On August 4, 2001, I married my best friend.

I practically ran down the aisle and never looked back.
We started a beautiful life together that day.
Was our marriage perfect? Of course not…
But we were best friends who happened to be married to each other, too.

15 years?
It seemed like an eternity when I stood at the altar with my groom, exchanging vows and rings.
Now? When I look back, I don’t know how the time escaped me.

Sometimes I miss him so much I can’t breathe or think of anything else.
It’s not that I haven’t processed my grief appropriately (like some have suggested recently). It’s that grief is unpredictable. It never goes away. You just deal with it.

What makes days like today better?
Remembering the good days.
The early days.
The conversations.
The trust.
The life we built.
And then I have two little constant reminders that life is a beautiful garden, despite the thorny bits.
I thoroughly enjoy seeing the girls develop into the people they’re meant to be – and it thrills my heart when they exhibit some hint of their dad in their personalities. It’s simply amazing to see.

Carys never fails to say, “Happy anniversary, mama” on August 4th. Sweet, sweet child of mine.

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the situation

There are many things I despise about my situation.
Even calling it a “situation” makes my left eye twitch.

My situation, just to clarify: 
I am a Christian.
I am a single mother.
I am a student.
I am a woman.
I am a homeowner.
I am a type-1 diabetic.
I am a widow.

That word – widow – makes both my eyes twitch.
It makes me nauseous.
And it’s not because of what it means.
It’s because of what everyone else thinks it means.
It’s because there is some type of stigma attached to it.
It’s antiquated.
It’s unfair.
It’s not representative of who I am.

Before I was a widow, I was right in the midst of a seemingly perfect suburban life.
I drove carpool. I made lunches.
I ironed my husband’s clothes for work. Well, let’s not start fibbing…I never iron.
Then, cancer came.
It huffed and it puffed and it took it all away.
For three years, I was becoming a widow.
Then I actually became one.
A real live widow.

People looked at me differently.
They spoke to me differently.
They treated me differently.
Or they didn’t, because they just avoided me.

This is life.
Things were almost perfect.
And then they weren’t.
Obviously, things don’t always go as planned.

I am a widow.
By pure definition alone.

Long ago, women just didn’t remarry after losing their spouse. They mourned forever.
I have mourned Chad’s death every day since November 11, 2010. I miss him.
Some days are good, some days are not. The last few months have been particularly difficult; but I am not, nor will I ever be, sitting in a black lace dress by a darkened window, knitting with my 13 rescued cats. I won’t wear a dark veil or swear off any future relationships. I won’t let my daughters think that my entire identity has been lost.

I miss him terribly. I miss our life. I miss who I was before things became complicated by cancer.
As terrible as the whole ordeal was, and as much as I wish I could have changed the outcome, I am still here. I am still responsible for two little lives and I am still ME.

The way I choose to honor his life and the love we shared is by living, doing, going and being. I think he would approve.

I am different, yes.
I am more aware of the brevity of life, the fragility of it all.
I am more aware of my purpose, my calling in life.

I am different, but I am the same.
I have put myself back together.
I just fit those pieces back differently.

I have a renewed sense of direction — fueled by faith, love, giggles from my girls and insane amounts of coffee.

I am rearranging my life in a way that makes me happy and complete.
It has taken me years to get to this point; 9 years in the making.
Grief is a process that I had no clue how to prepare for. I still don’t know what I am doing.

But I’m doing it…

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Simple phrase
But, man, did it change my perspective

new me

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Until it happens to you

Six years ago today, we sat in a waiting room. We sat, impatiently waiting, for our name to be called. We chatted about random things, trying not to address the situation we were about to face. I wrote a “to do” list on a magazine mailer I found on the coffee table in front of us.


We stood up. We walked, in silence, to a small room. There was no window. It smelled like rubbery plastic, like bandaids. The nurse took vitals. She chatted about the weather, answered a few of my questions. One included, “We have called a few times about symptoms…the PA is usually good about calling back within 2-3 days…why is he ignoring us?” I said it in half-jest. I was annoyed he hadn’t returned our calls – or had someone return our calls. She fought back tears as she informed us that he had passed away quite soon after his own cancer diagnosis.
She told us a brief story about how his widow recently decided to remove his coat from their closet and decided to check the pocket. She found a ring he had custom-made for their anniversary. They didn’t get the opportunity to celebrate and he never had the chance to properly present it to her. I literally gasped at the thought; how terribly sad and tragic.

