Man Attends 15 Weddings in One Year and Lives to Tell the Tale

A Note: I originally wrote this piece last year after my coworker G casually mentioned he was going to his 15th and final wedding of the year. This piece originally had a home before getting dropped and has been pitched and pitched and pitched. While it never found a fancy, editorial place to settle, I wanted to share it here because G, as the realistic romantic he is, set me up with some key advice for the wedding seasons ahead. Thank you G for letting me tell your story, I hope did you proud. 

I actually didn’t believe my coworker the first time he casually mentioned his wedding number.

Just months before he had convinced me he’d spent his 28th birthday at Chuck E Cheese so it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume this wedding count was a bit over exaggerated. As it turned out, Gianfranco wasn’t lying and each Monday when he’d arrive into the office bleary eyed after a red eye from France or Minnesota or Martha’s Vineyard, I couldn’t help but pester him with questions about surviving the “Hunger Games” of love.

Not only was I curious, but there was something about Gianfranco — a 6’2 Queens-native with an affinity for a perfectly timed sarcastic joke and a mindset that borders between realist and pessimist — being a real-life Jane Nichols in “27 Dresses” that just delights me. Hence how he became my touchstone of wedding advice without even knowing it.

“I’m 29, I’m at peak wedding season,” Gianfranco told me during our interview. “Not only do I have my friends, but I have my girlfriend’s friends and we’re plus-ones to each others weddings. I just went to my 15th and last wedding and I was so happy. I celebrated at the wedding more that I didn’t have to go to any more weddings than the marriage of the people.”

If you’re in your 20s, the next couple of years are about to heat up in the wedding department. First, there is the wave of people from your hometown who will tie the knot. Then the couples who met in college before finally, one by one, your friends will start referring to their partnership as a party of one. And since we don’t all have a slightly grumpy wedding expert sitting across from us in marketing meetings, I present to you the Wedding Commandments of my marathon matrimony expert who has literally traveled to the ends of the earth in the name of other people’s love.

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Budget if you can.

As reported by The Knot in 2016, the average American couple will spend at least $32,000 on their wedding — not including their honeymoon. But it’s not only the couple whose bank accounts feel the brunt of their nuptials, but the debit cards of their guests as well. “All my weddings were long distance,” shared Gianfranco. “One was in France — and if you hear anyone complain about going to France for a weekend, smack them! I’ve very grateful but it’s really expensive! You’re not going to France, you’re taking a red eye on Thursday, then taking a four hour train to the top of France, going to a rehearsal dinner and the wedding, and then back at work on Monday. I haven’t taken any vacations besides weddings this year.” This on top of Gianfranco attending four bachelor parties left him traveling everywhere from Martha’s Vineyard to Normandy, France to the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. While some people might not have this opportunity, Gianfranco recommends lining the weekends up with work trips or if possible, buying tickets and booking hotels way in advance.

But along with travel and room and board, wardrobe can also be a stressful expense. When asked to be a bridesmaid or groomsman, individuals can be expected to pay for a new suit or dress that in reality they will never wear again. “I wore the same suit 11 times and if you have to go to a black tie wedding, you should buy the tuxedo,” counseled Gianfranco who wore his tux four times this year. “I had to buy two more suits upon the groom’s request but I’m never going to wear it again. It’s like the chatzky your from your grandma you put in the back of your closet that you can’t throw out!”

 

No one needs a $300 bowl.

“I never get gifts on the registry. It’s an opportunity to buy a bowl you don’t need and no one will ever use,” Gianfranco explained. “It’s rude in my opinion that you would ask me to buy a suit to be your groom’s man, go to a bachelor party, come to your wedding wherever it is, buy a hotel, and then buy you a bowl you shouldn’t own. I always give money which I’m sure isn’t going towards that bowl!” I imagine crystal bowls and egg holders will continue to haunt Gianfranco’s dreams for years to come. The last time I saw an egg holder in use it was by Anjelica Huston in “Ever After” and coming from someone whose family plays croquet at birthday parties, if anyone is going to be using them it’s probably us. But Gianfranco’s point holds true. No longer are couples being married in family churches down the street where the only expense on the guest’s part is exchanging a gift for a free meal. Now it can cost thousands of dollars just to spend the weekend at a close friend’s nuptials. Along with cash, Gianfranco also suggests something more personal that won’t break the bank. “One thing I do — I’m not a photographer by any means — but I have a nice camera and I take pictures at the bachelor parties and I make little books for the groom,” shared Gianfranco. Personal and long lasting — 20 somethings take note.

