Lessons Learned from Wedding Planning

The follow-up sentence to this title should read: from someone who is known as a control freak by everyone who knows her and also has mild OCD.

I realized how much time has passed since we got engaged when a co-worker a few days ago asked if I had found my dress yet, and I replied, “Yes, just this past November.”

Pause. Not November 2015. NOVEMBER 2014, OVER A YEAR AGO.

So yeah, we’ve been planning our wedding for quite a while now. And our wedding planner reminded us we only have 18 weeks left until our wedding, which ended up with Timmy and I dry heaving a bit at this news. Things haven’t felt all that stressful the last 6 months or so, simply because we got most everything completed as soon as we set the date.

I know I’m quite different from most people in this world. Organized doesn’t even begin to describe how I operate. I see the world not how it is, but how I can group like things with like and how quickly can I accomplish challenges and to-do lists. So once Timmy and I set the date, off I went like a horse out of the gate.

There are so many lessons I’ve learned over the process of planning a wedding for a date 1.5 years after getting engaged. I tried to give us enough time to do what we needed to do (from a different state) while also giving us a cushion of time to also do the dirty work of getting used to what life would be like as a married couple. So many lessons however were ones that came out of left field for me.

I originally scheduled dress shopping at only two small stores in Atlanta Thanksgiving weekend in 2014 simply to placate my sister and mother, who were quickly starting down the “when are you going to start planning” path. I figured dress shopping would calm them down.

Lesson #1: Expect the Unexpected

…like buying a dress before you thought you would and before you have a budget.

I had ZERO plans to buy a dress. And lo and behold, I found my dress at the last store we went into, La Raine’s Bridal Boutique in Virginia Highlands. Correction: my sister found my dress, which was the last one of the day, and I had already changed back into my clothes when my sister brought me the dress. I immediately said, “Oh. My. God.” when I put it on, and the consultant reminded me that this dress was the only one I had a reaction to.

And then I knew. Done. Check. Dress found.

The whole thing happened faster than I had intended, and all of the sudden, with that decision, wedding planning had begun. I wholeheartedly had planned on waiting MONTHS before starting any type of planning with Timmy.

Expectations mean next to nothing when it comes to wedding planning.

Even though it wasn’t the color I wanted, it wasn’t ever what I had envisioned, it was definitely my dress. Which leads me to my second lesson-

Lesson #2: Compromise Will Save You…and Your Sanity

I tried on maybe 20 dresses at both stores. And once I found my dress, I stopped the search and never looked back. I’m the best decision-maker ever (although some have called me impulsive, including myself). I make decisions quickly, with assertiveness and acceptance. Timmy, well, not so much.

I learned maybe 1 minute into our wedding planning that everything I learned about being with Timmy would have to be applied times 10 to the planning process or else we were going to kill each other. I would make a list of decisions that needed to be made, asked him to honestly decide if he cared about those decisions, and the ones he agreed to, I gave him 2-3 weeks to marinate before re-addressing the issues.

That way, I wasn’t all down his grill about deciding things on my schedule, and I still got a decision made by him in a timely fashion.

Obviously, not all decisions have worked like this, but I would say, once we found our groove, probably 75% of the decisions were solved in this way.

I have compromised on nearly every aspect that I thought I would have very strong opinions about. When it came down to it, if it seemed like Timmy felt stronger about something than I did, I let him have it his way. Now, some of those decisions are biting us in the ass a bit now, and I wish I had fought more for some of the things that are going exactly the way I predicted, but hindsight, blah blah blah.

Lesson #3: You Have to Let It Go

Making decisions between Timmy and I has never been an easy thing. I knew heading into this we would really be testing our relationship in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. At the end of the day however, we both realized that we had to let it go. Resentments? Let it go. Anger? Let it go. Confusion and frustration? Let it go.

And I don’t mean let it go like “never discuss it and get over it.” I mean, talk. Talk. More talking. Talk more than you thought you needed to. And then talk again.