She left us, as we waited for our own sobering reality.
Chad and I sat in stunned silence. I stared at a stack of out-of-date magazines, internally kicking myself for being insensitive.

The doctor entered.
There was no warm smile and general conversation, like every time before.
He was brief and factual. He offered a few options, none of which Chad wanted to discuss at length.  He already knew he  wanted to forgo treatment, without hesitation. Dr. T offered his condolences, thanked us for trusting him and told us to take our time in the room.

We cried as we sat in the room for a while longer.
I asked my husband a few questions, assured him that he was allowed to take his time and consider all available options. His mind was fixed; he was miserable and didn’t consider “more time” any consolation for the misery he felt on a daily basis. That has been so hard for me to accept. I can never understand that pain because I was always on the outside looking in. It didn’t happen to me.

When we decided it was finally time to leave the room, we weren’t sure what to do. I remember opening the door and peeking outside, like we were in trouble or needed permission.

From that moment on, every single thing looked different.
The faces of the staff looked different as they looked at us with such pity and sadness.
My husband looked different, defeated and tired. But also relieved, in a strange way.
The sky even looked different as we took the glass elevator down to the parking garage.
The drive home was different, as I tried to imagine my home without him in it.

At the time, I did not have time to process the manner in which that news was delivered.
Over the years, I have had time to think about it.
To analyze it.
It made me angry for a while.
It always makes me cry when I think about it.

And the conclusion?
There was no other way for Dr. T to tell us that Chad was going to die within 3 to 6 months.
There just wasn’t another way.
How do you present death, dying, hospice, and “getting your affairs in order” in a neat little package to a 32-year-old man who has a beautiful, young, vibrant family?

Imagine the job Dr. T had (and still has): to care for very sick people and hopefully make them better – even if temporarily. Sometimes he gets to tell people they are healed. And sometimes, like in our case, he  gets to tell people their time is extremely limited.

Can you imagine?
Can you imagine the toll it takes on a professional who has to deliver such news on a daily basis? The heaviness that must weigh on him when families try to bargain with him to save their loved one?
I can’t.
I just can’t fathom it.

I am thankful for that doctor.
He made a huge difference in our lives.
I even wrote him a note of thanks after Chad passed away. Sounds strange – but I told him how grateful I was that he took on our case, when no other surgeons wanted to. He gave us a chance and I will forever be grateful for that opportunity.

I’ve been volunteering with hospice in the last few months.
It has brought back so many memories and has reaffirmed goals I’ve set for myself.

I have been pursuing a career in the healthcare industry for five years.
While I never want to be responsible for telling a family that death is imminent, I want to be able to properly support people who are faced with such tragic news. I want to cry with them. I want them to feel supported. I want them to know they matter.

Nursing school has been the most challenging and rewarding experience.
Sometimes I want to quit, if I’m being honest.
Then I remember that I have something rewarding to offer to people.
I have personal life experience with death, sadly.

Supporting people at their darkest moments is something you can’t prepare for.
There are no books to direct your words or actions.
There are no words that adequately capture the pain, fear and loneliness that death brings about.

There is no way to properly learn empathy
until it happens to you.

I’m reminded daily of the things I miss about my husband and the brief life we shared.
All of those beautiful everyday moments happened to me before all the tragic ones did.

I’m thankful for the good and the bad; for both, equally but in different ways.

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by request

Cailyn requested this post.
So, here ya go Cailyn!

Cailyn & Friend :: Dec 2015

Cailyn & Friend :: Dec 2015

Their #MCM

Their #MCM

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Magical Moments

Our first adventure to Disney in 2011 didn’t turn out well. The girls were secluded to the resort hotel and pool – which they loved. They even thought they “had been to Disney”… And I was secluded to the ICU for the week while I suffered from diabetes complications.
I vowed I would get back there — the girls would experience Disney and we would have a great time.
Life got in the way.
Five years passed.
This is the first time in years that Spring Break was the same week for the girls and myself, so we took advantage of it!