 

Be your easiest self.

Weddings are beautiful but stressful events. As Gianfranco reminded me, it’s our jobs to be the easiest wedding guests possible. “On the day of the wedding, just be happy to be there. Don’t talk about people’s dresses or who is in the bridal party or who just broke up with their boyfriends. Every time I hear that bullshit I just go do shots,” Gianfranco shared. While it seems self explanatory, I think we’ve all been to a wedding where family tensions or past grudges resurfaced in ways that felt immature and petty. It leaves you questioning, why did you come in the first place? So if you think maintaining a smile throughout the event will be too burdensome for you, politely decline the invite and save the couple the $40 they would have spent on your dinner. As a guest, your only job that day is to not hit the open bar too hard and make the newly wedded couple feel as good as possible.

And if you think that you might be asked to give a toast at the wedding, take it upon yourself to write it ahead of time. “When the speeches come around, I judge the shit out of people,” Gianfranco admitted. “This is not a moment to take advantage of. Even if you’re bad at putting words together or you are nervous about speaking in person, if you invest energy into the speech and you care about this couple, your efforts will be quickly recognized and appreciated.” Gianfranco put his own advice to the test this year during his best man speech. He even decided to take it one step further and wrote a handwritten speech for a close friend which he simply handed to him before the wedding.

 

Finally, the talk.

If almost ¼ of your weekends in 2016 are spent at weddings, you’re bound to collect research on the things you love, things you’d lose, and things you’re judging but would never say out loud. Music selection (Pitbull always shows up, even if he isn’t invited), indoor vs outdoor, BBQ on the menu, photographers, Save the Dates vs emails — when you’ve been around the wedding circuit a while you’ll be surprised the notes you start to make for your own special day.

But I believe Gianfranco’s greatest advice from his year of research is this. “I always knew I wanted to get married. If anything, everyone getting married so early stresses me out because I don’t want to get married right now,” Gianfranco shared. “But if you’re in a relationship and you’re going to a lot of weddings, you will be forced into understanding how serious you are in your relationship as your partner watches their ten best friends get married. The talk is coming so just be ready.”

Wise words wedding guru, wise words.

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A Contagion of Kindness

Last week during my weekly muffin run, I was in line behind a mum and her 1-year-old daughter. Clearly a bit flustered, the mum set her daughter down to wrestle change out of her overstuffed bag and as you can probably guess, the minute her tiny feet touched the ground the cries of abandonment began. Almost instantaneously, the owner of the store, folding boxes nearby, got down on his knees and just started chatting with the little one, offering her a box and asking her muffin order. She was mesmerized. For about a minute. But in those 60 seconds, the mother clearly relaxed seeing that people understood. It was such a tiny moment of sweetness, a stranger coming to the aid of a parent, but standing witnessing it so close, I realized how rare these little moments of kindness can be.

It often feels like in order to survive life in New York City, we surround ourselves with tiny invisible shields. With the millions of people living on top of each other, it would be entirely overwhelming to engage with every person and every situation — many that are less than ideal (Yes, I’m talking about you guy who threw his pee at passing pedestrians last month). But in this protection we often disconnect from one another as well.

Last week, as the larger world felt like it was burning to the ground (wait, hasn’t that been all year?), I kept bumping into tiny moments of kindness throughout the city. My yoga teacher giving me a huge hug last night for no reason other than it was Tuesday. My neighbor calling to me across the playground to introduce me to his granddaughter. I saw strangers go out of their way to hold doors for strollers and neighboring yogis lean across their mats to hear how my day was going. It was almost like I was suddenly more aware of all these acts happening around me, and more determined to replicate them.

