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As soon as we found out we were having a boy, I knew our interfaith childrearing was going to start fast and early. The bris (or brit milah), customarily performed on the 8th day of life, was going to force our hands with its timetable. We knew we wanted to make sure it happened, but neither of us knew exactly what would be required. Early on, we talked to one of the rabbis at the synagogue we had become most comfortable with and were attending regularly. She seemed pleased that we wanted to have one, and didn’t break stride when we pointed out that I am not Jewish, assuring us the text could be adapted for non-Jewish parents and grandparents. We were encouraged, and BWB set out to find a mohel.

On the recommendation of the rabbi, my husband contacted a very nice gentleman and explained to him our situation. The mohel said he was fine with our intention to have both a bris and a baptism, but it did mean he wanted a rabbi present and fully informed. No problem, we thought, as we had already covered that with the rabbi. This, however, is where things got strained. Suffice it to say, the rabbi did not ever actually come out and say she actively would not attend, but she did make it clear she was… unable to do so for unclear reasons. We found ourselves in the hospital with a baby, a mohel, and no rabbi.

Our priest (the one from the church I stumbled into in March) came to visit us in the hospital. I mentioned that we were having trouble and that I was worried because BWB was taking it pretty hard. He had started talking glumly about just having it done by a doctor before we were discharged, and none of us were happy about that option. Our priest told us she would work on it and get back to us. A few days later, she gave us a name and told us she’d see us at the ceremony.

God does indeed move in mysterious ways. The rabbi that we were put in contact with is amazing. He said his congregation is about fifty percent intermarried and that he wasn’t concerned about the baptism at all. “We did it first, after all! It’s just another ancient welcoming ceremony.” He called me because he wanted to make sure I was okay with everything and to answer any questions, and I felt so listened to, so supported, and most importantly so included.

The day of the ceremony, I was a little bit of a wreck. It was in our living room, which meant I needed to get the house clean enough for guests. (It was passable, and nobody said anything.) I didn’t get the challah out of the freezer early enough to have it baked in time, but there were kosher hors d’oeuvres (even though nobody really ate them). Mostly, I was trying to keep myself busy and not think about the fact that some stranger was going to come into the house and wield a scalpel at my son’s most tender parts.

In attendance that day were the rabbi and mohel (obviously), my priest and her partner, and one of my dearest friends. My family had come in when the baby was born but wasn’t able to stay for a full week, and his parents had been unable to travel. Not to be bested by the difficulty, we set up Skype on one of the iPads and his mom and dad were able to be the proud grandparents at their grandson’s bris thanks to the fact that we are living in the future. The ceremony itself was lovely and had no awkward moments of pseudo-“inclusive” language that felt rammed in where it shouldn’t be, which I appreciated. When the mohel stepped up to do his part, he spoke about how it was the duty of every father to see his son circumcised, and that there was some kind of loophole made to allow someone trained to do it so that the father didn’t have to do it himself. (I’m a little hazy on the details; I was nervous about the cutting about to happen.) So then he says, “But here we have a strange situation, because BWB is a doctor, and therefore is qualified to circumcise his own son. So, BWB and I have talked about it, and he will be doing the circumcision.” I did not appreciate this joke, and chuckled nervously.

It quickly became apparent that he was not, in fact, kidding, and my husband had every intention of taking a scalpel to our son. Suddenly, the prospect of a stranger cutting my son’s genitals seemed not so bad by comparison. (Sorry, honey. We don’t operate on family members for a reason!) My stress level increased, easing somewhat only after I realized that the mohel was doing all of the difficult set-up part, leaving BWB with the relatively easy task of the actual cut. I had been told I could step out of the room, but I stayed. I think the wine helped the little guy, because other than two soul-piercing, anguished screams (I may be overstating this a tiny bit), the baby was a trooper. His mom was a wreck, but they gave him back to me very quickly and that made things better for both of us. (Mostly me.)

Even though we had a tiny crowd, I felt surrounded by love and welcomed. I’m hoping the baby could feel it, too. When the rabbi and I talked about the bris prior to the ceremony, he emphasized that this ceremony is all about recognizing a baby and his family as part of the community. He made it explicit that he included me in that welcome, wholeheartedly and without reservation. I appreciate that enormously, and know that it is remarkable for us to have found someone as generous in spirit as he is. This welcome into the community is why it has been so important to us to make sure he has a bris and baptism. We are fully committed to raising our child with the help and support of both of his communities, and are so grateful and blessed to have found two communities willing to help us do so.

