Break out the Calendars

I know I mention my husband in passing with some regularity, but I want to start this post off by saying straight out that this guy is cool. I like him SO much. He’s always the first to encourage me to try new things, is my biggest support when things get hectic, and keeps me going with things get tough. Whenever I have cool news to share about Frankie, just know that behind the scenes is a wonderful man who makes this all possible.

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AND HE FEEDS ME SO WELL BECAUSE HE IS A PRINCE AMONG MEN

As I’ve mentioned previously, we’re heading to the Piedmont Jumper Classic at the end of September. The plan is to go in at 0.90m the first day to get our sea legs back, and then step back into the 1.0m Low Adult classes over the weekend. Partially because I like riding in a division, but more so because I have a pair of as-yet-unworn white pants that are just begging for a classic. I never said that my decision-making process was logical.

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I believe I have made my feelings about white pants extremely clear to everyone. I like them.

To prep for that, Frankie is getting his SI injected next week as a complement to his hock injections. While he’s a pretty solid chunk right now, his fitness is actually in decent shape and he’s been giving me some AMAZING rides lately. I’ve been putting the screws to him a bit as a reminder that he is in fact a shmancy show horse, and he’s been showing up to work like a pro. We schooled some 1m-ish jumps in our recent lesson and he was soft and rhythmic and adjustable, so I think the addition of the SI injection will make it that much more comfortable and easy to do the Lows at the show. I could gush more about just how great he’s going but just trust me on it – all the hard work we put into developing a partnership and skills has paid off, and I am rewarded with a wonderfully trained animal. It’s great.

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This animal has won speed classes yet falls asleep on the crossties almost daily. He has reach peak levels of energy conservation.

In other exciting news, we’re adding a few things to the calendar! Our next show after Piedmont will be the WIHS Local Show/Zone Finals at the end of October. We’re obviously not qualified for any Zone champs this year, but they have a few adult medals on Friday and a few open 1.0m jumper classes on Saturday we can go have fun in. I like the venue and it’s close to home, so should be a good time.

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I have competed there multiple times yet somehow have ZERO media of me actually on a horse there. So enjoy this uncomfortably close selfie of me picking up a ribbon Frankie and I won there in the Highs a few years ago.

And in a first for us, we are signing up for a clinic in October as well! Will Simpson (Olympic Gold Medalist, Beijing 2008) is offering a one-day clinic as part of the Rutledge Farm Sessions Olympic Medalist series, with a focus on finding perfect distances and shaving off time in the jump-off. Sounds useful, right?? Rutledge Farm is just down the road in Middleburg, and the chance to ride with someone with so much experience doesn’t come along every day – I just had to sign up along with some of the other girls at the barn. I’ve heard that he’s very kind and patient with the horses and riders, and that he gives great homework to take away from it, so I’m thrilled to expand our knowledge with him.

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The facilities just look gorgeous, and they bring in lots of big names across disciplines – Peter Wylde, Boyd Martin, Ali Brock, Philip Dutton, and Stacia Madden are all there this year.

I originally figured I should do EITHER the clinic OR the show, since we’re trying to make some reasonable financial decisions. WBBH (World’s Best Horse Husband) is the one that encouraged me to go for both, and that he wants me to be able to enjoy Frankie as much as possible. Like I said, he is a kind and thoughtful and wonderful man and I am extremely lucky.

So there you have it! I originally thought we’d have a quiet fall, but it turns out we have two shows and a clinic slated in the next two months alone! I can’t go to the big show in November, but hoping to maybe do a nearby one-day in December to round out the year.

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TIME TO WAKE UP MY DUDE AND GO BE A SHOW PONY

Just to be obnoxious and really drive it home, I’m feeling extraordinarily grateful for the ability to go out and do these things with Frankie. I counted myself lucky to be able to do 3 shows with him the first year that I owned him, and even with school in the mix it looks like 2019 will end up having 7-8 shows across different disciplines. I could’ve never imagined having the support professionally and personally to take the time/ money/ energy to do this and I hope to never take it for granted. None of it would be possible without a boss who encourages me to use my PTO and work remotely so I can travel, friends who stay in touch when we all have busy schedules, parents who have always taught me to go tenaciously after what I want, trainers that push me to be better, and of course, my dream heart horse Frankie and my dream man Nicholas. I’m grateful.

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I’m honestly living my dream life with this ridiculous goofy wonderful creature.

OK now time to stop with the gross mushy stuff and get back to riding!

