Returning the Favor

By Stacy Thompson

So first of all…the flu stinks – don’t know if I actually had the flu, but I certainly felt pretty bad for several days and kept myself quarantined just to avoid any contamination.  Still not at 100%, but I’m back in the swing of things—apologies for my late blog submission, but just couldn’t stay upright to get it in earlier!!

So, as excited as I am about both South Carolina teams this Spring – baseball and softball, that is – I have to rave about my new favorite Facebook obsession, and the absolute best feel-good moment you will experience…EVER!  Yes, I realize that Facebook is likely mocked by those born in the 2000s and the butt of any joke which includes the terms “grandma” or “so-last-decade” or accompanied by a serious eye-roll – but, let’s face it, I love to keep up with my friends who are from that decade, many of whom are in fact, grandmas, and I could care less whether I see an eye-roll, as long as I can wish a long-lost-friend a most Happy Birthday or Anniversary!!

Returning the Favor

By far one of the best experiences I have had on Facebook recently doesn’t involve politics, or recent meals, or even prom invites…if you need to feel good about humanity, and know for sure that there are still wonderful people doing amazing things in their community, look no further than Mike Rowe – he of Dirty Jobs (which was an awesome reality show before reality shows became laughable) – Mike not only loves his mother (see no further than his podcasts, in which he reads her e-mails and hilarity ensues…’Old Blue’ being one such example — http://mikerowe.com/2016/09/mondays-with-mother/) but is a genuinely good guy as well.  He has started a show on Facebook called ‘Returning the Favor’ – if you haven’t seen it yet, please, do yourself a favor a check it out, as it will restore your faith in humanity, inspire you and give you a good cry…all in about ½ an hour.

One of the first episodes I caught on Returning the Favor was about a once homeless kid who decided to make soap for homeless shelters – here was this guy who now had a home, but decided to give back nonetheless, and in the simplest way possible – by making soap.  If ever you thought that a small gesture could not make a big impact, you were sorely mistaken – he and his mom are true examples of paying it forward.  https://www.facebook.com/ReturningTheFavor/videos/1941259262812001/

Other amazing stories I cannot get enough of:

 

The main message in all of the above is not what these individuals are doing (although it should be noted that they are all amazing!!) – it’s that we can do this in our community, in our towns and to help our people – please watch, please listen and, more importantly, please Return the Favor!!  Love you Mike Rowe, and we all look forward to Returning the Favor!!!

Again…and again

By Stacy Thompson

So it’s more than 120 days until college football season…and watching pro baseball is mind-numbing, to say the least.  College basketball (men’s and women’s) is over as well…we do have the NBA playoffs and NHL playoffs to get excited about, but nonetheless, it’s a dead time around here for the most part.  I have no fantasy football roster to prepare, no tailgate food to organize and ready, and my next trip with Mom is several weeks away, so what’s a girl to do??? Well, I could binge-watch Friends yet again for the nine-hundreth time, could binge-watch another of the ‘critically acclaimed’ or ‘audience favorite’ series on cable TV or online….or, I could just re-read some of my favorite books.

Re-reading a book, to me, is akin to channel-surfing on a lazy Saturday and stumbling upon a John Hughes classic film (think Ferris Bueller’s Day off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, etc. etc.)—you’re going to experience a plot-line you know by heart and words that you either quote incessantly or live by daily, but you’re going to enjoy it nonetheless.  The list below is eclectic, mainstream, classic and personal, all rolled into one – when I read for pleasure (which isn’t often enough) I lean toward books and series that I can simply let wash over me—nothing too serious or too deep that I can’t pick it up and put it down but rarely want to do the latter.  For the most part I want a book that will entertain me while at the same time allowing me a chance to turn my mind off—but something that will make me laugh or cry without being a total bummer. Like many readers, I have several that I go back to time and time again – for the familiarity, the comfort and the pure joy of a well-written story.

