Learn: Summer 2017

Linking up with Emily P. Freeman and others, sharing the silly and sublime of what I’ve learned throughout this summer.

1. Vacations shouldn’t be divided in order to conquer

The Optometrist and I do a great deal of “dividing and conquering” in life: taking turns fixing meals, tackling different parts of the store as we grocery shop, and handling different household responsibilities and chores. But the decision to travel with each other to his optometry conference in St. Louis and my knitting retreat in Nashville did not ever allow us to feel like we truly took a “vacation” together. While this was just the way it worked out this summer, in the future I think we’ll be more diligent about planning a trip where neither of us is required to be somewhere else for hours each day and then trying to fit in time to explore together.

2. Amazon donation program

Recently one of my dear colleagues and friends shared how you can re-use your Amazon boxes, fill them with items you wish to donate, and mail them away for free! We haven’t tried this yet, but have a couple of Amazon boxes (after cleaning out some cat hair) that could definitely be used to benefit a good will effort.

3. James 4:8 in Practice

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8a – ESV)

Over the summer I continued with my daily Bible reading (current focus is to finish the Old Testament rather than the whole Bible this year) along with Margaret Feinberg‘s Overcomer Bible study of Philippians. Utilizing the color method, I was able to creatively study and analyze names, verbs, repeated phrases, etc. in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, was guided with application principles of what I learned, and also participated in a weekly Facebook Live video series (free and still open to everyone!).

The more I’ve been in scripture, the more grounded and peaceful I’ve been and the more I’ve been aware of my need to check in with God throughout the day. It’s been a very sweet spiritual practice.

4. Put down your phone and read

Sarah Mackenzie of Read Aloud Revival, posted on Instagram several months ago saying, “I’ve been surprised by how much time I’ve had for reading since I’ve committed to picking up a book (rather than my phone) when I have a few minutes throughout the day.”

I’ve taken her advice to heart (not every time, but making a more concerted effort) to said no to the sleek white baby and yes to the old fashioned monograph awaiting my attention.

5. Have a giant stack of books ready to read

With that in mind, in June and July I read several books from the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide, all of which I requested either from our public library or my academic library’s InterLibrary Loan service.  As always seems to be the case, they all started arriving about the same time, which created piles of books around the house. (a.k.a. the best problem to have)

My trick for not feeling overwhelmed by all the books at my disposal was to write on my calendar the date it was due to give myself a visual cue on how much time was left before it needed to be returned, then alternated the types of stories I read to shift my mental focus – ex. a murder mystery followed by a light-hearted YA novel.

My final selection I chose from the MMD list, The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson, is one I started today and am loving it already!

6. When needing a reading break, have a solid queue of other media ready

Visual media – I tell you what, The Optometrist buying us a Google Chromecast has changed the way we “watch television” (Internet streaming since we don’t have cable). Our BluRay player had been our portal for streaming YouTube and Netflix, but when it no longer supported YouTube (even when it did work you had to still type out your search, one letter at a time) and was consistently cantankerous in connecting with Netflix, he ordered a Chromecast and voila, we’re now able to use our phones (both his Android and my iPhone) to “talk” to the device, immediately relaying what’s on your phone to the TV.

And our summer streaming pick from Netflix? Broadchurch. 

Audio media – I’ve been a podcast listener for over a decade, but discovering some new ones, or really good episodes of shows I’ve long appreciated, have been great ways to be informed, inspired, or entertained. Using the podcast app on my iPhone I rotate what the I’m listening to (like the order of books I choose to read) and use the “Up Next” feature to create a playlist so after one podcast is through, a different one will immediately follow.

Podcasts saving my life this summer:

Shauna Niequist

Making Oprah

Fresh Air

Up First

And after hearing rave reviews about the Audible version of Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, I bought it on sale, and am LOVING this middle-grade WWII novel about hope, kindness, and the power of music; all things I love, but in tandem? Perfection.


What things have been saving your life this summer?

