Grace | Kerin + Matthew's Wedding

I've photographed these two multiple times (see here, here, and here) and I can now say with great joy that as of 20 May 2017, they are FINALLY MARRIED! 

Miriam and I were invited to the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner and we went over to the venue a few hours early to help set up. I wasn't the hired photographer, but Matt and Kerin told me to go ahead and take as many pictures as I wanted, so I did! The venue was a photographer's dream: inside a refurbished barn full of string lights and rustic decorations. When I arrived with Miriam on Friday afternoon, I walked in to see a large group of people running around carrying ladders, strands of lights, table decorations, and enormous Edison bulbs. Miriam got to work helping Christin hang globe lights and I snapped a few pictures. 

I've never shot at a wedding before, but the photos of the bridal party getting ready are always my favorite, so I was really excited to be able to get behind the camera this time. 

Kerin's sister Mary Ann was the junior bridesmaid. This girl is a riot and a total sweetheart. She's chatty, enthusiastic about everything, wants to help whenever she can, and gives out hugs like candy. 

Christin, the maid of honor. She did an amazing job keeping everything running smoothly the morning of the wedding.

Kerin was absolutely stunning. I may be a tad biased, but she was the most beautiful bride ever. Her dress suited her perfectly. She looked classy, elegant, regal...I couldn't take my eyes off her the entire day.  

"My lipstick needs fixing!"

Right before we were about to head out the door, Kerin said, "Oh, shoot! I forgot to brush my teeth!!!" Everyone in the room chuckled at that because about twenty minutes prior, Colleen (Matt's cousin) made a PSA to everyone in the room and hollered, "Everyone remember to brush your teeth and put on deodorant!" 

Immediately after the ceremony, a few of us headed straight back to the Barn to help put the last finishing touches on the tables before the reception began. The night before, it was freezing cold and pouring down rain and when we popped by the Barn around 10 to see how things were going, we discovered that everything had been moved to places where water wasn't dripping from the ceiling. The tables just had tablecloths on them and most of the decorations were still sitting in boxes on and under the tables. But lots of people had been working very hard all morning the day of the wedding and when we arrived after the wedding, the place had been completely transformed. 

They had a little Instax that was passed around and by the end of the reception, there was a pile of Polaroids on the bridal party's table.

Oh, this couple. 

I'm going to gush for a minute.

These two are such a gift. Ever since I met them, their schedules have been insane. Kerin's major required a lot of complex science classes that took up a lot of her time and energy. Matt's an English major, so he's done everything that comes along with that, as well as a lot of work for campus media - video, photography, running accounts on social media platforms, etc. And of course, once spring semester rolled around, they were...you know, planning a wedding and sorting out their lives on top of everything else they already had to juggle. 

And somehow, no matter how crazy their lives may have been at any given time, they are always loving and selfless toward others around them. So many times, especially last school year, I'd drop by Kerin's apartment to talk to one of her roommates and end up staying twice as long to chat or vent with Kerin about whatever was going on in life at that moment. Oftentimes, Kerin would be bogged down working on a PowerPoint or a demonstration or a paper, but would always make time to hang out and catch up for a bit.

And of course, Matt would almost always swing by the apartment - or already be there - and I would stay even later, talking to him about photography or crazy things people had done...or just stand at the counter laughing at his antics and all the ridiculous things he'd say. 

Or they'd be in the middle of making dinner or about to watch a movie and would invite me to stay and hang out. Sometimes Matt's sister would come by with a friend or two and we'd all just sit at the little 4-person table and talk about life. 

Someone at the wedding said something along the lines of, "You two bring so much peace. Even if I just see one of you from across campus, I feel like everything's okay." I agree 100% with that statement. They are so rooted in who they are in Christ and that just shone through in every aspect of their relationship since day one. Not long after they started dating, I was talking to Kerin about something relationship-related - can't remember what it was specifically - and she said, "We want our relationship to be about others. We want anyone who hangs out with us to feel included and important and to feel that God loves them." 

And let me tell y'all, they nailed it. There aren't a ton of times that I can pinpoint a specific person and say, "You showed me how God loves." Kerin and Matt are two of those people. Their relationship with each other and those around them is so loving and gentle, so patient, so selfless, so pure and sincere. They're the kind of people who make you want to better know His heart, because if a person can love the way they do, how does God love? They're the kind of people the world needs. And now they're married and the world is a better place because of it.

Travel | 2 Weeks with a Hapless American in Italy

I wrote this during my third week of the study-abroad program. I never got around to publishing it and I need to write about the remaining 4 weeks, but for what it's worth, here's the first 2. 

I know a lot of you have been eagerly awaiting photos, but because of my crazy schedule and a lack of time to edit, it'll be a little longer. But enjoy this photo of the best pistachio and black sesame gelato I've ever had! 

I know a lot of you have been eagerly awaiting photos, but because of my crazy schedule and a lack of time to edit, it'll be a little longer. But enjoy this photo of the best pistachio and black sesame gelato I've ever had! 

Ciao! Buongiorno! 

Two weeks ago, I was tossed into another culture in another country in another continent on the other side of the world. Exciting! And scary. I'm loving Italy and its culture, but there are a lot of elements that surprised me. Such as...

