Cruisin’ into Stress

So this post has sat in draft form for nearly 3 months because as usual, life got in the way. Because the outside world keeps stressing me the hell out, I thought now would be as good a time as any to relieve our big cruise vacation at the end of July.

We had originally planned on going to Belize with another couple and those plans fell through pretty quickly. My boss didn’t let me take the original start date of the vacation off after all, and then we waited too long and the couple couldn’t go. We thought about what else we could do since we could still take a week off, but just not go to Belize anymore since we also waited too long to get our money refunded (don’t worry, we used the credit for a trip to the Bahamas in December, so it all worked out just fine).

I ended up finding a 7-night cruise that took us from Fort Lauderdale, Grand Cayman, Honduras, Belize, to Cozumel aboard the Caribbean Princess from Princess Cruise Lines.

I absolutely LOVE cruises! There’s just something about boarding and not having to worry about anything: no driving, no taking luggage all over the place, no having to worry about drinking or where to eat or how to get to different places. You just get on the boat, unpack, and let the ship take you to the next location.

With the exception of maybe 4 major cruise lines, I’ve now been on them all at least once. I had never been on Princess but had only heard good things, so we booked and off we went!

And it wasn’t that great.

Let’s just say that the week started with me PMS-ing haaaaaarrrdd, and I wasn’t exactly the most delightful person to be around. Combine that with Timmy’s incessant lateness, and we didn’t have the best start or middle part to the trip. It was like the perfect storm of ugh.

The boat was beautiful but old, and many areas really REALLY needed an update. Our room was in the very back with a beautiful view and a huge balcony, but other than that, it was very late 80s in decor and nothing incredibly special.

Added to this delightful mix was the HORRID customer service we received from most of the wait staff at nearly all the locations except the specialty restaurants that cost extra,  the lackluster food selection, and we were left totally underwhelmed. And we spent a pretty penny on this trip, from the additional packages, massages, drinks, room, and food…just 100% disappointing all around.

We actually left one dinner early and ended up skipping our last two nights of the main dining service because our servers were just that bad. I’ve really never experienced anything like the service we had on board. At all the bars, the coffee places, the frozen yogurt spot, all of it was terrible. I’ve had better service on Carnival, which is just for like spring breakers and 20 year olds. I’ve had better service anywhere but Princess.

But let’s not dwell on the bad (believe me, we did enough of that on the trip). The excursions were the saving grace of our trip. Everything we did on port was something active and totally worth it. We’re usually not excursion people because they cost so much most of the time, but this trip we agreed we wanted to see the sites in a unique and active way.

Our first stop was Georgetown, Grand Cayman. We’d both been here before, so we decided to sign up for a bike ride around the town, which was super fun. We saw the major sights (including the Turtle sanctuary we stopped at during our Disney Cruise 5 years ago), sweated a ton, but definitely spent a unique afternoon seeing Georgetown!

Our next stop was Roatán, Honduras. I had never thought to go to Honduras, but this little tiny island was so interesting. We took about an hour-long ride to get to the other side which was totally uninhabited and free of most tourists. We passed through some of the most abject poverty I’ve seen. It’s always so hard to go these types of places but you know tourism is their main economy so support is necessary. This day, we did horseback riding in the ocean, which is an item we can now safely check off the bucket list. The views were incredible, the staff was amazing there, and we had a really relaxing, memorable time there.

The next day we were in Belize City, Belize, which, if you can believe it, English is the main language spoken there! We were so surprised, expecting to speak in Spanish first, which we still did because practice makes perfect. In Belize, we booked a zip-line tour of the jungle and underground cave tubing adventure. It took us almost an hour and a half to reach our location but the tour guide was one of the best we’ve ever had because it only felt like 30 minutes! We learned a crazy amount of information, like most Belizeans had kept panthers as pets before an educational campaign told them this wasn’t the best idea, most Florida orange juice contains a majority of Belizean oranges, and more! After our adventure above and below, we got some fresh coconuts (yum!) and when we did the additional rum, the bartender went overboard and I’m pretty sure my coconut ended up being 70% rum.