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Blog Hop: 12 Tough Questions

I first saw these questions over with Amanda, who got them from Alaina (which is a new blog to me so hooray!) and I had to hop on this blog hop.

Q1:  What hobbies do you have outside of riding?

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I made dis. vanilla chai spice flavored cream puff/profiterole/whatever the heck they’re called at least they tasted real good

Uhhh. Does doing schoolwork count? I do really enjoy baking, and can make a mean profiterole. I’ve been helping some friends build out spending/budget trackers which is deeply satisfying to my spreadsheet-centric brain. I also LOVE to read. No non-fiction please, I just want fantasy and historical fiction. I’d swim every day if I could. So there’s lots of things that I could happily build out into a full hobby, but for now my life is pretty much centered on work-barn-school-sleep.

Q2: What is your boarding situation?  Are you happy with it?

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Big fan of these facilities

Frankie is in full care at my trainer’s facility and I couldn’t be happier with it. He receives top notch care, I have access to tons of knowledgeable professionals, and we’ve both learned and progressed so much together. I totally understand why people want to keep their horses at home, but I’m fairly sure I’ll be a life-long boarder.

Q3:  What’s on your horsey-related wish list?

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This. I want this.

Oh man this is a pretty sizable list right now haha. In no particular order: new stirrups, new standing and pillow wraps, a custom trunk cover, some custom embroidered BoT saddle pads, a new brush set, some minor things for my first aid kit, some more show-condition breeches, some more schooling breeches (seriously, y’all know I love pants), a new show shirt or two, a shadbelly, a standing martingale to do the derbies, and a fake tail for Frankie. So yeah. Pretty good sized list going on. None of them are 100% necessary to our health and happiness so none of them have been super urgent purchases, but I do need to start chipping away at some of the more important ones – I’ve known I need new stirrups for like 18 months now, and my show pants are starting to really show their wear.

Q4: What is your most expensive horsey-related item?

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I will be buried with this saddle.

Other than the horse himself, probably my saddle if we’re looking at a concrete object. Not that I spent a crazy amount on it, but it was still a decent sized investment. If we’re talking about other expenses, either my two weeks at WEC with Frankie or our week in Lake Placid are going to show up as some high cash flow. Worth it, but RIP to my bank account. I do a lot of my “shopping” on Twitter and FB these days and have gotten some great deals on the stuff we need.

Q5: What was the hardest horsey-related decision you’ve had to make lately?

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I don’t have any pictures of me at my home desk so enjoy this picture of me doing homework during undergrad 10 FREAKIN YEARS AGO (also shut up about the hair)

Honestly, the decision to go back to school. While that’s not inherently horse-related in itself, Frankie was a major part of that decision. Willingly choosing to limit my riding and training while my horse and I are still young and healthy is not something I wanted to do, but ultimately I do think it’s going to set me up to be able to provide my family, including Frankie, with a better life (and hopefully a sibling down the road).

Q6:  What’s something you feel you can’t live without in your routine?

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This perfect chunk.

This is the toughest one in the list for me haha. Can I cop out and just say Frankie? As long as I’m getting time with him regularly, everything else goes more smoothly. And he’s pretty chill, so there’s no one thing he truly NEEDS beyond all the love and attention in the world.

Q7: What’s on your horsey-related calendar for the rest of the summer?

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It’s time to get back in the jumper ring

Nothing major! We have a show at the end of September that I’m excited for, Frankie will get his SI injected in the next few weeks, but we’re going to just keep enjoying working together with no pressure. Classes start back up shortly and that will eat up a lot of my time.

Q8:  What is one thing you would willingly change about your horse?

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Do you even SEE that belly?! Someone on Insta recently asked if he was pregnant. That was a new low.

I would make it so that he holds his condition more easily. Many of my friends with TBs find it much easier to leg their horses back up after a break, or can maintain a lighter schedule without losing too much fitness. If Francis is not in a high-intensity 6x/week program, he has a very VERY difficult time maintaining fitness, and it’s frankly hard to keep up with my current schedule. We both have the ability and desire to jump higher and work harder (well, I have the desire certainly), but I’m very conscious that his fitness level won’t support that in a healthy way. If he could just hold on to his fitness better, I think we could accomplish more in the time I do have. At the end of the day though, I’m lucky that that’s the worst thing I can think of. In terms of behavior or ability, I wouldn’t change a thing – he’s my dream horse and has given me the world.

Q9:  What is something you most want to improve on with you and your horse?

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I can even see it here at the posting trot: my right hip.

