Europe

Paris to Belgium
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We woke early to catch our flight from Bangkok to Paris, and sadly said bye to our buddy Chuck. The flight to Paris was 12.5 hours long, but we both watched a bunch of movies trying to make the time go by. We landed in the evening in Paris, and coming from the heat of Bangkok we knew it was going to be cold…BUT! I don’t think we were quite ready for this…..

WOW!!

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WOW!!

We were happily greeted by Cathy’s Uncle Bill. We stayed with Bill and his wife Sandra in Paris. They have a beautiful home in Paris and it’s perfectly located for us to walk around the city.

Enjoying some rum with Cathy' Uncle Bill

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First night in Paris enjoying some rum with Cathy’s Uncle Bill

Our first day in the city we got an early start (thanks to jetlag) and headed off for the Louvre. We were really impressed with the museum, but it gets crowded fast……real fast! Luckily we were able to hit up some of the highlights before things got out of hand.

At the entrance to the Louve

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At the entrance to the Louvre

Now that is one big painting!

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Now that is one big painting!

Largest Sphinx outside Egypt

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Largest Sphinx outside Egypt

We got to see the Mona Lisa

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We got to see the Mona Lisa

The people looking at the Mona Lisa....holy crap!

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These people are all  looking at the Mona Lisa….holy crap! ……time to go!

We then headed off to check out Notre Dame Cathedral. While walking from the Louvre to Notre Dame we got these shots.

Looking over the La Seine River

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Looking over the La Seine River

My first glimpse of the Eiffle Tower

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My first glimpse of the Eiffle Tower

Cathy has visited Paris and all the sites before but was happy to return to Notre Dame, and I was impressed by the building, inside and out. Here are a couple of pictures of Notre Dame.

Cathy at the front door of Notre Dame

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Cathy at the front door of Notre Dame

Looking at Notre Dame from the courtyard

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Looking at Notre Dame from the courtyard

That evening Sandra cooked us a great dinner of braised ribbit. After our experience with the food in Thailand, we both really appreciated a home cooked meal. Thanks Sandra!! The next day we headed off to check out the Musee d’Orsay, which is an old railway station they converted into a museum. It holds the worlds most expensive collection of artwork. Your not allowed to take pictures inside, but we did get to see paintings by Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, and Renior. I have never been big into art, but it was impressive to see so many painting by these famous artists, and the museum itself is really cool to see.

While walking around outside the museum we also came across the following.

This obelisk was brought to Paris from Egypt by Napoleon

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This obelisk was brought to Paris from Egypt by Napoleon

Triumph

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Gilded statue Genie de la Liberte

We picked-up our rental car that evening, and the next morning we got an early start toward Brussels. Cathy’s sisters Jenn and Joanne had flown in from New York that morning, and we met them at our hotel. It was great seeing them, and we have really enjoyed catching up with them. For our first afternoon we headed off to see the Grand Place in central Brussels. The square that makes up the Grand Place is very impressive and here are some pictures from the area.

Part of the Central Place

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Part of the Grand Place, Brussels

Jenn, Joanne, and myself in the Grand Place

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Jenn, Joanne, and myself in the Grand Place

We also headed down to this area to meet up with some old friends as well. Chuck, who we were in Thailand with, his son Tim and his wife Elisa have been living in Belgium for the past four years. We wanted to meet up with them for drinks and dinner. It was great seeing them and catching up. We also wanted to say thanks for playing tour guide for the evening……it made the girls first night in Brussels really good. One of the first things Tim showed the girls was Manneken Pis……a very famous small statue of a little boy peeing!

The ladies taking in the sights of Manekken PIs

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The ladies taking in the sights of Manneken Pis

Catching up with Tim and Elisa.....

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Catching up with Tim and Elisa…..good times!

The next morning we woke to some crappy weather, a mixture of rain and freezing rain! We all bundled up and made the best of it,  and boarded a train to Bruges. Even though the weather was not cooperating, you could tell in the spring this is a very beautiful city. The architecture, history, and the scenery are pretty awesome. Here are some pics from our day at Bruges.

