Minnie Pearl Inspires Mel Tillis To Stutter

On December 29th, 2015, Mel Tillis had a press conference in Laughlin, Nevada. Here’s what he said about stuttering (sorry video is so bad!). For many of us who stutter, we think we have to be perfect when we speak, but thankfully Minnie Pearl encouraged Mr. Tillis to speak on stage.  Link to video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJN5nX_ERf0

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Vintage photo of Mel Tillis (looking pretty fine)

MC: did you say Mel Tillis or M-Mel Tillis?

[laughter]

MEL: M-m-m-Mel Tillis.

MC: Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give a big round of applause for M-Mel Tillis!

[applause, cheers]

MEL: I was signing autographs here oh, not too long ago, and there was a fellow in line. He was about 15 on down the line, and he hollers out, “Mel Tillis! I paid $34 to hear you stutter, and you ain’t stutter one damn bit!”

[laughter]

And I said, “I’m trying to quit, sir!”

[laughter]

MC: That’s awesome. Well, go ahead and have a seat right there.

MEL: OK.

.

You know, when I first went to Nashville, boy I really stuttered bad. And I signed on as a songwriter for Webb Pierce’s company, and he paid me $50 against a draw. And when the money started coming in, they took that out. So actually, they hired me for nothing.

[laughter].

But I was a songwriter, and Jim Denney was a part-owner of that company, the publishing company. He also had a booking agency. One of his acts was Minnie Pearl. Minnie was going out and doing the fair dates all over the Midwest:  Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, all over the Midwest.

.

And she needed a rhythm guitar player and a singer. And Mr. Denny put me with her, and then I found out that she needed a fiddle player. Well, I had met a fiddle player at the coffee shop there on South and Union.

.

His name was Roger Miller.

[crowd excited].

And he said he could play the fiddle. I said, “Can you play?” “Yeah, I can play.” Then I went back, and I told them about him, and they hired him. We went out on the road, and I couldn’t even talk hardly in those days. Roger would introduce my song, and I’d sing it. Then, he’d come back out there and said, “Mel Tillis said ‘thank you’!”.

[laughter].

That’s the truth.

.

One day, Minnie Pearl–.

She’d been over there watching [inaudible] outdoors. I went over there, and I said, “Yes, Ma’am?” And says, “Mel,” she says, “I see that you have a little problem with speaking.” “Yes, Ma’am.”

.

And she said, “Well, if you’re gonna be in our business, you need to introduce your own song. And then you need to thank them. And then after the show, you need to sign autographs.” And I said, “Ms. Minnie, I c-,” I said, “I can’t do that.” I said, “They’ll laugh at me.” And she said, “No, they won’t now, but they’ll laugh with you.”

.

And I started talking onstage, and the next thing I knew, I did 17 Johnny Carson shows.

[laughter].

[inaudible], The Merv Griffin Show, The Dan Barton Show, The Hollywood Squares. I did them all and 13 movies. And Ms. Minnie was right.

MC: Yes, she was.

MEL: I started talking onstage. People did think that it’s something that I use. I don’t use it. When I was out there on the Glen Campbell “Goodtime Hour,” they would write that stuff, and we would say. They’d put the stutter in there!

[laughter]

I said, “I might not even stutter on that word! Take that thing outta there!”

[laughter]

But you know, over the years, the more I talked onstage–and Ms. Minnie was right–the less I stuttered.

[applause]

It’s still part for me, when I read something. I still have a problem reading orally. And that’s why I read silent.

[laughter]

MC: That’s awesome. So you were also involved in the SAY organization, which is for people, actually, who have that challenge, who have stuttering.

MEL: The Stuttering Foundation of America, yeah. And I’ve got a painting–you put it up on your phone there–a painting called “Masonic America,” and I’ve raised $88,000 for speech and hearing clinics with the Stuttering Foundation of America. I’m proud of it.

[applause, cheers]

You put it up. You’ll see it. [inaudible]. Not only will you see that picture, but you’ll see a lot of my paintings that I do. I do that too.

MC: Wow!

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Writing from my Dyslexicon

I don’t do poetry, so I wrote this (for an article I am working on) and just put space between each line and now pawning it off as poetry.  In it’s full Dyslexiconic state….

