First Anniversary: Still Dancing

You fill up my senses like a night in the forest,

Like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain.

Like a storm in the desert, like a sleepy blue ocean,

You fill up my senses. Come fill me again.

Come, let me love you. Let me give my life to you.

Let me drown in your laughter, let me die in your arms.

Let me lay down beside you, let me always be with you.

Come, let me love you. Come love me again.

–“Annie’s Song,” by John Denver

Steve and I celebrated 0ur first wedding anniversary this past Monday. We returned for a day to the site of our honeymoon, Grove Park Inn in Asheville, where we danced again to our “first dance” song from the wedding, John Denver’s “Annie’s Song.” The song still captures our love for the beautiful world around us, and our love for one other.

This year has held incredible joys, as well as some challenges we didn’t anticipate. But we’re still holding fast, dancing and laughing together. I am so grateful to have found this love, to have this wonderful man and partner beside me.

And hey, now we even share the same hair-do.

Our story continues at

The Countdown

initial S'sSoooo, you might have noticed I was absent from these parts last Friday. Things have gotten pretty overwhelming now that school’s back in session and we’re rapidly heading toward the “days away” mark, a situation not made easier by the fact that almost every other item one of us seeks requires a search through at least three as-yet-unpacked boxes.

This too shall pass.

And only too fast, I fear.

I don’t want these days to be so blurry and harried, though perhaps that’s inevitable. I’ve been frantically trying to put the finishing touches on a number of almost-there DIY projects, a process that includes deciding which ones just aren’t going to happen. We’re finalizing details with our vendors, going last-minute shoe-shopping, testing possible signature cocktail recipes (that last one wasn’t so bad…).

Projects in process

Projects in process

We’ve also been joking more and more frequently about the virtues of elopement.

A couple of nights ago, we tried to slow the momentum and enjoy the moment by practicing for our first dance. We’d thought at one time we’d take a dance lesson or two, but we just flat ran out of time. And a wise family friend who’s seen us dance together had actually cautioned against it, saying that we moved together so naturally, why complicate or even interfere with that ease? It’s a tricky balance, though, wanting to do something special, at least a little planned, but also not wanting to set ourselves up to be so concerned about getting steps “right” that we can’t be fully present. It’s not like either of us is a choreographer, either, so the only language we have to communicate with each other about dance is just, well, dancing.

We decided our bottom line is that we’d like to avoid falling.

malletsThe surprises and slip-ups—assuming they don’t result in bodily harm—are the stories that stick, of course. Everyone keeps reminding me of that, and even I, years ago, wrote a poem after my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding that recounted all the funny things that had not gone as planned, suggesting those were the most real, most memorable moments. I’m wondering now if there will be some karmic return on that observation. I mean, it’s not necessary for things to go wrong to have a wedding with great stories to tell, is it? It will still be wonderful and memorable even if everything goes off without a hitch, right? Universe? Please?

Stay tuned. After all, when things go awry, there’s writing material aplenty.

The Long Dance: Beginnings & Endings

On the Eastern Shore

On the Eastern Shore

In the midst of moving, Steve and I broke away from the fray to attend a destination wedding on the Eastern Shore. The ceremony and reception were scheduled for Sunday, part of a weekend-long event spanning Saturday through Monday, as the bride and groom and their families are Jewish. Steve’s former graduate student, Pamela, had gotten engaged to her boyfriend Alex the May before last on commencement day, and Steve, as her primary advisor, had attended a graduation dinner with her family that evening. Steve and I had gotten engaged ourselves only a week or so before the young couple did, so as Pamela wrapped up some additional research that summer, she and Steve traded talk of wedding plans, and he often shared their conversations with me.

After those early moments of comparing notes, we were really looking forward to celebrating the start of Pamela and Alex’s lives as married folk, especially so close to our own nuptials. We booked a room at a charming B&B, packed up suit, tie, and fancy dress, and headed toward the Chesapeake Bay. We drove partway Saturday evening, and around 9 pm or so we stopped for a bathroom break and a Frosty at Wendy’s. While I waited on line in the restroom, I pulled out my phone and called up Facebook. The first post in my feed was from a woman in my high school class, and it read simply “Sad news: my brother David passed away.”

