Tag Archives: family

Six at Heart

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When I was five years old, my father told me I had until I was six to move out. I think we were in the kitchen, and my mother must not have been there because she never would have let me believe that. As it was, though, I spent the next few months awaiting January 11th, a date which used to mean joy and pancakes and a few gifts at dinner. Now it was the first day of living on my own.

I don’t remember being very afraid. A little, probably, because I couldn’t drive, but what I remember most was the planning. If I had to be on my own, I’d do it in style.  I emptied my ballerina bank on my bedroom floor and counted the coins and few dollar bills, somewhere around nineteen dollars. Okay, that should get me pretty far. I had my journey all laid out: first, I would walk down the street to the Calabros’ house. They were kind and would understand. After resting up there for the night, I’d walk a few towns over to where my mom’s friend lived. She lived alone and surely she’d take me in for a little while. From there, I would use the phone to call my grandfather, and I had no doubt he would rescue me from my wandering. I’m not sure why I didn’t call him from the neighbors’ house. Part of me thinks my five-year-old self wanted at least a bite-sized adventure.

I don’t remember the night before my birthday, but the next morning is engraved in my memory. I got up, got dressed, and packed my backpack with my favorite outfits and my toothbrush. I tucked the nineteen-ish dollars in the front pocket and headed down the stairs. I said goodbye to my parents and I walked down the street.

My dad came after me, laughing.

“Catherine! Catherine, come back!” he said, catching up to me right before I reached the Calabros’.

I was confused – hadn’t he been saying I had to leave? It was January 11th, I was sure, and I’d made all these plans…

It’s a story my parents still like to tell, my mother with a little more embarrassment than my father, but with a good laugh, anyway.

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Twenty years later, and I’m in those same few months, awaiting a big move. My Dad learned his lesson pretty well that first time, and he’s never even tried to kick me out since. He’ll tease occasionally – “How can I miss you if you never leave?” is one of his favorites – but I know that moments around the dinner table and evenings of Jeopardy are times he would never trade for twenty long years of empty-nesting.

But I’m twenty-six, and the time has come to be out on my own. I won’t lie that it’s a bit later than I expected, that it’s taken longer for me to get my feet under me. The strange thing is, though, that I sometimes feel as shocked as that little girl.

What? I need to move out? Are you sure?

I mean, I’m pretty little.

I am getting better at holding two emotions in tandem, and this is one time where that skill is vital. There are times when my mom is talking to me, and I have no idea what she’s saying because I’m so preoccupied with September first. With renting a U-Haul and getting the day off and finding a gym membership. I am so excited for this move that I daydream while driving about not driving and being able to walk to a coffee shop or to get a good beer. I imagine having friends over for wine and cheese and crusty bread, and there are times when I can’t wait.

And then, there is the morning I woke up and the birds were singing. I took my coffee out to the herb garden and sat by the pond and thought this is what I’ll be missing – this morning sun and the sound of the breeze through the birch tree. What am I thinking, leaving?

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I wrote an essay my senior year of college about graduating. I wrote about how I didn’t know where I would live: would I move to Cambridge as Kayla and I dreamed? Or would I go home to my parents, pay back my student loans, settle in? I desperately wanted to move away, but the truth was I knew if I went home, I’d never want to leave. I knew the longer I stayed, the harder it would be to pack that car and say goodbye.

That was four years ago. Year after year, things have not lined up, people have not shown up, and I’ve chosen home. But this year, suddenly, my eyes lit up with talk of an apartment. Was it possible that I might get to live with two of my favorite people? I held my breath while decisions were made, and then they were made. Then we found a place. Then we signed the lease. Then, it was real, I wrote the check, and we started talking about couches and parking permits and laundry.

