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A Love Story from Lesvos

Hello, again.


After many months in retreat in California, I returned to Lesvos Island, Greece in early January. The short days have been bitterly cold, most shops and restaurants are closed and time is best spent huddled by a woodstove and making soup rather than gallivanting in wind and rain.  I’ve learned what it means to rest and retreat in the dark winter, which is a new thing for this California girl.  There is a melancholic feeling to these days which I actually relish.



Melancholic days in Molyvos, Greece


But, I didn’t return for the weather.


I returned to see my love and make bold steps that will affect the rest of my life.  The biggest adventure of all!  I’ve been pretty quiet about this developing relationship, but it’s about time that I tell the amazing story of this unlikely love.


So, where does one begin a love story so intertwined with destiny? Does it begin with the births of the individuals whose winding paths eventually lead to their union?



A hike in Molyvos on a Spring Day 2017


Once upon a time…


There was a man named Stelios, who was raised in Molyvos, a small and historic 5000-year-old Greek village on the Island of Lesvos. He was the youngest of three boys. At the age of eight, his father died, and the boys were then considered to be orphans. Despite a living mother, the patriarchy of the time meant a family without a father was unsupported and in deep trouble.


At age eight, he began working full time to help support the family. Schooling became less important out of necessity. And for the next 37 years he continued his labors working wherever he could; from selling peanuts to tourists to helping with archeology digs in his village to baking bread, gardening, olive picking, painting, and construction.  The only consistent work has been the daily grind of maintaining a herd of sheep; their relentless milking schedule requiring attention before the sun rises each day and again as the sun sets.  He continued this way for decades, living with his brother and mother (until her death in 2015) in their stone house below the Castle of Molyvos.


He knows nothing about email or Twitter, nothing about self-help books or Ted-Talks, nothing about all the frivolous crap that “modern” city folk are bombarded with.  He knows everything about the nature and intentions of people, animals, the weather, plants, folk medicine, cooking (yay!), grit, strength, hard work, tenacity, humor, and kindness.  He’s possibly the purest example of a human I’ve ever met — not naive, but unspoiled by the modern world and all its neuroses. And tough as nails.


To quote a former resident of Lesvos:

“The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper.” – Aristotle


Yup. He shines.


Stelios in Molyvos

Stelios as a teen, riding his horse in the traditional way of Molyvos; side-saddle.


And, I was born in New York, but at the age of one was transported by my parents and two older sisters to San Francisco, California. Growing up there, in the 1970’s, and 80’s I was exposed to all kinds of ideas and people. My diverse middle school had more students than his village. My first job at age 15 was only a practice run for later employment; wholly for experience and not survival.  My parents, in the book publishing industry, were surrounded by intellectual people and education was valued above all else. I graduated college with a degree in Nursing that carried me through my young adulthood before I moved on to a myriad of other pursuits. I could explore other careers freely because I knew that if I found myself in a deep crisis, I had the backup of my family.


Over the years, I battled mild depression, spent plenty of time on the internet, read self-help books, and became increasingly neurotic about myself, my place in life, my weaknesses and my failures. Somewhere along the way to “self-improvement”, I got lost in a funnel of narcissistic wallowing that did nothing but blind me to the revelation that I was already good enough.


As you know if you are a long-time reader, after years of saving and dreaming and ridding myself of material possessions, I left Portland, Oregon in 2013 and began a journey of solo travel around the world not knowing what I would find.  Amazing growth came from this!  My confidence in myself and my ability to navigate in the world has grown a thousand-fold.  And just like roses have thorns, some of the most beautiful times have also delivered painful lessons. These lessons have birthed a new version of myself — a woman that knows she is enough, imperfections and all.  And this new woman attracted a man with a soul as clear as a crystal, who has treated me like I am better than enough. Nothing to prove. Imagine that!


But, still, this all came as such a surprise.


I would never have arrived on Lesvos had I not been so affected by another adventure along the way.  After nearly three years of traveling, I walked a portion of the European Peace Walk during the height of the refugee crisis in Europe.  The crisis was not on my personal radar until I began walking across the borders in Hungary and Austria without any trouble and hearing that refugees trying to cross those same borders on the same days were suffering and dying in my wake.  After returning to the United States, this revelation continued to disturb me.  I couldn’t sleep well, and listening to the anti-refugee vitriol of certain American politicians made me feel physically ill.  To quote Lily Tomlin: “I said, “somebody should do something about that.”  Then I realized I am somebody.”