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Summer Travels: Nashville 

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“Oh Tennessee River and a mountain man, we get together anytime we can.” ~ Tennessee River by Alabama

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Carter Vintage Guitars

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The Aquarium Restaurant at the Opry Mills

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The Scarritt Bennett Center, site of the Super Summer Knitogether retreat and the catalyst for our trip to Nashville. (Check out the link above for a full blog post about SSK.)

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The legendary Ryman Auditorium

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Bluegrass Nights concert series featuring Sara Watkins and The Infamous Stringdusters.

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A visit to Parnassus Books, co-owned by author Ann Patchett, who pre-signed all copies of her books for sale. I’ve previously read Bel Canto and Truth and Beauty and am excited to add State of Wonder to this list. This was a wonderful, independent bookstore, complete with a store dog, and is definitely worth a visit while in Nashville!

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The Parthenon in Centennial Park

Thus ends our summer travels and I relish the comfort of nesting at home as the beginning of the fall semester draws ever nearer.

Knit: July 2017 & SSK Recap!

Super Summer Knitogether (SSK)


Leslie and Laura of the Knit Girllls are the coordinators and hosts of the annual Super Summer Knitogether retreat in Nashville, TN.  When I submitted my name to be in the SSK lottery last fall I was a.) not really expecting for my name to be drawn and once my name was drawn, b.) not really for sure what to expect since it was my first knitting/fiber retreat. Thankfully, other participants on the Ravelry SSK discussion boards were very helpful leading up to the trip and allowed me to have a general idea about what to expect.

Fast forward from November’s announcement to over half a year later, I loaded up my knitting and The Optometrist and I hit the road, heading due east on I-40.

SSK is held on the Scarritt Bennett Center, which was an entirely inspiring place in which to walk (it felt like a real life Hogwarts!), eat delicious meals (including grits), and meet newfound knitter friends.


Since everything and everyone was new for me, my introverted self had to work extra hard to come out of my little shell, but everyone was warmly welcoming and it was an extremely well organized event. I definitely felt like I belonged with my knowledge, skills, and ability (this retreat was definitely not centered around beginner knitters and/or spinners), as well as my understanding of the lingo – awareness of popular patterns on Ravelry, other knitting channels on YouTube, and independent yarn dyers.

During the retreat I took two inspiring classes, which will continue to require further practice: “Two-Handed Two-Color Knitting” with Margaret Radcliffe (who really does have two hands – poor timing on the picture taking)


and “Steeking Your Knits” with Ann Budd.


My yarn stash also got a little boost thanks to an amazing vendor market!


A sweater’s quantity of Bare Naked Wools Better Breakfast Fingering in Mocha in which I’m going to knit the Flax Light sweater by Tin Can Knits, a bar of wool soap from Tuft Woolens in Red Currant and Mandarin, a gobstopper of self-striping Lollipop Yarn in Showers and Flowers, a skein of self-striping yarn from Gynx Yarns in the House Cup (Harry Potter) colorway, and two double skeins (each exactly matched for two-at-a-time socks) from Rock and String Yarn in Caramel Apple Cider and A Hunting We Will Go. We also were kindly given a beautiful skein of self striping yarn from Fishknits in the At Sixes and Sevens colorway in our goody bag along with lots of coupons and knitting accessories. Needless to say I’ve returned home excited to get started on some new projects and revisit others that have been a little bit neglected!

A few lessons learned at SSK (and to remember if I’m selected to attend again):

  • Dress coolly and comfortably.
  • Just pack one, easy knitting project.
  • Don’t bring as many bags – you will receive more!
  • Participate again in the stitch marker swap.
  • Bring a book to read during quiet moments.
  • Immediately look up new friends via their Ravelry IDs (this user-name identity was just as heavily used as their real name).

And as for what I actually knitted in July…

FOs (Finished Objects)

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Pattern: Striped Socks with a Fish Lips Kiss Heel
Cost: Pay for pattern by Sox Therapist
Needles: US 1, 40″ Signature Needle Arts fixed circular needles
Yarn: Patons Kroy – Blue Striped Ragg
Recipient: The Optometrist

Using the Turkish cast on method, CO 10 sts and increased to 64 sts. Knitting these two-at-a-time, toe up, using Magic Loop on my beautiful, personalized Signature Needles (a birthday gift from The Optometrist). I adjusted the two balls of yarn to have matching stripes which is visually pleasing, especially beginning and ending with the same colors!