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Drawing by Mean Dave from our book Once Upon An Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities (you should buy it)

Lexicon means the vocabulary someone has.

As a  person with dyslexia, I have my vobulary that is influenced by my dyslexia, you might call it my dyslexicon.

I spent much of my life rejecting my dyselexicon but if I want to write I need to embrace it.

I have embraced it by letting go of the shame from my English teacher’s red pen.

Whenever I write, I know that I will spell something wrong and that my grammar will be inconsistent.

I know that no matter how carefully I proofread, I will always have mistakes.

I know that if I accept this shame then I will be stunted as a writer.

Coming to embrace that I can write but there will be mistakes and that is ok because that is part of my voice, has helped me to be open about my dyselxia online and put my voice out into the world.

Check out my book: Once Upon An Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities

The Everyday Ally: Tedx Talk

What do you do when you see someone being denigrated?  This Tedx Talk personalizes what it really means to be an Everyday Ally.  

 

NINA: My name is Nina G., and I am America’s only female, stuttering standup comedian. You can clap for that! Yeah! That’s impressive.

[applause, cheers]

I’m part of a comedy troupe called The Comedians with Disabilities Act. So it’s me, a guy who uses a wheelchair, another guy who’s blind, and another guy who’s a Little Person. People come up to me all the time, and they say, “You know, stuttering isn’t a real disability. You shouldn’t be in that show!” So I explain to them that if you look at the definition of what a disability is, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s a physical or mental impairment that substantially results in having to deal with jerks.

[laughter]

Thank you, thank you.

[applause]

You can clap for that. Thank you. So I’m pretty sure it qualifies,

And I have a jokey joke that you can tell at the office or to your children. Most of my jokes you can’t, but this is the one you can. So I need your help on this one. How many disabled people does it take to screw in a light bulb?

[“How many?!”]

Thank you! They were plants!

One to screw it in, and five able-bodied people to say, “You are such an inspiration!”

[laughter, applause]

Thank you, yes.

For more on why calling a person with a disability an inspiration isn’t OK, go check out Stella Young’s TED talk, because it’s totally awesome. It will explain all of that. So a lot of my standup comedy is about microaggressions that I experience in the world. According to Derald Wing Sue–and I wanted to get this right. So I’m going to read it. According to Derald Wing Sue, “microaggressions are the everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of group membership.” Now, microaggressions occur for all minority groups, but some examples in my own life as a person with a disability, specifically a person who stutters, includes some of the following.

Let’s see. Sometimes, in the midst of a stutter, someone will do this. You know, like, “Hurry it up.” Because this helps me! This is good.

[laughter].

This, and telling me to spit it out. All very helpful things.

[laughter]

And it was like this one time, I was with one of my friends, and then his friend walked up. I introduced myself, and I stuttered just a tiny bit on my name. This guy says, “Is that Nina with 5 Ns?”

[moans]

Yeah, I know. So I said, “Well, first of all, I stutter. Second of all, that’s Nina with 2 Ns,” and I flipped him off on both hands.

[chuckles]

Which I thought was pretty good because a lot of times, in the midst of a microaggression, you don’t always know how to react. And you always go back, “Oh, I should’ve done this or that.” I got it right the first time. Although, I am exaggerating a bit because I actually said, “That’s Nina with 1 N,” because I also have dyslexia and forget I had 2 Ns in my name.

[laughter]

So there’s that too.

As wonderful as microaggressions are for my standup comedy, they’re not that great for my psychological and my emotional wellbeing because they take a lot of work. They take a lot of psychological work to think, “Was that interaction weird? Should I have done this? Should I have done that?”

I think that as a society, we can move toward being allies. That is becoming more than just being aware, but participating in a world and making a world where microaggressions, if you see something happen, then you do something. So I really want to challenge you to be an everyday ally. A lot of times when we think about allies, we think about people who are protesting, and they are going and they’re marching, and they’re donating money. But really, what I want to talk about is how to be an ally in your everyday life. Luckily, I have had people in my life who have been my ally, who I’ve learned from. I have many stories about that, but I wanted to share two with you this evening. The first one–

Oh, and one thing that I do want to say about being an ally to the disabled community is that you want to involve us. There is a saying in the disability community, which is “Nothing about us, without us.” Disabled people aren’t here for your service hours. We’re not here just to fulfill your need to feel like you’re helpful. We want to be in the conversation. So that is something that I wanted to make sure was clear.

