This (American) Thanksgiving: Recent Awesome Things

Does anyone else remember the hype surrounding Neil Pasricha’s string of bestsellers that started with The Book of Awesome?

If you’re not familiar, Pasricha writes about everyday things that, when you stop to think, are really awesome, like: finding cash in an old coat pocket, when cashiers open up new checkout lanes at the grocery store, popping bubble wrap, managing to move clothes from the washer to the dryer without dropping anything (harder than you think!), and when you get the milk-to-cereal ratio just right. Not only are these all awesome experiences he wrote about in his first book – each and every one of them has happened to me in the last month. To be fair, I specifically planted a $20 bill in my winter coat last spring…but when I went to put it on for the first time this fall, I couldn’t remember if I had left money hidden in one of the lesser-used pockets. I had – and pulling out a crisp $20 (along with a few BandAids and an unused Kleenex stash) felt awesome!

In honour of American Thanksgiving, I thought I’d list some things that have happened to me in the last few months that I would categorize as That Was Awesome moments. Because labeling something as a That Was Awesome moment requires us to pay attention, change our perspective, and choose to appreciate the little things in life. Basically, it’s gratitude gussied up in party clothes.

recent awesome moments

  • Having a table open up at my favourite cafe the moment I walked in the door. This was awesome. Waiting sucks – and, at the cafe I frequent, people tend to stay for the long haul, so a full house can stay full for a loooonnnnggg time. It felt doubly satisfying because my heart sank when I walked into the cafe with not a single open seat and then – suddenly and fortuitously – I had a space to call my own.
  • Being able to pull through a parking space. Any day is instantly better if I don’t have to back up in a crowded parking lot. This happened the same day a free table opened up in that crowded cafe. It was basically just one big Awesome Fest.
  • Getting the very last one of an item I need at the store. We managed to nab the last two PAX wardrobe kits in stock at our local IKEA. We needed two, they had exactly two left. Awesome. I also remember a Christmas several years ago when another few minutes and our cheesecake would likely have been missing the cream cheese (so it would have just been a cake, I suppose?), but I managed to nab the last few packages on the shelf. What a thrill! There was a rush of adrenaline from how close I came to catastrophe (because no Unbaked Cherry Cheesecake at Christmas would be catastrophic for my taste buds) + a rush of gratitude for sourcing the required item.
  • Going to bed tired – content, not utterly exhausted – and falling asleep immediately. This feels awesome every single time it happens. No tossing and turning. Just blissful, immediate sleep.
  • When something I didn’t want to do (but felt obliged to say yes to) gets canceled. I recently had a meeting scheduled for first thing in the morning and I was dreading the prep and pressure – then, the other person canceled. How awesome!
  • When a package arrives early. I ordered photocards and custom calendars and they were set to arrive today; instead, they arrived over a week ago! Awesome.
  • Measuring correctly. Too often I get something home and it doesn’t fit. When we built and installed those IKEA PAX wardrobes in our new entryway, we had taken all sorts of measurements and, on paper at least, it was “supposed” to fit. But when we were in the middle of building it, I wasn’t feeling very confident. It was a tight squeeze, but it fits perfectly. Awesome.
  • When I’m hungry and open the fridge and there is something I want to eat ready and available – no prep required. Leftover casserole. Mini Naan bread dippers and hummus. COLD sparkling water. All awesome.
  • Discovering an item is cheaper than advertised. This happened to me earlier in the week. I needed to replace/update a lightbulb in our 1970’s kitchen – a small, old-school fluorescent tube. On the shelf, the bulb was listed as $16.99. A steep price tag for a single bulb, but it said it would last for 5,000 hours and we haven’t been able to use this particular under-cabinet lighting for over a year (#DemeritAlert). At the cash register, it rang in as $8.99. Awesome.
Practically levitating out of the store after discovering my lightbulb was much cheaper than I expected (also known as: You Know You’re An Adult When…some aspect of buying a new lightbulb is a highlight in your day).
  • Finding a BandAid at the moment one is needed. Last week when we were away from home, a child needed a BandAid for a bad hangnail. Voilà – I found one (the very last one, mind you) in a side pocket of my purse. A week or two earlier someone needed a BandAid for some other finger malady and I found one in my coat (again, it was the last one; so double Awesome points for that).

