Berlin: Teil zwei

If there is one thing Berlin has plenty of, it’s patios. I like this. I don’t think there is any scenario in which I take umbrage with there being unlimited options for outside dining and wine drinking. It’s how I would spend all day every day if I had my druthers. And Graffiti. They like their chaotic street art in Berlin. Patios and graffiti. Oh, and their bicycles. Patios, graffiti and bicycles. And depressing, grandiose memorials.  I should start over….

Truthfully, I was taken aback by Berlin’s laissez-faire attitude. Particularly as it is located in a country who’s people are stereotyped as being strict and rigid and preoccupied with maintaining order. As evidence of its go-with-the-flow personality,  I submit to you their aforementioned lax policy on building defacement, as well as the fact that in Berlin, it’s perfectly acceptable to stroll down the street with a beer in hand–in glass bottles no less! Definitely a no-no stateside. Further, during an afternoon outing to one of the city’s community pools, we witnessed no fewer than 3924761432342 children sliding down a water slide at once. And running on wet cement–an activity the American lifeguard community views as being on par with smoking a cigarette indoors—is not only not reprimanded, it seemed downright encouraged. Then, there’s the part where before Heath jumped off the diving board, he politely asked the pool’s only lifeguard whether doing flips was permissible. He was met with a befuddled response: Of course this is fine. Why would it not be?  Perhaps I’m applying the community pool’s gentle policies a little to liberally to the entire city, but still, Berlin as a whole seems content to let its people be.  It’s likely the result of a long and tragic history marked by a series of oppressive and totalitarian regimes. But Berlin seems to have learned a thing or two from its past, and today enjoys a vibrant and resilient atmosphere.

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Berlin Wall East Gallery

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But I say all this before arriving at the crux of my argument. Berlin–like every place–is made more special by the people you experience it with. Our German vacation was made what it was by the company we kept. As I’m inclined to list off all the things that make Berlin unique, I’m also inclined to include Nick and Melissa on that list—two people who were pivotal to the good times had.

Berlin Breakfast

Berlin Breakfast

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Street beers are definitely allowed in Germany. What a magnificent culture.

Street beers are definitely allowed in Germany. What a magnificent culture.

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I’ll tell my kids about it

Full disclosure, I flaked out like a blizzard when it came time to, how do I say this diplomatically, make efficient use of our aggressive rooster Ruby. We had raised Ruby since he was a chick. Fed him. Housed him. Named him. So it was tough for me to then do the dirty and dispatch of him. That, I gladly left for Heath to endure. (Though I had no problem doing the subsequent cooking and eating and blogging.) Given my lack of participation in that surreal and slightly icky life moment, it seemed unlikely I would sign up for any future endeavors of the same ilk. How wrong you are my friend. For I was front and center when pals Mark and Ranjana made, er, “efficient use” of their three hens and two ducks last weekend.

Like Heath and I, and thousands of other wannabe urban farmers in Austin and elsewhere, Mark and Ranjana spent a good long while providing a comfortable space in the backyard in which Rothko, Benedict, Omlette, Frank and Scott could scratch up and stink up. It’s perhaps what they do best after egg laying and mealworm eating. But, alas, the couple has decided to relocate, and as the saying goes, you can’t take it with you. And “it” includes chickens and ducks. So, a chicken dinner it would be for Mark, Ranjana and their invited guests.

I’m not blind to the fact that to many, it may seem gross and odd and perhaps even cruel to do in your pets. Nor am I obtuse to the cold hard truth that there is an entire industry out there that does this sort of thing day in and day out, and it’s in many ways not such a big f-ing deal. (In fact, the average American eats about 185 pounds of chicken a year, according to this NPR story, so chew on that if you’re a chicken eater of the “that’s cruel” ideology.)  Whatever camp you’re in—Gross, Cruel, Who Cares—it doesn’t change the simple notion that it is important to know where your food comes from, REALLY comes from. So this time, I put on my big girl pants and played an active role in helping Maranjanark prepare their meal.

Why? Well, to help out some friends, for one. But also, I wanted to be there for selfish reasons. I wanted to document the process for the sake of art, or nostalgia or something. And I wanted to be able to tell my future kids about it. “No kids, I haven’t gone skydiving, or set foot on Antarctica, but I did see with my own two eyes, a chicken run around with its head cut off, and it was weird, and startling and magnificent.” I wanted to be there for my street cred.

