A West Point weekend – ring!

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The journey wading through grief while learning to swim continues. In future posts, I’ll document more about this but I have determined that swimming is an homage to my grandma. Not that she was a great swimmer, in fact, how crazy is this, I’m not even sure she swam though I do have pictures of her in the pool and in the ocean! Nonetheless, swimming has become an emblem, my emblem of moving forward despite the current of sadness which I now possess in my heart.   

West Point firsties during the Ring Ceremony

But over the weekend, I set despair aside and experienced the unmitigated joy and pride of being the mama of a West Point firstie. How sweet and kind of the Lord to perfectly situate a celebration in the midst of a loss. My oldest OS is now a firstie at West Point. In civilian terms, he is a “senior” in college. And when you are a firstie, the plebeian life is wayyyyy behind you. Sure, you have some very big decisions to make regarding your future but for a precious weekend in August, you leave those worries behind. It’s all about one thing…getting your ring. Yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. 

Moments away from getting their rings!



Lowly plebes refer to the ring as a mass of crass and brass and glass but for a firstie, it is an epic embellishment. Overlooking Trophy Point, the Hubs and I along with many equally exuberant parents, observed nearly a thousand firsties savor that moment. Once that ring is slipped over each firsties’ finger, all the muck and ruck and toil and moil they have endured at West Point, kinda sorta melts away. At least that’s what I noticed in my OS. 


My OS marching to the Ring Ceremony.
(That’s not me in the yellow shirt.) 😉

With literally hundreds of stones to choose from, it wasn’t easy picking the right one. Nate selected a striking sky blue topaz set in yellow gold. On one side of the ring are the words United States Military Academy and on the other is the class crest “For More Than Ourselves 2012.” Knowing my OS as I do, I can’t think of a more fitting motto. Two “diamonds” are set on either side and when coupled with the middle stone, a brilliant streak of blue catches the eye. 

Nate’s mass of crass and brass and glass. 

As impressive as the outside, the engraving on the inside of Nate’s ring was as significant. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” is the inscription he personally selected from Romans 8:31 in the Bible. I.love.that. I mean I really love that.

A mama, an oliveshoot, an impending storm 
and a gorgeous ring

This weekend our family will travel to Chicago for my grandma’s memorial service. My oldest OS will be in attendance and that means so much to me.  Grandma loved all my OS and told everyone about Nate attending West Point. Years ago, while out for lunch, she even got the address of a cute waitress for Nate because she was so proud of him and hoped they would correspond. (Um, they didn’t!) 


As an extended family, we will cry and laugh and profoundly feel the gaping loss together. We will eat pizza and Portillo’s then make more memories in honor of her. And that gorgeous sky blue topaz ring will be on Nate’s finger. Grandma would have had everyone gushing over this ring. She would have grinned from ear to ear as if she birthed him herself. 


Again, I sense the Lord’s blessing because my grandma would have beamed with pride seeing my OS united celebrating her life. A mixture of sadness and pride fill my mama/grand-daughter’s heart. Tomorrow I will share with you the reward I received for being a firstie mom…(hint, it’s shiny…)

Doing hard things – good days and bad days

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This was my Saturday post..since then I have made progress and didn’t give up after all. I’m choosing to document not only my moments of success but also times of setback and discouragement. I’m posting it because some of you might understand my struggles…


Now back to Saturday afternoon…

ergh

I want to give up and throw in the towel. Swimming is just too hard. Nothing seems to work. It’s too complicated, too many things to try and coordinate. I’m too old for this. I look stupid. When my arms are straight, they should be bent. When my legs are kicking, they should be pointed. People look so effortless in the water, strong, brave, athletic, they must be geniuses too. No one can convince me I have the same appearance, what is wrong with me?


This is where I am today. If you were looking for an encouraging word, this isn’t the blog post for you. Sorry, just being honest. Even typing these words creates anxiety within me. 


What quandary pervades my spirit! Competing forces – grief and gratitude, fear and courage, defeat and perseverance inhabit me. 

Swimming and grieving :&

Grief – My grandma was so dear to me. Someone I loved deeply is no longer in my life and it’s terribly painful without her. Mourning is tiring and I want to just crawl into a corner and cry. 


