Event Camp 2018: The wrap-up

It’s so surreal to me that I’ve been riding this horse a year. A year. With a three month break so really more like nine months. For years I was the most nervous rider – I wouldn’t go on a trail ride, even on my dead broke QH. The slightest thing was enough to make me want to get off, much less my horse deciding he didn’t have brakes that day. I had reason to feel this way, but I thought that would be why I’d always be a QH rider or maybe if I got brave, I’d go do the hunters.

An eventer? Me? Never in a million years.

And then this week, here we were. Galloping around, having the time of our lives. Trusting the hell out of my amazing chestnut opinionated Saddlebred (who got like 59053809 compliments this week and deserved every single one of them). Feeling like I’ve found my place. Where I can be brave and do hard things and challenge myself a little bit more every day.

There’s a line in the Auburn creed that says, “I believe in a sound mind, in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid, and in clean sports that develop these qualities.” The last line of my RoadID says “& a spirit that is not afraid” because sometimes I need that little reminder. (And I just love that line, okay?)

My friends may tease me (lovingly) that I went to pony camp and that I’m always at the barn, but this makes me the best version of myself. It makes me braver, it makes me grittier, it makes me happier. And it may be dressage or jumpers or endurance or western pleasure for you, but for me right now? It’s eventing.

It’s a reminder that I can do hard things.

2018 has been a year of hard things. I broke my back. I left my job the beginning of June, under less than ideal circumstances. I’ve felt lost and sad and useless and I’m simultaneously overqualified and underqualified and I’m “not the one” and I’m ‘just not the priority’ or “it’s not you, it’s me”. But this week was a week where a group of people I’d never met stepped up and cheered and said, “Yes, you can!” and celebrated when I did.Where people laughed at antics, cheered when you conquered something (hey, I see you coffin jump), never let you leave the barn without a, “Have a great ride!” Where I was told, “You are enough, you are good, you have this” and I believed them.

It may seem deep and emotional for a week of pony camp, but the things this week taught me run a lot deeper than the barn. I did this week on my own – I hauled myself, unloaded, tacked up, fed, hooked up the trailer, hauled home, parked (!!) the trailer. Things I never had to do all by myself because I had the world’s greatest horse show mom. But at the same time – I didn’t do it on my own at all – I did it surrounded by a village of people.

I got through grad school knowing I could do hard things. And then somewhere in the last two years, I lost myself a little bit. I settled. I stopped challenging myself. I didn’t know what I wanted – in my career, relationships, living situation, hell, I didn’t know what I wanted for dinner most nights.

So it may just be a stadium oxer or a blue rolltop in a field, but this week it was a lot more to me. It was the stretching of muscles that haven’t been used in a while, the getting back out there, the getting back on the (literal and figurative) horse. It was deciding what I wanted and going after it, full steam ahead, teeth gritted, not afraid of a little blood, sweat and dirt.

It was me, becoming an eventer.

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Event Camp 2018: Day Four

And we’ve made it to the final day of event camp, excuse me while I go cry for a minute over here and miss it.

On our last day, we were allowed to choose what kind of lesson we wanted. For me, this was a no brainer – we wanted to go XC again. Stephen left after day two, so our final lesson ended up with Leslie Law. Bookend lessons with him, how perfect for the week.

We were back on our 8am ride time, which I was perfectly fine with considering we had to pack up and be done that afternoon and it was going to be the hottest day of the week so far. My group this day was one of the girls and horses I’d ridden with all week, plus two juniors who I hadn’t (and damn, those girls were brave!)

Log to start

Leslie’s big on doing jumps strung together versus schooling anything individually on XC because that’s how we ride it. We warmed up initially over a log and then proceeded to immediately go jump log to blue rolltop. Where Doc decided that left drift we love so much was back and strong. So that’s how today was going to go.

From there we moved to the water, stringing together water, blue rolltop, baby log into the water, red coop, baby drop into the water. And per usual, if I saw a bad distance, I took it. Particularly  coming into the water.

And for whatever reason, I decided that the appropriate way to enter the water was to ride like a monkey, lean forward, drop all contact and do nothing. Thank God my horse is a saint and was like, um, okay mom, I don’t know why you’re so dumb, but I can do this in my sleep.

