Staring into the Face of Love

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Seth got assigned the “homework” of taking me on a romantic date as a part of our Fusion pre-engagement class. That particular week, we happened to be out at the ranch, so our options for a romantic evening were limited, but Seth told me he was planning something nice for Thursday evening.

Early in the week, Seth drove me to a nearby town to get drinks and enjoy the live acoustic music that was playing there. I didn’t expect much since there were only a few cars in the gravel lot when we pulled in, but as soon as we got settled with our drinks, Seth gestured to the dark hills around us, saying softly, “Look.”

I glanced up and did a double-take. “Wow,” I breathed. Fireflies danced in the darkness around us, lighting up the night with their soft glow. Seth and I sat hand-in-hand on a picnic bench at that empty outdoor bar, soft music coming from across the yard where two guitarists talked and gently finger-picked on their six strings. And it was magical.

Our official date night two days later was nice, but Seth couldn’t have recreated that God-given romance if he’d tried. And he did try. We had a nice dinner together and sat on the dock of a lake watching the sun set. It was peaceful. It was nice.

And then on Friday, Seth took me out for pizza. We found a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria with an outdoor patio strung with twinkle lights. I loved the setting and how much it reminded me of the evening with the fireflies. While we waited for our food to arrive, I reached over to take Seth’s hand and gazed at him lovingly. “You are the most wonderful man,” I began, “You always -“

“Ooh, a staring contest!!!” I was interrupted by a small blonde boy – probably eight years old – wearing a green T-shirt.

Seth and I broke hands and leaned back, startled. “I’ll win!” The boy called in challenge, running up to Seth and staring intently into his face. Seth just took it in stride, staring back at the boy until he yelled and pointed at Seth, “You blinked!”

Seth chuckled, and the boy ran off for a few minutes before scampering back over for a quick rematch. Quinn, as he introduced himself when I asked, loved football, so we talked about Tim Tebow for a while, and I mentioned that Quinn should look for the Bible verses in Tim’s eye black in his old photos from his time at Florida.

The little boy won the second staring contest with Seth and then lost interest in the game, so he relinquished Seth to me, and I got to resume my own version of a staring contest with the man I love.

Authentically Aurora

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Our First Christmas

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Several weeks before Christmas, Seth asked me what kind of gifts my family gives for the holidays. Was our gift-giving practical? Sentimental? Minimalistic? Extravagant? “You’re such a generous person, I’m worried that you’re going to out-Christmas me,” he admitted.

First Christmases together are tough. You don’t want to do too little for the other person, but you don’t want to overwhelm them, either. It’s hard to find a balance and make sure your gifts to one another are somewhat equivalent. So I told Seth that I had already planned on three gifts for him – one store bought and two homemade. He gave a sigh of relief (three must have seemed reasonable), and I fully expected to receive about three gifts myself.

But I got fifteen.

FIFTEEN Christmas presents (!) from my boyfriend of eight months. Fortunately, they were spread out over November and December and even January, so I only actually received about half of them on Christmas, but I was still blown away by Seth’s thoughtfulness and generosity.

  1. Vacuum 

On Thanksgiving, Seth asked me if I ever participate in Black Friday. I never have, and hopefully I never will. But Seth loves a good deal, so he planned to venture out to Home Depot or Lowe’s on Black Friday, and he asked me if there was anything I wanted. I laughed, “I doubt there’s anything I want from Home Depot on Black Friday. But thanks for asking. The only thing I can imagine I’d try to get a deal on for Black Friday would maybe be a vacuum – I really need a new one – but I don’t think they sell those at Home Depot.”

The next morning, Seth showed up at my apartment with a $400 vacuum that he got half off at Target. And he wouldn’t let me pay him back. “Merry Christmas early,” he told me with a kiss on my cheek.

Some women might be offended if their boyfriend bought them a vacuum. But as a very practical almost-30-something, I thought his gift was one of the sweetest, most thoughtful gifts I’ve gotten in years.

2 – 4. Apron, Laundry hamper, Chocolate

A couple of weeks before Christmas, Seth and I went shopping together at Marshall’s to pick up some cute (and discounted) gifts for family. While we were walking around the store, I saw an upscale laundry hamper for a great price and mentioned offhand that I should probably get a new one since the one I have now is from high school and has a hole in the bottom.

Seth loves when I wear an apron when I cook, so when we spotted a rack of high-quality aprons, I tried on a few and modeled them for Seth, twirling around playfully in the aisle. My favorite was white and mustard yellow with delicate ruffles along the bottom. And at the check-out line, I saw some gourmet chocolate-covered Oreos that looked delicious, but I exercised self-control and left them on the shelf.

Two days before Christmas, Seth showed up at my door with the unwrapped laundry hamper and a box containing both the apron and the gourmet Oreos. I felt so loved and cherished that he heard my comments and remembered them.