Talking through everything that popped up, no matter how insignificant the emotion or issue, made us get on the same page. There was no other option than to be in sync with each other.

And after talking, we realized the issues or things we were so worked up about, NOW we could just let them go.

Lesson #4: You Have to Be on the Same Team. Period.

There has been some drama pop up here and there, like everyone experiences when you attempt to bring two families and two sets of friendships together. If Timmy and I had been divided on anything, we would probably not be wedding planning at this point anymore.

The first issue that ever popped up, the one that blindsided us completely, and had us scrambling to re-evaluate some friendships and trusted loved ones, FORCED us to be on the same team. He had to have my back and I had to have his. We knew we could NOT have opposing or conflicting statements, emotions, or decisions. Any sign of us not being together on it would have severely affected the emotional state of the other person and could have torn us apart.

Once we realized how strong our teamwork was and how it made our vision complete, we have been on the same team on everything else since then. There are no ifs, ands, or butts on this one.

Lesson #5: Still Date Each Other

This one got much easier once we moved back in together at the beginning of this month. Timmy and I hadn’t lived together in 2 years, so every weekend we spent together, going back and forth between Orlando and St. Pete was always filled with dinners out and about.

But during the week, it was usually a call once or twice a day, and then a quick FaceTime right before going to bed. Love was there, but connecting is quite challenging that way.

Once we moved back in, we promised each other a number of things that we’ll see how well we can stick to them over time. The one thing we HAVE done is cook meals and sit down at the dinner table nearly every night for almost 4 weeks. No t.v., no phones, no distractions. Just us.

It can be easy, after 6.5 years together, to start to take each other for granted. And yes, for the record, I’ve heard 90% of Timmy’s life stories a million times now. But that shouldn’t keep us from spending real time together. Time enjoying meals cooked together or by the other partner. Time looking at each other, time not rushed, time for us.

It’s only been a month of living in my less than 800 square foot, one bedroom, one bath apartment, a place we were CERTAIN would make us kill each other in no time at all, and we have grown so much closer, it’s insane. In our cozy little apartment, it feels more like home than any other place we’ve lived together.

Lesson #6: Use Who You Hire

We made about 93% of the decisions on our own. And yes, one of our first decisions was to hire a wedding planner. But I’ve only used her for her expertise maybe 3 times in almost a year.

Why? Like most things in life, sometimes it’s just easier when you do it yourself. I used the internet, my wise friends and family, and my gut to make decisions and hire vendors that fit our vision. I talked to my most organized friends and they gave me what they had when they were planning their own wedding.

I quite clearly can do this all myself. I involved Timmy on the things he asked to be involved in. But at the end of the day, I struggled with figuring out how to use my wedding planner.

And then, MONTHS after already printing out the invitations and having them sit in my apartment for close to 9 months now, my wedding planner caught the only typo that 6 of us who reviewed the invitation never caught.

And my heart fell through my butt.

Obviously (well not really as she had to explain this to me on the phone yesterday) proofreading every important document is a wedding planner’s duty. [Thankfully, the typo is not a big deal or else I would have to order brand new ones. Most people won’t even catch it when they receive the invite. Whew.]

So that naturally led to discussions of the guest list (which so far, has really been the only point of true contention between Timmy and I). And she reminded me of the million and one things to remember when addressing envelopes (which are stupid and I hate them), so she reminded me that she also can look through the guest list to review everything there.

I mean, these are things that it didn’t even occur to me to use her for. I didn’t need her help in picking out invites. We didn’t want to spend a fortune because everyone just throws them away anyways, and we weren’t going to design some floral, romantic, girly thing from scratch. We didn’t want to spend money on calligraphy since the envelopes are the first to go in the trash. But what she did remind me was that since the invites are technically from my parents, they would want calligraphy on the envelopes since it’s a thoughtful and very beautiful touch.

She helped steer us to some vendors that have been amazing so far, but the band was all us, color choices were me, outfits us, wedding page me, music selection us. Her expertise was so invaluable at the beginning when I didn’t know how to talk to vendors, how to look at proposals, how to not work with some vendors, spatial design and decor for a room the size of ours.