What didn’t factor into my decision making process at the time I volunteered for this assignment, was the odd sense of fulfillment I would derive from it all. Not from the actual morbid blood-and-guts part, but being a part of the life cycle. For years Mark and Ranjana gave to the birds, and now the birds were giving back. It was all done humanely and gracefully. Mark and Ranjana said a few words to remember and be thankful for the experiences the birds afforded them, and then shared their nourishment with friends who had supported them along the way.

I was confused and conflicted and frankly a little immature when we made a meal of our rooster. But being a part of the experience, the whole experience, with our Austin family was different. It felt right. It felt important. It felt beautiful.

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.” –Cesar Chavez

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a slideshow of sorts

One of these evenings, I’ll provide a more insightful post about our recent trip overseas, documenting everything from magic shows to night swims to elephant rides.  Unfortunately, that night is not tonight. I can, however, share my favorite snaps from our trip to the enchanting country that is India.

Heath and Ranjana looking for shells on an Indian Ocean beach.

Heath and Ranjana looking for shells on an Indian Ocean beach.

Nick and Mark admiring their first view of the Indian Ocean.

Nick and Mark admiring their first view of the Indian Ocean.

An inside view of a rickshaw, of which there are thousands on any street at any time.

An inside view of a rickshaw, of which there are thousands on any street at any time.

Commercial Street—Bangalore's shopping district.

Commercial Street—Bangalore’s shopping district.

Courtney has to show the monkey she has no more food.

Courtney has to show the monkey she has no more food.

A wide array of curries to choose from.

A wide array of curries to choose from.

The temple elephant.

The temple elephant.

Heath admires a view that was too good not to pull over for.

Heath admires a view that was too good not to pull over for.

Who are you looking at?

Who are you looking at?

A fisherman's boat resting on the beach.

A fisherman’s boat resting on the beach.

One of many "jump pics" we gals had to indulge in throughout the trip.

One of many “jump pics” we gals had to indulge in throughout the trip.

On the sands of Turtle Beach.

On the sands of Turtle Beach.

Masala Tea for sale on a mountain top.

Masala Tea for sale on a mountain top.

Miles and miles of tea.

Miles and miles of tea.

An Indian market.

An Indian market.

Making ourselves at home in a field of rice patties.

Making ourselves at home in a ride paddy.

Smiling faces from a rickshaw on Munnar.

Smiling faces from a rickshaw on Munnar.

Rickshaws adorned in marigolds.

Rickshaws adorned in marigolds.

Cab ride? Anyone?

Cab ride? Anyone?

River fish. As boney as it is delicious.

River fish. As boney as it is delicious.

The men pull on the Chinese fishing nets to see what they have caught (nothing).

The men pull on the Chinese fishing nets to see what they have caught (nothing).

Mark embraces his new bride.

Mark embraces his new bride.

Mountains in the morning.

Mountains in the morning.

Nick and Melissa enjoying the view from the house boat.

Nick and Melissa enjoying the view from the house boat.

Well digging is tough work.

Well digging is tough work.

Temple art.

Temple art.

House boats in the backwaters of Kerala, where we spent a memorable evening.

House boats in the backwaters of Kerala, where we spent a memorable evening.

I can’t wait to share more in words (once they are ready of course).


Blogging from Bangalore

Greetings from India! We depart from India today after two weeks of trekking (and van-riding and train-hopping and boat-cruising) around Kerala and Bangalore. I’ll post more once we return, but until then, I will take advantage of the rare wi-fi connection to share our view of India as seen through the lens of Instagram.

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And now for something completely different

While I’m on a roll here, blogging about my mediocre photography abilities, I thought I’d share a few photos from an East side photoshoot I had with members of Your Friendly Ghost. I figure inevitably, at some point in your life, you wind up making friends with someone in a band. I have done just that with the guitarist of Your Friendly Ghost—a Black Keys-esque quartet trying to make a name for themselves in the Austin music scene. Tristan (more affectionately known as Wolfman) asked if I would mind taking a few photos of the band, and the potential for making four handsome lads pose like members of a boy band was just too much for 14-year-old Kelsey to pass up, so I obliged and we headed to East 6th Street to get our photoshoot on. I’m not sure I have a future in band photography, but I’m pretty confident in my abilities to recreate NSYNC poses.  So there’s always that.