Our last stop was Cozumel, Mexico. I’ve been here, honestly, I don’t even know how many times. It’s such a popular cruise stop, and I’ve done the bar drinking, partying, and seeing the ruins before. Timmy had seen ruins in Belize in high school, so we made the decision together to do something totally different and took a cooking class instead.

This ended up being my favorite day the entire trip! We each had our own stations, and there were only 5 of us there: one other much older couple, a woman from Montreal, and us. We made delicious food from start to finish (nearly. It would have been even better if we’d been able to make our tortillas from scratch) and the staff was amazing.

The best part was when they learned I spoke Spanish. You would’ve thought I was a goddess who came down from heaven, the way they treated me. It made me laugh so hard because it reminded me of our senior year trip to Cancun when my mother and her best friend were our chaperones. One night, they went to dinner and when the staff learned that they were Spanish, OMG, it was like their own personal spring break. The waiters were just lavishing attention on them, giving them an entirely free bottle of Bailey’s, and were just crazy about them!

The chefs were all about me, let me tell you. If I ever need a self-confidence boost, I know EXACTLY were to go! 🙂

We also didn’t factor in the fact that we live in a beach town year-round now. When we went on our last cruise, we lived in hell-hole Lakeland, so a Caribbean trip was oh-so-needed. This time, we were like, “Oh cool, more hot weather. Nice, more palm trees. Cool, clear blue water again…” Not to sound jaded, but St. Pete is amazing and we’re no longer in that head-space where a trip in the Caribbean is a needed getaway.

Unfortunately, the cruise brought some crazy news regarding both Timmy and my jobs that undid any relaxation our amazing massages gave us (and they were no doubt, the best massages we have ever had). I’d give this trip overall a C+. It certainly wasn’t our worst trip together, but it definitely doesn’t land amongst the best (other than our excursions, which truly were memorable and awesome).

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our anniversary package

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one of the last nights on the cruise

Oh well, we can’t win them all, can we?

♥, VB

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Hi There

Long time, no talk to. I just wanted to stop by and say hi and say I’m sorry for being MIA here. It’s not you, it’s me. It was 2017, it was politics, it was anxiety, it was exhaustion, it was everything. I had and still have a lot to say about the things that transpired last year, but whenever I sat down at my blog to write, I found myself tired. Unmotivated to share. Unwilling to talk.

Believe me, I had those conversations in person, but not often and not with everyone, because honestly, I just didn’t have the stamina. There was so much about last year that bothered and hurt me and kept me so angry and scared. Personally, it was a wonderful year; I taught my two classes, had a lot of fun with family and friends, and really cemented my bond with my husband after a shaky first year of marriage.

But the world, man, the world just grinded me in its teeth and I felt all the negative emotions.

I donated, I read, I got off of social media for about 8 months (except for Instagram). I did the small things I could to keep my sanity, but every time I even briefly looked at CNN or Washington Post or NY Times or BBC, I just felt my resolve crumble and I would have to build myself up all over again. So I just stayed focused on my small world and turned inwards.

I know the cycle of life pretty well by now: personally and professionally, those waves usually don’t coincide because when one is up, the other is down. Not so this past year! My relationship with Timmy made amazing strides forward and now I can finally see what people mean when they say marriage is fun. It is now and it’s definitely something I treasure more than anything. Professionally, I made even more strides towards my overall career goals, and as soon as I felt myself start to lag or bore with my routine, fate intervened and has provided me with even more amazing pathways.

I won’t share it all right now because it hasn’t all transpired and I don’t want to jinx myself, but let’s just say, if things go the way I would like (and have planned for), god, 2018 may be my best year ever, which is hard to say after my 30th year.

So I guess what I wanted to say is I’m sorry I cut you out. It really wasn’t you, it was me. And in 2018, I’m going to use this blog how it was intended: to fill you in on our lives in FL, and the quirky, ridiculous, fun, infuriating, amazing things that happen to Timmy, Floyd, and I on a constant basis. Stay tuned my friends, and let’s make 2018 a fantastic year (which let’s face it, after 2017, can we say there’s no where else but up?)

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♥, VB

Ode to NY

Oh NY. The things you make my heart feel.

I absolutely love going back to my second home away from my real home in Atlanta and my actual home now in St. Pete (that was confusing). I love it because of all the things that city makes me feel, what it reminds of, and how I’m so happy that I no longer live there.

