Final Days – “My Wish” Rascal Flatts

I have now been home for a few days, and have thought often about finishing this last post.  But each time I began, I just could not bring myself to finish it… almost as if by completing the blog post, my journey would truly be over.   Here are my thoughts on the final day and re-entry into my real life.

Our last evening as a group was a celebratory dinner after our ride into St. Augustine.  The excitement of the day still hummed about the room, the chatter and laughter rang through the restaurant.  We had spent 60 days together, yet there was still so much to talk and laugh about.   We sat at small tables and enjoyed the company.   There were speeches and toasts, and laughter.   And there were gifts for the dish washing crew!

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After dinner, I headed out to meet with my incredible welcoming committee!  I am still basking in the warmth of their love and support!  My routine over the last 60 days has pretty much been the same, it was predictable, simple and mindless.   Here I was trying to stay awake after 9 pm and have a couple of drinks.. I did not last until 11! a few pics – not all of my crew!

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Early Friday morning, I looked out the window and was greeted by a sensational downpour.   I was so thankful that I did not have to put on my bike clothes and ride out into it – it proved to be quite a storm.   I did have to go out – but for a different task.  The handover of Sweet Ruby to Carol for a ride to the bike shop for packing and transport home.   There were 13 bikes that were to be shipped home, and about a dozen riders hitching a ride to the airport.   The area in front of  lobby was busy and unfortunately for anyone trying to sleep – was a bit noisy.

image image image imageMy emotions on Thursday were pure joy and happiness, surprisingly I was not as weepy as I thought I would be.   I could not say the same for Friday.   Watching each bike get loaded onto the van symbolized the end of the ride for each of us.   People were saying their good byes and heading back to their lives.   I admit it, I was teary.  I am sure that I will see some of these women again, and with the likes of social media will be able to easily stay in touch.   A diverse group of 30 women – different backgrounds, ages, skill level, personalities all together for one purpose, to bicycle across the Southern Tier of the US.   This was the glue that held the group together – the common enjoyment of riding a bike.  Each with the determination to climb out of bed everyday and tackle the route.   Overcoming weather, fatigue, boredom, bad roads, illness and mechanical issues- each participant rode their ride, and created their own journey.   There were 7 that completed every last mile, there were others that were short one day of riding, others that completed the amount of miles that they wanted to or could do.  Whether 1000 miles completed or 3000+ no one pedaled it for you.  You had to do it all. Congratulations to each of them.

Beyond the riding, there were lessons to be learned about self, life and coexistence.   For me this trip reinforced many things about myself that I already knew.  And not all good 🙂  .    I still have so much to learn, and to do and to be.   With a bit more insight into those traits that make me strong, and an acknowledgement of those things that hamper me I can continue to move forward and enjoy and contribute meaningfully to life – both mine and others.  I thank those women who helped me during the trip – your kind words, encouragement, support and cheers made a tremendous difference to me.   I have spoken of my cycling buddy Tanya in the past and am so thankful that we  were able to ride together for many days.  We laughed, we chatted, we cried, we swore, and we pedaled and rode often for miles and miles without a word.  I believe I have made a friend for life.   Nancy and Carolyn, our SAG drivers shared their cycling experience with us (Carolyn is the fastest tire changer in the land – she could compete against any NASCAR pit crew…), their kindness and their compassion.   Nancy drew the short straw on several occasions and had SAG duty on a few of my most difficult days.  She witnessed the unraveling of Karen Coffey, and yet never once made me feel bad  or diminished.  I am ever grateful.  Carol had the task of herding cats everyday, and she did it with experience, precision and a sense of humor.  Truly a great person. Thank you, Carol.   So many of the others in the group impacted me daily – thank you.