Note to self: it’s time to restock my on-the-go supply of BandAids everywhere – purse, car, coats!

Your turn. Have you had any That Was Awesome moments lately? If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving today, what are three things you’re most thankful for in 2022? Of the awesome moments I describe above, which is your favourite and/or which one has happened to you recently? Did it feel awesome at the time, or only in retrospect?

Header photo by MARK ADRIANE on Unsplash

It’s A Lovely Idea, But I Don’t Even Own A Coffee Table

A few months ago I read Catherine Newman’s house tour on Cup of Jo. It is a popular article for good reason – the story and pictures are inspiring.

The featured home looks welcoming without a hint of pretension. This is a space that clearly brings the homeowners great joy. A couch in the kitchen! A whole wall full of pictures of pears! A dining room complete with floor-to-ceiling shelves for board games! Vibrant pops of colour on the walls! Piles of laundry on the chair that practically scream: real people live here!

It’s a tour that leaves the reader (well, this reader at least) wanting to break through the screen and sit down in the cozy kitchen to share a cup of tea (while sitting on that kitchen couch, perhaps?).

But I have to admit, by the end of the article, I was feeling…bad? Maybe that’s not the right emotion, but I couldn’t/can’t put my finger on it exactly. In reflecting on my gut reaction – articulated or not – I can isolate a few specifics that made me think long and hard.

First, when Newman talks about her couch she says: We have a houseful of teenagers all the time, and kids will spill stuff and say, ‘…I’m so sorry!’ But we truly don’t care, and I’m very happy about that. 

It made me feel overly rigid because I do care (moderately, at least) if people spill things on my couch. I mean – it’s fine. I’ll deal with the mess, I’m sure it was an accident…but I’d really rather someone didn’t spill things on my couch.

But the thing that hit me the hardest, oddly enough, was her coffee table. Here’s the description:

When the kids were tiny, we covered the coffee table with white paper. It was fun for them to draw on the table, and their friends would come over and draw, too. It became a 20-year habit. Now, at Thanksgiving, someone will doodle a perfect thing or a portrait, and I’m like, okay, I’m cutting that out and keeping it! We score games on it, I take notes during phone calls, I figure out recipes on it. 

That felt so fun and whimsical and I swear when I read that line I decided then and there my children’s lives are ruined because WE DON’T HAVE A COFFEE TABLE COVERED IN PAPER for them to doodle on.

But guess what.

We don’t even own a coffee table.

And do you know why? Because when we bought our house one of the primary features we loved was the open loop that tracks around the upstairs. We have one long hallway that all the bedrooms open up into which feeds into our living room/dining room which feeds into the kitchen and then back to the hallway.

We debated getting a coffee table but opted to prioritize leaving that space open so the kids could – literally – run circles around us.

In fact, just a few days after we moved in, a friend suggested a different configuration for our couch (which would have been cozier, admittedly)…but we didn’t even entertain the idea because it would have prevented the kids from running around “The Loop”.

We’ve played countless games of chase (this is how Levi split open his chin) and hide-and-seek tag; the kids have cartwheeled through the living room and regularly sprawl out on the open floor to play charades or chess and leave messes of an assortment of doodads and doohickies.

So we don’t have a coffee table…but the kids do occasionally doodle on the kitchen whiteboard and little pads of paper that end up everywhere (though, obviously, not on top of a coffee table).

We also don’t have a couch where I encourage people to hop around with drinks in their hand, but we bought a less comfortable couch for our family room specifically because the colour and material would minimize the appearance of stains. (This one was a bitter pill to swallow; there was an incredible clear-out sale on a very nice couch, but it had light fabric and so we opted to pay more – yes that hurt! – for a less comfortable, less visually appealing, very utilitarian option but I distinctly remember saying to John: The kids HAVE to be able to play and live life on this couch! And it truly doesn’t show a single stain despite a variety of sources – including Dorito-covered fingerprints from movie nights and, sadly, one case of vomit several years ago).