These things weren’t huge or groundbreaking, but they have been mighty contagious. Watching others make these brief, kind connections with others has inspired me to find ways to do the same throughout my day. I’ve become more bold offering directions to people clearly lost, and made it a habit of asking cashiers about their days. I’ve opted to shop at local bookstores and chat with the owners instead of defaulting to the Amazon. I’ve written just because notes to friends and coworkers, and spent five extra minutes chatting with a grocery teller about being a cat parent. Not only have these tiny acts made me feel more comfortable going out of my way for people, but they’ve honestly (and selfishly) made me feel more connected to the people in my neighborhood.

My third grade teacher once told me, “If 1000 people were doing what you were doing now, would it be okay?” I forget why she’d decided to share with me this little nugget of wisdom, probably I was opting out of math problems to read “Harry Potter,” but over the years this nugget burrowed deep into my subconscious. In situations when it would be easier to be lazy or detached, Ms. Orr’s voice will chime in, propelling me to walk the extra feet to the recycling bin or spend ten extra minutes re-wedging someone else’s clay at the end of the pottery. Why? Simply because it is always the right thing to do.

While sometimes it can feel like I’m not doing enough, this week reminded me that we do not need to be doing huge things to make a difference. Sometimes all it takes is a tiny gesture of compassion to make an entire day. So here I am, spreading the bug to you! Go forth, phones down, chat with a stranger! And if nothing else, just buy more muffins. That’s just a personal form of kindness that cannot be replicated.

Life Lately According to My iPhone

^^ Last day at my power desk before moving to the 6th floor with this beautiful masterpiece. ^^

Life lately has been a lot of changes and a lot of growing. Some, the graceful kind of growing that you write about in letters to your loved ones as you drink tea and cheers yourself. But mostly the kind of growing that keeps you up late at night stuffing your face with popcorn and asking all of life’s big questions. You know, the usual.

Somewhere in between catching the world’s ugliest fish in June Lake and learning to make cinnamon scones, Summer has grabbed its hat and coat and is seeing itself out the door. Soon I’ll be trading my slogan tshirts for animal sweaters and having to argue with baristas about why they should be serving ice tea all year round. But at the moment, my apartment smells of freshly baked scones, the kittens are asleep in the other room, and Billie Holiday is serenading me into my day off tomorrow. All is well.

Above is really the story of my life lately. I’ve been devouring book after book after book like they’re about to go extinct. I  had a craving for Agatha Christie and like any dedicated bibliophile couldn’t settle on just one book, bringing three home instead. Then onto Ann Patchett’s memoir “The Story of a Happy Marriage” and Ian McEwan’s “Nutshell” — both of which I would recommend to everyone, I couldn’t put them down. Those two might be my favorite books I’ve read in 2017 and if nothing else, fueled my literally crush even more for both authors. I’ve taken every little moment — on the subway, after interviews in Central Park, on the walk home from work — to pull up a seat and read. Even 15 minutes does a wonder to be away from the computer screen and relaxing within the world of someone else’s imagination.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my neighborhood this summer especially as my work schedule is beginning to change. Two and a half years later, I’m still so thankful to live here. I now have my muffin place, my walking routes through the park and off to overlook the water. I find myself falling into a routine of visiting the local bookstores or grabbing an ice tea especially out of the way in order to just have more time outside. When walking past this fountain at Grand Army Plaza, I almost always find a bride and groom taking wedding pictures. Though a passing ship, I get to spend a tiny moment observing their monumental day before slipping back into the hustle of the traffic circle. That’s the thing about New York, you’re always weaving in and out of the lives around you.

I also had the fanciest day of my New York life a couple weeks ago. My sweet friend Jillian and her husband invited me along on their adventure to the rooftop pool of the 1 Brooklyn Hotel. It’s bragged to be one of the best views of the city and from the 12th floor, I couldn’t disagree. It quick surreal drinking champagne and binge eating guacamole with people who clearly did not take the subway to get there. Comically, the pool was only three feet deep so it was more of a standing situation where everyone claimed a bit of wall to ogle the view and try not to stare at the rich and famous spread out (in some cases, not gracefully) along the chaise lounges lining the pool. Jillian and I spent the majority of our five hour stay making up back stories for everyone around us — deciding who we’d hang out with, whose jewelry we’d borrow. Jillian is also a chief multitasker, interrupting our musing with frequent reminders for me to put on more sunscreen. Bless her.

