NoBo on the Natchez Trace, Tishomingo to Meriwether Lewis, 94 Miles | A Three-State Day in the Rain

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Oh such a great day but such a wet one! In addition to crossing both the Alabama and Tennessee state lines we rode most of the day on hills and in the rain. Gratefully it was a warm rain without a lot of head wind.

Not many pics today but for sure there were lots of smiles during the miles.

NoBo on the Natchez Trace, Witch Dance to Tishomingo, 77 Miles | Blessed and Lucky Indeed

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From Tom:

Ok it is my turn again 😁

I was doing a lot of thinking of prayers over the past few days. We are back out on the road and the 15 mile prayers have begun again. I was thinking of what we were praying for last summer during our ride. So many of those prayers were answered and a few are still waiting to be answered in “Gods time”.😁.

Maybe it’s luck; maybe it’s the answer to a prayer or maybe a little of both but here’s what happened the last couple days:

  • Rolling into the “primitive campsite” last night and wondering how we are going to charge up our electronics (Garmin, phone, lights, etc). We pull on the maintenance door at the restrooms and it is unlocked with electrical outlets inside.
  • Twenty miles to go today with major thunderstorms all around us, and God held an umbrella over our head and hardly a raindrop hit us.
  • Checking into our campsite at the state park tonight and we are starving. Deb asked if there might be a close place to eat. Jeanine says “a pizza place just opened up two weeks ago and they serve pizza and beer”.

We got off early today again at 6:30am. We were looking forward to our first cup of coffee and sausage biscuit sandwich at mile 18 ahead.

We roll off the Trace and .1 mile up the road find a gas station that had been closed for quite awhile.

Onward another 5 miles to plan “b”. A brand new Chevron with so many choices to put on a homemade biscuit: sausage, fried ham, fried bologna, fried chicken, fried smoked sausage. Did I say “Fried”?

Tasty, tasty, washed down with a cup of coffee. We look forward to your comments guessing which “fried” we went with. (Teresa Black, you already know Deb’s choice 😁)

On we went with a quick stop at the Natchez Trace Headquarters to fill up our water bottles and see our new friends Bob and Chad who were also at the stop. With 35 miles to go and a threat of thunderstorms heading our way we started booking it to the state park.

  • For twenty miles all we saw around us were dark clouds, lightening, and winds (tailwinds 😁👍). As I said before God was watching out for us as we rolled into the State Park Campground with only a couple of drops to cool us off. After a jaunt off for pizza and a Bud, we are back at our campground, with tent up, showered up and ready to call it a good night.

Our next two posts should be wet ones with the forecast ahead of us. Stay tuned.

 

NoBo on the Natchez, Kosciusko to Witch Dance, 76 Miles | Locals Trump Locale Today

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First order of the day was to walk our bikes down the steps from the rear decking of the Kosciusko Visitor Center. Thank you, Tom!!

Great day of riding today. We got an early 6:30 am start and had the pleasure of meeting Johnson Spencer, a 77 year old French Camp native at our first stop.

Johnson claims to be the only man in Mississippi with two last names. He and his two buddies were chatting it up and wanted to know a little about our bikes and share a lot about themselves. And that was perfectly fine with us.

Johnson has been working his whole life and started when he was just seven years guiding his dad’s mule helping to haul logs out of the woods. He shared a lot about his work at a local school and some of the kids he still remembers. Wish we could have stayed all day to talk to him.

Today brought us very little traffic, a little more cloud cover for a reprieve from the heat and per usual, an awesome road to ride on with just few rollers to keep it interesting. But sometimes the locals trump any locale ya visit.

Finally cracked open the Whisperlite stove to cook a meal. At the end of 67 days on the road last summer I could fire it up blindfolded. Tonight I actually had to watch what I was doing.

We have officially passed the half way point and tomorrow will take us to and through Tupelo.

NoBo on the Natchez: Clinton to Kosciusko, 76 Miles | Into the Mystic

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Just a regular day of cycling – hot, relatively little elevation and just plain steady.