When I read the article, I wanted to be “that Mom”- the one with the doodling paper over her coffee table for two decades. But I’m not. I’m me. A lady without a coffee table.

Your turn. Did you read Catherine Newman’s house tour? If so, what was your favourite feature? Mine was definitely the coffee table art, even if it did leave me feeling temporarily conflicted! If you tend toward the Type-A/planner/Upholder personality, do you ever feel guilty or unsettled when you see someone who can embrace a different level of spontaneity and devil-may-care attitude?

Header photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It’s Time For NaBloPoMo!

Okay, where did October go? I know I say this every month but the days of October flew by. Which means it’s November…and so begins NaBloPoMo.

What’s NaBloPoMo, you ask? It stands for National Blog Posting Month. This blogging initiative stemmed from the popular NaNoWriMo movement (National Novel Writing Month) where people commit to a daily word count and, by the end of November, have a completed novel – albeit, I suspect, a bit rough around the edges.

Since I have no aspirations to be a novelist, I’ll happily stick with NaBloPoMo and will be aiming to post something every day. Full credit to blogger San who does a fantastic job of organizing this effort. She will have an updated list of participants on her NaBloPoMo page!

Originally, I thought of coming up with a posting schedule – my regular mishmash during the week and quotes/poetry on the weekends, perhaps? But then I thought – forget plans and let’s just see what comes.

I hope you’ll join me here every day in November!

Also, today is Halloween!!! More details to come on how our 2022 festivities pan out, but I want to bask one last time in the glow of our efforts from last year.

I don’t think we’ll ever be able to top this costume. Boxed Mac n’ Cheese by Kraft – known affectionately as KD, which stands for Kraft Dinner – has a cult following in Canada and our kids are huge fans. Who am I kidding? I love it too…
Our somewhat tattered, but nevertheless adorable, pumpkin snowman who did his best to brighten up the gloom of our in-progress exterior renovations last year!
Macaroni and her Superman sidekick…

Your turn. Will you be participating in NaBloPoMo? Do you have any fun plans for Halloween tonight? What was your favourite/most memorable costume from childhood?

Header photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Celebrating Little Victories

About a month ago I enjoyed two different small – but exciting – “victories”. On both occasions I was out of the house when I received the news and both times I immediately (and gleefully) texted John who responded enthusiastically and joined me in celebration. One reply included a “Woot woot!!” with double exclamation marks.

I could have easily acknowledged these little tidbits and moved on with my day. My “successes” were almost embarrassingly insignificant, but I was excited, so why not amplify my joy in the moment by sharing the news, while also framing it as a cause for celebration?

I have no problem exaggerating the weight of negative things in life, so why not disproportionately celebrate the good, too?

So three cheers for the little things – because victories come in all shapes and sizes.

Your turn. Do you make a point of celebrating little victories? Does any specific event come to mind?

Header photo by Brenna Huff on Unsplash

My Weekend Story: A Perfect Day

If you asked me to write a story about last Saturday, my suggestion for a working title would be: A Perfect Day.

I admitted last week that choosing the most life-giving story isn’t always my predilection. But some days you just can’t help but say to yourself: This story is so good. And like all good stories, it gets even better with retelling.

I woke up early; while John went for a run, I chose effortful before effortless (thanks, Laura) and got out of bed to do a wonderfully gentle yoga/stretching video from Wandering Alice. When John got home, we traded off kid duty and I headed to the grocery store. It was early and there were no lineups. I wasn’t in a rush. I got home to fresh, hot coffee and a 7-year-old asking me to watch him play basketball in the driveway.

Sure thing, little buddy.

I watched Levi sink baskets while Abby sat in a chair beside me to draw. The sun was warm, the air was crisp, the coffee was hot. Neighbours saw us outside and dropped over for a visit. Last fall the kids planted garlic with them; Levi harvested his garlic a few weeks ago and it was now sufficiently dry and ready for collection. He came back across the street cradling “his” garlic with the pride of a seasoned farmer. I chatted with the neighbours about their pending retirement and continued to enjoy my coffee while John prepped a picnic lunch for one last adventure.