I cannot thank all of you enough — your support, encouragement and love have been incredible.   Know that each comment, text, post, card, and phone call were heard, read and cherished.   There were days that I was unsure if I could go on, there were days that I was unsure if I could get on Ruby, there were days that were mind numbingly boring, there were days that I missed home – my son, my family, my friends, my colleagues, my bed, my routine.   Your words, your cheers got me through each of those moments.   And for the days that I enjoyed, the days that the sun shone brightly, the wildflowers lined my road, the days that I prevailed agains the climb or the wind, the days that I laughed and made new friends – those were the days that I brought all of you along with me to enjoy the ride.  To my send off in San Diego, to Arizona, Texas and Florida – you have come out in droves to offer support.  Hugs from my neighbors (once a neighbor, always a  neighbor…), friends and family made all the difference.  I appreciate your taking time out of your lives to fly, drive and hang out with me.   Genuinely amazed and overwhelmed by all of it!

The gifts of my supportive village did not end there – your generosity and commitment to my charity partner, Make-A-Wish NH was astounding.  As of today we are only a few hundred dollars shy of $18,000.   WOW!   I would like to acknowledge Donna Parker, and the hard working folks at Make-A-Wish for their tireless efforts of granting wishes of children!   The joy, happiness and memories created are priceless – and live on forever.   Thank you, Donna and team.       My heart is also full of love and gratitude for those who have shared their Make-A-Wish experiences with me over the last few months.   When I chose Make-A-Wish it was from watching a friend and her family go through the experience – but what I found was that Make-A-Wish has touched so many lives around me – those that I knew, and those that I have met along the way. For those of you that opened your wallet – I appreciate your sharing your hard earned dollars with Make-A-Wish. There are so many competing needs both personally and charitably that I appreciate your choice and support.

Please know that your donations will go toward the funding of two wishes for deserving wish kids and their families.   Feels good?  Absolutely.

I would also like to acknowledge my employer, W.Capra Consulting Group – Chicago for agreeing to my request for a sabbatical, providing me the time and distance to separate myself from work, and for those colleagues who had to pick up my slack.    I am fortunate to be part of a great organization that values their people, makes work challenging but fun and well, likes beer.  Thanks to Doug, Pat, Terry, Mike….. and my most favorite -Tim, and the entire W.Capra team.

Well, I could go on – but I do need to get to work…but I would like to leave you with this… I am not any different than any of you.  I am your neighbor, your classmate, your colleague,  your friend.   I am  not any stronger or smarter than any of you.   To me, the most important act that you can grant to yourself, is to give yourself permission to think big.  Remove the negativity, remove the excuses, remove the I can’ts – and work on the list of how could I do that?   What would I want ?  How do I get there?     It may take time – years perhaps (my trip was planned for 582 days ), it may take money, ( I saved, scrimped, and made changes to my lifestyle), it may take effort (physical training, education, learning), it may take belief (yours and those around you… and if those around you don’t believe…. keep looking.. there are those will be supportive) and it may take guts.      But each one of  you possess the ability to think big, plan and do.

 

Until we meet again,

Karen

 

RASCAL FLATTS LYRICS

“My Wish”

I hope that the days come easy and the moments pass slow,
And each road leads you where you want to go,
And if you’re faced with a choice, and you have to choose,
I hope you choose the one that means the most to you.
And if one door opens to another door closed,
I hope you keep on walkin’ till you find the window,
If it’s cold outside, show the world the warmth of your smile,But more than anything, more than anything,
My wish, for you, is that this life becomes all that you want it to,
Your dreams stay big, and your worries stay small,
You never need to carry more than you can hold,
And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to,
I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too,
Yeah, this, is my wish.I hope you never look back, but ya never forget,
All the ones who love you, in the place you left,
I hope you always forgive, and you never regret,
And you help somebody every chance you get,
Oh, you find God’s grace, in every mistake,
And you always give more than you take.But more than anything, yeah, and more than anything,
My wish, for you, is that this life becomes all that you want it to,
Your dreams stay big, and your worries stay small,
You never need to carry more than you can hold,
And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to,
I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too,
Yeah, this, is my wish.My wish, for you, is that this life becomes all that you want it to,
Your dreams stay big, and your worries stay small,
You never need to carry more than you can hold,
And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to,
I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too,
Yeah, this, is my wish.This is my wish
I hope you know somebody loves you
May all your dreams stay big
E

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 55 – “Sweet Emotion” Aerosmith

Palatka, to St. Augustine, FL

45 miles

Grand Total:  3075!!!

