Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Suz & Travis...Elfed

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Walking in a Winter Wonderland

When I was growing up, my family did the fake tree thing. So, the extent of the annual tree-setting up ordeal was dragging the thing down from the attic and then putting it together. We had an old school some-assembly-required tree, so it was a great learning activity for a kid-- I remember sitting on the floor of the family room, grabbing one branch at a time and matching the color on the end of each branch to the color of the holes on the wooden "trunk."

The past couple years I branched out (pun intended) in my Christmas tree experience and went with a friend to walk up and down the aisles of real trees at Home Depot, pick out the perfect specimen, sweet talk the guy working the tree department into helping us lash it to the car, and then drag it inside and set it up. This year I added another layer of experience when Travis and I went with friends to a Christmas tree farm out in Harvard, IL to help them choose, cut down, bring home, and set up their tree. While certainly the most involved ordeal, I found that trudging through the snow and weaving through the rows of firs and pines in search of a well formed tree of the appropriate height and girth has a certain charm to it. After we (and by "we" I mean Travis and Alex) had cut down the winning tree and secured it to the roof of the Jeep, we (and here by "we" I mean the 4 of us) went for a cold and bumpy "sleigh" ride to cap off our time in the tree farm's winter wonderland.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Engaged! The Whole Wonderful Story

Last Wednesday afternoon Travis and I drove to Michigan to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family. I was expecting/hoping for a proposal while we were there but had no idea how he was going to do it. I knew he’d had a master plan in the works for some time, but he’d done a really good job of keeping me in the dark (which, admittedly, drove me crazy sometimes).

Well, Thanksgiving Day came and went. We had a wonderful time with his parents and extended family, enjoyed incredible food and being together, but there was no proposal, no ring. Travis could sense I was getting a bit anxious, wondering if and when it was going to happen. That night he too was so eager for it to happen that for a fleeting moment he considered scrapping his whole plan (which shall unfold below) to propose by the Christmas tree at the capital building (where we went that night to walk around). But he was patient and held out, and I’m so glad he did.

Every family has their own Thanksgiving traditions. For Travis, going home to Michigan for Thanksgiving has always meant going deer hunting. He was willing to forgo hunting this year so that he wouldn’t lose that time with me, but knowing how much it means to him, I encouraged him to go. In fact, prompted by a point made at the Love & Respect conference we attended back in October, I even said I’d go out hunting with him. (Yes, you read that right. Girl from the suburbs volunteered to go deer hunting. I’m telling you, love makes you do some things you never expected of yourself!)

So, Friday morning I got up at 5:30 and donned many layers in the hope of not turning into an icicle while we sat in the woods. Travis had a light breakfast of toast and juice waiting for me when I came downstairs. He gave me a final layer to put on—a blaze orange vest—and we headed out into the dark, cold morning.

We drove a little ways, parked the car, and then trudged through crunchy snow around a pond and through some woods to the spot Travis had picked out, which was near a boulder where he’d set up his first deer blind as a kid. We parked ourselves in chairs around 6:00 and then sat there in the cold, with minimal movement and whispering, waiting for the sun to come up. Lots of things in life require a great deal of patience, but I think waiting for dawn to break has got to be one of the most excruciating things to wait for. It was an overcast day, so instead being able to watch the sun creep up over the eastern horizon and cast its warm glow across the field in front of us, I had to measure the increasing light (and reassure myself that it was indeed getting lighter out) by gauging my ability to make out the words printed on Travis’ glove, which I was holding on my lap (his right hand was shoved in his pocket to keep his trigger finger warm and ready).

