Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Year in Review

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?
I did a lot in 2009 that I'd never done before. Every year there are so many new experiences. Obviously the biggest is that I got engaged in 2009. I've certainly never done that before! I also took an official university-reimbursed business trip, traveled to Russia, brought my boyfriend home for Christmas with my family, and became a PhD candidate. All of those were pretty big firsts.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions and will you make more for next year?
Every year I read this question and I'm like, "Wait, what were my resolutions again?" Looking back on last year's resolutions, I was pretty successful. I said I wanted to cook more, and I actually did! I now cook dinner--a real dinner, from a recipe--two or three nights a week. With leftovers, eating out or having Penn grill once or twice a week, and the fact that sometimes we genuinely prefer to have crackers and cheese for dinner, that's enough for us. The best part is I actually feel like I've become a fairly capable cook and I'm starting to really enjoy it. If I come home stressed, it feels good to go into the kitchen and cook something. Who knew?!
The second part of my resolution was to pass my comprehensive exams and write my prospectus. I give myself a "B" on that resolution. I passed comps and advanced to candidacy, and I've started writing my prospectus but I haven't finished it.
My resolution for 2010 is very simple: focus on what is important. There are so many things I want to do in 2010. I want to make significant progress on my dissertation. I want to move somewhere that makes me as happy as my current home does but has more space. I want to teach my own course. I want to plan a beautiful, fun wedding. I'm not going to lie, it's a little overwhelming. So my goal for this year is to constantly remind myself to put things in perspective. At the end of 2010, all that really matters is that Penn and I are together and supporting each other.
It's funny how the engagement caused this major shift in my mental state. I've always known how much I love and value Penn, but the engagement has brought us to this next level and made me realize that for the rest of my life he has to come first: before my career, before my family back home, before my friends, before absolutely everything other than maybe our future children (and even then I think maybe my marriage still needs to hold the most privileged position). I think that's the only way a marriage will work for life. I have to always put him first, and he has to always put me first (Don't worry, I didn't suddenly turn into one of those "everything for my man" women! I'm only comfortable with this because I know he is equally committed to putting me first in his life). Anyway, my point in making this resolution is to remind myself that my relationship and my future marriage is what matters from here on out. Everything else is just details that either support or detract from our relationship. I think it's going to be important to remember that, especially as we go through major changes together.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Oh yeah. 2009 was definitely a year of babies. Cas (my friend from high school), my college roommate and my cousin who lives nearby were the people closest to me who had babies. I actually sent them gifts and talked to them about the experience and went to their baby showers/baby naming ceremonies. Although about ten people I now keep in touch with mostly via Facebook had babies this year, too. Seriously, at least TEN.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
I'm not sure how to answer this question. As you know from reading this, my college roommate's son died in October of SIDS. He was 2 months old. So while he wasn't close to me (I never even got to meet him) his death had a huge effect on someone who is close to me. I've mentioned before that I feel weird writing about it here because it's not my loss and I hate when people take someone else's tragedy and make it all about them. But I do have to say that going to stay with my friend just after her baby died was very hard and heartbreaking. Not to mention it brought all this other information about her life to the surface and I completely wasn't prepared to deal with any of it. I'm still scared for her whenever she crosses my mind (often), and I still feel hopelessly inadequate to help her deal with the loss of her son on top of all the other challenges she's facing in her life, but I'm trying to be hopeful. I talked to her yesterday and it sounds like things are better at the moment, although I'm anticipating a lot of ups and downs still to go. If anyone deserves a clean slate and a new start in the new year, it's her. I hope she gets it.

5. What countries did you visit?
Russia, the United Kingdom (England and Scotland), the Netherlands, Canada and, for about five hours, Germany. It was a really great year for travel! And that's not even including all the domestic travel I did this year: Maine, Florida, my home state a couple of times, Washington...

