Yesterday, Mark and Matt did an interview for Fox 6 News (Milwaukee affiliate), along with Kelly Hetzel, who literally saved their dad’s life at the YMCA. Please see link below to view the video!
Three years ago today, three years ago from this moment I’m writing, The Warrior was sitting at my family’s kitchen table for the first time, having an animated conversation over my homemade German Chocolate cupcakes. It wasn’t awkward, it wasn’t confrontational – it felt completely natural, and he made quite a positive impression on everyone! (He especially made a connection with our collie dog, Samson.)
Fast forward two years and two days from our first date – April 13, 2012 – the day The Warrior returned from Afghanistan. Our faith and love had been tested, severely at times…but that homecoming day was one of the best days of our lives. As I waited, surrounded by military wives and families, I had the same type of nervousness as when we had first met. Would he like my new outfit? Would he still find me pretty? What would we say to each other? Two years ago, I had sat on that couch in Olive Garden, waiting to get acquainted with this guy I had never met. On that April day in 2012, I sat on bleachers at an Army post, waiting to get reacquainted with this same guy who, in a way, I had never met before. A person is never the same after war.
When the white buses pulled up, the crowd erupted. I waved my miniature flag with one hand and shakily alternated between taking pictures and video with the other. The soldiers unloaded and the only thing we could see were their boots. It seemed to take FOREVER for them to get in formation, just like it had taken FOREVER for the buses to arrive. The DJ led us in screaming “Move that bus! Move that bus!!” And then they marched toward us. I scanned the crowd, looking for The Warrior’s dear face, straining to see him once again, after five long months. There he was, looking serious and then flashing his signature impish grin as the Colonel gave his 45 second speech. Then the DJ counted off, “Three, two, one, CHARGE!” and it was a mad rush to find our soldiers on the field. He and I had pre-planned to meet near the tent, but I was making a beeline for him. I came within touching distance of him and shouted his name, and he turned around, carrying his ruck sack and wearing his patrol cap. I barely gave him time to look at me before I enveloped him with my arms, squeezing tightly around his neck and putting my head between his head and right shoulder. I felt so choked up and happy that I could not muster any words. He held me tightly and it was like we were the only two people in the world.
Every homecoming from deployment or TDY (temporary duty) is another “first meeting,” another “first kiss.” That is one of the beauties of military life. It is a constant rediscovering of who the other person is, how the other person feels and perceives the world, how you walk the path of life together as a couple. It makes you experience the depths of gratitude because you understand just how easily EVERYTHING can be taken away and have lived daily with this reality for an extended period of time. These types of things I feel deeply and understand them in my heart, but I also find these emotions and realities the hardest things to write about.
As crazy as this military life can be, I would never trade it for anything else. The continuation of our story is sure to be an adventure, unpredictable at times, but I look forward to it because it will be with my Warrior! :)
It’s that time again! These questions came out last week so I’m a little behind…but it’s always a great time to fill out a survey!
1. What’s one thing in the past month you would have changed?
This is always the hardest question for me….I have to go back through my calendar and see what happened! LOL….I probably would’ve changed the fact that I went to the ER on my birthday. (No, it was NOT from too much partying!) Last year, The Warrior deployed on my birthday, this year I went to the hospital….what next?!
2. What was your favorite thing that happened in November?
Probably my favorite thing was Thanksgiving break. After going to the ER and dealing with stomach issues, I got hit with a bad sinus infection/cold and I DESPERATELY needed a break from normal life. My family had a wonderful holiday, great food, I took my sister and cousins shopping on Black Friday, and I got to sleep and relax!!
3. What is your favorite holiday memory?
I’d have to say my favorite holiday memory is The Warrior asking me to marry him, on Gaudete Sunday (“Rejoice” Sunday in Advent)/Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day – December 12, 2010! That was absolutely perfect and amazing, to be topped only by our wedding day!! :)
4. What are your plans for New Year’s Eve?
The Warrior and I will be together for the first time on New Year’s and I am SO excited!! My family always has a blast on NYE….since January 1st is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church (the Solemnity of Mary/Octave of Christmas), we go to Vigil Mass on New Year’s Eve and then the relatives gather at our house for festivities. Usually the food theme is soup, salad, and sandwiches, and since I turned 21, I’ve been in charge of buying the champagne. (I actually have a bottle of sparkling white wine in the fridge…leftover from Election Day when we should’ve been drinking to victory….) We always drink the champagne in the glasses my parents had at their wedding, so that is really special. Sometimes we break out fun board games and open up any presents we might not have opened on Christmas, for whatever reason. Lots of laughing and joking and picture-taking ensues, and staying up till midnight is no problem for our family as we do the countdown!! I am looking forward to having my first midnight New Year’s kiss, too! :) Oh yes, and we can’t forget my annual New Year’s tradition: breaking out the video camera and interviewing everyone present with the question: “So what do YOU wish for the new year?”
