I just found this poem

I was reminded yesterday of traveling alone, pre-kids, and looking forward to mail from home.  A poem I had read in the 90’s described the weary feeling- mission accomplished and looking for a small reward- so well.  I thought a peace corps volunteer had written it, but I learned otherwise.

This came about because I recently finished a major project I had worked on for several months.  It was the kind of project that sucks up your energy and free time and offers very little reward upon completion, other than not having to do it any more.  I had a final step where I had to interact with an administrative type for some minor paperwork.  She was completely uninterested and informed me that I needed to wait for a certain piece of paper for closure.  It was so anti-climatic and I was so bone-tired, the poem came to mind.  I searched for a phrase and from the wonders of the internet, there was the poem! I wanted to tuck it in here so I can visit it once in awhile.

                 Maratea Porto: The Dear Postmistress There

I run up the stairs too fast every morning

and panting for mail, I stagger inside

and there she sits wagging a negative finger.

Her frown is etched in and her mouth sour

Niente per voi today.

This is Odysseus. I’ve come a long way.

I’ve beaten a giant, real mean with one eye.

Even the sea. I’ve defeated the water.

But now I’m home, pooped. Where’s Penelope?

Niente per voi today.

My name is Joseph and this, my wife Mary.

We’ve had a long journey and Mary is heavy.

The facts are odd. The child could be holy

and I wonder, have you a room in your inn?

Niente per voi today.

I’m Ghengis Kahn and this is my army.

We’ve conquered your land. Now we want women.

Bring them today at high noon to the square.

After we’ve had them, we’ll get out of here.

Niente per voi today.

I’m Michelangelo, here to make statues.

I’ve lugged this damn marble all the way from the Alps.

I’ll need a large scaffold and plenty of ropes,

a chisel, a mallet, and oodles of wine.

Niente per voi today.

Oh, heroes of time, you’re never a hero

until you’ve endured ten days without mail.

Slaughter the stars and come home in splendor.

She’ll always be there at the end of the trail.

Niente per voi today.

                                             -Richard Hugo

Chardon and Lake Erie, Ohio, End’o’September, 2014

It was time to visit the grandparents again, so we headed West across the Allegheny Mountains and north to our favorite Great Lake.  The trees were beginning to change color, yet the weather was warm enough to take a dip in Lake Erie.  First, though, we had dinner in the lovely little city of Chardon.

While there are many small cities and towns in Ohio that have succumbed to economic woes and the accompanying population loss, Chardon was looking quite well.  There was a town square with a lovely gazebo flanked by historic brick buildings, and there were flower baskets hanging along the shops, and a neat bricked sidewalk.  Also, there was live bluegrass music in the gazebo on that Friday night.  We  saw a farmer’s market in the square, an historic town clock that was working, and people enjoying the music.  I was marveling at the surroundings and the perfect evening, while my less-optimistic brother, who grudgingly survived last year’s harsh winter there, commented “yeah, enjoy it now because there will be three feet of snow on it next week!”

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The weather was sunny and warm every day, and every day I attempted to get the kids to the beach, but they wanted to be spoiled by my parents, jump on the neighbor’s trampoline, and play with the neighborhood kids instead.  One day I finally succeeded.

We went to Fairport Harbor, home of an historic lighthouse and its little corner of the Lake Erie beach.  It was summer-like weather without the crowds and parking fees, what not to like?

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We saw sailboats – too bad we didn’t have the Dragonfly along.  The kids were happy cartwheeling and enjoying a little bonus summertime.

After a few days there, we headed back East, but not quite home, we had another adventure up our sleeves, stay tuned for part 2 of this little trip!

Agnes Island, Lake George, NY, August 2014

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the Dragonfly with sails down, Agnes Island

Many people use sailing terms to get through hard things in life:”keep on an even keel”, “don’t rock the boat”, “stay the course” they tell themselves. I found myself doing the opposite during rough waters aboard the Dragonfly with a nervous Captain Fantastic in charge. “Deep breaths”, “this too shall pass”, etcetera. NO references to water or boats or sailing, smooth or otherwise. I was too busy gripping the sides of the boat, watching the “Lev-O-Gage” register an alarming tilt angle and planning how to keep my glasses from falling to the bottom of the lake like they did last year.