We didn’t feel as perky as we did yesterday but we made it to our destination in Kosciusko and we were still smiling at the end of the day. 😊

Right now we are camping on the back deck of the Kosciusko visitor center and it over looks the Trace. There are lightning bugs, (two ceiling fans yay), flushers and outlets. An Italian restaurant and gas station are located nearby. Everything a bike traveller could want.

It seemed extra hot today with the temps in the mid 90’s and I’m sure the heat index higher.

Loved the cycleway that bypassed Jackson, the huge reservoir we cycled next to for many miles and the Cypress Swamp. We finally met some northbounders today too!

The GNAT meter registered LOW today (praise God for that)! And the only critter we saw was a box turtle.

We were glad to be done and looking forward to tomorrow’s ride to Witch Dance.

NoBo on the Natchez: Natchez to Clinton, 100 Miles | Deep South

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We made it to Natchez last night about 7pm and without hesitation dropped our rental car off ready to ride bikes north to Nashville. We could not WAIT to get back to bike travel. I mean… it’s been a year.

We’d scouted a bit of the route on Saturday on the way down to get the lay of the land and were a bit surprised that there was more traffic than expected and no shoulders.

So we do what we always do: perform the “wave”. That means we would be using our defensive (and courteous) approach to cycling. When we see a vehicle approaching from behind, the left arm goes straight up and waves big until we see the vehicle moving over. We then give a thank you wave when they pass. That along with being all lit up seems to work.

We also thought of the big things that might be potential hurdles for today. We were a little worried about our longest day (92 miles) being our first day and the heat (forecast for mid ’90s) but it was the littlest thing that was the most challenging.

The GNATS. Let’s just say the rest stops were infrequent and very short.🤣 They swarm you when you stop riding and they are persistent.

I asked one of the locals who lives here in the Deep South how to get rid of the swarming nuisances and she said splash apple cider vinegar all over us. Should we replace one of our water bottles with a bottle of ACV? 🤷🏼‍♀️ If anyone has any other ideas, let us know. I don’t mind smelling like a pickle but don’t really have room for the bottle.

As it played out, traffic was very light and not an issue. Road surface was spot on – and without rumble strips, stop lights or commercial traffic.

As far as the critter count goes we saw deer, fox, lots of hawks, my fave snake (a dead one) which appeared to be an eastern diamondback rattlesnake and some armadillos who might have tried to play chicken with approaching vehicles… but alas, lost.

Walking a portion of the Sunken Trace was a highlight for me today. To think of all the people, history, emotions, hope, ambition that has been a part of that trail is fascinating to me.

All in all a perfect day of riding the Trace and we even squeezed in a century just because we could.

Because he is the best riding partner and husband ever, Tom found a Mexican restaurant a quarter mile walk from where we are camping so we celebrated with our own little mini fiesta after showering.

Tomorrow we ride through Jackson. Tom and I ran a marathon there in 2014. #memories

Thanks to our friends, family and followers who are following along!

NoBo on the Natchez: Just About Ready to Roll

In a little less than a week we’ll set out on bikes to cycle 444 miles northbound on the Natchez Trace. The timing of it makes us smile because it will be exactly a year and a day since we left to ride our bikes across the country on the Northern Tier route.

Will there be push ups, planks and daily prayers again – the same as when we cycled the Northern Tier? Yep! Tom’s been keeping up with all three of them.  Me, just the prayers.  The push ups and planks are going to hurt. What can I say? Life gets busy.

We’re riding gravel bikes this time and using different bike bags so there are some adjustments with the packing. Since we’re moving to a bikepacking set up instead of road touring we need to cut the gear and clothing in about half.  Tom’s pretty well set but I def need to get my mind right. If you recall, last time I had a hard time parting with my camp chair? Yep that and more went home with my sister from Fargo – too much extra weight.

This time I’m having a hard time parting with the tarp that Tom says we need to leave home. Who wants to do push ups with their nose in the dirt?  #notme

And there will be no more big grocery stops for food as we’ll be using the grab ‘n go approach to meals and cooking a lot simpler. That means we need to leave the second cook pan, spices, cutting board and spatula at home. But. These bikes are sweet! They’re lightweight, agile and ride like a BMW.