The ladies trying to stay warm in front of the Bellfry

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The ladies trying to stay warm in front of the Belfry

Walking around Bruges

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Walking around Bruges

The center statue was carved by Michelangelo

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The center statue is Madonna and Child, carved by Michelangelo

Jenn and Joanne in front of the Church of our Lady

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Jenn and Joanne in front of the Church of our Lady

Cathy near the Church of our Lady

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Cathy near the Church of our Lady

We are now off to Chamonix. We pick up our friend Ed from the airport tomorrow, then we’re all hitting the slopes on Sunday!

Chamonix Part 1
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We left Belgium on a seven hour drive heading to Geneva. The drive through the French countryside was uneventful, but nice. We arrived in Geneva for a one night stay, because the next morning we woke early to head to the airport to pickup our friend Ed. Once we had Ed and the car was all loaded up we were all off to Chamonix!

The drive from Geneva to Chamonix is only about 1.5 hours. Once you enter the Chamonix Valley you are blown away by the scenery…..this place is gorgeous! Unfortunately we had to wait till 5pm to check into the apartment we would be staying in for the week, so we spent the day getting rentals sorted for Cathy’s sisters, getting our lift tickets for the week, exploring the town, and taking in the sights!

Cathy in front of the local church in Chamonix Village central

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Cathy in front of the local church in Chamonix Village central

One of the many views looking out from town

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One of the many views looking out from town

This is the famous statue in central Chamonix, symbolising people watching people do the first ascent of Mont Blanc

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This is the famous statue in central Chamonix, symbolizing people watching people do the first ascent of Mont Blanc

Cathy, Jenn, Joanne taking in the sights

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Cathy, Jenn, Joanne taking in the sights

Our apartment is located near the center of town and has some great views….to be honest, I couldn’t imagine a place here that doesn’t have a great view!

The view from our living room....pretty inspiring!

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The view from our living room….pretty inspiring!

We have been skiing / boarding for three days now. We have hit up a few different areas and all have had a different feel to them. The one thing, by far, that is consistent though…..is the scenery!

Ed taking in the sights as we head up the mountain

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Ed taking in the sights as we head up the mountain

Cathy, Jenn, and Joanne enjoying the day on the mountain

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Cathy, Jenn, and Joanne enjoying the day on the mountain

Enjoying the day!

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Enjoying the day!

One of the many bowls we have skied / boarded in

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One of the many bowls we have skied/boarded in

Cathy and Ed getting ready to head down

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Cathy and Ed getting ready to head down

What does Solonges mean ?.....who cares....lets just go this way!

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What does Solonges mean?…..who cares….lets just go this way!

Out of our three days on the mountain, everyone would agree that the highlight so far has been the Valle Blanche. This was our biggest day yet here in Chamonix. The best way to describe the Vallee Blanche is it is this huge valley in which you ski/board on the glacier in the valley. We think it is the longest off piste (backcountry) trail in Europe. You are not required to hire a guide, but it is HIGHLY recommended since there are some hazards out there you want a professional to help you steer clear of. For example crevasses, cliffs, rocks, and the chance of an avalanche! Our guide, John, is from the U.K., and owns his own guiding business. He really did an awesome job guiding us down and showing us the ropes. Thanks to his sense of humor and professionalism we all had a blast and it has been by far our best experience here in Chamonix. Before starting our 23km descent we got some great pics from the summit.

Looking out from the summit, I think off in the distance is Italy!

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Looking out from the summit, I think off in the distance is Italy!

Cathy and Ed getting all suited up to start our decent

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Cathy and Ed getting all suited up to start our descent

You need to wear a harness and be roped together for the zig zag decent you see in this picture

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You need to wear a harness and be roped together for the zig zag ridge descent you see in this picture

Just after the roped hike down

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Just after the roped hike down, more people behind us are making their way down

The view looking out at the start of the Valle Blanche....the line we take goes around the huge fin of rock in the center of the picture

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The view looking out at the start of the Valle Blanche….the line we took goes around the huge fin of rock in the center of the picture

Here are some pictures of our day going down the Valle Blanche.

Our first pit stop on the way down....to give you a sense of scale, the rockface behind me is an 11-pitch climb to the summit....1000ft!

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Our first pit stop on the way down….to give you a sense of scale, the rockface behind me has an 11-pitch climb in it!

Ed enjoying the powder and the views!

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Ed enjoying the powder and the views!

All smiles on the Valle Blanche!

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All smiles on the Valle Blanche!

