Paris, with a side of appendicitis…

Paris and appendicitis – words that together don’t exactly roll off the tongue, nor make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  They may be an odd combination, but, nevertheless, are the latest update for this Socias familia!

About three weeks ago, Marc went into the hospital for emergency appendicitis surgery.  His fun times in the hospital of Pontoise (a neighborhood outside of Paris) live on!  I say this because this particular hospital was the same place he was admitted about a year ago for a series of tests that eventually led to his diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS).  Marc was not exactly very happy about his return to “hôpital Pontoise.”

But, alas, he returned – and while the removal of the appendix is a relatively routine surgery, for Marc the operation had more risk and complication due to his EDS.  He went to the doctor on a Thursday afternoon with stomach pain, and was finally admitted for surgery after being bounced around from doctor to doctor, anaesthesiologist to anaesthesiologist, finally arriving to the hospital on Friday evening for the surgery where the necessary equipment was available for his operation and post-op care given the EDS complications.  When I got the call on Thursday night that Marc had been admitted for surgery, I was on the train the next day to Paris to be with him.

The operation went well and here we are just hanging in the hospital!

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V for victory after conquering a trek all the way to the hospital cafeteria!  Marc was very happy with himself. 🙂  It’s the little things!

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I bet by now if you read this blog or you’re a person who is close to us that you’re just about ready to get off the rollercoaster ride that is Marc and Andrea these days.  One minute we’re living in one place, and then we’re moving again.  At one point things with Marc’s health seem to be going better, then he’s in the hospital again.  One moment we’re together in our home in Switzerland, the next we’re apart.  Whoo!  It’s a lot to handle!  If you’re still hanging on, thanks for weathering the storm with us.

Accepting all this as lessons of the past, we are hopeful, actually, that maybe, just maybe, this operation was a blessing in disguise.  That it was, perhaps, a gift…

#1 – for Marc’s health.  The condition of his appendix prior to the operation may have been contributing to some of the symptoms he had been experiencing that we thought were attributed to EDS.  We are hopeful and optimistic that perhaps the sudden removal of his leaking appendix may actually give him a bit of a push forward to finding health and balance again.

#2 – for us as a couple.  To be completely honest, in the months prior to the surgery, Marc and I were struggling.  Anyone who has walked in our footsteps or who genuinely seeks to understand our situation would understand why.  But after 4 days of romantic reconnection in a dingy hospital room (there’s an image!), we found each other again.

So just a week after Marc’s surgery and a change of spring break plans later, I went to Paris to spend my school vacation alongside him.  And one very special day that week took us to the streets of Paris where we walked the city’s corridors under the daytime sun, picked up Greek treats at a quaint corner shop (bringing us back to our Greek honeymoon!), and ended the day eating dinner at a Parisian café.  Just another typical day in the life of a European couple, right?  Not for us.  This is the first time I have spent a day like this with my partner probably since our honeymoon nearly 6 years ago.  It – was – a – gift.  One that we simply do not take for granted anymore.

So thank you, Marc, for lighting me up for that one day in Paris, the city of light, as only you can.  May we approach each day forward with a state of gratitude and a fresh start, encouraging one another and accepting the encouragement of our loved ones as we keep walking the journey of healthy, balanced life with EDS – and, no longer, a side of appendicitis.

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Lucerne Carnival

The winter festivities continue here in Switzerland, and this month brought Carnival, a party and parade celebrated in the Catholic cantons of Switzerland and throughout Europe.  From an American point of view, think Mardi Gras, but without the beads – and flashing breasts – thank goodness!  In fact, the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans originate from European Carnival.  I headed to Lucerne, Switzerland to celebrate…

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…and enjoyed the typically polished and proper Swiss city transform with confetti and costumes, food trucks around every corner, and lots and lots of music.

Here are some pictures of Lucerne in wintertime.

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And in the the image below you can see a glimpse of the streets of Carnival in action!

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Crowds of people of all ages joined together in costume to eat and drink, throw confetti, and watch the city’s Carnival parade.  Here we have a very interesting sort of creepy witch…

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And I think I can see a butterfly and, well, lots of other variations of costumes below!

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And what would Carnival be without some hippie vibe!

