Visit to New Zealand, part 2

A couple of days after we arrived, we headed out of town to Mt Hutt in the Southern Alps for a Hoyt reunion. I think it had been the first time in almost 6 years that everyone were together again — Mum & Dad, all 8 siblings, plus spouses and kids — and it was fantastic.

Because it was cold and rainy most of the time (there were about 2 nice warm days, though), a lot more time was spent indoors than was anticipated, so even though it got a little noisy at times, it was nice to get time to talk, play board games and drink copious cups of tea.

Here’s a little photographic sampling of our time together.

The drive there and back was beautiful. Some photos have a bit of window glare, sorry!

 

Inside, we had gift givings (Secret Santa for the kids; white elephant for the adults), games, naps in front of the fireplace, food preparation, a talent show, a programming competition between Ben, Bryan, Berwyn and Ed, ASL classes by Lillian, some really good devotions from Berwyn, and of course it wouldn’t be a Hoyt reunion without some very long theological debates on some minute point!

And all sorts of fun was had outside when the weather was nice: littlies on the playground, team building games, archery, an epic water slide, water balloon fights (and other fun stuff like swimming in the river, and abseiling that I didn’t get photos of).

Christmas photos will be in Part 3, next week!

Visit to New Zealand, part 1

How do you describe a place? I can tell you about beautiful green rolling hills, changeable weather, children walking barefoot down the road without anyone scowling at them. I can tell you about the lilt of an accent, of driving on the left side of the road, of great coffee — both instant and barista made. I can tell you of the joy of the familiar, of being able to drive without a GPS because I’ve driven on these roads since I legally could, of going up the hill and looking out over the city. I could mention the high cost of living, the ridiculous house prices, the economy, yet the great quality of life. But I can’t capture the essence of the place, its personality, in words. And even then, maybe it’s relative.

I’ve lived in a few places in my life, never in one place for very long. When people talk about their “family farm” or “family house” that has been in the family for generations, I can’t quite relate. There’s a sense in which I’m envious and a sense in which I’m just confused that anyone can stay in one place so long. Out of my short 30 years, I have lived in 5 different countries, 10 different cities, 16 different houses (20 if you count the temporary ones too). Out of those, Christchurch has been the city I’ve lived in the most, on and off, which is probably why it’s the place I’d most likely call home. (That opens a whole other discussion: what/where is home?) But even then, it only really feels like home because we have so much family there. Parents, brothers and sisters-in-law, and a troop of nieces and nephews. It was for them, so much more than the place, that we headed back to Christchurch for Christmas — Ben for 2 weeks, the girls and I for 5 — and it was marvelous.

I’ll share some more photos next week, but for now here’s a taste.

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To those of you who hosted us to stay (thanks, Pappa & Mamma!) or for meals and coffee and playdates; thank you. We miss you big time.

Pie Day

Back in mid-November I had a few girls from church over at our house for a pie making day. We worked hard, had lots of fun and got to enjoy some pretty yummy pies.

For those of you who might be interested, here are the recipes of what we made. Some of the pies were just assembled on the day, and even as it was I attempted to do too much! It was still fun, though. :-)

Oh, and here’s a little confession: even though some of these recipes have directions for the pastry, I have yet to make a pastry that rivals store-bought pastry. Maybe I need more practice, but until then it’s store-bought all the way!

Spinach and Cheese Pastries
(makes 16 triangle pastries)
Ingredients
2 packages flaky pastry
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 package frozen chopped spinach (about 1 lb)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 package of cream cheese
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup of milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
Method
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Sautée the onion until it starts to brown, then add the garlic and fry for a minute or so before adding the spinach. Cook until heated through, then add cream cheese. When the cream cheese has melted and been incorporated, sprinkle over the flour, and stir it in until well mixed. Fry for a minute or so, then add the milk and cook until thickened. Season with salt and pepper, and take off heat and stir in the cheddar cheese.
While the mixture cools, lay out the sheets of pastry and cut each sheet into 4 squares. Place spinach mixture on a triangle half of the square, making sure to leave about an half inch margin on the edges. Fold the pastry over and seal the edges with your fingers and then press down with a fork. Stab each pastry lightly about 3 times with the fork (this helps the steam escape as it is cooking).
In a small bowl, whisk an egg and use a pastry brush to brush egg over the pastries. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Steak and Cheese Pie
Pastry
Ingredients
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, fridge cold
½ cup fridge cold water
Method
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Roughly break the butter in small chunks, add them to the bowl and rub them in loosely. (Or use food processor with blades) You need to see bits of butter.
Make a well in the bowl and pour in about two-thirds of the cold water, mixing until you have a firm rough dough adding extra water if needed. Cover with cling film and leave to rest for 20 mins in the fridge.
Turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead gently and form into a smooth rectangle. Roll the dough in one direction only, until 3 times the width, about 20 x 50cm. Keep edges straight and even. Don’t overwork the butter streaks; you should have a marbled effect.
Fold the top third down to the center, then the bottom third up and over that. Give the dough a quarter turn (to the left or right) and roll out again to three times the length. Fold as before, cover with cling film and chill for at least 20 mins before rolling to use.

