Wedding Part 6 - Final Reflections

A great deal happened on and around our wedding day. William and Kate were married a week before. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver split up. Our dear friends gave birth to their first child. Animal Kingdom, a horse with ties to Hot Springs, Arkansas, won the Kentucky Derby. Rice baseball swept UH to continue its annual tradition of winning the Silver Glove. For us, though, all the magic in the world was at Castello di Montalto with us and our friends and family.

At the end of the day, the location was amazing and it certainly added the "fairytale" dimension to our wedding celebration. However, I think if we had gathered that group of people together anywhere in the world it would have been just as special. It really wasn't the castle or lush green hills or the incredible food and wine that made our wedding so special; it was the people. We are truly, truly blessed to have the people in our lives that we do and not a day goes by that we are not thankful for them.

It seems too that we are not the only ones to benefit from the great people with whom we celebrated in Italy. Since returning to the world of Internet connectivity it has been a joy to see all the facebook notifications of them connecting with each other. As we catch up with each of them it is also a thrill to hear of many of their adventures and stories from the week that were totally unrelated to us or our wedding. These stories bring broad smiles to our faces.

Now we're back at home and we're both still just beaming. My cheeks still hurt; not just from all the picture taking but from all the smiling and laughing. As I wrote at the beginning of my wedding blogging, it was the greatest week - and May 7th the greatest DAY - of my life thus far. But, as I look over at Katie sleeping in the seat next to me, I know that the best is yet to come! Thanks to everyone for the good wishes as we begin our next chapter together!

Wedding Part 5 - The Aftermath

Sunday morning we woke up for the first time as husband and wife. Practically speaking, nothing had changed. Emotionally speaking, everything was different. We had taken a big step and everything just seemed to shine. At breakfast the honey was a litte sweeter, the smiles a little broader, and the laughter a little louder - life a little better.

Sunday morning we went to Siena and walked around a bit. I've always preferred the "Renaissance" of Florence to the "Medieval" of Siena, but, as we were at the cusp of tourist season, it was nice being in a place that was a little less mobbed. In line with Katie's and my travel philosophy, we spent most of our time in Siena eating!

Lunch was at a restaurant called Antica Osteria da Divo, a little place near the Duomo built into Etruscan caves. They set up tables for our group in one of the caves and we dined all afternoon. After that we moved onto San Gimignano for towers, gelato, and vino. We capped it all off with home cooking back at the Castello - what more can you really want in a day?

Monday we went wine tasting again - this time in the Chianti Classico region. First we traveled North to Greve, where we tasted at Villa Calcinaia, owned by the Capponi family, including my former professor. The other brother, Sebastiano, runs the wine business and honored us with some storytelling while we tasted his organic olive oil, sangiovese, Chianti Classico, and Chianti Classico Riserva.

We arrived at Calcinaia more than one hour late (Consistency!) but tarried there even longer than anticipated because everyone wanted to buy their wine afterward. As a consequence, we didn't reach our next appointment, Castello di Brolio, until three hours after our appointment time. We were scheduled to have lunch there followed by a tour and wine tasting. However, by the time we arrived, their osteria was already closed. They were kind enough to provide lots of food with our wine tasting - which was fortunate since we were starving by then!

The tour of the castle, where Chianti was "invented" was interesting and further fueled my desire to have a castle someday. The tasting reinforced my opinion that the Chiantis of Barone Ricasoli are really outstanding and can go head-to-head even with some Brunelli. Another night of dining "in" at the castello was a great finish to the day.

Tuesday was our last full day at the Castello so Katie and I decided just to hang out. Once again the weather was gorgeous so we walked the grounds a bit, spent time with those who were leaving, and had a long lunch with plenty of wine - which was, of course, followed by a similarly long nap!

Tuesday night we went into town for dinner in Castelnuovo Berardenga. We found a very nice little enoteca/trattoria where we dined on local specialties for hours. To accompany the typical Tuscan fare, we drank 2006  Dievole Chianti Classico Riserva Novecento, which was fantastic - one of the best wines we drank the entire trip, which is saying something!

Wednesday came and at last it was time to depart. It had been an incredible stay at Castello di Montalto and we would strongly recommend it to anyone looking for home base in Tuscany - tell them we sent you! On our way down to Rome we stopped in Orvieto for lunch. Orvieto was really charming and next time we are around it will merit more time than we gave it on this brief stop.