Homecoming with David

Homecoming with David

It took me a moment to register the import of the news, and when I did, I bent forward, the breath physically knocked out of me, trying not to hyperventilate. Her brother was David, one of my dearest high school friends. We’d been in drama club together, and he’d played my husband in L’il Abner when I was in tenth grade. After I left the next year to study abroad in Germany, he wrote me long newsy letters from home. David had already graduated when I returned for my senior year, but he escorted me to my senior Homecoming dance, and he came back and built the sets for our spring production of The Miracle Worker. Another night, we met up with friends, played fifties music, and cut a rug in their living room until the wee hours. David and I never dated, but his was a consistent, solid friendship that spanned most of my high school days and several years beyond.

His death was a shock—he was so young, and hadn’t, to my knowledge, been ill. Our contact in recent years had been limited to Facebook, and I knew there’d been some tough times: a move across the country, the dissolution of a marriage, custody battles. In the past year, though, things seemed good: he was dating a woman he adored, spending time with his daughter, regularly expressing gratitude for all the beauty in his world. What had happened? I’d imagined the weekend as a celebration of beginnings, and suddenly there was this terrible, unexpected, too-soon ending. I returned to Steve shaken and unnerved.

Chuppah overlooking the bay

Chuppah overlooking the bay

We arrived in Cape Charles the next day a little after lunch, found some deli sandwiches, and set about getting ready for the wedding. The ceremony was held outside in a grassy area overlooking the bay. It was hot and humid, but beautiful, the occasional light sea breeze fluttering the white fabric draping the Chuppah. The sun slowly began to drop as the wedding party made their entrances. I choked up when the string quartet played Pachelbel’s Canon, the music I plan to walk in to. The bride and groom looked so happy, so young, as each walked down the aisle arm in arm with their respective sets of parents.

The traditional Jewish ceremony was lovely. I got a little tickled when I realized the rabbi was using hand signals to help Pamela and Alex keep track of the number of circles they’d walked around one another: the bride and groom circle one another seven times before they reach the Chuppah, a ritual believed to represent the intertwining of their lives together. As the rabbi blessed the couple, I was deeply moved by the exhortation that they always remain “startled” by the depth of their love for one another.

Enjoying the cocktail hour

Enjoying the cocktail hour

I cried only once, after the groom’s grandparents followed the newlyweds’ first dance with a dance celebrating their 62nd wedding anniversary, occurring that same date. When grandpa dipped grandma to conclude the dance (more tilt than dip, but the intention was clear), the gesture clutched at my heart. I’d have to live to 107 (Steve to 119) to dance with my beloved on our 62nd wedding anniversary. But seeing the fresh faces and careful steps of the newlyweds followed by the familiar ease and enduring romance of the long-married couple painted a poignant kind of “before and after” of lasting love. It was a strange sort of time warp, the newlyweds both themselves and a memory of their grandparents, the grandparents themselves and a projection of Pamela and Alex’s future. I, too, wanted to be all of them, all at once.

Dancing into the evening

Dancing into the evening

Watching the dancers, it occurred to me that even without the tragic and unwelcome news of David’s death the night before, it wouldn’t have been possible for the weekend to be only about beginnings, because beginnings are also always endings, just as endings are always also beginnings. As T. S. Eliot writes, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” Sometimes a beginning/ending is the result of a loss, a subtraction—a death, a divorce; sometimes, an addition—a move to a new home, marriage to a partner. Whichever element is foremost, beginnings/endings encompass both gratitude and grief. Even the hardest hits bring gifts we could not, in the depths, anticipate; even the greatest gains, strange mourning.

Sunset on the bay

Sunset on the bay

Dramatic dip or gentle tilt, the dancers must rise back up together to complete the step, and the recovery usually involves a half-spin, a circling back. Eliot again: “…the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Perhaps the best we can ask for is to stay out on the dance floor, as Grandpa Simon did that night, until the band stops playing. As long as there’s music, there’s always time for one more dance.

Five reasons to marry a man who likes to dance

1) He’s far more interested in having fun with you than he is worried about maintaining a particular image. He sheds self-consciousness, takes risks, and lives in the moment.

2) He’s a doer, not a watcher, and definitely not a wisher-watcher: he doesn’t sit on the sidelines, wishing he could dance, watching others have a good time. He throws in. He’s right there beside you.

