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah" and I couldn't help but smile as I thought about Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

This line of thought came from warm water.  I remember thinking, when I met the couple living under the bridge several years ago, about how many creature comforts we take for granted and I was consumed with guilt.   I felt guilty when I let the water run as I brushed my teeth.  I felt guilty when I filled the tub and soaked long enough to need to add more hot.  I felt guilty when I emptied the refrigerator of mystery foods and the vegetable bin of liquid cucumbers and tomatoes.  I felt guilty when I spent money on a diet coke and then didn't have anything but change to give to the young woman who was sleeping under the railroad tracks and had to resort to begging beside the post office for money to buy her medicine.  I feel guilty when I snap at Jules.  I feel guilty when I waste time.  I feel guilty when I don't answer my cell in the car... even though I would feel guilty if I did answer it because I took Oprah's "No Phone Zone" pledge.

I feel guilty when I don't cook.  I feel guilty when I cook and we have leftovers that we don't eat.  I feel guilty if I don't clean house everyday (lots of guilt there !) because now I'm not working.  I feel guilty because I'm not bringing in a paycheck.  I feel guilty when Jules comes home tired from a long day.  I feel guilty when I get a call to sub and have to say "no" because of other commitments.

In other words... I feel guilty all the damn time!   And it is exhausting.

This morning, as I stuck my toes into warm bath water I realized that I could skip that bath and the world would remain unchanged.  People would still be asleep in a tent on the banks of a frigid river.  They would still prefer the freedom of that  lifestyle choice to the restrictions, obligations and consequences of a nine to five job and a warm bath.... at least that is what I learned from my personal encounter with the couple living under the bridge. 

Right before Christmas I was driving to get a hair cut.  It was extremely cold.  I had just enough cash to pay for my haircut, with an adequate Christmas tip, laying on the passenger seat of the car when I pulled up to a stoplight.  There was a man standing there with a sign.  "No Job.  No Money.  No Christmas."  He was wearing a dark navy nylon coat and light weight pants.  The hood of his coat was pulled up over his head but his face was firey red and he was shivering uncontrollably.  He was wearing very thick glasses and as I pulled up beside him, I rolled down the window and handed him my haircut money.  His hands felt like ice and I thought my heart might break for him. 

Baby jill I imagined all kinds of things.  In this economy, he is one among many.  Worried.  Hopeless.  A victim of circumstance or fate or downsizing.  I imagined little children with no food, no presents, no heat.  In my imagination, they were precious big eyed cherubs who wrote letters to Santa wishing only for a job for Dad or a coat for Mom.

I used to believe that anyone pan handling deserved a little help.  I've done some very crazy things in my life trying to ease the guilt I feel for being blessed with everything.  Then one morning I bought breakfast for a man with a sign.  I saw him stash it behind his sign and take a long drink from a large bottle of Colt 45 as I drove away.  I gave a twenty to an older woman with a sign at the entrance to the Mall.  On my way out, she came up to my stopped car and asked for help, of course she didn't remember that I had already 'given' and she yelled, "One day you may have to walk a mile in my shoes and you'll be sorry." 

I guess what I feel in this moment is simple gratitude and I'm hoping that that will replace some of my misguided guilt. Today I'll remember to offer a whisper of gratitude to Heaven for the warmth of my house, water at the turn of a knob, the health of my family, the love of my friends, the food on the shelves and the certainty that we all get the opportunity to be the helper and the helped.

Today, I'll try not to judge the decisions or circumstances of people I don't know and I will make every effort to accept that if I were living in a tent when the temperature is 14 degrees, I might prefer a bottle of Jack Daniels and a pack of Malboros to a Big Mac too.  I'll continue to put food out for the stray cats that terrorize Sammy, but only because no one needs to be both cold and hungry.  When spring comes, though, I'll probably be less compassionate.

Every moment is full to overflowing with random thoughts that are the springboard for every possible emotion.  Guilt holds us prisoner to things past.  Like anger, resentment, disappointment, regret or envy, we are weighted and heavy hearted by dragging the past around with us.  I know the secret is learning to live in this moment.  Feel the joy and gratitude and serenity in this moment.  We are going to have to face's part of being human... but in the moments that offer comfort, I think today, I'll just be happy.

  Me Happy? 

 Yep, going to give it a try.  ( Can you hear Shannon laughing?) I'll let you know how it goes.

January 24

Where have I been for three weeks?  How has so much time passed since my last blog entry?  It's no wonder that I can't think clearly.  Too many words held captive in my head.