I have 25 days until I load the U-Haul and head forty-five minutes south and a world away. That’s 25 mornings to brew coffee and drink it while honeybees pollinate tall purple flowers and a hummingbird dips its beak into hollyhocks. And 25 nights to lie in my girlhood bedroom and remember all the dreams I’ve had. I’ll get to sort through them, sift out the ones I want to keep, and push the rest off on a flaming dory into the dark sea.

On September first, I’ll wake early and start loading the car. I’ll probably be manic because change can make me that way, I’ll forget to eat, and I’ll drink too much coffee. We’ll move quickly past each other, joke as much as possible, and begin to imagine a different life.

I’ll head for the car, take out my keys, and look behind me, a little part of me hoping to see my Dad running after me.

Lemongrass and Music

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You’ve got to do things that make you happy, Cath. It’s okay to take care of yourself.

So I brew lemongrass-ginger tea in my little brown teapot.

I curl up on the couch and knit a blue sweater with white whales on it.

I ask for book suggestions on the sovereignty of God, on the unknown. I start to read Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God, Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor, A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. There is comfort in these words.

I journal in haphazard ways, round and around with no goal. I think about making sure I burn all my journals before I die.

I sit beside my roommate as she sings me this song. I sit and look out the window while she plays the guitar.

I buy a few too many dresses for the weddings and other occasions this summer. I wear the mint-green one to work.

I drive with the top down and feel the sun on my winter-skin.

I listen to all the music I love: The Lone Bellow, Ivan and Alyosha, Ray LaMontagne, Josh Garrells.

I sit at the piano and play hymns. We used to sing them with my great-grandmother in the living room, and now they are as much a balm to my soul as they are an offering to the Lord.

I preoccupy myself with apartment searching. I go a little crazy, a little manic. I apologize to my friends profusely, but it pays off. September first will find us moving into a city-apartment that I never thought we’d find.

I re-read old poems, old blog entries. My past self speaks to my present self, and I try to believe her and not feel like I’ve let her down.

I sit by the lake and sip a Dunkin iced coffee. My feet dangle like I am happy, but really it’s just because I’m short.

I imagine teaching my new courses next year. I make a list of books to read, activities to do. And then I stop when this feels overwhelming.

I think about our annual trip to the Cape and the ocean and the fact that the ocean is still there.

It’s been there all along.

So I do these things that make me happy, and I practice patience and trust. Risk involves not knowing what will happen, I know this. Time will tell, they say, and it will.

Give thanks in all circumstances. Like I wrote almost a year-and-a-half ago, we do not know how to praise God because we do not know all that he has spared us from.

The Story of Hands

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I’ve always been fascinated by hands.

Sitting on Grampa’s lap in the big recliner, I remember the feel of the bump along the edge of his thumb. He’d been in a boating accident years before, and the bones never smoothed after the surgery to reattach his thumb.

Watching Great-Grammie Shaw knit in the sunny den, her veined hands flashing the metal needles. You’d never have guessed she didn’t have full-use of her right hand – that a car accident in 1927 left her to relearn how to write, how to knit, and how to sew. The only thing she couldn’t re-learn was how to type. It scared me a little, the shape of that hand, but when I grew older, I marveled at how she held her coffee mug every morning, the tilt of it towards her mouth right up to a month ago.

My Dad’s hands in church as he held the Bible, the fine blond hairs of his fingers, the shortness of his nails. How those square hands held me and gardened and played card games. How the freckles came out in the summertime.

And Mama’s hands, small and brown from the sun. Her wedding ring stopped fitting me when I was a teenager and I thought my hands must be huge. But it wasn’t that, really, it was the smallness of Mama’s, like her thin wrists.

That time I was driving along 1-A and realized my hands would die. That I looked at them and finally saw how deeply fear ran in me.

[“You know what I remember, Catherine? Having a sleepover when we were like fourteen, and we were all talking about boys. And you said he had to have good hands, that you always looked at his hands. I’ll never forget it.”]

Sitting across from a man and thinking No, no, because his hands looked like a woman’s and he was eating salad. Because his nails were too long and his laugh was too high and all I could think was no.