A few things are different with this trip…the girls are older, of course.
They weren’t into character breakfasts like I had planned with our first visit. They didn’t want to take pictures with any characters, but obliged me with Donald Duck. I mean, we couldn’t go ALL the way to Disney and not take a single picture with a character!
They are totally into rides now – and discovering what rides they do NOT like. Poor Cailyn immediately regretted the Rockin’ Roller Coaster. She survived the ride through clenched fists and shut eyes. She still talks about how she will NEVER get on another roller coaster! Carys LOVED the Tower of Terror, which is not something she inherited from me. I hate roller coasters and thrill rides. Carys should be very thankful that Nana joined us on this trip — Nana rode the Tower with her, because I refused 🙂

My new FitBit Alta arrived right before we left for Disney. We were exhausted every day from all the walking – 15k, 18k, 19k, 21k steps. There was so much to see and do every day! The girls thoughts it was cool to keep checking our step count, set a goal and track our progress.

The girls are already talking about their return visit. I’m so thankful we were able to replace those 2011 memories with awesome ones! Here are a few images from our trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my heavy Canon on the trip, but my iPhone is my photo-BFF these days. I didn’t take as many photos as I normally do. I’m trying very hard to live in the moment these days and not create perfect camera angles with every memory.


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All that matters

I’ve learned so much about myself through this journey.
Some of my epiphanies haven’t been life-changing, but some of them definitely have.

Like, for instance, I’ve discovered that I’m an introvert. I would have never, ever classified myself as such. But through all of the reading (and writing) I’ve done over the last 8 years, it’s become very clear that I prefer to communicate this way. It’s more effective for me. It’s therapeutic. It’s cleansing. It’s healing.
It’s not that I don’t like people. I love people. I love interacting with them. But I definitely feel more empowered, creative and intelligent when I have the opportunity to recharge my batteries while being alone. I like my alone time. I feel like I give my best to others in my life when I am able to have that time to myself. It may only be 10 minutes a day, locked in the bathroom while I paint my toenails and try to ignore the chaos of kids and dogs and laundry that lurk on the other side of the door….but it’s my time.

I’ve also learned that I like control. Even though I do not, and cannot, control anything in life, I like to feel that I can. That’s a fault. And I’m working on it.
I never would have labeled myself as a control freak, but I think being in a situation that allows you absolutely NO control shows you how little you are in the grand scheme of things. I’ve always been a firm believer that things happen for a reason and  I have surely put that thought to the test over the last few years. Things around me were spiraling out of control, and sometimes I was spiraling out of control, and I would be faced with the stark reality of it all. I neglected myself, specifically my diabetes because I didn’t want to believe that a disease had the best of me…and, well. I nearly died.
That’s when it hit me — there is no control. I can control my reactions to situations and events, but I cannot actually control them. I can better myself to become better equipped to deal with less-than-ideal situations, but I can’t control what happens.
Although this is a constant struggle, it’s very freeing to let go of control.

I’ve learned that I can let go of the small stuff. When I’m on the verge of getting upset about something, I honestly ask myself, “will this matter in five years? Will it matter tomorrow? Will it matter in five minutes?” If it won’t, I let it go. Simple as that.
It doesn’t matter that my little one poured nail polish on my new comforter, by accident.
It doesn’t matter that my anatomy flashcards were not perfectly color-coded.
It doesn’t matter that my oldest girl decided to tell everyone in Wal-Mart how much I weigh as we were checking out.
I’m not saying I’m living in the Land of Oblivious, because when things warrant a discussion (like being more careful with nail polish and guarding mommy’s weight like a treasure), we have them. I just don’t stress over it anymore.

I’ve given up the endless search for perfection.
I’m not perfect.
You’re not perfect.
My kids aren’t perfect.
My house is not perfect.
Goodness knows, my dogs are not perfect.
It doesn’t matter. I am who I am. I am comfortable in my skin.
And I am perfect for those who see me that way – God, my family, my closest friends.
That’s all that matters.