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Another view of Agnes (L), one of the tiny island we could swim to from Agnes (R)

Ah, Lake George. The crystal clear water surrounded by forested mountains where surely the unicorns come to drink on occasion. It was our third time on the enchanted islands of rock and pine and our second with the little sailboat. Five of our family had only been home a few days after Pennsic and Burning Chicken, so it was with weary arms that we packed and schlepped from home to car to boat to campsite. But we were rewarded with the soft Milky Way in a clear black sky, musical crickets and breezes, and that magical water.  Mr Fantastic honed his sailing skills in some rough waters and we had some easier sailing, too.

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Fiercely jumping from rocks, Really with a fish

We camped this year on Agnes Island, since when we registered we were unable to get sites on Vicars Island. Agnes has only 5 sites, is closer to parts of the mainland, and in our experience is more public than Vicars. From our launch point Huletts Landing, it was about the same distance. Being closer to the mainland, Agnes seems to attract more picnickers and people who want to jump off the rocks, a bit of a drawback since we were rustic camping and sailing and not too excited to interact with speedboats and their owners. Not to say anything bad about the vacationers we met, all were quite nice and friendly and the kids even played a little, but overall I would prefer not to have the loud music and the random people dropping by, parking their kayaks a few feet from our tent. We’ll try for Vicars next time I think.

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So many mushrooms!  Was it due to the cooler summer weather? I had to document.

That said, we had reserved three campsites and mostly had the place to ourselves, especially late afternoon through late mornings. We explored the island, new to us, and found rocks to jump from, many mushrooms, nice swimming spots, and even a sub-island accessible by a rock ‘path’ in the water. There were also three other tiny islands within swimming distance, perfect for the kids, and us adults too. There’s nothing like swimming to a little island and feeling like an adventurous explorer, no matter what your age. The place turned out to be an excellent venue for Capture the Flag as well.  We camped with three other families which meant lots of kids around and also we shared dinner cooking duties, so win-win!

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walking to the sub-island, double jump off the rocks

The trip went great until my last day.  This wasn’t everyone’s last day, just mine, and I had to catch a train back so I could work the next day.  We had it all worked out with plenty of time to get to the Glen Falls Amtrack station, we were dropped off at the mainland, got in the car and… the back tire would not turn.  After an emergency call to my dad the wise mechanic – make that remote wise mechanic since he is in Ohio – we realized our car was out of service and we were quickly running out of time to get me to the train.  Mr. Fantastic got a ride from a helpful motorboat owner and went to Agnes Island and back quicker than the Dragonfly with its tiny 4 horsepower engine could go one way.  We borrowed keys from one of our friends staying on the island with us and bolted off in their car.  We didn’t know where we were going so we called a friend at a computer and haphazardly tried to follow their directions while driving in a big hurry.  In the end, we pulled up to the station just as the train was pulling out and I ran and waved maniacally, but to no avail. I missed the train.  We drove to Albany and I was able to catch a different train going my way, but not before more car drama.  Our borrowed car stalled and we had to get a jump.  Then 5 Fantastics were headed back to car repair and Lake George and I was headed to the city.    It was a chaotic moment in an otherwise great trip!


pushing the car in the Albany Amtrack parking lot- sigh – it was a harsh jolt back to reality after the magic unicorn waters!

Burning Chicken, every August 2006- 2014 and beyond!

To save our biographers the trouble of exhaustive research and speculation, here is where I explain how we came to build and burn giant wooden creatures in our field each year while throwing a great party and confounding the locals.


Chicken- 2006


Giraffe, 2007


Horse, 2011. P.S. that’s a chicken (actual size) on its right front leg

Many years ago, I was pregnant with the twins but didn’t know it. We had just purchased, after considerable finagling, a 45-acre property outside of Ithaca, NY. Mr Fantastic was at that time employed as a prosthetist- look it up, I assure you that unlike the term that may pop to mind, it is entirely legal and involves prosthetic limbs for their intended purposes only. Also I don’t think it pays anything like the illegal thing you may be thinking of. A-hem. So, there he was, Mr. Fantastic, driving around to various amputees in the upstate New York counties of Tompkins, Cortland, Tioga and suchlike, when the man had a vision.