While I’m happy with all the fun adventures we’ve crammed into the summer, this particular year it sometimes felt impossibly long and busy. Knowing this was it – the “last summer hurrah” we told the kids as we hopped in the car – made it feel extra special and relaxing.

We didn’t know where we were headed; as much as I’m a willing slave to routine, it was nice to not have a concrete plan. We’ve done this sort of thing before, buckling up and heading down the road, making decisions as we hit forks in the road – literally!

We ate ham and cheese sandwiches on buttery mini croissants while driving. The kids listened to music in the back seat while John and I talked about the future in the front.

Since I knew a beach stop might be in the works, I had come armed with coats. There was a nip in the air, and I didn’t expect much water play. But the sun surprised us all with unexpected warmth. We eventually settled on a destination and while this particular area – Beach Meadows – doesn’t draw huge crowds, it is gorgeous. Teal waters and white sand. I completed my daily 1 km walk on the beach. We played football in the surf, Abby and John braved the water with boogie boards. We climbed rocks and explored tidal pools (which included a surprise appearance by a large crab!).

At one point I walked out into the water and just stood there alone. The sun was warm, the water was cool. The Bible talks about how we can see God in creation. And it’s true. When I look up at the stars on a clear night, His majesty is on full display. But at the ocean, His power seems even more tangible. It’s like I can see and hear and feel Him in the crash of the waves. I thought about all of this while I stood there, wholly contented in the water. (The natural white noise also meant I missed out on a minor sibling crisis unfolding behind me. I was blissfully unaware of this hiccup which was handled competently by John before I headed back to shore!)

When everyone was still happy (remember Dot’s wisdom about leaving a party before you’re ready?) we made our way to Western Head Lighthouse. The kids have been requesting a return visit to this spot lately, so it was fortuitous we ended up in the area. How life has changed; the last time we were here – in the middle of the pandemic – Levi hadn’t even started school. Now he’s in Grade 2 and doesn’t need any help climbing even the biggest of rocks; Abby spent most of her time sitting on the breakwater sketching the lighthouse.

We didn’t stay long, but even twenty minutes of climbing rocks by the Atlantic Ocean feels restorative. We detoured to a local wharf – complete with quaintly dilapidated buildings – for a quick round of fishing for the boys. There were nibbles and they managed to land a few crabs, but fish were elusive.

One child napped on the way home. Naps are a rare occurrence these days, but they still warm my heart. We stopped to grab some takeout sushi in a neighbouring town. Everyone showered, the kids ate and put on a movie while John and I had an at-home date night. How I’ve missed these over the summer. Between travel and company, our weekly time slots – normally fiercely protected – have been jostled out of place. I’m excited to get back into a regular routine of spending some weekend time alone together. I had picked up some lobster and shrimp ravioli earlier in the day and with a bit of sushi on the side, supper was spot-on.

Mid-evening some other neighbours stopped by with fresh corn and beans they had picked earlier in the day. My Neighbours That Love Us Very Much storybook was being read aloud a lot on Saturday.

Then we fell asleep with the windows open, crisp September breezes flowing through.

It was, in almost every way, a perfect day.

Not all days can be perfect. Most are not. And, like a break, one great day doesn’t magically undo all the stress or exhaustion caused by whatever is going on in life. But it sure is a wonderful place to start.

Your turn. Any “perfect” days lately? If not, what’s your idea of a perfect day, start to finish?

P.S. Here’s a throwback to our very first trip to Beach Meadows (2019). We hadn’t planned on stopping at the beach. We had no bathing suits or towels, but a stroll along the water’s edge morphed into full submersion and an hour of play in the sand. It was another nearly perfect day.

Also? Look how tiny my babies were 3 years ago. Time flies…

A “Run and Slide” Always Makes Me Smile

We have two long hallways in our house. The upstairs hallway is one of our family’s favourite places to play since it helps complete a “loop” that circles the entire level.