So here are my choices for Books You Can Read Again and Again…and Again

  • To Kill ATo Kill A Mockingbird – yes, you probably had to read it in high school, but give this gem another chance and appreciate the message behind the story – I think Atticus Finch impacted my decision to go to law school more than any advisor ever could and his code of ethics are the barometer we should all strive to meet daily
  • The Stand – take the time to wade through Stephen King’s uncut version of this opus – it’s not a quick read, but extremely worthwhile, with characters on all sides of the ethical spectrum dealing with life-altering dilemmas – this book is, by far, one of King’s least horror-leaning books.  I’d also recommend two other King books, Mr. Mercedes (more recent) and Different Seasons (four short stories, one of which was made into the classic film Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me)
  • Gone With The Wind – I was ten years old when my fifth-grade teacher gave me her copy of this book and challenged me to read it – it’s a history lesson, guidebook on the old South, human-interest illustration and love story all rolled into one
  • The Harry Potter Series – I got into these late (why all the fuss? I asked at the time)harry potter – hadn’t read any until the fourth one was coming out, and then cursed JK Rowling for not getting the remaining volumes out quickly enough – yes, it’s a meant to be a tween novel series, but adults are sure to enjoy every page
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott manages to give every character a different character while weaving a most cohesive story
  • Little House on the Prairie – Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert may have brought these characters to life on the TV screen, but after reading the books, I wanted nothing more than to make maple syrup popsicle sticks in the snow and to churn my own butter
  • Hunger Games trilogy – once again a tween-read, but an entertaining read to the very end—we all would want any young girl in our life to have the strength of Katniss
  • The Great Gatsby – I’ll admit that I had to force-read this in school, but reading it again as an adult proved this timeless classic should be given a second chance…and a third chance…and (you get the picture)eat pray love
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed – if you’ve read my previous blogs, you know I love a good hike…what this woman did was above and beyond that, and her story is worth repeating
  • James Elliott – All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful…etc.
    After reading these books I was convinced I need to become a veterinarian –I settled instead on being a lawyer who takes in any and all furry creatures that cross my path
  • Eat, Pray, Love – see “Wild” above, but with much better food and more showers…for sure

Everyone has their go-to book, the one you would have to take with you on a desert island – I, of course, would skirt the desert island one-book minimum by insisting on a Kindle to house several dozen books!  Happy Reading everyone and enjoy this down time until football and tailgate season!!

From the mountain to the Valley

By Stacy Thompson

So how to follow up climbing to the Rooftop of Africa? Head to the lowest dry point in North America!  When my mom first suggested a hiking and camping trip to Death Valley, I of course had to wisecrack “the one in Clemson or Baton Rouge?” (for my non-sports-obsessed readers, the football stadiums at LSU and Clemson are nicknamed ‘Death Valley’)  She responded with a well-deserved eye-roll, and then said she was serious…she wanted to hike in Death Valley.  With very little knowledge of the region, but, as ever, trusting my mom’s keen sense of adventure, I repeated the words I respond with whenever she suggests a hike…”I’ll never say no!”

So last month we hit the trail again, but this time in the confines of a 3.4 million-acre US National Park that is the largest in the contiguous US.  Not only is Death Valley the driest (about 2 inches of rain…annually!) and the hottest (record high of 134 degrees) place in North America, it also has the lowest dry elevation of -282 feet in Badwater Basin.  Legend has it that the Valley was named by gold-rushers who spent several miserable months trying to get through to California –after suffering dehydration and near starvation, when they finally reached the edge of the desert, one turned and looked back to exclaim “Goodbye Death Valley.”

I’ve visited deserts in my travels, and have spent numerous weeks inside of and around the Grand Canyon.  My past experiences in no way prepared me for the diversity of Death Valley.

From mudstone hills and canyons…

To serene, magnificent sand dunes…

To the salt pan surrounded by distant peaks…

Every day, and even several times in a day, we were experiencing inspiring vistas and dramatically varied terrains.  As always, Mom kept on hikin’…

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And although we didn’t get to see much wildlife (did you read the part above about the lack of rain and extreme heat…don’t blame them!), we did manage to spy on this little guy on one of our treks…

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In all, it was another amazing adventure to one of the more unusually beautiful places in our country – I’d highly recommend it, but may want to avoid the summer months!!!

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Happy Trails!

By Stacy Thompson

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I enjoy a good hike and, even better, a good challenge.  Although I’ve always loved the outdoors, hiking only recently became a favorite pastime, as I decided to follow in the footsteps of a pretty incredible mother (mine) who felt the pull of the peak.  Since her first climb six years ago, we’ve been on some incredible journeys together – but in finding joy in our journey, we have to prepare and prepare hard.  In truth, the hikes are amazing, but our prep time together is the greatest gift that leads to our ultimate goal.

So how do two land-locked, Lexington County natives living at 292 feet prepare for Machu Picchu (7,972 feet), base camp of Mt. Everest/Kala Patthar (18,514 feet) and Kilimanjaro (19,431 feet)??? One foot in front of the other, in stairwells, steps and trails anywhere and everywhere we can find them!  Maybe our fellow hikers with the benefit of high altitudes in the vicinity have an advantage, but we make the most of what we have available to us, and to date we have met every challenge.