Drinks

There are a lot of unwritten rules about coffee drinking. Cappuccino isn't meant to be had after breakfast. Ever. Espresso isn't meant to be had sitting down. Ever. In the words of Francesco, "It's not illegal. It's immoral." You stand at the bar, take it like a shot, and bustle back out the door. I'm not a coffee drinker myself, so I didn't experience any of this firsthand, but as a typical American who thought of espresso and cappuccino as nothing more than just two coffee beverages, it's been fascinating to see the tradition around those two drinks. 

Milk isn't served cold, nor is it served after breakfast time. Drinking milk cold or at any other time of day is, as Angelo put it, "just for the bambini." Ice water isn't a thing here; even water out of a cooler at a shop won't really be cold. The drinking fountains are really something to see as they aren't the unsightly messes of metal and plastic bolted into the wall the way they are in the States. No, like everything else in Italy, they are as aesthetically pleasing as they are functional - large, metal things that quite resemble oversized, elegant fire hydrants. Sometimes the fountains set up on street corners are also used to dispense drinking water.

Food

Italians. Love. Their. Food. The world knows this. Italians take it very seriously and truly see it as an art. There is pasta at every lunch and dinner as the first course. Pasta seems to be highly respected here as its own separate part of a meal and never served with meat; the most meat you'll have is a light meat sauce, but you won't be served a chicken breast or a pork tenderloin alongside your pasta. Alfredo sauce doesn't exist here. Instead, you'll eat a lot of ragu and pesto and various tomato sauces. 

There's a secret to finding good gelato, good panini, good coffee. If a shop sells gelato along with other things, it won't be the best gelato: the trick is to find a place that sells only gelato. The same rule applies if you want to find a good panino: find a place that sells panini and only panini. A restaurant will likely have lower-quality coffee than a bar (bars here aren't places you go to drink and party; they're places that sell a little bit of everything and often have good coffee). So if you want to eat dinner at a restaurant and top it off with, say, gelato and coffee, you'll probably want to leave the restaurant and find a proper gelateria and go to a bar for your coffee after that. 

Navigating the Streets

The sidewalks here are very narrow; it's a squeeze for one person carrying a bag, never mind two people. People, residents and tourists alike, love to stop in the middle of the sidewalk for a chat, a smoke, or for no apparent reason at all. Many times, I've come close to yelling at people, "It's a sideWALK, not a sideSTAND AND CHAT!" I guess that's the speedy American in me showing. I've also noticed that people, especially other tourists, love to cram themselves two abreast onto the sidewalk and often refuse to step into a single file line even if you're walking directly toward them. I've spent a lot of time stepping off of the sidewalk and into whatever is on the road, be it a puddle, another crowd coming the opposite direction, or moving traffic. Speaking of traffic...

Drivers

You long for those narrow sidewalks, no matter how crowded they may be, when you are faced with the prospect of walking down a street that doesn't have them. The main road leading up to Settignano, the little town we're staying in, is a 2-way street without sidewalks. You have maybe 2 feet to walk at the most open parts, but a majority of the road has a very narrow shoulder and you have to squish yourself on there if you don't want to be walking in the street. And let me tell you, the drivers on that road don't slow down when they pass you, and they normally won't even move over on the road unless they are in actual danger of hitting you...which involves them being much, much closer to you than you're comfortable with. This means that you will have cars flying by you a foot away, leaving you fearing for your life. They, however, don't think anything of it; they may drive like maniacs, but they all do it in the same way, so there aren't ever any real problems, for drivers or pedestrians. 

Hives

This one definitely isn't Italian-culture-related, but it's still a new experience I've had while I've been here. I woke up on the day that marked 2 weeks since my arrival in Italy with bumps all up and down my right side. My first thought was, "I have the frickin' plague. I've been in Italy for two weeks and I have the frickin' black plague." Once I woke up a little more and my head cleared, I realized that I probably had either a rash or a ton of mosquito bites. Then I ran into Elle. She's had experience with various kinds of allergic reactions and took one look at my arm and said, "Oh, yeah...those are hives."

Awesome.

A much less frightening diagnosis than the plague, to be sure, but nevertheless unnerving, as I have never had hives, nor do I know of any allergies that I have that could result in hives. I backtracked through the previous 36 hours and couldn't think of a single thing I had done or eaten that was out of the ordinary. I took a cold shower and scoured every inch of my body. I put on lotion. I met up with a friend in town for the afternoon and her mom had tea tree lotion, so I slathered myself with that. I chugged water, hoping to flush my system. I stopped by the pharmacy and bought some hydrocortisone. I've doused myself in apple cider vinegar. As I write this, my right arm still feels like Braille. Not ideal, but I feel fine otherwise, so I'm just chilling with my hives and hoping they go away soon.

Air Conditioning

Many places don't have it, including the place where I'm staying. It's not a huge deal, but it's definitely something to get used to, especially since it's so hot here during this time of the year. My best friends and most loyal allies in the battle against the heat have been the shade, strong breezes, and cold showers. The good news is, it's easy to be motivated to stay hydrated...and I'll appreciate air conditioning so much more when I go home!