5 – 6. Two Necklaces

The morning of Christmas Eve, Seth and I did our first round of formal gift exchanges, and one of my favorite gifts was a sterling silver arrowhead necklace that he bought from a wonderful craftsman jewelry shop. It’s a reminder of one of the first times I visited his family’s ranch and found an arrowhead in the creek bed. It’s still one of the best arrowheads that’s ever been found at the ranch.

Seth bought me another necklace as well, but evidently it’s still in Turkey waiting to be shipped. He knows I love the Star of Bethlehem and all the science behind it, so he bought me a gorgeous Star of Bethlehem necklace that I can wear year round to remember how awesome our God is and how He has written a love story of poignant beauty in the stars.

7 – 9. Candle, Lotion, Shirt

Similar to the three gifts from Marshall’s, Seth demonstrated his active listening skills when he presented me with a Pomegranate Spruce candle I smelled and liked at a Cracker Barrel while waiting to be seated; some floral hand lotion we both liked at Bath & Body Works; and a really soft graphic tee we both loved at a small boutique near the family ranch.

10 – 12. Mirror, Theology Book, Carving Set

Seth had a full-length mirror he was planning to get rid of, but I didn’t have one in my bedroom, so he offered to drop it off at my place and mount it in my room for me. It has a white frame that goes well with my bedroom decor.

Seth also gave me an 800 page book on Systematic Theology, partially because he knows I love to geek out over that stuff, and partially because he wants us to read through it together and develop a joint faith statement. That may sound awful to some people, but it sounds pretty fun (and romantic!) to me.

Seth spends a lot of time in his woodworking shop, and I’d mentioned wanting to sit in there by him and whittle on some blocks, so Seth bought me a nice wood carving set. We’re talking about starting a joint project together.

13 – 14. Handmade Scrolled Centerpiece Bowl & Mounted Antlers 

In all of that time in his woodworking shop, Seth evidently had been spending a lot of hours working on Christmas gifts for me because, on Christmas Day, Seth presented me with a gorgeous wooden bowl that he carved himself with detailed scroll work. I was stunned. I figured he was talented, but I didn’t know he was this talented!

Seth is also still working on mounting the antlers from the buck I shot over Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas to me!

15. Handwritten Love Letter

And lastly – maybe my favorite gift of all – was a three-paged love letter in which Seth recounted some of our best memories and explained some of his favorite things about me. How I managed not to try at the initial reading is beyond me, because I have read it multiple times since Christmas and teared up at his sweet words.

Seth and I had a great Christmas together. He outdid himself, and I was stunned at his thoughtfulness. Some gifts were practical; others were romantic and sentimental. Overall, I spent my Christmas feeling very loved and cherished. Life is good.

Authentically Aurora

Cali – Part II

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Although Seth and I had flown to California for one of his friend’s weddings, we’d decided to make an extended weekend trip out of it, and Seth was most excited about the opportunity to climb Mt. Baldy – one of the top three most challenging hikes in California according to SoCal Hiker.

Though naturally gifted in a number of areas, athleticism is not one of my strengths, so I’d spent much of the week leading up to the trip worrying about how I was going to keep up with Seth on the mountain.

We’d agreed to hike Mt. Baldy on Day Two of our trip, so that first night in California (staying in the shady Knight’s Inn, as you may recall), Seth asked me what time I wanted to start hiking in the morning.

“I thought we could leave here around 8,” I told him, proud of myself for suggesting such an early time.

“Oh…” Seth’s face fell. “Yeah, I guess we can sleep in if you want.”

My eyes widened. “Sleep in?! What time are you planning to be up?”

“I wake up about 4:30,” he told me. But he quickly suggested we “sleep in” and leave at 8. After all (he acknowledged), it had been a long day of travel. So the next morning, we each packed up our suitcases, threw them in the back of our rented Jeep, and drove into the foothills of the Angeles National Forest.

For the first time that trip, Seth’s lack of planning came in handy (from my perspective at least). We couldn’t find the trail head for Mt. Baldy/Mt. San Antonio, much less the Adventure Center where we were supposed to be able to get maps and parking passes for the hike. We eventually had to pull to the side of the road and ask a stranger for directions, and his guidance led us to a Visitor’s Center that – according to the posted sign – was supposed to be open but was closed.

At this vacant Visitor’s Center nestled into the treeline of the quaint mountain town, we ran into two different men who were each looking to buy Adventure Passes in preparation for their planned hikes up Icehouse Canyon – a hike I’d had my eye on weeks earlier as one that was more scenic and less strenuous than Mt. Baldy. Fortunately, these two male hikers told the very same thing to Seth, who seemed more willing to take hiking advice from fellow adventurers than from his over-planning, athletically-challenged girlfriend.