If you hire a wedding planner or day-of-coordinator, USE THEM. Don’t believe for a second, since you’re so organized, you don’t need them until the day of. I could’ve saved SO MUCH TIME just reviewing all my decisions directly with her instead of searching the internet like a mad woman for proper etiquette, yada, yada, yada.

Lesson #7: Poof! There Goes Your Budget

You have set ideas how things will go. I wanted to elope and avoid spending money of any kind. I wanted the whole thing to be about the two of us, that’s it. And Timmy felt very strongly that NO.

All of the sudden, we were planning a wedding that I didn’t really want. My parents gave us a budget (because they are amazing and OMG how incredible are they?!!) and it didn’t work with the amount of people on the list. Then they raised it. And it still didn’t work. And they raised it again. And the whole time Timmy and I kept fighting about the guest list and the amount of money I felt we were spending and at the same time wasting.

And then we had another budget increase from Timmy’s mother, and all of the sudden, our costs went crazy. It was like there was no limit on something I had desperately wanted limits for. And I felt crushed. Crushed by guilt. Crushed by the loss of the way I had wanted things to turn out.

If you don’t put your foot down, your budget will explode in your face. My parents gave us, quite frankly, a VERY healthy budget and it still wasn’t enough to satisfy some people’s desires. Instead of buckling down and saying from the very beginning, oh well, we can’t have everything and everyone we’ve known our whole lives at this wedding, we’re still running into issues around the guest list now.

But because we’re also on the same team, these later challenges have felt much easier to handle since we’re both shouldering the effort.

Lesson #8: Plan for the Marriage, Not the Wedding

Like I said before, we have had a long engagement intentionally. At the very beginning, I had a VERY hard time adjusting to this new course in life. I hated everything that we were doing and everything that we had to keep making decisions on.

And now, I’m loving it. I love planning. I love making decisions. We’re at a really good place where now all I am is excited for our wedding. I’m not dreading it, I’m not sad or guilty or anything else but stoked to party with all our friends. I’m so excited, some days I’m ready for it to be tomorrow.

But we 100% haven’t forgotten that the wedding is one day. The real thing is the marriage. The wedding is temporary, a memory that hopefully we’ll be able to store away as much as we can for as long as we can, but a marriage is forever. Whenever we’re with our married friends, one of my first questions is “What is your advice to us?”

I’m craving time with Timmy, even in our cramped apartment, because soon, he will be my husband (I’m still making gagging noises when I say that, so clearly I’m not 100% ready). I need to know him better, I need to trust him more than ever, I need to feel like we’re both fully committed to this partnership. Not that I haven’t felt any of those things before. I just need them more now.

Because marriage is the hard stuff. Picking out vases and candles and outfits and paper for invitations is not hard. That stuff is NOTHING compared to what kind of life marriage brings two people. And it’s a part of life that Timmy and I have zero context for because we’ve never been married.

It’s the fear and uncertainty of the unknown that is keeping my brain up at night sometimes. Even when my heart is settled and sure and dedicated.

So through all these lessons, this roller coaster of emotions spent on a million plus decisions for this wedding, I still repeat what I said almost one year ago:

“The happy is being with my partner, the happy is spending a life exploring each other and this world, the happy is making him laugh for years to come, the happy is in the celebration of this love.

The happy is Timmy. Which will be my mantra from here until our wedding day.”

♥, VB

The Days We Remember

There are moments in your life where you can remember your youth incredibly vividly, as though it happened yesterday. Time moves on yet it’s tinged with sadness as you realize that every day that passes is one more day that separates you from that time of innocence. Then without warning, there is a moment where you realize without a doubt, the door to your youth is closed, never to reopen again.

My last remaining grandparent died in September at the age of 101 and with her, she took my youthful days of no responsibilities, never ending fun, and joyful naivety.

There is something that happens deep inside when you lose your last grandparent. It’s like the ties to the past have been ripped off and that’s it, the link to your history has been irrevocably severed.