Hands tell stories without words. Like a timeline, they trace the beginnings of life all the way to the grind of your day. The scar on my right hand from that broken mug my senior year of college, how it bled and bled and seemed to stand for more than just my clumsiness. The freckle on my thumb that’s only recently appeared – proof of sun and age. The writer’s bump I got in second grade writing an essay on keeping chickens (in cursive). The way the veins in my left wrist protrude just a little bit more than my right – a reminder of blockage and breaking free.

Even now, as I think of different people in my life, I see their hands. The half-moons of my aunt’s nails, the wedding ring my Gramma has never taken off, the slope of his trimmed nails and the way my hand feels small inside his.

Who knows why hands are what I see? I wonder what it is other people see: ears? noses? eyes? There’s so much character in a hand, though, the kind of character that makes you feel like you know a person long before you do. I try not to read bodies, but it’s hard, ignoring the reality of truth right in front of you.

Beach Week [in images]

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Back at the beach for our yearly tradition (year nine, for those of us counting).

Last summer, I wrote about Mary Oliver and living while I sat in the sun.

This time, I’ve written a letter and a terrible poem that might not always be terrible.

I’ve also consumed a lot of ice cream.

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I’ve talked about missions (still on the brain), and I’ve helped grill twelve cheeseburgers, two bratwursts, and roughly six hotdogs.

I’ve made a rockin’ potato salad.

I’ve been grateful that Dunks is a mile away and I’m shocked they don’t know my order by now.

I’ve wandered down to the water in the dark, making Gramma nervous but coming back in due time.

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I’ve people-watched like a champ, playing “inner monologue” and creating bizarre plot lines to strangers’ lives (I hope they don’t mind…they’re quite entertaining).

I’ve walked the beach three times a day, and seen how the light changes against the sand.

photo 1 photo 2And now, I sit.

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Lessons While Driving

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My mom says Dad could never sit around the apartment. He’d come home eleven hours after he’d left, shed his city-coated suit, eat the dinner my mom was learning to make, and then say, “Let’s go for a drive.”

We’d get buckled into the blue volvo and cruise the streets. Mom says it was back when gas was cheap and they were young and the apartment walls felt like a trap.

I don’t remember this – we moved out of the two bedroom apartment when I was three – but I do remember the lull of the car from the backseat. I remember watching the taillights and asking how come everyone got to speed except us. I was sandwiched between the twins’ carseats, and they thoroughly enjoyed pulling my hair.

When we grew up a little and moved to the house, I remember driving on the weekends. My favorite was when we headed to the beach, especially in a storm, and watched the waves hit the rough, red sand. Late-afternoon Sundays spent along winding marsh roads, the twins had stopped pulling hair by then, and Harrison was tucked into his carseat. We ate grapes and danced in the water, my aunt and uncle meeting us for a beach dinner (or at least, that’s how I remember it).

And then our twice-yearly trips to Maine…a slightly different story. We drove the six or seven hours, often with a dog or two in the backseat. Long after we’d started asking, we stopped at a gas station and Dad would buy two fruit pies – one for himself and one for the four of us to split. Mom would get her diet coke (but none for us ’cause kids drink tried and true coca cola), and, when I got old enough, I’d opt for a snickers over the fruit pie. I got pretty adept at reading in a moving vehicle, and the first book I remember reading in the car was a green biography of George Washington. The biggest book I ever read was Harry Potter, page after page until we rolled into the driveway.

[This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I thought as I was taking my driving test.]

My first car will beat any future cars because it’s a cream convertible bug and there’s nothing that screams *FUN* like one of those.

The first time I was allowed to drive kids outside my family (i.e., the day I had my license for six months) was Cinco de Maio in 2005. My two cousins and my sister and I headed to Chile’s, the top down and the freest we’d ever been. We were home by 8:00 but it felt like heaven.