Yes, I said I’m happy I no longer live there. Odd how one can feel such conflicting feelings, yet it’s the truth.

My time spent in NY was a roller coaster ride during college. Becoming an adult in that city two weeks after 9/11 happened was tumultuous, emotional, rocky, overwhelming, and crazy fun. I miss it but I really don’t. Mostly I just miss the food and my friends. I don’t really miss the feeling of needing to be everywhere, doing everything, all the time, always.

But man, when I visit, we really pack it in. Usually, I’m with my BFF Denise and her husband Vinnie, sequestered away in the suburbs, but this time we were Brooklyn people, all the way. We stayed with our good friends Jenny and Joe (remember them, from the crazy beautiful Cali wedding?) in Clinton Hill, a super adorable south Brooklyn neighborhood with charming brownstones and vistas for days. Apparently, Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis live down the street from them, so it must be a hot neighborhood, right?

The first night, we got there super late, like 10:30p, but we still went for a quick bite to eat at this adorably delicious spot named Walter’s. It was really dark and romantic inside, so no pix were bothered with.

The next day, we tried to sleep in because the sounds of NY are CRAZY obnoxious to me now that I don’t live amongst the sirens, birds, and children screaming outside. Needless to say, I slept like crap. We got up, made our way to another adorable lunch spot, took down a bottle of cava, and proceeded to walk all over the place. I ended up with 12,000 steps that day, so a success all around.

We settled in for a little while at a park in DUMBO and enjoyed the beautiful weather, which clearly we brought with us from Florida.

amazing views of south Manhattan

amazing views of south Manhattan

The night, Jenny and Joe made reservations for nearly my entire bridesmaid roster and partners at Lido’s in Harlem, where we gorged ourselves on delicious Italian food and lots and lots of wine. Jenny was like the mom of the group and just ordered everything for everyone, and all I had to do was eat and drink. I highly suggest you get yourself a friend like that. We laughed and laughed and laughed and Timmy and I almost came to blows during a newlywed-style game.

The question: Which celebrity is our number one hall pass?

My answer for Timmy: Chris Hemsworth (I won)

Timmy’s answer for me: JEFF GOLDBLUM

What the hell…the marriage is off people! (FYI, the answer I wrote down was Keanu Reeves circa “Speed”…yummmmmmm)

Later that night, somehow we all ended up with Pez dispensers because Joe went to the Walgreens across the street to get a Tide pen for Timmy, was gone for like 20 minutes, and showed up with Pez for everyone. It was weird and generous, all at the same time.

The next day, we went to Mission Chinese food where we annoyed our waitress by asking her every 5 seconds if there were peanuts in anything (because Timmy’s allergic), walked half the Brooklyn Bridge, got ice cream, then back to the airport. It was such an incredibly fast weekend, but it filled my heart to the maximum. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than see these amazing people and love and laugh with them.

Dammit, I love my friends.

♥, VB

Parties Galore

Do you understand what it feels like to have people throw parties in your honor? It’s like this completely overwhelming mixture of appreciation, love, gratitude, humility, and guilt, wrapped up into 72 hours. That’s what this past weekend was like for us.

If you know me (or have read this blog), you should be well aware by now that I like to plan. This weekend was a planner’s crazed wet dream. From the second we landed in Atlanta Thursday night until we left Sunday evening, I don’t think we got to sit down and chill out for more than 30 minutes at any given time.

Because we only have limited time whenever we come back to Atlanta, we usually have to do double duty with social events. We want to see everyone but time constraints make it hard to prioritize. Not so with this weekend! We had a number of close friends and family ask if they could throw parties in honor of our upcoming wedding, so to save airfare, we requested that they be hosted on the same day. Who needs sleep, right?

Friday, we hit the ground running. Got our marriage license, got my nails done, had a hair and makeup trial while Timmy went to a hotel to check out suites for our wedding weekend, then we had a rehearsal dinner tasting and venue walk-through with the caterer.

So while we planned to come home for a full day on Saturday, it occurred to me if people were going to be in town for these parties, why not try to throw yet another thing in the mix? Since I could be classified as insane, I decided to take on the monumental task of hosting a party at Timmy’s mother’s house on Friday night.