As Timmy and I were on our way to a close friend’s wedding on September 25, I looked down at my phone and saw 8 missed calls from my dad. I knew then it had happened.

I have had moments over the last month of incredible mood swings, moving from sheer joy to a sadness that feels deep and unsurmountable, like even if I had the will, the tears might never stop.

Three weeks ago, Timmy and I went to a Mark Knopfler concert in Clearwater. Timmy had seen him the night before in Melbourne and wanted to see him again with me, even though I wasn’t really that familiar with his music. These were emotional nights for him as he remembered his father and their bond over his music. We sat down in a theater that hadn’t been updated since probably 1992. Clearly being the youngest in the room, I looked around and made a passing comment to Timmy, “Look at this sea of white hair.”

Within seconds, I felt the rush of sadness move up my spine, into my throat, and out of my eyes. Overwhelmed. Despondent. Inconsolable. I cried for hours, and as the music played, all I could hear was the sadness in the notes, in the voices, in the harmonies.

I of course have lost people before, some suddenly, some with more preparation. I never knew my mother’s father, but I remember when I was around 2 years old, probably one of my first memories, my mother answering the phone and collapsing into tears, my father rushing to hug her. What my mother ended up sharing with Timmy and I before we left to go to Spain for my Yaya’s funeral was that the phone call was from my uncle telling my mother that her father had died days earlier and they had already buried him.

Imagine coming home from your family’s first trip to Disney World and having that be the first call you take. Before cell phones, emails, instant ways to connect. He hadn’t been able to contact my mother and so the family had to move forward with arrangements. I can’t even begin to understand the depths of grief and guilt my mom went to then.

We lost my father’s parents when I was in college, one right after the other, 9 months apart. My Abuelito had been sick for a few years, colon cancer, and I was able to see him over Christmas break my first year at NYU. He remembered me briefly, one of the few moments of clarity for him, and I’ll never forget his smile as he looked up and recognized me.

But I’ll also never forget his frailty, round the clock assistance, diapered and incoherent, looking so infantile and old at the same time. He passed and without reason or explanation, my sister and I missed his funeral.

My Abuelita, who hadn’t been separated from him since she was nearly 14 years old, was damaged after that. Never again to be the Abuelita I remembered growing up, who so doted on me and at every waking moment, tried to fill me with food and love. She moved through the world slowly and painfully, as though the weight of my Abuelito’s passing hung on her like a heavy cloak.

She passed quickly, had a stroke and was gone by the morning. This time, my family went to Panama together to celebrate her life. She had an open casket, which I refused to see as I knew I would never remember her any other way than dead in a coffin. I could do without that visual.

Looking back, I remember being sad at their passing, thinking how fast they both went. But I also remember not feeling the sadness, not grieving,  but instead saying I was sad, saying I was in grief. At the time, thanks to the antidepressant I was on, I was numb to everything and everyone, unable to shed a single tear for anything. For being homesick. For missing my friends. For 9/11.

And now, I was unable to feel anything for my grandparents, the ones who had sat through my dumb dances and performances in the living room before bedtime. The ones who would play dominoes and copas with me, and who would tell their stories about family and love and history. The ones I saw only a few times every 2-3 years because they lived so far away.

I always had the sense that my father was angry with me for a long time afterwards because of my lack of emotion, which I’m sure he and my mother took for apathy at my grandparents. I had assumed that they realized that due to the antidepressants, I simply couldn’t feel. I hope my dad knows in his heart that I miss them greatly, a void in my heart that can never be patched.

I am grieving over my Yaya in a very different way. First of all, I am actually grieving, which is a huge relief to be able to feel anything at all. But it has also felt like a dam breaking, one from which all of the emotions I couldn’t feel for my abuelitos is hitting me all at once.

Sitting there, in that concert hall with Timmy, I felt like I was drowning.

Grief can sometimes feel like a light breeze, swirling around you and reminding you of its presence. Other times, grief can feel like a lead smock, the kind you wear in an x-ray machine, a weight so heavy that it cements you to your seat, cutting off oxygen, and making you immobile.

