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Those oils: are they essential?

January 4, 2016
Essential Oils. Old Fashioned Modern Living.

When Kristen and I began this blog, our goal was to explore and share our experiences integrating the modern and the traditional. So while we do plenty of things in a newfangled manner, that also means we do plenty of things the old fashioned way. For me, doing things in an old fashioned way means something more traditional, and often more natural. Less chemicals, less preservatives, and less drugs.

Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate modern medicine and all it has to offer. I’ll take antibiotics when they’re needed. But the rest of the time, I’m very happy to find other, natural ways to combat little discomforts.

My mother has been using Melaleuca products since I was a child, so I have always been aware of the magic of tea tree oil (scientific name Melaleuca alternifolia, which is where the company got it’s name). As a teenager, on a family trip to Salem, Massachusetts (which was an incredible vacation, by the way), my mother and I found a little aromatherapy shop right on the water. We bought a book on aromatherapy and went back the next day to stock up on oils. That was the beginning for us.

There are plenty of people who will wave away notions of using essential oils therapeutically – it’s just scented oil! It can’t do anything!

And with that type of statement, I need to disagree. Will you be instantly cured of what ails you by essential oils? No. Of course not. But I can say from personal experience that they can be a simple and natural way to vastly improve and treat a number of issues.

Please note: there are a number of different schools of thought on the use of essential oils. Some oils may safely be used undiluted, some should not be. Some sources will recommend certain oils be taken internally, others will say not to ingest them under any circumstances. This blog post is not meant to serve as medical advice. Please do your own research and use your judgement if choosing to use essential oils therapeutically.

Years ago, following that trip to Salem, my mother and I amassed an impressive collection of essential oils, and used them for making different products we used as well as simply utilizing the oils. These days I have a small stash of oils I consider indispensable; ones with wide and varied uses while I have had success with.

Where did they come from, you may ask? Some were ordered from Melaleuca, some I have ordered from, and some of my Tisserand brand blends were found at a glorious price in Marshalls. If you decide to buy, look for pure essential oils (not scented oils) from reputable brands.

Now without further ado, my favorite essential oils, and how I use them:

Tea tree: Tea tree oil remains my number one most used essential oil. It is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral; basically, yucky things aren’t a fan. Using a cotton swab, dab a little onto pimples (even ones which haven’t fully surfaced) to dry them up. For ear aches, again with a cotton swab, apply gently inside the ear – your ear will feel a little funny for a few minutes, but I’ve had great success with this stopping the ache from progressing. It’s a great oil for skin conditions and rashes, and can help prevent fleas and lice, if those are concerns. I use a number of products that contain tea tree oil and have been impressed with them all.

As a note, it can dry your skin a bit, so keep an eye on the spots you use it on. As a second note, tea tree is a specific tree native to Australia, not the plant that tea leaves for the beverage come from.

Lavender: Lavender essential oil is my number 2 favorite, coming in right behind tea tree for it’s myriad of uses. Lavender oil is extremely healing for skin ailments, with a scent that many find more pleasant than tea tree. It can be used on acne, eczema, cuts and burns, and can help alleviate headaches. Lavender is also a calming oil (again, pure essential oils – you want the properties of the oil, not just the scent) which can be applied behind the ears before bed to sooth you and help you to sleep, diffused into the air or worn in a jewelry diffuser during the day to calm nerves and promote a sense of calm, or used in products.

One of my favorite uses for lavender is my coconut oil/lavender moisturizer. Heat up some coconut oil in a saucepan or microwave safe bowl, or simply do this when it’s warm  out! Remember, coconut oil goes liquid about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so don’t heat it too much. Once it’s liquid, stir in several drops of lavender oil, pour into a glass container and let cool. Once it solidifies a little, you have an all natural, super healing skin cream. It will be liquid when you rub it in because of your body heat but soaks into your skin almost immediately. I use it each evening before bed on my face and hands so I get the moisturizing benefits as well as the calming effect of the lavender. Oh, this makes amazing diaper rash cream too (obviously, keep it separate from your face stash!)

Peppermint: I have a bottle of peppermint for one simple reason – sniffing it helped with my terrible hormonal headaches when I was pregnant. That aside, it is antimicrobial, great for clearing the sinuses, and a natural alternative to Icy Hot (mix it with a carrier oil for a tingly, cooling rub). The scent is also an excellent pick-me-up, perfect to get you energized. Another great one for diffusing.