5. What are you looking forward to in December?
See question #4! I’m also looking forward to Christmas itself, winning the office decorating contest (oh yeah people, y’all are goin’ DOWN!), volunteering at “The Exodus” overnight shift for the USO, and earning nearly $1,000 extra in music gigs this month! :) It is a blessed time!
Technically it’s December 1st, but I haven’t gone to bed to end November 30th yet. This month filled with thanksgiving has come to a close, but that doesn’t mean that we stop being grateful for our blessings.
I had an experience this evening that reminded me of this. After work, the organization I work for joined with other local organizations for the annual Christmas tree lighting festivities. We had a table set up with crafts for kids to make, and I helped a co-worker supervise the table. There was a stage with performances and an emcee, and suddenly my ears perked up to what he was saying. “…the children and families of our fallen heroes. Please welcome them as they are escorted into the square.” My attention was diverted and my co-worker graciously said, “Malori, why don’t you go over there so you can see better.” So I stood close to where the families were walking in, and the crowd began clapping. The military families were in Dallas this weekend as part of the Snowball Express, a charity program for the children of fallen military heroes, and they were attending the tree lighting festivities as the opening event.
As I clapped and watched the families walk in, I wondered what their stories were. I saw moms holding the hands of their young children, and teens walking quietly beside their living parent. Some of the moms had glistening eyes, and my heart ached for them as I thought about why they were here: they had husbands who were killed in action. These children were growing up without one of their parents (most of them being their fathers, since more men than women serve) because they gave their lives in service to our country. As one of the moms walked by with her children, our eyes met for a couple seconds, and in that instant I could read her sadness. I hoped that my eyes were saying, I am so sorry for your loss. Your husband is a true hero. I certainly was feeling that.
I went back to the craft table, and soon, some of the Snowball Express kids began coming by our table. I watched as a girl, probably 10-12 years old, intently made a reindeer ornament. Her grandfather, who was her guardian on the trip, stood by patiently as she worked. The girl had such a sweet, innocent face, her strawberry-blonde hair braided perfectly, her demeanor reserved….and I wondered about who she had lost and what their story was. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have your dad killed in combat. The closest I can come to that is imagining what it would be like for my future kids if something happened to The Warrior. But imagining is not the same as knowing.
I had a conversation with a Gold Star wife who had accompanied her daughter, and she was so nice. I told her how emotional it was to see everyone walking in and knowing that they all had lost a loved one….and how I so admire and respect their families. I shared that my fiance is in the Army, and we connected over having (or in her case, having had) a significant other in the service, and she wished us luck. She explained that having the public recognize their families’ sacrifices is a two-sided coin: on one hand, it is so wonderful to be appreciated and recognized, but on the other, when that recognition is given, the wounds are opened up again…and the memories come flooding back. It has been four and a half years since her husband had died, but it is still really tough. I had to force tears from coming to my eyes, and I wished that I could do something for her. As she left, I gently squeezed her arm and said, “Thank you for your service.” She smiled and said, “Thank you so much for what you guys are doing here. It helps the kids so much. We really appreciate it.”
But I don’t deserve that thanks. Those Gold Star families are the ones that deserve it….we, the American public, need to be showing them our gratitude for their loved ones’ sacrifices. It’s so easy to get caught up with silly day-to-day things that are “stressful”….it’s so easy to think “woe is me, my situation is harder than so-and-so”….it’s so easy to not appreciate the little things in life….it’s so easy to not be consciously thankful for the people we love. Yes, we all go through rough patches in our lives. I won’t lie and say that deployment, for example, is easy. It IS hard, and yes, being a military family has its very unique challenges in comparison to civilian families. It’s something you can only understand if you’ve been there.