Pie filling
Ingredients
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
½ pound bacon, chopped
2 lbs stew beef (like chuck roast), cut into 1 inch cubes.
Salt and pepper
2 T dried parsley, or 1 T fresh parsley
1 ½ c wine (preferably red, but white works too)
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 T corn starch
¼ c cold water
6 oz cheddar cheese, cubed

Method
Preheat oven to 275 °F. In a Dutch oven, fry one large onion with bacon and garlic until browned. Add beef cubes and brown the meat. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper, parsley and cook for about 5 minutes, then add the wine. Place the Dutch oven into the oven and cook for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender.
Place on the stove on low heat. Mix corn starch with cold water until no lumps remain, then stir into the stew mixture and cook for a few minutes until thickened. Take off the burner and let cool.
Prepare the pastry in the pie dish (you can do a bottom layer as well as a top layer, or only a top – whatever you prefer), spoon in the filling (you might have some left over), and dot with the cheese. Put the pastry lid on and seal. Place the pastry over the top of the pie dish and criss-cross it lightly with a sharp knife. Brush the top with beaten egg, then bake the pie directly on the bottom of the oven for 45 minutes, until the pastry is cooked, puffed and golden.

Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 t salt
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
About 1 cup milk
1 t garlic salt
1 T oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1-2 cups vegetables—diced celery, carrots, corn, peas
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper
1 t ground coriander
1 T dried parsley

Method
Place the peeled and quartered potatoes in medium sized pot. Cover with at least an inch of cold water. Add a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender (about 20 minutes.
While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook until tender, about 6 to 10 minutes. If you are including vegetables, add them according to their cooking time. Carrots and celery should be cooked with the onions, because they take as long to cook as the onions do. If you are including peas or corn, add them toward the end of the cooking of the onions, or after the meat starts to cook, as they take very little cooking time.
Add ground beef to the pan with the onions and vegetables. Cook until no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper. Add the Worcestershire sauce and tomatoes. Bring the broth to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. When the potatoes are done cooking (a fork can easily pierce), remove them from the pot and place them in a bowl with 4 Tbsp of butter and milk. Mash with a potato masher, and season with garlic salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread the beef, onions, and vegetables (if using) in an even layer in a large baking dish (9×13 casserole). Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the ground beef. Rough up the surface of the mashed potatoes with a fork so there are peaks that will get well browned. You can even use a fork to make creative designs in the mashed potatoes.
Place in a 400°F oven and cook until browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes. If necessary, broil for the last few minutes to help the surface of the mashed potatoes brown.

Apple Pie

Ingredients
Dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
14 tablespoons cold butter, diced
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons cold water
Filling:
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 pounds baking apples like Golden Delicious, Cortland, or Mutsu
2/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling on the pie
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Generous pinch of ground nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Method
Make the dough by hand. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Using your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles yellow corn meal mixed with bean sized bits of butter. (If the flour/butter mixture gets warm, refrigerate it for 10 minutes before proceeding.) Add the egg and stir the dough together with a fork or by hand in the bowl. If the dough is dry, sprinkle up to a tablespoon more of cold water over the mixture.
Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 hour.
Make the filling. Put the lemon juice in a medium bowl. Peel, halve, and core the apples. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Toss the apple with the lemon juice. Add the sugar and toss to combine evenly.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the apples, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to simmer, about 2 minutes. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until the apples soften and release most of their juices, about 7 minutes.
Strain the apples in a colander over a medium bowl to catch all the juice. Shake the colander to get as much liquid as possible. Return the juices to the skillet, and simmer over medium heat until thickened and lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, toss the apples with the reduced juice and spices. Set aside to cool completely. (This filling can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated or frozen for up to 6 months.)
Cut the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll each half of dough into a disc about 11 to 12 inches wide. Layer the dough between pieces of parchment or wax paper on a baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.
Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Line the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan with one of the discs of dough, and trim it so it lays about 1/2 inch beyond the edge of the pan. Put the apple filling in the pan and mound it slightly in the center. Brush the top edges of the dough with the egg. Place the second disc of dough over the top. Fold the top layer of dough under the edge of the bottom layer and press the edges together to form a seal. Flute the edge as desired. Brush the surface of the dough with egg and then sprinkle with sugar. Pierce the top of the dough in several places to allow steam to escape while baking. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Bake the pie on a baking sheet until the crust is golden, about 50 minutes. Cool on a rack before serving. The pie keeps well at room temperature (covered) for 24 hours, or refrigerated for up to 4 days.
Note: You may freeze the uncooked pie, but don’t brush it with egg or dust it with sugar beforehand. Place the pie in the freezer for 30 minutes, to harden it slightly, and then double wrap it with plastic wrap. Freeze for up to 6 months. When ready to bake, unwrap the pie and brush it with egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake, from the frozen state, until golden brown, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie
(Absolutely nothing special here: it’s the Libby’s Recipe!)