My Yaya’s funeral started with an open casket viewing, which I wasn’t prepared for after having spent 7.5 hours in the air, straight to my aunt’s to change clothes, straight to the funeral home. I also chose not to see her so that I could remember her the way I always knew her: white hair in rollers, dressed impeccably, nails done, makeup spotless, ready to impress, even if she was staying home to crochet.

She would come stay with us in Atlanta usually 4-6 months at a time while I was growing up. She would be there, cleaning the house, crocheting, or watching Univision when we got home from school. I remember she always said a prayer before sleeping and she never took her wedding band off.

She had the best stories, like the nudist who constantly invited her to a nude beach in Spain, but to whom she always politely declined. Or her gorgeous legs she said garnered her nonstop compliments when she walked to the market. She laughed with us when we poked fun at her, always when she tried to say anything in English, a language she didn’t understand. When Santa Claus came out as “Sando Khan”, or Disney World as “Sidney Gol”, or Michael Jackson as “Mickey Johso”.

I remember the way she danced when Spanish music came on, her smile when she saw our friends running to greet her, the way she couldn’t stop laughing when my father would crack jokes with her, her nightly beer because she didn’t really like wine, her love, her light.

And now I think of her absence all the time, like the flamenco show we saw last night at Columbia Restaurant. Our wedding that she won’t be at. The fiance she never met. My twin nieces she never held.

When the attacks happened in Paris last weekend, I had finished my TEDxUSFSP talk and was coming out of the ballroom on a high. I checked Facebook on my phone and immediately realized something bad had happened. It wasn’t really until the next day when I had time to read about the attacks that the fear and sadness began to overwhelm me.

Timmy and I headed to the airport for the Auburn vs. UGA game bright and early Saturday morning, and although I couldn’t care less about football, I was there to support him. But I shed tears in the stadium, sitting in the shade, sunglasses on. The whole time I struggled to put down my phone, to remain present, to be in the moment instead of far away in despair and grief.

Because although I didn’t know anyone in Paris, it was too familiar, this relationship I have with death now, it’s too close and too much a part of me. I began losing people I care about at 19 and it hasn’t stopped. 9/11, my grandparents, one high school friend, my best friend, another high school friend, three high school friends, four, five, my grandmother…it never ends.

I remember the panic attacks after Lindsay died, my first real brush with unexpected death. The inability to focus and move through the day normally.

Now, there are moments during the day where I am gripped with such an intense fear of losing my parents, I lose my breath. The anxiety holds me still and I can almost hear my own heart stop.

I miss my Yaya. I miss my friends. I miss my Abuelitos. I miss my childhood in a real visceral way, which is how I know that the door is closed.

I can’t go back.

The grieving never stops. The crying, however, does.

♥, VB

Rough Go

That’s been me lately. Having a rough go of it. It’s like a switch has been thrown and I’m in the funk.

This whole wedding planning thing is OVERWHELMING. Capital letters all the way.

I don’t say this for pity or to be dramatic. I know there are worse things happening globally, there are things that need attention beyond my little world. I know people would love to be in a position of planning an over-the-top wedding with all the fixins. But I am completely overwhelmed.

I’ve been trying to find the happy medium, the balance, but let me tell you, when your ideal wedding was a courthouse getaway that has now been turned into a full-blown wedding extravaganza, it’s hard to find the healthy grip on life again.

All the compromises, I’ve heard them and pitched them, so no need to offer advice on how to find the middle ground, either. Destination wedding? Timmy vetoed that a LONG time ago. Courthouse wedding then have a big party? No difference in the overall price, so not really worth compromising on. Eloping? I think I would greatly regret it. Split the cost? I. am. poor.

I don’t need any, “Hey girl, you’ll be fine!” and I especially don’t need any, “Just get over it and have fun!” None of those help, and in fact, they make me feel worse.