The kids have spent countless hours chasing each other around this indoor track – playing tag and cracking chins (hello, emergency room).

It’s where we play Hallway Soccer.

It’s narrow enough the kids can literally climb the walls.

These days, the main activity in the upstairs hallway is mini-sticks. There are hundreds of tiny black marks about 2 feet up the walls from overly enthusiastic slapshots. We haven’t painted this hallway since moving in (and I suspect it hadn’t been painted for years before that, either; why bother now?). The freedom to play with mini-sticks is more important than maintaining a pristine paint job.

But playing a game of mini-sticks hurt my knees and I’m not flexible enough to climb the walls. Never fear – I’ve managed to carve out my own fun activity.

I call it the Run and Slide.

I mostly use our downstairs hallway for this little game. At the bottom of the stairs, I’ll immediately transition into a run and slide my way down the hallway.

You know what I’m describing right? It only requires socks and a willingness to look ridiculous.

You may have done this yourself as a child; hopefully you still do it now. If you don’t – and happen to have access to a long, uncarpeted hallway – might I suggest you brush up on your sliding skills again? It’s downright fun.

It provides a boost of energy when I need it most – a trek to the basement often means I’m heading into the office to work or making a stop at the laundry room to tackle yet another load.

I love the whimsy of this activity because it feels atypical for me. I tend to be a low-energy, rather predictable (read: boring) sort of person.

But running and sliding down the hall always makes me smile. It doesn’t feel low-energy or boring. It feels like something an energetic, fun person would do. So perhaps the fact I engage in this activity makes me energetic and fun?!

I don’t do it as often as I’d like. I forget. Life gets busy and I get overwhelmed and it doesn’t cross my mind to sprint when it’s not absolutely necessary.

But I have a load of laundry that needs doing this afternoon; perhaps I’ll run and slide my way to the washing machine?

Your turn. Do you ever run and slide down a hallway? Is there any other activity from your childhood you still do regularly that provides a fun mental and physical boost?

*Sidenote: The header photo, from Versailles, would be quite the epic venue for a “Run-and-Slide”. Perhaps if King Louis XVI had spent more time running and sliding, there would have been less revolting and guillotining?*

**Sidenote 2: Searching up photos for running and sliding + hallway provides mostly photos of hallway runners – as in, carpet options. These are the death knell of running and sliding fun and should be avoided at all costs.**

Header photo by Serge Le Strat on Unsplash

A Sense of Loss in the Midst of Joy (Repost)

I wrote this post last summer, but the same feelings have resurfaced as I spend time with my parents. There’s an undercurrent to visits I can’t ignore: a sense I’m holding on to a past reality, while simultaneously being forced to let it go.

I’m not the only one navigating this odd combination of emotions; I appreciated this beautifully reflective post by Suzanne where she says: “You can never go home again. And I’m feeling very wistful about that fact.”

Unlike many, I do get to go home again, in one way at least. My parents’ cottage-turned-home (called “The Camp”) has been a pivotal part of my life since birth. We visited every summer until I turned 13, when we moved there permanently.

But in another sense, I don’t get to return home. Because for me, my idea of “home” is buried back in an era when we spent summer vacations with no indoor plumbing or electricity. Back when we washed our hair in the lake and heated water for dishes over a tiny propane stove. Back when there were no cell phones or internet connections. Back when my parents set my bedtime and paid bills and made all the tough decisions for me. Back when I spent lazy afternoons in the hammock listening to cicadas. Back when I picked wild raspberries and went swimming when I got too hot and read book after book after book and looked for shapes in the clouds and played games with my Mom and coloured pictures and went fishing and listened to the Titanic soundtrack on a yellow Walkman…because I had time for all of that and more.

That home is no longer my home. That life is no longer my life.

Now, home is with my own little crew. Now life has an unmistakable weight of responsibility, as John and I set bedtimes and pay bills and navigate tough decisions for our kids. And while this existential shift is how life works – it also leaves me feeling wistful and restless. Because when I’m at the lake it always feels like that old life – that old home (both physical and emotional) – is just beyond my reach. And that, somehow, if I could find the right wrinkle in time, I’d be transported back to when I was 8 years old again.