Today is Melissa's birthday.   Melissa is part of our family by accident, or perhaps by Divine Plan.   She lives in North Dakota.  She loves her family and her cats and her husband.  She sends Jules little jokes that make him smile.  Almost thirteen years ago, she became one of Shannon's kidney recipients.  We love her and we hope her day is as special as she certainly deserves.

Several days ago, I was getting ready to take a bath.  There is a shelf in the bathroom with about ten books neatly stacked against a basket of white terry hand towels and wash cloths, and an assortment of hair products.  "The Secret", "The Shadow Effect", "The Findhorn Garden", "How to Look Better Naked", "The Gift of An Ordinary Day", just to name a few... and one that has been following me around the house for almost thirteen years - "It's Only Too Late If You Don't Start Now".

On the morning of Shannon's memorial service, we received a package from One Spirit, a book club that I have belonged to, off and on for years.  For some reason the memory remains very clear, and I can still see the way the May sunlight was drifting across the cover of the books as I pulled them from the package.  "The Little Soul and the Sun".  Beautiful illustrations.  A message that became part of Shannon's  eulogy that afternoon.  How could we have ever imagined as we picked that book together, from the monthly suggestions, the incredible purpose it would hold?

The second book was an anomaly.  I didn't recognize the title.  I didn't remember choosing it.  I read the title over and over..."It's only too late if you don't start now".   I believed that it was yet another message of encouragement but it has taken me thirteen years to return to its pages for the inspiration I need.

Back to the bath.  As I was running the steaming water, adding the Twilight Woods bubble bath, perusing the stack of books, "It's only too late" seemed to jump off the shelf.  I held it in my hands and ran my fingers across the white paper jacket.  I knew why I hadn't been able to read it at 43 or 44 or 48... But I wondered if at 56 it might actually be too late. 

Earlier I had sent a card to my niece lamenting the fact that each morning I make a to do list.  Each night I go to bed with most of that list held over to begin the next morning's list.  I flipped "It's only to late" open to a random page and started reading about the ridiculous value we place on lists.  The story emphasized the fact that we spend so much time being disappointed in ourselves for not completing the items on the daily LIST ~ that we miss the joys of living altogether.... and... never ever finish the lists anyway.  The author tells of a young man who made himself a list each day... it consisted of getting up, visiting his friend and drinking a glass of wine.  Simple. Friend? Check !  Wine?  Check! Simple, complete, no guilt, no chastisement.

 Of course there was more to the chapter but you get the idea.  Once again, a message... a gentle whisper of encouragement, or perhaps a gentler reprimand for once again forgetting what's really important.

When I placed the book back on the shelf I saw for perhaps the first time the title of this author's earlier best seller..."I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How To Discover What You Really Want and How To Get It."  It suddenly occurred to me that that is the question.  So, of course you all know what happened next... I ordered that book.  I've started reading and it will be the one beside the bathtub for the next few weeks.  It seems empowering to think that maybe it's not that I'm broken or scattered or lack talent or drive or focus... maybe I just don't know what I want to do and so I keep swimming in circles watching for a flare on the horizon.

Each new year begins full of hope and promise.  Usually by February I've forgotten what my resolutions were and if I remember I'm filled with self loathing and disappointment.  This year, realizing that flexibility may be the key to serenity, I forgot any resolutions on January 2.  It's been a much less stressful month.

Jules got a new computer so we had the arduous task of shifting.  I got his old one and we moved mine into Shannon's room.  Her little computer, with Windows 95, and an HP Printer and Scanner  that will no longer work with XP or 7 are sitting on the floor beside her bed.  I'll find a place to tuck them away.  I'm not quite ready to part with them, and besides I'm not sure there is a place for them in 2011.  Everything is faster and slimmer and quieter these days.

We also sold our NANNER van.  It moved Shannon back and forth to Mary Washington four times.  It took our entire family to Louisianna in July after Shannon's accident, and only Emmy had to sit on the floor.  It has hauled lumber and sofas and appliances.  There were Winnie the Pooh decals on the side windows and "We Lovingly Remember Shannon" on the back.  Another little family will use it for as long it keeps rolling along and I know they will make as many happy memories as we have.

Gav's cake 

Gavin turned one.  He is precious and a gift to all of us.  I gave him a Cabbage Patch doll. His nam is Dustin Gabriel and he was also born on January 22 !  I know, boys don't play with dolls, but he was too cute to leave in a store.  We also got him a copy of Pete the Cat and you should do yourself a favor and meet Pete, and the two little girls who will introduce him !


