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Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?

By Elizabeth Powers

In a world where screens rule our daily lives, I try very hard to make sure my one year old daughter does not get too much time with technology. I keep phones and tablets away and generally try to keep the TV turned off. But on those occasions where turning on the television is a necessity, Sesame Street is my go to. Having grown up with the loveable and learning oriented puppets myself, I feel more inclined to let my daughter watch them sing about the ABC’s then to allow her to view other cartoons or children’s shows that are less educational.

While my daughter does like some less traditional favorites (I’ve never seen a child get so excited about Count von Count in my life) her absolute favorite, like so many toddlers before her, is Elmo.

But if you haven’t watched Sesame Street in awhile, you may have forgotten that the show does more than teach ABC’s and 123’s. Having now watched more episodes than I care to admit, I’ve been reminded over and over again that this show is not only educational in an academic way, but in a moral way as well. Often, as I’ve watched Elmo and the other characters grapple with learning important lessons, I’ve thought of the sisters. The Sisters of St. Joseph live and work that all people may be united with God and with one another. And what does Sesame Street preach if not the importance of caring for and being united with our neighbors, friends, and even those we don’t see eye to eye with. So, here are three lessons that Sesame Street teaches that remind me of the sisters.

1. Be Kind to Everyone.

Kindness reigns on Sesame Street. No matter who you are or what you look like, you are treated with kindness. And, if you’re not, others will jump to your aide and explain why kindness is important for everyone. The people (and monsters) bring kindness to everyone, even the most vulnerable among us. In an episode I recently saw, Slimey, the pet worm of Oscar the Grouch, is being bullied by the Big Bad Wolf.

Once they know what is happening, all the other characters stand up for Slimey, not only to stop the bullying, but to teach the Big Bad Wolf why what he is doing is wrong. While the wolf may enjoy “huffing and puffing,” the poor worm does not enjoy being blown to the other side of Sesame Street. And isn’t this the sort of kindness that we wish to see in the world? The kind where we all band together, not only to help those in need, but to right the wrongs in our society through kindness?

2. We Are All the Same

Diversity is also an important concept that stays at the forefront of Sesame Street. The storylines often share the importance of different cultures and traditions and help talk through difficult topics that may come up as a result. For example, in one episode, two girl puppets of different ethnicities worry that they won’t be able to do a dance routine together because they are unable to style their hair the same way. In another, a woman from India teaches about a holiday that she enjoyed with her family growing up and the culture that she misses. Whether the problems faced in an episode are big or small, they are all met with caring by everyone. No one is made to feel less than because they look different from someone else or come from a different place.

3. Love One Another

My daughter’s favorite, Elmo holds one of the most important lessons of all. In every episode of Sesame Street, we are treated to a segment of “Elmo’s World,” a world where Elmo explains a word or concept he’s thinking about and then learns more about it. Each of these segments ends with a simple “Elmo loves you!” Because no matter who you are, you are worthy of love and friendship.

So how do we get to Sesame Street? How do we get to a world where kindness, diversity, and love are some of the most important issues of the day? In our day to day lives, it may be easy to forget the importance of these simple lessons. But if we each do our best to keep them at the forefront of our minds, perhaps we can help bring sunny days to our world.

About the Author

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Elizabeth Powers is the Electronic Communications Manager for the Congregation of St. Joseph and manages the blog, Beyond the Habit. She sometimes acts as a contributing writer. She loves reading, writing, Harry Potter, and PBS. She is a new mom, and working to figure it out!

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The Gift of Winter

By Sister Marcella Clancy

The singer and song writer, Sara Thomsen, in speaking of her Winter Wanderings Tour talks about how the season of winter calls her to a “crawling inward”. She asserts that the hushed silence of winter inevitably draws her inward. Winter calls us to introspection in way perhaps the other seasons do not. There is the lovely promise of spring calling us to witness its soft blooming. There is the sunny allure of summer beckoning us to play outside. There is the exquisite beauty of autumn with its delicious fruitfulness delighting all our senses. Winter calls us to be more courageous of heart, to brave the chilling cold, the long hours of darkness, the stilling of the world wrapped in waiting. Winter calls us to contemplation.