Last year, I ran the Mardi Gras Half Marathon, my second half-marathon. A few weeks later, BWB and I were visiting his mother and discussing this event. I had been trying to convince him to come run with me, and his mother got involved. The short version of this story is that BWB agreed — nay, promised — to run the Mardi Gras Half Marathon 2011 alongside me. In front of his mother. Oh yes, he was definitely doomed at that point.

Fast forward to last December. We had been gradually increasing our running, but the time had come to commit to the marathon training program. To say BWB was uncertain would be putting it mildly. In retrospect, he says that his “I could do it if I want, I just don’t know if I want to” attitude was probably a cover for something more along the lines of, “I don’t think I can do this.” Early on, we had a couple of training runs which ended, quite frankly, in tears and yelling. After the second or third of these calamitous endings, we sat down and talked. Well, mostly, I talked. I told him that I didn’t want him to do anything I wanted to do, or to feel forced into something, but that the idea of crossing the finish line together was incredible to me. Nobody I love runs, so nobody understands exactly why I do these things. I wanted to share that feeling of accomplishment and joy with him. For his part, he told me he was scared that he wouldn’t be fast enough, that he’d slow me down, that he would disappoint me in some way. I said that wasn’t possible, and I promised to be patient.

A few days later, I registered both of us, and it was a done deal.

Training began in earnest, and except for a few missed runs while we were in very cold places, we stuck to the schedule. In evaluating our pace, we figured out that we were probably going to shoot for a 15 minute mile, with our goal to finish at around 3:15:00. BWB asked me what time I finished at the last time I ran it, and I mumbled something faster than that. He looked crestfallen, “I’m slowing you down.” No, no, honey, it’s not about that. This is exactly what I want to be doing.

Race Day. Out the door by 6am, parking at the finish line, and a shuttle to the start line. It was cold, but we had planned for this, and the next thing I knew we were standing with our start wave, bouncing up and down to keep warm (and from the excitement), then crossing the start line, then running down Tchoupitoulas. Together, every step of the way.

In the middle of the race, we were doing really well, sticking with the plan and pounding through. At some point about mile 8, I realized that if we managed to maintain that pace, we would finish at under three hours. I started to push us towards that goal, run a little harder, move a little faster. BWB figured this out in the middle of a scheduled walk break and gave me a hurt look, “Why are you pushing so hard? I thought this was about finishing with me.”

I paused. The drive to finish faster was mine, not his. When I had been pushing him, I thought it was because he would be even more proud of himself if we managed to finish so much faster than expected. I thought he would be delighted by that finish time, that the race would be even better for him. All of that was me, though — I was pushing my feelings, my goals, my interpretation of success and achievement, projecting them onto my husband. His goal was to finish, to finish around 3:15:00, and to finish together. Those were the goals I shared at the start of the race, and it wasn’t fair to decide on his behalf that he would be happier if I changed them for him mid-stream.

So I said, “You’re right, honey, I’m sorry.”

He looked at me suspiciously and asked me what the catch was.

I explained, apologized again, he forgave me, and we went on to finish the race.

Together.

Crossing the finish line with him was even more amazing than I expected it to be. If I hadn’t been slightly dehydrated at that point, I think I would have cried. We finished in 3:03:00, twelve minutes faster than expected may I point out. It was amazing and wonderful and beyond worth all of the effort and struggle.

BWB says he wants to do another half, and then start looking at a full marathon. I’ve never done a full, although I’ve wanted to. It seems big and scary and long, and I’m a little intimidated by the distance. That’s not going to stop us, though. We’re going to do our first marathon, and cross the finish line holding hands.

Together.

Right after BWB and I started dating, I went away on a trip.

Six months or so before I met BWB, my friends and I had decided we would go on a cruise for Thanksgiving. It happened in the most backwards way, with all of us sitting around bemoaning the horrifically bad spring we’d had that year, and someone said we all deserved a vacation. Yeah, someone else said, we should all go on a cruise or something. And then someone else said, hey, we SHOULD go on a cruise! And we all looked at each other and realized we were brilliant, and it was done.