Ingredients
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) p puree
1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk
1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell
Whipped cream (optional)

Method
Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Pour into pie shell. Bake in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near centre comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving.

Merry Christmas!

To all the lovely readers of our blog, we wish you a very Merry Christmas! May you be blessed today and in the year to come.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Tips on travelling long-haul with little kids

As we prepare to take a trip back to NZ for Christmas, I’m looking back at this post again (originally posted in March 2012) to refresh my memory on what’s useful to take and what to do to make life easier when travelling long haul with kids. It’s been a few years since I’ve posted this, so I thought I’d repost it in case it can be helpful to others!

I recently travelled from New York to Christchurch, New Zealand to attend Jeremy and Lillian’s wedding with Marica (4) and Esther (2). Without my husband. Many people have asked how the 26-hour trip went, and as I thought about how anxious I was before the trip, and how many other people are in that same boat every day, I thought I’d do a little post on some things that made our trip easier for anyone out there who might benefit from it. I am not a seasoned traveller and I don’t claim to have all the answers,  but here are some things I recommend:

  • Talk with your kids about your upcoming trip. I found reading books like this one very valuable to familiarise them with what to expect. We did role playing where we went through pretend security, we sat on the couch as if we were on the plane seats, did pretend take-off and got sore ears. I wanted them to know to expect sore ears, even if I was going to do all I could to help with that!
  • Get them excited about the trip by buying some special toys and (colouring) books. I showed some to them, and kept some as a surprise. I found this colouring book and this little sticker book provided a lot of bang for my buck.

Be prepared in your own mind:

  • Get a good attitude about your upcoming trip. Your kids will feed off whatever vibes you give off — if you’re excited, they’ll be excited, if you show your anxiety, they’ll be anxious. I found lots of prayer helped, as well as some specific Bible verses to help me focus on the fact that I’m in the hand of the Creator of the Universe. That puts a little plane trip (and all those ‘what if’ worries) into perspective really quickly!
  • Read about what other people have found to be helpful or good. I found deliciousbaby.com to be a wonderful resource. It’s so good, I don’t really know why I’m bothering with this post other than to give my own experience!
  • Look up the layout of the airports you’ll be visiting, and know how to get from one terminal to the next. You don’t want to have only a couple of hours to transfer between terminals (like me) and have 3 sets of people tell you 3 different ways of getting to the next terminal. I got there in time, but it added extra stress I didn’t need.
  • Know how long each flight will be, and whether or not the flight will have in-flight entertainment. If it does not have in-flight entertainment, you’ll want to pack accordingly (more on that soon).
  • Find out whether or not you get complimentary food on the flight — if not, you’ll want to pack snacks. The snacks and food on the plane are ridiculously expensive. More on that soon too.
  • Don’t expect to fly as if you’re alone. Serve these little people, not yourself. Even if you’re flying long-haul, chances are that you won’t get to watch a whole movie, and that’s okay. Be patient with them. Let your gentleness be evident to all.

Chances are you want to know what to pack, and how much. The what I’ll list below, the how much I’d answer with however much you can fit into one backpack. You want your hands free to deal with your kids — whatever you do, please don’t try to maximise on your carry-on luggage allowance. You’ll get frazzled trying to get everything through security and down the narrow airplane aisles on top of trying to carry a kid (or two) who just had a melt-down. Don’t even go there. One backpack is enough.