I’ve learned that people will let you down.
Sometimes, they do it like it’s their full-time job.
And sometimes I grow tired of being the person that forgives and tries to push forward.
Then I remember that God forgives me every.single.day.
This doesn’t meant that I am a doormat though, and sometimes I have had to let go of people in my life that just don’t get it…or me.
And that’s okay, too…

I’ve learned that you can let people go.
It’s okay.
At this point in my life, it’s not abandonment.
It’s just leaving. It’s making a conscious decision to move forward.
Sometimes it forces other people to move on and grow, too.
Sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s also okay. Everyone has their own journey.
I strongly believe that people come into and float out of your life for particular reasons. God puts them there, to hep you or show you something. You learn, you grow, you move on. It’s just the natural flow of things.
And it’s okay.

Because everyone’s problems are not my own!
I’ve tried so many times to take on others’ problems and “help”.
Sometimes I was successful, but more often than not, I was  more hurt by the “ask holes” in my life (that’s a person who asks for help and advice, yet always does the exact opposite of what you tell them). I have enough of my own issues. I don’t need to take on anyone else’s. And also, I learn best when I deal with things on my own. That’s how I grow. Others can do the same if they are constantly seeking out help, never exercising their right to change, and then continuing with negative patterns.
It’s not my problem.
And that’s a hard pill to swallow for a people-pleaser like myself.

I’ve learned that all that truly matters is going to bed with a clear conscience and a loving heart.
Be good to others, they will be good to you.
Love everyone, including those who love you back and even those who cannot.
Be thankful.
Be grateful.
Count your blessings.
Remember who is in control.
Kiss your kids goodnight.
Tell people how you feel.
And know that you’re doing your best, every single day.

It’s all that matters.

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5 years

I think everyone has a photograph (or even a few) that instantly pull you in. You can remember every vivid detail that is captured.

This is one of mine, along with many more. It sits in my bathroom and greets me every morning as the new day’s light pours in. It makes me happy.

This was the day.
This was the day everything changed.

The Lanford family :: November 12, 2007

The Lanford family :: November 12, 2007

This picture is my reminder that I am a small, small speck in this vast universe.

This picture is my reminder that life and love are beautiful things that should never be taken for granted.

This picture is my constant reminder that life can change in an instant.

This is the last photo we took as a family before our lives changed forever. We posed for this impromptu photo on his mom’s front porch, blissfully unaware of what would happen a few hours later.

Veteran’s Day weekend, 2007. We laughed, we kissed extended family goodbye, we got into our vehicles and went home. We ate dinner as a family — chicken nuggets from the oven because we were too tired from a full weekend to attempt a real meal. We went to bed early, exhausted. That night, Chad suffered the first of many seizures. We waited anxiously in an ER bay for 2 days before an upstairs room became available. The next three years would be a roller coaster of surgeries, medications, seizures, plans, and surviving the best we could.

And then, almost three years to the day this photo was taken, he lost his fight.


Five whole years have passed since he left us.
1,825 days.

It went by quickly and slowly, all at once.

Through this whole process, I’ve discovered that you never truly get over the pain of such a significant loss.
Grief changes people; you incorporate it into your life.
You move forward, but you always take the grief with you.

That hurt is woven into everything I do; I treat people differently. Everyone is facing a struggle. Be kind.
I respond to things differently. Peace is better than being right.
I think about things in a different way. Compassion is a gift.

Life is precious.
Love is not to be taken for granted.
These two things are all I focus on sometimes; and it’s enough to get me through the tougher days.

I have faith that there is so much more than this earthly life; things I can’t see. But things I believe in, things I hope for, nonetheless.

I was fortunate enough to have difficult conversations with Chad; what I should do and what he wanted for us. I rest peacefully knowing I was able to have such discussions with him. My heart is at peace, though it still hurts.


What does 5 years look like?
Probably a lot like your life. We’re busy with events, school (theirs and mine), sibling rivalry at its finest and normal stuff… There are piles of laundry, dogs to feed, a mortgage to pay, dust to wipe and usually a few grief-laden tears around the corner.

I am angry sometimes.
At no one in particular.
Life is not fair, and it’s a hard concept to grasp.
It’s okay to be angry, or content, or disappointed, or happy.
It’s okay to feel however I feel.

I am angry, hurt, and saddened that our beautiful children have been robbed of so many good memories. They deserve to have their dad cheering them on at events today. They deserve to have the memory of him teaching them to ride a bike. They deserve to hear him threaten to hurt any boy that might break their little tender hearts. They deserve to hear him say, “I love you” fresh from his lips instead of a voice recording I made at Build-A-Bear Workshop.