Since coming back down to earth, I’ve been working on greeting cards for my mum’s birthday and checking bakeries and BBQ joints off my bucket list. I used a recent interview on the Upper East Side as an excuse to finally try out Two Little Red Hens bakery. Their Brooklyn Blackout Cupcake is the best piece of chocolate cake I’ve ever had. And I’ve eaten a lotttt of cupcakes in my time so trust me on this one.

I’m also now a big fan of Pig Beach in Gowanus. It’s a big backyard where groups can binge eat BBQ smoked on site, grab a beer, and if you’re lucky, get in a game of corn hole. I was also lucky enough to enjoy “Moonrise Kingdom” at Prospect Park’s last movie night of the summer. Even better, my friend Charles packed an entire picnic for the occasion so I left five pounds heavier and happier. There was also a rare moment last week when all the stars aligned and Bree, Maria, Imali, and I were all able to catch up over french fries and nightcaps in the East Village. With everyone’s busy schedule and frequent travels, this has become a rare occasion and one I don’t take for granted. Alas, it never feels like we have enough time to properly discuss and joke and debate about everything we’ve had to tell each other, but then again, we just pick right back up the next time.

For better or worse, I spent most of this weekend scheduled to work but in the midst of spreadsheets and video watching, got to see these two shining faces from halfway across the world. It’s always funny to me how I won’t chat face-to-face with Howard or Joe for months and the minute Facetime turns on, it’s like nothing has changed. Same jokes, same closeness, same support, and mostly, same mutual decision by Joe and I to make fun of Howard — who’s usually quite a good sport about it. But both boys are doing excellent and blowing me away with the lives they’re crafting for themselves. They even so patiently let me show them my pottery pieces and obliged me with conversations about the cats. They really are gems.

And of course, it would not be a proper life update without a note about my cats. These last couple weeks, I’ve been going through a transition at work (all exciting things to be announced!) which has meant my brain is essentially mush at the end of the day. I did learn to make my first pie chart last week and while it took me over 25 minutes to create, I was deeply proud of it. But through all the long hours and even working this weekend, the kittens and yoga have kept my brain level. I’ve spent almost every night cuddled up with a cat reading. I’ll look up from writing and find them a foot away, constantly keeping an eye on where I’m going and if we can all cram on the couch together.

In the photo above, you can barely see Albert my red yoga mat in the front there as the Saturday morning classes fills up quick! This was also the class where a centipede feel on me during Shavasana which is not ideal for relaxation.

All in all, life lately has been good, food-filled, and content. Could I really ask for more?

Book Clubs: My Summer Reads

I have been on a massive book kick recently. And rather than buying a ton of new books (I won’t lie, there are like 60+ in my apartment that I still need to read), I’ve been binge watching BookTube videos about book reviews. Yes, I am that person who is watching stationary haul videos in their entirety.

(Should this also sound up your alley too, my favorite channels include Jen Campbell, Ariel Bissett, Jean Bookish Thoughts, Books and Quills, Peruse Project, and Sophie Carlon.)

This year I set a goal of reading 27 books in a year — not including comic books or kids books — and am really proud to say I’m nearly there! And it’s only August! This summer I’ve been making reading more of a priority throughout the day. The time away from computer screen, immersed in someone else’s imagination, has become both energizing and relaxing. At times I feel a bit guilty for ignoring my long to do list of actual responsibilities and instead, curling up in my brown leather chair and reading the hours away. But I’m learning to be a bit more selfish. I’m thinking of trying to read 40 books next year? And do a 24 hour reading marathon just for fun? I saw all the BookTubers doing it and any excuse to read with cats is fine by me. But enough blabbing, onto the books!

Due to the amount of books coupled together here, I’m going to try and keep my thoughts brief. Well as brief as possible because book talks are the funniest conversations to have. Am I right?

If you’re a fan of Meg Cabot or the “Bridget Jones Diaries” series, “Sofia Khan is NOT Obliged” will be right up your alley. Set in modern day London, Khan is a Muslim hijabi juggling writing a Muslim dating book while trying to find love herself. As you’d expect, her quest doesn’t go exactly as expected, but what drives this novel is the supporting characters who bring out Sofia’s cheekiness. It’s the perfect quick, fun summer read that you can still follow after a couple margaritas on the beach.