Our asymmetry, which is 100% caused by my own asymmetry. My right hip consistently blocks him and makes his job so much harder. It’s proven majorly difficult to isolate and address so I feel like I haven’t made much progress on this front, but getting myself straightened out and balanced would seriously help so much.

Q10:  What has been your [current] horse’s most severe injury?

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He didn’t mind having a little break for me to simply fuss over him

Knock on wood, Frankie has been wonderfully sturdy over the past few years. His heel grab earlier this year put him on stall rest for a bit while that healed up all the way, but that was hardly a major injury. All fingers and toes crossed that he remains sturdy and healthy for a long time to come.

Q11:  What do you feel your biggest downfall is as a rider?

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There is a lot of me, I am very long.

Physical strength. When I’m cross training and fully in shape, I feel like Frankie and I can go conquer the world – we’ve got the partnership, he’s got the ability, and between him and my trainer I’ve learned a ton about how to better manage my mental preparation. But much like my horse, I find it tough to stay in shape without a pretty strict routine. While he tends to get a lil hay belly and turn into a chunk, my body’s response is to just lose muscle and turn into a fettuccine noodle. And when I’m not strong, I can’t give Frankie the support he needs to do good work. He never takes advantage because he’s an angel boy, but I do get frustrated sometimes that I can’t just Do The Thing I know how to do. This is entirely within my control since I can just work out more often, but DUDE I’m so tired from work and school and working out is the worst so I mostly just mope about losing all my muscle tone and wallow in self pity. Someday I’ll learn how to better manage my schedule so I can get some strength training back in there more consistently.

Q12:  What feeds your motivation?

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One of the best feelings I’ve ever felt.

While this may be a relatively unpopular perspective, my motivation is largely fed by competitions. I LOVE competing. Not because I need to win, but because there is something incredibly exhilarating about experiencing that atmosphere and testing my skills against other people. I always learn something new to develop and I love aiming for the next level. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely live for the time I get to spend with Frankie just brushing him and hacking around on the buckle. Those times are therapeutic and I often need them after a long week of adulting. But at the end of the day, I’m extremely goal-oriented and having these arbitrary markers to check in on our progress are what I most enjoy working towards.

Phases of Training

Strap in guys, this one is a monster post.

It’s no secret that Frankie’s workload these days is much lighter than it was last summer. I’ve talked about it quite a bit, and he’s been on this lighter schedule for roughly a year now so I have some solid comparison to go on. In looking back at the 3.5ish years he’s been mine, I think our training approach can be broken into 3 main phases (thus far). I’d like to take a look at those three phases, what worked, what the results were, and what I’ve learned about what works best for my horse and our partnership.

Part One: Train Like Lesson Students. Apr 2016 – Nov 2016

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This first phase lasted most of the first calendar year that I owned Frankie. We lessoned once a week, he did not receive training rides, his physical maintenance was minimal, and we were showing at 1.0m in the Low Adult jumpers.

At this point, the main focus of our program was getting to know each other. I hesitate to even call it a program, because there was not a lot of cohesiveness to what we were doing. It truly was all about the basics: making sure forward was always the answer, learning to keep my balance and keep my leg on a very different ride than I was used to, building show miles and trust in the show ring. We developed strength and balance but little nuance on the flat. He had decent muscling and decent conditioning – plenty to do his job comfortably but nothing to write home about. We ended this phase with a much better understanding of each other and much better communication, along with a great deal of trust built by a successful show season.

The biggest thing we learned at this point was how to hit the gas pedal. Building that forward motion did not come particularly naturally to either of us at that point, but has been the foundation for literally everything we’ve done since. In a sense, we had to learn to gallop before we could learn to trot. We had to rev the engine before we could tune it into sportscar mode, which brings me to our next phase.

Part Two: Train Like Pros. Dec 2016 – Jul 2018

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Our second phase lasted about a year and a half, and coincided with our move up to the 1.10/1.15m High Adult jumpers. We took private lessons at least once a week, started with one training ride a week which then bumped up to two training rides a week, had a dedicated 6 day/week strength and conditioning program for both of us, and got much more aggressive with our physical maintenance.

At this point, the main focus of our program (and it truly was a Program with a capital P) was to hone our skills for the move up. Our private lessons very closely tied into what AT worked on in her pro rides for him, with the goal of getting me closer to riding at that level. He often worked twice a day in addition to his hilly turnout, and he was superbly muscled and trim. By the end of this phase, we were confident at 1.15m, he was going at 1.20m with a pro in the irons, and we had competed at a lot of bucket list locations.