The Motley Crew

The Brady Bunch

The boy band

Trying their hardest to be a stereotypical emo band of on the East side.

Awkward Family Photo

Entourage

The Usual Suspects

Your Friendly Ghost


I majored in brunchology

Yesterday Heath and I had the opportunity to host a stock-the-bar couple’s brunch for our soon-to-be-married pals Mark and Ranjana. It was our first go at hosting a bridal-ish type shower, and I’m not gonna lie, I was a little anxious about it. Normally I’d give myself some prep time before hosting a monumental party for a few friends. You know, spend the day before making a few dishes, cleaning the house, hanging streamers and performing other party prep procedures. Unfortunately, I was shooting a wedding all day on the Saturday before, so party prep would be limited to only a couple of hours on the morning of. That in mind, I opted to forgo dazzling decorations and spend my energy instead on creating a menu that would fill up the masses yet still have the element of intrigue and in vogue you would expect of food stuffs at a bridal brunch.

Here’s what we came up with:

Egg, sausage, jalapeno and cheese braidThis recipe came from MyRecipes.com and seemed like it had all elements you would want in a brunch dish: egg, cheese, meat and spice.  I also like that it included the word “braid” which, to me, screams “HEY!  THIS DISH IS NAMED AFTER A HAIRSTYLE. THERE IS NO MEAL GIRLIER AND MORE APPROPRIATE FOR A BRIDAL BRUNCH THAN THIS.” Of course, when it was all said and done, I didn’t end up braiding the thing at all and instead just sort of folded the dough over the yummy gooey egg filling…sort of like making a bed. Braid or no braid, the dang thing was pretty good. We actually modified the recipe a bit besides just skipping out on the braid. Instead of real sausage, we went with a veggie variety so our vegetarian friends could get in on the action. And we used whole wheat pizza dough instead of regular flour–not out of some grand scheme to be healthier, it’s just all that H-E-B had during our trip to the grocery store. If I make it again, I think I’d try and sub pizza dough for crescent roll dough, which is sweeter and flakier and fits the brunch motif a little better than thick and chewy pizza dough. Either way, served with some salsa, the breakfast braid bread was a winner.

The fixins on the dough before folding it over.

The bread waiting to go in the oven.

On the table and ready to eat.

Migas Casserole. I basically made this recipe up but I love it because it’s fast, easy and flavorful.  The idea is simple enough– sautee onion, tomatoes, peppers, cheese and pieces of corn tortillas with oil and cumin, cover with egg mixture and bake. Voila. in 20 minutes you’ve got a ready-to-eat casserole that feels slightly exotic if not intriguingly spicy. Plus, with peppers and tomatoes instead of sausage and bacon, you can feel a little less guilty about going for a second piece.

Migas Casserole

Banana Cinnamon Waffles.  Heath is the designated waffle maker in the house, and for years has been using a tried and true recipe borrowed from the Martha Stewart Living Cookbook. But because we were trying to give this brunch a little flair, Heath decided to step it up and add banana, cinnamon and brown sugar–at Martha’s suggestion. It was an incredible addition and we ended up with sweet and moist waffles that mimicked the flavor of banana bread.

Waffles so sweet, syrup is no longer necessary.

We also incorporated fresh fruit, smoked salmon, peach salsa and crackers. And we had a few other friends pitch in with smoked brisket and a crock pot hash brown dish.

The goods.

All of that food paired with either a bloody Mary or mimosa made for a brunch that was almost as delicious as the beautiful betrothed coupled themselves.


Photos for thought

In honor of our upcoming trip to India, I want to share a few photos the endlessly talented Ranjana took of her beautiful homeland. I can’t wait to take hundreds of my own this Christmas at Mark’s and her wedding.

the spectacular view

the cobra with gerry

along the way, we met an elephant and her mahoot

in their nursery - those are all baby coffee plants


Mexico City: 5 Reasons Why

Tell someone you’re planning to vacation in Venice, Italy,  and they “ooh” and “awe” and get all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed over it. Tell them you’re going to Mexico City and they scratch their head, puzzled, and manage only to sputter, “why?”