We’ve been getting some outdoor rides in the past few weeks getting our legs, lungs and back ends ready.  I think of all the rides we’ve been on however, the ride to and from the Indy 500 track on a practice day was the most memorable/eventful as we rode bikes home in gale force winds.

The Trace is sort of a warm up ride for the route the bikes are really made for and one we will ride in North Carolina in just a couple weeks, and ultimately another long distance route we hope to ride in 2020. So we are in the process of planning the work and working the plan.

And oh yea, we thought it might be kinda fun to ride bikes in every state since we’ve already run a marathon in every state.  Soooo… we’ll be knocking off three states this trip and the blue will turn to green on the diagram to the right.

If the weather forecasters are correct we’re in for some hot days.  But, given the likelihood, or rather the unlikelihood, of being right based on the forecasts lately here in Indy, who knows what weather we’ll cycle through.

More on our bike travels down yonder in the deep south to come…

 

It May Not Be a Christmas Miracle but it Sure Felt Like One

We’ve kind of settled in after returning from the bike ride about six months ago, and although we don’t talk about it as much as we did, at least once a day a memory from the ride flashes by, a lesson learned is recalled, a new friend fondly thought of, or our sense of wanderlust, rekindled.  But we know we can only “ride out” an adventure for so long until it’s time to start planning another one (or two).

What about that little Christmas miracle? About a week before Christmas I received news that a donation to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry was misplaced. It wasn’t just any donation, it was THE largest donation. It was a $1,000 check. Unfortunately the check dated in August was void after 30 days.

After a few phone calls, we got it straightened out and gratefully the Pantry was able to cash a new check, however, the donor remains anonymous. We know only what bank it was drawn from but not much else.  Whoever you are, thank you. It really seemed like a little Christmas miracle. It was unexpected. Is is so appreciated.

And finally Happy Birthday to this guy.  Welcome to your 60’s Tom!

 

When ya’ll were 21 years old, how did you envision your life at 60?

At 60, I’m wondering how Tom is envisioning his life at 70. That, I think, will be the topic of conversation tonight on date night.

It’s Festival Time! Mudfest, Sweatfest, Splashfest, Sufferfest and best of all, a Lovefest

Yep we are beginning to fall into the category of people who think that the number of bikes you need is n+1, where n equals your current number of bikes. Jon at Carmel Cyclery did a nice job hooking us up with Specialized Stumpjumpers and just like that, we became [novice] mountain bikers and headed for the trails.

Not gonna lie. The timing could have been better as it’s nearing the end of the season but we were able to get back down to Brown County, Town Run and then ride in our first gravel ride event. We’d never heard of gravel rides before but they seem to be a cross between road cycling (in that there is very little single track) and mountain biking (very little traffic).  We changed out flat pedals with SPDs and headed down to ride the Gravel Grovel in Hoosier National Forest for the 20 mile fun ride on our Stumpys.  Why just the 20? Better to start something new and leave with the thought, “I can’t wait to do that again” rather than, “No way I’m doing that again.”  Having just had a significant amount of rain, there was ample mud and slosh which added to the adventure. Hence the mudfest.  Now we can’t wait to ride the 60 miler next year!

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Although Tom’s always been a gym rat, for me getting back to it for spin classes has been a bit more problematic.  Since the last time I took a spinning class the spin bikes have been equipped with mini computers that provide plenty of data to let you know if you’re working hard enough, or in my case, cheating. Apparently, even though I’m sweating like crazy, I need to cycle [a lot] harder to increase my wattage.  For example, Tom averages over 200 watts in an hour long class and easily gets in 20 miles. The highest I can crank out, is low 130’s in 18 miles.  Little wonder the man kicked booty in the mountains. His legs and heart are so strong.  We have a ride picked out in early summer with 5,000 feet of daily climbing. I’m going to need to work a lot harder in the sweatfest.

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I returned to the gym to spin because of a running injury and I’m taking two months off running to heal up. To keep my cardio going, besides spinning and trying to keep up with Tom, I figured it might be fun to get back in the pool. I think it’s been eight years or so? I know the elastic in my one piece swimsuit was dry rotted if that’s any indication of how long it’s been.  The lap swimming looks more like a splashfest than a workout but I know time in the pool, help from my friend and patience will go a long way in improvement. And it’s kind of like golf… I need to keep my head down.