What even is this riding
But wait I can do it TWICE

Off we went to the other field, my poor saintly horse and his monkey rider.

Where we successfully jumped through the entire sunken road! Which I have no photos or video of so just use your imagination!

Coming off the sunken road, we came down and then back up a hill to a small grey house and then around to a rolltop. Well, down the hill Doc’s (as Leslie phrased it) brain left for another planet. He decided I was no longer necessary, he was a fast Saddlebred, he was galloping and he did not need a Captain.

This earned him about fifteen canter-halt-canter-halt transitions up and down this hill until Leslie was satisfied we had brakes once again. And from there, we were great – over the house to the rolltop which had a slight drop on landing.

At this point we had some discussion – Leslie gave us each some galloping tips (which I will be working on for sure) and position tips (I bring my heel up to use it and I pinch with my knee).

Some of our group hadn’t jumped the half coffin at all, so he had us back over there and over it. After two successful trips over each way, our group was calling it a day, but I had one more request. As the truest testament to my bravery this week – I said the rest of my group got to jump the full coffin on Tuesday, but I had chickened out. Well, I wanted to end my week doing it.

So we did it.

And I haven’t stopped smiling since.

Seriously, the best week ever.

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Event Camp 2018: Day Three

Day three meant I had a late start time (9:30!) so I finally didn’t have to be up at the crack of dawn which was amazing. Our lesson was a jumping lesson with Tim and when I went to pull Doc out of his stall to get ready, I’m not kidding, I got a look of, “You? Again?”

Apparently someone thinks two lessons/day is hell and I am the Devil.

I am also the devil when I insist you have a bath

Sure enough, when we got out to the arena, I had a horse who was pretty sure he had never ever heard of the idea of being in front of my leg. Drag along the ground like you were on your way to the guillotine? Far more accurate. Our warmup left… a lot to be desired.

Tim’s jumping lesson was totally different from Sharon’s in a great way – he sent us over one jump to warm up, told us our course and had us go ride, just like we would show. Of course, my first ‘warm up’ jump was a hot mess where I came in entirely underpowered, stared at the ground, my horse chipped in and I basically said JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL. Needless to say… we got a correction and sent through it again.

Left drift still not fixed but they’re humans not Harry Potter okay. And this is the most midwestern jump of all time.

 

Our correction, which I’m writing down here so I have it for myself (probably need to tape this to Doc’s ears honestly), was simple, but powerful. You add power before and through the turn, really go get it! – and then a few strides out, you sit up, keep your leg on and stop micromanaging. You let him carry you to the jump. You also have to look up, that helps.

Once we had Tim convinced we wouldn’t, you know, die, that day, he sent us out over the course. Oxer to oxer bending line, rollback to a vertical plank five (I think?) to a vertical, around to the outside line in six, through the one stride, rollback to an oxer three strides to a vertical. Our first time through left some to be desired, but we got better. Which is, you know, what matters. As Tim said – the first half of my course was like, lalala, just going to sit here and let my horse jump and then I came through my first rollback, woke up and went wait, I’m going to ride today.

This would be the phrase my trainer growing up used to refer to as “Holly gets mad.” It’s not anger per say – certainly not at my horse. It’s more of this mental feeling where I grit my teeth and go, oh HELL no. It happens when I ride (see: Day 2 “Captain”), it happens in my regular life (Fastest way to get me to work my ass off and get something done? Tell me I can’t). I can tell you the literal expression my face takes on when it happens – I set my jaw, narrow my eyes a little bit, and it’s like my body kicks into overdrive.

Once that clicked on? Well, we got this ride.

Our lesson ended on that happy note and we toodled back to the barn to hang out. Wednesday afternoon we we able to do a mock stadium round or a dressage test, but we’d signed up on Tuesday. Well, Tuesday I was thinking I could use all the time over fences I could get, but Wednesday afternoon when I realized I’d be jumping the same course as that morning I wasn’t so sure. Too late to do anything about it, so stadium it was.

First, we split a bag of Goldfish at the barn.

And then off to warmup we went.