Eucalyptus: Similar to peppermint, Eucalyptus essential oil is antiseptic and can be used for skin irritations, and is amazing for respiratory ailments. It’s a fantastic decongestant, which is my favorite purpose for it. A drop on a tissue, or a few drops in a diffuser or humidifier can do wonders for sniffles and stuffiness.

Lemon: Lemon essential oil comes from, guess what? Lemon peel! You know when you zest a lemon, the oil that forms on the surface…it’s more or less that, just extracted differently. It’s great for your skin, can be used as a household disinfectant, helps get super dirty hands clean again, can polish silver and wood (and it removes permanent Sharpie marker from wood, FYI), improves mood and can ward off nausea (great for when you’re pregnant, just saying). Not too shabby, right?

Thieves Oil: This is the only oil I’m including on this list that is a blend. Thieves Oil’s unique name dates back to the middle ages, when thieves wore this blend of oils and spices when robbing their targets who were ridden with the bubonic plague as protection against the plague…and it largely worked. It’s a pleasant smelling mix containing lemon, rosemary, clove, cinnamon and eucalyptus oils. This oil is as it’s origin suggests, great for immune support. Mix with water and spray around your house or onto the air conditioner vents to purify the air, or spray it on stinky shoes to disperse the odor. A few drops in the dishwasher before you run it eliminates funky smells. It makes a great cleaner, and just smells really nice. There are about a million and one ways to use Thieves Oil.

Carrier oils: I mentioned diluting your essential oils earlier; your carrier oil is any oil that is used to dilute an essential oil before use. Many people swear by apricot or jojoba; I have sweet almond oil in the house, but often use coconut oil. Because you know, it works and I use coconut oil for everything.

These 6 oils are my go-to, my indispensable, must have essential oils. The uses and benefits I’ve listed are only the tip of the iceberg – a quick Google search will pull up everything you ever wanted to know about them and their uses.

So sure, some people may dismiss essential oils as frivolous, silly, unscientific. But with a lifetime of tea tree experience behind me and about 15 years experience using a wide variety of oils, I can’t argue with the results.

Have you tried using essential oils for their health benefits? Which are your favorites?

Feature Life

Falling in Love With Upstate New York

December 17, 2015

As Christmas and the New Year approaches, I’ve been wondering about something. I can’t decide if upstate New York is as wonderful as I  think it is, or if I am biased because this is where I fell in love with my husband, and where we both became adults.  I loved the man who was my boyfriend, and then my fiancé, but upstate New York is where we chose to make our married life together, and this is where I got to know my husband. He is a pretty cool guy. I have a friend who once compared her long marriage to a fine wine, and although at only 4 years in, we are still new at this, I can see what she means. I feel like as great as everything was in the beginning, it gets better. I feel like we’ve both grown more thoughtful of each other’s needs, and supportive of each other’s dreams. This is the place where we have experienced so much happiness, and so much loss. We’ve celebrated together and mourned together, we’ve taken care of each other with the flu, and after minor surgeries. I think moving to a place where we knew only each other was like a crash course in intimacy and getting on the same team.

We both lived on Long Island for most of our lives prior to our move, although my husband was born in Brooklyn and lived there as a young child. We both stayed on Long Island for college for various reasons, two of which were being very family oriented and unsure about what we wanted to do with our lives. It worked out for us, because we might not have met otherwise. Moving here together, the day after our wedding was the adventure the neither of us had ever taken. When my husband got the job offer, I don’t think our families were thrilled, but over the years, they have come to enjoy exploring our new home with us. It was a really tough decision to make, because we knew we’d miss our family and friends terribly. We did, and really, we still do.  Luckily, they don’t seem to mind the drive too much,and neither do we, so we still see everyone pretty frequently. Over the years, we have also made some really wonderful friends up here too. Although our apartment and now our house, was always this tiny kingdom that felt like home, I think making connections and running into people you know at the grocery store makes you fully realize that the greater area surrounding where you live is indeed home.

