Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Wedding in Texas

Last August, exactly one week after the wedding of Matt (Jeff's son) and Akiko, Sean Knight proposed to Jeff's daughter Becky. Last Sunday we attended Becky and Sean's wedding, in Austin Texas.

Becky received double degrees from Arizona State University a few years back, in Japanese and Chemical Engineering. The American affiliate of Tokyo Electron recruited her to work for them out of their Austin headquarters, though she went out on assignment all over the US and in Japan, doing beta testing of complex devices manufactured by Tokyo Electron for their customers, who manufacture computer chips with these devices. One of her coworkers was Sean,then going through a divorce.

After 3 1/2 years in the chip industry, Becky began work on a PhD in the field she had been dreaming of for years, biomass conversion -- a branch of chemical and biological engineering that converrts plants to other things, in her case biofuels.

Becky earned her MSE at Purdue, but found that the doctoral program did not really work for her in the area she identified as her passion, algae. While the practical problems of making biodiesel from algae are condiserable, the potential payoff for solving those problems is vast, as algae in theory can produce more oil for biodiesel conversion, per acre, than any other living thing.

What happened next was one of those happy coincidences in life. As Becky and Sean resumed their friendship across a thousand miles of mid-America, Becky searched for other schools doing high-level research on algae and discovered that the University of Texas is in the algae big leagues, with one of the world's great algae collections, one very small part of which is seen in this picture from the lab where Backy is now working. She formally enters the doctoral program this coming May at UT. Since she's now working in the same lab where her doctoral research will take place, it's time well spent. AND . . . it puts her back in Austin, with Sean.

We arrived on Wednesday. Already, it looked like we might have dry weather for our outdoor wedding, but cooler than the average of 64. The next day we found a yarn store, spent an hour looking at various shades and textures of white yarn, then had Becky meet us there with the wedding dress that she was picking up nearby. After reaching consensus on the best match for the dress, we bought several balls of snow-white yarn with a little silvery glitter to it and some knitting needles. The yarn was rated for size 13 needles, already larger than anything Louise had used before, but she went for the size 17 ones, which made it look like she was knitting with dinner candles. But by doubling the yarn together and using these supersized needles, one day later Becky had a gorgeous 6-foot-long white shawl that went great with her wedding gown, as you can see in the pictures. Come Sunday, it was much appreciated as it was in the low 50's when the vows were said.

In between knitting we spent quality time catching up with Matt and his first six months of married life. Given that the flight is 12 hours from Tokyo to Houston, then another 1 hour to Austin, Akiko stayed home on her OB's advice. She's due in early May, and did not want to chance things. While relaxing in between wedding-related preparations was the main order of the day, we did get in a little hiking with Matt in a park overlooking the Colorado River. Not that Colorado, but a much smaller colorful river that winds through Austin.

We also had an interesting rehearsal dinner at The Boiling Pot, a Cajun feast laid out for us on a paper-covered table surrounded by a dozen family members and the maid of honor and best man. For many it was their first foray into the consumption of crawfish. They look like little lobsters, but even on the biggest of them, if you get any meat out of the claw it's at best the size of a grain of rice. The tail's the name of the game, and it's a bit of messy work to get one tail deshelled and into the mouth, where you get a quantity equal perhaps to 2 or 3 healthy peas. The shrimp were a little more rewarding, and you could take in real food faster than you burned it if you went for the cobs of corn or the Andouille sausage, though your mouth paid a little price for the latter. Fortunately, the restaurant had lots of cold beer nearby to quench any fires. It was a great opportunity for Becky's and Sean's parents and siblings to get to know each other in an informal setting.

The wedding was in the Zilker Park Botanical Garden, and Jeff led Becky down the (literally) rosy path to a gathering of about 50. Sean's friend Pete performed the ceremony courtesy of a recently-acquired license to perform weddings. He figured the accountant outfit he wears to work was not sufficiently matrimonial, so he rented monk's garb for the ceremony. It was a little tricky hearing all the words of Becky and Sean's vows in this outdoor setting, but Pete pronounced them Man and Wife with all the authority of the State of Texas, and so they were.

We then moved on to the Zilker Clubhouse a mile away, a beautiful old stone building with fireplaces at each end and a view over the Colorado River to downtown Austin in the distance. Best man Mike had spent much of the prior two days smoking brisket and pork roasts for the gathering, and we had a grand feast. When it came time for the First Dance, Jeff was pleasantly surprised to find that, quite unawares, they had chosen the very same song that Becky's brother Matt and Akiko had chosen for their first dance 6 months ago, Jerome Kerns' great song Just the Way You Look Tonight.

And beautiful was just the way Becky looked, glowing and oh so happy. Sean looked just as happy, and also his daughters Ivy and Zoe (who split their time 50-50 between Sean and their mom). Becky has known them since they were little, and they get on wonderfully together. They seemed quite pleased with Dad's choice of a stepmother for them.

We're back in Florida now, thanks to the magic of flight. Thanks to the magic of mid-air turbulence, we both vowed to stay on the ground once we landed, using our bike, cars or Amtrak trains for all future transportation needs. We'll have more to say about biking Florida from Miami to the Keys in our next blog. Stay tuned!

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