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There is a tree that has befriended me outside my window in the courtyard. In the summer it looks like it has decked itself out and is ready to go to a ball. Now it seems dead. Its lovely curved branches all bare but for a soft layer of snow resting peacefully on them. I know under the blanket of snow the tree is still vibrant and that flowers lie sleeping. Even the birds chirping noisily who visit my balcony every morning in spring are now nowhere to be seen or heard. Rain makes distinctive pattering sounds as it falls. Snow is hushed and silent, soundlessly heaping up soft mounds on the ground.

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For the most part life is hidden, resting, sleeping in the winter. Winter calls us to consider what is hibernating within us, what new life is geminating waiting to burst forth in the spring. There is a natural quieting in winter. We shutter tight our windows and close our shades much earlier. Outside noises are dulled or eliminated. We cuddle into sweaters and huddle under blankets. Perhaps we also need to nestle into the inner chambers of our heart. Perhaps we are called to warm ourselves by that inner fire that burns slowly within.

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It is a challenge in our culture to listen to the quiet. It is so much easier to turn on the TV, the CD, and the smart phone that provides music, news, and distraction, literally at our fingertips. There is a certain discipline we require that other ages and cultures did not. We are very busy people. There is always another task to be done, another project to accomplish, something new to hear or report. Yet each season calls us to notice the changing season in our inmost being.

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I always tend to be a little cold. A friend once told me he thought God would send me to purgatory just for a while to warm me up a bit. So it has not always been easy for me to make winter a friend. Yet I have come to recognize winter brings its own unique blessings and inviting beauty. Earth rests in winter. Perhaps we are invited to find times and places to give ourselves more rest. This does not necessarily mean more sleep but a rather a fruitful rest that allows for creativity and generativity to emerge.

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Life is present but more hidden in winter. Perhaps we are encouraged to spend less time in the world without and more time in that hidden inner life within. Silence is louder in winter. Perhaps we are moved into more extended moments of silence, to listen more deeply to the quiet longings, urgings, and deep desires of our own heart. We wait in winter. We expectantly wait for the first warming and buds of spring. Yet there is something sacred about waiting. Waiting prepares us, helps us get ready, arouses expectations, develops anticipation, creates an eagerness for a promise we cannot yet see. What might winter be inviting us to wait for?

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A recent Gallup Poll found that 36% of Americans named spring as their favorite season of the year while 27% preferred fall, 25% summer, while only 11% identified winter as the season they liked most. Obviously we might have to reconsider what it is about winter that we are missing.

Gifts of the Winter Season: quiet restfulness, peaceful silence, comforting darkness, warmth against the chill, artistic layers of soft snow, the hidden life within, sacred waiting – which gift of the Winter Season beckons to your heart? What gift of winter longs to nourish you?

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About the Author

Marcella Clancy.LoResSister Marcella Clancy, CSJ, has degrees in nursing and theology. In the past she ministered in hospitals, taught nursing and theology at the college level and served in parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Currently, Sister Marcella ministers as a spiritual director, facilitates retreats and offers presentations through Transformation Spirituality Center at our Nazareth Center in Kalamazoo.

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The After Holiday Blues

By Sister Sallie Latkovich

The “after holiday blues” is what many of us experience after the hustle and bustle of the holidays: the various celebrations with family and friends, time off of work, and the fun of it all. There is a time of withdrawal from all of that, as we resume something of a normal life and schedule. That transition may be accompanied by feelings of some sadness—the after holiday blues.

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What can we do to beat the blues?  I’d suggest following all of the good advice we hear on ever so many TV Commercials, promoting physical health. These same suggestions can promote inner and spiritual health as well.

 

EAT RIGHT

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What nourishes your soul?  What might you be allergic to, that makes you “soul sick?”

My soul is nourished by good conversations with friends—not just a quick “Hi, how are you?” but a real sharing of hearts. I am also nourished by a good concert of an orchestra or a singer I enjoy.  Then there are good movies. All of these “nourishers” are food for the soul, taken to heart. It is so important to eat good, nourishing food for the body; and it is equally important that our souls are well nourished.