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
Honestly, nothing. Nothing important, anyway. I mean, I'd like a new watch and a printer and some little material things, but I have all the big things I want. I have an almost-husband, enough money to be satisfied, a more-or-less stable job, a roof over my head, cuddly pets, a family that loves me. Once again, can I just ask for a repeat of this year?

7. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory and why?
That's so easy. November 21, 2009, the day Penn asked me to marry him and I said yes. I can't imagine ever forgetting that afternoon. Although I had a ton of other great memories this year, I have to admit that, as cheesy as it sounds, everything else pales in comparison.

8. What was your biggest achievement(s) of the year?
Definitely passing my comprehensive exams. Those things were a beast, but I conquered them. Now I just need to get back to working diligently so I can finish up this degree. Now that I'm a candidate the end is frustratingly, tantalizingly in sight. I feel like I've gotten past all of the major hurdles, so now it's time to just get writing on my book!

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not continuing the momentum I had at the beginning of the semester. I worked so diligently on my exams and felt really enthusiastic about my dissertation topic. Then I got distracted by my Europe travel and that momentum completely fizzled away. I have done some small necessary projects since late October, and I've done a lot of work on various things tangentially related to my degree, but very little progress has been made on my actual dissertation. I'm hoping that I will be able to kickstart myself by taking a winter term class that will force me to go back to work.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Not really. My dermatologist removed a freaky looking mole in the summer, but it ended up being non-cancerous, just freaky looking (hooray!). I haven't even really been sick this year, just very minor colds here and there, nothing that sent me to bed or made me miss work. Lucky.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I think the best thing I spent my money on was my trip to Russia. I almost didn't take the class because the trip cost $800 that I definitely didn't have at the time, but my dad lent me the money and I paid him back over the course of a few months and it was definitely worth it. Going to Russia is something I probably never would have gotten around to doing had I not taken the class, and it was a great experience. I'm hard pressed to think of anything else major I bought this year, actually. Most of the other things/experiences I really loved this year were things I was given (my ring, of course, my opera trip to Seattle with my grandparents, my recent trip to Europe which was paid for by the school, my bike...)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
I was very proud of my brother when he graduated from college in May. That was a great trip, too, flying down to see him graduate and then going fishing in Florida.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I have a cousin who is making some extremely idiotic life choices (choices that landed him in jail for the last three months, for example). He lives far away and I don't have to hear about him often so it's not like his problems are a huge presence in my life. But every time I do hear about him I just want to find him, smack him on the head, and ask him why he's screwing up his life so badly.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Rent, as usual.

15. What did you get really, really excited about?
All of my vacations, although of course the most exciting thing was getting engaged and then telling the story to everyone who would listen (this survey is going to be a bit of a broken record again this year; sorry!)