Bat, 2008

Among the cornfields, poor radio choices, and prosthetic limbs rattling around in the trunk, an idea came to him. Ignorant of his future- which included twin daughters, losing his job, and somehow, eventually, a sailboat- he pondered the large field, the one which we had of late become owners. We had camped on that field recently with young Fiercely and baby Cleverly. It was a big field. The kind that brings to mind large outdoor parties to which we had become accustomed since living in Ithaca. He also considered our chickens, and the Burning Man Festival. These ideas came together to produce our annual Burning Chicken Festival, a weekend-long party where we build and of course burn a large wooden creation.


Squid, 2012

The first several years, we cajoled friends into helping us build the cabin during a kind of work- party weekend. There was much messy work with the straw bales, the mudding of walls, and the herding of children.  The first year, we found ourselves with oddly shaped wood scraps which a friend and master carpenter cleverly fashioned into a chicken shape. It was about 25 feet tall. It burned beautifully there in the field with a crowd of marshmallow-stick wielding children and their grown-ups.  Thus went Burning Chicken I.


Cicada, 2013, in honor of the 17-year cicadas that were about that summer

As the years went by, the cabin became mostly finished so the weekend was just about building and burning the beast.  After a lengthy discussion about just what to build, of course.  The cicada idea just lent itself in 2013 since all summer we had been seeing the 17-year cicadas do their thing.  And who doesn’t want to build a giant wooden cicada?The horse happened in the Chinese Year of the Horse.  The squid was just a challenge people couldn’t turn down in 2012.  And this year, the kids chose a bear.  It was fitting since our neighbor had seen a four-member bear family that spring in his front yard.


Bear, 2014

So that, my friends, is the story of Burning Chicken.  What will we build next year?  It’s anybody’s guess.  It will be the big tenth year, so the idea has been floated to burn another chicken.  It will also hopefully be our send-off for the RTW trip so perhaps that will suggest a creature.  Stay tuned!!!


Leaping frog catching a dragonfly, 2010

Pennsic Wars and Washington, DC, August 2014

Mr. Fantastic, wearing peasant’s clothes sewn by Fiercely, was calling me from 16th century Europe, sort of.  “It’s amazing! I just met a scrivener from Italy!  There’s a giant castle wall 50 feet from me right now!!  You have to come next year!”

About a year ago, he had seen an unusual formation of canvas tents outside of Pittsburgh, PA.  After a little research, he happened upon The Pennsic Wars and a new Fantastic adventure was born.  How had we not known about this before?  It has been going on for over 40 years!  It is kind of a Renaissance Fair, where you live and act SCA style, for up to two weeks every summer. There are classes and artisans and everyone wears costumes the whole time.  In its 43rd year, it draws thousands annually.  What does it look like?  I had to borrow some internet pics because I’m not there and none of the Fantastics brought a camera!

Per reconnaissance reports from the Fantastic 5 I understand there is a daily newspaper that reported a population of just under 10,000 the other day.  Over 2,000 participated in a war reenactment per Mr. Fantastic.  And yes, dear reader, as you may have guessed I am missing out on this experience because someone has to go to work around here.

addendum: someone showed me this article yesterday by another East Coast first-time Pennsic participant!

As for garb, Fiercely sewed great costumes for the crew, here are Truly, Cleverly, and Really: IMG_2689

But our heroine finds a trip!

Not to be deterred, I noticed a 3-day weekend in my work schedule as this trip was in the planning and immediately schemed a solo trip to DC.  I do not mind at all being left out of some trips if I get my own adventure plus a rendezvous with that rare and coveted beast Free Time!  So, aside from spending time at my job, I went to DC, relaxed, slacked, cooked and cleaned very little, and worked on this blog.  Which reminds me of a quote from a far more dedicated writer than myself, Whoopsie Piggle: “Life as a writer: I sent my family on vacation this morning while I stay home. So I can write about them.”  So I sent them off.  And off I went to the nation’s capital!  And now I write.