Which makes the whole experience feel…bittersweet.

Repost from July 2021

I think a lot about family in the summer. Time at the lake demands full nostalgic immersion. I spend evenings flipping through old photo-albums, decades of memories at my fingertips. Looking at the faces of loved ones that have passed reminds me of how things used to be; we laugh at the irrefutable evidence of hairlines that have receded and marvel at all those vacations we spent off-grid.

But lately summer has also been a prompt for future-think.

One evening, years ago, my father took me out boating. Abby, maybe six at the time, was with us. The sun was setting over a mirror-calm lake, our bellies were full of delicious home cooking – everything about the moment was perfect. And I had the overwhelming urge to cry.

The joy of the moment felt like too much to bear while the weight of the future felt crushing with the realization that these moments will end. Maybe soon.

As my parents age, I find myself wondering how many more of these memories we have ahead. I’ve come to the lake every summer for over 35 years and, incredibly, many things have stayed the same. We have bonfires on the same shoreline and walk the same paths through the woods. We boat to the same beaches and dive off the same raft. But how much longer will my father be able to start his boat motor? How many more sunny days will my mother be able to cannonball off the raft? [Sad update from 2022: I overhead her say to Abby earlier this summer: “I think my cannonballing days are over.” It made me want to cry.]

How many more sunset boat rides will I share with my father? Maybe many more, but definitely fewer than last year, and the year before that.

I try to embrace these moments more tightly because I’m recognizing the brevity of this season of life. And it’s not just my parents. My role in motherhood is changing – fast. I struggle to lift Levi up; he no longer fits on my hip. While I love the independence – often celebrate it – it can still feel like a loss.

At one point everything – my childhood, my own small children – seemed like it/they would stay frozen in time.

It didn’t. They don’t.

But the harder I try to hold on to the moments, the memories, the past…the faster it all seems to slip through my fingers.

A few months ago I was reading E. L. Konigsburg’s A View From Saturday. In it, one of the main characters has experienced a traumatic accident that leaves her wheelchair-bound. This, of course, impacts her life in significant ways. She goes on to lead her team of academic quiz competitors to victory, and when I read the passage about her reaction to this major triumph, the words ran true.

Mrs. Olinski felt a strange sense of loss. She did not feel like a loser, but she did feel a sense of loss. She drove for miles worrying about it. Finally, almost involuntarily, she said out loud, ‘Win some. Lose some.’ She glanced at Mr. Singh and laughed. ‘Why did I say that?’ 

Mr. Singh replied, ‘Because it is how you feel at this moment, Mrs. Olinski.”

“I am happy that we won, Mr. Singh. But I don’t understand why I feel a sense of loss. This is not like my accident when my loss was overwhelming. Why, after this wonderful victory, do I feel that something is missing?”

“Because something is.” Miles hummed past before his voice floated back to her. “For many months now, you have been in a state of perpetual preparation and excitement. Each victory was a preparation for the next. You are missing future victories.

E. L. Konigsburg

I was excited to leave home, go to university, get married, have children and come back “home” periodically. But now I’m already missing future boat rides on the lake. I’m already missing phone calls to my Mom. Already missing baby teeth and boys that can fit on my hip. I’m already missing the gaggle of American nieces and nephews that descend on the lake every second summer; for years it was a pure chaos of pack-and-plays, diapers, and watching toddlers navigate the rocky shoreline. Now they are busy with summer jobs and college. Will we ever all be together again at the lake?

Even if we are, it will be different. Not bad different. But unmistakably…different.

I don’t want to distract from the moment by living with one foot behind and another ahead, but sometimes accounting for the past and the future can help bring into sharper focus just how blessed I’ve been and also how special these moments, here and now, really are.

I don’t know what a day, a week, or a month will bring. Today is here and I try, not always successfully, to embrace it. I stress and rush and cry. But I also binge and savour; prioritize adventure over possessions.