Why? Because it’s a city where, even in the thick of summer, the high temperature doesn’t scoot an inch above 77 degrees, and where if it doesn’t rain for an hour every afternoon, people are apt to call it a dry season.  In Ciudad de Mexico, a 2-hour lunch break is considered customary and you can drizzle hot sauce and lime juice over everything.  You can marvel at the intricate detail of architecture created in the 1500s or try and count the number of floors on a marble, state-of-the-art sky scrapper that’s younger than you are. Mexico City is a wonder.

Claro, the splendor of Mexico’s capital was practically a mystery to we Texans prior to our arrival. We had heard legendary stories of Tenochtitlan, been vaguely versed as undergrads in the history of the Mexican Revolution, and were fairly confident in the fact that it might be the dwelling place of my our Mexican movie star boyfriend, Gael Garcia Bernal. And yes, for you mothers of the world, we had heard a note or two about some kind of drug war, which we didn’t take too much to heart. For the most part, except for a few trivial factoids, we went to Mexico City as infants.

The purpose of our journey was two-fold. First, we wanted to celebrate two years of liking being married to each other with an exotic vacation (exotic in the sense that you could eat bizarre foods but not spend $1000 on a plane ticket). Second, we wanted to visit newlyweds Alex and Santi* who relocated there a few months earlier. But, for the non-anniversary-celebrating/friend-visiting traveler, why Mexico City?

Food
Promptly upon arriving in Mexico City, before even stepping out of the airport, we were handed a cup of Mango (purchased on the street, no less) sprinkled with chili powder and spritzed with lime juice. Bienvenidos indeed. But the incredibly irresistible combination of lime juice and chili powder (which comes on, if not next to, practically everything you order in the District Federal) is merely a starting point. Throughout the week we ate street tacos for 20 pesos and extravagant ceviche for considerably more—both tasted like meals intended for kings. We savored Oaxaca cheese, nibbled on cups of roasted corn, and delighted in ordering a laundry list of local staples: gorditas, gunabana, flautas, quesadillas, bistek, consommé.  It’s rare, state side, to find any meal that can rival the freshness or flavor of the street food in Mexico City; in fact, I think certain FDA requirements make it impossible. And you can’t touch the price. It’s unlikely, too, to be able to find truly enjoyable menudo (cow intestine), grasshopper guacamole, corn fungus or cucaracha (an entire shrimp deep fried in spicy tempura batter). We found, and happily devoured, each. Journey to Mexico City and you will eat like royalty if not like a god.

Slowly cooking pork for tacos al pastor.

2 a.m., 2 tacos al pastor, $2. Too perfect.

Hot sauce on everything. Chips no exception.

Camaron Cucaracha

Fried kosher quesadillas prepared on the sidewalk in 60 seconds.

A traditional corn-based Mexican breakfast pastry served with creme.

A cart of fresh fruit, ripe for the picking.

Once again, hot sauce served on everything.

The Markets
I don’t think it a stretch to say the promise of collecting a truckload of inexpensive goods at market is a significant, if not the primary, draw for many Americans visiting Mexico’s urban cities. As a collective, the markets were hit or miss. The misses were cheap stands covered in rain drenched tarps and splayed with plastic cell phone cases made in China or bootleg DVDs of bad made-for-tv movies. You are sternly beckoned from the street to take an interest in the tackiest of paraphernalia, and you feel compelled to keep your purse plastered to your side as if it were as dear to you as an arm or other apendage. But the good markets, the hits, are worth risking the misses. There you browse at your leisure through mazes of crisp produce, artisan crafts or festive clothing, and the vendors are friendly rather than forceful. The prices are fair and people watching sublime.

The History
Every nation has its story, but tales of the people that lived and the events that unfolded in Mexico City seem to be exceptionally compelling. There are the familiar, but still intriguing, tales of dictators erecting ornate monuments in their own honor, destructive and widespread colonization, and brave native heroes. And then there are the slightly more unique bits of Mexican folklore. Indigenous lords sacrificed losers of sporting events to the gods; leader Porfirio Diaz had a quirky affinity for painting himself white; Frida Kahlo showed a bizarre talent for depicting pain; and jilted presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador led a 3-month civil resistance campaign in Zócalo—the heart of Mexico City—after losing an election by half a percent. The stories are wild, and with more museums to its name than any other destination on the planet, you can fill up on them in Mexico City.