3) He can take the lead when the situation demands it. Not in an old-fashioned the-man-is-the-head-of-the-household way, but in a he’s-a-grown-up and when-it’s-his-turn-he-steps-it-up way. Because that’s what adults do, unless they’re doormats or over-sized kids. When called upon, they step up and lead.

4) He also knows how to step back and listen. Dancing together teaches you to sense and respond to changes in the music, to pacing and mood, your partner’s rhythms. A man who likes to dance knows how to tune in, pay attention, and adapt. This is the counterpoint to reason number 3, and every bit as important.

5) Dancing is fun, sexy, and publicly sanctioned foreplay. Need I say more?

Let’s dance!

Photos by Noah Magnifico, our wedding photographer.  More on Noah and his work coming soon!


This is the Place!

We have a venue! Welcome to the Rooftop Garden at the Center in the Square.

A little backstory: Steve and I started dating in February of 2013, and one evening that May, we headed downtown, as we often did. It was a warm spring night, and after dinner at Table 50, we walked to Billy’s for a cocktail. You know how in every relationship there are those watershed moments, key conversations or experiences when everything seems to shift, either stall out or leap forward? Maybe the martinis were particularly strong, but as we sat at a high-top near the bar, our conversation turned, for the first time, to past relationships. We shared stories of dashed hopes and talked frankly about some of the painful and pivotal events that had led us to where we were. There were a few tears, tightly held hands, kisses of acceptance and promise. When we left Billy’s, my heart felt light and sure. I hadn’t yet told Steve I loved him, but the feeling had taken firm root.

On our way to dinner, we’d seen a number of dressed-up folks, women in evening gowns, men in tuxedos and sharp black suits. The party-goers were too mature for prom, so when we spotted a large white tent on the corner of the market, we’d figured there was a ball or fundraiser going on. By the time we left Billy’s to stroll around and enjoy the weather, the party was in full swing. The tent was lit up, and we  heard the unmistakable sound of my all-time favorite 80s-cover band, Superhold.

People were sitting at round tables scattered under the tent, and more were just outside it, dancing on the parking lot dance floor. Now that it was dark, we could see the atrium of the Center in the Square filled with the festively-dressed folks we’d passed earlier. The party was in celebration of the grand re-opening of the newly remodeled Center, which had been closed for several years for renovations. The spaces that housed Mill Mountain Theatre, the History Museum, the Harrison Museum of African-American Culture, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia had all been redesigned and upgraded; the atrium now featured several aquariums, and there was a new butterfly garden upstairs. Crowning it all was a two-story rooftop garden. Continue reading


Choosing a Venue, 1: Not-so-Dirty Dancing


The cats joined us. Any man who will pull a rickety wagon piled with three cat carriers and their shrilly questioning inhabitants on a path through the woods is a keeper!

The first wedding venue Steve and I looked at, if somewhat accidentally, was Mountain Lake, a destination resort high in the hills of southwest Virginia. We spent a week there not long after our engagement on a kind of working vacation. I’d been contemplating doing a nature piece about the area, so I wanted to hike some trails and take photos to see what, if anything, might surface as a focal point. Steve used the time we weren’t hiking to make progress on a major project he had underway.

Though my own interest in the area is ecological, Mountain Lake is most famous for being the primary location where the 1987 romantic sleeper hit Dirty Dancing, starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, was filmed. In one scene Swayze’s character Johnny, a dance instructor at “Kellerman’s” resort, is trying to teach Grey’s Baby, who is visiting with her family, a dramatic lift, and they practice the move in the lake. The area looks a bit different these days, as most of the lake has somewhat mysteriously drained away in the past five or six years. Scientists believe that varying rainfall and run-off levels in combination with shifting plates beneath the lake are to blame, and there is evidence that the phenomenon is cyclical, having occurred at least once before in the late 1800s. The resort is still beautiful, and it was fun, too, to visit a place that has been permanently infused with a sense of romance since I first saw and loved Dirty Dancing at age sixteen. I never really had a thing for Swayze (though he certainly showed the world why women love a man who dances). More exciting than finding and falling in love with a man possessed of such mad skills was the fantasy I could learn to dance like that myself. I wanted to be Baby, not just because Johnny loved her (and I did want to be loved), but because I wanted the experience of waking something up in myself I didn’t know was there, of defying and breaking free from conventional expectations I sometimes felt boxed me in. Shedding the role of dutiful good girl to become a passionate artist: that was the film’s real appeal.