We spent Wednesday night in Rome, which was like an entirely different world. Driving in traffic was stressful, menus were in English, and the fantastic surreality was gone. Still, Katie and I were grinning from ear to ear recounting the amazing week we had had.


Wedding Part 4 - The Big Day

Saturday morning Katie and I arose; the sun was shining, birds were chirping, and excitement was in the air. After breakfast many of us set about making final preparations. Many of the women decorated the granaio, which would be the scene of dinner and dancing, while others picked local wild flowers from the countryside. We used empty wine bottles from the previous 48 hours (And there were many!) to hold flowers as table decorations. Some of the other men and I set up chairs, tables, and the sound system.

Many people had their own excellent ideas for little touches that we would never have thought of, such as tying a ribbon (tied by Lee, who has been tying beautiful ribbons around my presents since I was 10) around the linden tree under which we would be married. This was exactly what we had in mind as it eliminated our stress and made the entire event a shared experience. I kept trying to find things about which to stress or worry but I really couldn't - everything was just . . . perfect.

Finally it was time to get ready for the ceremony. The common themes in Katie's and my outfits were "vintage," "castle," and "meaningful." Several months ago I found a midnight blue dinner jacket from the 40's and, with a little tailoring, it fit me very well. The formal shirt I wore under it was handmade with a bib design known as "Swiss pleats," a nod to the place where Katie and I were engaged. My studs were given to me by my mother, a set of four handmade silver dragons; they paired very well with my cuff links, also handmade silver dragons! Apparently the special ladies in my life know how strongly I believe that castles should have dragons! Instead of dress shoes I wore a pair of black ostrich boots given to me by Sam, my mentor in all things Texas. In my front breast pocket I had a white linen pocket square with a hand monogrammed "KJBGH" (Katie's initials joined with mine). Finally, I of course wore my Rice ring.

Adorned as such, I was ready - or I thought I was. Still nothing could prepare me for seeing Katie in her wedding outfit! We had planned a small, intimate ceremony with no "aisle" down which to walk so I showed up early, milled about, took pictures, etc. while we waited for the bride and her sister to show. When they did, WOW, what a sight to behold! Katie was wearing a long, flowing ivory dress (new) with a low back and plunging neckline. Her crystal earrings and aquamarine (blue) ring were gifts from my mother. An art deco bracelet (borrowed) graced her wrist while strappy silver/gold wedges clad her feet (Castles are not great places for stiletto heels!). She also had a special sixpence piece in her shoe to bring a little tradition to our most nontraditional wedding.

Most meaningful to me, though, were the vintage 30's crown tiara and 40's crystal rhinestone necklace (old). They were both wedding gifts from me and I was pleased to see how perfectly they adorned her head and her heart, her two most important parts! While I tried to remain poised, all I could think was, "OMGOMGOMGOMG I'm going to marry her!!!!" She was truly the vision of a "princess bride," the references to which continued throughout the entire day.

On a related note, I gave Katie a second vintage tiara as well because I didn't know much about her dress, how she would wear her hair, etc. and I wanted her to have options. The other tiara turned out to be a perfect match for Kelly's dress and so I was thrilled almost to tears to see my sister-to-be also wearing something from me. "Keep it together, Hassin; the ceremony hasn't even started yet!"

Once we were all together under the linden tree, in a courtyard between the castle's two major towers, it was time to get the show on the road. At this point it was no longer about the wedding-to-come but the wedding-in-the-here-and-now. Much of my IMD subconscious-oriented training was directed at experiencing the "here and now" so, surreal as the experience was becoming, I resolved to savor it. Every word that was spoken, every movement of someone's hand, even every breeze on my neck . . . I soaked up every ounce of it!

We were honored to have Sam as our "Captain of Ceremonies." As this was a secular ceremony and as we had already been civilly wed, our qualifications for this role were for someone meaningful (Sam had been like a father to me and in recent years he came to know Katie as well.), checklist-oriented (Sam is a career pilot - check!), and well spoken (Double check, especially since Sam's oratory skills come with the incredible "bonus" of Lee's co-authorship!) - Sam was a shoe-in, and we were just so glad that he undertook it even with many, many, many other important things going on in both his and Lee's lives right now.

