Summer 2018 in the USA! – Part 1

My first academic year at the Kumon Leysin Academy of Switzerland wrapped up at the end of May, and since then I flew from Switzerland to the USA and have been spending my 6 weeks of summer vacation with my American friends and family!

In Ohio, I celebrated my sweet niece Ava Faith’s 2nd birthday…

(You cannot hear my accompaniment in the background, but this was my debut performance of “Happy Birthday!” on the guitar!  Next time I clearly need to play louder – noted.)

My sister and I then drove out to Cape May, New Jersey for a weekend on the beach!  I was an honorary Zeta Zeta Zeta sorority sister for the weekend and we enjoyed lots of quality time in the car (8 hours each way with a 2-year-old!), fun in the clouds (the weather did not exactly cooperate), salt water taffy, fudge, and walks along the Atlantic Ocean!  Ava was not a fan of the sand or the water, but clinging to her mommy like a monkey made her happy and so we managed a nice sister beach pic below. 🙂

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Next up was a week-long trip with my sister-in-law to visit my cousin, Joanna, in Denver, Colorado!  Denver is a fun town with a young, outdoor, up-and-coming trendy vibe.  Some of my favorite spots in the city were Denver Central Market, Linger rooftop bar and Little Man Ice Cream in the Highlands neighborhood, Bar Dough (where Top Chef contestant Carrie Baird is Executive Chef), happy hour at Work & Class, and running along Cherry Creek Trail – where if you accidentally run on the path designated for bikers, like I did, you are sure to take the heat from the locals.  These people are serious about their sport, lesson learned!

To spend a few days out of the city and in the glory of the mountains, we drove west of Denver through Glenwood Canyon to a charming AirBnB in Carbondale where we were surrounded by Colorado red rocks and country ranches, slept under a clear sky of brilliant stars, woke to the crow of rooster, and enjoyed fresh eggs from the chicken coop nearby.  It was charming, beautiful, and highly recommended!

Day 1 in the Carbondale area, Shannon and I hiked to Thomas Lakes…

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And Day 2 Joanna joined us for the Maroon Bells, one of North America’s most photographed scenic mountains, a hike to Glacier Lake, and a quick stop in the town of Aspen.  Though tourist-heavy destinations, Maroon Bells and Aspen were worth the trip offering spectacular scenery, an enjoyable atmosphere, and great adventure!

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Our Maroon Bells hike to and from Glacier Lake ended with Shannon spotting a black bear far off in the distance walking the mountain peaks.  It was the icing on the cake of our Maroon Bells excursion!

And as we headed back to Denver, the Colorado sights continued to delight driving through Independence Pass…

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Then 3 hours later, back in Denver we were!  Just in time for me to hit up Yoga on the Rocks Saturday morning at the Red Rocks Amphitheater about 30 minutes outside of Denver.  Hundreds of yogis performing sun salutations and downward-facing dogs at sunrise amongst majestic red rocks and a bright blue sky – this was Yoga on the Rocks!  I loved it.

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That’s a whole lot of pictures, I know, but Colorado was just so darn beautiful!  I’m back in Ohio now and am awaiting Marc’s arrival to join me in the US in just a few days.  More pictures of Marc and I and the Miller family together in our Ohio stomping grounds to come!

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Off the Beaten Path in Segovia, Spain

A brief post here to share pictures of Segovia, a Spanish city I visited while on a tour of IE University this past weekend.  Segovia is about a 1 1/2 hour drive north of Madrid and is a day trip I would most definitely recommend if visiting Spain’s capital.  In fact, a high speed train will take you from the city center of Madrid to Segovia in just 24 minutes!

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The city streets of Segovia were charming and authentic – and while I typically associate Spain with bright colors and a sunny blue sky, as you can see in the pictures below, this visit was marked with rain and gray clouds.  This meant that my city tour of Segovia was cancelled (bummer), so I spent most of the day nestled in Casa Duque, a historic restaurant in Segovia, open since 1895, that is famous for serving roast baby pig.  I did not have the pig, but enjoyed the very Spanish, very Segovian, experience dining there.

When the rain subsided for a bit, I did walk to see the main touristic attraction of the city, the Roman aqueduct pictured below.  The aqueduct is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the best preserved elevated Roman aqueducts in Europe (another can be found in France).  The aqueduct is an impressive sight in the city, yet perhaps more impressive is its construction.  The aqueduct was built entirely of granite rocks and designed by the Romans to hold together without the use of any mortar.  As you can see, it is with this design and the use of granite (one of the hardest rocks) that the structure still strikingly stands today.