Here are a few of our favorite spots to train and enjoy the outdoors in the Midlands (leaving out the parking garage, of course!)—

  • Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park – still a work in progress and still recovering from the Great Flood – the flattest path you’ll find and a great place to train for a 5k, 10k or ½ marathon – particularly nice on cooler days, as most of the paths are sun-filled!
  • Sesquicentennial State Park – probably better for the bikers, but these trails are accessible and have campsites available for overnights, if that’s your thing
  • Congaree National Park – I’ve only explored the shorter trails and the area by kayak, but plan to venture further into the area to see what this National Park has to offer
  • Cayce Riverwalk – accessible from the amphitheater off Gervais or the lot off Naples in the Avenues of Cayce – one of the easier boardwalks and trails for bikers, runners, hikers and dog-walkers – this trail is continuing to improve/expand and cannot be missed – and speaking of ‘don’t miss,’ be sure to check out the chainsaw artistry of Wade Geddings while you take in the beauty of the Congaree
  • Timmerman Trail – venture down the 12th Street Extension in Cayce toward SCANA to find this gem of a trail – eventually downtown Soda City will meet River Rat as the Timmerman Trail / Cayce Riverwalk will join with the Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park for miles and miles of enjoyment – until then, Timmerman Trail does not disappoint!
  • Harbison State Park – we’ve been hiking the park for a couple of years now, but still manage to find new areas, new parts to get (semi) lost in, and new trails that have us marveling that we are still within the county limits! Trails for bikes, hikes and pups – what could be better (nothing, based on the look on my boy Lincoln’s face!)  There are trails for newbies, those wanting a little challenge and those looking to take it to the next level!

 

No Worries…Tanzania-style

By Stacy Thompson

“Hakuna Mata…what a wonderful phrase…Hakuna Mata…ain’t no passing phase…”

Believe it or not, this was a phrase I heard many times during my trip to Tanzania and Kilimanjaro – very well-used, and very appropriate for a people who live life with “No Worries” – the beauty of the people, landscape and animals in the wild is reason enough not to worry, but to simply enjoy!

If you haven’t read my last post, take the time to go back  to it (https://everywomanblog.com/category/stacy-thompson/) and realize why the excursion the week after my big climb up Kilimanjaro was well-deserved – what better way to celebrate such a milestone than to soak in Tanzanian wildlife and all the best the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater has to offer!

Prior to our arrival we were warned that although we would see a multitude of wildlife, we may or may not see some particularly shy creatures, such as leopards – and so, as our first stop in the safari jeep brought us to the following, we were more than excited about the days ahead…

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Yep, I’m a leopard in a tree – maybe a little like a magic-eye-picture, but squint and you’ll see me.

A brief glimpse at a leopard in a tree was quickly followed by nearly an hour of watching a young lion cub trying to venture up a tree – poor thing couldn’t decide whether to move up or down from the pride below, but was cute nonetheless…

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Heck yeah, I’m finally in this tree…looking down on you but not really sure I want to go higher

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OK, so I really don’t want to go higher…how do I get lower???

Soon after we would be treated to herds of zebras, a muddy lone (and very pregnant) hyena, curious wildebeests and a yawning hippo…

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Yeah I’m a horse with stripes…pretty cool, ain’t I?!?

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I’m looking at you with my best Whoopi Goldberg voice

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We’re so ugly, we’re cute

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OMG, I need a nap

As our safari continued on, the view got more amazing — little did I know that giraffes could be so graceful or impalas so serene – but both were a treat to view in their natural habitat…

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Please don’t ask me if I play basketball…

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…and yes, I DO eat this thorny mess you call the Acacia tree

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I like big horns and I cannot lie…

But the beauty and grace were no match for the King of the Jungle – without a doubt, the mighty lions, sleeping or not, were the most regal of creatures…

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Just hear me roar…or just watch me sit here…either way, I’m bad, and I know it

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I’ll just doze while you bask in my majesty…

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A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh

Meanwhile, the cheetas, the fastest creature on earth, also proved to be utterly captivating…

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Which of those Jeeps should we attack?? Probably none of them, as all they have is granola bars and oolang tea

 

 

Our next venture into Ngorogoro Crater brought us to the Hippo pond – fun fact:  did you know that the hippo spends 90% of its day in water (which is why a group of hippos are called a “pod” – much like whales) but is considered the most aggressive animal in the wild – who knew?? But not surprising considering the jaws on those beasts!!

