What a Year 2017
The full version [by Jessica]:
The year of 2016 was the most insane year, and I’m not even counting anything having to do with the political climate or events.
The year started with Michael and I dating long-distance and earning some serious frequent flyer miles with visits to see each other. I was still working with the recruiting team at Schlumberger, so that afforded some strategic trips to Princeton and Michigan to see Michael and my family. At the end of January, Michael came to Houston for the last time before later moving there after the wedding. I took him to Space Center Houston for his first and my third time to the museum. I admit that it was, by far, the most interesting of my trips with Michael narrating and geeking out at the displays and artifacts.
Michael was struggling to stay engaged on his PhD work. Writing a dissertation isn’t the most enjoyable thing on the planet, and Michael was unenthusiastic about the projects and topic that he was writing about. Thankfully, working at Edenworks, a Brooklyn farming startup, and encouragement from friends and family kept him trudging along.
The beginning of the year also had some health challenges for both of us. Michael had surgery on his middle finger in early February (it was to remove a growth, not because of overuse, I assure you). At the end of one flight up to Newark, I got a case of vertigo that made me nauseous for several days, eventually led me to get an MRI of my brain, and finally went away about 8 weeks later without ever being diagnosed as anything.
The end of February marked our “unofficial” anniversary (meaning we became a couple but didn’t officially have a label). I flew up to NYC for the weekend, honestly hoping I might get proposed to. I had spent hours with my roommate, Amy, picking out outfits for the occasion. Michael instead, had a truly lovely weekend planned with important places or activities from our year together as a series of surprises that culminated with the opportunity to pick out or design my engagement ring. It was thoughtful and romantic on his part, and I got to flex my decisiveness muscles by finalizing a design over the span of 36 hours. My best friend, Priscilla, and her husband Marc Liebenthal made the trip up from Rhode Island to visit us as well that weekend.
In mid-March, I got a promotion at Schlumberger, moving from the recruiting department back to engineering as a manager in a new product line. I jumped into managing my team of 8–11 people and solving some stressful, high-profile, high-visibility problems without a handover from the previous manager, who was let go right before I transferred.
Less than two weeks after the promotion, I traveled back up to NYC for our official anniversary weekend and an expected engagement. Work had been so busy that I hadn’t even had time to get my nails done ahead of time! Mike had rented an AirBnb in Manhattan for our weekend together, and I found out later the true extent of the rush to get the ring ready. He had picked it up on the way to pick me up at the airport! Our little love nest had an amazing view of the Empire State Building and a swanky rooftop lounge. He proposed in the Lego Store near the Flatiron building with custom, engraved Legos that read, “Will you marry me?”. He used Legos to ask me to be his girlfriend exactly one year earlier, and we had walked past that particular Lego store countless times. I was expecting the proposal that weekend, but the timing and location was still a surprise. I excitedly used the YES Lego to indicate my response (he had made a NO Lego as well, so that it would actually be a choice). We got applause from a family that happened to be watching and closed down the store taking engagement selfies before calling friends and family to share the news.
Michael turned the big 4-0 in April, so I had worked with Len and Jody Netti to plan a delightful surprise birthday trip for him (Len and Jody were part of the surprise). I told him the week prior that he needed to be ready to fly to a cold climate place for the weekend. Then, 24 hours prior, he discovered that he was flying to Chicago. I met him in the airport, and told him I had arranged transportation. We walked out and met up with Len and Jody dressed as chauffeurs (complete with a sign), ready to drive us on an adventure. Instead of staying in Chicago, we drove up to Madison, WI, for a weekend of friendship, nerdery, and interesting, obscure things. We went to The House on the Rock, which defies description on many levels, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, and the National Mustard Museum. It was delightful — The House on the Rock was slightly terrifying and burned into our minds like a bad decision tattoo, but we are stronger together for having made it through.
April also included a quick weekend getaway for me to Orlando. My recruiting coworkers, Erika, Yaning, and I decided to go to Disney World to celebrate working together. We each bought Mickey ears and wore them all three days (to get our money’s worth), and enjoyed Disney the way you can as an adult with financial means and no kids. We power walked, hips and arms swinging, back to the Everest ride in Animal Kingdom during Magic Hours to get to the front of the line, ate Dole Whips in Magic Kingdom, and had dinner with the Beast in his castle. We tried the gray stuff, and it was delicious, we didn’t have to ask the dishes.