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The aqueduct once carried water from the mountain river into Segovia city.  The water was carried from the mountain range you see in the distance below, called “La Mujer Muerta,” or dead woman in English.  It’s difficult to see through the clouds and hazy mist, but if you look carefully at the mountain top just at the center of the picture below, the mountain peaks resemble the profile of a dead woman lying down.  Use your imagination and perhaps you see it!  Nowadays, the aqueduct is not active, but the tour guide, a local of Segovia, remarked that as a little boy he used to play in it.  That is prohibited now, but still the aqueduct is a prominent and unique feature of the city.

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I was delighted to explore this Spanish gem and would encourage anyone making a trip to Spain to consider a visit!

A Year in Leysin – Spring

This Leysin mountain spring has been a mix of sunshine and clouds, warmth and cool breeze, rainy drizzle and blue sky.  Alpine weather, I’m learning, constantly shifts, changes, ebbs, and flows.  It keeps you on your toes!  One minute you’re enjoying the warm sun, the next seem to find yourself in the middle of a cloud barely able to see one foot, half a meter in front of you!  Personally, having grown up in the midwest USA, I’ve always loved the changing seasons, so it’s fitting that I find myself loving the weather here in Leysin too.  It’s a constant reminder for me to go with the flow, to let the ups and downs of climate and of life move here and there fluidly and with ease.

My spring walk around the village, then, fell on one of these unpredictable April days – with the sun peeking through the clouds, while the tension and fury of a thunderstorm loomed behind it.  I headed towards one of my favorite views in the village, below, which is what you see as you are driving out of Leysin down the mountain road into the valley.  The tiny village chalets are sprinkled here are there as you follow the drive.

Walking towards this view, I came closer and closer to the sound of cowbells and, rightfully so, with it a pasture of cows.  The abundance of cows in Switzerland is real people, very real!  Just as I came up on the pasture, lingering a bit watching the cows and admiring the view, I quickly became aware that I was not so welcome in this space as a mother cow, her baby cow following behind her, began walking towards me with an incessant “Moo!”  Generally, the cows are apathetic, but a mothering cow can become aggressive, so I knew this was my sign to take myself, and my camera, somewhere else…

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And as I did, I found all kinds of spring animals out and about to greet me!

Baby sheep having their lunch…

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Goats grazing behind the chèvrerie, or goat farm, where you can buy delicious, local goat cheese!

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Chickens in their poulallier (chicken coop)…

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And this beauty by the equestrian barn, enjoying wide open spaces and fresh mountain air.  I am hoping to start riding horses at the equestrian center in the near future!

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Last, but not least, what would spring be without flowers?  Swiss mountain chalets are adorned with them this time of year.

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But with the fresh new life of spring, comes the end of the ski season here in Leysin, and people are genuinely sad to see winter go!  This is a new concept to me having grown up in Northeast Ohio, the land of endless winters…

Marc and I too, in fact, were sad to see the end of winter, especially since given Marc’s health condition and his coming and going over the last several months, he did not make it to the slopes this year!  This was simply not right.  He is, after all, the true skier in the family – I’m lucky to have made it down the blue (easy) slopes this season!  So we chanced upon an opportunity for him to “ski,” and it started with a hike on the ski slopes…

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Once we found a bit of snow remaining, Marc made his 2018 ski season debut!

If you listen closely to the video, you’ll hear Marc’s deep, belly laughs as he stumbles down the slope and his backpack flies over his head – those laughs I missed, those laughs are everything to me.  Maybe Marc didn’t ski this year in the traditional sense, but in our minds he did.  Our definition of “skiing,” and so much else, is, like the mountain spring weather, constantly changing since his diagnosis of EDS.  But as we learn to change with it, to go with the flow, we see that we can still “suck out all the marrow of life,” as Thoreau tells us, just in a different way then we might have thought before.  Author and philosopher Wayne Dyer says, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

With this in mind, we’ve got a new view of the future, and it starts with this spring’s redefinition of “a day on the ski slopes.”

Happy Spring!

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Roaming Around Rome

A few weeks back I traveled to Rome, Italy on a school trip with students.  My impressions of the city?  I enjoyed its rich culture and history – and, of course, loved the food!  Pizza, pasta, gelato galore. 🙂  But in all of my traveling (and I think I have traveled a somewhat decent amount), I have never seen so many tourists packed into one place!  It was a bit much.  But, inevitably, there is a reason SO MANY PEOPLE flock to this city and subject themselves to hours of lines and crowded spaces, so I did my best to tune out the tourists and take in the history surrounding me.  Here’s an overview of some of the must-see sites my students and I had the opportunity to visit!