The feet are knit plain/vanilla, then knit a 3×1 ribbing (knit 3, purl 1) around the leg of the sock to fit snugly, and finished with a 2×2 ribbing (knit 2, purl 2) for around 7 rows at the very top.

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Pattern: Basic Baby Hat
Cost: Free!
Needles: US 6, 16″ circular Knit Picks Rainbow fixed circular needles & US 6, 5″ Brittany birch DPNs
Yarn: Patons North America Beehive Shetland Light – 4739 (fuschia), Plymouth Yarn Encore DK – Cream
Pom Pom Maker: Clover
Recipient: Olivia

Last Christmas I knitted little gifts for my parent’s pastor’s three children: a pair of mittens for the two older boys and a stuffed animal for baby sister. Even though we may not be able to attend church with them near Christmas this year, I’m already thinking ahead to cooler weather, hand-knits, and this year their gifts are going to be hats!

I’ve made several hats from this simple pattern, so this time I decided to design my own color scheme using alternating colors in stripes and rows and had a great time letting the creative juices flow!

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Pattern: Mitt Envy by weezalana
Cost: Free!
Needles: US 3 DPNs
Yarn: Koigu KPPPM 703P
Recipient: TBA

Last winter I knit a pair of these for my Momma for her birthday and enjoyed the pattern so much I bought another lovely skein of Koigu, this time to make them in a grape colorway.

These accompanied me to SSK, but weren’t my primary project (keep reading…), although I did finish the first one while in Nashville and then started and finished the second after returning home.


Pattern: Granny Annie
Cost: Pay for pattern by Hanna Maciejewska
Needles: US 6, 60″ circular ChiaGoo Lace
Yarn: Madelinetosh DK – Molly Ringwald, Stovepipe, Candlewick, Great Grey Owl
Recipient: I’m keeping this one!

When I saw the version knit by the Plucky Knitter, I instantly fell in love with this color combination – pale pink, mustard, dark and light grey, so I loved recreating my own using luscious Tosh DK. This was the other project I took with me to SSK, on which I knit the most thanks to lots of garter and simple increase rows. It was the perfect travel project to knit in the car and around groups of people (read: not a lot of concentration required).

Since I adjusted the gauge, the end product was a bit smaller than I would have liked, but it’s a decent size and we’ll see how it adjusts with a vigorous blocking.

I was also very disappointed with the Leopard (charcoal grey) colorway. It routinely turned my left index finger dark, as well as my hands, as if I had been holding newsprint. Since Leopard often appears right next to Molly Ringwald, the two darkest and lightest colors, I’m not going to block it until I’ve received some Shout color catchers to help absorb any excess dye from bleeding onto the rest of the shawl.

WIP (Work in Progress)

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Pattern: Granny Stripes
Cost: Free!
Hook: Size E
Yarn: various sock/sport weight bits & pieces
Recipient: I’m keeping this one, too!

It’s been several months since I’ve picked up my crocheted blanket, but after returning from SSK, I have been inspired to get more done on this languishing WIP! I now have several sock yarn colors to add – all the Hedgehog colors from my Fade, the aforementioned finished pair of socks and mitts, and an adorable mini skein from Rock and String Yarn included in my purchase from SSK. And as fall gets closer and the blanket grows bigger, it will be the perfect project to have on my lap during cooler weather!

 

Read: July 2017

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At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

This was the perfect book to read at the beginning of the month since The Optometrist and I did quite a bit of traveling throughout July. Granted, it wasn’t across continents with backpacks and children, rather, across state lines in our own vehicles with suitcases and no other dependents. Yet the perspective of an introvert with wanderlust (like me) finding beauty, rest, and a deeper sense of home among the ordinary and extraordinary during her family’s year-long journey around the world was a comforting read. The writing was beautiful, inviting, and focused on the ways she and her family interacted with places they visited and the ways they lived life as a family in huge cities and tiny villages. So rather than serving as a do-this, go-here, make-sure-you-don’t-miss “travel guide,” it was still enticingly descriptive of landmarks and locations around the world.