No problem crossing the borders of Hungary and Austria on the European Peace Walk.


Meanwhile, in Greece in 2015, Stelios was working incredibly long days for the Starfish Foundation, a refugee assistance organization in his village.  The charity was born out of necessity as boats full of traumatized, injured, frostbitten and sick refugees were landing on the beaches, harbors, and rocks of Molyvos in alarming numbers. He worked as a nightshift security guard protecting the newly-arrived refugees in a makeshift transit camp with just one other member of staff, sometimes the two of them alone with 1000 refugees at a time and not enough resources of shelter, food, and blankets to go around.  His village was changing, with so many arrivals — sometimes 1000 people a day, his once idyllic home became a triage zone of tragedy and desperation visible in every corner.  And of course, he still maintained the sheep twice a day. That year he didn’t sleep more than four hours a night.


In January 2016, after researching where help was needed, I decided to travel to Lesvos Island which, by sea, is only six miles away from Turkey and was a centerpoint for refugee arrivals in the peak of the crisis.  At the time I wrote:


“I can’t explain why I feel so passionately about this specific cause.  Although I’m not religious, this is as close to a “calling” as I’ve ever received.  I am just one; one voice, one heart, one set of hands.  But I will do what I can do.  I am trusting where my heart leads me.  And that is to Lesvos.”


Little did I know.


When I arrived in Lesvos seeking to volunteer, I had great difficulty securing a position due to the dynamic circumstances at the time. After a week in the main city of Mytilini, and much migraine-y hand-wringing, I spoke with a charity in the northern part of the island that was willing to take me for three weeks. They suggested I relocate to Molyvos.  I did that, hitching a ride with a stranger.  Arriving in Molyvos, my jaw dropped, the village of stone houses built on a hill beside the sea and crowned with a massive castle was breathtaking.


Molyvos, Lesvos Island

Molyvos, Lesvos Island


But, as it turned out, the job evaporated before I even started.  It was not meant to be.  Destiny unfolding.


An active volunteer staying at my hotel suggested I attend a meeting with the Starfish Organization even though I did not meet their volunteer requirements at the time.  I did, and begged to help “behind the scenes” and that is how I ended up in the clothing warehouse sorting clothing donations for refugees into 77 categories.


I met Stelios on my first day of work at the warehouse.  I assumed he was my boss because nobody else was there. Besides the offering of “Coffee?” he didn’t speak a word of English. I didn’t speak a word of Greek. He was painting doors, which I couldn’t reconcile with helping refugees, but I figured that somehow it was important. Not one to dilly-dally, I grabbed a paintbrush and went to work.  Despite the lack of common language, somehow, we talked all day.  It wasn’t until late in the day that I discovered that Stelios didn’t actually work in the clothing warehouse but was a hired handyman for the building. And I was doing his work for him. Ridiculous. No wonder he kept smiling at me!


Incidentally, this was the only day at the clothing warehouse that a manager never arrived which forced the interaction between Stelios and myself that might have otherwise been avoided due to language difficulties.  Thanks, fate!


In the afternoon,  an English/Greek-speaking volunteer arrived and that is when I discovered that painting doors was not in my job description and Stelios was not my boss.  As we were packing to leave, always curious about local life in far-flung places, I asked the volunteer to ask Stelios what he did after work and was informed that Stelios was going to the mountains to milk his sheep and goats.



Stelios in the mountains above Molyvos.


Maybe this is a sign of abnormality, but this sounded so enticing I could not resist asking him if I could join him.  Recounting this story to my mother, she pleaded “Laura, you shouldn’t go to the mountains with strange shepherds you just met, which I agree, is reasonable advice.  “But, Mom, I checked my gut and there was no fear there.”  I’m sure that didn’t help my mother’s worries much.  Admittedly, it’s got to be extra challenging to be my mother.


But look, we had a great afternoon which I recount here.  I didn’t realize until after the fact that it was Valentines Day 2016.


Turns out, my gut was right. And in retrospect, taking the risk was one of the best things I ever did.