Because Timmy’s first bachelor party did not really go as planned (read: massive drama ensued), I decided to throw him a surprise bachelor party 2.0. My anxiety was at an all-time high trying to plan this party and keep it a surprise from him. Do you know how difficult it is to do that when you live in less than 800 square feet??

For weeks, I had to make sure my phone was on me at all times in case one of his friends texted me. I had covert phone conversations with his mother and texted with his stepfather to ensure that everything would go as planned. It drove me insane to have to depend on other people to get this done, but concessions had to be made as I knew that I would have ZERO time to pick up food, drinks, and a passenger van that I chauffeured to and from Decatur to make sure no one drank and drove.

Barbara and Trey really came through for us on this event, and I could never thank them enough. Towards the last hour or so, Barbara began to crack trying to stall Timmy while I finished setting up at the house. He got so suspicious, I don’t know how Barbara managed not to just give up and tell him! Major props to her though as she used a fantastic stalling technique at the bar they were at before they came home: asking Timmy what the differences are between a Roth and Traditional IRA. Genius.

Once he got home and saw the door closed to the living room, a smile spread on his face, because while he knew something was up, he didn’t know what. And when he walked into the room and saw his friends, he was still so confused! I had to tell him it was his Bachelor Party 2.0 before he realized what was happening. He lit up and the rest is history.

To be honest, this party wasn’t the most incredible production ever. It was nothing fancy, nothing crazy, just an opportunity for him to get together with his best buds for a night of drinking, laughs, and catching up. And it 100% worked. He said later that the bad memories from his first bachelor party were a dim memory compared to his 2nd fiesta.

And all was right in the world.

Saturday was NON STOP. I made it crystal clear to Timmy and his friends that fun could be had, but not so much fun that he couldn’t wake up for our 11 am shower being thrown by Timmy’s neighborhood friends. Sure enough, he woke up slightly hungover but hey, he woke up and made the best of it.

We walked two doors down to the most incredible food spread and warm and welcoming people ever. It was incredible. These people hardly know me and my parents but spent a lot of time making us feel loved and part of the group. It meant so much!

And the gifts! I’m still not over the feeling that registering for gifts is one of the most 1st World things one can do, especially when you’re in your 30s and already own everything you need. And even after registering, we were told 3 separate times that weekend that we hadn’t registered for enough!! CRAZY TALK, I tell you!!

After our first shower ever, we walked out of there on a high immediately followed by a 2 hour nap at Barbara’s. You’ll see that the two gifts I decided to include in the pictures are our favorites only because 1) I have wanted an immersion blender for YEARS, and 2) Timmy and I have now worn our monogrammed robes every night since we got home. Thank you thank you thank you!

Saturday culminated in another party thrown for us by our friends Mathew, his fiance Lucie, Michael and his wife Abigail (who unfortunately couldn’t make it from DC). This was known as the “young people’s party” and we did it up! Gosh this was so fun.

We got to see so many of our friends that night, food, drinks, the works! And of course, it’s not a party until someone lights an old Christmas tree on fire and endangers the neighborhood, right?

Right?

Other than that safety hazard, we stayed there until close to 1:30 am and got home just in time for Daylight Savings Time, which has royally kicked my ass. Just an FYI, it’s incredibly hard to recover from a weekend of partying AND an hour lost. (Ugh, isn’t our life so hard?!?!)

Sunday we finished up with lunch with our wedding planner extraordinaire to review the timeline for our wedding weekend, and visited with a friend who is about to undergo some pretty scary brain surgery in a week. We flew out Sunday night and I haven’t really recovered since.

The weather could NOT have been more perfect. We waited for rain everyday, and it never happened. Actually the rain came, no joke, RIGHT as we left for the car after Saturday night’s party. It’s like the world’s forces conspired to make sure we had the greatest weekend ever.

As we left for the airport Sunday evening, the feelings from the weekend began to hit me. The well-wishes, the congratulations, the amount of support we have behind our relationship is overwhelming. We couldn’t fail even if we wanted to; it’s clear to us how many people have our backs. We still can’t believe how much time and effort and love was put into everything.

To everyone who played a role in this weekend, small or large, THANK YOU. Truly, completely, just THANK YOU.