In A View from Saturday, Mr. Singh concludes the exchange with this advice:

Have you enjoyed the journey out, Mrs. Olinski?”

“Very much. Every cupful…”

“Now, you must put down anchor, look around, enjoy this port of call. Your stay will be brief. ”

Today I’m putting my anchor down, looking around and enjoying the port of call. The stay may be brief but I’ve enjoyed the journey out. Every cupful.

Thoughts. Can anyone else relate to this odd juxtaposition of emotions?

Thirteen Years – A Love Story

Thirteen years ago today, I married my best friend. Of all the great joys in life, can there be anything sweeter?

We met in church in our final year of university. It was a small congregation, tucked into a nondescript building near the side of a highway. Apparently, he drove by it for years without even realizing it was a church. But he stopped one Sunday morning in September 2007 and I was there.

I still remember what I was wearing that day – a jean skirt and a black T-shirt with tiny white polka dots. I didn’t say much of anything, content to ride the coattails of a friend who engaged him in conversation.

But I didn’t stop thinking about him for weeks.

Reuniting was a comedy of errors. I was doing fieldwork that revolved around tide schedules, which caused me to miss the next two Sundays. He was there, but I was not. Then I showed up and he was away. I simply assumed I wasn’t going to see him again.

And then one week – it must have been into October? – I was up on stage singing and looked down to see him in the crowd. As soon as the service was over (I have a strong suspicion I didn’t absorb much practical teaching from the sermon), I ran outside and caught him in the parking lot as he was about to drive away. I scrounged a piece of paper and scribbled my e-mail address on it.

And then I waited.

And waited.

I got impatient and tried finding him on Facebook. I searched Google. Our university database.

Nothing. He seemed to be untraceable. A secret agent, perhaps?

The reality was less dramatic. Turns out he wasn’t able to distinguish my writing very well and had sent an e-mail which never got through. Eventually he figured out what had happened and deduced the correct e-mail address. Once our correspondence started, there was no stopping it.

We e-mailed each other constantly. We spent hours and hours and hours and hours using MSN Messenger. This was before texting, but after ICQ. (Can anyone else still hear Uh oh?)

On our first “not-a-date” date, he didn’t show. I had picked out my cutest outfit – including some too-tight American Eagle flats which were a silly purchase made in an attempt to make my large feet look slightly smaller – and told him to meet me after he finished class. I gave him directions to the lab where I’d be working.

And then I waited.

And waited.


I was very disgruntled by the time I slumped back home for supper. But then an e-mail! Apparently, when he arrived, he looked through the door and saw my research supervisor working with another student. He didn’t see me, assumed there was an actual class going on, and left.

In this same explanatory note, he sent along his phone number. I still have the scrap of paper (a pay stub) where I wrote them down. He said I must have made the call before his e-mail had a chance to hit my inbox.

What can I say? I wanted this “not-a-date” date very much.

I can still picture the phone I used to make this first call. Seeing his old numbers gives me goosebumps.

We rescheduled for later that evening and I changed into an even cuter outfit (an “evening-cute” outfit – distinct from my idea of an “afternoon-cute” outfit – and which, blessedly, did not involve tight shoes). Brown chords, a cream sweater, hair down. I set myself up at a microscope where he could see me through the ground-level window. My scheme worked (I wasn’t looking at anything through the microscope, I just wanted to appear very studious – how devious of me) because as he tells the story, seeing me through the window that evening took his breath away. Apparently he also thought to himself “Don’t screw this up.

We went to a local cafe. I got an oatcake and burned my tongue on hot tea.

So many details from that night – and many other moments in our heady courtship – feel alive and fresh all these years later.

Over Christmas vacation I had to go to a neighbour’s house to access e-mail, our only form of communication. I ended my visit home a few days early just so I could get back to see him. We still weren’t “dating,” though.

He had sent me a joke Christmas wish-list, including a request for a monkey riding a surfboard wearing a Pokemon backpack. He also requested a book on the life and times of Chuck Norris (that is one of the tiny books peeking out of the bookbag). I spent hours and hours making some version of a gag gift for every single one of his ridiculous requests. I also made him some home baked goods, including my favourite ginger cookies.