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But the highlight of Carnival was definitely the music, at least for me.  The Swiss Carnival tradition of music is called “fasnacht,” and involves spontaneous bands playing loud music on trumpets, horns, and drums.  I suppose many might not consider this particular music to be very pleasant, but it definitely set the mood for the day.

And had me thinking of Ohio!  It looks like the Ohio State University Marching Band, the “best damn band in the land,” has some European competition.  Watch out OSU, the women’s Banana Steel Drum Band is coming for you!

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Here I am enjoying the bands, and am not sure what to think of that overweight bearded woman behind me.  Haha!

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Last, but not least, I end this blog post with my performance of “The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns for students at my school.  Enjoy!

A Year in Leysin – Winter

Since returning to Leysin from my holiday travel to the United States, the village’s bustling winter season has welcomed me with open arms.  The activity and energy of tourists is in full effect on the ski slopes, and with that is also a peace and calm with the falling snow.  The contradiction and companionship of the two has made those once looong months of January and February (particularly for educators!) a new and exciting adventure.  I’ve got my YakTrax and winter boots in tow as I hike up the mountain to work every day, and I’m learning to ski the blue (easy) slopes of the Leysin ski resort.  It’s been fun and continues to remind me how thankful I am that I get to witness the wonder of these mountains…

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and the charm of this village each and every day…

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Below are pictures of Leysin’s Lower Sporting Center, where children ski and ice skate, the Tobogganing Park (which looks like tons of fun), the Parc à Biches (Deer Park – where I swear it looks like Santa’s reindeer come to hang out!), and another picturesque view of the village through the bare branches of winter trees.

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Since returning to Leysin the physical surroundings of our home have certainly transformed, but with it so has another large part of Marc and I’s life.  Unfortunately, we are, again, not able to be together here in our home in Leysin.

So after spending the holidays apart, and now separating again, a season of personal challenge is officially here, one in which we are forced to change, and let’s face it, making meaningful change in your life is not for the faint of heart!  The decision to walk this season apart has not come without deep sadness and broken hearts for us both, but we are focused on the future and are determined to find meaning out of this experience and to ultimately root it in the foundation of our love.

Over the years of Marc and I’s story, the songs of Switchfoot, one of my favorite bands, seem to have consistently made an appearance.  In high school, at 16 and 17 years old, when Marc rode alongside me in my Ford Escort, gifted by my older brother with a CAVSMAN license plate back when the Cleveland Cavaliers were NOT so good – thanks, Ross 😉 – I wondered what Marc would think of my midwest American, Christian music when Switchfoot’s “Only Hope” played on my car radio.

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Oh yes, that is CAVSMAN and that would also be the deer sign Marc used to ask me to prom way back when.

Which I suppose prompts me to share our prom picture as well…haha!

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Then, after graduating from university, we moved from city to city, and when the city got the best of me, which it regularly did, I would listen to “Saltwater Heart” and be reminded of how I, too, could “break clean” and “feel free again” when I got back to nature, to the countryside of how I grew up.  And as Marc’s EDS slowly began to take its presence in our life as working adults, our love was challenged because of how his illness forced our lives as individuals and as a couple to change, so Switchfoot’s “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” became our anthem.  I love the video below of us at their concert in March 2014 when lead singer Jon Foreman found his way right to us in the crowd – Marc even took his hand and helped him up on the ledge where you see him singing above us!  It was freakin’ awesome and one of my favorite memories with my husband, which I think you can see from the joy on our faces in the (fuzzy) pictures below.

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So with this winter’s Valentine’s Day coming up, let’s all remember that love alone, in all forms and for all people, is worth the fight.  This is a love letter for my husband, that he remember that in all of his suffering, and in all of our suffering, there is meaning and love and hope and goodness, and that all of this is worth the fight.  OUR love is worth the fight, and I’m still fighting.

I love you.

Your agapimou, forever.

 

November…Birthdays, Edinburgh, & Thanksgiving!

This November 2017 we celebrated Marc’s 31st birthday.  We are officially the same age for the next 21 days. 🙂

Dinner and chocolate cake to celebrate!

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And blowing the candles while singing our tri-lingual “Happy Birthday to you!” with Skype guests, Marie-France and Carlos.

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Then I headed to Edinburgh, Scotland for a work conference.  Here are my pictures touring the medieval city!

The Royal Mile…

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Edinburgh Castle in the day…

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…and at night.