However, I found the sudden connection frightening. At the time, a romance was the last thing I wanted. That night, I returned to my hotel and deleted my availability to work at that warehouse, opting for another one instead. I didn’t want to deal with this.


The Wisteria in Molyvos

The Wisteria in Molyvos that bloom in March


Eventually, hoping the connection had cooled, I returned to the warehouse where Stelios continued to paint, committing myself to that location so I could really dig in and straighten some things out.  But soon, due to his daily small acts of kindness, I went with him again to milk the sheep and goats.  And this became a daily ritual after work, continuing for several weeks.


His kindness and respect towards me never faltered.  We talked for hours and hours despite the lack of common language. How could this be? I don’t know. From day one we’ve had the ability to communicate and understand each other very well.  Have deep talks about complex issues even.


Soon my visa was about to expire and I had to leave Greece.  I gave him the standard nomad lecture: “I’m a rolling stone. It’s been wonderful. But don’t expect to see me again.” He nodded. He claims he knew I’d be back — even when I didn’t.


I returned to Los Angeles and could not forget him. Damn. It.


One month later, I went back to Lesvos.


Stelios, the shepherd.


I returned with the exploratory nature of a scientist.  I intended to determine if this was “for real”.  Six weeks and hundreds of hours of togetherness later, I determined “it” was “for real”.  Oh. Crap.


And, awesome!  There were a lot of conflicting feelings at this time. What would this mean for me, the nomad? How could this possibly work?


I returned to the United States again.  Another difficult goodbye, this time without the “rolling stone” lecture.


Within a month, Stelios took his first trip outside of Greece and the first vacation of his whole life, traveling from his island to Los Angeles, California. Even the journey abroad was a challenging task, without English and having no knowledge about the functioning of airports, or elevators or escalators or seating assignments, the arrival in Los Angeles was a celebration in itself. He did it.


And thus began three months together, traveling and camping throughout California, Oregon, Las Vegas and Mexico. Each day was ripe with totally new experiences which Stelios embraced and welcomed — Chinese food, camping, big cities, neon lights, cable TV, dive bars, Thai food, mammoth supermarkets, Redwood Trees, Death Valley, Crater Lake, the Pacific Ocean, rollercoasters, San Francisco, Mexican food, sushi, long drives, hippies, fast food, the insanity of Vegas, margaritas on the beach, days without chores or direction, so much that was ALL new — he loved all of it!  We loved all of it, together.


Swimming in Tulum, Mexico

Swimming in Tulum, Mexico


And it turned out that we were highly compatible as travel companions which is like hitting the jackpot.  It’s rare to find someone you can spend so many days with, in unpredictable circumstances, without aggravation.  And now I could imagine us adventuring together. 


Then it was Stelios who had to return to Greece due to visa restrictions.  Saying these goodbyes was getting really painful.


So, in early 2017, I returned to Greece for another three months, this time living with Stelios and his brother in their ancient stone house below the castle of Molivos. This went very well.


My mother came to visit and helped Stelios communicate his question in English: “Will…you…marry… me?”


I wasn’t sure. Would I?


Laura and lamb


I left Greece again in June 2017 knowing we would be apart for six months while I attended to other aspects of my life and contemplated the idea of marriage.


During this time I realized the basis of my fears and began internal negotiations: There is so much I want to do in this lifetime and choosing anything has always felt like a chokehold because it prevented me from choosing something else.  But, after contemplation, I realized that committing to one deserving person opens up a whole new level of depth and freedom. Being single has always been easier for me — I don’t like answering to anyone else and I don’t like being squelched.  But now, I see the opportunity for a whole different kind of relationship than I’ve ever had.  Because he’s demonstrated that he supports me and my choices in all respects,  I can willingly commit myself to him for the sake of my own personal growth in this lifetime and be even freer!  It is my own responsibility to be true to myself, my needs, and my desires and I can do that WITH him.


My second reservation was a fear of failure. After a painful divorce fifteen years ago I was jaded and hesitant to try again because that could mean failure again.  But, Lord knows that the last fifteen years have been full of heartbreak and bad choices which have taught me a lot.  I’m not the same person I was at 33.  And the new person I am at 48 — wiser, stronger, more complete — deserves a chance to try again.