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Just as some of us have food allergies, there might be activities that make us “soul sick.”  I find I am allergic to negativity and complaining, to violence that is provided for entertainment. Sometimes, the evening news is “soul-sickening.” Trying to avoid these activities can help keep my soul nourished.

 

EXERCISE

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What stretches your soul, and builds “spiritual muscle?”

Often, my soul is stretched by reading books and articles that are outside of my penchant for theology and spirituality. Thus, biographies of people who have accomplished great things, reflections on historical events, and accounts of organizations that serve various groups of people in need.

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A few of Sister Sallie’s recent soul-stretching reads

Even moreso, my soul is stretched by conversation, even with people with whom I do not agree. Sometimes the conclusion of those conversations is simply to agree to disagree.

 

REST

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What is truly restful for your soul?

Here we might hear the words of Jesus in the Gospel saying “Come to me all of you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” It is interesting to me that Jesus did not say: I’ll do your work, I’ll pay your bills, I’ll step in for you. His best promise is simply rest.

Perhaps that rest comes in “peace and quiet.”  And, in that peace and quiet, we might be given to prayer—to remembering the presence of God in our lives. A gentle walk in a place of beauty is very restful.

I recently discovered that holding a baby who is sleeping is equally restful for the one holding the baby.

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So, if you find yourself experiencing the after holiday blues, I hope that these simple suggestions will be a way for you to restore hope and goodness as we await the new life of springtime.

About the Author

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After nine years at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Sister Sallie Latkovich was elected to and currently serves on the Leadership Team of the Congregation of St. Joseph.

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Living With Intention in 2020

By Sister Judith Minear

I was a scrupulous little kid. Nothing pleased me more than a meticulously scheduled day. I fell in love with making lists in grade school, and soon became a big fan of the joy one feels when crossing off a list item. DONE! I became so enamored of that delicious sensation that if I did anything not on my list, I quickly added it just so I could cross it off. I was officially an organization geek by age 10!

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My very favorite moments in life have always been beginnings. Fresh starts, whether it be a new school year, a new journal, or turning a new age on a birthday. And the best beginning of them all? NEW YEAR’S DAY! I delighted in plotting and planning for perfection every time the calendar turned from December to January. THIS would be the year in which I would keep every resolution, crossing off every hope and accomplishment I had carefully mapped out, complete with timeline.

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Things never worked out as I planned, of course. What was I doing wrong?

I continued to maneuver my New Year’s resolutions. I calculated time available versus resolution and motivation. I streamlined. Still, I seldom made it past February before my resolve failed.

A number of years ago, I began attending A New Year’s Yoga retreat offered by Carol Williams, an amazing yoga instructor (and Congregation of St. Joseph Associate) at Rivers Edge. At her retreats, Carol offers a new way of thinking about how to welcome the new year.

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Carol Williams

Resolutions, she points out, are firm decisions to do or not do something. They are predetermined, close-fisted decisions that you either DO (win) or you DON’T (lose).

Intentions, on the other hand, are things intended; an aim, or a plan. They are open-handed. They might shift and change. They are lived out differently on a day to day basis. They do not have one right answer. Why not set intentions?

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Since that first retreat, I have relished not just setting New Year’s intentions, but living with intention. And for me, as a Sister of St. Joseph, this means living intentionally in ways that help me to better live our mission and charism of unity and oneness in my relationships. Intentional living helps me to remember that I am a human being, not a human doing. Embracing intentional living helps me to remember who I am and who I want to be in this world…and then act accordingly. The best part? When I fail to live with intention (and I do, too frequently), I don’t chastise myself (much) or give up. I simply set a new intention.

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Of course, I still make my “things to do” lists, and relish crossing off my accomplishments. We all have tasks and projects we need to undertake. But the broad strokes of my daily actions and relationships are driven by dipping into the intentions that focus how I live the mission. And this makes me a much better Sister of St. Joseph as well as a better human.

My intentions for 2020 include the following:

  • My consideration of consumerism calls me to rethink (if I really need to purchase), reduce, reuse, repair, replenish, reconnect, and, as a last resort, recycle.
  • The quality of my presence makes a difference in every kind of relationship I encounter. Notice and be present.
  • The mission can be and is accomplished every ordinary moment of every ordinary day. It starts with the dear neighbor right next to me. Be awake.