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Exploring the streets of Edinburgh!

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Shopping on Princes Street…

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Then stumbled upon The Elephant House, said to be the café where J.K. Rowling wrote the first book of the Harry Potter series.

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And finally, back in Switzerland (here I am flying over the Swiss Alps!)…

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We celebrated Thanksgiving, party of 2!  (Our Thanksgiving was on Saturday, and that is a chicken, not a turkey – when you live abroad, you learn to be flexible and adapt.  Haha!)

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This year’s thanks go to…

Marc’s parents and his doctors in Paris!  Our team of gladiators, as Marc calls it, who helped to find his diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and who continue to support his treatment.  We are very, VERY thankful for our team EDS, Socias edition. 🙂

And as we continue to learn and live with the disorder itself, we came across this video that we believe explains what EDS is in a simple, straightforward manner.  We wanted to share it for those of you who are close to us and would like to know and understand more about what EDS is and how it affects our life.

So there you have it, people, EDS in a nutshell!  Thank you for watching and thank you for caring.  We are infinitely grateful this Thanksgiving and everyday for our team EDS gladiators, for you…

…and for a fresh snowfall in Leysin!  It was a magical Swiss Thanksgiving indeed!

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Ciao, Venezia!

I recently took students at my school on a trip to Venice, Italy.

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I had never been to Italy before and really only knew Venice as a popular tourist destination, but because it was an educational trip with students, I learned the history of the city.  For me it was fascinating…

  • Venice was originally built sometime in 400 A.D. at the fall of the Roman Empire, when barbarians invaded and people fled to escape the attacks.  Venetians decided to build upon the muddy islands of what would become Venice, just off the coast of the mainland in the Adriatic Sea, with the thought that building on the lagoon would prevent, or at least discourage, the barbarians from following them.  Being an unenviable and inaccessible place to live, and given the invaders’ lack of knowledge of the sea – it worked.  Venice was built and eventually rose to become the world’s longest existing Republic.

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  • Venice, then, is built on a lagoon and its roads are waterways.  Instead of parking your car in a parking lot or garage, residents pull their boats up to dock!  Or jump in a vaporetto (waterbus) for public transportation.  Here’s a Venetian vaporetto stop – imagine the subway, metro, or Tube station on water!

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The city is entirely pedestrian, so no cars are allowed in Venice proper.  The main road below, the Grand Canal, curves through the city and even has a speed limit to avoid boats from creating waves and battered waters.  All canals have a speed limit, in fact, usually between 5 to 7 km per hour (roughly 3 to 4 mph).  Yes, Venetian police ride the streets and fine boats for “driving” past the speed limit.

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  • Below is St. Mark’s Basilica, a landmark of Venice.  The Basilica was built in 828 A.D. when merchants from Venice stole the body of St. Mark the Evangelist, one of the four apostles, from Alexandria, Egypt.  St. Mark’s tomb is kept in the Basilica.  Legend says that the merchants snuck past Egyptian guards with the body of St. Mark by burying it in layers of pork, which the assumed Muslims would not touch.  The story of this is depicted in gold mosaic as you enter the church.  To the right of the Basilica is the Bell Tower, which collapsed in 1903 and had to be rebuilt and finally finished in 1912.  The Bell Tower was rebuilt exactly as it had been prior to collapse.

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  •  Just next to St. Mark’s Basilica is the Doge’s, or Duke’s, Palace which was the center of politics and public administration during the time of the Republic of Venice.  The Republic existed for a millennium between the 8th and 18th century, when it was then taken over by Napoleon and French rule.  It later joined Italy in the 19th century, and remained a part as it is present day.  Inside Doge’s Palace you can visit several rooms, which once were administrative offices, and the courtroom where individuals were tried and judged for crimes against the Venetian Republic. Doge’s Palace also housed prisons, with new prisons being eventually built in the second half of the 16th century.  The bridge below was then built to connect Doge’s Palace (and the old prisons) to the new prisons.  The bridge has been named the “Bridge of Sighs” on the premise that prisoners tried and sentenced for crimes in Doge’s Palace crossed over this bridge to be kept in the new prisons.  Upon crossing the bridge, prisoners could see Venice through the windows and would sigh knowing that it was their last glimpse of the city before imprisonment, and maybe their last view of Venice ever.