One of the stories that I wanted to share was about my former boss, Ned. Now, Ned and I worked for a program that was being evaluated by an outside consultant. The outside consultant came in, and we had a meeting with 20 of the staff. Each of the staff had to say their name and what they did there at the job. The outside consultant was someone who didn’t know me, didn’t know about my disability and how I identified. I can do a TED talk totally fine because I feel in control here. And that kind of situation, where I have to say two or three sentences, where I don’t disclose, I don’t feel in control because I don’t know what kind of assumptions that person’s going to make about me.

When she came to me, and I talked, she got the look. And if you stutter, you know what the look is. There’s a couple of looks. One is the…oh poor thing look. We get that oftentimes. It doesn’t really help us to communicate well when you look that way. So don’t. And then, the other look was this look of like…what’s going on here? What is this? I have a name for this look that I can’t say in a TED talk.

[laughter]

But I think you get the idea.

Afterwards, I was debriefing with my boss, and he asked me how I thought that it went. I said, “She looked at me weird.” Now, a lot of times when someone says that they “looked at me weird,” we’re like, “Oh! I’m sure it’s fine, that it’s all in your head!” Ned didn’t do that. He said, “I saw that, and I wondered about that too.” So he had validated me.

When you experience a microaggression, especially as a person with a disability, and for me, people who stutter are less than 1% of the population. So a lot of times, when I experience a microaggression, it’s in isolation, that I don’t necessarily have a community that can hold me in the immediate time. Luckily, I have made those connections. But it’s not something that necessarily comes automatically. So for him to validate me was such an important thing.

The next thing he did was just amazing! He said, “Did you want me to say anything?” Now, for me, that was really amazing because he was going to use his power and his privilege to do something. That he saw something that was unjust, and he saw that I was uncomfortable. So he was willing to use his power and his privilege to do something about it.

Also, what he did was he asked if it was OK. I know for myself, sometimes when I’m being an ally, I get into it a lot. Sometimes, I can make it about me, and it’s important to know that when you are being an ally, that it’s not about you, and to really involve the individual that you’re being an ally for or the community, in that conversation.

The next story that I wanted to share is about an ally from a very unlikely source. The unlikely source came in the form of an 8th grade boy. Now, when I was in the 7th grade, I ran for student body government, and I won. I went to a school that took themselves way too seriously, and we had this big inauguration. In the inauguration, all of the student body government people had to be sworn in. At the rehearsal, what I learned was that I had to stand in front of the entire school, 1st through the 8th grade. It was a Catholic school. So it was in front of the teachers, the nuns, the priests. Even the town newspaper was there. I had to stand in front of everybody and say, “I insert name here.”

Now, when you stutter, “I insert name here” is one of the most anxiety-provoking things that you could possibly say because so many of us stutter on our name. . And there’s also no way to substitute that. As I left the rehearsal–Oh, and the others kids in the rehearsal started to laugh when I stuttered on my name.

But as I left, it’s this one 8th grade boy ran after me, and he said, “Can you say ninja?” And I was like, “Um, I guess so?” He said, “Well, just switch it around and say Nina instead.” And I’m all, “Thank you?” Cuz there’s this weird thing when you have a disability, suddenly everybody has a PhD in the thing you have. I get advice all the time like, “Just slow down and breathe.”

[chuckles]

You know, in the 30 years I’ve been stuttering, I have never thought about that.

[laughter, applause]

And I guess I haven’t been breathing this entire time.

[laughter]

But this 8th grade boy was trying to help, and he was the one ally that I had in that situation. Plus, he was kinda cute. So he got a pass.

That entire week before the inauguration came, I practiced my name in front of the mirror. I practiced it with my parents. I practiced it at my speech therapist’s office. When the day came, I went in front of the entire school, and I said, “I, N-n-n-Nina G.” And in my 7th grade girl mind, I thought that my life was completely offer. I thought I would have to change schools, move cities, the entire thing.