 


Festivities continue with the sufferfest.  Yoga. It will be fun, he says.  There’s a 12 day yoga challenge at Lifetime, he says. You could win a prize, he says. Again, I haven’t done yoga in about five years but the word “challenge” gets me every time.

Oh. My. Gosh.  Yesterday’s flow class took more energy and strength than climbing Kancamagus Pass on a fully loaded steel bike. Nevermind, I don’t know yoga vocabulary. Nevermind I have the flexibility of a lead pencil. Nevermind I have a shoulder injury from going at it too hard in the pool and can’t raise my right arm above my head. It got to the point in class that I could do nothing more than collapse in pigeon pose while Tom and others cycled through their vinyasas, warrior threes, flipped down dogs and fallen stars.  But… I’m going back for more yoga tomorrow for an easier class.  I’m gonna get that 12 day challenge y’all, despite the sufferfest.

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In early November I traveled to Portsmouth, New Hampshire for an event hosted by Run.RiseRetreatLindsey Hein of I’ll Have Another was the moderator of the live event that featured one female runner each from their 30s, 40s and 50s.  There were about 80 attendees, mostly female runners.  There was so much love and good energy in the room!

I enjoyed sharing what running has meant to me in the last 30+ years. It’s connected me with some of the most meaningful relationships in my life. It’s gotten me through some of the most painful life experiences as well as provided so much time for solitude, prayer and reflection when on long, solo runs.

However, it was a bit humbling to sit between two such accomplished women, Katie, a rockstar speedster and Jess, an endurance shebeast. I won’t forget what Jess shared, “It doesn’t always get worse.”  Good mantra to remember when I’m in yoga class, spinning or trying to swim to the other side of the pool. If you want to give the podcast episode a listen, it’s Episode 152.

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And finally, a few days ago an article about our friend Whitney was published in the The Criterion.  Whitney’s jaw-dropping conversion story and the impact Back on My Feet and his faith in God have had on his life is worth the read. When people have the courage to share their stories, it spreads hope and promise that restoration and healing can take place. Reactions from his story in the article have been nothing short of a lovefest.

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Reaching Across the Aisle: Cycling Style

Can roadies really learn to love mountain biking? I like to think of that as reaching across the aisle, cycling style. That’s what happened the past two weekends when at first, we rode the Hilly Hundred in Morgan, Monroe and Owen counties, and the following weekend rode in the Big Woods Brown County EPIC Mountain Bike Festival in Brown county.

Being #TomandDeb we camped both nights, both weekends and you’ll see us wearing the same cycling jerseys we wore on Northern Tier. Apparently we are attached to them.

Hilly Hundred

We thought what the heck, how much effort would two back-to-back 50 mile rides on hilly terrain riding carbon bikes actually take after finishing a 4,100 mile summer bike ride on steel bikes fully loaded through several mountain passes. Although we hadn’t ridden the Hilly in about ten years we knew now would be a good time to return.

And we weren’t disappointed.  Stellar weather, incredible organization, well marked scenic routes and SAGs that were so well provisioned with food, apple cider and live music I thought I was at a family reunion. CIBA just knows how to get things done right.

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What left me with the greatest impression at the end of the weekend was the volunteerism. So. Many. Volunteers.  To put this event on successfully, there were so many helpers. All smiling. All eager to help.

We’re going back next year and you know what? It’s going to be a lot harder for us.  Mount Tabor will feel like it really is, a short steep climb, instead of a little bump in the road for a couple of roadies who are still reminiscing about climbing along the Northern Tier.

Big Woods Brown County Epic Mountain Bike Festival

Gotta admit I was a little apprehensive. I don’t think I’d ever been on a “real” mountain bike before and mistakenly thought any bike without drop handle bars could be considered a mountain bike. Ooops. #wrong

On a whim, we signed up for the festival mostly because it was something new, it was on bikes and outdoors. Keep in mind neither of us have mountain bikes and Tom had been on a mountain bike proper only once. So he rented one and I rode a demo bike.