So, I decided that my answer to the proposal was “yes” and then began the laborious and time-consuming task of gathering the paperwork which would allow me to legally marry in Greece. 


After months of paper shuffling and a climactic moment of tears and desperation on Christmas Eve in a County Clerk’s office in Los Angeles, the required paperwork was finally in hand.  Meanwhile, Stelios never doubted it would come together.  He prayed and waited with the conviction and steadiness that defines his character.


In January 2018, I arrived once again on Lesvos, and my paperwork was promptly translated and stamped by Greek lawyers and taken to the local City Hall.  A marriage license was issued and a date (a week away) was set.  With so little time, and the help of local friends, an invitation was painted with watercolors, a party place beside the sea was found and all the details worked out for the big day. Our closest friends from the Starfish Foundation were invited as well as family and other friends. The biggest obstacle to the party planning was finding a time that would make attendance possible for other shepherds who could not veer from their morning and afternoon milking schedule.  I never imagined I would have to consider a sheep-milking schedule when planning a party!


Guest List

The guest list was a little more challenging for me to write than usual.


On our wedding day, February 8th, when we were supposed to depart the house, the rain and wind began.  But, with incredible luck, it passed in just minutes and the sun shone for the rest of the day. Ready to marry, and dressed in our finest, we took one walk around Molyvos Castle, seeing two brown foxes in our path, and continued down the cobblestone streets of the agora or “marketplace street”, passing local villagers who came out of their shops to greet us and take photos.  That day, we were the talk of the town!


Wedding in Molyvos

Overlooking the olive trees and countryside of the village of Molyvos.


We soon arrived at the City Hall which has a magnificent view of the Aegean Sea. Friends arranged for us to marry outside because of the beautiful weather. Two dozen local friends and Stelios’ family members attended.  The Vice Mayor of Lesvos officiated over the civil marriage ceremony which was delivered in Greek but kindly translated into English for me. I was delighted to discover that the words focused on equality within the marriage, respect, shared problem-solving and “having a happy and creative life together“.  We vowed, we committed, and it was a wonderful moment for each of us that led me to tears of joy.  Together now, with a shared destiny and so much to learn from each other, we move forward.



I am learning Greek and Stelios is learning English — damn difficult to learn a new language at this age but we keep trying. Eventually, building from both sides, the bridge will meet.  But anyway, love is an action word and kindness is the fuel, not words.


So there you have it.  Five years ago, as I set out on my journey, I could never, ever, ever have imagined that my journey would land me here, as a new bride, married to a shepherd on the Island of Lesvos.  But it happened — a real-life fairy tale.


The End

The Beginning 


Laura as bride



wedding day





  1. Congratulations Laura!!!

    I never thought I’d say this, but I’m so glad you DIDN’T come India with me (and went to Lesbos instead)! You both look so beautiful and happy, and more importantly, what a beautiful love story! I can’t wait to visit you in Greece and meet Stelios some day! You are an amazing person and I consider myself very lucky to be your friend. May blessings rain down upon you both! <3

    • Thank you, Amanda. It’s crazy how that one decision changed everything, huh? You’re welcome anytime and I also consider myself lucky to call you a friend. Until we meet again…

  2. Amazing! Thank you for sharing your life stories. You are an inspiration!

    • Thank you, Jessica!

  3. It is truly wonderful how you have put this recent great adventure into the context of two separate lives and how they came together. I loved reading it and wish you both very well!

    • Thank you, Paula! xoxo

  4. Laura,

    Congratulations to you and Stelios! I am soooo very happy for both of you! I can’t imagine what his thoughts were on his US adventure! You’ve always been a dear friend and I feel blessed to say that. I will contact you soon. Enjoy your honeymoon in beautiful Greece. ❤️

    • Thank you, Kim! I appreciate that! I often felt that we should be followed by a documentary filmmaker when he was in the U.S. because Stelios’ eyes were so fresh that he noticed things I never even thought about before. Sometimes it was hilarious. Talk soon!

  5. Laura,
    Loved reading your adventures and your travels. I too recall crossing and recrossing the Austrain/ Hungary border and seeing on TV of the troubles many refugees were having
    doing the same thing.