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What are your 2020 intentions?

About the Author

16-judyminear-copySister Judith Minear currently serves as part of a 3-member team for CSJ Ministries as Coordinator for Mission Integration. CSJ Ministries is the umbrella organization that works with ministries that are members of our Mission Network. In her free time, she loves drawing zentangles, stalking birds and savoring poetry.

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Still Time

By Sister Christine Parks

Already we are midway through another Advent, and I find myself at this same point, of wondering where the days have gone so quickly, every year. There’s an old saying that ‘time flies when you’re having fun’. Well I have to take issue with the dubious truism of this. At this point in my life (further past the midpoint than I like to think about) it seems that time flies  whether one is having fun or not—Advent being my case in point at the moment.

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It is my favorite of the liturgical seasons (although if the “season of creation” ever takes off as a truly recognized annual liturgical season, as Pope Francis and many of us hope, I will have two favorites) but back to Advent, this season of expectant waiting and preparation for Christ’s coming, that I would like to have linger a bit.

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Now I know most of us experience Advent as the time of waiting and preparing for Christmas with its celebration of the birth of Jesus. And, perhaps like you, I do enjoy all the festive decorating—beginning with the Advent wreath and its four candles, then on to the Christmas tree (and for me that means a real tree, which is more environmentally sustainable), ornaments, lights, garlands, and of course the crèche—usually with the manger empty until Christmas Eve. I also have to confess I enjoy the presents—both receiving and giving them.

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However the real coming I await each year is the coming of the risen Christ, not the baby Jesus. Every year I promise myself to slow down, breathe more deeply and contemplatively, appreciate the growing time of dark. My longing is to be more open to the inspiring readings of scripture—how Isaiah describes the wonder of this God who loves us so completely and intimately—to listen for how they will speak to my heart, and for where I am being called to follow. And each year I reach this mid-point and realize I’ve drifted through the first two weeks, consumed by the usual accumulation of daily “stuff” that can drown out the whisper of the Holy voice. And this being the year before another national election, those voices are becoming even louder and more strident than the usual pervasive and ubiquitous Christmas buying hype.

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But the hopeful thing about a midpoint is that there’s still time, still half the time left, to reclaim the advent journey. So today I’ll put up the crèche, brew a cup of tea, sit wrapped in an afghan in front of the window, watch the snow and look for the tracks of the One whose coming has been foretold, ready to follow……Why don’t you join me? There’s enough tea for two and waiting is always more sustainable with a companion. Let’s wait quietly together for the One who has already come.

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About the Author

Christine Parks

Sister Christine Parks formerly served as a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Leadership Team. She currently serves as a Spiritual Director, and occasional program presenter, with Transformations Spirituality Center in Kalamazoo. Her leisure activities include gardening, long walks in nature, reading, writing, attending plays and concerts, as well as museums.

 

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An Amazon Advent

By Sister Jean McGrath

It is time for a true confession.

Having been in education for my entire professional career, I confess I tried hard to remind myself and the students with whom I worked that one should never rush Christmas. Instead, one should enjoy the beautiful austerity of Advent with its dark winter nights and beautiful Old Testament readings.

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I tried but I often failed.

When the infamous Elf on the Shelf is omnipresent in every classroom and the car radio has been playing Christmas music since the Monday BEFORE Thanksgiving, it is difficult not to think about Christmas shopping, decorating, and long lines at Target. I confess, I secretly enjoyed the contagious though commercial anticipation of Christmas. Now, having been barraged by Black Friday deals that began three weeks ago, I have had a revelation, Advent and Amazon do have some things in common.

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My new theory: Amazon does know something about anticipation (especially if you are a PRIME member). Like the prophets of old, Amazon has been telling us for months about great things to come. Amazon invites me to check the daily deal, not unlike the prophets remind me to be vigilant and watchful. Amazon sends tracking reminders so that I know something very special is on the way. The daily Advent readings remind me to “prepare the way” and track the wonder and mystery of Advent anticipation.