Cathy and Jenn coming down the big powder section

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Cathy and Jenn coming down the big powder section

Heading down....you can see parts of the glacier on the right and some of the crevasses you need to avoid

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Heading down….you can see parts of the glacier on the right and some of the crevasses you need to avoid

Cathy enjoying the day!

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Cathy enjoying the day!

Cathy and Joanne having a blast!

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Cathy and Joanne having a blast!

Cathy getting some local info from our guide Jonh

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Cathy getting some local info from our guide John

As you near the bottom you can see part of the headwall of the glacier

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As you near the bottom you can see part of the headwall of the glacier

At the bottom you get some great views of the Dru mountain

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At the bottom you get some great views of the Dru mountain, 3x the size of the empire state building

If anyone comes to Chamonix, and is a very competent skier/boarder we would highly recommend doing the Valle Blanche…..it has to be one of the best experiences we have ever had on skis/board.

Thanks John.....what an awesome day!

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Thanks John…..what an awesome day!

Chamonix Part II
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After the Valle Blanche and one more day of Skiing /Bording we needed a day off! We spent the day checking out the town and sampling some of the food of Chamonix….hence the stop off at Poco Loco, the local burger joint…supposedly home to the best burger in Chamonix? Here are a couple of pics from our visit.

Ed and I about to enjoy our burgers at Poco Loco!

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Ed and I about to enjoy our burgers at Poco Loco!

Cathy and I after a good burger.....yummy!

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Cathy and I after a good burger…..yummy!

During our last few days we also sampled a couple more mountains in Chamonix to check out their different ski areas. We have to admit some were good and some were ……not so good, but either way we had a good time! It isn’t always the environment your in…it is the company you keep that makes the experience! ;-) Here are some pics from our last couple of days in Chamonix.

Enjoying a bluebird day in Chamonix!

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Enjoying a bluebird day in Chamonix!

Awesome day in mountains!

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Awesome day in the mountains!

Cathy and Jenn enjoying the scenery

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Cathy and Jenn enjoying the scenery

More of the beautiful mountains of Chamonix

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More of the beautiful mountains surrounding Chamonix

For our last day in Chamonix we actually didn’t spend it in Chamonix……we went to Italy! Our lift pass gave us the freedom to ski/board Courmayeur resort….one of Italy’s premier ski resorts. We had a great time sampling and checking out the slopes in Italy…….it was pretty cool! Here are some pictures from our day in Courmayeur.

VIew of Courmeyre town from the top of the tram

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View of Courmayeur town from the top of the tram

Having fun in Italy!

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Having fun in Italy!

Cathy and Ed deciding which way to go ;-)

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Cathy and Ed deciding which way to go;-)

Us with Cathy's sister Jenn enjoying the day in Italy

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Us with Cathy’s sister Jenn enjoying the day in Italy

After our week in Chamonix we are now off to Spain to meet friends. We are heading to an area called Baquiera to ski/board…..we will have pictures from our experience in Spain posted up soon!

Spain
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Our last destination on this great adventure was Spain. We met up with my fiends Cliona and Roo.  Cliona and I played lacrosse together at Ohio State and have remained friends ever since. Cliona and her husband Roo have been living in Spain for the past 10 years. They left their kids with Grandma for a few days and met up with us in the Pyrenees mountains for some more skiing/boarding.  We drove in from Chamonix after dropping Ed off at the airport and saying goodbye to the Russo family.  After crossing the border into Spain we drove through some charming little villages and made our way around the mountains to the resort.

Driving through Vielha on our way to Arties

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Driving through Vielha on our way to Arties

View of the mountains surrounding the valley

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View of the mountains surrounding the valley

Driving through town

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Driving through town

We arrived at our hotel and this shot portrays our weather for the next few days…..

Conditions we had for the first couple days

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Conditions we had for the first couple days

We chose the resort of Baqueira/Beret and it snowed for 3 straight days!! On the ground it was pure powder and lots of it, the terrain was awesome and the skiing/boarding was some of the best powder Jamie and I have ever experienced. However, in the air it was a total whiteout for the first day and a half. We couldn’t see anything in front of us so we were skiing blind most of the time but it was still a blast.

Nearly a whiteout on the slopes!

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Nearly a whiteout on the slopes!

