As I sit on our back porch on the most perfect summer evening a girl could ask for, it’s hard not to think about everything that has happened over the past month…everything that has changed – but too, everything that hasn’t changed.

I am his wife.  He is my husband.  We share a bank account, a house, and several late night talks about nothing overly important.  We get mail that has both of our names and I share the same health insurance as him.  We’ve painted a room, bought new curtains, and indulged in our first big husband-wife purchase: a washer and dryer.

Those are the things that have changed – but what hasn’t changed is what amazes me the most.

Kindiebelle, Raikkon, and Naraku are still the lights of our life.  We still enjoy date night and we still work out several nights a week.  I cook dinner during the week – and still sometimes catch some slack for my “cooking”.  He’s still and engineer and I’m still trying to get by at my parents store.

When I try to put into words how I feel after being married, I can’t.  I stumble.  He’s my best friend.  He’s everything I imagined and more.  He keeps me grounded, but lets me dream big.

I can’t wait to see where these next years take us.  I can’t wait to see the gorgeous children we make and the beautiful home we move into when we’ve realized we’ve run out of room.  I can’t wait to see the new car we get as we start to tote around our kids…and their friends…to soccer…hockey…tennis…cheerleading…  I can’t wait to see the vacations we go on year after year – and the smiles I see on Neil’s face as he sees a new part of the world.  I can’t wait to feel the excitement as we approach our 5th…10th…20th wedding anniversary.

I love Neil with all my heart.  We’ve been through more than most couples have and through it all, we’ve come out on top…conquering every mountain that tried to get in between us.

I loved him then…

Two months after we started dating...

And I love him even more now…

Our wedding day... (courtesy of Fiona MacNeill)

Here’s to our one month anniversary…the 2,592,000 seconds…43,200 minutes…1,800 hours…30 days…that we’ve spent as husband and wife…and here’s to the many, many more in the future.

I love you, Neil.

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Well, we’re back from our whirlwind European vacation and I’ve finally gotten a minute (or two) to relax and peruse through our pictures…which got me thinking – why not share some of our lovely photos and experiences with you?! 🙂

So here I am, sitting and waiting for our reception to creep up on us – just as our wedding did – and while I know I want it to come, I also don’t want it to be over!  So, instead, I’ll reminisce about our honeymoon and entertain you all as well!!

As you may (or may not) know, we started out in Edinburgh, Scotland – made a jump to St. Andrews to say our “I Do’s”, then headed south to London and Paris. 

We. Enjoyed. Every. Minute.

There was truly not a time where we did not have fun…enjoy ourselves…laugh…smile…

Being in a totally foreign location with the love of your life does things to you!  Neil and I have been together for seven years.  Surely, you’d think that in seven years we would know nearly everything about each other.  But when you’re running around in a place where you know no one, where everyone knows you’re a tourist, where – at times – you don’t know the language, you learn new things.  You learn to figure out things when you’re under insurmountable stress.  You learn that maybe you should have spent the extra $100 a night for a hotel room.  You learn that if you just take a minute to talk to the locals, they could cause you to almost lose your head in laughter.  You learn that hole-in-the-wall restaurants are usually the best restaurants…and worth a second visit!  But the coolest part about visiting a totally foreign location for the first time together is that you learn that just as much as you love each other, you also love new places.  And that’s what Neil and I found.  Between all the locations, St. Andrews – and Scotland in general – was our absolute favorite.  Sure, we’re biased…we did exchange our vows in that location…but I’m sure we’re not the only ones to agree that Scotland was utterly ::amazing::