One of the biggest things we developed during this phase was a sense of timing. Before this, I knew what a half-halt was, I knew how to adjust his stride, and I could get out of his way over a fence. My biggest takeaway from this intensive period was learning WHEN to cue him in different ways to give him the most support and be the most effective rider I could be. I remember at first feeling completely discombobulated and my trainer reassuring me that the muscle memory would come in time – she was right, and these frequent rides were the reason I was able to internalize it. Even though I’m a little flabby and rusty now, I’ve been able to maintain this sense of timing in much of our work (though not all! This skill certainly atrophies from lack of use like any other).

Supporting this heavily increased workload was heavily increased maintenance. We did hock and SI injections, he got massages, he saw the chiropractor, he got his tack evaluated and re-evaluated. Maintaining that level of fitness truly was not easy for him, and while he remained sound as a bell and healthy, he needed our help to maintain that muscle tone comfortably.

The time and effort we needed to put in to keep Frankie at peak fitness and performance was very high and difficult to maintain with wedding planning and then school added into the mix, which brings me to our next phase.

Part Three: Train Like Ammies. Aug 2018 – present

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Our current phase has lasted about a year now, and has coincided with a step down in height and exploration of the eq and derby rings. We’re back in group lessons that happen mostly weekly, he’s still in his 2x/week training rides to maintain fitness, but I’m only on 3-4x/week and the conditioning work, while still a part of the program, is less targeted and intense. Physical maintenance stays high but is needed less often.

At this point the main focus of our program is maintaining the base. Maintaining his fitness at a reasonable point, maintaining the skills and abilities we fought so hard to learn, and maintaining a base level that we can work off of when we’re ready to jump back in more intensely. He’s got a bit more of a dad bod, but is fine to jump around 3′ once a week. As he gets older, we’re incorporating more hill work to keep his hind end feeling strong, we’re icing his legs after every jump school, we’re using Back on Track hock boots to support his hock injections, and we’re overall being more thoughtful about the every-day preventative maintenance that we’re providing.

One of the big things we’ve developed during this phase is confidence. We haven’t introduced anything newly difficult to Frankie in almost a year – that’s not to say that we haven’t asked him to work hard because we certainly have, but the heights and questions have all been heights and questions he’s been asked before. It’s like giving him a test that he’s already taken, so he knows how to ace it. It’s been refreshing for both of us to step back and do things that are so solidly in our wheelhouse.

Overall Thoughts

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Each of these phases made sense at the time, and each has taught me more about what Frankie needs to feel his best. We’ve consistently learned and changed what we do to fit his needs, and I have a few main takeaways to consider as we move forward together:

  • This is a horse that thrives on knowing he’s done a good job. When introducing new skills/heights/expectations, take plenty of time to ask him questions he knows the answer to. His work ethic and attitude soars when he’s set up to get it right.
  • The timing of the release is everything for him. He is not a sensitive horse and is happy to hang on my hand forever. He also knows that his job is to go forward now, so this means I end up with a front-heavy unbalanced horse. Learning WHEN to release after a solid half-halt has 100% been the key to developing a consistent and balanced gait, with a horse that trusts that his effort at maintaining that will be rewarded.
  • His conditioning will absolutely not take care of itself. He loses fitness practically overnight and it’s tough to regain it once lost. It’s also hard to maintain on a busy amateur schedule, which means that our expectations for his performance have to match our ability to help him out in that area.
  • He doesn’t need a program, but he does thrive in one. Much as he loves knowing that he’s done a good job, he loves consistency in his workload and is much happier when he’s getting worked with fairly consistent intensity at consistent intervals. Those intervals and intensity don’t have to remain unchanging forever, but he is happiest when those hold steady for a solid chunk of time.

To get super reductionist, Frankie is a horse that thrives on consistency and well-timed rewards. If and when a new phase in our training is necessary, these are some common threads for us to carry forward.

The Dog Days of Summer

It may be a million degrees out, but we finally have a show on our calendar! Frankie and I will be heading to the Piedmont Jumper Classic the last weekend of September. No clue if we’ll be sticking in the 0.90m or if we’ll head into the Lows and I don’t much care, it’s just going to be fantastic to get our butts back in the jumper ring and let Frankie do what he does best. As much as I’m thoroughly enjoying our forays into the eq and derby rings, let’s not forget that Frankie has spent 3 years tuning up into a super fun amazing jumper. Plus, this show is held on the same showgrounds as Upperville and is entirely jumpers. All the beauty of Upperville, smaller crowds, close to home and reasonably priced – what is there not to like?!