Gratitude – Yet I had a grandma for nearly 50 years, what right do I have to be sad? She brought immeasurable joy to me and lived 91 1/2 years! The Lord gave me a grandma for a longer time than most people. She led a storied life. Thank you Jesus for blessing me!


Fear – Moving forward without her is scary. And I’m finding that swimming is like grief. Is it ever going to feel natural being in the water? Living without my grandma?

This diving board is becoming my friend. 

Courage – Being a land tortoise is a thing of the past. This summer, the diving board and I have become friends, we’re not besties but we enjoy each other most of the time. Like it or not, I’m doing at least two Hard Things simultaneously – swimming and grieving (News flash…on Monday, my orange hair, freckle face OS told me I had “guts!” That meant so much to me!)

Um, yeah, that looks natural…NOT!

Defeat – I have been googling YouTube videos about the breast stroke. Who came up with this swimming maneuver? The breast stroke is a constant source of conversation in my house, when do I glide, breathe, lift my head? OY! This afternoon I practiced my breast stroke techniques perpendicularly on a kitchen stool and on the large leg rest in our family room. Even at the farmer’s market in the parking lot, I demonstrated a possible breast stroke move to the Hubs. None of it makes sense, am I on the brink of figuring it out or is this just another indication that I need to just count my losses and move on? 


Perseverance–  But I have made some progress with swimming. For the first time in my life, I went in a circle while swimming. Don’t ask me how I did it. Most of you do this effortlessly but until Wednesday, all I could do was swim in a straight line. Frankly, I most often swim (accidentally) diagonally. 

I have walked by this lap pool for years.
I jumped in it for the first time. 

I also went into the lap pool at our gym for the very first time. I plunged (sort of) into the much colder water and swam (terribly) two laps. Nearly died, gulping water, had a very unattractive choking spell while flapping my arms and legs at the wrong times but by golly, I did it. The plan is for me to return to this lap pool and eventually to feel comfortable enough with going there by myself. In the meantime, my trusty Hubs is by my side. 

I’m encouraged knowing I’m not the only one Doing Hard Things and pushing through these struggles. Thanks y’all.



Doing hard things – mourning and living

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Sitting by my grandma was always a cozy place

The rain that pounded on my window Saturday morning symbolized my heart. Something I have wanted to avoid and have long feared, had now come true. For the first time in my life, I awoke to being without my grandma. Tears have poured from my eyes for nearly a week and waking to this new reality was crushing.


Navigating through grief challenges us in the most basic of ways. What can we do to acknowledge our sadness but not paralyze daily living? How do we move forward in life while still honoring the memory of our loved one? Is it ok to still laugh and smile? 


So many of you can relate, I’m sure. Grief is complicated, isn’t it? 


Those torrents of rain granted me permission to stay in the house and do nothing but cry. But when the sun burst forth in the early afternoon, I knew I had two things to do. One was to go shopping for a dress for Ring Weekend, a very special celebration at West Point we will soon enjoy with our oldest OS. (stay tuned!)


And the other was not an task-related errand but something equally important. I had to go back to the swimming pool.

It’s hard to stay in the lane! 

My grandma was a fire-cracker, a whipper snapper, a kick in the pants kinda gal. She was a hard-headed, go-getter who didn’t let things keep her down for very long and I always admired those qualities.


So in honor of my grandma and because I believe the Lord has given me this summer to conquer my fears, I swam four laps. They were crooked and awkward. They were not exactly consecutive laps either. I did my own special version of what I believe you people call “breast stroke” and “back stroke.” During the back stroke, in the middle of the lap, I swam into the plastic lap divider rings. (I just realized I called them “lap” dividers not lane dividers, told you I was a swimming newbie!). Instead of just giving up, though, I found myself laughing, the Hubs nearby chuckled also. I’m exerting a tremendous amount of physical energy swimming because I don’t have all the movements synchronized. I’m aware of how silly I look but that is no longer a big concern. Considering all the sadness in my heart, it was a triumphant moment.