Wanderlust and my longing for home are birthed from the same place:  a desire to find the ultimate spot this side of heaven. (p. 246)

This was highly recommended by two sources I’ve returned to time and time again this summer: the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide in the Thought-Provoking Stories category and the Shauna Niequist Podcast, where Tsh was her inaugural guest in Episode 1.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

Summerlost

Summerlost by Ally Condie

You might know Ally Condie from her YA novels, including the Matched trilogy (of which I still need to read the second and third installments…), but this is her newest offering, a middle-grade stand-alone story.

Cedar Lee and her family have a new summer routine after tragedy has struck and as Cedar processes this loss and her grief, her new neighbor Leo invites her to take part in the town’s annual summer Shakespeare festival, Summerlost. I immediately developed a strong sense of place as I began reading this book, which is very important for me to connect with the story, characters, and setting. This sweet tale of healing, friendship, and remembering loved ones could be easily read over the span of a day or so, especially during summer vacation.

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

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World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

World of Trouble is the final installment of the Last Policeman trilogy, of which I read book 1 in April and book 2 in June, thus I wanted to finish book 3 before I forgot many of the details and connections among the three.

Now just days away from an apocalyptic asteroid making impact with Earth, Henry Palace is on a journey from Massachusetts to Ohio to find his rogue sister Nico and investigate her belief that there really might be a way for the asteroid to be re-routed in the sky before it makes impact. Final mysteries are solved and the series comes to a likely, if not somewhat depressing, conclusion.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

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Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn 

Given to me by The Optometrist for Christmas, I felt it was finally time to read this smart, epistolary homage to the alphabet, the famous pangram (use of all 26 letters in the alphabet) phrase the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, a struggling Utopian community, and what happens when the literal letter of the law overrides common sense.

There were hints of Fahrenheit 451, which I love, and of course, Ella Minnow Pea is also known as the series of letters LMNOP. Overall a very cleverly written and thought-provoking novel!

Book read via: home library


As July gives way to August, this signifies to me the end of summer and the beginning of fall since school resumes late-month. Therefore, I’m excited to read and report on some upcoming fall books to which I’ve been given access via free, digital ARCs. Look for blog reviews over some of these titles in the months ahead!

Solo by Kwame Alexander (August 1)

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (September 19)

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon (September 19)

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (September 19)

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks (October 17)

 

Summer Travels: St. Louis

Over Spring Break last year The Optometrist and I journeyed to St. Louis, an area where I lived for many years, love fiercely, and a location of my continued personal identity. The opportunity to return with him for a summer conference was too good to pass up, so while he was in a series of lengthy meetings, I explored my favorite Midwestern city during some of the hottest days of the summer!

In spite of his busy schedule we were able to revisit our favorite coffee shop, Kaldi’s Coffee on DeMun, to both enjoy an iced rooibos chai latte and also spent part of an evening window shopping at IKEA.

Since we stayed at the Parkway Hotel once again, and my husband’s conference was in the medical complex around the corner, this conveniently afforded me the opportunity to drive around the city to some favorite and newfound destinations.

Together we enjoyed meals at:

Anthonino’s Taverna on The Hill – featured on a past episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Taste of Lebanon – fresh, flavorful ingredients – hands down our favorite meal of the trip. The next time we are in St. Louis, we’re definitely eating here again!

Southwest Diner – the breakfast burrito and huevos rancheros we ate for brunch with a mutual St. Louis friend on our way out of town was the perfect finale to our trip.

Some personal favorites:

I popped by Fitz’s on The Loop to grab The Optometrist some fancy sodas one afternoon, picked up a used copy of One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson at Left Bank Books (complete with a little interaction with Spike, the store cat), enjoyed pizza and salad for lunch one day Imo’s in downtown Webster Groves, and spent a blessed few hours with one of my dearest friends, her mother, and son outside the city one afternoon. Since the Central West End is very walk-able I parked my car and got in a few steps to eat a delicious lunch at India Rasoi and a fresh fruit smoothie on a different triple digit day from Coffee Cartel.