Tim was acting as our mock trainer in warm-up and I happened to get there as the Novice riders were finishing up… so he sent me over all of their warm up jumps. Nothing to get things feeling good like that. Three jumps and he sent us into the ring. Where I noticed the jumps suddenly looked so… small. Yeah, the course that I thought looked normal and totally do-able moments before? That was the full height Novice course.

Uh, guess we’re ready to jump full size BN!

And damn if we didn’t put down the best round of our freaking lives to date. Tim told me all morning how I needed to be my horse’s cheerleader – not because he was nervous, but he needs all the energy I can give him. Well, between this and my little Captain moments, apparently this means I now keep a running commentary going.

After this round? I’m not changing a freaking thing. Horse can have all the Goldfish he wants and I’m going to be out there chatting away like a 14 year old on the phone (wait, do teenagers talk on the phone anymore, I guess they just text so idk, chatting like my grandma or something).

Except… I think the jumps can get bigger.

(Who am I?!)

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Event Camp 2018: Day Two

Some people are really good about writing recaps of things while they are happening. I am not one of them. Each night after camp, I came home, made an effort to play with the dog, showered, scavenged for food and fell into a coma. Repeat. So, you get day two’s recap four days later.

We had a bright and early ride time of 8am on Tuesday morning, which I did not love when my alarm went off at 5:45, but did love when it wasn’t 90324 bazillion degrees outside. My group went XC with Stephen Bradley this morning, something I was nervously excited for. The extent of my XC schooling on Doc to this point has been the logs in one of our back fields, where he decided to become a cutting horse around a tree and I yelled a lot of four letter words. After our gridwork lesson the day before though, I was feeling comfortable with some height.

Stephen immediately shortened my stirrups another two holes (um, ouch) and sent us out to go warm up around the field. To which Doc said, “yeah, nahhhh” and stood there not moving. Have I mentioned this is our latest trick? Not moving no matter what I do, including kicking, clucking, tapping with crop, tapping harder with crop, pulling head around, backing up, setting off dynamite, doing gymnastics, blasting an airhorn… Super awesome. Stephen had me pull his head around while tapping his hind end to get his feet moving in the tiniest circle of all time, gradually adding to it and changing directions constantly. While minorly mortifiying, I was actually really happy this happened so I could get some input on it.

(Yes, we have had vet check, bodywork, saddle fitted, Holly checked, etc etc etc. It is 100% attitude.)

Doc finally seemed to realize we were doing XC and oh, he loves the jumpies and oh, okay he could go now and off we went. We started out over a small Starter/Intro level set of steps, around to a small rolltop, back over a set of BN steps.

BN Steps

Immediately, it was a confidence builder. It all just clicked – my horse knows his job, he’s going to take care of me, I can do this, we got it. It helped Stephen was so so encouraging. The entire lesson, he wasn’t afraid to help correct things, but was quick to praise a good ride and when things went well.

Eventually, we cruised around jumping all kinds of things – essentially the entire BN course (out of order) at this farm.

Jumped these

We went splashing through the water, where Doc decided it was his own personal waterpark.

omg stop splashing and GO
Tiniest little jump but omg my horse is so cute ok

Eventually we headed to the second field to school the ditch back there. Doc, per schoolmaster status, was basically like, yeah, k, ditch cool. I had slightly more issues getting my shit together. But we did. This ditch is actually set up as part of a full coffin, but we started out schooling it by itself. Then we added in the rails on one end, back and forth.

As we started to head down to it, Doc finally woke up, realized where he was and decided he wanted to go Mach 10 for this half-coffin. Um, no.

In my previous riding life, this would have had me off my horse. Walking back the barn. Opting out of jumping. In this life? I laughed at him, growled and told him (what I thought was quietly), “DAMNIT I AM THE CAPTAIN NOW.”

And then you know what we did? I sat up, put my leg on and rode the shit out of that thing. And I was damn proud of myself for it.

As seen here

Little did I know, what I thought was my quiet rev-up was not-so-quiet and had been heard by a number of observers. Which is how, on day 2 of event camp, I became known as Captain.

And yeah, I’m 120% having a XC bonnet made with that.

