It is a somewhat long but romantic story if you take the time to read the engagement story. Girls, prepare to say awwwww. Boys, prepare to gag (and think awwwww in your inside voice... it's OK. My brother Matt said AWWWW CHOOOOO on Facebook when I posted our engagement story.)
My family/friends that have met him ALL adore him and wonder what he is doing with me because he is so great.
His family/friends that I have met, welcome me with REAL hugs and as far as I know love me. I love them too. It is refreshing! I have the total package!
Our offspring like each other (they aren't quite children anymore - 24 and 17 years old). Jay and Robbie are buddies (Jay probably knows more about my kiddo than I do now for the day to day stuff... sniffle) and in the much too short time I spent with Sierra in person I had lots of hugs from this beautiful, smart, sweet girl. She is so very much like her Daddy! Of course I adore her! My only complaint is we don't have enough time with her.
Sorry ladies, I claim him and won't give him up. EVER. And don't hate - if it can happen to me; it can happen to you! (It only took me 37 years to meet him)
We are both comfortable in black tie or informal situations. Although we both prefer casual environments. Hence, our wedding plans!
Our biggest difference... I will be an embarrassing ham on stage at karaoke and he is firmly anti-karaoke. It's a small thing and maybe by our 20th anniversary I will get him on stage. Until then, he tolerates and laughs with me.
I "virtually" met Jay in Sept 07 while we played tournament poker and chatted in an online poker chat room (www.roundersradio.com). It was an innocent encounter on that first night I logged in that grew to friendship over months and then love. I never thought we would meet face to face (much less get engaged/married years later) but I am THRILLED it turned out this way.
I knew he was IT the first time he kissed me (my leg kicked up and the outside world melted away like in those old movies) and I was done for after that moment. I still think he hides a voodoo doll somewhere because I fell in love so deeply while I wasn't seeking it out. (I hope it is buried and he can't remember where to dig it up... he says somewhere in South Carolina he threw it out a window) I am very blessed! Not many people can put up with my rainbow of quirks - ask my old roommate & now cousin Julia... or my son, mom, brother, friends, etc... However Jay does it perfectly.
For those of you that don't know him - he is kind, gracious, brilliant, unassuming, tolerant, funny, caring, sarcastic (on occasions) but never a mean person. He makes me laugh, comforts me, tolerates my hugging him too much, calms me down, schools me when needed in a positive way, plays with me, doesn't "LET" me win, is never ungracious when he wins or loses, is my confidant, best friend and he kisses me till I am dizzy.
Me - I'm an absentminded mess that apparently has to be the center of attention. Poor guy - it is obviously not a fair trade!
We got a VERY last minute deal to the Florida Keys during my break between semesters over the Mother's Day 2011 weekend. We stayed in a private bungalow rented from an owner in the main house. It was quaint, small, clean, private and in the "locals" part of Big Pine Key. We had miniature deer in the front lawn (they are called Key Deer) and a canal right outside our door leading to the ocean. Since they had a last minute cancellation they included the Kayaks with the discounted rate. It was very homey and low key in a VERY good way. We will definitely revisit! Maybe a low-KEY honeymoon (pun intended)!
Day 1 (Friday)
We arrive after cruising down the Keys and stopping at Keys Fisheries in Marathon for a late lunch. They had a billboard for a lobster reuben and we had to stop. They have a fish market and restaurant downstairs and then upstairs is an open air bar that has some lovely specials for food. We ordered shrimp cocktail for $3 and Stone Crab claws for $1.25 each and met a few locals. Unbelievable quality and the size of both were fantastic. Stone crab is only available 10/15 - 5/15 each year so we had great timing. Some locals told us the best places to go in Key West (Green Parrot and Schooner's Wharf). Very friendly people!!! We moved on from there to our cottage and met the owner and neighbor. We were about 5 neighborhood streets from the No Name Pub (one of our targets for the trip – thank you Tim Dorsey). Big Pine shuts down by 9pm except for one local bar and the next closest place is Looe Key Tiki Resort's tiki bar on Ramrod Key. We stopped at the No Name Pub but the kitchen was closing so we didn't want to upset the cooks so we went to the tiki bar after the owner warned that it is a colorful place to go. People watching there is interesting if you can avoid interaction after 10pm. The nachos looked safe, so we ordered them... however Circle K has better nachos so we left and got an early night sleep.