I skipped out on an evening with friends to deliver his Christmas “gifts.” Unbeknownst to me, that was the night he thought for the first time: “Someday I’m going to marry her.”

He saved one of the ginger cookies; tucked it away for two years in a basement freezer. The night of our wedding rehearsal he brought out a huge container of gingerbread men and women (commissioned from one of my uncles who is famous for his gingerbread cookies), along with that single ginger cookie he had saved from my Christmas gift. I took a bite. It wasn’t great – turns out ginger cookies aren’t very edible after two years in a deep freeze. But that he had been so sure that night we’d get married – and proceed to secretly keep track of a ginger cookie for TWO years – is one of my favourite details from our wedding.

Six months after I brought him the cookies and cardboard monkey, he proposed.

It was a gorgeous sunny day and he suggested we go to our favourite farmer’s market in a nearby city. For some reason, I had this little germ of an idea that he might just be contemplating a marriage proposal.

We strolled from stall to stall, getting all our favourite dishes from regular vendors – a curry dish, some sushi, gourmet cupcakes. On our way to a park to eat, he noticed a good sale on tires. On a whim, he stopped into the automotive center, bought a set of tires and scheduled to have them installed later that morning. In that moment I decided there was no way he had planned this into any proposal. The picnic was lovely, with nary a diamond in sight.

When the appointment was over, he suggested we test the new tires. I voiced my disapproval when he mentioned going in the opposite direction from home. The route home included a VERY long straight stretch where he liked to go…fast. This would be perfect for “testing tires” which, at the time, seemed like a perfectly ridiculous exercise to me, not to mention a waste of gas.

But he persisted, and we went the other way. We stopped to buy lemonade from two kids manning a tiny roadside stand. There was nothing rushed or premeditated about our drive. A proposal was officially out of my mind.

We ended up at a little beach and I suggested we play Pictionary in the sand. We played for a while and then he casually suggested a game of Hangman.

And that’s how, on a beach, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a gorgeous July day he proposed, just the way he had always planned – via a coded hangman message.

I found these in a shoebox full of old photos. He took the beach picture minutes after I said yes. The top picture was taken an hour later at a tiny covered bridge we had visited several times while dating. Several years ago, on our anniversary, we went to this same bridge and etched the dates of all our big milestones into one of the beams.

We’ve had a great life together. Ups and downs of course, but so much love. He brings out the best in me and I’m so glad we’re getting to do the craziness of life together.

Years ago I read an unattributed quote: Love is what makes two people sit in the middle of a bench, even if there is plenty of room at both ends. Happy Anniversary, my love! Here’s to many, many more anniversary celebrations to come. And to always sitting together in the center of the bench.

Fun fact: The night I officially fell head-over-heels for him was the night he whispered this poem by Yeats into my ear (which I wrongly attributed to KEATS in our wedding album).

Your turn. Anyone else celebrating an anniversary soon? Any fun proposal stories? A shout-out to Suzanne for requesting I share how John and I met someday! The time has arrived.

P.S. Some bonus pictures.

A not-so-fun fact: My dress was altered in another province. I only got it back a few days before the wedding and it was too big. But…I didn’t discover this until a few hours before our wedding. Eek! I compensated by cinching the top too tight (since the waist was too big) which made everything feel awful (my armpits were raw when my dress came off) and look odd. Full disclosure – I Photoshopped the bodice portion of my dress in most of our wedding pictures. This has made for a hard memory but deep down I know a wardrobe malfunction is inconsequential in light of the fact I married my best friend. That said, where applicable, try on your altered wedding dress before the actual day of your wedding. Also, it feels like most people have some iteration of this story. My parents, celebrating 50 years of marriage next month, had to cut short their honeymoon because of an illness in the family + my father got horrible food poisoning.
Back to fun/shocking facts: these adorable little munchkins – some of the nieces we just visited in South Carolina – are now old enough to drive and attend college. How did this happen?! Hi Laura! Hi Elizabeth!