A few months later, I was in the middle of falling madly in love with this crazy boy I just met, and the idea of spending an entire week without seeing him was bothering me more than I liked to admit. I tried to play it off, I really did, but at dinner one night the 6 other people on the boat with me all groaned and threw me out of dinner to go call him already! For pity’s sake, call him, put us all out of our misery! Apparently, I was not doing as well at covering up the missing-my-new-boyfriend as I thought I was.

In any case, while I was missing him on this cruise, I was looking for just the right present to bring him back. Something unique, more than a t-shirt or a keyring, but not so expensive as to be awkward for our 2-month-old relationship. Finally, on our last port day, I found it. There amidst a pile of knick-knacks in a junk shop in the Bahamas was a tiny little ship inside a tiny glass globe. It was nothing big, but it was perfect, and I wrapped it in socks and underpants and stuffed it inside a shoe (because that’s what everyone does with tiny glass globes containing ships, right?) and brought it home to him.

He loved it. I glowed. A month later, we said “I love you” for the first time, and about 6 months after that, we were engaged. I’m pretty sure the ship had something to do with it.

Last year when we were moving, the tiny glass globe got caught in a cord and was thrown off the counter while I tried to unpack. I cried and cried, and BWB came to find out why. He looked at the broken glass, and at me, and smiled. Picking up the still-intact sailing ship, he held it out for me to see.

“You didn’t break it. You set it free!”

This, my friends, is love.

Earlier this week, BWB put a pint of strawberries in the cart at the grocery store. This pint of berries came home with us, of course, and then proceeded to look sad in the fridge.

Yesterday, my husband asked me to make something cool out of them, because he wasn’t going to eat them and it would be very sad if they went to waste.

Tonight, having decided to make a tart out of them, I threw together some dough for the crust and stuck it in the freezer to chill. Meanwhile, BWB came home from his very long day at ICU and was poking around in the kitchen, looking for something to snack on. (Can you see where this is going?)

I went into the kitchen to set the oven to preheat and absently noted that my husband was pouring some sugar into his bowl of nice fresh strawberries. Such a shame, really, because strawberries are really plenty sweet without all that add-

“YOU’RE EATING THE STRAWBERRIES?!”

My dear husband froze in mid-motion. I could just about see his thoughts racing as he tried to figure out why this was evoking such a strong reaction. Weren’t they his strawberries? Did I want some? Are strawberries junk food now? What did he do now?

“Honey, do you remember asking me to make you something out of the strawberries?”

Realization begins to dawn and he nods.

“You know how I’ve been making something in here, with the tart pan out and the oven…”

Nod.

“…so the berries…”

At this point he looks stricken and explains that he didn’t MEAN to eat the berries, he just had one and it was so good and he thought the rest would also be good and he could put them back! Here, have berries!

I laughed and laughed and told him to eat the berries. There will be other berries, and the tart shell dough will be perfectly fine in the freezer for a while. Berries (even with sugar) are much better for you than strawberry tarts are, anyway.

Really?

Yes, really. I’m not mad, I promise.

He ate the berries. I turned off the oven.

I love my husband.

It is no secret that I love tradition and ritual.  They aren’t just about doing things the way they’ve always been done, though; to me, traditions and rituals create a safe space, a feeling of belonging.  Anything is fair game — if we’ve done it twice, it must be a tradition — but it is the traditions of my family and my faith which I hold closest to my heart.  As BWB and I build our life together as a married couple, we are establishing our own traditions, some of which are treasured childhood rituals and some of which are new to both of us.

One of the new to both of us traditions is Shabbat dinner.  While my family obviously never observed Shabbat, we did sit down to dinner together more nights than not.  Looking back, those nightly conversations were hugely important to my development as a person as well as my relationship with my family.  I am determined to give my someday-children the same thing.  Combining ritual, tradition, discussion, and food — it should really come as no surprise that I love the idea of celebrating Friday night Shabbat dinner in our home.

To that end, a few weeks ago I ordered The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat. A couple of the reviewers on Amazon had said it was helpful for non-Jewish mothers, and I have to agree.  While it didn’t answer all of my questions, it did answer most of them, and offered information I didn’t even know to ask about.  I’ve read it a couple times through, and I’m sure I’ll go back a few more times before I’m done.  I would definitely recommend it for anyone, mom or not.