Circus Maximus

Here are the ancient ruins of what used to hold the horse-and-chariot races of the ancient Romans.  Today it is a public space where you find people walking or finding a spot to stop and read a book.  Concerts are sometimes held in this space as well.

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Diocletian Baths & Piazza di Republicca

Next, the ruins of the Diocletian Baths which, like a modern recreation center, included a gymnasium, library, and hot and cool pools for ancient Romans to enjoy.  The white buildings in the picture just below the ruins of the Baths is the Piazza di Republicca, which was built much later in the Baroque period (1600s to 1700s) to mimic and recreate the round shape of how the original entrance to the ancient Diocletian Baths were constructed.  It’s worth noticing here the contrast between the ancient orange-red brick of the Baths and the bright white of the “modern” Piazza di Republicca buildings.

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Spanish Steps

Called the Spanish Steps because, before Italy became a republic, the Spanish occupied the region of land at the bottom of this set of steps, while the French occupied the land at the top of the steps.  The Spanish and French spent years fighting with one another, but when Italy became a unified state this entire region became Italian, not Spanish nor French, and these steps became known as the “Spanish Steps.”

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Trevi Fountain

A fountain built in the Baroque period to celebrate water and its necessity for life.  Legend is that if you throw a coin from the right hand over your left shoulder into Trevi Fountain, you will be sure to return again to Rome!

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Continue walking the streets of Rome you encounter these kinds of ancient pillars…

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Pantheon

Which eventually led to the Pantheon, a once Roman pagan temple, which is now a church.

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Piazza di Navona

Next is this square, beneath which are the remains of where the ancient Roman olympic games were, which mimicked the original Greek olympic games.

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Constantine’s Gate & The Colosseum

Two of my students, standing in front of Constantine’s Gate, are below and next is the Colosseum.  This ancient Roman amphitheatre, which accommodated 80,000 people, was where public spectacles were held, such as gladiator contests, executions, and dramas.   The bit of stage that you see in the pictures has been recreated for visitors to imagine what the stage of the amphitheatre would have looked like – and the original amphitheatre would have been completely covered as well.  The bit of recreated stage would have encompassed the entire bottom stage area of the amphitheatre, and the sort of room spaces that you see uncovered would have been underneath the stage housing slaves and animals used for show.  The stage would have been covered in sand, to allow it to be easily cleaned after often bloody and violent “performances.”  Entrance to the Colosseum for Romans was, actually, free of charge, but tickets did have to be acquired in advance.  Romans were seated according to social class, with the elite seated close to the stage, and the poor in standing-only areas at the very top.

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These are the ruins of the “downtown” of ancient Rome where people gathered for community and socializing.

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Piazza di Venezia

And below, a monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of unified Italy.  Apparently, the monument has been nicknamed the “wedding cake” by Americans because, supposedly, this is how it was described by Audrey Hepburn when she saw it while filming Roman Holiday.

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Vatican City

Home of the pope!  Vatican City is an official country, the smallest country in the world, but visitors can enter the Vatican without a passport due to an agreement made between the Vatican and Italy when the country was established in the 1920s.  Michelangelo’s artwork in the Sistine Chapel was remarkable to see, in spite of the hoards of tourists that came with it.  And if you want to see the pope in Vatican Square, he makes his appearances on Sundays at noon.  The colorful guards below the picture of St. Peter’s Basilica here are the Swiss Guards who protect the pope.  These Guards must be citizens of Switzerland.  They stand in this position, surrounding the Vatican, and change guards every 2 hours.

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Trastevere

And while I wish I would have spent more time in this neighborhood of Rome, with its charming streets brimming with shops, restaurants, and lots of Italian life and livelihood, unfortunately with the packed sightseeing schedule I endured with my students, I had little time to explore it!  Here’s my one photo opp of Trastevere.  The rest is up to your imagination!

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And this concludes my whereabouts just “roaming around Rome.”  I am certainly no expert on the city’s history and sites, but was fortunate to learn from 3 days of guided tours of the city for my students, so I have shared those tidbits here!

In other news, when I returned home from my Roman “holiday”…

Marc was in Leysin to greet me!  Yay!  More of our bit of time together (before he had to leave again) on the blog very soon.

 

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.