I think diving right into married life in a place where we only knew each other definitely brought us closer together. I know people say that getting over each other’s quirks when you first move in together is tough, but looking back to four years ago, I just remember it being a lot of fun. I seem to have blocked out any newlywed spats, although we must have had some. We’d stay up late on Friday nights watching movies in the pillow pile we made and inventing mixed drinks. Then we’d wake up whenever on Saturday morning and cook big breakfasts together. We’d spend the day exploring the places that our new co-workers mentioned were cool. You will find many of these places listed in this post.  We discovered one of the things that we like best about living here- depending upon the direction, you can drive 20 or so minutes and you can be in the country looking out over a far distance, or in the state capital surrounded by restaurants and beautiful old buildings. We love hiking to the waterfalls in Plotterkill preserve, and buying cider donuts at farm stands.  A recent Albany discovery is a restaurant that does Dim Sum lunches, but unfortunately sneaks shrimp into everything. But that is a story for another day.

Although we both worked, we were only 23 and had a ton of energy for grabbing drinks with co-workers, seeing movies, and watching a lot of Stargate Atlantis and Arrested Development afterward. There are a lot of really cool bars and restaurants nearby. Those early months were like one giant honeymoon. We eventually did take a real honeymoon to Jamaica a few months in. It was one of our favorite vacations ever. We both proudly sported what our friend Shawn calls the moon tan (pasty white skin), blissfully unaware of our slight happy newlywed weight gain. We only noticed this later when we saw the pictures we took. Did I mention that although I’ve been baking all of my life, I really learned to cook right after we got married? I searched my new cookbooks for elaborate and delicious recipes that were all pretty fattening. Thank you Pioneer Woman for a delicious first few months of marriage! We joined a gym together that spring, which was surprisingly really fun, and learned portion control, which was not.

I think another contributing factor to our happy weight gain was buying whatever we wanted at the grocery store with no one to stop us! We had not yet learned to budget and bought a ton of treats like kids in a candy shop.  Even finding our favorite places to grocery shop was an upstate adventure.  We also took advantage of a lot of the events hosted locally. Some, like Katie O’Byrne’s St. Patrick’s Day Block Party, and the Saratoga Beer Summit, we still attend every year. We also loved going to the track in Saratoga and the Maple Syrup Fest. Every September we grab gyros and baklava at the Greek Festival hosted by one of the churches. In the winter, we freeze our butts off at Chowderfest, despite being very bundled up.  If you haven’t noticed, we are super food motivated!  In the summer, we also frequent the Schenectady Green Market every Sunday, and grab iced coffees at The Happy Cappuccino. My favorite place to browse for books is still the used bookstore that I can never remember the name of on Jay Street. For  $2-$3 a book, and an amazing selection, you can’t go wrong!  This year, we finally attended a show at Proctors, the beautiful local theater. We saw The Book of Mormon, which was very funny and irreverent, although my mother in law and I agreed that the ending had a good message. We have seen so much, but I feel like there are still a lot of new places to explore. My biggest recommendation for anyone moving somewhere new would be to get out there and go to local events. Most towns have lots going on if you know where to look. Forming your own rituals and routines and finding your favorite local spots can help a new place feel like home.

I think the reason that I love upstate New York living is that it is in fact a pretty cool place, and also that in my head, this place will always being inextricably tied up with newlywed memories of the clean-cut 23 year old guy that I married- who sometimes now looks like a messy bearded mountain man. We moved in together here, bought our first home, and brought home our two adorable fur babies.  We have learned that it takes time for a new place to feel like home, but the effort that you both put in is what you get out of any situation.  It has been quite a fun journey, and I am hopeful that this year will be our most exciting one yet.


Feature Life

Thoughts on Beer and a Fall Sampling

September 14, 2015
Fall beer sampling. Old Fashioned Modern Living.

The first beer I ever tried was a Guinness. My dad used to let me try his, just to see the look of utter disgust on my face and the shiver I gave as I choked down one sip. He thought it was kind of funny. When we were dating, my husband used to think so too. Occasionally he reminds me of the time he brought me to his frat party and I poured Kool-Aid fruit punch into a Bud Light to make it more tolerable. I was not a beer kind of girl by any means. Back in the day, I liked a Malibu Bay-breeze and any wine of the pink variety. Once in awhile, I’d try a fruit flavored beer and think that it was okay. It was just never something that I was super excited to drink.