But are we getting TOO caught up in this mindset? How often do we forget that there are military families who don’t have their hero with them anymore? I’m sure they would gladly go through 10 more grueling deployments as long as it meant their service member came home alive in the end. Do we forget that we’re blessed to have our hero on this earth with us, even if we’re apart physically or are going through a tough period? There certainly are times that I’m not as grateful as I should be.
Seeing and interacting with the Gold Star families tonight reminded me once again what is truly important. It reminded me of what gratitude is. It reminded me to not take anything good for granted. Thank you so much to those families who have sacrificed. America is eternally grateful, for it is because of your heroes that we can remain free.
(photo credit: Success on AMS! Facebook)
Another week down! And this has been a BUSY week.
Last Saturday, I took a ladies beginner handgun class with two of my friends from work, and it was so much fun! There were only eight of us in the class, so we each got personal attention and tips from our instructor, and I feel SO much more comfortable now with handling a firearm. For all of you who are familiar with weaponry, we practiced mostly with a Glock 17, and a little bit with a Smith & Wesson “38 Special.” I personally felt more comfortable with the latter….the Glock felt too big for my hand and the kick-back was a little much for me. My friends and I are looking forward to going back to the range ourselves and practicing. : )
On Sunday I felt super-efficient: went to Mass at 0830, followed by Turbo Kickboxing class at the gym. That kickboxing is a full-body workout! The next morning, I got up at 0530 for a gym workout before heading to the office. That is a disgusting, ungodly hour, but I’ve found that doing this is actually energizing and gives an extra kick to my day. I taught my new violin student after work and then came home to work on envelope addressing projects….until after 0400.
Yes, you read that right: I was working until after 4AM. By the time I got in bed, it was 0430….so I had been up for 23 hours straight and then got only 2 hours of sleep. It was necessary to stop at a convenience store on the way to work to buy 5-Hour Energy Extra Strength so I could actually be cohesive. The day went pretty well, actually: I made almost 50 cold calls to potential clients, and even though I’m new at it I thought it was fine (especially considering how little sleep I had gotten!). I was supposed to volunteer at the USO for 3 hours that night, until 2200, but around lunchtime I called my team leader and said that I just couldn’t come in….I desperately needed my sleep that night and also didn’t want to drive home at that late hour with so little sleep. I had envelopes to do again that night, and then got almost 7 hours of sleep. Whew.
Today I realized this is the break-down of my working life:
45 hours = at the office (includes mandatory 1 hour lunch break each day, and sometimes I use that time to work on envelopes)
2.5 hours = teaching
c. 17 hours = envelope projects (sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on how many projects I have)
PLUS I spend about 2.5 hours per day commuting for my office job….which equals 12.5 hours of driving per week. So if you add my time spent at work and time spent commuting so that I can work, it adds up to 77 hours/week. Plus, I volunteer at the USO for 3 hours once a week and once or twice a month I have a music gig (each one is usually about 1.5 hours long, plus commute). So on those weeks that I have a gig, I could be working/commuting over 80 hours.
With sleeping more on the weekends, I probably get about 50 hours/week. Not bad. That leaves 38 hours for doing other stuff, which averages about 5.5 hours/day. But it doesn’t feel like I have that much free time!! How come I can hardly find time to write if I have all this free time? Seriously, I could be managing my time better and be getting more stuff done.
I feel like the only time I can let myself totally relax is when I’m with The Warrior, because I want to spend quality time with him. One of our favorite things to do is laze (is that a word?) around and watch movies, and it does not feel like a waste of time…but I would NEVER do that by myself. (Whenever I watch TV or movies, I’m working on envelopes.) Even while writing this I feel like other things are calling my name….like putting away laundry or cleaning my bathroom. Life is too short to not be productive!
Okay, with that said, it’s time to work on envelopes for a couple hours…. : )
I found a couple new military wife blogs that I like! One is called Stetsons, Spurs and Stilettos (cute!) and Wife of a Sailor. The latter has a monthly meme called “Milspouse Friday Fill-In,” in which the first Friday of every month she will post a series of questions for other military spouses/significant others to “fill in.” She hasn’t done one for August, but I decided to get started and answer questions she posted for July:
1. What’s one thing in the past month you would’ve changed?
If I had super-powers, I would’ve prevented myself from getting a nail stuck in my tire and spending money ($22) to get it patched, in July. It’s about the third time this has happened to that tire in less than a year!!