At registration Friday night, there were even a few raised eyebrows when I admitted to being a firsty.  One person might have even asked, “And you picked this festival, the EPIC for your first ride?” Hummm that was a little daunting.

But, everything is easier when you first start because peeps expect you to make mistakes. There’s no pressure. It’s all for fun.  A couple friends came down for the day and we were fortunate to ride in a women’s only group that included some instruction and support while Tom was left to fend for himself. Props for the EPIC event organizers to plan for this.

The moment I clipped in I knew it was going to be fun but borderline terrifying at the same time. Whereas on the road bike I can let my mind go, say prayers, work out emotions and pedal hard, the mountain bike ride requires 100% focus in the moment. Not the last moment. Not the next moment. The present moment.

From the warm up on the grass to experiencing maybe just a little bit of flow for the first time cycling on a trail, I was hooked.  And it sure doesn’t hurt that the demo bike was a women’s specific, top-of-the-line, full suspension, carbon bike that handled so well it felt like it had wings.

Uber props also to the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association whose volunteers are responsible for building and maintaining 27 miles of mountain bike trails. Twenty. Seven. Miles. This extraordinary effort draws so many cyclists and their families to the area, not only for this event, but throughout the year. Again, the spirit of volunteerism for the love of the sport and the outdoors is remarkable.

Yep we will probs be returning to this event next year as well. The EPIC event organizers took care of every detail. Can we just all agree it was one EPIC post ride party with campfires, food and bevvies from Big Woods Brewery and live music?

Not sure if the love affair with a single chain ring and full suspension will continue but for now it’s a hot romance and I guess we are buying mountain bikes this weekend and going to learn how to do that. There’s always something new to learn.

And oh yea, about learning something new. I also picked up a volunteer gig for which I’m not yet qualified but am stoked about because it’s connected to cycling. I’m helping coordinate social media for Carmel Cyclery.

If you have a second, would you show me and Carmel Cyclery a little social media love by liking them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?  And hey, I’m open to your comments both about Carmel Cyclery’s social media and mountain biking. Remember, with beginners there’s no pressure; it’s all fun.

At the end of the day, consider us just a couple of friendly amateur cyclists learning how to cross the aisle from road to dirt, cycling style and being a little outspokein’ about it.

#acaNoTier Wrapping Up our Coast to Coast Northern Tier Ride

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Tom and I wrapped up our Norther Tier ride just a little over a week ago and have some final thoughts we’d like to share, some numbers and finally one last video. Thanks so much to family, friends and followers for the love and encouragement.

Tailwinds,
Tom and Deb


From Tom:

I am sitting here in my kitchen thinking about this past few months.  It all kind of seems like a dream.  An experience of a lifetime and hard to put in to words.  Here a list of my thoughts:

  • It took about two weeks to peel away the layers of a lifetime of work and not think about work, emails, projects, etc.
  • Going to bed at night thinking about the upcoming weather, wind direction and knowing it is totally out of our control
  • Looking at the maps and planning out our next weeks of riding with a goal of averaging 70 miles a day.
  • Looking at the next days ride and planning out our 2nd breakfast about 20 miles down the road
  • Walking into the Saloon in our spandex and every cowboy’s head turned at the same time to give us the eye as we walked through the front door
  • Pulling out of our campground the third day and going the wrong way, about 8 miles the wrong direction down a big descent. Turning around and now going back up in the right direction.  Learning to never start a ride with out turning on my Garmin and finding the course first
  • Getting our morning camping routine down:
    • Tom pack up the sleeping bags, thermarests, tent
    • Deb fire up the stove and cook up coffee, and oatmeal with Craisins and walnuts
    • Pushups and Planks
    • Prayers of gratitude for yesterday’s ride and prayers for today’s ride.
  • Eating Paydays and peanut M&Ms – not on the post riding diet 😊
  • My 15 mile chats with God, praying for so, so many things that were absolutely answered
  • Waking up each morning for the first few weeks with a little uneasiness of riding on the busy roads with little shoulder with semis/logging trucks. By the end of the ride, having no fear, and 100% faith that God is sheltering us from drivers, mechanical issues, and providing us with mental/physical strength to finish each day.
  • Applying layers and layers of sunscreen
  • Getting the blog done at the end of each day (hoping we had phone connection)
  • The comfort of getting into the tent while camping and being so comfortable and the wonderful satisfaction of a good day of riding.
  • Making the decision to get Deb a front rack and having her front bags shipped to us in West Glacier. Also getting her new touring tires:  A no brainer after the fact
  • Looking back at our daily videos and seeing our happy, happy faces totally enjoying our journey
  • Doing a Fred Flintstone the final short hill to our finishline, brakes fully engaged, but having to stop myself with my shoes. Perfect timing for my brake pads to expire with over 5000 miles on brake pads and tires 😊.
  • The greatest memory will be all the wonderful, kind people we met along the way!!!!

