The Butterfly Conservatory

Oh, about a year ago, we were trying to decide where in the Florida Keys we wanted to get married. Nick proposed on January 30, 2010.

We started talking about getting married within our first year of dating. Fast, right? Way too fast for me. I knew there was something special about Nick from the first time we met, January 1, 2006—but I met him during a very dark time in my life. My divorce was not final, and my mother was about to lose her fight against Cancer. The feeling of absolute abandonment was overwhelming during that time, and I was afraid that I was just searching for somebody else who would have me instead of someone who was worthy of me.

Part of me could not understand why someone would want to get mixed up with someone who still had a lot of rough times ahead. I had a lot of internal struggles about the relationship during the initial months. I talked myself out of ending it a handful of times because the selflessness of his love could be unbearable at moments. I was grieving deeply. I wanted to build a cocoon around myself and shut out the world…but then he was there, forcing me to face the guilt of living, of being able to feel.

I did not end it, obviously. That would have been a very stupid decision indeed, and I would have regretted it forever. By the end of the first year, Nick had ordered information packets for destination weddings at inclusive resorts. They sat in a periodicals basket for years as a standing FYI.

During the years but before he proposed, Nick changed his planning from a destination wedding to a very private affair with a couple of friends. I was busy with school at the time and pretty much gave him carte blanche with whatever he wanted to do. I’ve always focused on one thing at a time rather than getting involved with details…but that’s okay, because Nick is the opposite. I never asked him the reason for the shift because I did not have a strong preference.

So, the Florida Keys it was. We have vacationed there, had fond memories there. When he finally got around to asking the question, we started planning seriously (like, with down payments).

Of course, we first thought of a beach. Using the beach may be affordable, but you are also at the mercy of other beach-goers walking through your ceremony and of course the weather. We know people who own a condo in the Keys and live there during the cold Wisconsin winters. They sent us information about the Key West Butterfly Conservatory, and immediately I fell in love with the idea.

Without ever walking through the conservatory, we booked it and sent a down payment. We had our first walk-through four days before we got married. Even with crowds of people, I was struck by the idea that it reminded me of how I imagined the Garden of Eden. Lovely instrumentals hovered gently above the exotic plants. Light filtered in through the branches creating beams of light splashing on the narrow walkways. The air was so heavy with humidity that it felt like angels’ kisses against my cheeks as we moved along the path. And floating above us, and around us, almost as if in a euphoric state, were hundreds of colorful birds and butterflies.

I was so excited that we would have that magical place all to ourselves four days later. Meanwhile, I learned why Nick made the decision to have a private ceremony. He thought that if we had a traditional wedding, I would keenly feel the absence of my mother. He wanted nothing but happiness to enter my mind on our wedding day. See what I am saying? He’s a details person! What a sweetheart to think of something that I hadn’t quite figured out how to handle yet, and how fitting that I would feel such a spiritual connection to the place where we would make meaningful promises.

When the day came, everything just seemed to fall into place. For two such people—one who never planned to remarry, and the other who never expected to marry in the first place—I guess the lesson is to let life sing its own tune instead of trying to write the score. Butterflies fluttered around us, but I could only focus on Nick who was doing his damnedest not to cry. After the ceremony, a butterfly landed on my dress and stayed there for quite some time (posing for many pictures). I am normally the philosophizing sort, but I was distracted that day (I can only focus on one thing at once, remember?).

Someone told me later that as soon as she saw the pictures, her first thought was that that butterfly was a sign that my mother was there with me.

It may be just that time of year, but that thought makes me tear up.

A few days ago, Nick accompanied me for the fourth time on my annual visit to the cemetery. As with every other year, he walked before me to create a walkway through the snow, bending down to clear the accumulation from the name and dates on her gravestone. The snow began to fall as I knelt upon a blanket and remembered. As I stood up to leave, Nick remarked on the snowflakes that fell upon his black fleece. “Aren’t these the most perfect snowflakes you have ever seen?”

I looked down at her final resting place and nodded in agreement, “They are.”

I guess all that’s left now is happily ever after.

Riding the Upswing

We have been home just over two miserable weeks now, from what was a truly wonderful two weeks in Florida (i.e. the only state in the entire country without any snow). On the way to work on Friday, my car told me the actual temperature outside was at -8°F.

Nick was showing the first signs of illness during our last night in Florida. It was after 9:00 when we walked back to our resort from Epcot to make sure that they had our return flight information for the following morning. The plan was to update the resort’s records and then go back to the park (Epcot had extended hours that day, and the park was open until midnight). After we got the flight business worked out, we decided to save the rest of our Epcot adventure for the next time.

Meanwhile, Nick dissolved into chills and cold sweats while I packed. He had a rough vacation!

Speaking of packing, I am a total convert to the whole clothes-rolling business! I have never been on such a long vacation before, and I went about packing like an absolute idiot. Naturally, as is my custom, I had enough underwear for about six months—but I also packed way too many clothing options. Half of my return suitcase was clothing that I never got around to wearing (though, I am happy report that I did wear each of the fours pairs of shoes that I packed multiple times)!

So, lesson learned there—but it was awfully nice to have options.