Tuesday afternoon brought a stadium lesson with Sharon White (seriously even writing this all out is like pinch me, did that really happen?!). All the other trainers made fun of her/us because she warms you up on the flat for what feels like 2823 years. But damn if it wasn’t worth it – every horse in our group was sharp off our aids after that. So many transitions. Short, mini ones – three steps of walk, back to trot. Three steps of trot, back to canter. I can sum up my entire flatwork lesson as, “Open your hip flexors, relax your elbows.” We got lots of good first toolkit stuff. From there, we moved to two ground poles. Her entirely philosophy – jumping is just ground poles with height. If you can do it there, you can do it over height. Guess what? It works.

We did those two, eventually adding in a single vertical and then an outside line. Circle at the end, back down the line, over the poles, circle. Added it into a full course (we’ll see if I can remember it) – outside line, vertical to vertical bending line, oxer across the middle, vertical to oxer bending line. The trick was we added a circle after every line. The idea being the circle gave us the time to get reorganized, breathe, get the canter we wanted, and rebalance. Eventually we took out the circles and actually added in a second oxer off the middle oxer on another bending line (originally we had circled around it). It was amazing the feeling we had – it was actually easier to make the bending line than it had been to circle. The feeling of using the circles in between stayed and being able to take our time and get the canter we wanted.

I walked out of that lesson about ready to keel over and die (she will work you!) but also feeling like a million bucks. Had I just rode my horse around an entire 2’9″-2’11” course without feeling a hint of nerves? Hell yeah I had. Suddenly courses didn’t just go by in a blur of cantercantercanter jump don’t die cantercanter turn jump and instead I had the time to think and proactively make decisions and ask for what I wanted.

And I can’t state it enough but Sharon is freaking amazing and positive and encouraging and hard as hell on you in the absolute best way and I can’t wait to ride with her again.

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Event Camp 2018: Day One

Well we are halfway through the week at Event Camp and I’m obsessed and don’t ever want it to end. We started Monday morning with a semi-private dressage lesson with Leslie Law. We did a ton of work at the trot – really focusing on transitions within the gait with circles tossed in every so often. Since Doc loves to just hang out behind my leg and not go anywhere (seriously, sometimes it’s like riding a county fair pony whose quarter ran out), it was really, really good for getting him tuned into my aids and in front of my leg. On our circles we really worked on getting him to stretch down through his neck more. While he may have never been trained as a ‘Saddlebred’ per say, we still have genetics to overcome and any stretching we can get him to do only helps to get his back lifted and rounder.

Leslie gave a fantastic example about building up energy like we were doing at the trot too – he said you have to think about being in a car and turning the AC on. If you do that, but open all the windows, all the cold air just immediately goes right out (not keeping that energy between hand and leg). But if we close the windows and cycle it through the car, we can keep it going. Eventually if we need to warm up, in a car we’d have two options: turn down the AC or crack a window. He said on most horses (definitely on Doc) we don’t ever want to turn down the AC (energy), just crack a window and let it out a little bit until we have him where we want. I’m probably not describing it very well, but it made a ton of sense to me in terms of getting the energy I need and then keeping it and using it for good vs evil.

We did a small amount of canter work, mostly working on again, getting him to really stretch down through his neck, but I’d say 90% of our lesson was at the trot.

Later in the afternoon, we rode grids with Tim Bourke. I seriously don’t think I have a bad thing to say about any of my rides/lessons/trainers, so excuse my gushing over the top here. We started small – just a ground pole to a crossrail to a ground pole – and then gradually built from there (gee Holly, no kidding, it was a grid, imagine that).

Blurry video screenshots are all I have of Day 1

When we added the second crossrail, those became a bounce, so we had to make sure we had enough trot coming in to let them actually bounce it vs add a stride in between. From there, we added one stride to a vertical, and then one stride to an oxer. Doc was awesome through the grid and when I let him figure things out and don’t pull to the base micromanage, he makes it so easy for both of us.

If I have one theme for the week so far, it’s circles. Coming off the grid, Tim had us make a big circle (I got scolded once for not using my arena to it’s full advantage and then am happy to say, never made that mistake again!) and then continue down either the outside line to the left or outside line to the right, depending on which time through. The left was an oxer to a vertical set in 5; the right was a vertical to an oxer set in 6. We did the add stride on both sides and rode them both on the correct striding as well. Super useful to work on getting the right canter in and being able to adjust within the line as needed. We may not be the best at leaving one out, but we can get the add stride done.