The budget just keeps climbing and climbing so fast I’m having anxiety and trouble sleeping. I’m feeling such an overwhelming (there’s that word again) amount of guilt mixed with appreciation…I don’t really think there’s a word that fits the feeling that has embedded itself into my veins. My parents have offered to pay for the wedding, which holy shit, is just about the most generous thing they’ve done for me since, oh I don’t know, paid for all of my education and everything I’ve ever needed ever.

How do you accept a gift like that when you expected all the gifts to have ended by now?

I have felt physically ill when I see how much this wedding is already costing, and I think back to all those times (and there were MANY times) I scoffed at the wedding industry and couldn’t believe people spent that much money on one day that goes by likethat.

I guess I am now one of those people. Never say never, I guess.

Don’t get my intentions here wrong. I am not unappreciative. In fact, I’m so appreciative, I can’t stop crying. I seriously have cried nearly every single day for over a week, and we’ve only been wedding planning for like 5 weeks now. First it was the guest list that just about stopped my heart. Then it was the searching for a venue in a city and state we don’t live in, which makes the necessity of finding a place that much greater so we can stop worrying about it and not have to fly back and forth a million times. Then it was the list that our wedding planner handed to us with a never-ending list of things to do that shortens my breath. Then it was the year anniversary of Jake passing, which was just the cherry on top of a guilt-ridden, weepy, anxiety-producing sundae.

I will get to a place where I’m ok with all of this, I know I will. I will feel immensely happy and appreciative without the guilt. I’m not quite there yet, and I have to be ok with that too. We all have a process, and considering this is the first and last time I will ever do this, I need to move through the shock to get to the happy.

The happy is being with my partner, the happy is spending a life exploring each other and this world, the happy is making him laugh for years to come, the happy is in the celebration of this love.

The happy is Timmy. Which will be my mantra from here until our wedding day.

♥, VB

Our Engagement: Behind the Story

You know how little girls dream about wedding dresses and perfect grooms and being a bride? Yeah, well, I was never one of those girls.

I never really gave serious thought to getting married. Even when the thought would cross my mind, the idea of being linked to someone forever didn’t really seem like a realistic possibility. It didn’t pain me or worry me; it just didn’t sound realistic.

As someone who has been independent or seeking freedom in any small way since I was little, I could only imagine being with a partner who had certain qualities. And even “being with” didn’t include forever. My partner was a nebulous figure, never with a discernible shape or gender, just someone who had the following characteristics:

  • likes to dance or can at least have fun on the dance floor
  • someone who is independent-minded and self-sufficient
  • someone who is kind and respectful
  • someone who makes me laugh
  • someone who makes me feel safe
  • someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously
  • someone who allows me to be me

I dare to say that’s a pretty mature list for a kid to have. But it was no joke. That’s absolutely the kind of future partner I wanted.

Time moved along, and I went in and of out relationships, sometimes successfully and sometimes with great grief and heartache. As I grew older, the idea of marriage grew more distant and terrifying to me. I saw people getting married, very young, without much thought to how marriage would greatly change a person’s ability to define themselves on their own terms. I judged and judged and judged because I didn’t get it. How could you marry someone, how could you pledge to love someone else forever when you hadn’t really gotten the chance to love yourself, to be happy with yourself, to become yourself?

I graduated college then I graduated from my master’s program. I took a miserable fellowship at the CDC because the economy tanked and I had no other real options. I broke up with a boyfriend because we weren’t compatible. I relished my freedom from that dead-end relationship, lived it up at night with my girlfriends, and basically came back to equilibrium.

And then Timmy walked into my life.

After chatting on FB after nearly 7 years of no contact, we had a friend date at Eclipse di Luna. He picked me up in his traditional bear hug, told me I looked great, asked how my job was going and if I was making good money. Wait what? Making good money? How is that an appropriate question to ask someone after not seeing them for years?

Timmy: “I forgot my wallet so you’ll have to pay tonight.”

Me: “I’m never going to let you forget this.”