For the flight TO Florida, I packed in traditional stacks of folded clothing, which also appeals to my OCD sensibilities. Neat piles: they just make you sleep better at night, don’t they? Well, neat piles also make you sit on your luggage just so that you have the ability to zip it shut. Luckily, the luggage was relatively new and little used in the years since Nick’s mom gave it to me for Christmas, or I would have feared bursting seams.

By the time I was packing to fly HOME, I had the same volume of clothing plus a whole bunch of extra clothing and trinkets purchased during vacation. My stacks of folded clothing towered over the lip of the suitcase, teetering like a Jenga tower with too many support blocks missing. Resigned, I decided to give rolling a shot.

Whoa. I. Had. No. Idea. What. I. Was. Missing. Not only did all of my possessions now fit comfortably in the confines of my luggage, but I also had the capacity to pack some of Nick’s things that his luggage burped out. So, like I said, I’m a total convert. On the downside, being able to pack more compactly allows luggage to weigh more. With a 50-pound maximum (before major fees), I was sweating a little bit until the scale stopped at 47.

So, back to illness, and on that score, Nick. The journey home was surely miserable for him. I have never had to travel while I am feeling under-the-weather, much less wishing for death. He was all sweaty and passed out next to me for the 170 minute flight. Between him breathing all over me, and the symphony of coughing assaulting my ears in stereo from other passengers, I knew my days were numbered.

My first day two days at work were fine, but I was feeling a bit sluggish by Wednesday, and miserable by Thursday. By Friday, I did something that I almost never do: I called in sick. Throughout the last week, I keep thanking my lucky stars that I am done with school, that I am done with weddings stuff, that I actually have time to be sick.

I am starting to get around to some post-wedding stuff. I posted a scattering of photos to Facebook for my friends there to view. I am ordering wedding photos today. I have the photos that Jeff was nice enough to take for us that I will upload to our Flickr site today as well.

I started submitting documentation for my name change on Friday—oh, and I completed my degree application to get my bachelor’s degree printed with my new name. Also on the agenda this week is exercise…I think my lung capacity is finally getting out of the red wheezing zone!

Hopefully we will both be in excellent health next weekend and can go snowshoeing. All in all, life is looking pretty darned good! For now, here is a picture of a tee shirt we saw in Key West. We totally should have bought one for each of us!


Epcot Theme Park

After nearly two weeks in Florida, it was time to come home. Our plane touched down in Milwaukee last Saturday. Poor Nick was sick at both the beginning of the trip and the end, battling major fatigue, chills, and cold sweats during our flight home. I read a book while he slept, enjoying my view. When I saw the ground turn white, I knew we were getting close to home. **sigh**

My lovely cousin house/cat-sit for us while we were away, and she gave a place a good scrub before she left. We walked into homey scents of apple-cinnamon and wood polish. It felt so nice to come home to that: thank you, Michelle! Plus, Sophie seemed to survive our absence unscathed. She starts acting skittish and all psychotic after Nick and I have been gone a long weekend, so imagine our surprise coming home to find the perfectly well-adjusted and loving feline that we had left two weeks earlier!

Nick wandered to the couch and basically stayed there until Sunday evening. I had planned to log into work and start cleaning up my emails, but I wasn’t quite ready for vacation to be over yet! Instead, I spent a lazy Sunday in front of the television with my new (sick) husband.

After the wedding, we spent one more day in the Keys before renting a convertible and heading north. We spent a day in Miami Beach touring the art deco district before continuing on to Walt Disney World in Orlando. God, I love Florida. If only I could make the same living there!

Disney was wonderful! I had been to Epcot as a teenager with Michelle and her family, but I never stayed at a Disney resort, nor had I visited the other theme parks. I had a blast! I have read that a lot of companies send employees to Disney’s customer service training, and boy do I see why! They make everybody—everybody—feel special. On the night before we left, we had a message on our phone that we had a delivery waiting for us when we were back in the room:

Chocolate-covered Strawberries: Disney Style

The strawberries were delicious. White chocolate Mickey came home with us and is resting in the freezer, waiting for our reception party.

Today was my first day back at work, and I logged on to find 500 emails waiting for me. Reading emails all day is kind of tiring. Among the emails were several meeting request…my pristine Outlook calendar became all cluttered pretty quickly. I assume this week will be a bit frenzied, but I will try to get to some colorful stories from the trip eventually!

All pictures from our time in Florida (excluding wedding pictures at this time) can be found in our Wedding Vacation set at Flickr.

…gonna get married!

It’s here! 1-1-11!

Five years ago today, Nick and I went on our very first date. We went to Starbucks to sip coffee and chat. He was not a big coffee drinker, but he knew that I was. He always puts my wishes before his own, and I am very fortunate to have found such a loving, generous, and selfless man to spend the rest of my life with.

We had an enjoyable new year’s eve celebration in Key West last night. Jeff and Kara arrived the day before, and we spent the entire day sight-seeing and relaxing. After sunset, we watched the the shoe drop and toasted the end to a magnificent year (over and over again).

Five years ago, I was caught in a storm. I did not see a break in the clouds, nor could I find a silver lining. I never would have believed that I could reclaim this sense of peace and contentment. Thank you for holding my hand, Nick.

Well, at about seven hours to go, I’ve got places to go, people to see, primping to do! We have been relatively good about uploading our vacation photos to our Flickr site. Click here if you would like to take a glance at our vacation so far.

Happy 2011, everybody…onto the next chapter!

Sombrero Beach