2. What was your favorite thing that happened in July?
Seeing The Warrior after being apart for a month! Also (if I can add a second favorite thing) my two cousins from Florida, Jessica and Justine and Justine’s baby came to visit for a long weekend! I hadn’t seen Justine (who is my age) for almost 9 years!!
3. What did you do to celebrate Independence Day?
I hung out with my family: went to Mass and a community parade in the morning with my dad, came back and baked/cooked in the kitchen, ate delicious food, took a nap, and then saw fireworks at night. It was a wonderful day except for me and The Warrior being apart.
4. When you PCS, what items do you take with you and not let the movers pack (and if you do a DITY, what do you take with you and not box up)?
Well, seeing as I’m not married yet I haven’t had the opportunity to PCS yet! The Warrior says he wants to do DITY moves, so I imagine that I wouldn’t box up things like important documents, an overnight bag/change of clothes for traveling, snacks, camera, cell phone….basically all the type of stuff I’d want with me on a road trip!
5. What are you looking forward to in August?
The biggest event I looked forward to this month was The Warrior’s birthday! We had a fabulous time together. I took him to P.F. Chang’s, one of his favorites, and I clandestinely went up to the hostess desk to see if they could get the waiter’s attention and tell him it was The Warrior’s birthday. Fortunately for me, the manager happened to be standing there by the desk, and I said, “I need to ask a favor: it’s my fiance’s birthday and I was wondering if you could have our waiter bring out a dessert.” The manager said, “Well, does he like chocolate?” and I answered yes. I also just had to add, in the hopes that they would add some kind of special touch to the dessert, that “He also just got back from Afghanistan.” The manager assured me, “I will personally see to it and we’ll do something really special.” I beamed at him and said, “Thanks so much! Our table is right there.” The Warrior was mere feet away but his back was to us and the restaurant was noisy, so he had no idea. I sat back down, feeling very sneaky, and our main dishes were soon brought out. About halfway through, the manager stopped by our desk with two large glasses of red wine, to our great surprise. He explained what type of wine it was (sounded very fancy) and made sure our meal tasted good. We looked at each other like, Huh, that’s nice. At the end of the meal, The Warrior said, “Are you ready for some dessert?” and I said, “Yeah, sure.” The waiter came to box up our leftovers and The Warrior mentioned wanting some dessert. The waiter replied, “I hear it is your birthday” and The Warrior, just slightly surprised, answered, “Yes it is.” In a few minutes, our waiter came out with THE BIGGEST piece of chocolate cake I’d ever seen, called “The Great Wall of Chocolate.” It was surrounded by dark raspberry sauce and garnished with mint leaves and berries. The waiter lit a single candle and presented it. Then, he put the tab down on the table and said, “Your bill has been taken care of.” I was floored! I did NOT expect this when the manager said he would do something “special”! The Warrior looked across the table at me with a look of disbelief that I’ll never forget: “Our meal is paid for??” I looked at him coyly and responded, “Well I guess that’s what you get when I mention you just got back from Afghanistan.” The bill was almost $50, not counting the two glasses of wine….I have a feeling that the manager was either in the military himself at one point or has a loved one currently serving. That gift was priceless. :)
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Here we are, at the moment for which we’ve been waiting for months or even a year: the homecoming and reintegration! This is definitely the most joyful part, but at the same time it is also the most delicate and, dare I say, can be a painful part of the whole process.
During the last couple months and especially during the last few weeks, a range of emotions will be felt by the one left at home: anxiety, excitement, impatience, Super Woman Syndrome (aka I have to get everything done that I didn’t accomplish during the deployment NOW), and that butterfly-in-your-stomach feeling that you got before going on your first date. Ever since The Warrior left for Afghanistan, I began imagining the homecoming, and as the last couple weeks crept by, I was SO ready for the deployment to be over. Nine days before he returned I wrote this in my journal:
Holy crap!! I am in to-do overdrive. I have several work lists and personal lists, I’ve gotta wash my car, I need to figure out where I’m staying, etc. etc. etc.!! I am driving myself crazy with excitement, nervousness, and impatience. :)
The key with homecoming is to expect the unexpected. The Warrior’s unit had an active Facebook page, which the commander’s wife frequently updated. There was also a page on the division website that posted official information. My iPhone was already another appendage but as their return drew near, it was truly an addiction. The unit came home in waves, and as soon as The Warrior found out, he told me what his flight’s code name would be. I had Twitter updates from the division sent to me as text messages, I bookmarked the division website on my Internet browser at work (and refreshed it countless times a day), and I constantly checked the Facebook page on my phone. It was agony waiting for his flight code name to be posted!