Day 2 (Saturday)
We decided to Kayak to No Name Key and find the hidden mangrove canopy entrance to the lake inside the key. Sadly we never found it after TWO trips. We used the sunscreen (NOT waterproof... YIKES) and brought two bottles of water each in anticipation of a 2 hour max outing. Poor Jay forgot to put sunscreen on the top of his feet and he is still suffering over a week later. For the record... the following is MY FAULT... Jay advised that we should turn around, but I was going to prove to myself that I can handle it. We kayaked across the waterway to No Name Key looking for the entrance by poking our kayaks into each possible opening (and OBVIOUSLY missing the correct one). We kept going back and forth searching but not finding the opening so we kept going thinking we hadn't gone far enough. In a little over an hour we found ourselves on the other side of the island. When I saw the dock I figured we were halfway (forgetting that the bridge is on the WEST part of the island and the EAST part is MUCH MUCH MUCH longer. Jay remembered, but agreed to circle the island with me. He tried to talk me out of it many times, but NOOOOO, I am stubborn and have to prove to myself that I can make it around that island my first time in a Kayak.
The first shark I saw scared me to death. I said "Jay, um there is a shark". Jay says "COOL! Where?" I'm mortified and say "It is NOT COOL because we are in KAYAKS" Visions of Jaws went through my head and after the fin went under I waited for the bump that would flip me over and make a meal for the shark. Jay says it was "only" about 5 feet long and I don't want to know how big the second one was. Obviously we lived, but I still have a thing about sharks... thanks Dad!!!! The water was so pure we could see the sea grass waving on the bottom with the current no matter how deep it was. The fish, crabs, everything was alive below and it was peaceful until I realized I bit off more than I can chew. If I would have had a map, I would have turned around. My head was turned talking to Jay and when I faced forward there was a HUGE sea turtle right in front of me with a shell almost as big as the car hood. I was startled (not scared) and let out a yell which of course scared the beautiful creature away - DAMN! Jay saw the second one about an hour later, but I barely caught the nose going down. I was almost ready to Kayak to Bahia Honda since it was in eyesight and I had adrenaline going strong. Jay WAS however able to talk me out of that excursion. After I saw Bahia Honda, I thought we were right around the corner and completely forgot the other keys between Bahia Honda and Big Pine. I saw the bridge and thought that was the Big Pine Key bridge --- WRONG --- then got discouraged quickly. I thought I saw Big Pine Key and it was just ANOTHER part of No Name Key. Maps are so deceiving in your memory. That key was supposed to be tiny and it WASN’T! I found out it is over 8 miles around plus the almost mile across from Big Pine Key. Before I could see the No Name Key Bridge again I was hurting (and whining a bit) and on top of the sun scorching (which Jay got the worst of) I just wanted to hide in the shade. If I stopped paddling, I drifted back… thanks to the tide and current going against us. I found a marker on Big Pine Key; a radio tower that was supposed to give me hope but it laughed at me for about 2 hours. I shouldn’t have looked at it even once because it took forever to pass it. Jay kept telling me to watch the ocean floor… “Look Laura, there is grass and now sand and grass and now sand… we are making progress! Stop looking at that tower!” Meanwhile a man standing on a paddle board (going WITH the current) waves at us as he heads toward Bahia Honda looking like he is as relaxed as can be! He was quite impressive, sailing along, paddling infrequently just enjoying the ocean current. I was a bit jealous because we didn’t have the current with us. I couldn’t curse him because he was very friendly so my inner voice STAYED my inner voice. So we kept paddling and I kept dreaming about putting these kayaks on a motor boat and hitching a ride back toward the bridge. I hate to complain because it was a PERFECT day on the water, AND Jay was in much more sunburnt pain than me, AND it was MY FAULT for insisting that we make it around the island – but it was over 5 and ½ hours before we got back to the dock and I realized that I am not even close to 20 years old. There is more interaction toward the end that should have made Jay have second thoughts about Sunday, but he truly loves me and stuck with me (whining and all) all the way to our cottage. Did I mention that he is EXPERIENCED in Kayaks and that was my VERY FIRST TIME?
So, we get back and have a caked layer of salt on our skin. He lets me shower first while he chats with Jeff (the owner) and the neighbor in the backyard. Jay tried to tell me the “trick” with the shower and I apparently didn’t get it. My sunburn is nothing compared to the scalding burns I have on my legs trying to get the shower to be warm instead of boiling. I would have been happy with a COLD shower and it just wouldn’t happen! When you turn the water on, you get about 5 seconds of normal and then SCALDING comes out. So I lather up – and then wait a few minutes to rinse and repeat. It took an hour and I still scalded my legs. I still can’t complain though… my legs look awful but don’t hurt whereas Jay’s feet are STILL IN PAIN and he is peeling from head to toe. After Jay took his shower in normal water, since he knew the trick, we went to Key West to see the sunset at Mallory Square. After about 30 minutes we were done and looking for the Green Parrot and Schooner’s Wharf (never found it) per local’s suggestions. We gave up in Key West and found our way back stopping at Boondock’s Restaurant in Ramrod Key. We shared a dinner and still had leftovers! It was good, and had decent music and again we were off to sleep by 11pm with thoughts that we MIGHT make it to Bahia Honda the next day.