The specific details of what was said and undertaken during the wedding ceremony belongs to the "here and now" of "there and then" so will not be included in this blog post. Suffice to say, though, that our parents and siblings played major roles (Even Katie's brother/sister-in-law and their family, who were unable to attend in person, joined us via Skype!), our IMD friends/spouses contributed international perspectives on marriage, and we publicly committed ourselves to each other before the people we hold most dear.

Speaking our vows to each other was the most surreal, positive moment of my life to date. It felt like something out of a movie, when the rest of the scene fades out and all that is left is sunlight and music and love. For months, ever since I began writing my vows, this was exactly how I had envisioned it, even down to the bridal wreath petals blowing in the breeze and landing softly in our hair and on our shoulders. I had practiced my vows in the shower, in the car, and in the mirror, but this time I spoke them into the beautiful blue eyes of my life partner. Incomparable, amazing, perfect.

Once we finished bawling, being pronounced husband and wife, and kissing (Finally!), we kicked off post-ceremony festivities by sabering the first bottle of La Marca Conegliano Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. Instead of using a sword, though (tough to carry on a plane!), we used the best we could find in the castle's kitchen: a huge meat cleaver!!! We sabered that bottle without cutting anyone, took a billion pictures, and began partying.

There in the courtyard we played mostly classical music, including pieces by Beethoven, Bach, Schumann, and even Mark Knopfler and John Williams. We also made the first of what would eventually be many, many, many toasts. We toasted those who were there with us, those who couldn't make it, and those who were no longer with us, all of whom were celebrating with us whether in person or in spirit.

Once every possible of combination of bride, groom, and guests had been photographed under the linden tree, we processed to the granaio to begin a very, very long wedding lunch/dinner. With such a small gathering we were able to seat everyone at the same long table, with Katie and me and immediate family at the center. For antipasti we had three kinds of bruschetta: muscroom, tomato, and spinach aioli. With this we also opened the next wine, La Cala Vermentino di Sardegna, a fabulous little white wine very near and dear to Katie's and my hearts.

I had intended to use the meal as an opportunity to toast everyone there at least once (I love making toasts at the weddings of other people so I was going to make as many as possible at my own!) and, using the Swiss cowbell we received as a gift, we started a protocol of ringing the cowbell to garner attention for a toast. Very shortly after my first few toasts, though, the cowbell made its way down to both ends of the table and we were surprised, HONored, flattered, thrilled, excited, grateful, blessed, and many, many other joyous words as our guests outdid me in both toast quantity and quality. Toasts ranged from hilarious to tear-jerking, from rehearsed to improvised, from advisory to congratulatory - but they were all incredibly heartfelt. I thought that our crying had finished with the ceremony but many of the toasts started the water works right back up again.

For our primo piatto we had risotto with asparagus and fagioli, which was followed by our secondo, herb-roasted pork and roasted potatoes. With this main course we served the '99 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Poggio all'Oro. If I hadn't already been in a "savor" mindset, this would have put me there immediately. Oh wow, what a wine! Classic sangiovese with crushed cherries and tobacco, beautifully integrated, and a round finish that went on and on and on and on. Mmmmmmm!

Dessert was panna cotta with fresh local berries, served alongside 2000 Chateau Guiraud Sauternes, which we discovered during our 2008 Bordeaux trip. It was an excellent pairing.

As we progressed through the meal, some of the toasts turned creative, including a Godfather reenactment, calling of the Hogs, singing of a traditional Sicilian wedding song (including audience participation!), and an a capella rendition of Can't Help Falling in Love by Katie's aunt, mother, and sister. Not only was that moving in and of its own right, but Katie's brilliant suggestion that we get up and dance to it made for a "first dance" much more spontaneous and memorable than anything we could have planned. Once again: perfect.

As the sun set we moved from dining to dancing. Katie and I had put together a small selection of good dance songs - both fast and slow - from the 50's through today and played them off my laptop through some big speakers. We started with the older stuff to be a little more accessible to our guests who would probably retire earlier and then made our way into more contemporary dance fare. It's tough to have something for everyone and I worried at times that our music was too "American" for our European guests, too loud for our older guests, etc. Utimately, though, Katie seemed to be having a blast, which was what really mattered. We hit on a lot of our favorites, including raucous singalongs to Friends In Low Places and Bohemian Rhapsody. In hommage to Top Gun the men even serenaded Katie with You've Lost That Loving Feeling. Good times!