A few years after we moved to upstate New York, my husband and I began to frequent The Bier Abbey more often. The Bier Abbey is this awesome pub and restaurant that utilizes old church pews as booths and has giant metal beer logos on the wall. It has that gritty Schenectady charm and a rotating beer list. My husband always liked it, but we began to go more often when we met some friends who are regulars. At first, I conservatively ordered a cabernet (my wine tastes matured far before my taste in beer), while my husband extolled the virtues of the craft beer. One day, I don’t remember why, I decided to order a beer with everyone else. At the Bier Abbey, you can order a 4 oz. sized beer, which was perfect for me. Even I had confidence that I could finish a glass of beer that would be the suitable size for an American Girl Doll. I can’t be certain, but I think I ordered Bean Head, a coffee flavored stout. From that moment on, I realized that I liked dark beers! My husband was pretty pumped to finally have a beer drinking buddy.

I think darker beers will always be my favorite, but I have also grown to love certain fall seasonal beers. My husband and his best friend are always very excited for the return of Sam Adam’s Octoberfest. It’s like the Pumpkin Spice Latte for beer drinkers. Drinking Octoberfest is always their late summer/early fall ritual. We have kind of extended that into our Annual Fall Beer Sampling. While we have managed to hold off on decorating for fall (for now at least! The struggle is real.) and other autumnal activities, we have already begun enjoying some seasonal brews with friends! This time, I managed to take notes.

Disclaimer: I do not pretend to be a beer snob or to know a lot about beers. Nor is this an all encompassing list of fall beers. We could not try every fall beer that we wanted to, because we are attempting responsible adulthood! There may or may not be a Fall Beer Sampling Part 2 forthcoming.

Shocktop Pumpkin Wheat (5.1%)
We decided to start with what we assumed would be the lightest of our fall beers. We were correct. No one disliked this beer, but it didn’t knock anyones socks off. A basic, light beer with a hint of pumpkin flavor.
“It’s like somebody was brewing Shocktop, and walked through the room with a pumpkin.”
“Cinnamon is the most prominent flavor.”
“Drink this if you are looking to have more than one pumpkin beer.”

Shipyard Pumpkinhead (4.5%)
This beer has been one of the few beers that I have liked for awhile. My cousins introduced me to it one year when I was visiting them in Maine, which is actually where the Shipyard Brewing Company is located. I will admit that it has sentimental value in addition to just being a really good seasonal beer. I try to buy a sixpack of this every fall.
“Light, sweet pumpkin, with a hint of mulled spices and citrus flavor.”

Harpoon Octoberfest (5.3%)
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this beer. It’s a good dark fall beer that is not overwhelmingly heavy. I would buy this again.
“Malty hops with a chocolate flavor.”
“Tastes darker than it looks!”

Sam Adam’s Octoberfest (5.3%)
Hands down, my husband’s favorite seasonal beer. He will occasionally find other beers that he really enjoys, but he always returns to his old standby. I find it a little light for my taste, but very drinkable.
“Smooth, drinkable, less bitter than the Harpoon.”
“Brings back good memories, but a little lacking in spices.”
“Enough bitterness to make you feel like you are drinking a real Octoberfest, but light enough to drink a few of these.”
“Better with a cinnamon rim.”

Redhook Pumpkin Porter (5.8%)
It was not a bad seasonal dark beer, but none of us were very excited about it. I would not buy it again when there are others that I enjoy much more.
“I taste clove and anise.”
“Very flavorful, but kind of unpleasant.”
“Dark for a porter. It tastes more like coffee than pumpkin.”

Warlock Imperial Stout (8.6%)
Initially, we were all most excited to taste this beer. While it didn’t end up being a favorite, Warlock Imperial Stout inspired the most intense reactions! It is like a very rich dessert. I would summarize it as a fun once in while choice for dark beer fans who plan on being “one and done.”
“Overwhelming pumpkin taste, with a hint of hazelnut.”
“Great in small doses.”
“Pezzy. The pezz is attacking me! Its too much!”
No one finished their four ounce glasses.