Michael and I had planned a trip to meet in Michigan in early May for initial wedding planning. Our friend, Cole Sigmon had generously offered to take some engagement photos of us in Ann Arbor during the long weekend trip, so I was very excited. About a week before leaving for that trip, the saga that would grow to be known as #DriveCray began. My roommate, Amy, and I came home to our house to find the driveway broken up into icebergs of concrete. This started a two-and-a-half month time span of periodically being unable to get into our home (or having to trudge through shin-deep puddles or slide through mud to get to the door), park in our garage, nor ever get an update on construction that didn’t involve Amy or me calling the landlord’s racial-slur using lawyer… but the engagement photos turned out great. Oh, also the week before that trip to Michigan, Amy and I were getting our makeup done (prepping for the engagement photos) at the mall when Mike and I decided on a date and a wedding venue. My sister and maid of honor, Sarah, tried to confirm with the venue, only to learn that another couple had booked it at some point in the preceding two hours. I found this info out after the final brush of mascara had dried on my lashes and proceeded to burst into tears in the middle of Nordstrom. Amy assured the makeup artists, “It’s not the makeup, it’s the wedding,” and we got coffees and tissues and FaceTimed with Mike and decided to just move the wedding forward by a month… because why not.
We toured the wedding circuit for family and friends in 2016. There is a heightened sense of awareness that comes with attending weddings when you’re planning your own. We got to see the Schulte clan in Milwaukee, WI for my cousin Matt’s wedding to Brittany in May. There was much cutting of rugs on the dance floor by all the cousins, and Mike met most of them for the first time (he was approved!). We went with Mike’s dad, John, to Lancaster, PA in July for Mike’s cousin Chris’s wedding to Anya. I enjoyed meeting the family and tried a local food item, scrapple. In September, Mike, in his orange pants, did a fabulous job of emceeing the wedding of our friends David and Andrea Jouppi in Detroit, MI.
If you ever got the chance to visit Michael in New York City, he would have asked you, “What kind of experience would you like to have?” instead of “What would you like to do?” He has a way of blending his extensive knowledge and passion for the city with your whims and interests to give you a delightful experience of the city, better than a Lonely Planet guidebook. I have tried to convince him to start a business with this idea: NYCATK™ (New York City — According to Karlesky), but he hasn’t gotten onboard yet. Stay tuned. Amy and I flew up to NYC to visit and make sure she got to experience NYCATK. The highlight was attending an improv comedy show in the basement of a sushi restaurant that was set up like a Japanese TV game show, including audience participation. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say I was a really good sport that evening, and I’ll never be able to interact with soy sauce the same again.
Coming back from that trip to NYC was rough. I missed my fiancé, and there was a bed bug scare for his apartment while we were there. That meant everything I took went into laundry, plastic bags, and/or the freezer per the guidelines I could find on the Internet. Picture me at midnight, unpacking into ziplock and garbage bags in the garage in the 90 degree heat. It’s just as well. Our apartment in Houston kept getting fleas despite the fact that we had no pets and lived on the second floor. They would get bad enough for a professional treatment once every two to three months… because we didn’t have enough to worry about already. (And the bed bug scare was a false alarm.)
A couple days after Amy and I left, Michael traveled back to Michigan again in June for a family reunion of sorts. It was a memorial service for his half-siblings’ father and included family togetherness at a beautiful lakehouse. He enjoyed some quality time with parents, siblings, nephews and great-niblings (as his great niece and great nephew are termed) when he wasn’t locked up in a quiet room trying to work on that gosh-darned dissertation.
August was a beautiful blur. We flew to Michigan for Wedding Weeks in early August and did so much last minute planning. (Shout out to the Nettis, Medemas, Sarah Schulte, Aaron Smith, Kim Clemence, everyone who made rice krispie treats, and anyone else that got knee-deep in the crazy with us to pull off such an amazing wedding!) Our wedding really was the best. From the sermon that our officiant, Len, gave, to the touching speeches from Sarah and Aaron, to the conversations with people from Grand Rapids and across the world, we felt so surrounded by love. The putt-putt golf, homemade rice krispie treats, dress-up gear, and glow sticks helped make it a blast of a party.
[Side story: My bridesmaid, Kacy, told us the tale of how she ended up with slices of sandwich bread instead of a pretty loaf for her wedding communion. Mike found it so delightful that he wanted that for us too. I said no to sandwich bread. But God loves him. When we walked up to take communion as a married couple there was a dead fly in our wine glass — just floating there. And so it was that we made our very first decision together as husband and wife. We figured the alcohol was a disinfectant and drank it anyhow.]
Mike and I had a short honeymoon (we called it our mini-moon) in Ludington, Michigan at a great place called the Cartier Mansion. We ate superman ice-cream, took walks on the beach, enjoyed Lake Michigan lighthouses and sunsets, watched a lot of the Olympics, and finally got to rest for a couple days.