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I bless the rains down in Africa…gonna take some time to do the things we never had…

After the Serengeti, we headed on to Ngorogoro crater which also brought us within very close contact to the water buffalo (no, I did not pull a Crocodile Dundee and attempt to put the massive animal in a slumber), more gorgeous zebra and a family of warthog (OK, you can go ahead and sing “when I was a young warthog…”)

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ohm…ohm…I don’t even care that there is a bird on my head…ohm…ohm…

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I am so much cooler than a regular horse…yep, I am

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Pumba…”I get downhearted…every time I….

After so many animals, amazing vistas, the highlight of the day was coming across a rather large family of rather large elephants…and one really cute baby elephant (who could have taken flight with those ears, but thankfully, only crossed in front of our Jeep to enter a new area to graze) – awesome, gentle, plodding creatures were a sight to behold…

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You’ve seen me in a zoo, but watching me cross about 15 feet in front of you is like 1,000,000 times cooler, isn’t it?!?!?

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I don’t need a feather…I’m capable of ANYTHING!!

And then we finished the safari week touring Manyara Lake – managed to see more elephant and our fair share of baboons – maybe only a face a mother could love, but the mothers and babies were the cutest of all!!

So this adventure after our ultimate adventure did not disappoint – as an animal lover, I could not get enough of these amazing creatures interacting in their own habitat – I could have spent five weeks instead of five days and would never have been bored – No Worries…What a Wonderful Day!!!

 

Well Done…

By Stacy Thompson

I apologize profusely to the administrators of this blog for my late submission, but those that read my last post will understand…a few days ago I realized a dream and made it to the Rooftop of Africa – and I will forever be changed for the better because of it.

After an exploratory day in Moshi, followed by a tour of a coffee and tea plantation, our group was hesitantly getting to know one another while already beginning the process of mentally preparing ourselves for the challenge ahead…which wasn’t too far from our minds or our sight (the view from our lodge made the challenge inescapable…)

Picture 1

The following day we took to the trail and began the greatest adventure with three days of hiking, covering nearly six thousand feet and thirteen miles among a background that transitioned from bamboo rainforest to moorland.  An acclimatization hike to Zebra Rock took us from Horombo Hut and 12,340 feet to over 14, 000 feet and a taste of the heights we would soon soar to…

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Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards – Kierkegaard

Our hike continued forward and onward to Kibo Hut – 15, 520 feet – and a ride through “the Saddle” a wide, flat plateau with our destination peaks looming ahead and a light meal awaiting us in the final hours before the final ascent.  Our pace deliberately slow, we could see up ahead the challenge of the mountain ahead while our minds repeated the Swahili phrase “Pole, Pole” (“Slowly, Slowly”) to ensure we met our goal.

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We dined on soup and some bread around 5 pm before retiring (all 12 of us men and women together in the ultimate bonding experience!) to a room of bunkbeds and our sleeping bags to catch a few hours of rest – knowing that we were to be awakened at 11:00 pm to start the arduous climb.  Yes, we were told that the purpose of the late-night start was to reach our goal at daybreak, but in truth the journey through the scree slope is best taken without seeing the angle of the climb (pretty much straight up!) and the distance to be traveled (over 3,000 feet) – exhaustion and freezing temperatures tell the body to sleep, but the overwhelming drive to reach the top combined with the constant vigilance of the Tanzanian guides keep one foot in front of the other until the most glorious sight of an African sunrise is seen on the horizon – as said sun begins to rise, our goal becomes a reality; as the scree ends and the boulders are overcome, Gilman’s Point is reached…

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In the end it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years. –Abraham Lincoln

So Gilman’s Point (18,652 feet) is a legitimate summit, as is Stella’s Point (18,885 feet), however, just a few short feet (OK, about 500 feet, and with severely decreased oxygen levels) away is Uhuru Peak – the real, true Rooftop of Africa and the ultimate goal – I’m not going to lie, the last hour wasn’t easy, but was made infinitely better by the glacier view.  Looking out over the clouds is surreal and being surrounded by volcanic cones nearly overwhelming, but the focus to attain our goal remained (despite the oxygen-deprivation, sleep-deprivation and overall exhaustion!!).  After over eight hours of hiking, straight up, in mostly dark, we reached the highest peak…

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Yes, that’s me, celebrating the only way I know how – by displaying the garnet & black!!