Friday afternoon I called BWB to ask if he wanted to go to temple or not.  He said no, he was just too busy, and I could tell from his voice that he was super stressed.  I was exhausted myself, so I said I’d pick up some food on the way home and we could just stay in.

When I got home, he was upstairs studying.  I got out the kiddush cup and two little candles from our wedding.  The only white tablecloth we have has embroidered menorah and dreidels on it, but I put it on the table anyway.  The food was nothing special (a rotisserie chicken, red pepper strips and frozen corn for him and peas for me), but I put it on the plates and made it look pretty anyway.  A few weeks ago I made four small loaves of challah and froze them, so when this week’s loaf came out of the oven, I called him down for dinner.

“Oh, you can start without me.”

“Um.  No, really can’t.”

“…fine.  It’ll be about ten minutes.”

About ten minutes later a stressed out and distracted BWB came down the stairs, but as soon as he saw the table, his tense expression eased and his face lit up.  “What do we do now?”  I pulled out the book, and opened to the part explaining the prayers.

I covered my head with the wedding shawl one of my bridesmaids made for me, and somewhat sheepishly lit the candles. After waving my hands over the flames the way I’ve seen my Orthodox friend do, I said the prayer (almost from memory, even!).  He said kiddush over the cup, and then we followed the steps through the rest of the book, giggling a little from time to time.  Dinner was not excessively long, our conversation wasn’t particularly enlightened, and the soundtrack was the TV coming in from the other room where our housemate was watching something.  Despite all of that, I could see BWB re-centering.  At some point, he thanked me for setting it up.

“You needed Shabbat.” I said.

“Yeah, I did.  Shabbat Shalom, honey.”

I love tradition and ritual because of the shared sacred space they have the ability to create, any time, anywhere.  Last night, our imperfect prayers created a holy place in our house.  Amazing.  A slightly belated Shabbat Shalom, yall, and God be with you tonight and every night.

“Oh my gawd, I need chocolate so badly I can’t even stand it.”

I said this out of nowhere, and my husband looked confused.  I elaborated, “Seriously.  It’s so bad, I’m thinking about making brownies.”

“So… why don’t we go get some?”

“…we can do that?”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s 9:30, and it’s, like, almost bedtime… and… really?  We can do that?”

“We’re grownups.  We can totally do that.  Get your shoes.”

And so we did.  Have I mentioned lately how much I love my husband?

Growing up, my mother used to tell us about The Three Questions, a series of queries that would reveal great wisdom about a potential suitor, to be posed to a young woman by her parents.  They are:

1. What church does he go to?
2. What does his daddy do?
3. Who are his mother’s people?

Understand that my mother was speaking with her tongue firmly in cheek when she brought these up, and my sister and I often laughed at them as we grew older.  Still, it became an easy template for the conversations which began with, “So I met this guy…” and always involved butterflies in my stomach (and, in retrospect, probably my mother’s as well).  It’s more specific than a general, so tell me about this boy, and enough of a family legend not to feel like the third degree.  I admit to using them on my sister, as a matter of fact, for exactly that reason.

Knowing that, though, one might be able to see why I waited a little longer than usual to tell my parents about BWB.  Aside from the fact that there was something different, deep, and a little intimidating about our relationship right from the start, something I wasn’t ready to explain and didn’t want to jinx, there was the fact that I knew with one hundred percent certainty that the first question out of my mother’s mouth was going to be, “What church does he go to?” and then it would be out there on the table where we’d have to discuss it.

BWB and I had been discussing it already, of course.  We laughed about it a little, in that nervous way one laughs when it’s not really funny but the options aren’t all that great, but within the first three weeks of dating, we had established that neither of us intended to convert, baptism of my children was non-negotiable for me, and that we both could at least potentially see a future in which we managed an interfaith life together.  BWB acknowledged the necessity of these conversations, as he said he’d had friends who dated Christians for years in serious relationships, only to come to stunning revelations like, “what do you mean you aren’t planning to convert” when marriage entered the picture — needless to say, those were not stories that ended well.  Two and some change years later, I think it’s hysterical that we thought we had it figured out at that point, but I have to admit that the foundations of what we have now were established in those first few tentative conversations.