The hiker dudes were able to direct us to the Icehouse Canyon trailhead so, unable to find where to go to hike Mt. Baldy, Seth suggested we just hike Icehouse Canyon instead. I enthusiastically agreed.

It turned out to be a beautiful hike and a perfect day. The temperature stayed in the 60s and 70s most of the hike, even as we rose in elevation. We made several new acquaintences along the way, and Seth was excited and impressed when I spotted some mule deer on the trail. I had packed some protein bars, so we ate those for lunch around hour three of our six-hour hike. At some point, we lost the trail and ended up hiking up a dry creek bed, but we almost had more fun that way, walking off the beaten path in the most literal sense of the phrase.

The hike was just about the right length and intensity for me, and I think Seth really enjoyed being the trail leader, displaying his masculinity and helping me up when we had to do some serious bouldering in the creek bed to continue along the “trail”.

After our hike, we drove in the direction of the wedding location for later that weekend, and we stopped at a Motel 6 where we could again get two cheap, separate rooms. The Motel 6 was much cleaner than the Knight’s Inn, but unfortunately it was also very minimalistic – as in, there was no shampoo or conditioner; just a bar of soap.

I hadn’t packed many toiletries because, when I travel, I tend to stay in establishments with those nice little travel-sized shampoos and lotions. So when I raised to Seth that my room didn’t have shampoo, he told me to sit tight and – unbeknownst to me – drove to a nearby dollar store to buy me some dollar store shampoo. What a gentleman. It’s the little things in life that make a girl feel cherished.

That night I’d planned for us to go to a fancy steak dinner. In a rare moment of recognition at the office, some of my work got noticed, and I was told to charge up to $150 on my corporate credit card by way of appreciation, so I researched and found a 5-star steakhouse in California where I could treat Seth to a nice night out. He doesn’t let me pay for much (not even the flight or my hotel rooms), so I was glad to be able to contribute financially for once.

Saddle Peak Lodge was formerly an old hunting cabin that the owners converted into a gorgeous wedding venue nestled into the forest. It is a rustic but expansive log cabin with heads of deer and elk and bison all along the walls, but – rustic as it is – it also has a romantic elegance to it as well, with twinkle lights draped through the trees and chandeliers hanging from the ceilings.

After exploring the expansive grounds, Seth and I enjoyed a delicious meal of wild game as well as a complimentary dessert in celebration of our 6-month anniversary. After what felt like a fairy tale evening, I concluded that life is indeed very good.

Authentically Aurora

La Douceur du Foyer

Flowers from SethI just got home from Paris last night, greeted at the airport by Seth’s smiling face. He’d offered to pick me up and left work early to do so, showing up looking handsome in a blue-and-white plaid button-down tucked into khaki slacks. He wrapped me in a hug and then, from behind his back, pulled a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers dotted with tiny purple daisies. My favorite.

He insisted on carrying my luggage, kissed me sweetly when we were alone in the elevator, and made dinner for me while I showered at home, washing off more than 15 hours of travel. Other than my daddy, I’ve never had a man meet me at the airport with flowers – and certainly not cook dinner for me as well. Seth makes me feel like a princess.

I’m still processing everything I saw and experienced during my whirlwind of a trip to Paris, but in the meantime, my travel-fogged brain has been musing over a couple of things.

I got sick my first day in Paris, and I am not sure if it’s because:

  1. I was stuck in a petri dish of an airplane for ten hours with coughers and sneezers,
  2. My body subconsciously wanted my French to sound more authentic (i.e. more nasal-y), or
  3. I am allergic to socialism.

With the EuroCup going on, Rachel and I made a lot of new friends – British, Welsh, Polish and German, but no French. I was disappointed to discover that Parisians were just as rude as all the stereotypes. I’m wondering if this is because:

  1. They’re bitter about only being back-to-back World War Champs because of American rescue,
  2. They have stale baguettes stuck up their butts, or
  3. They are living under the stench of European socialism.

In the 18 hours I have been back in America, I have already experienced some reverse culture shock. Most notably:

  1. When someone passed me on the street this morning, I surprised myself by automatically clutching my purse closer to my side, wary of pickpockets.
  2. I walked past two women talking in the office and heard one begin her sentence, “We pardoned…” and was stunned to realize that my mind heard, “Oui, pardon!” I think I need to purge my brain of the last week of French speaking.
  3. I passed by a TV screen declaring Hillary is picking up votes. Not that I’m exactly a Trump supporter, but I’d thought I was escaping socialism when I came home and was disheartened to realize that  – in actuality – perhaps the difference in culture is not quite as significant as I’d hoped. Regardless, I am beyond thankful to be back home in the Land of the Free & Home of the Brave.

Yay ‘Merica.

thatcher-socialism

Authentically Aurora