How to get to DC without a car?  I love trains, but with the always-limited budget, bus travel is pretty appealing.  There are several large bus companies that go up and down the east coast, some even offer $1 trips if you plan well enough, but this was sorta last minute.  I really like that Sino-pseudo-Greyhound: the Chinatown Bus.  These buses go between NYC, Philly, DC, and Richmond, VA and a few other places that apparently have Chinatowns of their own.  The buses arrive and depart in Chinatown in each city.  Richmond, VA has a Chinatown?  Well, according to a very short Wikipedia entry with multiple quotation marks, Richmond

has a “Chinatown” on a “semi-suburban road” setting on Horsepen Road

So, say Ni Hao and thanks for the great cheap bus service if you’re ever on Horsepen Road in Richmond!  I paid $18 round trip from Philadelphia to DC – $10 there and $8 for the return trip.  I felt like I was cheating someone; I think it costs more in gas and tolls for that trip!  The buses were on time to leave and early to arrive, clean, and they have bathrooms.  Word to the wise: BYO TP because there wasn’t any in the bathrooms.  So maybe its a little unacceptable for the typical traveler, but to me it brought back days of travel in Central America and I didn’t mind.  The bus stations are small and basic, they do have bathrooms with toilet paper BTW.  

Arlington, VA

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Selfie on LW’s balcony, walking around Arlington with Lincoln

My friend LW from Peace Corps Honduras lives outside the “diamond” shape of DC proper but still on the metro line and about 10 minutes from The Mall.  She and her dog Lincoln were gracious hosts and happy to walk me around the neighborhood.  Arlington is a strange mix of what the young and upwardly-mobile want today – high-rise apartment buildings that have the feel of upscale student housing, a farmer’s market, bike share, and big-box stores on walkable city blocks.  At one point, we walked by a strip mall (Crate & Barrel, Barnes & Noble, etc.) that anywhere else would be surrounded by a large parking lot, only there was no parking lot, and this was on a very pedestrian street.  There was also a dog park, not like a fenced field, but a dedicated lot with a special fence,  some type of kitty litter stuff on most of the ground, and a waterfall/water play area designed for the upscale dogs we saw strolling around.

James Hunter Dog Park

Rock Creek, Chevy Chase

So, Link liked the dog park, but what he really loved was jumping into Rock Creek.  We visited Chevy Chase, Maryland and took a long walk next to the creek.  There was a wooded park there perfect for a long walk.  Apparently Rock Creek Park is the largest park inside city limits in the US – 1700 acres-  impressive!  We saw deer, which Link had fun chasing.

Rock Creek Park

Roosevelt Island

If you’re getting the idea that this trip did not involve any museums or historic sights, you are right.  We did a lot of walking and hanging out.  There is a lot of DC outside the Mall, interesting neighborhoods and surprisingly nice parks.  We did get to see a monument at Roosevelt Island, a small car-free island accessible by footbridge in the Potomac with hiking trails and plenty of river access.  We saw kayakers, and plenty of dogs including the joyful, swimming Link.  I didn’t bring my camera, but here are some pics:

It really was a strange place – a sort of hidden monument that most visitors to DC will never see. It seemed to be a popular spot for locals who were jogging, hiking, and walking their dogs.   There were large defunct fountains at the monument, but otherwise the area was maintained.  I wonder how Mr Roosevelt would feel about it.

Adams Morgan/Columbia Heights

We found ourselves in this neighborhood visiting some peace corps friends.  There were a lot of hip-looking shops, at least one bike shop, and Victorian archetecture to make me feel drawn to the area.  Bottom picture is of a faux-historic mews-style condo I liked.  The peace corps folks say there are baleadas here as good as the Honduran ones – we weren’t able to get any that day so clearly I must return!