So I'm back where I started, with Happy Birthday Wishes, and appreciation for all of you who came to the planet in January and continue to make it a brighter happier place.

(P.S.  Even without a list... it's appears it's been a very productive month:)

January 1, 2011

Even though it's a new day, in a new year, with infinite possibilities, I found myself settling into gray like an overstuffed chair.  Wanting to eat healthy without forfeiting the benefits of black eyed peas on New Year's, I opted for a crock pot soup.  Last night I put the dried black eyed peas along with a bag of 15 bean mix in a two quart saucepan and covered them with water.  Guess what happens when the beans start to absorb the water and expand...WAY MORE than two quarts of beans.

I browned some turkey sausage and onion and added that to the multi bean mix until the crock pot "runneth over" and the leftover beans are now mellowing out in the compost just gathering steam, dreaming of spring and Jack and climbing into the clouds looking for the golden goose.

At noon I was right there waiting to celebrate the beginning of Oprah's next chapter. OWN.  For those of you who know me, you know that I have always been an Oprah fan.  We are the same age and have been on all the same diets, with similar success, she has Gayle, I have Shannon (not exactly the same but close enough), okay so Oprah has dogs and I have cats but we both have had a Sophie and I named two of our kittens Oprah and Gayle.

I couldn't help thinking back to all the wonderful discussions Shannon and I had in the afternoons following Oprah.  On one such afternoon in August of 1997, after hearing Oprah talk about the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal, Shannon and I were off to Waldenbooks to get our copies.  My sweet daughter grumbled all the way, "Just one more thing we HAVE to do because Miss Oprah says so."  If there was a punctuation mark to indicate sarcasm, it would go here !! 

I wrote in mine faithfully for about two weeks... Shannon never missed a day in nine months... and it is because of those words, hastily scribbled at bedtime, never intended for another's eyes, that I survived, unable to hear her voice or look into her eyes.

In the spring of 2000, Oprah shared Shannon's story in a "Remembering Her Spirit" segment.  A sensitive young producer came to Fredericksburg, arranged for a camera crew and interviews and although she wasn't ready to embrace a discussion about death and organ donation, she was kind and efficient and did an excellent job.  I saw this week that Andrea Wishom is now one of Oprah's senior producers and has been on the job for seventeen years.

That three minute and twenty two second segment was just the beginning of what I believe Shannon put in motion for us.  Several days after the segment aired, we received a call asking if we had a web site.  Apparently there had been so many e mails and phone calls requesting information about the bookmarks that they were overwhelmed.  Again, an Angel, the earthly kind, stepped in to help.  Julane Grant, ( another Angel's Mom came to our rescue.  Within days we started receiving requests for bookmarks.  Thousands of requests.  We spent the entire spring, summer and fall, printing, cutting, laminating, sorting and mailing bookmarks around the world.  Everyone in the family was put to work that summer and every request was met.  That was almost eleven years ago and we have gifted over two hundred thousand bookmarks, and made friends that we will cherish forever.

As I see these words appear on the screen in front of me, I am struck by how challenging it is to convert feelings into symbols that run across a page and always fall short.  Shannon never worried about that, she just wrote what she felt and what made her happy and content and look at the impact she has had, not just on us but on people she never had the chance to meet.

Jules and I tried to copy the Oprah segment from a VHS tape onto a DVD today so that we could share it.  Just shy of tossing the electronic device out of the window, I decided to use my camera to simply record the t.v. screen.  I know, the quality is dreadful but the message is clear, and I'll keep trying....I just wanted to make those three minutes part of the first page of my next chapter, as Oprah launches hers.  Funny thing, as with so much of this life, with Angel influence - we were watching Oprah on her new network, talking to Sydney Poitier, then we started the video of the show from eleven years ago and there she was talking with Sydney Poitier, just one of those synchronicities that always makes us smile and feel like we're on track.

I'm relatively certain that there are certain copyright considerations, and maybe we aren't supposed to "YouTube" a segment from someone's show, but I think Oprah will understand.  We've both come such a long way together !

Our little helper, in the Oprah clip, John, is grown now with a baby of his own.  Just one of the many miracles that have blessed us this year.



Each morning I come downstairs, start the coffee, feed the kitties and light a candle in the living room.  I'd like to have a fireplace but the candle seems to suffice.  This morning I was thinking about that one flickering flame.  It's not dancing on a neat stack of cedar logs.  It's not meant to warm the house.  It doesn't require kindling or crumpled paper to come to life.  One two inch wick, some wax and a wooden match and there it is.  I'm sure that little flame isn't worried about how much light it puts out.  It's not fretting about its inadequacies or wistfully staring at the smoke wafting from the chimney across the street.  It just flickers happily, one little light, from one little flame, and it transforms the room.