♥, VB & Timmy

Panama

This last month has been exhausting. There’s been a lot of traveling, a lot of stress, and a lot of heartbreak. There’s also been a lot of joy and hope, so let’s start with the first story and make our way through the rest later.

The weekend after our Bach party (as in 3 days later) we flew to Panama for a friend’s wedding in a remote location off the coast called Bocas del Toro. My father’s side of the family all still lives in Panama City, so imagine my surprise when I ended up being the first in my entire family to visit Bocas. I’m such a world traveler.

On the flight from Atlanta to Panama, we got upgraded to First Class and holy shit I don’t think I can ever go back to being a regular citizen. That was legit. AAAAAANND I totally forgot that my friends’ gelato company, Honeysuckle, is now served on first class flights on Delta, so that was definitely fun and filled me with pride at how cool my friends are.

We sat next to two gentlemen that were THE definition of the odd couple, talking extremely loudly, making each other laugh, and just genuinely becoming friends. It was a much older white man who was super overserved with wine (as we all were) and a SUPER tall black man who, as we learned later on the flight, used to play for the Atlanta Braves in the 70s and was roommates with Dale Murphy. How cool is that??

My cousin picked us up from the airport and drove us to our hotel around 9:30p, which gave us just enough time to shower and fall asleep only to get up at 5 am to make our flight to Bocas. We got into the cab, told the driver Albrook Airport, and took off.

About 30 minutes later, I had the feeling that something wasn’t right. I had purposefully picked our hotel because it was only 15 minutes from the Albrook airport, so I signaled to Timmy to tell our driver, and lo and behold, we were one exit away from the WRONG AIRPORT. So we turned around and proceeded to take one of the most dangerous drives back in order to hopefully make our flight.

I had neglected to tell Timmy about driving in Central and Latin America. It’s really fun when you think about it: lane markers are really just suggestions, traffic lights are there for funsies, pedestrians get dropped off on the side of the highway, including school children, and the emergency lane is really for when you want to go faster. Timmy, bless his heart, almost had a heart attack.

And I just laughed quietly to myself.

We ended up making our flight by about 20 minutes. Thank god it was a small airport and not the international one, because we would’ve been screwed. And I had amped myself up to have a good ole, knock down drag out fight about payment since the driver was the one who messed up, but he charged us fairly and all was good.

We landed in Bocas after about a 45 minute flight and wow. What a cool freaking town. It’s laid back (think: not rich and glamorous resort living), friendly, and cheap. We stay on Isla Colon, the main island, which was about a 15 minute water taxi ride away from Bastimentos, where Jasmin and Todd were getting married. Our hotel was ADORABLE and definitely worth it.

We immediately found OUR spot, a teeny little bar restaurant with a surf/dive shop in the back. This town is clearly a surfer’s town, as everyone was unkempt, sun bleached, and suuuuuuuper laid back (read: high). This place served the BEST FISH TACOS EVER. No, I’m not kidding. They were amazing, and we went back again before we left for a repeat meal.

hell yes

The day of the wedding, we decided to take a day trip to Starfish Beach. We took a $35 cab about 30 minutes through the jungle to the other side of Colon. This was not a fun ride. The streets are “paved” and very very very hilly. It’s a miracle I didn’t get sick.

From our drop off spot, we took a water taxi about 5 minutes to the beach and OMG. This place. Unbelievable. It’s called Starfish Beach because there are starfish EVERYWHERE. You’re not allowed to pick them up but you can touch them underwater. It was just so cool.

We were pretty hungry when we got there but knew that the wedding was a few hours away, so we decided to split a meal at one of the little restaurant/shacks on the beach. There were only about 100 people on this remote beach, with a few spots to get food and drinks. We had brought the beer (which was like 85 cents for pretty delicious beer) and ordered a lobster with creole sauce from a dude who spoke perfect English. Then the coolness started.

We were told to go pick our lobster. Here we are thinking, “Oh from a tank. Cool.” Nope. FROM THE WATER.

Then we’re told to take a seat. Here we are thinking, “Ok, one of these tables.” Nope. THE TABLE IN THE WATER.