From left, Roo, Cliona and Cathy

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From left, Roo, Cliona and Cathy

Due to the overcast weather, the deep powder, and the inability to see 5 feet in front of us it was only a matter of time that one or more of us would go down and go down hard!

Total wipeout by Cathy that became a yard sale!

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Total wipeout by Cathy that became a yard sale!

Cliona's turn!

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Cliona’s turn, getting stuck in the pow pow!

We stayed in the town of Arties, about 7km from the base of the mountain. Our hotel was situated on the main road so we were able to walk to all the bars and restaurants. We enjoyed lots of tapas and other great local dishes.

Jamie and I in the town of Arties

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Jamie and I in the town of Arties

The 4 of us at Apres ski

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The 4 of us at Apres ski

During the afternoon of our second day the sky started to open up a little but which gave us the opportunity to step up our game a bit and do a bit more off piste runs plus get some better pictures.

Jamie, Cliona and Roo heading up the chair lift

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Jamie, Cliona and Roo heading up the chair lift

Cliona and Cathy

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Cliona and Cathy

It was cold!!

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It was cold!!

Having fun on the slopes

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Having fun on the slopes

It was only inevitable that on our departure day from Spain the sky would open up to be a clear blue bird day and we had to get in the car to head to Paris. Luckily, Cliona and Roo had the chance to board some more in such great weather before heading back home, they sent us these shots of the resort.

Baqueira/Beret Resort

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Baqueira/Beret Resort

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A huge thanks to Cliona and Roo for making this all happen, we had such a blast catching up.  Next time, we’ll have to make the the trip all the way to Santander to meet the kiddos and get in some prime surfing.

We are now headed back to Paris, two more days and we’ll be back home in the good old USA!

Paris, Our Last Stop Before Heading Back to the USA!
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Jamie and I arrived in Paris on Tuesday.  We made the 9 hour drive up from Spain after an awesome skiing/boarding trip with Cliona and Roo.  The ride went smoothly until the last 10 miles when we hit the inner limits of Paris and then we sat in traffic for 45 minutes! Not the best reminder of what we’re heading back to!

Just a little bit of traffic in Paris!

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Just a little bit of traffic in Paris!

We finally made it to my Aunt’s to catch up with them as well as my parents.  My parents left us in Chamonix but they are continuing their travels in Europe for a couple more weeks.  We had one full day in the city and after quickly returning the rental car and packing things up we had a lot of free time.  My father, Jamie and I decided to check out the Eiffel Tower since this was the only attraction left for Jamie to see close up.  The weather was overcast and cold but it was still a nice walk and we managed to get some good shots.

Eiffel Tower from the Seine River

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Eiffel Tower from the Seine River

As close as we're going to get for free!

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As close as we’re going to get for free!

Playing around with a B&W version

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Playing around with a B&W version

jamie and Papa Russo at Trocadero

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Jamie and Papa Russo at Trocadero

Arc de Triomphe from the Champs-Élysées

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Arc de Triomphe from the Champs-Élysées

That night we all gathered for an awesome meal my Aunt Sandra prepared for the 8 of us and we couldn’t ask for a better way to conclude our time in Europe.

Hanging in the kitchen while my Aunt prepares a fabulous meal, the last supper abroad, for now!

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Hanging in the kitchen while my Aunt prepares a fabulous meal, the last supper abroad, for now! From left, Jamie, Papa Russo, Mama Russo, her brother Uncle Bill, and Aunt Sandra

A lovely dinner with the McCluskey family!

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A lovely dinner with the McCluskey family!

We made a plan to walk back to the Eiffel Tower after dinner together to see her all lit up. The tower also sparkles at night for 5 minutes every hour on the hour all year long! This has been going on for years and it is an impressive sight.  Something not to be missed next time you’re in Paris.

Eiffel Tower as it sparkles from Trocadero

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Eiffel Tower as it sparkles from Trocadero

Our time has now come, to close this chapter of our journey, head home for a few months and make plans for the next great adventure.  We’ll keep the blog going during the Spring if there is anything exciting to share, otherwise we’ll start it back up over the summer.  We appreciate everyone who has been following this blog and offering support over the past year.  A huge thank you to all of our family and friends who have met up with us, hosted us, provided valuable insight and encouraged us along the way.  We will be in Virginia through the end of Spring and look forward to catching up with you all when ever we can!

 

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