This summer I went for the longest road trip of my twenty-five years. The girls knew what they were doing – they packed food to eat on the drive, taught me that you leave in the middle of the night and take shifts, and were far better at pushing through the exhaustion than I was. I felt like a little kid in the backseat, and I didn’t mind the feeling at all. When I woke up, rubbing my eyes, we were in New York state and it was my turn soon. I felt like a little kid who could somehow drive a car.

When we stopped, I got a coke and snickers. Tried and true road trip food.

Good Things #33: Things I Missed While Traveling

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Bleary eyed and happy, I went back to work Tuesday. My whirlwind trip to Italy and Greece is over. We swept into school like celebrities, bombarded with hugs and questions and a plea for pictures.

The trip will get its own posts (they’re brewing as I type), but for today, here are some things I missed while I was away:

1. My bed. Yep, that’s right. I missed my bed with its cozy corner, soft fluffy blankets, and the pillow that seems like it was made just for me. Hotels apparently don’t know what I like.

2. Mom’s cooking. Okay, so I was in Italy. The food was good. I had tortellini to die for and enough feta to last most people a lifetime when I was in Greece. (Oh, and all those people were right. The ones I always thought were pretentious when they said, “You haven’t had gelato till you’ve had it in Italy.” I was annoyed because after one lick of nutella gelato con panna I realized they were right and I’d been living a lie). 

That being said…

The first bite of Mama’s homemade chicken pot pie and I was happy to be home. Happy to be an American. It was hot, salty, filled with gravy and homegrown winter squash and there’s nothing better on a cold February night.

3. Music. I didn’t listen to music. I don’t have music on my phone. I didn’t even know what I was missing until I heard a song floating through the streets of Rome and realized I hadn’t heard music in about three days. It was so strange. Maybe it was cleansing to clear my mental music palette. But I’ve got Renee Fleming playing right now because Italy re-invigorated me for classical.

4. My shower and non-travel-size hygiene products. I un-ashamedly missed my Lush shampoo and conditioner. I missed full-size toothpaste and face wash. I missed not being afraid of using the last drop of moisturizer BECAUSE MY FACE WOULD FLAKE OFF. Just kidding. Obviously I could have found a pharmacy before that happened.

5. Gym and Starbucks dates. I missed meeting my sister and cousin every Tuesday for the gym and Starbucks (because who works out without a good reward at the end?). I missed hashing over our teaching lives. I missed the regularity of things.

6. My family. And, there it is, the crown of all things missed. The whole time I was discovering the ruins of Pompeii, the Coliseum, the Oracle of Delphi, I was thinking how much my family would have loved it. Not the huge throngs of people, no, those they could’ve done without, but the history, the richness of humanity’s past, the amazing architecture and ingenuity of such a long-ago time. I missed talking with my mom and playing Jeopardy with my dad. I missed talking about our days and sitting at the table after dinner.

I had an amazing trip. For the first time I saw things I’d only imagined, and they’re real. I came back to school re-energized to teach Latin, and that’s the best reason I can think of to go on this trip.

Stay tuned.

Good Things #32: On Seeing Three-Dimensionally

IMG_1301 There aren’t many times when I feel misunderstood.

Let me clarify.

There aren’t many times when I stay feeling misunderstood.

There’s nothing worse than trying to explain how you feel/think/believe and having someone furrow their brow in confusion.

I try very hard to communicate well, and not just because I love words and sharing ideas. A lot of it has to do with sharing myself; what’s the point of communicating if you don’t do it clearly? And how can you convey your actual self if no one understands what the heck you’re saying?

I feel misunderstood, sometimes, when I speak too passionately, too quickly, and find myself overwhelming my listener. My family has mastered the art of discerning when to take me seriously and when to smile, pat my shoulder, and let me cool down a bit.  Come back to me later, Cath, when you’ve simmered down.