After 11 or so hours of lunch/dinner and dancing, we finally wound down, cleaned up a bit, and called it a night. For Katie and me, it had been the absolutely perfect day. There was no stress, only unabounding joy, amplified a thousand fold by our loved ones who shared in the celebration with us. Words, poetry, music - nothing can express how incredible our wedding was for us. It was everything we had hoped it would be - and more, through the contributions of those who shared it with us. It was perfect. May 7, 2011: Best. Day. EVER!

Wedding Part 3 - Our Last Day as Singles

Friday many of our guests went out exploring on their own. Some went to Florence, some to Lake Trasimeno, some to Cortona, and some just drove around. Katie and I stayed at the castle to enjoy the estate a bit and make any final preparations for the big day.

Castello di Montalto is on 700 hectares (~1600 acres) of contiguous land so we spent a lot of time just walking around the fields and forests, where we saw horses, deer, pheasants, wild boar, porcupines, and innumerable birds, lizards, bugs, and the like. Some of us went for runs some mornings along the gravel road which, despite the rocks, was fine in my Vibrams.

Friday afternoon was devoted to sport. My "groomsmen" (We didn't actually have a wedding party but, if we had, these were certainly guys who would have been part of it!) and I played grass volleyball, tennis, and football - a perfect way to spend my waning hours as a bachelor!

Friday evening, once nearly everyone, including my Italian cousins, had arrived, we held an outdoor BBQ to foster more "connectivity" between and among our various "constituencies." This dinner might usually be termed a "rehearsal dinner," but that was not the case for us - as there was no rehearsal! Katie and I really wanted the festivities to play out organically with minimal planning/controlling/stressing and that is exactly what happened - mission accomplished!

Toward the end of dinner, a good friend of the family, David, took over and delivered a scathing, hilarious roast. David has known me since I was 1 so he had accumulated plenty of roast material! Throughout dinner, though, he and some accomplices had also enticed people to write down wishes for Katie and me on little slips of paper. As he finished his roast, all the wishes were loaded onto little flying lanterns that were lit and then set free to carry the wishes up to the heavens. The effect was magical: an ascending "staircase" of balls of light in the night sky. As they floated upward some people called out the wishes they had made for us - some common themes were laughter and adventure, wishes that I am certain will come true! Some other wishes, such as fielding an entire football team with our children, well . . . we'll just have to see about that! Finally, by late Friday night, all 43 of us had arrived, ready for the big day.

Wedding Part 2 - Brunello di Montalcino

Thursday's focus was on my favorite aspect of Tuscany: the WINE! After breakfast together (featuring exclusively food grown/prepared there at the castle or baked/prepared in the nearby village), we lined up an eight-car caravan to travel to the wine region of Brunello di Montalcino. The Garmin GPS that came with our rental car led us the wrong way down one-way streets a couple of times so we abandoned it in favor of Google Maps on my phone, which was much more effective--until we neared our destination! Then Google tried to send us to basically the right location but just a little ways up the hill, which wasn't very useful! So then we went back to the Garmin GPS, which didn't fail us this time. Finally, more than an hour late (which would be a theme in our wine tasting all week!), we arrived at Fattoria dei Barbi.

For wine tasting in and around Montalcino, I am used to being just 2-4 people, which, it turns out, is very different than being a group of 30! Many of the smaller Brunello houses simply aren't equipped to handle larger groups, rendering them ineligible for visits. Similarly, many of them don't have anyone on hand who speaks English, which is fine for a small group in which I can act as translator, but which is impractical for a larger tour. This means that our choices of wineries to visit were somewhat limited.

Also, there is generally no fee to tour/taste at wineries in Italy, but, for large groups, they do charge a per person tasting fee. Finally, leading a long caravan of cars (for many of whom it is their first time driving in Italy, Europe, or even outside the US) is simply a pretty slow affair. This - combined with our ongoing navigation antics - had me very ready for some wine by the time we arrived!

Barbi was very gracious, though, and still gave us an abbreviated tour (skipping over some of the finer vinification points) followed by a very unabbreviated tasting. At the tasting we sample their three Brunelli: 2006 Brunello di Montalcino, 2005 Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Fiore (single vineyard), and 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. The first was a pretty basic Brunello; the second offered a little more flavor depth, and the riserva had a bit more tannic structure - all very good to taste and good to whet our appetites.