The rest of my free time was spent enjoying the air conditioning in our room, knitting, watching shows on the Food Network and episodes of American Ninja Warrior. Since we don’t have TV, watching any sort of network and cable shows are always a special hotel treat.

New solo experiences:

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Missouri Botanical Gardens – During this trip I decided I would visit a few places I never have before and the Shaw Gardens were at the very top. It’s a shame I never experienced this lovely space when we lived in the area years ago, but I’m so glad I finally did.

Located in Tower Grove Park, this is an absolute gem of well-maintained flowers, plants, and vegetables. The paths are meandering, perfect for a quiet morning of contemplation and picture taking.

The Novel Neighbor – I heard about this independent book store in Webster Groves, MO, thanks to Anne Bogel interviewing store owner Holland Saltsman on the What Should I Read Next? podcast. Holland was in the store the day I visited and was so welcoming! I picked up the book of poetry Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver and a lovely tin of book darts.

Scott Joplin House – this is another location I’ve wanted to visit for years. Decades, really. During my junior year of high school I wrote a report on Scott Joplin for my advanced English class, so visiting in the late 90s would have been to my benefit, but my report turned out all right, if memory serves me correctly.

Located downtown St. Louis, the Scott Joplin House is the only known, still standing location where he once lived (compared to dwellings in Texarkana, Sedalia, and New York City). None of the artifacts are original, but the restoration of the period is well done, the tour guide was very knowledgeable, and I loved that you could buy copies of his music in the gift shop area.

And St. Louis wasn’t our only trip of the summer! Stay tuned for a summer update from our second road trip to Nashville, TN.

Weekly Reader

The title of this blog post series pays homage to the beloved childhood informational news bulletin, Weekly Reader, as I highlight favorite finds from around the web.
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Books & Literacy

Take a peek at the Children’s Book Week poster by Jocelyn McClurg (USA Today – January 19, 2017)

Looking ahead to May when Children’s Book Week takes place, what a visually eye-catching and kid-friendly way to promote literacy!

Meet the writers who still sell millions of books. Actually, hundreds of millions. by Karen Heller (The Washington Post – December 20, 2016)

A bit of insight into the success of literary household names.

Every book Barack Obama has recommended during his presidency by Ruth Kinane (Entertainment Weekly – January 18, 2017)

What a well-read President we’ve had! From this list I’ve read Brown Girl Dreaming,  All the Light We Cannot See, one of the books in the Junie B. Jones series, The Great Gatsby, Where the Wild Things Are, and the Harry Potter series. I am currently listening to H is for Hawk on Audible and want to read The Underground Railroad, Gilead (on my bookshelf), and Cutting for Stone (on my bookshelf).

Travel

Journey across Canada by train by Nancy Gupton (National Geographic – accessed January 14, 2017)

Beautiful, nostalgic, and romantic – what a trip of a lifetime this would be!

We the People

Watch Michelle Obama take a final stroll through the White House with First Dogs Sunny and Bo by Megan McCluskey (Time – January 18, 2017)

If you’ve ever moved before, you know how it’s never easy…even if you are the First Lady.

Pete Souza, Obama’s chief White House photographer, on making pictures for history by Mike Hofman and Alex Reside (GQ – January 19, 2017)

A candid interview with Souza reflecting on how he captured everyday and monumental Presidential moments over the past 8 years, his time also photographing President Reagan, and personal insight into the art of photography.

 

What encouraging, insightful, or fun information have you read this week?

Summer Road Trip: Santa Fe

Our summer has been filled with several wonderful road trips: two shorter ones to Missouri, one for a stay in Branson and one to visit my parents during a family reunion. But our big road trip is one we have been looking forward to for many months – a long road trip, across three states, to New Mexico. All in honor of attending a beloved friend’s wedding in Santa Fe. We both have visited Santa Fe in years past, prior to our marriage, but to revisit as adults allowed us to appreciate this unique city in a whole new way.