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  • The future of Venice is in question as the city’s foundation was created by plunging wood logs into the mud and building on top of them.  While the wood logs decompose into the mud and establish a somewhat sturdy foundation, when you walk through buildings like St. Mark’s Basilica or Doge’s Palace, or any building I suppose, the floor waves up and down and even moves under your feet given the muddy foundation upon which Venice is built.  It’s a pretty strange sensation.  Venice, then, is sinking, having been built on mud and sand, while with recent increasing global temperatures sea level is rising.  With a rising sea level and a sinking Venice (bad combination), who knows how much longer this city will even exist.  Venice, in fact, often floods and temporary walkways have to be put up and taken down, as needed, to accommodate pedestrians walking the streets in spite of the flooded paths.

In any case, Venice is still very much alive and thriving, described by the tour guide as a “Disneyland” attracting tourists from around the world.  It’s most widely known for its picturesque canals, Italian charm, and gondola rides – and for this it certainly delivered…

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I left absorbed with the history of this city, none of which I knew before visiting, but also sad in a way that such a rich historical place is not only sinking physically, but culturally as well having become mainly an island of tourists.  The population of Venetians 100 years ago, for example, was around 160,000 and has now dropped to 55,000 – and of those 55,000 Venetians only about 10,000 are young people under the age of 18.  High unemployment (12%) in Italy combined with the high cost of living on the island, at least compared to mainland Italy, forces young people to leave Venice in favor of making a more affordable and practical life on the mainland.  Given Venice’s unique culture, lifestyle, and history, it’s an unfortunate reality to think that its people and its land are slowly disappearing.

So for anyone reading this post who has visited Venice in the past or wants to visit in the future, I urge you to spend some time reflecting on your travels.  Be a traveler, not a tourist – get away from the gondolas, out of the tourist shops, and into the authentic streets and local artisan stores and restaurants of this charming and distinctive city.  It truly is one-of-a-kind.

A Year in Leysin – Fall

This post series, A Year in Leysin, was meant to start in the summer…that obviously did not happen and so here we are in mid-October!  Time for an update, and for pictures of the village in the colors of autumn…

The leaves on the trees are changing here and while the fall colors I’m told don’t tend to be as spectacular as those in North America at this time of year, the view we have here of the evergreen trees sprinkled with colors of yellow, orange, and brown is pretty magnificent, to me anyway.  This Ohio girl is oh so happy to live with the changing seasons once again!

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Some facts about Leysin:

  • It is a small village in the Swiss Alps at an altitude of 1,300 m (4,100 ft) and with a population of about 4,000.
  • The village first came to life as a place where tuberculosis patients were sent to be treated and recover in the late 1800s.  It was thought that the sunny alpine climate would help in their treatment and recovery. We hope for the same for Marc and are very slowly witnessing it to be true…
  • Now, many of the hospitals built to treat those tuberculosis patients have been turned into educational facilities, and so the village has become a sort of international education hub of students and professionals, mixed with local village residents and tourists of the Leysin mountain ski resort.
  • Leysin is in the French-speaking region of Switzerland – but you will often hear German, Italian, and lots of English spoken here given the cosmopolitan nature of the village!
  • And while Leysin is definitely situated and somewhat isolated in the mountains of the Swiss Alps, in just 30 minutes down the mountain you have access to city life in Montreux (once home to Freddie Mercury of Queen) and within just a few hours by car or train you can even reach destinations in France, Italy, and Germany.

Come with my handsome husband and I on a walk around the village!

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Here we are in the center of the village, “downtown.”  About a 10-minute walk down the street towards and then past our apartment, we are greeted with this mountain view of “Les Dents du Midi.”

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And along the way we see lots of typical Swiss chalets…

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And animals, mainly cows, goats, chickens, sheep or…oh, hello donkeys!

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The village church…

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And it wouldn’t be Swiss without a local fromagerie (cheese shop/restaurant)!

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Here’s the cable car train heading down the mountain and into the valley of Lake Geneva…next stop, Aigle!  From there, continue to Montreux, Vevey, Lausanne, or Geneva for an escape from mountain village life.

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Or stay in the mountains and enjoy some free local produce!  Here, Marc has picked a strawberry.  “Incroyables comestibles” roughly translated means “unbelievable eats” – agreed!