Post script.... You can still see the scalding on my legs almost a year later. Yes, Jay hurt VERY bad; but the darn shower scarred me. Yet we want to go back to the same place. Great people, great location! We think... GREAT Honeymoon with WATERPROOF sunscreen and a map because I am determined to find that hidden lake!
Day 3 (Sunday – aka Mother’s Day – aka Engagement Day)
We woke up before 9am (for those of you that know me… you KNOW I am not a morning person). Yet we never set an alarm and were still up no later than 9am!!! We went to the Cracked Egg restaurant on Big Pine Key and shared an omelet (I think crab (fancy sauce – don’t remember) and it was delicious and HUGE. We had leftovers from ONE omelet for dinner as it turned out. We brought the remainder back to the fridge at the house and then went to the Blue Hole/Key Deer Reserve to walk around. The kayak trip was prettier, but it was still pretty. By this time we have had our face-offs with the Key Deer so we were used to them. They would block the roadway as if to say… “Pay the toll with food already” and they were everywhere on Big Pine (especially in the morning, dusk and evening). Three feet tall Bambi’s always make me smile. We moved onto Sugarloaf Key and took pictures at the Bat Tower (thanks again Tim Dorsey). It was not as impressive as I imagined, but we checked it off our Serge tour. We did pass by the Torch Keys but only commented that they apparently still have a dangerous tone to them (we saw a murder/suicide in the paper). We moved on and then stopped at Stock Island at the shrimp boat docks. We picked up 3 pounds of shrimp and a 16+ inch yellowtail snapper at disgustingly low prices (WOO HOO) and put them on ice in our cooler in the trunk. We then went on to Key West, but this time instead of taking the Gulf side of the island on HWY 1 we took A1A on the Atlantic side. I haven’t been to this side of the island since I was sixteen and I don’t remember if it was like this then – HOWEVER, it was quiet, naturally beautiful and a relaxing ride. We parked in front of the Higgs Beach Pier and wandered around for at least an hour watching the HUGE Snook evade the fishermen, the Angelfish fighting over food/territory, the barracuda stalking their prey and then a pair of huge Tarpon (over 6 feet long each) try to feed. This may not be romantic for some of you, but both of us love ocean life and it was so calming. Please don’t be offended by the following. I have faith, but prefer to keep it to myself…. A Bible-thumping young man came up to us telling us the world will end May 21st and asked for us to read his pamphlet (which I took out of respect for his faith, and curiosity for the contents) and we made our way down the pier back to shore. We started to head for the car and decided to wander towards a building that looked like an old fort. We walked up, expecting it was being refurbished and were surprised to find that it was open. It was the Key West Garden Club with admission being a donation instead of a mandatory fee. Jay put in a donation and I signed the guest book. We started walking around, enjoying the shade, when Jay saw the Gazebo up a pathway and suggested we enjoy the view from there in the shade. That sounded like a good idea to me.
Here is where I give you MY inside scoop. Jay has had the ring for almost two years. I found it when I put his socks away and knew where he kept it. Right before we left I made an excuse and went back in to see if he brought it… hoping he would. It was still in that drawer! Soooo, I assumed he was not going to propose and thought of this as just a nice long weekend vacation.
Back to the Gazebo… we were overlooking the ocean, pier, sand and flowering cactus with Iguana’s eating the flowers. Jay was hugging me from behind, just holding me with sweet pecks on my neck and cheek, whispering sweet nothings (that you don’t need to hear about – I’ll keep that for myself – THANK YOU!) It was very romantic without a soul around; and I was thinking “DAMN… I wish he had brought that ring… this is perfect. Oh well.” We rocked there for 15 minutes to an hour to an eternity (who knows) and I started to feel his heart pound on my back while he was whispering his “sweet nothings” and I thought… “WOW, this feels like he is going to propose, but he didn’t bring the ring so don’t think that Laura.” He says something like “After we are married, we have to come back here again”. I said (in typical sarcastic Laura fashion) – well, you have to ask me first – so are you asking?” As he spins me around he says, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am asking. Will you marry me? It isn’t perfect because my knees are so burnt, I can’t get down on one knee and you distracted me when I was packing that night and I forget to grab the ring” OH AND OF COURSE I SAID YES!!! Then we kissed for awhile and my heart didn’t stop racing (yes... even four years later). A bit later, I said I wanted a picture of where he proposed and went to find the guy running the place. A tourist walked in and said he would take pictures and he used to be a professional photographer. He goes by Jimbo and followed me to the Gazebo to meet Jay. He started taking pictures of us under the Gazebo and then suggested under a flowering tree would be a good spot for another picture. He was a very nice man and I wish I would have gotten his information since he helped document the moments after the proposal.