OHHHH What a day!!

I nearly skipped to breakfast I was so excited.  I wanted to savor and enjoy every possible moment of the day.   Just as I had done for 50+ days, I packed up my bags for the last time, and hauled them into the trailer.  Grabbed something to eat – admittedly not much- but needed some fuel, as we were riding 45 miles!!   After breakfast I went back to my room and grabbed my bike and helmet – took one last glance around and headed to the parking lot.   I skipped the snack table, and realized belatedly, that I had not topped off the air in my tires.  So maybe, I did not do the same thing I had done every day and this day would be a little different.

We headed out of Palatka and quickly found ourselves making turns on quiet country roads.    We rolled in at 20 for our final SAG- topped off water bottles and headed to the fire station to assemble for our final 7 miles, which we would travel as a group.

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At the fire station we were met by Brian,  our police escort and went over the details of our arrival.   We were also told that a short distance from the fire station their would be quite a bit of police activity as their was currently a “police action” ongoing – as some type of warrants were being issued.  Okay!

We lined up in pairs. Tanya and I decided that we should finish as we started at the end!   I told her that we were not the end – but that we should think of it as if we were dessert!   Being the teacher’s pet/brown nose/kiss ass that I admittedly am – this worked out perfect — right in front of us were our terrific SAG drivers Carolyn and Nancy and riding sweep was our guide and chief keeper – Carol and our talented Chef- Patty.

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Brian led us out and we headed toward Anastasia State Park .  I was enjoying every moment and so excited to see my family and friends.  Plus blowing through all of the red lights was great.

When we made the turn into the park their were several hoots and whoops!  But the  nervous chatter that had accompanied us (and the singing of Happy Birthday to Cathy) had turned into quiet sound of pedaling and anticipation!

I thought I would cry – but I was just so very happy to be completing this most amazing and challenging journey.  Seeing my crazy welcoming committee decked out with balloons and banners and crazy champagne glasses was tremendous!   I could not get off my bike quickly enough   Hugs, taps and kisses all around.

After our greeting we headed down to the beach to dip our tires for our official finish.

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Such a great day.   I will share some final thoughts on my next blog post – not sure i will be able to articulate all of the emotions and thoughts  – but i will try!   And they are sweet!!!

 

Day 54 – “Happy” Pharrell

High Springs to Palatka,FL

74 Miles

Total Miles:  3030!!!!

Today’s song was inspired by a stop at Dairy Queen at mile 73!

There is nothing like a promise of an ice cream to inspire women to sprint 20 miles in 98% humidity after 50 miles!   Along with the cool refreshment, there was an outburst of dancing in the parking lot.   Another patron parked his truck near us, and when he opened the door he had “Happy” blaring from his speakers.  A few of the gang somewhat accosted him and asked if he could leave his door open and not leave until the song was over.   He agreed, and then there was dancing with ice cream in the parking lot.   As is often the case, pictures just do not do it justice – but it was a wonderful moment to behold!

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Another highlight of the day included surpassing 3000 miles!   I am having trouble processing that – but my angry ass assures me that we did do it!

Tomorrow we will have breakfast at the hotel, so this morning was our last “trailer” cooked meal by our chef Patty.  I trained for breakfast.  Not just the bike riding – but breakfast.  I ate oatmeal for 30 days in a row, so that when presented with it , I could choke it down.   Today, I easily consumed my oatmeal. I am now prepared to go back to 4H Summer camp and do it again!

Patty is one of 3 cooks that we have enjoyed.  She is a talented and experience chef and guide.  Each of the three had their own style and talent – it has been a pleasure meeting all of them – Kudos to Sarah, Kimberly and Patty.  Thank you!