[They’re not always quite so kind, but they don’t rise to my bait as much as they used to…]

It’s not that I care less than I seem to when I’m spouting about a wrong-doing, a wrong-thinking, or what I perceive as wrong-whatevers.

It’s that it’s never the full picture.

I probably care as much as I seem to, but deep down there’s a logical side, too. The side that puts things in perspective, that reminds the other part of me that passion is important, but so is rational thinking, decision-making, and action. They don’t amount to much in isolation – they must be combined to mean anything.

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I wrote earlier about reading my old journals, sifting through page after page of angsty emotion, thought, and concern for the future. This made me a little sad about- and a little terrified at – the image I was projecting.

What will my children think if they ever get their little paws on those journals?

They’ll see only a slice of what it meant to be me growing up, wrestling with tough questions, trying to understand what it meant to be a creation of God but also being terribly insecure in that fact.

It’s kind of like first impressions, really, the one-sidedness of them. The way I decide in a moment if I will like someone, and even if that decision is based on entirely decent observations, I am forgetting the depth of that person. I am cheapening them to a cardboard cutout. I am closing the door to giving them the humanity I so very much desire for myself.

There are few things more frustrating than feeling like you’re misunderstood, like you’re only half-seen.

Don’t half-see people. Let’s both try.

With Five You Get…?

I had this recurring dream growing up: I’d open the linen closet in our hallway, and magically there was a third floor in our house. The stairs were thin (because even in a dream I was logical – that closet was small!) and when we got to the top, there were two more bedrooms. We didn’t have to share rooms anymore! Here was an attic-y third floor that none of us knew about! It was amazing.

I had this dream numerous times, always imagining my own space, my own way of doing things.

Sharing a room wasn’t horrible at all. Sure, my sister and I had our ups and downs. We have different degrees of cleanliness, different ideas of what it means to be neat. My books took over. Her clothes took over. And neither of us cared much for a vacuum. But it wasn’t terrible.

Still, I dreamed.

She’s had her own place since August, and my brother just got an apartment. He moved in this weekend, loaded the back of the truck with his bed, bureau, clothes, snowboard. He was excited. So excited. There’s something exhilarating about heading out, embarking on a new adventure. Like my sister, he isn’t hundreds of miles away, but when he comes home from work, his home will look a little different. When I come home, there will be one less body, one less sibling with whom to enjoy a warm dinner and a glass of wine.

We made trips to the truck in the freezing cold, and I remembered that recurring dream.

My littlest brother is now cleaning out their room, rearranging furniture, making it his own. His music is playing loudly because neither of us likes to do work without music, and I am remembering a dream.

Our linen closet is only our linen closet, but we’re spreading out, just a little.

It doesn’t feel quite as nice as I’d Imagined.

2013 – A Year in Pictures

 Start off the New Year with a birthday and a dance party. Enjoy the fact that 2 goes into 4 twice and 24 makes a beautiful number.

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One of the perks of sticking close to home is you get to visit your old favorites.

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The girls had a rainy spring and the garden went through a transformation.

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At first, I was completely against the pond. “It’s too big! Who’s gonna maintain it? My forsythia bush!” Now, though, I’ve grown to like it. I do NOT however agree with the unceremonious way my forsythia was disposed of.

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We sold out of honey for the first time this year – a good thing, in most ways, but I hate having to tell people to wait till the spring. We’re also doing the favors for two weddings. Picture this: cute little glass jars with “One Pound Honey” on them, a simple cream label and a bow of twine.

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My first wedding of the season was on a beautiful island in Maine. We sang “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” and frolicked in the night along the dark streets of a sleepy town.

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I learned that you can have the wedding you want and surround yourself with all different kinds of people at once.

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We drove half-way across the country to celebrate another college friend’s wedding. The groom made their wedding shoes of leather and they danced to swing.

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I even missed a wedding, but I got to go on a hiking bachelorette – that’s the way to do it!

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The wine tasting which brought four friends together on a hot June Sunday. It’s also where a little bet began, but that’s for another day.