Still, despite those good intentions, I was still figuring out how I felt, what I felt, and what I intended to do about it, and so I waited to tell anyone, especially my parents.  Especially my mother, who was going to ask The Three Questions.

And she did.  It went something like this:

Me:  So there’s this boy…
Mama: I thought there might be. (I am guessing this was based on my sudden radio silence.) So tell me, (I could hear the smile in her voice as she entered into our familial litany) what church does he go to, what does his daddy do, and who are his mother’s people?
Me:  Well, his daddy is a cop, his mother’s people are from Chicago, and he goes to synagogue because he is Jewish.
Mama: Oh Jesus.
Me: …well no, actually, that’s kindof the point.

I don’t really remember the rest of the conversation. I am fairly certain it was awkward for both of us, as she worked on recalibrating for the new information and I tried not to sound defensive or let on to my own uncertainties.  In the weeks that followed, she asked a lot of questions which weren’t part of the big three, and weren’t ones either of us ever expected to have to be asking.  Are you sure this is something you want to do?  Have you talked to him about all this?  You know your children won’t be Jewish unless you convert — he doesn’t expect you to convert, does he?  Does he know you go to church, really go to church? I was hurt, not because she asked the questions, but because they were all questions I was already asking but hadn’t completely settled on answers for.  Time, I needed time.  We needed time.  Of course, that last question of whether he knew I went to church ended up being a little more prescient than I’d like to admit, but that’s another story for another post.

I know why my mother reacted the way she did, and it doesn’t have anything to do with BWB being Jewish, per se.  It has everything to do with a phenomenon she noted in a conversation with me many years ago when one of my dear childhood friends came out as a lesbian.  I was, at the time, startled by her mother’s cool reception to this information, since this woman was a vocal supporter of the gay and lesbian members of our church community.  When my mother explained her feelings on the matter, I understood a little better:

As a mother, you want your child’s life to be easy.  You don’t want them to have to struggle for anything.  You don’t want them to have to fight for what comes easily for other people.  You want to keep the sharp edges away from them, protect them, keep them safe.  When something happens that keeps them from having that smooth road in life, your heart just aches and you want to grab them back and keep them from the pain.  It is hard to accept that you can’t make it easy for them anymore.

I suspect this was at play in those conversations two years ago.  Many people do not approve of what we are doing, do not think this is an acceptable option, consider neither of us to be true to our religions.  One need look no further than the Amazon reviews of interfaith marriage books to find vitriolic attacks on interfaith couples as being disgusting and cowardly.  This life is not easy, and we don’t even have children yet.  I expect we have a bumpy road ahead of us, and I know that if my mother had the ability to do so, she would run out in front of us and kick all the rocks out of the way, hammer the lumps out of the cement, and personally berate any naysayers into a whimpering pile of jelly.  I love her for that.

By Christmas 2007, I knew I was in love with BWB (although I was waiting — agonizingly, painfully waiting — for him to say it first) and brought him home to meet my parents.  My mother gave me A Very Short Introduction to Judaism and my family fretted over whether we could have bacon with our eggs in the morning, or if it would upset my boyfriend.  Everything was fine, and BWB said later that he didn’t know why I was so worried because my mother was really a kind, lovely woman and a gracious hostess.  (He was right, of course.)

Sometimes when I tell people about The Three Questions, they get this horrified look on their face, as if I have just spewed some kind of antiquated, anti-feminist claptrap designed to preserve the sanctity of the class system and the fashionability of the corset.  I suppose in some sense, they could be viewed as such, but I don’t see them that way at all.  To me, the questions are a door being opened for dialogue; although I dreaded that initial conversation with my mother, it helped enormously to be able to prep a little, knowing what she was going to ask and that I wouldn’t have to bring up religion spontaneously.  It may sound peculiar, but I look forward to telling my children about the three questions as they grow up, and some day many (emphasis on MANY) years hence when they have to start a conversation with, “So I met this person…”, I will smile and reply with the questions they expect.

The answers, of course, may surprise me.

There was a wedding when the Rag Doll married the Broom Handle. It was a grand wedding with one of the grandest processions ever seen at a rag doll wedding. And we are sure no broom handle ever had a grander wedding procession when he got married.

There are several posts I want to write about the first two years of my relationship with BWB, posts which have been percolating for a long time.  I suspect I’ll end up writing them gradually and peppering them in amongst the current events, flashbacks until we’re all caught up.  It can be like Lost, or at least what Lost was like when I watched it, back before my Tivo ate the episodes and I didn’t have the patience to figure out what I’d missed.