It was an experience of a lifetime seeing God’s creation at 12 miles an hour with my true love.


From Deb:

Each night I still dream about the bike trip, in a good way.  Yet when I’m awake the bike trip seems like a dream. Did Tom and I really ride 4,132 miles across the country, camping out, pedaling hard up mountain passes and coasting wicked fast down the other side, eating like teenagers, and spending over 23 hours a day together? Dang!

The night Tom and I returned to Indiana we were able to see all of our bigs and littles and realized on our way home from Sahm’s Place we heard sounds in Indiana we didn’t hear in any of the 11 states we visited. Indiana night sounds. And we’d missed them. Well not as much as we missed the fam, but still, we missed them enough to “camp out” one last night on our screen porch. It’s as if knowing we were safely home, there was still one last little bit of our ride we didn’t want to let go of, sleeping outdoors, even with the stank bags.

Although I acclimate quickly, I am missing the silence I experienced during a good part of the day on the bike. There is so much busy-ness and noise in most every moment and this chases away quiet time and thoughts.

And this… Cycle over 4,000 miles across the country, legs not sore.  Run four miles at a 9:33 pace a week later, sore as heck! The saying , “use it or lose it” appears to be true.  And that goes for most anything. Rote tasks performed before the bike trip now take some thinking. And I forget everything. It will all come back, including the running and most of the rote memory, but I will say it’s refreshing to look at the world with “new” eyes.

I’m so grateful for Tom who helped make this cycling adventure unforgettable as he navigated and led us safely across the country. All I had to do was follow Tom, not follow the map.  He waited patiently at every turn so I wouldn’t miss it, redirected me a couple times when I did, and was always up for an ice cream, second breakfast and breaking out another Pay Day. He is a font of positivity.  What do you think it’s like to live with a person like that? What do you think it’s like to BE a person like that?

Fr. Jim’s prayer for us was: I pray you are both well and that each day’s journey continues to be a gift from God. May God give you the strength you need to endure and the presence of mind to grasp the beauty  of God’s creation and the kindness of strangers. Prayers answered, Fr. Jim.

What’s next for us?  Unquestionably there will be more bike tours, although probably not as long as the Northern Tier at least for the next couple years.  Not sure we will ever do an organized tour as it’s a lot of fun doing our own thing. And we have our eyes set on a long distance hike but haven’t chosen one yet.

For now though, the sleeping bags are laundered and stowed, the Whisperlite stove retired and replaced with a Jenn-Aire cooktop and the old 1995 Cannondale Touring bike has been thoroughly cleaned and lubed. That bike will always be my favorite.


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FundRiding Update:

Contributions are still coming in for St. Vincent de Paul and Back on My Feet and these links have more information on each organization and how to donate. If pledges were made for number of miles ridden, nights camping or century rides completed, see the above infographic for stats.  If your circumstances have changed, any amount is appreciated.

Tom and I were back running with team members from Back on My Feet last Friday and were welcomed back with the rain. No worries the miles and smiles made the rain hardly noticeable. And besides, we’re used to it. This Thursday evening we will head back to the SVdP Food Pantry.

Thank you to those who have already donated.  Both organizations are careful stewards of your donations.


What About the Prayer Intentions:

I’m still praying. I’d welcome an update if prayers are answered or need to be changed. Click here or email me at deb.a.gardner@gmail.com. All are confidential. 🙂