We spent the first night of our excursion to Europe on a plane…a plane not much bigger than one you would take to Florida.  And it wouldn’t have been a complete trip without Neil first getting in a fight with the lady sitting next to him.  Okay, let me back up and set the scene for you.  We board our plane in Newark bound for Edinburgh.  Mind you, we’re boarding the plane a whopping 90 minutes late…but that’s neither here nor there.  We get on board and we’re in a row of three: me next to the window, Neil in the middle, and a nice young gentleman in the aisle.  As they are closing the doors, the nice young gentleman realizes that the row next to us is nearly empty.  Only one person is seated there and oddly enough – it’s his friend!  So he scoots on over and Neil and I are thrilled!  We have an extra seat and now we can really sprawl out and relax.  Oh, but wait, what is this?!  Big Bertha?!  Coming to sit by us?!  Yes. Yes, it is.  A large woman – no far from the size of an old opera singer – comes and sits in that seat.  Which prompts this conversation:

Neil: “Are you going to sit there…the whole trip?”

Lady: “Yes.  The flight attendant said we could sit wherever.”

Neil (as ol’ opera lady is talking with someone she “knows” a couple rows up): “Looks like there’s a seat up there with your friend, why don’t you sit with her?”

Lady: “Oh, I don’t know anyone on this flight.”

Neil: “Um…you’re talking to that lady, clearly you know her.”

Lady: “Nope, I don’t know anyone.”

Neil: “So you’re sitting there the whole time.”

Lady: “Yup.”

Neil: “Okay, well, I have bladder problems so you’ll have to get up a lot.”

Lady: “Oh, grow up!”

Neil: “Oh, no, it’s fine.  I don’t mind getting up every five minutes.”

Okay…yes, my husband (fiance at the time!) likes to argue with middle-aged women – who have nothing better to do than argue with 20-something year old guys.  Cool, opera lady, cool!  So in the end, no, Neil didn’t get up every  five minutes, but we did switch seats – and since I’m such an amazing fiance (now wife!!) – Neil got the window and was able to relax!

Upon arriving in Edinburgh (pronounced: Edin-brah), we were absolute ecstatic!  The weather was far surpassing our expectations and the people were friendly and helpful.  We boarded our double-decker bus…

…headed straight to the top and found a seat.  And, as you can imagine, we took a bajillion pictures in the first 5 minutes simply because we were just so totally amazed!

You can’t tell from the picture…but I’m wearing my super cool Bride-Suit!! 🙂

Cute homes…with cute little yards lined the streets of Edinburgh…

…castle like homes on every corner…

…and upon our arrival to the city center, we were greeted by Scott Monument – in honor of Sir Walter Scott.

It was such a beautiful and majestic medieval structure.  So intricate and gorgeous.   Despite the fact we were absolutely exhausted, Neil and I decided to head out on the town and do some walking around.  We got into Edinburgh around 10am and our parents weren’t going to be in until about noon or 1pm, so we knew we had time to kill.  Plus, our rooms weren’t ready yet, so why not?!  We walked and walked until we stumbled upon a quaint little church on the corner…St. John’s.  We took a peek inside and it was just beautiful…

With stained glass on every window, it was absolutely breathtaking!  It was built in the 1800s (so it’s a modern building – by Scottish standards!) and each of the pews had a different hand-engraved cross at the entrance.  It was amazing. 

After an exhausting day of shopping around the shops and seeing sights, we decided to take a rest in the park…which was just the cutest little park ever!  And they had ice cream – so I took full advantage of that!!

Oddly enough, as we were walking back to the hotel to see if the rest of the family had arrived, we ran into Dave and Troy!  They took us up to the rooms where we took (much needed) showers and got ready for the night. 

We really knew nothing about Edinburgh, so we decided for dinner…we’d just walk around until we found something that looked good!  Little did we know that as we were walking around, we were going to stumble onto a whole new area of Edinburgh that we had no idea existed!!!  The area we had been in was very modern and consisted mainly of high-end mall-type shops.  This new part – on the other hand – was just our calling!!  Tourist shop after tourist shop after tourist shop!!!  A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

So remember that amazing Scottish weather I was talking about?!  Well, the “Scottish weather” part was true.  Like Wendy told me, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes and it’ll change.”  Well, in the hour and a half we were eating dinner, our beautiful weather changed…to tsunami like weather!  Which caused us to be quite the tourists in our Scotland flag umbrellas and Scotland flag ponchos!!