Shocktop Honeycrisp Apple Wheat (5.2%)
This might be an odd beer choice to complete the sampling, but we all agreed that we needed something completely different after the Warlock! Shocktop Apple Wheat definitely tastes like apples, but has a slight candy apple chemical aftertaste. Once you notice it, its hard to ignore.
“Like poorly fermented cider.”
“Good, but with an odd aftertaste.”

We were able to narrow down our favorites to the Harpoon, Shipyard, and Sam Adam’s. What are your favorite fall brews? Are you resisting the urge to immerse yourself in all things fall? I’m dying to make chocolate chip pumpkin muffins and buy little “ghost” pumpkins!

Feature Life

The Book Barn

September 8, 2015

“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my…”

That’s what we used to chant, three children in the back of our mom’s minivan driving the 10 minutes or so from our summer home in Columbia County to the Book Barn, a used book store nestled in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains. And it’s no wonder we did, looking back. Though only a few turns off the main road through the tiny town of Craryville, the road seemed to get narrower, the trees taller and the atmosphere darker with every mile.

It was all fun and games of course, and I always looked forward to our visits. My mother was an avid reader and book enthusiast who passed that love of the written word down to me. I would enthusiastically pick out new young adult novels and adult paperbacks which I would take home and tear through voraciously, lying draped across the cushioned chair in the living room. On a quiet day spent at home I could easily finish an average length paperback.

As I got further into my teenage years, we began spending less time upstate over the summer, and our trips out to the Book Barn dwindled as well. There were no more lazy weekdays to fill, just weekends spent with the whole family running from here to there, visiting, and trying to accomplish things (they were enjoyable too, just a bit more hectic).

Fast forward now: I started this story as a preteen, and at this point I’m a twenty-something upstate for a few days with just my fiance. We set out, unsure of if the Book Barn even still existed. After a few wrong turns (we missed the tiny signs along the road) we found it, and were lucky enough to have chosen a day the store was open to visit. That was the first of many trips where I set myself a budget and easily left with an entire armful of paperback novels, history books, flimsy paper guidebooks from various British castles open to the public, and the occasional craft or costuming book. Walk in with $20 cash, walk out with 4-5 new paperbacks, a hardcover and a few pamphlets from places I’d love to visit but likely never will? Don’t mind if I do!

Fast forward again, this time to present day. On a hot early September afternoon, too hot to want to do much of anything, my husband, toddler and I go for a drive. I direct my husband, now sure of my directions, even though I haven’t been since I was pregnant, the springtime before last. We pass several working farms along the way and what I remark to my husband is my dream home, a stately white house with a red door on a large corner property complete with idyllic fenced gardens and a tall stone wall along the side road. There’s also an old cemetery behind it, tall white sculpted headstones between towering trees with a deep covering of leaves (an old family plot perhaps?), but we’ll ignore that.

We pull up to plenty of space; only a few cars are outside this time. The building is as charming as ever, a weathered wood barn with a full apple tree out front, surrounded by garden decor and colorful wildflowers. The sun dappled property is not well manicured, but it looks cared for, and gives an instant feeling of coziness and old fashioned charm.

Inside is everything you think it will be and more. Bursting with character, the floorboards are uneven and the shelves mismatched, loaded from top to bottom with books of all descriptions. New books, old books and older books. Hardcovers and paperbacks, plus pamphlets, an assortment of music CDs and movie DVDs, old magazines and antique photographs.

It’s as well organized as you can expect considering how many books are in stock, with small handwritten paper signs labeling each section. On this particular day, determined to only buy titles I actively wanted since I’ve had little to no time to read since my daughter was born, I picked up a paperback copy of Gone Girl, perfect save for a few creases on the covers, for a mere $2.50.

As my husband paid inside, I wandered outside with Little Miss, hoping to keep her occasional one-year-old yowling from disturbing other shoppers. We accidentally interrupted a beautiful long haired cat who had been nosing around the remains of someone’s picnic in the garden, and who followed me towards the “free books” area, a table outside under a wood overhang next to the book annex, a small shed that houses (you guessed it) yet more books. Little Miss seemed to imitate the cat’s sweet meowing as her daddy emerged and we walked back to our car.

The long and short of this story is that the Book Barn is a veritable used book wonderland. Only a short drive from Hudson’s main street, popular for its antique stores and trendy restaurants and just over the state border from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, this hidden gem is well worth a stop if you’re in the area. The owner is the same woman I remember from my trips there 18 or more years ago, and it is just as impressive now as it was when I was a kid.