    You and Stelios have a wonderful future to look foward to. I am glad our paths briefly crossed.It was clear that even on such a brief encounter you are someone with a good heart and a strong sense of destiny.
    Buen Camino Laura and may the road rise to meet you.xx

    • Thank you, Gerry. Likewise about the good heart. Your singing saved me mentally more than once on the EPW. If you ever visit Lesvos, you and your wife are welcome.

  6. The best stories in life start with, “Once Upon a Time…”

    It is truly amazing what the universe will bring to us if we open our minds. Congratulations and best wishes for a lifetime of happiness.

    • Thank you so much, Patti.

  7. A wonderful, beautiful story! Congrats! I wish you both great success and hope to meet up one day!

    • Thanks, Doug! Been to Greece lately?

      • I haven’t been to Greece…. Vague plans are in the works!

  8. Dear Laura and Stelios (one big happy couple)
    Awesome and amazing love story; we are soooo happy for you. We met you on the EPW (European Peace Walk) and instantly liked your warm smile and soul. What a journey you started then and it ended, oops, began 5 years later with Stelios in a beautiful, warm and soulful country. Smash the plates and celebrate life the “greek way” Fill your future life with of love, music, sunshine, good food and goat cheese! big hug from our island in Australia x0x Rob and Helga

    • Thank you Rob and Helga! We just made fresh feta and there was a lamb in my living room so I’ve got the Greek stuff rolling already! You two were a highlight of the EPW for me and I hope someday we will meet again! Hugs back from Greece!

  9. I remember you dear one…I remember your story…and…this Life Coach, is smiling from ear to ear!

    I am OVER the moon to know you are happy.

    YES!!! When you find love inside of you–you find love outside of you…


    • Forever thankful to you, Lisa.

  10. Laura, you leave me speechless! Greece has been on my small bucket list of places to go, long before I knew you. So you’ll be living there….maybe in a year or so you’ll have room for an old American pal? Make a list of what you want from the states, (,and I’ll deliver it! Love to both of you greek gods!xoxo

    • You will be welcome, Judy. Who knows where we’ll be in a year but if we’re here you’ll have to visit. Many thanks!

  11. Laura, thanks for sharing your amazing journey. I was interested to read that your EPW experience led you along this path. If it’s any comfort, I milked cows by hand for 10 years! Best wishes and God bless.
    John & Erika

    • Thank you, Erika and John! It’s crazy how one life path leads to another. Farm work is hard work! Very nice to hear from you.

  12. Truly a fairy tale, one born of kismet, an open heart and intention. Love and a forever happy life to you both.

    • Thank you, Kim. I hope you’ll get back here so we can celebrate together.

  13. I’m at a loss for words; and as you know, Laura, I’m NEVER without comment. Big breath.

    Congratulations! Your story is the stuff of fairies and fantasies. My heart is full of pure joy for you and your amazing new husband (and all the beautiful sheep!). Love and all best wishes…forever after. Karen

    • Thank you, Karen! Haha. It’s bananas how this happened. You now always have a friend in Greece! I’d love to see you again.

  14. Oh Laura! This is the most wonderful news! i have to tell you when I first met Stelios at Donkey I recognized all you write about in this post-clarity of heart, such integrity and kindness. And I felt the same about YOU when we met! I wish for you a long and loving coupling. I have no doubt you will enrich each other’s lives beyond measure. ❤️

    • Funny, I felt the same way about you, Diane! Thank you for your well-wishes. Hope to see you again!

  15. I love all of this!!! Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful, inspiring, joyful story with us!!!!

    • Thank you for reading and appreciating, Maya.

  16. This is an incredible story, so touching and wonderful. I wish you both the best in this new stage of your life journey. Congratulations!!!!! It’s time to be happy. Take it and enjoy it. You deserve this wonderful life you have decided to share with this beautiful man, inside and out. Big hug from Mexico. ❤️❤️❤️

    • What a beautiful and loving comment! Thank you, Hortencia and a big hug back from Greece!

  17. THIS!!!! Oh my I’M holding back tears with the beauty of this story…..big congrats hug to you and I sincerely hope I get to meet you someday Laura. You are a great storyteller and an inspiration to follow your heart!

    • THANK YOU, Mickey and I do imagine we will meet someday. Soon, you’ll have travel stories of your own to tell!

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