Then the perfunctory ten jumps into the deep end followed. The Hubs sat contentedly on the lounging chair as I began the task. Things were going well but then suddenly, while underwater, fear gripped me. I panicked and I doubted that I had enough air to make it safely to the side. The Hubs was reading a book, he had no idea. It was only after I grabbed the side of the pool that I was able to get his attention. From the poolside, I mouthed, “Hon, I’m struggling. I’m scared. I can’t do this. I’m done.”


Left to my own defenses, overwhelming grief combined with lack of confidence, I was ready to go home. Hadn’t I done enough, felt enough for one day? I didn’t see myself as a failure, I just felt like a grand-daughter mourning and that is part of what I am right now.


But the Hubs spurred me on. He said, “I’ll go in with you. Come on, let’s get back in the water.” With that, I returned to the water and not only did ten jumps into the deep end of the pool but I did an extra. The last one was for my grandma. I asked the Hubs to take a picture and yes, I’m crying while making a heart symbol. I will never forget you Grandma. Wherever I am, Grandma, I will carry you with me. 

I ❤ my grandma

I have no idea how I’m going to press on without one of the most significant people in my life but what choice do I have? Therefore I have to hope. Not in myself but in the power of Christ in me. It’s no accident that the Lord chose this summer to be a time of loss and gain. I know the Lord is changing me. 


I don’t really like this part of the process, it hurts like crud but I hear the voice of my grandma saying, “That’s great, Cin! I’m so proud of you!” she would giggle with delight. And I hear the voice of the Author of Life, my Sustainer, the Lifter of my head reminding me that “he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it in Christ Jesus.”

Keep working on doing your own hard things. I am blessed by your prayers and comments.

Doing hard things – out of love

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This is for you, dear grandma
We like each other…a lot

After Friday’s heartbreaking news, I’ve been afraid to return to the pool. Though I may look the same, my sentiments in almost every regard are altered. My grandma will not be getting better this side of heaven. I am not sure what to do. So I cry, I think about crying, I dry my face after crying and repeat. Feelings of overwhelming sorrow are mixed with tremendous gratefulness. My grandma has been in my life for nearly half a century, that is such a blessing. But gosh, I’m going to miss her. I will miss everything about her. Even the things that were less than perfect, she meant the world to me.

If only I could stay in that moment



My OS start school on Wednesday. Prior to the phone call about my grandma; days before, in fact, tears flowed thinking about them not being home. Now the impending loss of my grandmother looms near. I wanted to herald this summer as one of incredible memories. Difficulties pervade on where to put this latest news into my epic summer scenery.


Yet despite my heartache, the Hubs and I went to the pool. My spunky, kick-in-the-pants grandma would want this. 

So to honor her, I plunged into the water. As I came up for air, tears poured into my swim goggles which was a new experience…The salty pool water matched my salty tears. I had to empty the goggles out several times. The Hubs held me tight as I fell into his arms. I’m pretty sure I was the only person weeping in the water. 


As I see it, I have three options:
1. quit = give up (my grandma has always been a spitfire)
2. stagnate = no more progress (my grandma moved forward despite great losses)
or 
3. keep at it = trust in the Lord (my grandma would be proud of me)


A force, greater than myself (which I know to be my Savior), allowed me to do another thing today. Previously, as my orange hair, freckle face OS informed me, I frolicked off the diving board. But with the Hubs’ encouragement, I pushed myself off the surface and into the air with greater vigor. And I touched the bottom of the nine foot pool. That was also a first. And then, of course, I cried.

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. Keep doing your own Hard Things, dear friends, even when it hurts.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3

Doing hard things – a little easier

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I’m bringing sunglasses, readers and
swimming goggles to the pool and I don’t even care!

With at least a week-long swimming hiatus before me, I decided to take advantage of a beautiful day by heading to the pool. 

I wrote this on the sand in Mexico

A few months ago, I sat among the women in my writers’ group and we were given a writing exercise about the summer. Each of us went around the room and shared our stories, the vision we had for the upcoming season. When it was my turn, I pushed back the tears when I read my entry. For me, sharing it was raw and vulnerable as I had penned a summer that seemed impossible and unattainable.


But a few weeks later, with new found courage, I started to try (again) to swim. 

I feel like a kid!