Later on that day, I went to recess, just expecting a sea of kids to make fun of me. I was talking to that same 8th grade boy, the ninja kid, and that’s when a 3rd grade boy walked up. The 3rd grade boy said, “Hey, N-n-n-Nina.” Now, that’s something that I’ve heard my entire life. So it’s really not funny anymore. It’s sometimes funny if you do it to the Chia pets song. ♪”N-n-n-Nina,”♪ like that. That’s kinda funny, but even that gets old.

But this 8th grade boy did something that I had never experienced, is he gently knelt down so he could look the little boy in the eye and said, “If I ever hear you saying that to anybody, if I ever hear you saying that to her in the future, I’m going to tell everybody your pee-pee’s this big.”

[laughter]

And I was so touched. That was so nice.

[laughter]

I wasn’t made fun of the rest of the year. And also, I had a crush on that guy for the rest of the year too. I’ve looked for him on Facebook. I can’t find him. I’m thinking maybe some TED Talk action might happen now.

[laughter]

But I learned some very important things that day. One, is I learned I could stutter in front of people and live. That was a really important thing. The other thing I learned was that I had other people who had had my back. Because prior to that, I thought it was just me and my parents. But this 8th grade boy had showed me that other people had my back. Also, as a kid who was in school who had stuttered and had a learning disability, I didn’t always feel that I was part of the community at school. My teachers didn’t always make me feel like that. But this one 8th grade boy made me feel like I had a community, and my 7th grade was a little bit better because of him.

Also, what I learned that day is that if anybody ever makes fun of me, I just tell them they have a small pee-pee.

Thank you guys so much!

[applause, cheers]

An Open letter to NPR and Unlocking Dyslexia

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Picture symbolizing dyslexia from NPR’s page.

*This blog is written in my dyslexicon.  I specifically didn’t proof this for edits to demonstrate what my writing is without the standard edits.  

NPR went dyslexic this week for a series on different aspects of dyslexia.  They offered some great information.  My main critique is that the programing didn’t include discussion of civil rights as they relate to individuals with Learning Disabilities.  As someone with dyslexia, who experienced early intervention yet struggled through school, one of the key components for me was advocacy.

I remember the first time that I received an accommodation on a test.  My third grade teacher gave me the test orally.  I told her the answers to her questions.  I was the first one to finish the test and the first one to get an A, likely my first A on a test for that year.  Unfortunately, that was one of the last accommodations I remember from my third grade Catholic School teacher.  Back in the 1980s many private schools didn’t accommodate students with disabilities, this has gotten better since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Because of the lack of access, I saw my parents advocate for me year after year, often resulting in my father kicking my mother under the table in fear that she was coming on “too strong” to the teachers.

I eventually went to public school where I had better access to my education and teachers who had my back.  Consequently, my parents let me pick up the advocacy slack.  It was my turn to advocate for what I needed from teachers.  This helped to prepare me for college where the responsibility lies on student to speak up and ask for accommodations from the school and their individual teachers.  These skills are what helped me graduate from Berkeley and go onto a doctoral program at a small private school that didn’t offer the array of accommodations that my Berkeley and my community colleges offered.

NPR, thank you for featuring dyslexia.  Thank you for having a report with dyslexia who brought the experiences of individuals with dyslexia into the forefront.  It was wonderful to hear my experiences reflected on the radio show.  Thank you for letting parents know that there are options for their kids and that they can grow up to be successful.  Just please remember that in the United States there were a lot of Disability rights activists who fought for our rights to get access to school, the work place and just about every other part of life. Knowing these rights and how to advocate is key to our success.

In addition to the links to the NPR stories, I have included my own Huffington Post blog that I wrote on tips to graduating seniors with dyslexia on advocacy in college.

Beyond IEPs: Learning Disabilities Go To College

Download of the free workbook to guide students on how to advocate for their dyslexia from my book, Once Upon An Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities.