The rest didn’t last for long. Mike still had a dissertation to defend in New York. In the span of 4 days, he defended his thesis (over 5-way Skype with his four committee members in three time zones on two continents) on a Monday, packed his entire apartment on a Tuesday, loaded it on a truck on a Wednesday, finalized all his PhD paperwork and bought a plane ticket to Houston on a Thursday, and flew down on Friday. On Saturday, I packed up my apartment because my landlord wouldn’t let Mike be added to the lease (they were forcing us out in favor of their renovation plans). Mike would help pack a box and then take a nap. Sunday we moved into a downtown apartment that I found on Craigslist the week before, and on Monday, Mike’s truck arrived from New York. Our tiny apartment was full to Mike’s eyeballs (which are very high) with boxes, and we were once again exhausted.
The very next weekend, we were traveling to Michigan for the Jouppi wedding, and I was going to fly to Belfast, Northern Ireland for a work trip from there. In an amazing feat of idiocracy, I managed to leave my passport in Houston when we flew to Detroit. Our friend, Ashlie, got into our box-filled apartment, found my passport, drove it to the airport before 8am on a Saturday morning, and got it on a plane for me. She is my Amazing Race hero. While in Detroit, we got to surprise Kim Clemence (coordinator of the wedding rice krispie treats) for her 40th birthday.
While all this wedding, moving, and traveling was happening, a hose in my car decided to start leaking water into the cabin. This resulted in mold/mildew growing on the upholstery and some major stank. It was only after the Belfast trip that we were able to get it fixed. It still smells. I guess some scars never heal.
In late October, Mike had an academic conference in Sweden at which he needed to present a paper. It was a final, carryover of responsibilities from the PhD. Obviously, that meant that I was going too, and we were making a vacation out of it. We flew into Copenhagen, Denmark and loved the city — the style, the history, and especially Tivoli Gardens. We wished we could stay longer. Then we headed up to Gothenburg, Sweden to join up with Mike’s dear grad school friend, Holly, who was also attending the conference. We did what you do in Sweden — eat an entire jar of Nutella, watch Pitch Perfect 2, and go to the Botanical Gardens when nothing is growing. We also ate a cinnamon roll larger than two of our faces combined, and ate a fancy-pants seafood dinner — but not in the same sitting. (A photo of the ginormous cinnamon roll is in the gallery at the very bottom.)
We are proud to say that we were unpacked before Thanksgiving (75 days after our moves), including the room full of wedding gift boxes that we picked up from my parents’ house in San Antonio in October. This is primarily attributable to Mike, who worked diligently to get them unpacked in an effort to keep me from stressing out about it.
November was filled with family, as it should be. We had a visit from Mike’s sister, Kendall, and her boyfriend, Jerry, who came up from Phoenix to see our place and spend some time together. Mike and I went up to Michigan from Thanksgiving to be with the Jordan clan on my side.
Just to keep things interesting — things were almost settling down there — a small charge was mistakenly added to Mike’s New York University account and then sent to collections around this time. So, the guy who had a full ride for grad school was suddenly a delinquent credit risk. There was plenty of effort involved in getting that sorted out.
My grandparents, Bob and Wanda Jordan, visited my parents in San Antonio in early December, so we made a quick weekend trip to see them. We headed back a couple weeks later again after Christmas. Mike and I spent our first Christmas together in Houston. We went to a Christmas Eve candlelight church service, made a fancy dinner that we ate around 10pm, and stayed in our pajamas on Christmas Day watching movies and eating leftovers. Our post-Christmas trip to San Antonio allowed for a family FaceTime call with the Michigan siblings and nephews, and we made like the Magi returning home by another route — through Waco, TX to visit the Magnolia Silos (any Fixer Upper fans out there??).
If you’ve made it this far (congrats!), you’re probably agreeing that 2016 was insane for the Karlesky family. It was a long-distance race that we ran like a sprint, and you can understand why we haven’t sent out a single wedding Thank You note! But honestly, there was so much struggle and stress but also so much goodness and joy. We lived a lot of life together and separately this year. We are deeply grateful for our friends and family, for the family that we enjoy as friends, and the friends that are really more like family. We are profoundly aware of the support that helped get us through this year. We start 2017 with spirits longing for rest, minds challenged on how to engage with this changing world, and hearts that are hoping for good things and growth in the coming year.
p.s. No, we’re not pregnant.
p.p.s. We intend to update and rework this website for both of us, posting the long-form holiday letters here in the years to come.