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And back to Chinatown

The Chinatown neighborhood seemed to be gentrifying as evidenced by the fact that I saw a sleeping drunk and a family of brunching yuppies on the same block.   They have a lovely arch and some good-looking restaurants.  For me, though, it was just about catching the bus back.  This time, with memories of a great weekend in my mind and toilet paper in my pocket.



the Cabin, July 2014

For swimming, rain, cold, or hot, whatever you pack is whatever you got!  That is our packing mantra for every trip, and we had it all this time!  We headed to the cabin on a beautiful July Monday with two extra kids for a few days.  We found miniature ponies, rain, bunnies, flowering lily pads, and generally so much color and beauty my camera almost burst.

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Our tenants at the property have had a horse named Zoe since they moved in, and the horse is always a major attraction as we pass her on our way to the cabin.  This time, we arrived at night and there was a nearly full moon and a gentle, enveloping mist as we lugged our bags to the trail.  “PONIES!!” called Cleverly as she passed the corral.  “There are TWO TINY PONIES!!”.  Now, Cleverly is not always the most reliable conveyor of information, being rather dramatic and embellishing the truth at times, and she had two friends along to impress.  I was ahead of her, had not looked at the corral, was not inclined to believe her, and was not interested in turning back.  But she sounded legitimate so I left my bags and walked back.  There, in the moonlit field, surrounded in a light fog, were two small silouhettes in addition to Zoe’s shape.  Ponies?  It seemed unreal in the night, but I saw them.  And it turned out to be true: our tenants had acquired a miniature pony and she had a baby!  The kids ran down the next day and got to really hang with the equines, even brushing and feeding them with their owners.  Baby miniature pony?  That was a show-stealer with this crowd.

Rain and the Ithaca Sciencenter

From Tom Robbins, because I’ve always had a thing for him.  It really wasn’t this bad but it did rain a day and a night, and it gives me an excuse to quote Mr. Rock Star Author himself:

“And then the rains came. They came down from the hills and up from the sound. And it rained a sickness. And it rained a fear. And it rained an odor. And it rained a murder. And it rained dangers and pale eggs of the beast. Rain poured for days, unceasing. Flooding occurred. The wells filled with reptiles. The basements filled with fossils. Mossy-haired lunatics roamed the dripping peninsulas. Moisture gleamed on the beak of the raven. Ancient Shaman’s rained from their homes in dead tree trunks, clacked their clamshell teeth in the drowned doorways of forests. Rain hissed on the freeway. It hissed at the prows of fishing boats. It ate the old warpaths, spilled the huckleberries, ran into the ditches. Soaking. Spreading. Penetrating. And it rained an omen. And it rained a poison. And it rained a pigment. And it rained a seizure.”

So what to do with 6 kids when the rain doesn’t stop?  We headed to Ithaca and the Sciencenter.  We spent a lot of time here when we lived in the area, and the kids were happy to go back.  Here are some exhibits inside:



and outside, a pendulum thing seen from above, and bubbles!


Then there are the impressive indoor animals/fish, and a Green Tree Python with its peculiar, rather creepy, coiled manner of sitting on a branch:


A Rescued Bunny

Mr Fantastic was mowing when he came upon a rabbit nest with 3 bunnies.  The mom had left, and unfortunately the mower killed a bunny, so two adorable critters were there in the meadow.  They were small and slow, but they were old enough that their eyes were open and they seemed ok.  The girls were on the case as they checked out the situation and made plans to adopt, however we parents felt the bunnies needed a chance to reunite with their family.  We decided to leave them overnight and deal with them the next day if needed.  As it happened, the next day there was one bunny alone in the nest.  It was quickly placed in a basket with some wool we had from cabin insulation.  See below with my hand for perspective – the little guy/gal was tiny!  And probably had not eaten or drunk anything since before the incident with the mower.


Using the neighbor’s wifi and my trusty i-pod, I located the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center, part of Cornell university in Ithaca.  We drove over there and left the bunny, we were all a little sad about it but it was the right thing to do.  I left contact information and a couple of weeks later we got a letter from the place saying the bunny was doing well and being readied for release back into the wild.  Here are the kids outside of the center.  I thought we might get a tour or something from the staff there, but the place was small and they seemed busy so it was a little anti-climatic.  I suppose having a large number of kids didn’t help.  Anyway, we saved a bunny!