It was exciting to see all the other spouses who were so excited about their soldiers coming home, but caution must be exercised in this area. When a ceremony was “set,” the code name and time was posted on the Facebook page (as well as the division website). We all felt over-eager for this information, but some spouses and parents would comment, “My husband is on that flight!” or “I will be there to welcome my son home!” Bad, bad, bad idea. You never know who is watching, and giving away names on manifests can be dangerous.
Also, the first date/time that is posted for a homecoming ceremony is most certainly not the final one. The time changed about three times but to me it felt like 100. The Warrior kept me posted on how he thought the timeline would play out, but even he was just making an educated guess. Four days before his arrival I wrote:
So I am eagerly waiting to get that text from the [division] Twitter page about the flight name and ceremony time!! Man I feel like I have so much to do the next three days. Plus I don’t know if I’ll drive down on Wednesday night or just go there Thursday AM. I need enough time to get a pass to enter Ft. XX, which usually takes awhile. And to buy the balloons [at this point I thought I’d bring balloons so he could find me easier] and make sure I’m at XX Field at least an hour early. I don’t know if I should bring something to read, or if I will strike up conversations with other families there or what!! There are storms predicted for Thursday in XX, but it’s still only Monday, so that could change. I pray it does!!
At this point, we thought he was arriving Thursday afternoon or early evening. When he arrived at the
showering debriefing location, The Warrior got online and we were able to message back and forth on Facebook about the tentative plan. My journaling after this was mostly me figuring out how long it would take to fly from one point to another and wracking my brain to figure out an ETA. But it was all in vain.
On Tuesday, we found out the ceremony got bumped to 11pm on Thursday night. During all this, I kept my boss abreast of what was happening. Thankfully I had vacation time to use and he was very flexible and understanding of the circumstances. So instead of taking the entire Thursday off, I decided to work a half-day and then drive to Ft. XX with plenty of time to spare. However, on Wednesday evening I found out that the ceremony had been changed yet again, to 10am on Friday. I wanted to pull my hair out!! So I decided to work a full day and drive down Thursday evening. (The changes happened because of an aircraft malfunction, I found out later.)
This is just an example of what can happen and this situation is definitely not unique. Plan in pencil! Another thing is to expect things to go wrong right before he gets back. It was like Murphy was out to get me! On Wednesday I took the train to work, and so on my way home I swiped my debit card to purchase my return ticket. The machine told me it wasn’t working and I figured there was something wrong with the machine. I used cash to pay and didn’t think anything of it. Later in the evening, after teaching my two violin students, I stopped at the gas station to fill up before my trek the next day. The pump declined it. I went to the lady in the booth and had her run the card, and still it was declined. I called my bank and found out that my account was frozen because there might have been fraudulent activity! (Nothing was withdrawn, thankfully.) So the next day I had to visit my bank and get a temporary debit card.
On Thursday morning before work, I stopped at a different gas station. (The bank told me I could use that debit card using the PIN, just not as credit.) It worked fine, but as the gas was pumping, I just happened to look down at my back right tire and there was a nail sticking out of it!! There I was, about to make a three hour drive later that day to see my fiancé who was coming back from the war, and a nail had the audacity to stick itself in my tire! There was a National Tire and Battery right next to the gas station, so with a big sigh I finished filling up and took my car there. The guy at the front desk came out to inspect the tire, and he plucked that nail right out! I could hardly believe it. It had not punctured the tire, miraculously. He even sprayed the tire with water to prove to me there was no hole. Whew, disaster averted!