Having said that, I did find it useful to take an empty canvas shopping bag with me. What went in here were our winter jackets once we were through security (we were flying from mid-winter to mid-summer) and my camera. When we were about to board, I would also put a few activities in there to get us started for the flight, and that bag went under the seat in front of me while the backpack went into the overhead compartment.

Here are some things to pack, regardless of the length of your flight:

  • Pack empty water bottles for your children. These can be filled once you’re through security. It’s easier for them to have drink bottles on hand when they need them, and they’re less likely to spill than those little plastic cups. Even if you don’t have something for them to chew or suck during take-off and landing, drinking some water might help their ears not to hurt so much.
  • Pack a spare set of clothing for each of you. You might not need it, but you sure will be glad to have a fresh shirt to change into if you get vomited on (I didn’t, I’m just saying). Pack each set into a gallon-sized ziplock bag and push all the air out to make it more compact. The ziplock will also come in handy if you have stinky poopy pants that need to go somewhere (that I did have).
  • If your child has a special toy and/or cuddly, make sure you take it. Same goes for a pacifier (they’re very helpful for take-off and landing too).
  • Chewing gum or chewy candy or lollipops for kids to chew and suck during take-off and landing to help their ears pop and get used to the changes in air pressure.
  • Pack plenty of diapers and wipes. Think how many diapers you need in a worse-case scenario, and then add a few more, just in case. Wipes are so versatile — wiping the tray in the seat back in front of you, wiping dirty faces and hands or runny noses, and of course little bottoms!
  • Pack some tylenol and band-aids, just in case. I also pack sinus medication because I tend to get infected sinuses when I fly.

We had 3 flights from New York to Christchurch, and the hardest one was not the 12 hour flight between LAX and Auckland as you would expect. It was that cross country 6-hour flight between JFK and LAX, and we were flying United. The in-flight entertainment consisted of bad TV shows on those little screens hanging from the ceiling above the aisle, so it wasn’t even an option for the kids. There was also no complimentary food on the flight, though the drinks were. These things are a mild nuisance that aren’t a big deal if you’re flying alone. When you add kids into this equation, however, you need to come prepared for pretty much full-time, hands-on entertainment/distraction.

If this is how you’ll be flying, you should pack:

  • Fun snacks. Things that have protein, like nuts, cheese sticks or beef jerky. This will tide you over better than just carbs. Animal crackers turn eating into a game of talking animals, goldfish swimming into your mouth. Take your time eating. Get some special treat snacks like small snack-size bags of M&Ms, or candy in the shape of something that could become some sort of character in some sort of story you’ll make up on the spot. It will be ridiculous and it will be wonderfully fun for your kidsIf you have to pack a lunch or dinner, be practical — make sure it’s something that’s not messy and that they love to eat. Nutrition is not your biggest concern for the next few hours, just relax about that. When you get to your destination you can eat properly again.
  • Fun activities. You know your child best — don’t pack things they don’t enjoy doing! Here are some ideas that worked for us: new colouring-in books, paint-with-water books, wiki stix, small pottles of play-doh, finger puppets, polly pockets, books with multiple stories and lots of pictures, an etch-a-sketch, a notebook just too doodle in. For more ideas, check out this page.

If you’re crossing time zones, or flying during or past bedtime, be prepared for tired children. Chances are they’ll do better than you expect, but chances are there will be some grumpiness and crying. Do what you can to comfort them (or to get them to sleep!) but realise that it probably is going to happen and relax about it. If you get all uptight, it’s not going to help your kids stop crying. People on the plane are usually pretty good about it, especially if they’ve seen you interacting with your kids in a good way during the rest of your flight. You might get some dirty looks, but those who give them are probably single and just have no idea. Their day will come too.