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Seriously I will never complain about the chance to ride around in this ring. PC – G. Mohan

In other upcoming show news, it looks like the barn will be returning to Ocala this February after spending the last few winter shows at WEC in Ohio. I’m very much hoping to make it work financially so I can take Frankie down for both weeks and enjoy a change of scenery with him. The prize list is a mile long with a million different jumper classes we could do AND a very large array of adult eq and medal classes so we certainly wouldn’t lack for variety. Those of you who have been around for a while know that my trip down to Ocala back in 2016 was ultimately what sparked buying a horse to compete more heavily with (which of course led to Frankie joining the family #bestdayever), so I have some amazing memories of being down there. It would feel kinda full circle to go back there with my own horse to the place that was such a catalyst to a turning point in my riding journey.

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Baby me on my lovely lease horse, trying desperately to convince myself and everyone around me that “no I really don’t think I’m going to buy a horse any time soon.” Signed the check for Frankie less than 6 weeks later. Willpower: I have none.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the World’s Best Horse Husband (WBHH). We’ve got some financial goals we’re working towards together and clearly horse shows are a luxury and NOT a necessity, so for him to support this pursuit of my passion really does mean the world to me. He’s a good one. I like him so much.

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Also he’s real cute and I like his face a lot.

In the meantime, we’re chugging along happily. Frankie is secretly part dragon and handles the heat like a champ, I myself turn into a slightly al dente linguine, but between the two of us we’re getting some good work in and staying in reasonably decent shape. I will say, his coat right now is LOVELY. He is shiny, sleek, some dapples are peeking through, and his winter coat is just starting to grow in with that gorgeous dark color. We’re going to be supplementing his hock injections with an SI injection to make him feel extra good, I’ve been icing his legs pretty much every time we jump, and he’s honestly looking and feeling great.

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Not sure what I’m doing with my hands here but I’m sure it made sense at the time

I’ve been enjoying my summer break from school, but I’m also excited to jump back into classes next week. I have two back to back terms which means no break until December 6, but then I get a two month break until February! …and then it’s another marathon straight through to the end of May. But that’s fine. I’m on track to finish the program early October 2020 which really isn’t that far away, and so far I’ve maintained my 4.0. They don’t do anything higher, I checked.

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I’m pondering some ideas for blog posts about some of the training approaches we’ve been taking lately and how that balance has been working, but for now the short version is: it’s hot but Frankie is cool, we’ve got some exciting shows coming up, and I’m a happy nerd.

My Non-Horse Summer

It’s been a wild summer, you guys. Of course I love sharing all my Frankie updates with you, but thought it would be fun to give you a little snapshot of all the other fun adventures that have been going on when I’m NOT at the barn.

Back at the beginning of summer we had our annual staff retreat, which involved decorating and piloting little slide-y go carts. When brainstorming ideas on how to decorate, I loudly blurted out DRAGONS and everyone just kinda rolled with it. I think you can see which one I am here. Earned the nickname Token Extrovert at this retreat. Whoops.

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We got a new car! I’ve driven it approximately one time for approximately 90 seconds, but technically it’s both of ours. Ask me how much I enjoy having a car payment, but then ask me how much happier my guy is driving something that has actual air conditioning in the Virginia summer. It all evens out one way or another.

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Speaking of which, he also learned how to make the world’s most amazing french fries from scratch and we now eat them all the time omg they’re actual perfection. Better than any restaurant.

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Already mentioned this, but pulled off a surprise trip to LA for his 30th b-day where we got to see a bunch of his best friends and chill with them for a weekend. It was awesome to see them and celebrate.

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We went up to upstate NY for his annual family reunion, where one morning they all woke up to do hill runs. Like…what. Why did I marry into this??? This family is all annoyingly athletic, it’s wild. I’m going to need to step my game up to keep up.

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I cut even MORE of my hair off and guys I love it. Less hair = less heat.

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We went up to Rhode Island and got to hop on my dad’s boat for a bit. It was crazy hot but worth it for some time on the water.

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And last but not least, we went on our honeymoon down to St. Lucia! It was amazing and gorgeous and relaxing and so so so much fun, and I’m really not loving coming back to reality.

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So there you have it. It’s been a whirlwind of traveling all over during the past few months, but it sure has been fun. Just a heads up though that we are boycotting airports in 2020 and our slogan is Y’all Come To Us. We’ll be at home.