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During the ride today, I was not thinking too far ahead, it just seemed like another ride to me.  Mileage to make to move ourselves across the southern tier.  It was not until I arrived at the hotel and started to organize my gear for tomorrow that it really hit me that tomorrow is the last day!

I enjoyed my last dishwashing session with the gang!  I was teasing that I did not sign up for a cycling tour – the brochure that I received highlighted the dishwashing experience, and during the day there was cycling!

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The gang has arrived from NH and I cannot wait to see everyone tomorrow!

We have received our last cue sheet and instructions for tomorrow.  We head out and do the the first 40 miles as “normal” and meet up at a Fire Station about 7 miles out.  We assemble and will receive a police escort into St. Augustine.  We roll rain or shine — and it looks  like we may have rain — I am hoping we can stay ahead of it and avoid a down pour.

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Off to finishing packing and then trying to catch a wink or two!

 

Day 53 – “Everyday is a winding road” Sheryl Crow

Perry to High Springs, Fl

76 miles

Total: 2956!!!

Humidity.  Have I mentioned how thick the moisture is here?  I feel as though I am having a breathing treatment every morning.   Yuck.

At mile 8 this morning, my head was talking smack.  My knees hurt, my butt was sore, and the thought of having to ride another 65+ miles made me cranky.  I just kept turning the pedals over. One mile at a time.  I visualized my legs connected to strings, and like a marionette, I kept thinking pull the leg up, put the leg down, pull the leg up, put the leg down.  Eventually I pulled into our first 20 mil stop.   I ate my 800th banana of the trip, refilled my water and within 10 minutes was back on the bike heading for the next 20.  The good news was that my crankiness lifted, and I settled in.

The scenery was uneventful – rural landscape, dairy and chicken farms, a couple of gas stations.  Not much new.  The highlight of the day was at mile 56 when we arrived at the entrance to the Ichetucknee Springs State Park.  I was going to blow by it and get to the hotel, but I was encouraged to stop in and check out the spring pool.  I am so glad that I did. It was beautiful.  I met up with several of the other riders, many who had jumped into the pool in their bike garb.  I was not as eager to ride the remaining 20 miles with soaking wet clothes so I waded in and poured water on my head and shirt.  Ahhhhh it was wonderful. imageimageimage

We road along a bike path for about 7.5 miles, which is always welcomed- no cars, trucks or road kill to avoid!  We crossed the Suwannee River (sing along…) which like many local rivers has flooded.

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Made it to the diner across from our motel just in time to avoid a major thunderstorm.

Tonight I am happy to say that we are at our last motel — i will not say more than that,….

Tomorrow is a 74 mile day, – only 2 more days to go!

Lots of discussion about re-entry and what everyone is going to do.  Many of the women are retired, so they are looking for their next adventure, or to keep busy.   Me? I will be at my desk in my loftice on Monday morning connecting with and thanking my boss and colleagues at W.Capra who have been handling my work and giving me time and peace to enjoy my sabbatical.   Oh what the price will be?   hmmmmm?

My sisters and dear friends are flying in tomorrow and I cannot wait to see them at Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine on Thursday.    Bring an umbrella!

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Day 52 – “Don’t stop believing” Journey

Crawfordville to Perry, FL

54 miles

Total: 2880

Some days the ride is just about the miles, and moving to the next destination. Today was one of those days.  54 uneventful and unremarkable miles mostly on 98 east.  I did have a couple of snake sightings. Both dead and alive.  I am relieved to be on my bike and able to zip by them.  But I will admit to emitting a girly yelp when I come upon one.

It is hard to believe that there are only three days remaining on my cross country adventure!

I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has supported my fundraising effort for Make A Wish. It is always uncomfortable asking for money, but when you believe in the cause or organization, it makes it just a little bit easier.  Along the way, Make A Wish families and friends have shared their experiences with me, and I appreciate your  willingness to do so. Your experiences help to reinforce that I have selected a worthy charity partner.