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Yes, this new way of thinking may be a dramatic stretch of the imagination and poor theology, but, so often our busy lives compartmentalize the season and I fear, make us a bit guilty. I want my heart to be still and peace-filled, but when will I shop for the ones I love? I want to experience the stillness of the Advent season, but waiting to put up the tree until Christmas Eve is impossible. I should be thinking about “the reason for the season” but I am also thinking about the ingredients needed for the Christmas cookies I love to bake.

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Before you judge me too harshly, please realize I do know that Amazon has been criticized for various reasons. However, let’s give the Amazon elves a break this season. They are people, like you and me, doing the best they can this holiday. Maybe a simple thank you to the weary driver or the offer of a thermos of coffee and a Christmas cookie would be a grateful Advent gesture worth thinking about.

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The Black Friday sales have filled my inbox and I admit to scrolling a few retail sites for a unique gift for the special people in my life. But I am also watching and waiting on this cold winter night grateful for the persons, opportunities and grace filled days that mark this special season of the year. I am also waiting for the blue Amazon truck to arrive as promised.

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I think there is room in my heart for both this season.

About the Author

JeanMcGrathAfter years as a Catholic School Principal, Sister Jean McGrath is looking forward to volunteer service now that she has retired. She loves a good book, a good conversation and a good bargain!

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Ten Tips for Pray-ers

By Sister Jeanne Cmolik

You should pray always. To help you get the hang of it, here are my 10 tips for pray-ers!

  1. Keep it simple

You don’t have to be good at it, just do it! Start now and for five minutes, turn to God in your heart. Author Anne Lamott says the three essential prayers are “Help, Thanks, and Wow.”

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  1. Use your own words

You don’t talk with a friend using words from a book, do you? Put aside the prayers written by someone else—beautiful as they may be—and speak from your heart. God wants to hear your voice!

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  1. You don’t always have to use words

Sometimes the most precious time with a friend is sitting together in silence, looking at the autumn leaves or at a sunset. You’re enjoying a deep connection; you’re just not using words. Sit with God like that. You can go to a beautiful place, but you don’t have to. Just be with God.

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  1. Stay with it

So you’re tired; you’re not in the mood to pray. You have a thousand things to do. If this is important to you, make time to do it, even if you just sit and wait for God to show up.

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  1. Put your heart in it

Tell God why you have come. Tell your Friend that more than anything you want to be there, fully present, growing in love.

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  1. Be honest

It’s okay to tell God you’re having a bad day (God knows it without you saying so, anyway.) Tell God what’s going on, and what you would like to change. Ask for help.

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  1. Sing, dance, or walk your prayer

God doesn’t mind if you fall asleep while you’re praying. (I call it “resting in the Lord.”) I think God actually enjoys seeing us dozing peacefully in our prayer like little children, but if you’d like to rouse yourself and be more active in your prayer, sing a favorite song or hymn to God; use your body and do a dance for God; take a walk in God’s creation, aware of the holy presence.

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  1. Say “thank you” before you say “please”

I think it’s a good strategy to thank God for gifts you’ve already been given before you ask for more. Begin your prayer with a list of daily blessings. (It puts God in a good mood.) If you really get into this, you may even forget what you were going to ask for, or decide you don’t really need it.

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  1. Remember, God wants this relationship even more than you do.

Spiritual writer Joan Chittister reminds us “the God we are seeking is also seeking us.” I find this comforting, because for me it means even if I get tired of trying to find God, God never gives up finding me.

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  1. Don’t waste time and energy evaluating the quality of your prayer.

That’s God’s business, and God doesn’t do report cards. God’s just so happy when you take the time to deepen your friendship!

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Bonus Tip: Expect God to show up!

God always shows up—we just don’t know where or when.  Believe this. Watch for it.

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About the Author

Cmolik.Jeanne.webSister Jeanne Cmolik, CSJ, has served in various leadership positions including being a member of the Congregation Leadership Team from 2008-2013. She has also ministered in elementary schools, high schools, and parishes in the Cleveland area, and served in vocations working with new members. She enjoys reading, travel, music and writing blog posts!