In any case, this isn’t one of those posts.  This is the end of the story those yet-to-be-written entries will tell, and the beginning of all of the rest of the stories for the rest of my life.  (How’s that for dramatic?)  This post is about my wedding.

Blue Wind Boy and I were married one week ago, Halloween 2009, and it was awesome.

I’m not putting any “IMO” caveats on that, it was just awesome.

It was awesome because there were no major catastrophes the day of.  Everything went pretty much as planned, and the things which bobbled were so minor as to be not even worth mentioning.  Months of planning and stressing and going back and forth between my mother, my fiance, the site coordinator and the day-of planner all came together perfectly.  There were enough candles to make all the centerpieces and go around the fountain.  There was enough candy for the candy bar.  It did not rain.  The DJ was incredibly talented — as one guest said, he kept the party going without being the party — and the music was just what we had hoped for.  I am told the food was fantastic. (I didn’t eat more than a few bites, but am hoping for some pictures.)  I’d been prepared for that one disaster everyone says will happen, and it just didn’t.  For that, I am eternally grateful.

It was awesome because the dual-faith ceremony we labored over and negotiated with the priest and rabbi was everything I could have hoped for.  That’s saying quite a bit, because prior to about, oh, two years ago, I thought the biggest negotiation about my wedding ceremony would be whether we’d be having communion with the mass or not.  Joke’s on me, right?  You’d be surprised.

One of the reasons that I wanted to write this all down is that in the process of explaining my faith to Blue Wind Boy, I have come to deeper understanding of why the things I do are important to me.  This ceremony was not the one I had been dreaming about since I was a little girl, not the one I would covertly flip to in the Book of Common Prayer during less than inspiring sermons on Sundays and imagine how I would sound saying the words on that onionskin paper.  We did not get married in a church, thus negating years of evaluating churches based on how they would look in wedding pictures.  (I have other criteria too, people, I’m just saying.)  This was not the wedding ceremony I always thought I would have.  This ceremony, my ceremony, was more.

I told BWB early on in our engagement that even though we could, technically, have an Episcopal wedding (the rule is that only one of you must be a baptized Christian), I wouldn’t want to because it would be like negating him from the ceremony.  I think at the time I didn’t fully grasp what I was saying, but last Saturday I truly understood why that would have been incomplete at best.  Every word that was spoken during our ceremony was chosen because it was meaningful to us, to my husband and me.  Having both of our faith traditions embodied in the priest and the rabbi made me feel more keenly that this was truly a joining, a coming together of two people, two families, two cultures.  We were married in the eyes of God, with the support of both of our communities, and that was humbling.

That’s the other reason the wedding was awesome.  It was just plain fun.  There were people there from every phase of my life, from the town I grew up in, the SCA group I participated in as an early teen, my college years, and each frame since leaving college.  The look in my parents’ eyes was full of love and pride, my sister looked like a movie star, my bridesmaids were glowing, and my flower girl proved that it is not, in fact, possible to twirl too much when you are five.  My friends danced and laughed — every time I looked around, people were smiling and laughing.  My grandmother-in-law called my parents’ house a few days after the wedding and ended up speaking to my sister.  She had come down with a stomach flu the day of the wedding and was unable to make it, but she said she had heard nothing but high praise from the family when they returned to the hotel, “and we’re a very critical family, so that means something!”  If nothing else had gone right, if the candles all wouldn’t light and there wasn’t enough candy and it poured down rain and the food sucked, if everything had been totally haywire, I would still be happy with the weekend knowing that my loved ones all somehow had a good time.  As it was, I am ecstatic.

The point of all this isn’t to say that my wedding was sooo much awesomer than anyone else’s.  You’ll note that I have just said it was awesome — no -er.  Or -est.  The point is just that I am so incredibly grateful that I got to have such an amazing evening, one which still makes me glow when I think about it.  The love and support surrounding us was simply astounding.  This wedding, the one which was nothing like the one I thought I would have, was everything I could have dreamed of and more.  I fervently hope and pray that every woman, every person in the world really, gets to feel as blessed and happy as I did that night.  I can’t imagine a better way to begin a marriage.

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