The pond and outhouse

The pond was lovely after the rain, and the kids swam quite a bit!  There are a lot of lily pads this year, I’m not sure why.  The flowers were beautiful.


the outhouse is looking good!  The roof is finished.  We got a fancy faux-silver toilet roll holder at a thrift store.  Mr. Fantastic put in new flooring, too, and he’s working on the broken window.  Here’s a view from inside and outside:

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and how to tell if you should approach!

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So it was a nice summer scene in rural upstate NY.  We made it back safely, returned the guests to their parents, and continued with summer in the city 2014.


Signing off,

Mrs. Fantastic

Evansville State Park bike/camp June 2014

The Wonderful family and ourselves, along with a bonus family of 3, set out for Evansville State Park on the Schuylkill River Bike Path for our sixth annual bike/camp extravaganza!  The youngest are our own Fantastic twins, recently turned 8, and all the kids were raring to go.  They chose this location for its bike access, woodsy seclusion, fairy house potential, river, and minimal car time.  In fact, we used only one car for gear for our 9 kids and 6 adults.  Most of us ended up biking over 80 miles during the 4-day trip.  Bike, bike hooray!

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Cynwood to Manayunk

We stared off near the Wonderful household on the Cynwyd (pronounced “kin-wood”) Heritage Trail (above).  This little 2-mile rails-to-trails linear park has tremendous community support and big plans of incorporating the historic Manayunk Bridge- let’s do it people!!!  I can’t wait to ride this trail at that time because it will be an amazing bird’s eye view of the city that will also connect the town of Bala Cynwyd on the west side of the Schuylkill River to Manayunk on the east side. One caveat, however: we rode downhill on the trail almost the whole way – it may not be as fun going uphill.  For us it was a lovely day, a comfortable downhill slope, and we were just starting on our trip.

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Historic hotel and bridge in Collegeville, us on part of the trail: Original dedication inscription on bridge says “This bridge was founded in the Year of our Lord 1798 & finished in 1799″ along with some names, see Wikipedia article about Perkiomen Bridge


Collegeville and Evansville State Park

Once we crossed some traffic and the bridge to Manayunk, we were on the bike path until Collegeville, about 22 miles.  We stopped for lunch at Valley Forge, a National Historic Park on the bike trail where we ignored some significant national history and took advantage of the bathrooms and picnic tables.  Then we continued on to Evansville State Park where we had stayed before.  In the quiet, wooded group campsite we were once again the only campers.  We ate, played Boggle and “four on a couch” (using a log for the couch-the game was new to me and so fun!), made campfires, and hiked to the Skippack Creek and went creekwalking.  We saw a water snake and lots of fish, also we saw a fox on the trail.


Skippack Village

We were pleasantly surprised to find a bike trail from Evansville State Park to the small, touristy town of Skippack Village.  It was about 7 miles and went through agricultural fields, suburban backyards, and a town park.  A few of us went to check it out then all of us decided to go on a second trip.  It is a small strip of historic buildings which are now many gift shops, a pottery store, and the wonderful Miss Riddle’s candy shop.

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clockwise from top left: covered bridge where trail meets town, bike trail signage,  picnicking next to the river, Skippack Village signage

We lucked out with no rain, mostly happy kids, and a nice ride back.  I noticed this old film studio near Valley Forge next to the bike trail (below).  Interestingly, it is the site of a pre-Hollywood film studio called Betzwood Motion Picture Studio that covered 350 acres and churned out a movie a week at its prime in the early 1900’s.  Thanks to this blogger for documenting so much about it.  Also below: rock wall detail, Falls Bridge in Philadelphia.


 How Time Flies!

It was during last year’s bike trip that the idea for this blog was born, so it is nice to post about this year’s trip while considering all of the trips I have blogged about over this past year.  A year from now we should be very close to The Big Trip RTW!  Much to look forward to, much to enjoy remembering, thanks for reading.