 

Life is either a daring adventure…or nothing at all – Helen Keller

So six years ago my mother decided (after getting her Medicare card in the mail) that life was too short to just sit back and make a bucket list – it was time each and every day to live that bucket list.  So she climbed a mountain, with no experience, with no expectations, but simply because she needed to try and do it.  After she climbed Kilimanjaro, I admit that although I was unbelievably impressed, I didn’t really understand what drove her to do it.  Later that year I joined her in climbing a mountain (Machu Picchu)…and have done so every year since then.  Climbing the physical mountain is an accomplishment and our ultimate goal, but overcoming the physical challenge is so much more than that – even though I love our trips together and the days we spend on the trail, I enjoy even more the hours spent in the stairwells and trails (modest inclines that they may be) preparing for each trip.  The challenge my mother undertook to conquer the World’s Highest Free Standing Mountain was not just a jump-start to a bucket list, but a new progression of a mother/daughter bond that will only continue to grow in the years to come.

Well Done…

As I was descending and had reached the forest once again, I passed a Tanzanian guide with two very well-groomed (recently showered) hikers – as he passed, we greeted each other with the traditional Swahili “Jambo” (hello) – he then asked “So you climbed the mountain?” to which I replied “Yes, yes I did.”  He then asked “did you make it to the top?” and I replied “yes, yes I did” – there was a pause, and I heard him quietly say “Well done” – those two words filled me with so much pride and a sense of accomplishment I will never forget.  Well done – yes, yes indeed.

Greatest adventures

By Stacy Thompson

In about a week I’m going to embark upon one of my greatest physical and mental challenges to date (but more about that later). As I sat down to write this post, I intended to reflect on the coolest adventures I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, but then very quickly realized that the list very clearly centered around one person – my mom.

There are many forms a mom may take, but mine has generally gone a little beyond the norm – I have, since I was very young, always noted that mine was “not a real Mom” but in the best possible way – as some examples, and as my list of greatest experiences/adventures ever, following are some of my mom’s best ringleader moments:

  • “What are you doing this weekend?” – these were the words I heard one Tuesday evening from my mom. The Saturday that followed included jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 11,000 feet with a couple of experienced jumpers at the ready to assist if our chutes didn’t open. Fortunately, the chutes opened quite nicely and we were left with an empowering, exhilarating experience of a lifetime!
  • Flipper was flippin’ awesome! We’ve had a few amazing animal-related experiences together – cuddling a Koala, hugging a monkey, getting up-close-and-personal with a giant clam and enjoying snack time with a joey in a kangaroo’s pouch – but sharing the waters with a dolphin ranks pretty high on the list!
  • “If I tell you…you cry…then you no go” – these were the words of our Peruvian guide on our treacherous way to Machu Picchu – the days were long, but worth the ultimate prize in our visit to one of the world’s wonders! It was the first of many hikes we have taken in the past several years, and started a trend that I hope will continue for many years to come!
  • Ultimate Hike – 30-mile hike in one day? Sure, why not, particularly when it means raising funds for children’s cancer research. The mother-of-all-bonding-experiences was a blast…even despite the snake – please enjoy our video journal…

https://www.facebook.com/stacyt11/videos/10209175407371613/

https://www.facebook.com/stacyt11/videos/10209175618896901/

  • “Go ahead…I dare you” – a/k/a “When in Rome…” So, our actual experiences in the Eternal City were pretty tame, but our adventures in the home of the bungee-jump, Queenstown, New Zealand, were anything but. Mom decided that we needed to engage in the home-town past-time and plunge 180 feet down a rocky cliff attached to an oversized rubber band. I stood on the platform over said cliff until our guides deigned to dare me to jump…so yeah, that one I blame on Mom and the overly exuberant Kiwis!
  • Mother Goddess of the Earth – base camp of Everest – we made it to 18,500 feet, trekked through a snowstorm and managed to survive without a shower for 6 days. The trip to Nepal and all its glory was unforgettable, unimaginable and indescribable – we truly loved the people, our Sherpas, our Yaks and our memories of The Peak of Heaven.

 

And finally, a trip we will not be taking together, but one that I am taking entirely because of her.  A few years back, after attaining her Medicare card, my mother took on the ultimate challenge to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro – 19, 341 feet, the Rooftop of Africa and Mountain of Greatness.  At the time, I thought she had really lost it and did not understand why she would put herself through something like that.  Then she returned and spoke of the beauty of the hike, the serenity of the climb and the overwhelming sense of accomplishment at the summit of that great peak.  So I’m once again following my Mom’s direction and in her footsteps – she will be with me every step of the way and hers is the hug I look forward to most upon my return!  I only hope to make her proud and to share one more great adventure!!