The left drift is still going strong and that won’t be a one week fix, but it’s getting better. Minus the one time we came like half an inch from taking out a standard, but um, it’s fine. We didn’t so that’s a win?

We finished that lesson up going up the grid, circle, down the outside line, circle, up the grid a second time, circle and down the outside line again, in the regular strides. It felt so great to get it done and was a perfect confidence booster going into Day 2.

Trainer C got to watch the end of our second lesson and got to hear Tim call Doc “a really genuine horse and a schoolmaster” and I think both of our hearts just completely swelled with pride. He’s just the best guy and takes such amazing care of me. I started out the lesson a little nervous, having only jumped once since my fall (oops) and by the end, I think Tim could have pointed us to any jump in the arena and I would have said, “Sure!”

It’s been a blast to just hang around the farm, watch other lessons, and be able to talk PONIES 24/7 with people who are equally enthusiastic. Everyone is insanely nice and there’s not an attitude present – it’s constantly “Have a good ride!” and “You looked awesome!” and “What a cool horse!” and “Do you want me to ___?” It’s forgetting something and people immediately are hopping up like, here borrow this, here follow me, here drink this. Horse people may get a bad rap, but I’ve seen nothing but helpful, supportive new friends this week. My group of 4 who ‘travels’ to lessons together (minus our dressage we jump together all week) is awesome – they’re all on harder horses to ride and make them look amazing. They all give me the bravery to go jump this and try that and we cheer for each other and celebrate our wins.

I don’t want the week to end.

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Broken backs and beers

Still here, chugging along with broken back recovery 2018. It’s about as fun as it seems.

X-ray as of 5/15

The good news is the fracture has stabilized, meaning no more brace and all things holding steady, I should be cleared to ride and assume my regular life at my next appointment in June.

Halle-freaking-lujah, cause I’m officially going stir crazy. I moved into my new place last weekend, officially cutting my barn commute from an hour to 20 minutes (do you hear angels singing those are angels singing).

I think I’m officially changing “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” to “pick shitty distances and break your back idiot.” Catchy, right?

I leave you with “trying to drink a beer and pose with a JRT/Corgi” because it accurately sums up my life right now.

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Cabin fever

Hello friends.

I’m alive over here. Still broken. Slightly less depressed over it.

Mostly bored out of my freaking mind.

Me talking to my ortho surgeon

Still on the human version of stall rest, although I’ve upgraded to light tack walks. (Aka I’m allowed to walk the dog and lift things less than 5lbs) My pain is 90% gone, although if I do too much during the day, I pay for it later.

I officially withdrew from Event Camp today, which sucks. In all though – the absolute earliest I could be cleared to even sit on a horse is the end of June. Now go jump around and ride competently two weeks later? It just didn’t seem to be the wisest choice. In true equestrian fashion, I thought about just ignoring medical advice and riding anyways… but came to my senses relatively quickly. I have one spine and I’m gonna need it to last like, another 70 years here. Permanent damage at 25 because I wanted to ride my horse a month early? Not really worth it.

So, that’s where we’re at. Hanging out in Indiana, waiting for spring to appear (…Bueller?) and trying not to die from boredom.

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Goals Update: Q1

Update on my annual and Q1 goals? Here we are. Things are a little on pause due to that whole minor broken-back thing, but you know. I just now have a lot of free time… right?