From NPR:

Millions Have Dyslexia, Few Understand It

How Science Is Rewiring The Dyslexic Brain

‘B’ And ‘D’ Learning Process Debunks Dyslexia Jumbled-Letters Myth

Raising A Child With Dyslexia: 3 Things Parents Can Do

Dyslexia: The Learning Disability That Must Not Be Named

What every parent of a kid with learning issues needs to hear

This blog post is dedicated to every parent or ally of a kid with a disability who didn’t think their advocacy was working.  Watch the video or read the transcript below.

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Watch the video here!

The schools oftentimes told my  parents that Catholic school was not for me, that it wasn’t a place that I belonged and that they only served the “typical” kids. And the one story that I really wanted to share with you was when I first got diagnosed, the schools kinda tried to push me out. My mom tried to educate them about what a learning disability was.

And so she called up Cal at the time, and they had a disability office. And they specifically had a program for students who had LD. And she got a letter from the school and presented it to the teachers and said, “Look at  this! You think she’s only gonna fry French fries. I think that  was your exact term, McDonalds.”

So she said, “She’s only gonna work there,” which by the way, if they increase the minimum wage, that would be awesome. [ laughs ] You wouldn’t have any loans. And showed that letter to the teachers. And the teachers just kind of ignored it, and it didn’t really work.

But she folded it up and put it in the drawer next to my savings bonds from my first Communion and a lot of other really important things like my Social Security card. And it sat there, and for me, even though it didn’t help with the teacher, it helped that I saw her actually do that.

And I eventually went to Cal, and I think it was a big part because I knew that that was a school that they had accommodations.

And so sometimes the interventions and the activism and the advocacy that you do as  a parent, it may not work on the person that you’re trying to direct it at. But it may work because of the impact on your kid.

#activism #advocacy #specialed #catholicschool #disability #dyslexia

 

Stuttering Authentically

Stuttering Authentically is the first of many videos that you will see on this blog.  Check out the video with the transcript below.  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or on the youtube video!  Thanks for checking this out!

stutter-authn

Watch the video: Stuttering Authentically

I was in speech till I was in high school. 4% of the childhood population stutters, and 1% of the adult population does. And that could, in part, be because of spontaneous recovery.

Now, if you are a girl who stutters, and it’s a ratio is for every 4 stutterers, only 1 is a female, which makes your odds at a stuttering conference very good, if you’re a straight woman.  But if you stutter and have a learning disability and you’re a girl, you’re not less likely to not stutter as an adult. So you’re probably going to stutter. And that’s all stuff in the brain.

Now, the strategies that I learned to control my speech or to manage my speech [draws out words really long] were to talk like this and prolong my words. I didn’t stutter, but was that interesting, was that fun? No. That wasn’t fun for any of us.

And so for some people, it works. For some people who may stutter “covertly,” they may talk around their stutter.  For me, with dyslexia, I come up with like two words or three words for the word that I’m going to stutter on, and likely that third word is probably a vulgar word. So I can’t use that in the workplace.

Our authentic selves, and no matter who you are, whether you stutter or not, it’s really important to be your most authentic self and do that whichever way that is.

Sometimes, our society wants you to act a certain way, and especially in academia, I’ve always found you know, this is how I talk, the way that I spoke this evening.

This didn’t work that good when I was talking a psychology class in my doctorate program, when I was like, “You know what? Freud hella sucks!”

And they’re like, “She said that. Why’d she say it like that.”

[audience laughs]

But it’s really important for you to stay authentic to who you are. And for me, part of that is speaking the way I do.

MAN: Absolutely. Thank you.

NINA: Thanks.

[applause]

The Ted Talk Donald Trump Doesn’t Want You To See!

Donald Trump Campaigns In Fort Lauderdale

Ok, I lied!  I thought if it worked for overseas fake news outlets that it might work to tell you about my Tedx Talk in honor of Anti-bullying week.  So many times we tell kids and adults, “don’t bully” but what about when you witness something?  It is just as important to not be complacent in bullying as it is not to bully.  My Tedx Talk, The Everyday Ally, explores what it meant for me when I was bullied or discriminated against and what people did to be on my side.  Even doing small things when you witness something can make someone feel less alone.

Check out the video HERE!