Neil and I took a break from the rain for a quick little photo op!  Right behind us is an adorable little courtyard – they were everywhere!

Needless to say, after a big day of travelling and sightseeing – Neil and I were pooped!  We laid down to watch TV at about 8pm, I woke up at 11pm and headed back to my parent’s room where I crashed until the morning.  Mom and Dad woke up early to head to church while Dave, Ellen, Troy, Neil and I went out on the town to see what we could see!  And boy did we see a lot!!

We saw Edinburgh from the top of Scott Monument…

…and I stole a kiss in the process…

…we squeezed our way back down the monument…and were glad we worked hard to take off those extra five pounds…

…we took a peek around our first (of many) castles…and felt like true royalty!…

The massive-ness of these structures in Scotland were amazing.  To think – all of this was built in a time where there were no cranes…they were no bulldozers…there was NOTHING of modern science available to assist the workers!!  And wow…what a drop off!!!  Talk about intimidating!

The intricate work in the Great Hall Dining Room just took your breath away!

Lots and LOTS of swords!!!  All which lined several rooms of the Castle.

Yes!!  I used a REAL British telephone booth – and I really had to use it, too!!

After Edinburgh Castle, it was off to dinner and then finally St. Andrews!!!!  More to come on that special topic! 🙂

As I lay here the night before becoming Mrs. Barnes, I have to think back about the long and winding road that brought me here.

They always say that the quickest way from Point A to Point B is a straight line, and while that may be true, it’s not always the best way.  Getting from Point A to Point B for me has been a challenge.  It has had its rewards and it has had its consequences.

When I met the man that I will call my husband tomorrow afternoon, I was a wrecked soul.  Sure, it sounds sentimental and cliché, but I was.  I was in an abusive relationship and was fairly convinced there was no way of getting out.  And in a time of dire frustration, I called up a friend and in turn, met Neil.  When I walked into Ryan’s house on that fateful winter evening, I had no idea what was in store.  I already told Ryan I didn’t care that it was going to be four guys and me that I just needed companionship – someone to take my mind of things…someone to make me smile and laugh…and Ryan could always do that.  I guess I can’t say it was love at first sight, but once we had an opportunity to sit down and talk, I was completely and utterly in love.

There were quirky things about me back in 2003.  First of all, I loved guys who drove black trucks.  Don’t ask me why, but I did.  I didn’t really know anyone who drove a black truck, but I just liked it…  Also, I was becoming a bit more interested in “alternative” sports – I’m calling them alternative because they aren’t the typical football…basketball…baseball.  I was sick of the jocks that thought they were above everyone else because they played a certain sport.  I was done with it.  It wasn’t fun anymore.

Neil fit into both of those quirks – maybe that’s why I accepted his instant message on AIM.  As a hockey player, he wasn’t very showy about being a hotshot or acting like he “owned the joint”.  He was just…normal.

Quickly after our first “hang out” (I can’t really call it a date…we didn’t go anywhere back then!!), Neil decided to tell his friend Wes that we were “going out”.  Of course, he hadn’t consulted me at the time, but I wasn’t in objection.  Soon after, I received my very first piece of jewelry from someone other than my parents.  It was the most beautiful diamond bracelet…and what special occasion did I receive this token of Neil’s love…?  Easter.  Let’s just say it was the first time I was ever speechless.  Then quickly after Easter, we enjoyed a spring break together in Fort Myers, Florida then prom at Avon High School.  While picking out my very first prom dress, I remember telling my mom that I wanted something “that made me feel like a princess – because that’s how Neil makes me feel”.  Still to this day, I feel like a princess when I am with my prince.  Sure, he doesn’t open doors for me and pull out chairs, but the way he plays with my hair…holds me in his arms…looks in my eyes…I know I’m his princess…

Eighteen months ago, Neil asked me to be his wife.  He asked me to spend the rest of my life.  That’s a pretty serious question.  I said yes and it was the best decision I have ever made.  In the past eighteen months, Neil and I have changed considerably as individuals.  Neil started a new job…I graduated…then graduated again…I interviewed for jobs…we became parents, again…we became homeowners…we dealt with a major crisis ten days before our wedding…and through it all, we’ve become better people – but more importantly, we’ve fallen more in love.  We’ve created a home that is more than we could have ever imagined and we did it all through love.  And now, tomorrow afternoon, we will take all those changes, everything we’ve been through in the past 23 and 24 years, and we will commit to one another the rest of our lives.  We will become one.