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If you love reading the blog Cup of Jo or religiously follow the Instagrams of artists Mari Andrew and Cindy Mangomini, then Susan Branch’s “A Fine Romance” is about to capture your heart. Susan Branch is a very famous artistic author who publishes personal journals and cookbooks full of anecdotes and hand drawn illustrations. In this book, Branch documents her two month dream trip across the English countryside with her husband. I was so enamored with this book. It was beautiful, fun, heartfelt, and as a reader, left me inspired to better appreciate life’s delicious little moments. For a friend who loves to travel or if you’re just in need of a literary pick-me up, I highly recommend this memoir.

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By now you’ve probably heard about George Saunder’s “Lincoln in the Bardo.” It’s been the talk of BookTube and was just nominated for the Man Booker Prize. If you’re a fan of “March” or innovative historical fiction, “Lincoln in the Bardo” is going to be your book of the year. The novel is set during the Civil War and follows the death of Willie Lincoln. The narrative alternates between reality and the purgatory in which Willie is stuck within. Willie encounters hundreds of souls trying to right their past sins and is being urged along by a handful of ghosts concerned about his delayed state between life and death. For the chapters on Lincoln and the “real world,” Saunders uses real newspaper clips to describe Lincoln’s 24 hours after Willie’s death. While not a perfect novel, it’s an extraordinary piece of work I greatly enjoyed spending time within.

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“The Interview” is a graphic novel by Manuele Fior set in 2048, Italy. The story follows two characters who believe they can communicate with aliens during a time when humans have completely lost personal contact with one another. Drawn entirely in black and white, this novel is a beautiful look at what it talks to stay connected to those around you, and why technology isn’t the best answer to everything.

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If you’re a fan of unconventional narratives and characters, these two novels might be your next great subway companions. Both left me thinking about them long after I’d turned the last page and questioning what I inherently expect of main characters.

In John Burnside’s “A Summer of Drowning,” 18-year-old Liv lives with her reclusive artistic mother in the Arctic Circle. When two boys drown in one summer, Liv begins to question the world in which she’s grown up –caught between her reality and the myths that drive the island. Creepy and very introspective, the power of this novel is that it feels like something is always just around the corner, even though most of the action is internal.

In this way, the novel had a very similar feel to “A Separation.” Both Liv and “A Separation’s” narrator — whom is never named or described — are the reader’s only eyes and ears for the entire story. We hear their assumptions — mostly unconfirmed — and watch how in many ways they’re unchanged from start to finish. In “A Separation,” the narrator goes to find her faithless husband who has gone missing in Greece. The pair have been secretly separated for months and upon agreeing to bring him home, rather than confront her in-laws, the narrator uncovers more than she anticipated chasing her husband’s ghost. I was a fan of both books but believe they’re for a very specific reader. They’re dense, unique takes on the “summer novel” genre, but the pursuit is worth the reward. If you enjoyed “Beautiful Ruins” or “The Vacationers,” I think you’d really like these as well. Must pair with a large ice tea for best reading results.

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And lastly, my favorite of the pack, “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett. As we all know, I’m a very big Ann Patchett fan (see here and here). I’m currently reading her writing memoir “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” and so enjoying being inside the mind of a writer. In “State of Wonder,” one of her six fiction novels, readers follow Dr. Marina Singh, a 40-year-old scientist sent to South America to bring back the results of her department’s rogue doctor and the next great fertility drug. Marina is the department’s second choice, but after her laboratory partner is killed in the jungle, Marina volunteers to take his place. From the first 100 pages, you are rooting for Marina in a way that doesn’t negate her faults. She’s impatient, unconnected to others, tormented by nightmares, but as time passes, she begins to open herself up to the possibility that she may want more than a quiet, tiny life. And the ending, THE ENDING! It’s the best part of this adventure. Marina’s story is as emotional and personally fulfilling as it is adventurous, and will leave you questioning, what would you sacrifice do to save the life of someone you love? And when it comes to science vs. nature, who really wins in the end?