The hallmark of today was that though the Hubs and the OS all had other things to do, I went to the pool. By myself. Without resentment or angry muttering, I walked there, set down my belongings and I strapped on my trusty swim goggles. With one step off the edge, I jumped into the deep end of the pool. WOW! By myself! And I swam to the other side with no incident. The lifeguard glanced my way but remained on her perch. I bet she thought I did this all the time. 😉

I also hopped off the diving board a few times. These activities are slowly becoming routine which is just remarkable to me. With each jump, plop or frolic into water, my confidence increases. 

It is wonderful to no longer be tethered
to the lounging chair.

When I see the little kids enjoying water, seemingly carefree, the pangs of regret and shame are not overtaking me. Bless their hearts, they have no idea that aquatically speaking, we are the same age! I am less of an outsider and don’t look like a fish out of water. (How could I resist?) I’m like a middle-age mama minnow now. 

A more muscular and manly
version of well, me 😉

This might explain why I then attempted another feat. After I jumped into the nine foot deep water, instead of my usual routine of clinging to the edge immediately following, somehow I turned my body and for about the same time that it is taking you to read this sentence, I, yes, Cindy, former land tortoise, embodied the Wikipedia definition of this commonly practiced aquatic activity. 


May I say that remaining afloat in the water without use of any buoyancy aid and using kicking motions and hand motions is HARD?! With more practice, I hope to master this skill.

Elegant dog paddling



I will be checking my blog, email and facebook as I heal from this out-patient surgery and love hearing from you. Aside from elbow surgery, the summer I longed for, is coming true. Keep doing your own version of Hard Things, friends.

Wednesday remix – no more land tortoises

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So sorry for the Wednesday remix delay. I knew what I wanted to post and it was a matter of scanning the pics, etc. which always takes longer than usual.

Can you say ouch? I can. 

On a side note, I’m having elbow surgery on Wednesday. It’s not major surgery but it might delay some posting since it’s my right arm, my “writing arm.” Time permitting, I might create some advance posts in the interim.


But back to the remix… Tonight I offer my post in honor of my oldest OS who spent two weeks in El Salvador with his bonita and two weeks with the fam this summer. With all that he has accomplished as a young man, Nate has embodied the Romans 8:37 spirit in being “more than a conqueror” in so many ways. By his example, Nathan has shown me how to Do Hard Things. In recognition of our collective swimming accomplishments both past and present, behold my toe-headed boy back in 1995. 

Nearly all known floatation devices were employed. 
The only kid on the swim team with the works. No shame. 
This is sweetest sugar boy I’ve ever seen in the pool!



There is nothing more precious or inspiring than seeing your child doing something you, yourself cannot do. Replete with floaties, nose plugs, swimming goggles and a noodle, that boy persevered. He didn’t worry about how he looked, my OS just wanted to stay alive during the swim meet! Cheering from the pool side, I was crazy proud of him!

As you can see, Nate didn’t inherit his daddy’s natural love of water. At least for a short while, my OS possessed his mama’s land tortoise qualities. 


Go Nate, go! You can doey it! He has come a long way as a cadet at West Point since completing survivor swimming his yuk year. 


Then in a strange twist of genetics, I believe that this summer, I came to inherit his determination. 


Oh and I can barely believe what I’m about to tell you! It’s no coincidence that AT THE SAME POOL, I jumped again into the deep end of the pool with even less forethought. And then although lacking any semblance of finesse, I stepped/jumped off the diving board 15 times yesterday. Here’s the amazing footage and it’s ok if you laugh, just keep it to yourself. Every time I see this video, I feel incredibly embarrassed and joyful. My youngest OS informed me that I “frolicked” off the diving board. Kids these days…

Years separated our victories but we have broken through barriers. Nate was one of my heroes when he was five and will always be as a man, son and Soldier. 

Thank you, dear readers for your messages both public and private. Keep doing your own hard things, if I can do it, so can you by the power of the Lord. 

Doing hard things – the dilemma and the decision

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Land tortoises aren’t especially attractive, are they?

As I navigate into this world of swimming, I am betwixt calling myself a swimmer and a former land tortoise.

Do it? Don’t do it? I did it!