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#bullying  #antibullying #disability #stuttering

 

 

Comedians with Disabilities Act is back!

This summer the Comedians with Disabilities lost our fearless (and I do mean fearless!) leader Michael O’Connell.  Since then it has been difficult to get back up on stage, especially as a comedy troupe.  October 19 we are back in action in Sacramento.  Join old timers Nina G, Eric Mee and Steve Danner along side special guest Mean Dave and headliner Michael Beers.  Tickets on sale at http://saccomedyspot.com/cda.  All proceeds will go to the Michael O’Connell Foundation.

Michael Beers is someone I really wanted Michael O’Connell to meet.  Beers is a Disability activist, community organizer and comedian from Missoula, Montana.  He transforms how audiences see disability and even bought a used special ed bus to travel to gigs.  You have to meet him!14517638_1303585289686925_7116394491122214616_n

Learning Disability and ADHD Communities Discover Hilarious Benefactor

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 2, 2016

Contact: Nina G

www.NinaGcomedian.com

510-922-0179

NinaGbooking@gmail.com

Learning Disability and ADHD Communities Discover Hilarious Benefactor

San Francisco, CA:  Nina G (stand-up comedian, author, Disability advocate, and professional speaker) is happy to announce her new collaboration with Parents Education Network (PEN) of San Francisco, a grassroots organization that supports and empowers individuals with Learning Disabilities and their families. Every few months, Nina chooses a nonprofit serving in the disabled community and donates a portion of her professional speaking fees. In addition to funds, Nina contributes her various social media outlets to publicly supporting that organization and their work. The first organization Nina selected was YO! Disabled and Proud, which connects, organizes and educates youth with disabilities ages 16 to 28. The second organization she chose was the National Stuttering Association, where Nina raised money to provide scholarships for young people at the organization’s annual conference. Nina now turns her attention to Parents Education Network.

Parents Education Network is a coalition of parents collaborating with educators, students, and the community to empower and bring academic and life success to students with learning and attention disabilities. When Nina was diagnosed with a Learning Disability in third grade, her parents had very little help finding information about their rights. Today, PEN fills this void for many parents with its vast network of programs and resources. PEN also helps young people with LD foster a sense of pride and advocacy through Student Advisors For Education (SAFE).

Nina’s recent donation to PEN will go towards helping community college students attend EdRev, an annual event held by PEN in San Francisco’s ATT Park (Nina served as MC for EdRev last year). The day is marked with amazing keynote speakers, workshops, information booths, youth participation, and other fun activities (like getting to run around the SF Giants baseball diamond). “I love seeing so many young people being proud of the way they think,” Nina says of the event.  “It’s something I just didn’t have when I was kid. To be there with other people who think differently and celebrate those differences is so empowering. I hope my contributions to PEN help bring more participants to this awesome event!”

A portion from all of Nina’s paid speaking engagements will go to PEN from July 2016 to April 2017 (when EdRev happens).  She will also be doing outreach to community colleges in the Bay Area to encourage attendance of their students with Learning and Attentional Disabilities. To learn more about PEN and EdRev, visit EdRevSF.org. For more on Nina G, refer to the information below.

###

Nina G can be contacted at:

Facebook Fan Page: Facebook.com/ninagcomedian

Twitter: @ninagcomedian (occasional adult content)

Blog: ninagcomedian.wordpress.com/

Email: NinaGbooking@gmail.com

About Nina G:  Nina G is the west coast’s only female stand-up comedian who stutters and has Learning Disabilities. She is also a disability activist, storyteller, children’s book author, and educator. She employs humor to help people confront and understand social justice issues such as disability, diversity, and equity. Her book, Once Upon An Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities has been used in classrooms across the country to teach children and teens how to self-advocate.

When she isn’t playing comedy clubs like the San Francisco Punchline or the Laugh Factory, she’s performing at colleges and presenting as a keynote speaker to training professionals and children with disabilities. Nina is part of , an all-disabled comedy troupe that brings laughter and awareness to audiences across the country.

pen

Insights from a stuttering comedian with dyslexia. These are my unedited thoughts. Grammar and spelling doesn't count on blogging, especially since it did I would never post!