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Then he brings out the food. Here we are thinking, “This will probably be pretty good.” Nope. THE BEST LOBSTER I’VE EVER HAD.

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We clearly highly recommend checking this place out.

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The only time we were taken advantage for being tourists was on the water taxi over to Bastimentos to the Red Frog Beach Resort for the wedding. We didn’t get an itinerary in our gift bag, so I was going by the wedding website which said the wedding started at 4:30p. Knowing how long it takes Timmy to get ready (AGES), I said 4, so he’d be ready on time. We boarded the water taxi, paid the driver, and headed out.

First, he lied and said English was his first language even though it clearly wasn’t. Then, we stopped for gas (without telling us first) and asked for more money (which we didn’t give him). Then he dropped us off at the wrong dock at the island even though there were only 2 and I clearly didn’t know which one we were supposed to go to (side note: the resort is the only thing on that island. He clearly should’ve known). Thankfully, he was still close enough to come back and pick us up because at this point, Timmy and I didn’t have any more cash for a new water taxi. Silently and clearly disgruntled, he drove us to the other marina and HAD THE NERVE to tell me it was because my Spanish was so bad that he didn’t know where he was going.

F*%k You, sir. Clearly, you’re an idiot.

Finally we end up getting to the resort, which then entailed a golf cart ride to the actual wedding location, and by the time we arrived, it was 4:17. On time, right? Wrong! Apparently the wedding had been moved up to 4p, so we were late. AND YOU ALL KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT BEING LATE.

The Bride and her bridesmaids were already at the top of the stairs and I can’t even explain how bad that feels. We did it once before for a wedding in Beaufort, SC where the church was surrounded by 25 other churches and we got super confused as to which one we were supposed to go to. We ended up running into the church right before the bride, and I do mean, RIGHT before the bride and I’ve never felt so bad in my life.

Cue a second time doing this in Panama. We apologized profusely and explain what our taxi driver did (which apparently happened to a few people at the wedding too), and ran down the stairs only to be seated about 4 minutes before the wedding started.

Whew.

After the ceremony, they served fresh coconuts and I drank that sucker down in record time. We made our way over to the cocktail hour which was in a really cute hut overlooking a spectacular view.

And it was also in direct sunlight with no fans. I’m not going to lie, I don’t think I saw anyone use napkins for anything other than wiping off the profuse amount of sweat torentially downpouring from every inch of skin. Welcome to life on the equator. Thank god we were all wearing white.

The party moved back to the ceremony site where we ate, danced, and caught up with old friends. I heard someone say that I was Todd’s oldest friend present at the wedding, which just made my heart warm. I’ve known that dude since 1st grade, and he’s been solid ever since.

We were able to get back to our hotel much later that night so Timmy could shower. And then in the morning he showered again. And then he showered after breakfast. He took 5 showers in 18 hours. I’ve never laughed so hard at someone being unable to control their bodily perspiration. Did you realize that knees and ankles can sweat?

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We made it back to Panama City where my cousin took us on a whirlwind driving tour of Panama. I hadn’t been back to Panama in over a decade, since my Abuelita’s funeral, and holy shit, this city is insane. It looks like Dubai. The entire downtown looked NOTHING like that the few times I came to visit when I was younger. It’s really incredible.

We got dropped off at our amazingly beautiful Marriott for a quick snooze and another shower for Timmy, and then we were ready to meet the family for dinner. We went to a restaurant in Casco Viejo, which is the oldest part of Panama that they’ve beautifully restored. It looks a lot like Viejo San Juan, with its cobbled streets, white walls, and beautiful architecture and plazas. This was Timmy’s opportunity to meet nearly all of my dad’s side of the family, and I was so happy we were able to fit in a quick visit. It’s been so long since I’ve seen them, and it was so so so fun. And Timmy was a HUGE hit (when isn’t he, really). All in all, it was a fantastic but too quick 4 days.

Thanks and congratulations again to Jasmin and Todd! You gave us a reason to come to Panama to celebrate your love. We both couldn’t believe how gorgeous Jasmin looked (not that it was surprising since she’s already beautiful), I mean really stunning, and Todd couldn’t have been more happy to have all his friends and family in one place. We love you guys! Panama, we’ll be back, don’t you worry.

♥, VB