Lunch took place at Boccon di Vino, where I had eaten before with both Katie and Cox on separate occasions. There we were treated to delicious pasta dishes, a fantastic selection of Brunello wines (We had Silvio Nardi, Argiano, and Valdicava), and possibly the best panoramic view outside of San Gimignano in all of Tuscany. Usually we follow up lunch at Boccon di Vino with a nap in the parking lot but, given how far behind we were, we simply couldn't afford it this time. Fortunately the chocolate mousse we were served for dessert had plenty of coffee bean in it, so that helped.

Our afternoon tasting was at Castello Banfi. American-owned and the largest (by far) producer of Brunello di Montalcino, Banfi is about as commercial and "un-charming-Italian" as it comes, but their wine is just so damn good that I can't help but love them. We tasted their 2009 Rosso di Montalcino, 2006 Brunello di Montalcino, and 2005 Brunello di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura (single vineyard), which went from good to very good to very very good but still too young. We did not taste their riserva Brunello (Poggio all'Oro) because the '99 vintage of that wine would be served Saturday night at the wedding dinner. As we milled about, Banfi offered us another tasting of their sweet white Muscadello and, as I picked up the case of '99 Poggio all'Oro (their very last 12 bottles of it - good thing I reserved them a few months ago!) they threw in a magnum of Rosa Regale, their sparkling red wine, as a congratulatory gift.

Spoils in hand we returned in the evening to the Castello. After a late, heavy lunch and lots of wine consumption, several guests called it an early night. Some stayed around the castle to continue wine tasting. We went out to dinner at Il Corte di Bacco with some of our guests who just arrived Thursday afternoon. By the time we finally made it back to our villa, we crashed hard! Driving around a beautiful place tasting incredible wines with wonderful people - what a perfect way to kick off our wedding festivities!


Wedding Part 1 - Arrival

The best week of my life - including the best day of my life - has just ended. I have had some really tremendous previous best weeks and days of my life, but this wedding really blew them all away. Everything was just so . . . so . . . perfect.

Katie and I departed for Italy Tuesday, May 3, arriving Wednesday morning. I had contacted Continental customer service months ago to see if they would do anything special for a couple on its way to be married, hoping to surprise Katie with a shout-out or something similar. The generic "no" response I received was disappointing but wasn't a big deal. However, when the flight attendant saw Katie's hanging bag, she guessed at our impending nuptials and did make an announcement, which was a surprise and a lot of fun. She even called us Mr. and Mrs. Barrett, which may be closer to the mark than she intended! As always, Continental's good people came through, even when their systems and processes didn't.

We arrived in Rome, picked up Chris, Kelly, and Mike (Katie's father, sister, and sister's boyfriend - I usually try to anonymize other people in my blog entries but it just won't be possible in the ones about the wedding!), and set off for Castello di Montalto. Instead of heading straight to Castelnuovo Berardenga, though, we detoured through Montepulciano for some sightseeing and a late lunch. The weather was overcast but it already felt great to be re-immersed in the rolling green hills of bella Toscana!

Katie - now my co-author-for-life - insists that I elaborate a bit more on the food. At lunch many of us had Pici, the local handmade pasta (kind of like very fat spaghetti noodles) in various forms (mine with extra garlic naturally). To cleanse our palettes afterward, we walked back to our car with some fig and ricotta gelato that was out of this world!

When we arrived at the Castello late Wednesday afternoon, some of our guests had already checked in and the weather was already clearing up. For the rest of our stay, the weather remained perfect for castle life: sunny with highs in the low 20s C (low 70s F) and lows around 10 C (~50 F). We were greeted upon arrival by the Count and Countess (who reside in the main building of the castle) and by Leo, their noble German Shepherd, who demanded tummy rubs as hommage.

One of the villas in the hamlet - the one with a large balcony and a gorgeous view, naturally - quickly emerged as the "party suite." Most of our guests arrived Wednesday evening so we picked up 30 pizzas from a local pizzeria and served them up (along with plenty of vino!) in the party suite. This was a fantastic event as people from our various worlds began connecting. Family met coworkers, coworkers met friends, friends of one side met friends of the other side, etc. We only had ~40 guests all-in-all but all of the chapters of both of our lives were represented. We made merry until pretty late and then called it a night to deal with jet lag.

The energy brought by all of our guests was palpable and Katie and I knew that this was the beginning of a very special experience!