After sitting there for two and a half hours and not seeing a single deer, around 8:30 Travis suggested we give it 15 more minutes and then head back. As we sat there, Travis started scraping the ground in front of him with his boot. I assumed he wanted to get the crunchy snow out of the way so that he could stand up without making too much noise and survey the area around us for deer one last time, so I didn’t think much of it. Fifteen minutes passed and the only wildlife we saw was a squirrel, so we stood up and started to gather our things. Travis started moving mud around with his boot again, and he uncovered what I thought at first to be a thin sheet of orange plastic. I didn’t really care what it was—I was cold and ready to go. Travis then emptied his shotgun cartridges onto the ground, near where he’d been rummaging in the mud. (I learned later that he was hoping they’d land on the buried thing, make a sound, and then I’d be curious about what was there.) But I wasn’t curious; I was cold. He bent down to pick up the cartridges, moved some more mud around while he was down there, and said, “Hey, I think there’s something here.” Disinterestedly, I looked down and said, “Eh, looks like wood.”

It was clear to me that Travis wanted to find out what was there, so I bit my tongue and exercised patience. He handed me his shotgun, bent down, and pulled a wooden crate about the size of a shoe box out of the ground. (At this point I suspected something proposal-related was happening, but still wasn’t sure what to expect.) He opened the crate to reveal a piece of aged-looking parchment paper rolled up and tied with a ribbon. He scooted off the ribbon and unrolled the paper to reveal a poem, written in his handwriting. He gave me an intense glance and read me the poem, entitled This Love. Then he rolled the paper up, put it back in the box, and got down on one knee, right there in the woods, in the mud, and asked me to marry him. And I said, “Yes!”

He stood up and fumbled in his pocket for the ring box, which he produced and opened for me, revealing the ring I’d picked out and hoped to receive. We stood there in silence for a minute, admiring the ring, me beaming and Travis still shaking just a little with nerves. I gave him a look that successfully communicated, “It’s cold, I’m wearing gloves, your hands are muddy, let’s do that in the car” and he put the ring back in his pocket. At that point I became very aware of the fact that I was still holding his shotgun in my left hand. As he gazed intently into my eyes, I couldn’t help but break the silence to say, “You know, it feels really weird to be holding a gun right now.” We laughed and he took the gun, I picked up my chair and the muddy box, and we trudged back through the woods, around the pond, and toward the car.

When the car came into our line of vision, I saw that parked across the street from the car was a white stretch SUV limo. We put the gun in the car, shed our blaze orange accessories, and climbed into the waiting limo. As we settled in and I gloried in the heat coming from the vents, I noticed that Frank Sinatra was crooning one of our songs (I’ve Got You Under My Skin) from the speakers. After giving me the ring, Travis reached into a bag that had been sitting on the seat when we got in and removed two mugs and a few gourmet marshmallows. He reached over and grabbed a waiting thermos from the limo’s bar and poured me a mug of rich, steaming hot chocolate. (The hot chocolate was to commemorate our first date, which we’d ended with hot chocolate at Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge in Chicago. I learned later that his mom had come to meet the limo and planted the music and hot chocolate.)

Meanwhile, the limo had driven off to an undisclosed location. Eventually we pulled up to a locally owned greenhouse and florist that’s housed in an old red barn out in the country. When the limo pulled up to the door someone came out and delivered a gorgeous bouquet of flowers to the car. The driver then took us on a big loop that Travis had mapped out for the driver, and about 45 minutes later delivered us back to Travis’ parents’ house.

After we’d removed our muddy boots and coats, Travis led me into the den where there was a beautifully laid table for two by the fireplace, with a gently crackling fire, candles, and soft music creating a very romantic ambiance. The table, set with china, held fresh fruit parfaits, and nearby a bottle of sparkling juice sat on ice. In the kitchen Travis’s mom had left scrambled eggs and pancake batter for us to make breakfast together, and she had sausage staying warm for us in the oven. So, after changing out of our muddy clothes and many layers and back into our pajamas (it was still only 10:00 in the morning!) we enjoyed an intimate, leisurely meal together and spent the rest of the morning basking in the glow of the fire and reveling in This Love. And that is the whole wonderful story.

And this is my gorgeous ring!