Neil and I have had our challenges, we’ve had our triumphs.  We’ve fought.  We’ve cried.  We’ve laughed.  But most importantly, we’ve loved.  We’ve loved each other.  We’ve loved our dogs.  We’ve even loved our little fish.  We’ve discussed important life events and we’ve watched each other grow in our careers and ourselves.

Neil is truly and sincerely my best friend.  He knows all my deepest secrets and knows the way to make me tick.  He knows when I’ve had a bad day before I’ve said anything at all.  He knows how to cheer me up and he knows how to make me laugh uncontrollably.  We share similar passions and he knows that even though I may act tough, I still need to be protected.

He holds the key to my heart.

And when he holds my hand, he takes my breath away.

And when I meet him at the altar tomorrow and he takes my hands, I know I’ll be protected…loved…happy…all the rest of the days of my life.

It wasn’t an easy road – and at times it wasn’t a fun one…but it was worth it, because while it may not have been the quickest route, it was the most successful.  And in the end, I will arrive at Point B as Mrs. Neil Lawrence Barnes…and my life couldn’t be any more complete.

So, I really never thought this time would come.  I’ve taken the entire week off and doing some much-needed cleaning and packing.  There are, of course, things that need to be finalized, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why I am so calm about everything.

(source)

My parents arrived in London yesterday, Amy and Paul are there now, and Dave and Ellen leave today.  So the most important people – aside from the bride and groom – are already in place and ready to go.  All the programs are assembled and the OOT bags are (kind of) in that direction.  There are 4 bags in the computer room that are basically completely packed and my airplane outfit is pressed and prepared.  (Okay, I knew what I was wearing on Easter…get over it!)

The dogs have their accommodations arranged and their food is already pre-measured and ready to go.  The house is a bit of a disaster, but that’s nothing a couple of hours won’t fixed.  I have one tiny surprise to purchase for my groom, and besides that – a quick jog and some softball games and we’re ready to go.

I feel so entirely accomplished – how on earth did I get it all done?!  Okay, yes, I had 18 months…that’s true, but I remember just a little while ago freaking out that nothing was going to get finished!!

Now sure, absolutely nothing for the reception has been decided – which means I’ll be in full-on reception mode upon our return to the States, but that’s nothing compared to planning a destination wedding for 16 people.

I am so calm.  I am so relaxed.  And yet, I can’t get it out of my head that I have forgotten something.  I have packed, re-packed, and re-packed again just to make sure I have it all.  I’ve made checklists for Neil and checklists for me – heck, I even made an “outfit schedule” for the whole time I’m there – just to make sure I have sufficient clothes for our trip!

Now, I don’t mean to brag, but why can’t all brides be like me?  I’m just as obsessive and compulsive as the rest of them.  I want it to be just as perfect as every other bride.  And I have surely spared no expense in the creation of our big day.  So why am I not fretting?  Why do I just go along each day thinking everything is yes, “hunky dory”?  Maybe it’s because I’m just that awesome!!!

Although, I will say this, I wish our reception response cards would come back with a little more consistency – we are still missing over 100 responses…so if you’re reading this and haven’t turned yours in – GET ON IT!! 🙂

So a note to all the brides out there – don’t stress, just smile and enjoy the ride.  I truly believe that is why I am being so calm just one week before our wedding!!! 🙂

With only two weeks before the wedding and a week and a day before we depart, I figured now was a good time to fill you all in on the loose ends that have (for the most part) been tied up!