It has been a pleasure working with Donna Parker from Make A Wish NH. I have received terrific support and resources. Plus she is an awesome person and it has been a pleasure getting to know her.   Donna gave me a lightweight bag which I have taken with me and use everyday.  Each time I grab the bag, I think of the good work and wishes that your donations will help to provide.  91% of the funds raised go to wish granting.   I set an aggressive goal of $15,000 and knew that it would be a stretch to reach it, but I believed with all my heart that it could be reached.  I am proud and humbled to say that as of today, including checks we have raised over $17,000!!!!!!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I am not quite finished yet-still have three more days to ride.  If you have been thinking about donating, you still have a few days left!   Help us fulfill the wish of a deserving Wish Kid and their family

Check  out the link at the top of the page to learn more about how you can donate, or if you are interested in learning more about Make A Wish NH –  Visit nh.wish.org.  If you are from another area,  google your local chapter for information.   Volunteers, in kind services, and deserving wish families are always in demand.

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Special thanks go out to Karen and Marc Bernier for sharing their Make A Wish family experience, and honoring their Wish Kid, Canaan.  Much love to my sisters, Kathy and Joanne for their efforts in getting the word out, putting together a terrific auction and being my strength when I just couldn’t muster it

xoxo

-Karen

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Day 51- “Come away with me” Norah Jones

Crawfordville -Rest Day!

46 miles!!

Total Miles: 2826

On my day off — if you had asked me 6 weeks ago if I would be riding on my rest day, I would have thought you were crazy.

Yesterday on our way back from Wakulla Springs State Park, I rode past a sign for a Lighthouse.  The sign indicated that it was 20 miles away.  I thought that I would like to go, but at that moment – was not to thrilled about getting on the bike on my day off.

The hotel offers a light breakfast, so I headed down at 8:00. I sat with Karen and Connie, whose company I greatly enjoy.  They are both short in stature but large in personality, kindness and are truly genuine.   As we discussed our intentions for our rest day, I mentioned the St. Mark Lighthouse to Karen.  Truth be told, I was looking for someone that would give me the nudge that I needed to head to the lighthouse.  Karen is perfect for this, as she enjoys sightseeing and has taken quite a few sidetrips during our cross country adventure.

She was all for the trip- we ran back to our rooms, made a quick change and headed out to St. Marks Wildlife Refuge/State Park.  Sue joined us and the three of us rolled on.   It was a great day, an easy ride on a road with a large shoulder, 11 miles into the park on park roads. Great scenery – marshes, coastal waters, birds, turtles – even a few alligators.

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We enjoyed lunch at a local bar – and had a bit of local fare – fried oysters, grilled shrimp!  Overall a perfect day all around.

My thoughts were full of wonderful memories of Sue Z who loved lighthouses.  I think St. Mark’s beckoned me so that I would spend the day thinking of her warm smile, her strength and zeal for life. She is truly missed.    I also though of Nicole D – another terrific person who enjoys lighthouses, and who has been a wonderful supporter of my journey.

4 riding days to go!  Still trying to get my head around the fact that this journey is coming to an end. Thanks to all of you for joining me on this great adventure!

Day 50 – “See you later alligator” Bill Haley & Comets

Quincy to Crawfordville, FL

52 miles

Total: 2780

A foggy start to the day found us on a “fog hold” for an hour before we headed out.  We had the luxury of a shorter ride, so there was not the need to risk our safety heading out in the poor visibility.

The last few days though Florida, have been with terrain that included many rolling hills.  I can no longer make a blanket statement that Florida is flat!  Perhaps the lower part is flat, but up here in Northern Florida, we have worked our way for days up and over many, many hills!