Still on the outside to some extent, I keenly observe human aquatic creatures. How you move about in the water, your level of ease, the effortless way you seem to both inhale and exhale while simultaneously kicking your feet and moving your arms in a horizontal position. And your buoyancy. Me likey your buoyancy. I am among you but not quite ready to say I am one of you for fear I might be revealed as an impostor.


The day before going to Playa del Carmen in Mexico, I could be found at the neighborhood pool. I successfully wrangled my orange hair, freckle face OS to join me and as we all know teenage boys LOVE going to the pool with their mamas, right? And if their mamas are learning to swim, well, let’s just say Ike was BEYOND words for this adventure…




We arrived at the pool and I informed Ike that I absolutely had to jump into the water seven times because his dad had told me so. Ike was very eager for me to get the task completed but when you have spent most of your life as a land tortoise, it’s harder than one thinks especially if one is an impatient, orange hair, freckle face OS.


But I did it.

This is the scene of the incident,
feel the tension!

And then I told Ike what I was going to do next. I was going to jump into the deep end. With a mixture of encouragement and nonchalance, Ike approved. In a flash, I approached the nine foot water and immersed myself into the pool. I repeated this activity several times.


The whistle blew and it became adult swim time. Again I was in the deep end of the water. Everything was going well until I was mistakenly identified as a swimmer.

That ball bobbing in the water…
what was a former land tortoise to do? 



A little urchin of a boy who apparently hadn’t noticed that although I was in the deep end of the pool, I was still clutching the side, approached me. “Could you get the tennis ball for me?” he asked unaware of the enormity of his question.


I was dumbfounded as I looked and saw a bright yellow tennis ball right in the middle of the water. I wish there was some kind of attractive, water-resistant sign I could have as a reminder that I am NEW at this. You know the kind of sign on top of a car used in driver’s ed? 

I’d like something along these lines
but cuter, sassier and water-resistant, please.



“Um,” I stammered. “I’m not that great of a swimmer and I don’t know how to stop in the middle so I can probably get your tennis ball but I’ll have to give it to you on the other side.” That poor child just wanted his toy not a long explanation. He probably wished he had just waited. 

This would also work but in purple and with squiggles.

Without giving him a chance to respond and wanting to look like the heroine, I dramatically inhaled a big glob of air. In a splash (get it, splash?) I swam my way in the deep end, paused momentarily to intercept the tennis ball and returned it to him on the other side as promised.


As it was on the eve of our big vay-kay, I just had to smile to the Lord. I felt Him winking at me from the heavens saying, “We did this.” Another challenge met. It was a proud and humorous aquatic event. I guess  I’m becoming less of a land tortoise after all. But I do have a lingering question…how do you people stop in the middle? 

“Hi, I’m Cindy and I’m a recovering land tortoise.”
A terrible picture of me but I love the dents in my
head from the swim goggles. Btw, I don’t have buckteeth. 

And would you believe that another astonishing thing happened to me on Monday? Another crazy water story I will share forthwith! You bless me, truly you do with every prayer and motivating message! 

Doing hard things – the diving board

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I jumped!

Interrupting my scheduled post about swimming to bring you the latest development in achieving aquatic greatness… on Saturday, for the first time in my life, I jumped off the diving board!!!


This journey began in 1985 when the Hubs and I were dating. He told me he would teach me how to swim. There was a pool in the apartment complex where I lived and occasionally we went there. He soon discovered I was a reluctant learner but it was the beginning of my journey to overcome my fear. I knew he was the one for me because he didn’t let me drown. He was someone I could trust implicitly.  


With great coaxing and reassurance, a few times, I leaped into the deep end of the pool where my boyfriend (now the Hubs) was waiting with open arms. 


It was such a significant moment, I decided to express the moment in a painting. My desire was to depict two feet in mid-air, no longer tethered by a sturdy, secure surface (a diving board) and not yet hitting the water. That fraction of a second when one completely trusts carried great symbolism for me. 

this diving board has intimidated me for too long

I never finished that painting. I’m not really an artist either so honestly it wasn’t great. Last year, after spending decades lugging the picture to new homes only to shove it in a closet, I threw the unfinished painting into the trash. There was no point hanging on to that picture. I possessed a mediocre unfinished drawing depicting a skill I had never accomplished. Who needs another reminder of failure? Um, not me.

“Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout Willis???”

Fast forward to July 9, 2011…we went to our neighborhood pool Saturday and the Hubs encouraged me to jump off the diving board. Through my trusty swim goggles, I gave him my best “Whatchoo talkin’ bout Willis???” face and hopped out of the pool. 


The next thing I knew I was on the diving board plank and a second later, I was in the water. Then I swam to the side of the pool which I did for the first time in my life. I didn’t drown or flounder. This was another breakthrough. 

“Did I look like a normal person doing that?”

Afterward, on land, I whispered and asked the Hubs, “Be honest with me, did I look like a normal person doing that?” I have pink highlights in my hair and a henna tattoo on my arm yet I completely believed him when he nodded and said yes. I’m married to an awesome man. 
My goal is for this to be a normal occurrence. Is it possible for me to fearlessly swim and not think twice about it? I pray, I really do, for the day when I’m as comfortable on a pool slide or diving board (not diving!) as I am in the kitchen. I have no hesitation to try a new recipe and can usually handle a culinary mistake. 


Torpor has robbed me of memories, I’m ready as it says in Romans 8:37 to be “more than a conqueror” especially as it pertains to swimming. 

I need to do this again and again until it no longer scares me. 



I no longer have that unfinished artwork.  Instead I have a new canvas. Perhaps I never completed that painting because I was relying on my own strength and not the Lord’s.  This time it will be better than the original. 

Aquatic greatness 😉

And it will be created, dear friends, not with brush strokes but with swimming strokes.  I’m making progress. This was an epic event! Thanks again for your encouraging words.    

Doing hard things – part four, what am I afraid of?

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I’m trying to process the best vacation of my life. I’m searching for what the Lord is teaching and showing me after five precious days  in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

As previously mentioned, I’m co-leading a book club this summer for middle and high school girls. The book Doing Hard Things is intended for teenagers but it is speaking to this middle age mama’s heart. While languishing at the beach, in Playa del Carmen, under a cabana, with a fruity, non-alcoholic drink within hand’s reach, a gentle breeze wooed me to contemplation. What am I afraid of?

Here is a partial list:



Heights – looking down from an unsecured area is terrifying
Planes – I often warn fellow passengers that I am not a great fan of turbulence and can grab their hand at any point.
Water – (I’m working on this one)

The view from my beach chair…

Rollercoasters – there’s no point to being scared and nauseous unless during childbirth
Hypodermic needles/IVs – refer to above


and a host of other ones I choose not to mention.


Throw in a nervous bladder and a poor sense of direction. The Hubs is such a lucky guy, huh?


Since facing my fear of water/swimming, I realized I am also afraid of:


Failure – what if I don’t succeed? I have taken swimming lessons before but after completing them, I wimped out when I couldn’t synchronize my body correctly. Convinced that I looked just too stupid plus my knee hurt very badly, I gave up, defeated and land-locked.


It’s scary to ponder, if I’m still at this same point of mastery next year, what does that say about me?


But then, strangely, paradoxically, I am frightened of:


Success – I do not know this new Cindy very well and where is this girl going to take me? Possibly people might expect me to join in aquatic merriment. When doctors suggest swimming as a healthy form of exercise, I might have to heed their advice. I would no longer garner pity for being stranded on the shore. Pity, in a bizarre sort of way, has been part and parcel with summer. If I’m really a swimmer, then people might realize that my swimming strokes are awkward, clearly a sign of a novice.

Summer, I gotta be honest, I find you intriguing and complex. 

And then there’s the biggie –
I might enjoy swimming and then what do I do? I’m getting farther and farther from clinging to the secure side. What is on the other side? What is in the middle? Weird. 

I received this card in the mail from an encouraging mama
whose daughter is in the book club. T
his frog and I understand each other. 

Next post I want to share a swimming story that happened just before vay-kay. It’s becoming an interesting metaphor on my quest. Thanks again for your support. I hear your collective, sweet voices on land and sea, I’m serious.