Though I must confess, I’ve always thought the moment when Baby shows up to Johnny’s quarters and they dance to “Cry to Me” to be one of the sexiest, most romantic seduction scenes ever. When she drops back into that first long, slow dip, it leaves me breathless.

Spring 2014 392

The lake in spring 2014

I wouldn’t describe myself as a Dirty Dancing “fan,” however, and Steve and I weren’t seriously considering Mountain Lake as a wedding venue. But they were hosting a bridal open house the Friday we were there, and we thought attending would be a good way to get a sense of venue packages and pricing. It was my first official event as a “bride,” and I felt a little like I had standing in the wedding book aisle in the bookstore: it was fun to claim that identity publicly. The onsite event planner greeted us warmly on the lodge porch, and Steve and I sipped complimentary sangria as we perused photo albums of on-site weddings. We sampled some to-die-for shrimp and grits while the chef shared his secret (sourcing from a mill in North Carolina and soaking the grits in milk), then tasted several desserts, including chocolate covered strawberries and a divine strawberry mousse. As we toured different types of lodging, a big cabin with the wrap-around porch and cozy fireplace made us start dreaming. What if we did get married there?

Then, we went back to the main lodge and asked to see the packages. You know that moment in the movie when Baby’s sister Lisa marches up to the aspiring med student Robbie’s place, having decided to sleep with him, then sees another woman emerging from his quarters? How her face shifts from hope to amazement and shock? Yeah.

The night before the open house, Steve and I had been sharing some wine in the lodge bar, eavesdropping on a rather entertaining conversation the youthful-looking bartender was having with two fifty-something women patrons. He was searching for a wedding venue himself; his long-term Venezuelan girlfriend’s visa was about to expire, and they had decided to get married. She wanted a carnival theme, but they couldn’t afford Mountain Lake, he reported, to the delight of the ladies, who apparently owned a B&B themselves where they hosted weddings, among other interesting ventures: after one of their neighbors had come and done laundry at their place, her ghost-hunter brother decided to do some filming there, and they had just hosted 36 people in one month who were searching for Sasquatch. One, or maybe both, of the women (there was wine involved) had gotten married at Mountain Lake some years before, and they were planning an anniversary party at the resort later in the summer. I was thinking their B&B sounded much more intriguing. And assuredly less expensive.

Mountain Lake

The dock extending from the movie’s famous gazebo, May 2014

Don’t get me wrong: Mountain Lake is a spectacular venue, even with the lake level low, and I’m certain the staff would work with us if we wanted to celebrate our wedding there. But aside from an early date when we’d shared our first hike (and first photo) on one of the resort’s trails, Steve and I just didn’t have enough personal connection to the place to make the investment worth it.

Besides, any Dirty Dancing fantasies I had have already come true, or close enough. I still don’t know how to do the mambo like Baby (and probably never will–though dance lessons are on our agenda). But I long ago learned how to seize opportunities to venture beyond my comfort zone, to let go of others’ expectations and focus on discovering new possibilities within myself.

And one afternoon during our stay, after playing a few rounds of ping-pong and pool in the Mountain Lake barn’s loft-area game room, I turned to Steve as we headed down the stairs and asked, “So, just how much do you love me?”

He hesitated, thinking I’d decided Mountain Lake was the place after all, that I was about to ask if we could break our budget to tie the knot there on the property.

“Do you have a dollar for the jukebox?” I said and grinned.

Relief washed over Steve’s face as he pulled a crumpled bill from his wallet. I punched in the Dirty Dancing theme song, “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” and alone in the middle of the empty barn, in the middle of the afternoon, we danced. He did look a little panicked when I backed up and jokingly threatened to run at him for the famous lift. Instead, I slowed as I reached him and folded myself into his arms for a kiss. Making beautiful memories needn’t cost thousands of dollars; more often than not, happiness can be had for less than the cost of a cup of coffee. Steve grasped my hand tightly, spun me out and around, and we kept right on dancing.