Thoughts on Osama bin Laden

When news came through Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, everyone in my house rushed to the TV. We turned it on just in time to catch Obama's address and then to see coverage of celebrations around the country. I was a bit shocked to see what looked like college kids outside of the White House jubilantly cheering (Literally! There were cheerleaders being thrown up in stunts!), singing, and chanting, "USA! USA!"

I rushed to post the following tweet and facebook status immediately:

"No matter how heinous the person, I don't believe killing someone is ever cause for celebration. Tonight is a time for somber reflection." My primary intention was not to criticize the actions of others; rather it was to share my values, especially with my international friends/colleagues/followers.

In this medium I have more than 140 characters so let me elaborate on my position. The killing of Osama bin Laden surely represents a very significant event. In real terms, hopefully it will lead to "less terror." In symbolic terms, it is valuable to many people because he had been built up for so long as the symbol/personification of terrorism.

No matter how monstrous, Osama bin Laden was still a human being, though, and we ("we" being our citizen soldiers financed by our tax dollars and operating under orders of leaders we empowered through our democratic process, so we are all complicit in it) took his life. We place value on human life and, even if our enemies don't, it is by sticking to our values that we remain who we are. Without our values, we have no moral ground on which to stand.

I fully recognize that violence and killing are sometimes necessary "for the greater good" (The Grindelwold reference is intentional because determination of "the greater good" is often a very subjective affair.) but it should always be the course of last resort. I believe (perhaps naively so) that it is usually our country's course of last resort. When the decision must be made to resort to violence or killing, it is a weighty decision that should be made "reluctantly and without joy." (not my words)

So when we have succeeded in killing someone, be it Osama bin Laden or Hitler or the Wicked Witch of the West, even someone we consider to be pure evil, my heart is not filled with joy; rather it is sorrowful that this most severe step had to be taken. Instead of jumping for joy at the news of bin Laden's death, I took some time to reflect on why the death was necessary and what could be done to avoid similar circumstances requiring similar action in the future. I reflected on what the consequences of the killing might be, both here and abroad. I reflected on the brave men and women who put themselves in harm's way to effect this outcome - and I especially reflected on those who didn't return home. I reflected on the innocent human beings who lost their lives (on both sides of the "War on Terror"). This was my way of reacting to the news.

With such a significant event come signifant and significantly varied emotional reactions. This is fine and normal and I don't fault anyone for how he/she feels about it. However, how we feel and act are different. This is why we have penalties for bad sportsmanship (e.g. excessive celebration in football). This is why in media we tend to sympathize with the humble, gracious winner (e.g. the Karate Kid) rather than the taunting, celebratory one (e.g. his Cobra Kai opponent).

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it much better than I can:
‎"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

Practically speaking, much of the international community already sees the US as a global bully that pushes other countries around and assassinates unilaterally at will. I suspect that images of Americans jumping up and down in celebration of the killing (metaphorically "dancing on the grave" of a fallen enemy) will further this image and maybe add bloodlust to our charicature as well.

For my part I try to represent the US differently, but perhaps the learning here is that this other representation is in many ways accurate - that the jubilant celebrators are simply being authentic and that it doesn't take WikiLeaks to reveal that truth. Regardless, I take comfort in the fact that each of us has the right to celebrate in whichever way he/she sees fit and that brave and competent men and women are working every day to protect that right.

Schaefer Wedding

This weekend Katie and I had the pleasure and honor of celebrating someone ELSE'S wedding just a week before our own! The wedding was in Key West, Florida so we were excited to relax a little in the sun for the weekend.

We flew down on Friday and immediately removed our watches to enforce that we were now on "island time." We settled into our little B&B on Truman Avenue and spent the afternoon just walking around Duval Street. We found a little hole in the wall called The Conch Shack where we had some excellent conch fritters. Friday night was rehearsal dinner at El Meson de Pepe (Cuban cuisine) and then we spent the rest of the night lounging around the pool and catching up with friends from Rice.

Saturday morning Katie and I woke up early to combine exercise with scenery. Katie walked around and explored some of the local parks while I went for a jog along the southern coast of the island. Lots of other people were out walking, running, biking, and roller blading around the island and everyone was very friendly.

We met up with our friends for brunch at Sarabeth's, where we also began daydrinking with a carafe of mimosas. After that some of our party went kayaking but Katie and I and RT decided to take the daydrinking to the next level by playing a few holes of Pub Golf.