On our way to Crawfordville, we had an option for a side trip to Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park.  I opted to head in and enjoy lunch in the Lodge.  After I walked around the grounds and enjoyed the view of the lake and the grounds.  As it was Saturday, the area was very busy with many people swimming or jumping off the high dive platform.  Several of our riders decided to take a boat ride to try and catch a view of Manatees and Alligators.   They saw many alligators but due to recent rains, the water was a bit murky to catch a sighting of the manatees.

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Tomorrow we have one more rest day before we embark on the last 4 days of riding and our arrival into St. Augustine on Thursday.

 

Day 49 – “Chattahoochee” Alan Jackson

Mariana to Quincy, FL

54 miles

Total: 2728!

Further inland we traveled today, with the most notable moment of the day was crossing the Chattahoochee River.  The rivers are swollen here, and many have overrun their banks, and flooded local roads and yards.

We outran the dark clouds and avoided a thunderstorm.   One more day of riding before our last rest day and our final four riding days!

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We have enjoyed many great dinners across this country made with limited resources in the back of our travel trailer by 3 talented cooks.  Each one during their time with us has brought their own own style and taste.   After dinner, a few of us volumteer to help with the dishes.  It sounds crazy, but this time has become one of my favorite parts of the trip.  We laugh, we banter, we wash dishes!  Just another reminder that it is about the people that you spend time with, not the tasks or activities!

A few pictures from tonight!   Many thanks to Joyce (my twin Dish Bitch), Carolyn, Nancy, Twila, Mary-Slade, Sue, Ellen, Carol and Patty – for lots of fun.

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Day 48 – “Rocking down the highway” The Doobie Brothers

Crestview to Marianna, FL

91 Miles

Total: 2674

Left this morning at 7:05 shrouded in fog and heavy mist.  My glasses were fogged up and I had to take them off so I could see where I was going.  Temps went up to 85, and relative humidity was about 45%!   The cloud cover gave way to the sun around 9:15.  A gentle breeze kept the heat at bay.

After navigating out of Crestview, our route was pretty straightforward – 90 miles on route 90 East!   The Doobie Brothers song popped into my head as we were tooling along.  We went through several small towns – I am amazed at the names of some of these places  – Today was Mossy Head (Which made me wonder if the inventor of Chia Pets lived there…), Argyle (which made me think about how you can lose socks in the washing machine ), Ponce De Leon (…of course… in search of the Fountain of Youth)….well you can see how these rides go….by the time I arrived in Chipley – I was thinking of chocolate chip ice cream, and the last town of the day before we arrived in Marianna was Cottondale.    And what was your first thought.. mmmhmmm…

 

Today marked the last “long” ride — or a ride over 80 miles — we have two over 70 before we arrive in St.Augustine.   I am happy that this one is completed!

This part of Florida does not look like Florida to me — Pine trees, green, rural town- it could be anywhere.

Next stop? Quincy ….

 

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Day 47 -“You’ve got a friend” James Taylor & Carole King

Pensacola to Crestview, FL

65 miles

I enjoyed our quick trip to Pensacola.  Had a great dinner last night in the historic downtown. Lots of outdoor dining, rehabbed buildings and restaurants and bars.  Too bad I didn’t have any energy to explore after dinner, but I will add Pensacola to my list of places to return.   Once out of downtown, the ride took us along the coast for a bit and over another bridge.  We moved inland through several small towns, and enjoyed 6.5 miles on a bike path.  We exited the bike path and made a few quick turns onto a country road that we rode on for 15 miles.

 

We have enjoyed cloud cover and overcast skies for much of this trip which has kept the temperature down. Today, (and the next few days) the temps went up to 85 and the sun was bright in the sky.  Perfect day to celebrate the end of the ride with an ice cream.  Tomorrow we head out by 7 to beat the heat and pedal our last long day. 94 miles.  I cannot wait until that ride is done!

As I head into the last week of riding, and begin to reflect on the last 7 weeks, I want to thank my incredible family, friends, and colleagues for their incredible support.  Never once have I felt alone with your emails, texts, comments, cards and surprises.   Many of these came exactly when I needed them the most.    My heartfelt thanks to all.

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