They deserve so much.
They have me. And I must be enough. I was specifically chosen to be their tour guide through this life. We navigate it the best we can; learning and laughing. We even cry sometimes, too. I just want them to know how very much both their parents love them.

Cailyn has now been without Chad longer than she knew him. She was 18 months old when the above photo was taken. She was 4 when he died. She likes to hear stories about her daddy and look at photo albums with me. It’s almost like she is looking in at someone else’s life through pictures. She just doesn’t remember much about him.
That shatters my heart. He was exceptional and I see so much of him in her. She is very deliberate about her choices; she is very methodical and organized. She didn’t get that from me…

Carys is starting to deal with her emotions about the whole thing. Just now – five years later. Just two day ago, I consoled her late into the night because she was so upset. “I know I loved him so much, I just don’t remember anything else about him.” She repeatedly pressed the plush hand on a stuffed cat we made at Build-A-Bear; Chad’s voice echoing, “This is daddy. I love you, sweetheart.” I’m so glad I thought to have a voice recorder added to that stuffed animal.
My poor, sweet, innocent girl. That tender heart has already been broken and there is nothing I can do to fix it. I hold her, I cry with her, I share pictures and stories and do what I can. But it will never be enough to fill that hole. Never.

Life isn’t all tears and depression for us, even though today is a very sad day that I dread each year.

We’ve been in our new home a little over a year. Moving  was a necessary task; we needed a fresh start. I had hoped it would make the loss feel less acute since he has never been associated with this place. It has helped us all move forward.

Everyone is doing so well in school, myself included.
Cailyn is making excellent grades. She loves math and science. She loves her new friends. She is just a blessing; so sweet and thoughtful.

Carys is shining through her middle school transition. She’s on a recreational swim team and she is just an awesome kid. Her heart is huge and she is one of the funniest kids I know.

And I have finally been accepted to the nursing program. Moving forward, even though it feels like slow motion at times. I’m using my pain, and also the inspiration I’ve received from so many I’ve met along this journey, as fuel. I am tired. I am determined. I will make a difference, just as others have made all the difference to me and our family.

I don’t know what God has in store for the three of us Lanford Ladies. Faith, Hope and Love have gotten us this far; I’m always eager to see what’s next. The three of us are okay; forever healing, but okay.

Thank you, as always, for your continued support.
We appreciate your prayers, thoughts and concern today and always.

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Remember me???

I can’t believe I haven’t written here in so long.

My blog was hacked about two years ago. Life got busy and I just never got around to looking into it. Long story short – my blog is BACK!!!! I did lose the pictures, but I still have them on a hard drive some where…


We are all doing well.


We’ve been in the new house for just over a year now. It finally feels like home to me. Our pictures are on the walls. We’ve painted. We’ve made it our space.

Carys is 11! Can you believe that?
She had a great summer at two different camps, spent lots of time with Nana on the beach and at the pool, and played SO hard. She just started middle school this week. I knew it was coming, we were well prepared. Then the week approached and I felt like she was going to kindergarten all over again. I cried when I dropped her off and she repeated words I’ve spoken to her many, many times. “We’ve got this. No big deal. We’re moving forward and growing up.”
She had a great first day. And a fabulous second day. She’s excited about her teachers, changing classes, her locker, starting band, and changing for gym. We signed her up for swim team again
Before you know it, I’ll be crying while dropping her off for her first day of high school.

Cailyn went to camp for the first time this summer. She said she had fun, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go back next summer. I wasn’t surprised by that, at all! She went the same week as Carys, which was helpful when Cailyn was very homesick. She had a great start to 4th grade. She has a few friends from last year in her new class and lots of new friends in the making. She’s interested in joining chorus and playing soccer and volleyball.
She’s been very interested in trying new things since the move. She cheered for football and basketball last year. She played volleyball which she loved.
She’s turned into QUITE the chatterbox and loves to talk to everyone she sees. She’s changed a lot in the last year.

Here’s a snapshot from the first day of school


Life is crazy.
But we’ve got this. No big deal. We’re moving forward and growing up.

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An overdue update

It’s just how I roll, lately. Late.
For everything.
People who know and love me have just accepted it.
I used to never be late. Or so forgetful. Or slightly crazy.
But it’s me.
I accept it…but it doesn’t mean I have to like it!