 

72 Hours in Nashville

^^ Let it be known that it was my mum’s request that we visit Nudie’s Bar! This dive bar did not disappoint with its live music, red ales, and tri tip quesadillas. ^^

Lately I’ve been trying to make more of a concerted effort to break from routine. To plan trips that take more than five minutes to organize and possibly involve a plane, train, automobile, and cat sitter. Sometimes life in the city can feel so unnecessarily draining and between running (literally!) errands around the city, working full-time, freelancing, and still trying to (kind of) be a social human being, I lose sight of planning trips in the future. Sometimes I just look at my bucket list and think… damn, this is a lot.

So when my parents asked if I wanted to join them during the first portion of their Tennessee adventure, I thought what better time to flex my new habit than now! We all met at the Nashville airport where I got to pick them up at their gate, and off we went to eat our body weight in BBQ-ed meats and hash brown casserole for the next 72 hours.

I’ve always been really curious about the lifestyle of Nashville after accidentally getting hooked on the soap opera-ish show “Nashville.” Turns out, much like “Sex and the City,” the show didn’t prepare me in any way for my visit — though it did teach me that you should never keep papers identifying the real father of your daughter in a box in your closet. And that Connie Britton is defying all the rules of aging.

During our first day, we ran all around the city, but not before consuming about 1700 calories at Cracker Barrel. I hate to admit it, but we ate there three times during our three day vacation because you cannot deny the deliciousness of those homemade biscuits. We visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and then hopped on a bus to tour Studio B — the most famous recording studio in Nashville. If you have the time and the means, this tour is absolutely amazing.

I couldn’t help but get a little chill walking through the recording studios where Dolly Parton, Elvis, the Everly Brothers, and hundreds more made history. The studio is tiny and personal, and with each recording having been done live, the talent of these “A-list” musicians and country artists is so abundantly clear.

I’ve never been a huge country music lover. But listening to the works of so many aspiring and talented artists — not only at the museum but on Honky Tonk row — I love how the genre has become a melting pot of blue grass, jazz, gospel, rock, and even hints of pop. It’s such a fusion but still carries such old school messages of courtship, heartbreak, and love.

Also a lot of references to fishing which, having fished my entire life, is a very unromantic sport. I think of it like I think of building Ikea furniture, it will either make or break your relationship, but there is absolutely nothing in between.

^^ Downtown Nashville from the Cumberland River Bridge. ^^

After listening to an amazing rock band at Nudie’s and walking the couple downtown blocks, my family indulged me and visited author Ann Patchett’s bookstore. As a book nerd, this was the coolest! Patchett is not only phenomenal author (she wrote “Bel Canto” and “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage”) but believed so much in the communities that form around local, home run bookstores that she opened her own in the height of Barnes & Noble and Amazon taking over. It’s a really quiet, sweet place full of handwritten book recommendations, a shop dog, and has a calendar stock full of author events. Should this sound up your bibliophilic alley, I HIGHLY recommend it.

^^ My dad was taking in the beauty of the Jackson’s smokehouse. ^^

On our second and last day, we decided to ignore the humidity and head to the Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s house. In these situations, my dad has an especially good knack for giving me the giggles. The quieter the museum, usually the worst they get, and this trip was no exception. If only there hadn’t been a sign sharing all the things President Jackson was the first president to do (Ex. Get his photograph taken, ride a train) then maybe my dad and I wouldn’t have started a 45 minute joke marathon. That and finding out President Jackson preferred to be called General Jackson by his family. Just saying, Pop Pop Jackson rolls right off the tongue. Then we filled ourselves with brisket tacos before cleaning up for the Grand Ole Opry. There were six acts before Chris Young came on and moms from around the country starting throwing their bras on stage. My family and I were blown away by how good he was and endeared by his awkward stories and nervousness.

Despite its brevity, this trip was perfect. July was a bit of a rough one for me, and getting to take an adventure with my family in a new place left me lighter and more content. I mean not physically, obviously, I ate mac and cheese or a potato of some type with literally every single meal. I’ve since downloaded a bit of country music and am enjoying wading through the pools of love and devotion. It’s even inspired an article I’m pitching right now.

Nashville you were a blast, thank you for filling our ears with music and stomachs with all the delicious food. Until next time!

^^ On the way to the airport in, yes, Batman Detective comic book pants. HEYO! ^^