I could hardly concentrate the whole day, got my temporary debit card from the bank, and left work around 5:00. I got to my hotel and checked in, but there was an issue with my temp card, and my old one was already canceled! It took at least 30 minutes to get everything squared away. I dumped my stuff in the room, went out to get my visitor’s pass, got dinner, and then came back to eat and (try to) chill out. I got a shower and was getting settled in bed when the front desk called me: there was something wrong with my transaction! The ladies there were very nice and we got it all sorted out…but by this time I just wanted The Warrior back before something really wrong happened!!
The skies were gray and a little rain was sprinkling on Friday morning, but NOTHING could dampen my spirits that day. The adrenaline in the air was almost overwhelming, and my heart ached to see those white buses pull up to the field, full of soldiers…with one of them being mine. It was no longer a dream – I was about to see him in a few minutes, and it wouldn’t be over Skype! “Move that bus! Move that bus!” we all shouted as they piled out and got in formation, and then everyone started screaming and yelling as the buses pulled away and the soldiers marched towards us. I was frantically taking video, photos, and waving my little American flag, all while trying to pick out The Warrior in the sea of faces. There he was, on the right side in the second row. He had on his super-serious look, but as the colonel gave his speech, his signature impish grin crept onto his face. When the colonel yelled, “Charge!” I was one of the first people out of the bleachers since I was on the first row. The Warrior had previously told me to meet him at the music tent, but I was making a beeline for him. He was walking and facing away from me, so I shouted his name in the commotion and he quickly turned around. He hugged me and I tightly wrapped my arms around his neck. He was there…he was in my arms. I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh, but I was smiling. I could hardly form words, but I think I managed a “I’m so glad you’re back.” (Yeah, real romantic…) He kissed me and his patrol cap hit my forehead and I imagined it looked awkward…but it was awesome. It was like another first kiss. He was BACK.
Thus started his reintegration. Everyone always imagines homecoming will be total bliss, but deep inside we know that is not completely true. There will be times of complete joy where it feels like nothing can go wrong…but then there are other periods where things are strained and you realize the war has changed your soldier. Some are affected in bigger ways than others, and I can say that things went fairly smooth for us compared to some stories I’ve read. But still, you have to watch out for triggers. Depending on what your soldier has experienced, loud noises might bother him at first, he might want to avoid large crowds, and more than likely he will want to sleep a lot the first few days. Don’t be surprised if he has some emotional or angry outbursts. Be aware of things that might set him off, like hearing anti-war sentiments on TV. He was just in the s*** and that is the last thing he wants to hear, even if it’s not directed at him. If he has an angry outburst, understand that it is not you, the wife/fiancée/girlfriend/parent. As long as he’s not being a threat to anyone, let him express his emotions and the moment will pass. Don’t judge and don’t make a comment about what just happened. Just let things be.
He will probably be more uptight when you’re driving, too. He might give simple instructions that are obvious like, “Watch out, that car is stopping,” or “Turn right” when you know exactly where you’re going. He might even say these things more forcefully than necessary. Again, just let him say these things and don’t pick on him. Right now is when the spouse has to be totally selfless and not take comments personally.
Before he returns, make sure to read good books on reintegration and post-war problems, like combat stress, PTSD, and TBI. The ones I read were On Combat by LTC Dave Grossman, After the War Zone by Dr. Matthew Friedman and Dr. Laurie Slone, and Once a Warrior, Always a Warrior, by COL Charles W. Hoge, M.D. I felt educated and prepared to deal with whatever problems might have arisen, but thankfully there was nothing serious. However, until I determined that things would be okay, I was vigilant and took mental notes on his behavior. *Edit* Even now, it’s important to not become complacent (as with anything in life). Issues can still arise six months or more after returning from deployment; it varies from person to person.
There is no possible way for us, who held down the homefront, to understand what our soldiers went through. But what we can and must do is listen to what they have to tell us and to remember that their stories will not come out all at once. The Warrior would bring up deployment incidents at random times, and every time he did I focused 100% on what he was saying. Your soldier should also make an effort to hear your side of the story, and when The Warrior praised and thanked me, I felt like a million bucks. He will never forget what he saw and experienced in Afghanistan, and he will be forever shaped by that, but he is still mine, he is still my hero, and he is still the guy that I am going to grow old with. It is great to be together again. I am so thankful for you, Warrior. :)
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Thank you to my readers who have faithfully followed this series. Please give feedback in the comment section and let me know if there are any particular subjects you would like me to write about! :)