Another Post Script... while we were planning our wedding... our original idea was to get married here where he proposed. The Key West Garden Club required two hours and we don't need that. Besides, we both go with the flow. It would be nice; but to us, it is not about the exact place... it is about the love, feelings, moments and the feelings. When it comes to marrying Jay... Dr. Seuss comes to mind... I will marry him in a plane. I will marry him in a train. etc... I am just happy that I found my one true love that loves me back the same. (non-intentional rhyme).
We walked around awhile longer after Jimbo left us and then decided to head toward Hemingway’s House. We parked near some woodworking shop and went in and quickly went out since it wasn’t what we thought it would be. A shop or two away was a place called Glass Reunions and we wandered in for air conditioning. They have beautiful glasswork, chandeliers, kaleidoscopes, vases, etc. The owner’s parents live in Fort Myers and we told her that we just got engaged moments earlier. We wander around the store chatting with her and come across this case with jewelry in it. I saw this beautiful pair of earrings and commented to Jay how pretty they were. I was NOT looking at the price because we aren’t going to buy since we are on a budget and they have items costing over $15k. Turns out they were inexpensive and Jay insisted on buying them for me as an engagement present. It is the first piece of jewelry he has purchased for me and I will probably wear them everyday.
So we leave the air conditioning of the store with the earrings on me and wander to take pictures outside the Hemingway House. (Check). Then we wander down the street west and found ourselves in the projects of Key West. It is funny, they have the clotheslines between the buildings and are sitting on the front steps drinking 40’s (big bottles of beer) but the buildings look like NICE condos. Projects in the keys aren’t bad!!! We keep wandering and I noticed a “locals bar” and said that is where we should go for our fruity cocktail. He agreed and we walked in. It was the Green Parrot – the same place we looked for the prior night for hours!!!! How perfect! We order a “Parrot Punch” and get souvenir plastic cups. I ask the bartender for a Sharpie to write the date on the cups since Jay is not good with dates and we just got engaged. She gives us two more drinks on her to congratulate us (sweet girl!). Then a band starts playing with different singers for each song since they are doing a 100th birthday for a Blues Singer (Jay remembers the name of the Blues artist). We have front row seats as the bar fills up! We love blues and jazz and this was yet another unexpected treat! About 30 minutes before our meter expires, Jay says he would feel better if he walked to feed the meter than sit or stand there so off he went to feed the meter to stay till they were done. He was gone for about 45 minutes and the lady next to me asked if I lost “my Man”. I was worried that he got LOST because he doesn’t know the streets but he finally showed up after taking pictures of Mile Marker 0.One song later, the “concert” ended.
We wandered to find a place for dinner (we were DONE with Mallory Square). We looked for the restaurants suggested, looked at menus, looked at the people and decided to stroll back to the car. Along the way we found a “hole in the wall” kind of place called D.J.’s Clam Shack. There were four barstools up front divided by an entrance way and a patio in the back. I went toward the back and found a wooden carved sign for Big Pine Key and determined to find something on the menu. We ordered the Garlic Butter & Jalapeno Steamed Little Neck Clams. When they came out they were OUT OF THIS WORLD FANTASTIC!!!! I could have eaten only that for days! However, we decided to find a place to eat outside of Key West (less expensive, less touristy). So we walked toward the car and heard karaoke on the left side (couldn’t see in) and decided not to look even though we had about an hour left on our meter. We kept walking and on the right there was a bar with drag queen karaoke that we could see from the street. They were hilarious – pretty much Vegas style. About 20 minutes into watching from the street and debating on filling the meter with more quarters, a queen came rushing out singing and leapt into a bicycle drawn “taxi” that was perfectly timed and obviously was random (but certainly was such perfect timing you wonder if it really was random). “She” swung out of the taxi and came running back, with the spotlight still following “her”. On her way back in, “she” high-fived me and even though we were laughing, we decided it was time to head home. On the way home we found every restaurant looking into getting a meal was closed. Mother’s Day, Sunday… I guess we should have expected that. So, we ate our leftover omelet heated up on the grill – still very tasty – and headed to sleep.
Day 4 (Monday) – Heading home day. :-(
We decided to again attempt to find the hidden mangrove canopy entrance for about three hours. Failure! We did find an opening to kayak through to another opening under the bridge but decided to give up and head back so we could snorkel somewhere along the way. We left and went for breakfast, but Big Pine Restaurant and Cracked Egg are closed on Mondays. So we decided to head back to Keys Fisheries for more shrimp and crab and go to John Pennekamp State Park instead of Bahia Honda. Bad idea… Pennekamp has rocky beaches and the visibility was only about 4 feet, whereas the visibility where we were was so far I cannot determine the distance. We snorkeled Cannon Beach and saw minimal sea life, but it was still refreshing. We headed home at sunset and waited to eat until we got home.
All in all – it was a random, yet perfect getaway! And for the icing – it was a perfect engagement weekend for us. Thank you to all of you that have congratulated us. Yes, we are still very happy!