He says it was an accident, but a happy one at that because it led to our first real date in which he “paid me back”. We stayed at Joey D’s Oak Room for 3 hours, with servers doing sidework and playing cards, vacuuming around us, waiting for us to leave any.minute.now. We had our first kiss in that parking lot, and I knew that things were seriously about to change in my life.

Would I say I knew he was “the one” from the beginning? No. Not even a little bit. All I knew was that I had fun whenever I was with Timmy. He made me laugh, he made me feel safe, he made me feel comfortable. In a total “that’s not like her” move, I made a promise to myself that I would see where things went until I no longer had fun with him.

Well, I think we can all agree that year 4 of our relationship — moving to FL, living in Lakeland, Timmy and his medications — WAS NOT FUN. We both struggled a lot last year, and I went back and forth, deciding whether to continue in this relationship or strike out on my own again. I’m so glad I knew the real Timmy and that I knew in my heart he would come back to me again. I knew we could probably never go back to how we once were, but we could find a new, happy, more mature place in our relationship.

The past 4 years have been full of lots of ups and downs, but through all of it, I remained sure that I did not want to get married. My distaste for those early engagements, for those getting married for all the wrong reasons, pushed me to the other extreme, where I was more willing to live like Oprah and Steadman than give any real credence to marriage. I know that commitment is in the heart, not on paper. You’re either committed to each other or you’re not.

But after coming out of the darkness that was last year — the constant fights, being isolated, the death of Jake, our mutual grieving of not only our friend but the passing of a lighter time in our relationship — changed our course forever. With lots of discussions (and I mean LOTS), we intentionally came to the decision that we were now ready to be responsible for each other, legally and fiscally.

That isn’t super romantic, I know, and I’m sure a lot of y’all were disappointed when we said that I knew the engagement was coming in Italy and that I had designed my ring. But for us, this engagement isn’t a spontaneous, romantic, sweep-me-off-my-feet gesture. This is an intentional, joint decision about the logistics of our lives as adults.

We also are now ready to commit ourselves for life in front of our friends and family, so yes, we get that this is also about romance and love. But I have a partner that knows me so well, he didn’t dare try to make this decision without including me. In fact, when I tried to send him ideas for rings that I liked, he flat out said, “No way. I know you, and you are so particular, there’s no way I’m trying to design something that you have to wear for life. You need to 100% love what you get.”

Months before we left for our trip to Italy, I had a conversation with Timmy at lunch. I wanted to have a serious talk about our engagement and future marriage. But before I could get the words out, I burst into tears. I had never imagined taking this step before and I was wholly unprepared for the flood of fearful emotions that hit me. Getting engaged was so overwhelming for me, I couldn’t even discuss what I had feared my whole life without getting emotional.

My fears of having my identity subsumed by his last name, losing a huge part of my identity as an independent woman, not being able to fully control how people will perceive me once I’m married, the unjust inequality of the woman losing her name and the male just continuing, as is…it was just too much and my fears spilled out as fast as the tears streaming down my face. Whether those fears were grounded in reality or not didn’t matter. Those fears were as real to me as anything has ever been.

The shock of that moment, I think it really hit Timmy that this was going to be the most major step I had ever taken, way beyond moving to NY for college without knowing a soul, going to grad school, trying to get a job in a recession, becoming a self-sufficient, tax-paying adult, moving to FL without knowing the next steps.

So there we were in Italy, overlooking miles and miles of Tuscan wine country behind a centuries-old castle, me with my camera strapped around my neck and my iPhone out, ready for pictures. I turned around, and Timmy was on his knee, holding the ring in his hand.

And I immediately wanted to throw up.

Even knowing it was coming, the weight of the moment still hit me like a train. With this engagement, we plan on committing ourselves to each other in front of everyone we’ve ever loved. We will legally be responsible for each other in very real, adult ways that could have serious consequences. People will automatically assume I’ve taken his name and say, “Hello Mrs. Teck.” I will have to change tax documents, create a living will and power of attorney documents,  I mean, things are about to really change in ways I’ve never prepared myself for.