If you’re flying long-haul, there are some extra challenges (like the length of the fight), but also some things that make it easier. The cabin crew are more understanding and helpful, you can request snacks for your kids pretty much any time during the flight, there are change ‘tables’ in most of the lavatories, there are in-flight entertainment screens with kids’ shows and games on the seat in front of you, and kids are usually given some sort of activity bag. Yes, the flight is longer, but that means that your kids will probably get to the point of exhaustion and want to sleep. Here are some things that can make long-haul flights easier:

  • Fly at night. This helps reduce jet-lag and hopefully guarantees some sleep.
  • Give your kids plenty of physical exercise on the day of your flight, or if you’re in transit, let them do star jumps or such things to get some wiggles out. I packed a small container of bubbles for them to catch during transit (not for on the plane!) and they loved that. Just make sure it’s less than 100ml, though.
  • Try to keep a bit of a bed-time routine. I packed the kids’ pajamas, a small bottle for milk for Esther (the cabin crew are happy to give you some milk in reasonable quantities), and of course their cuddlies and special toys, and a dummy/pacifier for Esther. This showed them that it was now time to sleep.
  • This next one’s possibly going to be a bit controversial. Two different friends who are nurses recommended Benadryl to me. I’ve never been one to give my kids medical sleeping aids, and I was reluctant to try it, but one of my nurse friends is a pediatric nurse, so I felt comfortable with her advice and went and bought our first ever bottle of benadryl. I talked to her about dosage so I wouldn’t overdose them (!) and then I tried it out before our trip. Benadryl can make some people hyper, and I didn’t want that happening on the plane. It worked beautifully. When we put the kids’ pajamas on for sleep time, I gave them a little Benadryl, gave Esther some milk, and soon enough they were asleep. They slept for about 6 hours, which I thought rather fantastic under the circumstances, and were not drowsy than usual when they woke up at breakfast time.
  • Sleep when your kids sleep! There might only be a few hours where both kids are asleep at the same time, so make the most of it. That is NOT the time to watch a movie. You might be able to squeeze in a movie while they’re watching something too.
  • Go for little walks down the aisle, but not while everyone else is trying to sleep, or when the cabin crew is trying to serve a meal.
  • I know they say keep your seatbelt on even when the light is not on, but seriously, who can do that with a 2-year-old? Let the kid stand up on the seat or look out the window or drape herself over you for crying out loud. Of course, you teach them that the seatbelt has to go on when the seatbelt light goes on and that is non-negotiable. Include that in your role playing beforehand.
  • One of my big questions beforehand were what to do if you need to go to the toilet?! Well, if they’re both asleep you just climb over them and go. If they’re both awake, you can do one of two things: 1) Try to cram all of you into the cubicle. Good luck. 2) Ask one of the cabin crew to stay with your kids. They’re usually happy to do this so long as they’re not in the middle of serving dinner. Oh, and just another little note on the airplane lavatories — warn your kids that it makes a very loud noise when it flushes, they can really get a fright if they don’t know to expect it.

And lastly, if time allows, ask one of the cabin crew if your kids may see the cockpit once the plane has landed and most people are off the plane. I had talked with the kids about the plane’s layout and so they knew what the cockpit was and that the pilot flew the plane. They were very keen to see it and thrilled to be allowed in there. This pilot was particularly nice and even allowed them to sit in the pilot and co-pilot seats. They also got a little card with the details of the plane on it, and a pilot’s badge for kids.

I’ve surely left some things out, but look around at some other sites. Remember that even a long-haul flight is only a short time in the scheme of things. Make it a short time your children will remember fondly, even if you won’t!

Apple picking day

On a lovely warm day back in October, the girls and I took a field trip to a farm about an hour’s drive from where we live to go apple and pumpkin picking. The weather was fantastic — it was nice and sunny and not too hot or cold, a real Goldilocks kind of day. We took the drive out, and when we got there figured out which of the many activities on offer we wanted to do. We checked out the farm animals first and fed the donkey and goats a bag of carrots which I thought would last a long time and actually only took about a minute for them to munch!

After a little morning snack we went and did the corn maze. The kids were so excited, and it was good for their map-reading skills too. The older two would probably have been able to do the adult corn maze without too much trouble, but Laurelin needed carrying even through the kiddy one, and I didn’t really want to be carrying her for an hour while getting claustrophobic in a big corn maze!

After the corn maze, we went on a hayride to the orchards to go pick apples.

We got two whole boxes full of apples, and I was glad when someone offered us their little wagon. Then we could load some kids and apples on there and get around a little easier! Marica was pretty keen to pull them and she did a good job… until it got a little hard. :-)

Then it was on to the pumpkin patch where they make it very easy for you to pick your pumpkins — no prickly vines! They’re all just lying there, easy to choose which ones to take home. We got a whole bunch of them with the intention to carve them… right now they’re still sitting in our dining room, slowly going rotten. Oops.

It was a pretty tiring walk back to the main area, but we did eventually make it and had lunch before heading home again. What fun!

And then at home, these beauties

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turned into this kind of beauty.

Now that’s what I call the fruit of one’s labors!