Pub Golf is a drinking sport that goes along with a Pub Crawl. Each bar/pub stop on the crawl is considered a hole of golf. Participants are scored based on their consumption: drinking a beer is Par (0), a shot is Birdie (-1), a beer and a shot is Eagle (-2), and two beers or two shots is Albatross (-3). Sounds pretty straight forward, right? There is some strategy involved too, though, because each time you go to the bathroom you are penalized with an additional stroke (+1). If you vomit you are penalized with +2 - but if you "puke and rally" it's only +1.

This game was new to Katie and me but we were excited to play. We were both a bit nervous as our days of heavy drinking are pretty much behind us but it would be fun to see if we could stil hang. As the undefeated champion of the R7 Solutions "Shut Up And Drink" Challenge, I had a bit of pride at stake, but I also had more concern for my health and being in good shape for the wedding several hours later, so I would tap out if need be.

Our first hole was Fat Tuesday, a bar known for mixed frozen drinks. Katie started strong with their strongest drink, the 44 Magnum, for which she was awarded -2. She was also assigned a -2 handicap for her lower bodyweight. As with most competitions, my strategy was to come out swinging, so I ordered two shots (-3). Because I was in the islands, I chose two rums: Barcadi 8-year and Bacardi Reserva. The 8-year was OK but the Reserva was rich and complex with a refined finish - hardly appropriate for a debaucherous competition such as ours! RT decided to keep pace and took two shots of Goldschlager (-3). At the end of this hole, Katie had the lead with -4, followed closely by RT and me with -3 each.

Hole two took us to Irish Kevin's, RT's favorite bar on Duval St - and I can see why! It had many things to recommend it: Guinness on tap, a bartender who taunted patrons and drank along with them, a standing Guinness CHUGGING contest, and an awesome live singer/guitarist who sang Skynyrd, CCR, and Johnny Cash. Katie had a Smithwick's (0) and RT and I opted to slow our scoring pace a bit to stick with the Irish theme; we each ordered a Guinness and a Jameson's (-2).

We had an awesome time at this place, singing along at the tops of our lungs. A couple walked in wearing Redskins shirts too, so it was fun to chat/commisserate with them. Katie was already seriously feeling the effects of the first hole, though, so she neglected her beer and bogeyed. Not one to let a perfectly good beer go to waste, I finished it off to drop another stroke (-3). At the end of this hole, I had the lead with -6, RT was right behind me with -5, and Katie was a little further back at -3. Long story short: I never relinquished the lead so I'll stop updating our scores from here on.

Our third hole was The Lazy Gecko, which happened to have an Irish bartender. As such, we continued the Guinness + Jameson's combination. They also had a Nintendo Wii so we exercised something other than our livers with Wii Bowling and Homerun Derby. Re-energized by the Wii, Katie was back in the game.

The fourth and final hole was the Hog's Breath, where we sat at the bar and just drank liquor. Katie had a sapphire martini, RT went back to Goldschlager, and I tried some other exotic rums plus vodka distilled from local oranges.

By the end of Hole Four it was clear that we needed something in our systems that was not alcohol. We found a restaurant that was creatively named "Cheeseburger." RT ordered the eponymous menu item while Katie and I shared a fish sandwich, conch fritters, and sweet potato fries. By the time we left it was 2 PM and it was clearly time for all of us to nap. RT yak'ed on the way back (+2) but I had a pretty insurmountable lead by then anyway. All in all it was a very good time and I'm glad we gave it a try!

After a refreshing nap and shower we attended the actual wedding of our friends, which took place at the Key West Lighthouse, a really pretty location. The ceremony was officiated by another friend of ours who did a really good job of combining meaningful words with humor. It was a very nice little ceremony and we were pleased to share in the joy of our two newlywed friends.

Afterward the reception was upstairs at 915 Duval, which was a nice venue with good food and very friendly staff. There we ate, drank, chatted, caught up, and generally had a good time for several hours. When it came time to send off the bride and groom, though, we called it a night too. After all, we had had a pretty intense day and we're not as young as we used to be!

Sunday we hopped on our plane back to Houston, very excited for the couple and we were honored to be included in the weekend's festivities. Now the countdown has begun to our OWN nuptials, for which we depart on Tuesday!