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Every time I walk by the store “Le Hibou” (“The Owl”), just behind Marc, I think of my sister and her love for owls. Hey Laura!

And upon our return home the sun sets over Les Dents du Midi and Marc and I are reminded yet again how fortunate we are to get to live here.  Wherever you are, friends and family – under the bright blue skies of Barcelona and Mallorca, the changing colors of the seasons in Ohio and the midwest USA, or the silver mist of Paris and London – we hope that you, too, can find beauty in the simple surroundings of your each and every day.  Sending love to you all!

– M & A

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La Retrouvaille

I’ve had a serious case of writer’s block lately.  It seems that amidst moving, starting a new job, and learning how to live with Marc and I’s new family member, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), I have been left feeling more drained, and less inspired, to tell our story lately.  But there is definitely a lot to share from the last few months, so I have planted myself in front of my computer today to do just that.  Here goes!

Let’s backtrack to two months ago when life in Switzerland just began.  I’ve officially started my job as College Counselor & ESL Teacher at the Kumon Leysin Academy of Switzerland (KLAS).  KLAS is a Japanese boarding school in Switzerland – yes, wrap your head around that – a boarding school where students are taught a main curriculum in Japanese, with supplemental courses in English, in the French-speaking region of Switzerland!  It’s a pretty fascinating mix of culture that I get to be a part of every day, just one of the reasons why I love working in international education!

Outside of academics, a large part of the curriculum for KLAS students is building cultural awareness and understanding, as well as independence and maturity, and the way that the school attempts to teach this is by giving students a wide variety of experiences.  During my first teaching term, for example, I supervised running activity with students and participated with them in a 21km/11km race up the Swiss Alps mountains.  I took a group of visiting Canadian exchange students to canyon through mountain waters.  Just a few weeks ago, students prepared a Japanese Festival music and cultural presentation for our school community to enjoy.  And I accompanied a group of students to Chamonix, France where we visited the ski resort town and walked inside a glacier, or Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice).  Here are pictures from the excursion…

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We first took a train up the mountain of Montenvers to an elevation of 1913 meters (6276 feet).

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Then, half of our group took a tele-cabin down to the glacier, and the other half joined me on a hike to the ice…

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Years ago, the image you see here would have been completely white as it used to be all glacier ice.  As you hike down into the glacier, you can see signs as you make your way down that show you where the glacier once existed how it has melted over time.  In the not so far off future, this glacier will likely not exist.  If you look at the bottom left of the picture below, you can see the hole in the glacier where visitors can walk into the ice…

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And here I am walking inside a glacier!

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But better than the glacier, Chamonix, canyoning, mountain running races, and international education, the very, very, very best news I have to share is that Marc has now joined me in Switzerland!  We are reunited at last and for that are very thankful.  But with the joy of being together begins the hard work that we know is ahead of us to rebuild our life with Marc’s EDS as a part of it.  One of our first excursions, then, to get Marc out and about was walking together the route of my daily commute to work, through the cow fields!  Here we are on our way to KLAS with the cow bells ringing in our ears, and the cow droppings (yes, cow poop!) at our feet.  Being extra vigilant to watch where you step is a definite must!

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Goodbye to city commutes in traffic and public transport, hello to Swiss mountain commutes with the cows!  And once we arrived to my school, we jumped on mountain bikes and rode out to see a special view of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva).  Given his state of health at the moment, Marc barely survived our little adventure, but we made it and were rewarded by this wonderful landscape…

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My best friend is back, “mi media naranja” (my half orange) is complete…

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…and for this my heart is happy.

Well, there you have it, two months of writer’s block culminated into one, slightly long, blog post.  Thanks for powering through it, friends!


M & A’s Kitchen

While given my generation I can navigate the world of social media with relative ease, I am a bit old fashioned when it comes to incorporating it into my life.  Simply put, social media overwhelms me.  And unfortunately this information overload has now spread to my kitchen!  In the past I have listed recipes from my favorite blogs and blogger cookbooks, but the amount of possible recipes to try has me running for the hills!

So, I will no longer be posting blog recipes, and instead will stick with cooking through and listing my favorite (mostly) whole foods, plant-based dishes from my go-to cookbooks in the “M & A’s Kitchen” section of my blog.  If you want to make a dish, buy the cookbook!  Or join me in the kitchen and we can make it together. 🙂