Book lovers rejoice – in a world of digital files, eReaders and online orders, old fashioned used book stores still exist.

Rodger’s Book Barn is located at 467 Rodman Road, Hillsdale, New York. As per it’s website, the store boasts over 50,000 titles and is open November through March on Fridays through Sundays, 11am-5pm and April through October on Thursdays through Mondays from 11am-5pm.

Feature Gardening

A Tale of Two Gardens

September 2, 2015
old fashioned modern living fall garden

All last winter I dreamed of a lush, manicured garden in my new yard, with vegetable plants everywhere there was space. When March rolled around and the weather got slightly warmer, I started sneaking outside to pull weeds, bag up trash and begin preparing the ground for the garden. Sometimes I was by myself, slipping outside for an hour while my husband watched the baby; other times there was a squirmy infant on my back, bouncing up and down in her carrier, trying her hardest to throw her crouching mama off balance as she pulled up errant grass shoots.

I had varying levels of success with the garden this year. The two blueberry bushes I planted never had a chance, just dried up twigs sticking out of the ground no matter how well I tried to care for them. My cucumbers took off running, but instead of the straight, beautiful heirloom fruit they were meant to grow, they produced pale, prickly little globes that had visitors asking, “but what ARE those?” as though I had planted something utterly alien.

My zucchini plants produced 6-8 nice squash, and my green and yellow beans (on the same bush, people. Green and yellow beans growing on the same bush like some sort of magic.) produced beautifully, yielding handfuls of beans each week that went into stir fries and rich vegetable soups. I even got a couple of japanese eggplant, despite the plants never really seeming to flourish. And the tomatoes. One plant each of 5 different varieties have made sure I always have tomatoes on hand.

Each evening from spring through summer I would slip outside to water the garden, paying special attention to the plants in planters, because they just dry out so easily. I have absolutely loved it. The satisfaction of seeing my plants grow day by day, then picking vegetables I had planted and cared for, cooking them and watching my baby gleefully devour them was indescribable.

Well, the dog days of summer came, and maybe some sort of garden blight as well, and my plants started to go. I did double duty weeding and sprayed them down with natural fungicides to no avail. The zucchini and cucumber plants shriveled up and the bean plants lost their leaves and had to be pulled out. Only my tomatoes still seem to be really holding steady, with the cherry tomato bush still heavily loaded with ripening fruit, which I truly appreciate given my daughter’s new found appetite for tomatoes.

So now what? I call it a day and wait for next spring, right?

Wrong! Are you ready for this?

It’s the beginning of September and I can plant another garden.

That’s right, in the north east where we have 4 distinct seasons and a very real winter coming in just a few months, I can plant a fall garden. And so can you, if you’re so inclined.

I first got an inkling that this was possible back in the spring when I discovered watermelon radishes. Unlike the mediocre little red balls you find bagged in the supermarket, the watermelon radishes I ordered from Farmigo were huge and sweet with a hint of pepper, super crunchy and beautiful – pale green on the outside and vibrant, deep pink within. Determined to have these on hand every day for the rest of forever, I went to order seeds. Hold on…must be grown in cool weather? Does best when fall planted? What does that mean?

Since then I’ve been keeping an eye out for cold-hardy plants, the ones that will survive into the fall and maybe even early winter. The kinds of plants that not only survive a chill, but may even benefit from it. It turns out that dark leafy greens like kale, collard greens, mustard greens and spinach tolerate cold well, and kale can even be improved by a little frost! Broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts are all from the same cold-tolerant family. Then there’s the roots: your beets, turnips and radishes, nestled safely and happily in the ground.

If you’re planning to plant a fall garden, just be sure to pay attention to the instructions for your seeds or plants. As always, different varieties have different needs and tolerances. It’s going to take some work to take out all the old plants and start planting again, but if all goes well, we can be picking fresh produce, about as local as it gets, well into November.

So while I’m by no means excited about the ends of my tomatoes or the last of my basil withering away, I am looking forward to throwing on a sweatshirt and boots and heading outside to harvest my swiss chard, watermelon radishes, kale and beets.

What about you? Are you thinking of planting a fall garden?