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The best summer job ever – teaching English at my Alma Mater.

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We didn’t have any fun at all.

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And then a trip to London, a trip I never thought I’d go on.

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A train-ride away was Oxford, and this is my attempt at a panorama.

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We stumbled upon an exhibit of mystical writings and illuminated manuscripts at Oxford University. We also found a large blue rooster.

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This photo was taken at Kensington Gardens, after a not-so-pleasant run trying to catch a tour through the palace (“I’m sorry, it’s 5:02. The tours are closed.”). I look much happier than my feet were feeling at the moment.

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A week at the Swiss L’Abri and mornings of “Oh my gosh, this is real.” Did you know the Swiss care about bees, too?!

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Fishing trips in the Atlantic are always cold, even in August.

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We didn’t win the photo contest, but the winners were holding a baby. Not fair.

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Cousin Christmas pic.

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The last photo of 2013. A reunion of roomies and I got to hold her little one for the first time.

[This has been a good exercise for me. Too often I let things slip through my fingers, moments of joy and communion, the hard lessons I’ve learned and re-learned.]

[Next week, I’ll be posting my favorite things of 2013. A little late, but I want to make sure it’s a rocking list.]

Proposal of the Century

I blame Disney, but I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.

Somehow, somewhere, I got the idea that romance had to be BIG. Dates had to be special and frequent. The proposal had to be elaborate, perhaps with candles or a sunset thrown in.

“Mama, how did Daddy propose?”

It was an innocent enough question for a five or six-year-old. I remember my mom pausing, furrowing her brow a little.

“Hmmmm. Well, we talked about it at Calitiri’s.”

I did not understand.

“You talked about it? You mean, he didn’t surprise you?”

[Insert helicopter landing with champagne here.]

“No, no surprise. I remember eating dinner and your father and I talked about getting married.”

“But then later he got down on one knee, right? And gave you a ring?”

[Insert the many proposals Anne of Green Gables got and turned down in the snow.]

“No, there was no ring, honey. Well, he did give me a sapphire at Christmas, but that wasn’t really an engagement ring.”

The dinner conversation happened in October and they were married in May.

“At least you got a honeymoon, right? Where did you go?”

“We went to Nova Scotia on a boat from Maine. We stayed in a cabin and it was freezing.”

I remember trying to understand why there wasn’t more. I thrived off stories, but my parents didn’t really give me much to work with. A dinner conversation? No surprise? No down-on-one-knee? Are you kidding me?

Where was the princess treatment?

Where was the extended year-long planning process?

Where was the gift registry? The two-week European honeymoon? The violins?

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I was five and I thought men treated the women they loved like princesses. Look at Belle or Cinderella, for instance. You don’t see them having conversations about things. I thought that maybe my father didn’t quite know how it worked. I thought that love and romance were the same thing, and my parents just didn’t get it.

These days, my friends would probably say that I’m not a romantic. They tend to like things a little more mushy, a little more This Is Supposed To Be Romantic. The thing is, I’ve been thinking lately, maybe my parents had something right.

What’s better than down-on-one-knee with a ring and roses?

Maybe an eyes-to-eyes and mind-to-mind conversation.

Maybe a six-month whirlwind-ish engagement.

Maybe a focus on the marriage instead of the pomp and circumstance leading up to it.

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I have so many friends getting married now, and each one is doing things differently. Some are “The bigger the better!” and others are more low-key, and that’s okay. I can’t wait to go to weddings, be in weddings, see the love that I’ve watched grow over the past few years. I’m loving the process of choosing colors and flowers and dresses, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Everyone has a different style.

My romantic just looks a little more like a conversation.

[This is not to say that I will never once post a photo of me and the lucky guy, or that I won’t announce our upcoming nuptials on facebook. I may be a luddite, but I know where to draw the line.]

[Photo credit: Sarah. Thanks for going on a cruise!]