Reception responses have been filing in at a rate of about 2 or 3 per day and I get so excited every time someone else says “yes!”  I think to date, we’re up to about 70 confirmed guests!!  Yipee!!!  I feel so blessed that so many people want to spend a summer evening with us celebrating our marriage!!

Onto more pressing news, visas.  Yes, I found out last Thursday that despite the fact Americans don’t need a visa to visit the United Kingdom, I however do.  If you remember, I was denied a visa because I had insufficient evidence about my trip and my intentions to return to the United States (you know, aside from the fact that I know no one in the UK and that my entire family and life is here in the U.S. – but that’s neither here nor there…)  So I reapplied and Mom and I found out that if you pay the right people the right amount of money – you can get things done!!!  Well, things got done!  Our lovely friend John from Chicago has been working diligently with the British Consulate to get my visa issued pronto!  In fact, just last night I received an email that says my visa will be ready for pickup today!  Of course, I don’t want to jinx myself so I’m not holding my breath on when I’ll actually receive it!!

Everyone (that I’m aware of) has been paid and I really think this thing might actually happen!!  Everything is in order and we’re ready to go!!  My final payment to the wonderful Lorna (for flowers) was sent this morning and I think we’re good to go!!

I am so nervous but so ready at the same time.  No, I’m not nervous to marry Neil – I’m absolutely 100% ready to marry my best friend – I am however nervous about the whole ceremony and reception!  For the past year and a half, I’ve been planning things from pictures and explanations.  Aside from my own dress, I’ve not seen anything!  Heck – I haven’t even seen my Grande Dame of Honour’s dress!!!!  I have this vision in my head of exactly how it’s going to turn out – but what if it doesn’t turn out that way?  What if on June 9th, I find out that I am absolutely miserable at explaining things through an email?!  Sure, I drew a picture for Wendy and Lorna, but what if that wasn’t enough?  What if they don’t get my vision?  Sure, I know no matter what it will be the most perfect day in the world, but I can’t stop “what if-ing”.

What if my dress is wrinkled?

What if the kilts don’t fit the guys?

What if my flowers are nothing like I expected?

What if my sister hates all the gifts I have picked out for her?

What if my hair isn’t quite right?

What if it rains?

Can I forgive myself if the pictures don’t turn out just right?  Can I forgive myself if I don’t “lose those last 5 pounds”?  Can I forgive myself if I don’t kiss Neil just the right way when we’re announced husband and wife?!

Now these are pretty strong talking points – and sure, when it’s all said and done, Neil and I will just just as married.  But what if everything I have done for the past eighteen months doesn’t turn out just right?

Can I forgive myself?

These are the loose ends I can’t tie up.  These are the lose ends that will ultimately make (or Heaven-forbid, break) our wedding day.  These are the things that count.

I know sulking over them won’t make the situation any better, but talking about them and expressing my worries will maybe make my heart ache a little less.  I have prided myself on being such a worry-free bride – allowing my sister to pick whatever dress she wanted, whatever shoes.  Being calm and collected.  Being organized and ready.  Those are things that I truly think will make the wedding even better…

…but there are always the what-ifs.  I can plan all I want.  I can be more organized than any bride ever thought possible.  I can do all the research in the world and have every hair in place.  But ultimately, something will go wrong.  I may not notice it, and I may absolutely notice it.  But either way – it will happen and the day will have to go on.  How do you prepare for something that you know will happen?!

With just two weeks left before our wedding, a lot of the stuff I’ve been talking about has been going through my head…typically right as I lay down for bed, but nonetheless.  But here’s what I know for sure…

…when I wake up on June 11th, I will be waking up next to the man of my dreams – my best friend.  And even if the entire wedding becomes one big disaster – he will still be my husband and I will still be his wife.  We will have our trials and we will have our successes – and we will always have each other.

And that’s what makes planning this whole big shindig worth every crying pain.