Annual Goals 

  • Prioritize experiences over things
    • Money spent on lessons, clinics, learning and the occasional non-horse related things as opposed to money spent on another pair of breeches, a cute pair of shoes, etc.
    • Status: mostly good? Signed up for event camp, taking lessons, spending money on x-rays and MRIs… those are experiences, right? 
  • Fewer, better things
    • Yeah, I stole Cuyana‘s tagline, whatevs. Obviously I can’t live with one pair of socks, but do I really need (another) candle? How many jackets does the dog really need? This goes hand in hand with the next goal…
    • Status: I’m a B student? Definitely haven’t been shopping as much, but to say I haven’t had a few weak moments would be a lie.
  • Declutter life
    • More than likely, move 9 in 9 years is coming in the spring (locally, thank God). Despite this ridiculous number of moves, I still have a little bit of moving PTSD and too much stuff. I want to declutter all the stuff before I move it all… again. Notice all three of these are related.
    • Status: Doing well! I’ve been through about half of my life/house and the last half should be getting knocked out here before I move. 
  • Prioritize finances where they matter
    • Um, also relates to number 1. A lot. But more than that, I want to add more to my 401k this year, I want to pay more on my car, more on my student loans and add to my savings accounts. When it comes down to it, I need very few things at this point – food, gas, the regular living expenses. And yeah, it’s less fun to put money in a 401k than it is to see the UPS man deliver a package, but it’s also more responsible and now is the time to do it.
    • Status: Doing better. B+ student?

 

Quarter 1 Goals:

  • Ride even when it’s cold, don’t be a weenie amateur
    • I am a cold weather wimp. And while there are certainly times where it’s too cold to leave the house (ahem, -3), I also need to man up and utilize all the layers I own and the indoor arena. Even if it’s 20 minutes at the walk and trot without stirrups, or a bareback ride, it’s all going to help come spring.
    • Totally did this. Go me.
  • Do not buy any apparel, riding or otherwise, in the month of January.
    • Uh, self-explanatory
    • Status: One slip up and it was for work pants because I lost weight and none of mine fit? But then I gained it back and now they don’t fit, so idk what to say about this. So 90% accomplished?
  • Keep working without stirrups at least one ride a week
    • Status: Did this! Until you know… I stopped riding.
  • Eat real meals
    • Look, I’m not sure why I’m not allowed to subsist on quesadillas and popcorn, but apparently I’m not.
    • Status: HAHAHAHA
  • Move everyday 
    • Even if it’s just going up and down the stairs at work 7 times, I know this helps with the winter blues
    • Status: Minus some lazy Sundays and post-injury hurting, did this!
  • Read 20 books
    • 13 weeks, 20 books. Should be do-able if I prioritize books over bad television.
    • Status: Sucked at this. Read 5 books. Don’t worry, I now have LOTS of time to read.
  • Get a haircut
    • Status: Completed. Hallelujah.
  • Have Fin deshedded once monthly
    • Status: He hasn’t needed it monthly, but I’ve had it done. He’s about due again, but he also just cost me $500 with his little ICU stunt last week, so he’s gonna have to wait.
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Grounded

I’m re-evaluating my pain tolerance levels after today’s ortho appointment went something like…

Doctor: “When did this happen?”
Me: Uh, the 17th…
Doctor: “And you went to the ER?”
Me: No, I just drove home.
Doctor: “And since then what have you been doing?”
Me: …Going to work?
Doctor: “You realize most people with this injury are laid up in bed in pain, right? And you drove home and went about your life?”

So, uh, oops? I always thought I had a low pain tolerance, but I guess that might not be so accurate? But kudos, Dr Ortho, for making me feel like a badass.

That’s the positive part.

I’m officially grounded for minimum 3 months.

That’s the not-so-positive part.

Best laid plans and all.

No riding, no lifting anything heavier than a milk jug, no running. Also, apparently no hiking, skiing, rock climbing, skateboarding or gymnastics. No worries there doc.

For three months.

Waving goodbye to half my show season…

Also add a suuuuppperrr fashionable back brace for those three months, a veritable pharmacy in my bathroom, an MRI and re-check x-rays every 4 weeks, hoping to avoid surgery.

It’s a bucket of fun over here, lemme tell ya.

And of course he felt the need to remind me three months is just for it to heal – to be back at 100% will probably take longer. Just to dig that knife a little deeper.

OH! I’m also supposed to move into a new place May 10th. Hahahaha, c’mon, laugh with me now. Yeah, that’s going to be great since I can’t pack anything.

To add some perspective, I’m really really glad this wasn’t worse, I know I was lucky, I have health insurance, I have a job I can continue to do… I am grateful. But I’m also throwing a pity party because UGH I WANT TO.

 

In the meantime… I guess I now have three months to occupy myself with low impact activities.

(And how does one recruit a grocery shopping helper when she needs more La Croix? Look pitiful?)

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