We haven’t started really planning anything for the wedding. We’ve had conversations about reception ideas, food, music, but we have no date, we haven’t officially asked friends to be a part of our wedding party, no venue chosen. The more I think about it, the less willing I am to just jump into this, even though we all know I LOVE PLANNING.

It took me 31 years to think I could get engaged. The feeling of being ready to get married doesn’t come overnight, especially when you’ve fought it off for this long.

So to those who are dying for us to move things along, give us time, and we’ll get there. Be happy for us now, in this moment, because we want to enjoy it for as long as possible.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from being with Timmy, it’s that planning only gets you so far, and then out of nowhere, the most special/amazing/unfortunate/crazy things will happen and you’ve got to be flexible enough to absorb them and move forward with love, honesty, and respect.

After I said yes, we hugged and cried. And then he whispered in my ear, “Nothing will change.” And I thought to myself, “This person is the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

♥, VB

Not Enough MINI Dreams

My dream car has been a MINI Cooper since I have no idea, but it seems like forever. After seeing The Italian Job (the remake), I became even more obsessed with owning the sportiest little car this side of the Atlantic.

In 2007, after wrestling with what used to be my dream car, the first Ford Focus, it quickly became a piece of crap as domestics tend to do, but this was unexpected. It only had 42000 miles on it since 2000. That’s right, 7 years and only 42000 miles, but the noise it made upon starting, you would’ve thought it was a 1978 Buick boat-car. It ran like shit, and it was super clear that I had to get a new car before grad school or else I would inevitably end up stranded on the side of 400 (which is never a good place to be during rush hour in Atlanta).

So upon weighing all my options, costs, benefits, etc., the MINI Cooper came out on top. I designed it on their website, and within days, my very own, custom built MINI arrived in Atlanta. It was mine, ALL MINE. And it was loyal, and beautiful, and kept me company through tons of good times, sad times, and moving on up.

Then the extended warranty expired last year and all the expensive shit started breaking. OF COURSE IT DID. And after the 3rd item that would’ve cost almost $2000 to fix , I decided enough was enough. My relationship with my bright yellow MINI Cooper was coming to an end at 99, 400 miles. Here are some of the things we did together over 7 years:

  • Got me through grad school in style. This included every social event, drive to the lake, and vacation I took that didn’t require someone else and their luggage to be in the car with me.
  • Transported me from Sandy Springs to Decatur to Smyrna and back my 2nd year of graduate school, which was quite a lot of driving each day.
  • Helped me get through my last relationship and make it to Timmy, the ultimate achievement.
  • Comforted me through 3.5 years at CDC, where I hated my life and was bored to tears every day.
  • Moved me to FL (where I had to leave half of my stuff in Atlanta because you can’t actually move anything in a MINI), where great things have followed.
  • Drove me through hour+commutes from Lakeland to St. Pete and back, where most Friday evening drives resulted in nervous breakdowns and tears.
  • Moved me to St. Pete, where life is now calm and beautiful.
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    MINI Cooper, you shine like the sun

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    Small enough to hug, big enough to love

I’m still grieving the loss of my companion. She was beautiful and fun and a joy to drive. But in anticipation of getting older and perhaps starting a family one day (I said PERHAPS), it’s obvious that a MINI Cooper just won’t be practical with children and all their mountains of crap (literal and figurative).

I nannied in grad school, and getting the youngest in and out of the car seat was a pain in the ass then, but now is a literal pain in the back, and I wouldn’t ever be able to do that with my own children. So two doors were out. Four doors are in.

And now we come to the newest member of the Beltran family. My newest ride, my newest companion who will see me through more good times and bad…

The MINI Cooper Countryman

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4 doors of beauty

the NYU Sticker is the only thing remaining from my last MINI

the NYU Sticker is the only thing remaining from my last MINI

hello beautiful

hello beautiful

I fought the 4 door as long as I could. I am a MINI purist, which means that I believe that the only true MINI is the original hatchback version. But I sucked it up because I’m more of a planner than an optimist, so here it is. The car of my dreams, expanded.

♥, VB