Heath in front of the Museo Nacional de Antropología

At the museum, Heath stands next to Lucy, the world’s oldest person.

Chapultepec Castle

Heath poses in front of a mural in Chapultepec Castle

This mural is painted on the ceiling of Chapultapec Castle and depicts the story of 17-year-old Juan Escutia who, wrapped in the Mexican flag, jumped from the top of Castle to his death during the Battle of Chapultapec to evade capture.

Heath stands before the ruins of Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, a city established in 100 BC and that flourished up until the 7th or 8th centuries when an internal uprising is thought to have caused its demise.

Taking a breather on top of the Pyramid of the Moon

Heath practices his moves on the ancient ball court.

Alex gives us a history lesson on the Pyramid of the Sun.

The architecture in Zocalo was very impressive, but as Santi said, “a democracy could never have built this.” Dictators certainly know how to make their mark on history.

Santi gets Heath up to date on some of the history of Zocalo.

The haunting Diego Rivera museum was exceptionally weird. The eccentric artist had it built to house his private collection of more than 5,000 indigenous artifacts.

The view from the top of the museum allowed for a contemplative view of the city.

Frida Kahlo’s house was little more my speed, with its lively color and tropical courtyards.

Frida Kahlo’s House

Frida and Diego’s Courtyard

The Architecture
Many of the city’s historic buildings and plazas were designed and modeled after some of the greatest cities in Europe, which gives many facades an intricate, ornate and Gothic texture. Simultaneously, there are are an abundance of structures that take on very modern characteristics. Clean lines, flat surfaces and exceptional use of light give many spaces  an airy and minimalistic quality. The Santa Fe neighborhood boasts sky scrappers of marble, geometric in design. Some structures there more closely resemble futuristic  washing machines than a usable public space. And intermingled with them all are mansions made of mosaic tile and modest clay dwellings painted like Easter eggs. The city is wildly eclectic and homes and buildings vary in style from house-to-house, neighborhood-to-neighborhood. No matter your personal preference in architectural styles, there’s something to love on the skyline.

Chapultepec Park and Castle were all about structures adorned in intricate details and bold shapes.

The old neighborhood of Coyoacan was mainly populated with bright red, blue and yellow homes and cafes.

While still very grand, the church in the old Coyoacan neighborhood was very modest compared to the stuff of Zocalo.

The Polanco Neighborhood was much more modern. Most homes had walls of windows and terraces with tropical gardens.

The style downtown is traditional, European and stately.


The architecture on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico resembled Modern Art as much as it did collegiate buildings.

The skyline as seen from the Anthropology Museum

The People
The culture of Mexico City is baroque through and through. The food is made more flavorful with liberal use of citrus and pepper. The colors on the streets and in the people’s art are explosive, and the history is gruesome and romantic, tragic and complex. But all of those elements are so because of the people who created them. There is no other country where I have been received so warmly as in Mexico. Strangers kiss you on the cheek on first introductions and mariachis serenade you on the streets and in bars. Mexicans will debate you when they disagree and praise you when they are in good company. They are bound to their indigenous roots while  welcoming foreign ideas. They value loyalty and family and friendship and are the reason why this city is so enchanting.

Our week-long adventure in the city was more gratifying than I could have imagined. Of course, the city is not without it’s flaws. The lack of access to safe drinking water took its toll on us after we made our 2438243 purchase of bottled water, and the people’s wild driving habits were chaotic if not comical. From above, I imagine the city’s traffic patterns more closely resemble ants running frantically from a squashed mound than an organized system of transit in one of the world’s largest urban centers. Here, lanes–where they exist–are viewed more as arbitrary suggestions than actual guidelines. There were some public areas which charged for use of their restrooms (a practice that, to me, seemed simultaneously criminal but genius), and sometimes when walking the city’s cobblestone streets you can get whiffs of some offensive odor in the right wind, which urged Alex to tell us that Mexico City seems to always smell like either lime or garbage. Some areas are plagued with devastating poverty and parts of the political system are horrendously corrupt. It’s not a perfect city and there is room for much improvement.