When compared with the cost of airfare, driving was the cheaper alternative and it gave us a chance to travel along Route 66 (I-40) and leave behind the beautiful, green Ozarks in Eastern Oklahoma and adjust to the scenery of wide, flat plains in Western Oklahoma, giant wind farms in the Texas panhandle, and mile-long views across mesas as our altitude increased entering New Mexico.

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To break up the trip we determined the first leg would end in Amarillo, TX – a halfway point in our journey west. We embraced being tourists as we ate at The Big Texan Steak Ranch for dinner and enjoyed a surprisingly well-cooked steak, plus we got to be spectators as two Australians attempted the 72 oz. steak challenge (we left before they were through, but the completion of their meal wasn’t looking promising…).

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As the sun set in the west, we drove just outside of town to Cadillac Ranch along Route 66. I previously saw this from a bus window, as I traveled to Mesa, AZ, with friends in college, but this was my first visit up close.

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The ten upraised cadillacs are in the absolute middle of someone’s farm with growing crops all around. It’s kitchy Americana at its best and there was something unifying about being there with other strangers, enjoying a moment of constantly evolving modern art as the sun set – even if it was only to observe and take pictures. (We were offered spray paint, but passed.)

Accompanying us across state lines was the Hamilton cast recording. It felt completely American to learn more about this Founding Father from a modern visionary, while traveling the Mother Road. Little by little we climbed in elevation, finally reaching 7,000+ feet, and arrived in Santa Fe.

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The wedding party and many guests, including us, stayed at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, situated within easy walking distance to the historic downtown square. We were greeted with warm sun on our faces and low humidity (hallelujah, Praise the Lamb) as we ate lunch up the street at Rooftop Pizza. Then were so pleased to get to tour the famous Loretto Chapel, next door to our hotel.

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“Inside the Gothic structure is the staircase referred to as miraculous, inexplicable, marvelous and is sometimes called St. Joseph’s Staircase. The stairway confounds architects, engineers and master craftsmen. It makes over two complete 360-degree turns, stands 20′ tall and has no center support. It rests solely on its base and against the choir loft. The risers of the 33 steps are all of the same height. Made of an apparently extinct wood species, it was constructed with only square wooden pegs without glue or nails.”

Read more here about this miraculous staircase.

As we unloaded our car, we were thrilled to see our friend, the bride-to-be, with whom we shared hugs and misty eyes. We were not a part of the wedding party, but served as loving and supportive friends and were excited about the opportunity to join the festivities in her destination wedding. Prior to the rehearsal dinner that evening, generously thrown by the groom’s parents, we did a little shopping at a local knife shop where The Optometrist found a lovely damascus steel pocket knife, his Santa Fe momento.

Saturday morning I enjoyed a complimentary yoga class on the hotel grounds beside the pool, which was an exciting experience to practice outdoors for the first time. Our teacher was well-trained, a great communicator, and reminded us that practicing yoga at 7,000 feet was probably not normal, thus we needed to listen to our bodies, not view our practice as a competition, and offer kindness to ourselves.

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Although eventful, the rest of the day unfolded smoothly, allowing me to purchase a lovely piece of “dry creek” turquoise (the different colors/shades are determined by the amount of copper in the soil) and have a lunch date with fellow wedding friends at The Shed, where we enjoyed some amazingly spicy huevos rancheros!

A short walk across the street and we arrived at The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, the location of our friend’s wedding.

The bride, a fellow optometrist, played matchmaker for us, forever cementing her as our friend. She’s a fellow knitter, was with me when I found my wedding dress, and has remained an especially dear friend in the years since she and my husband have graduated and begun their careers.

The wedding venue was gorgeous and inviting. The cantor, Carmen Florez Mansi, was incredible (the best soprano soloist I’ve ever heard sing/perform/lead worship), and when the organist opened up all the stops as the bride entered, I wept tears of joy over how much I love our friend and how happy I was to witness her marriage to her long-awaited cowboy.

The ceremony and mass were sacred and holy, with seamless transitions between the portions of the mass and the wedding ceremony. The reception afforded us opportunities to get caught up with other optometry friends and share love with the sweet bride and her loving groom.

If you haven’t ever visited Santa Fe before, check it out – it’s worth the trip!

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