"Thank you for candle light.  Thank you for Oprah.  Thank you for bean soup.  Thank you for gentle rain and a January 1 in the fifties.  Thank you for over the counter glasses that make life easier on 'maturing' eyes."        JJB       1-1-2011



December 31 And so we Begin Again

"Thank you for my "last supper".  Thank you for the moon and sky.  Thank you for clear pictures.  Thank you for Biore Strips.  Thank you for a happy and blessed year."    SAB      12-31-1997

"It's the last day of 1997 and I'm writing this before I do my thank you's for the day.  Our family is going to be fine.  Everyone had a very wonderful Christmas and I think Mom had a nice birthday.  I still have seven months to write in this journal; I don't really feel like it has changed me, but maybe that's because it's happening gradually, on a deeper level.  The only major change in my Life is that I graduated from college and there are no more school days ahead of me.  I still don't know what I'm going to do with regards to a job, but I'm honestly not worried about it.  My one New Year's resolution:  to get my diabetes and health under good control.  

I'm thankful that there are so many things to be Baby shannon thankful for."      Shannon       12-31-1997

Once again, I am in awe of her.  I know, I'm a little biased but sometimes it's hard to wrap my brain around all of the wonder that filled, and continues to fill my life because of her.

When Shannon was senior in high school, families of graduates were given the opportunity to place 'personal ads' with messages to them.

This is the photo I chose with a message from a Suzy Boguss song, "...Letting go.  There's nothing in her way now.  Letting go.  There's room enough to fly.  Even though she's spent her whole life waiting.  It's never easy letting go."               We love you Nan,    Mom and Dad


All I knew in that moment was that our lives were changing.  Shannon was going off to college, she had a whole new world to explore and find her place in.  I worried, I fussed, I encouraged and I tried my darnedest to "let go", still trying.  Not in the way that priests and preachers, family and friends, counsellors and mediums might suggest... but in a way that opens the doors in my life, in my heart just a wee bit wider. 

Letting go doesn't mean severing the connection, anymore than cutting the cord at birth severs the connection between mother and child... but it allows for the two to live and grow and thrive as individuals who love unconditionally and beyond understanding.  I am so grateful to have shared those moments with Shannon.  I look forward to the moments we will continue to share.  I imagine that she is quite busy doing those things they do in "Heaven".  I imagine that she is watching and I regret the times that I've probably disappointed her, but I know she understands.

I wanted to dedicate this year to her.  I wanted to write about the ways we found our way through the darkness.  I wanted to remember and record every detail so that I could release the fear of forgetting.  In some ways, I did just that, in others I failed miserably.  So, I'll keep trying in a slightly different way.  No, I'm not sure what that will be yet, but I'm certain I won't be alone in the endeavor, and I'll take it one small step at a time.

This past year I have walked through the last nine months of Shannon's life with you, one thank Shannon you at a time.  It has broken my heart into a million pieces all over again, but in a way that has allowed me to put it all back together anew, in a way that I'm hoping will allow more light in .... and out.

I've tracked my muddy shoes down your hallways, I've exposed the desperate ache of loss, I've whined and complained and then, unexpectedly, realized that there are joys I've been missing and messages from Shannon that I couldn't hear.  I realized that in being willing to let you in, you lifted me and more times than I can say, you delivered those unheard messages from my Angel.   I can never thank you enough.

I'm always a little melancholy closing the door on another year.  I wonder what waits in the year ahead.  I pray for calm, for joy, for understanding, for compassion and wisdom, in a world that is truly gentler and more focused on what is good and less on what isn't.

I had my "last supper" tonight too.  I wish I had been more creative.  Cheese and crackers... I would have preferred pizza with mushrooms and banana peppers.  I am also resolving to focus on health and relinquish worry with regards to a job, or in my case, a purpose.

As 2010 unfolds and 2011 stretches for the first time, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there.  Your e mail and comments and shared stories have carried me forward when I lost my oars and kept me company on the days that we were able to simply float along.

I wish only the very best for each of you in the year to come.  May you find your own special blessings in each and every moment and never miss the whispers of  your Angels.

"Thank you for family.  Thank you for friends.  Thank you for Facebook, and email and connections that defy time and distance.  Thank you for memories made, and those waiting to be made.  Thank you for a happy and blessed year."        JJB       12-31-2011