Why Mexico City? It’s a city of beauty, one that feels like it was built inside a garden. In engaging with its citizens, dining on its cuisine and absorbing the beauty of its environment we were filled with wonder and curiosity and life.

Boats of Xochimilco

*It is imperative we note how influential Alex, Santi and his sister Maria Ines were during our Mexico City tenure. This remarkable trio listened with patience to our insufferable Spanish, provided thoughtful responses and insight to our endless barrage of questions about Mexican culture and showed us an intimate view of the city. Without their thoughtful guidance and kind hearted nature, we would not have experienced the city with nearly the same gusto. 


Heath visits The Big Apple

Heath turned another year older this month, and to commemorate the epic day that was his birth, he packed his bags and headed to NYC to visit his bff Eric. It was his first trip to NY, NY but he came back all smiles and, frankly, twitterpated over his long weekend in the city.

Behold: the city as seen through his iPhone.

The Architecture
 

 

 

 
The Nightlife

 

The Parks
 

The Subway



The Gardens
 

 


 

The Skyline

The Museums




 

And, of course, the people.

Thanks for showing Heath a good time.

Next stop, Mexico City!

 


And with that, wedding season has come to a close.

This spring/summer has been very wedding-centric for we two, but alas it has come to a close (at least until September), and we made a point to go out with a bang. For the season finale, we attended the nuptials of Dan and Destiny who paired traditional elements with some pretty off-the-wall ones. I thought I had seen the coup de grâce of wacky wedding fare after Eric and Lisa tied the knot last September; their big day featured a midnight snack of breakfast tacos, a venue named after a haircut, multiple live music performances and iPod parting gifts. This event didn’t incorporate those elements, but there was badminton, snow cones and a wedding reception held at a swimming hole.

The Town
D & D got hitched on her family’s land out in Ingram, Texas (which is near Kerville, which is near nothing). The location is one Destiny had always singled out as her future wedding day destination long before Dan even came into the picture. Lucky for Dan (and for us), she chose well. Ingram was a treat to behold.

Getting to Ingram from Austin entails a 3-hour drive though some of Texas’ smaller towns, but it’s a pretty one that winds through Texas’ version of wine country and passes through historical landmarks, like Johnson City (birthplace of LBJ). So getting to the wedding festivities was actually half the fun.

The Ceremony
Dan and Destiny, or Danstiny as I shall call them for the remainder of this post, were lucky to have family with astonishingly beautiful hill country property. But getting all the guests from their respective lodging accommodations to a hilltop located smack dab in the middle of a 700 acre sprawl is not an easy feat. Guests met at a bunk house located at the foot of the hill and were then transported via limousine party bus to the ceremony site. The drive was windy and rugged, and with zebra and deer roaming the country side to the left and right of the bus, the whole event seemed more the stuff of an African safari than a Texas girl’s wedding. The combination of Beyonce songs being blasted from limousine speakers along with sightings of families of deer made for an interesting juxtaposition.

The hilltop where the couple said “I do” was remarkable and benefited from a breeze that kept guests from sweating through their britches. The couple wrote their own vows and kept the whole affair short and sweet.

The Reception
After the ceremony, guests were shuttled to the family swimming hole. And though her family titled it as such, the spot was less like a “hole” (which made me expect to find a muddy mess that perhaps was once a lake, but in these times of drought would more closely resemble a puddle) and more like the private swimming quarters of Texas royalty. Beautiful stonework surrounded a pristine blue pool that overlooked garden lights, green lawn and beautiful native terrain.

The couple were received with splashes of lavender seeds which sent an aroma through the air that lingered throughout the reception, and they celebrated with Texas BBQ and hill country wine. Wedding cake flavored snow cones were served to children and jars of homemade jellies and preserves were passed out to guests as they arrived (Heath and I snatched some Apple Butter to enjoy at home). Those who wanted to, swam, and those who preferred to stay dry hung out in the biergarten where Danstiny had arranged to entertain friends and family with a bean bag toss, card games, Chinese Checkers and badminton (which allowed Heath to say the word “shuttlecock” more times than I would have preferred).

The affair was personal and romantic and perfectly picturesque.  I will remember it fondly and file it away as one of the more unique and inspiring celebrations of love I have been privileged to witness.

Fare thee well spring wedding season, and onward with summer vacation!