The girls….

Carys is going to be 10 in December…and she’s quick to let you know it, too. She is fervently planning her birthday party, which I know includes a few friends to sleepover, facials, manicures, karaoke and treats galore.
She will be in the 4th grade this Fall. She is spunky and has a contagious laugh. She almost always has a smile plastered to he face and not much gets her down. I have always (and will always) admire that about her.
She has an eye exam coming up – I’m pretty sure she will need glasses…she’s not excited about that. I just keep reminding her that Chad & I both had glasses too. Hopefully, it won’t rock her little world too much to have to wear them.
She has also been seeing a therapist on a regular basis. She still holds a lot in, even two and a half years after Chad’s death. I understand, and I know we are getting to a critical point in her life that she needs to be able to express herself in a way that allows me to understand her feelings and help her sort through them. We will get there.
Patience is key. Mine wears thing quiet frequently, but I will never stop being an advocate for my girls. They deserve a chance to live life without so much emotional baggage.
Carys is my social butterfly, still. She has been so busy this Summer, with weeklong camps ALL the time. She loves going and seeing and doing. I joke that I could ship her off to China by herself and she wouldn’t bat an eye. It’s true. I can’t wait to see what she does with that gift one day – I just know she is going to be an amazing woman. She’s already pretty darn awesome!

Cailyn is so funny! She loves school and her friends. She will be in the 2nd grade this Fall. She just turned 7 in June and she is just the sweetest, kindest, most helpful little sidekick. She loves to clean (haha, she didn’t get that gene from me!) and really enjoys doing whatever it is that I am doing.
Her favorite things to do right now is drawing and coloring. She is always making cards for people, writing notes and sending letters. She is a sweetheart,  that’s for sure.
She has learned to swim pretty well this Summer and is trying to master the underwater flip. This is a huge improvement from last Summer, when she would rather sit on the side of the pool rather than jump in!
She is also a talked all of a sudden. Oh my goodness! I don’t know where all the words come from sometimes. She talks. And talks. And talks. She can’t help it, I suppose. But my ears need a break sometimes. I often wonder how she doesn’t get in trouble at school for talking so much.

Me …

I am still pursuing a career in the medical field. Still.
There have been some twists and turns. I had originally hoped to go to nursing school, but it just didn’t work out for me. I had a mystery illness last year that kept me in and out of hospitals and emergency rooms for a good 8 months. They never really figured out what was wrong with me, which stinks. But now I’m better – and I really think it had a lot to do with stress catching up with me. It can do a number on the body, that’s for certain.
I start school again this Fall and will be completely finished with Medical Assisting next Summer. And then I suppose I’ll find a job. And I’m excited about that. I’m not so excited that I’ll be away from the girls so much and won’t have Summers with them…so we’re soaking in every single moment this Summer. It will all be okay. I hope one day long from now, they will be proud that I made this commitment to change careers so I could support them. I hope they will understand that the sacrifices I made was for our best interests. I really hope that they don’t harbor secret hatred for me in the years to come that I spent less time with them because I had to work all of a sudden. It will definitely be an adjustment.

I stopped by Hospice this week. I hadn’t been in well over a year…and it was strange to walk through those halls that I called home for a few months in 2010.  Many of the same faces there, with the same hugs and same kind words. It was in that building that I decided I had to change my career and focus on helping others.
I currently have my Certified Nurse Aid license and care for an elderly gentleman that lives about 15 minutes away from me. I love seeing him a few times a week. I have grown to love him and his family as my own.

I have also added 2 new dogs to our household. Yes, Im slightly insane.
I will be in training soon to become a therapy team with at least one of my dogs. I will then be allowed to go into nursing homes, hospice, etc – to help patients through pet therapy. I am really looking forward to this!

I still take pictures, although not at often as I had been. I still enjoy it, I just haven’t put myself out there. There came a point where I had to decide what I was going to focus my attention on – photography or school, and school won the debate.

Anyway, thanks for those of you who still check in. We are doing well. I can honestly say the kids are thriving. We are all doing well, moving forward the best we can by putting one foot in front of the other. I can’t say it’s always easy, or that the answers to questions always come easily, but we are making it through to the other side. And that’s all that matters.

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