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
Say Hey (I Love You) by Michael Franti & Spearhead. Penn introduced me to Spearhead in the spring and I listened to the CD he made for me nonstop for a few weeks in May and pretty often after that. Just recently I started hearing this song in stores and restaurants, and while I'm excited that Spearhead is finally getting deserved attention, I'm also a little bummed because it was more fun when I felt like this was a song just for me and Penn.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
A. Happier or sadder?
I'm feeling pretty much exactly the same at the end of 2009 as I was at the end of 2008, which is to say I'm extremely happy and content with the way my life is going. I just keep trying to stay in the moment and be grateful for all that I have going for me right now.
B. Thinner or fatter?
I'd say I'm still more or less the same as I was at this time last year, although I'm embarking on a mission to tone up a little bit more before I shop for my wedding dress in a few months (which of course means I'll have to then maintain my weight for nine months or so, but, whatever, details, details...)[Incidentally, it still feels very strange to refer to "my wedding dress"!]
C. Richer or poorer?
I'm doing so much better financially this year than I was at this time last year. As predicted, sharing rent with someone definitely helps! While two can't live quite as cheaply as one, I've managed to save much more money this year than I did last year. Also, we're down to just one car now which has saved money on transportation costs. And I got another (small) raise when I passed my candidacy exams and I'm an SAT tutor and I baby-sit for my friend's son on the side now, so all in all I'm in a much more comfortable place in terms of money than I was last year.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
I wish I'd done more dissertation research so I wasn't feeling so behind the curve now.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
I am pretty sure I have said this before, but I wish I'd spent less time stressing out about THE FUTURE. So far everything has always managed to work out okay in the end, and in the rare instances in my life when things temporarily weren't okay, it's not like worrying about it ahead of time would have made things better anyway! And I don't want to give the impression that I'm a total ball-of-stress basketcase all the time, because I'm definitely not. I'm not exactly mellow, but I don't think you'd call me high strung and I don't think I'm in danger of causing myself a heart attack or anything. It's just that in slow moments I tend to think too much about all the unknowns in my life, and I wish I had done less of that because planning is good but worrying is pointless.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Penn and I spent our first Christmas together. He came to my hometown with me. It was great! We spent 10 days stuffing ourselves with delicious food and drinks (some of which my parents made, some of which came from all of my favorite restaurants he had to try). We went up to my family's vacation house and went skiing (I really, really missed being up there so it was great to go back, if only for a night). On Christmas Eve we had fondue and on Christmas Day we ate cinnamon rolls and walked the dogs on the golf course and had a turkey dinner and I conducted the "How Many Times Will Grandpa Cuss Today?" bet. And I got some very nice presents and was really happy with the things I gave to other people.
Actually, it dawned on me this year that my family's Christmas traditions have gradually become very secular. We used to do church-y stuff like the Christmas pageant and the Christmas cantata, but even when I was a little kid we never went to church on Christmas Eve or Day, and now that I'm an adult and my parents have stopped going to church regularly, there's pretty much nothing at all religious about my Christmas except some of the carols that I like. I still think we have the main point of Christmas right: surrounding yourself with people you love and spending time together. However, I'm going to have to start developing my own Christmas traditions pretty soon (because as much as I'd love to go home every Christmas I don't think that's in the cards), so I'm thinking maybe I should add at least one religious event in the future.

21. How will you be spending New Years?
We're going into the city to have dinner with Nicole and her fiance (did I mention that Nicole got engaged three weeks before I did? It's very fun having an engagement buddy), and then we're all going to a house party. The party is hosted by a couple who are friends of Nicole's boyfriend, and I don't really know them well because we've only met once. I hope it's fun and not awkward. I did get a new dress for Christmas that I'm planning to wear even though there's currently two inches of snow on the ground and it's supposed to sleet tonight. Also, tomorrow I'm making currywurst. Did you know it's a tradition to eat pork and sauerkraut for good luck on New Year's Day? Apparently it's a Yankee thing. Anyway, Penn enjoys the tradition and I have to admit it trumps black-eyed peas.

22. Did you fall in love in 2009?
Not newly, but I love Penn more all the time.

23. How many one-night stands?
None. And may the answer to this question always be none from now on!

24. What was your favorite TV program(s)?
30 Rock, definitely. I've also been watching a lot of TV shows on Netflix. Penn and I spent the first half of the year working our way through The Sopranos, and now we're onto Big Love (which I think is great, even though I have to refer to it as "Tank Smash" to get Penn to watch it with me because he thinks the name is gay). I also watched a ton of Friday Night Lights back when I was working on comps, and I surprised myself by really enjoying it.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate at this time last year?
Honestly, I'm pretty sure I don't hate anyone. I don't hate anyone that I know, anyway. I'm better at hating abstract ideas of people, like the guy that say "Git 'er done!" and drives a giant truck and shoots things and hates "the gays" and "the liberals" and only drinks domestic beer and pretends to be all conservative and religious when really he's a racist with some kind of sick sexual fetish. I mean, I'm pretty sure I'd hate that guy if I knew him personally, but I don't.

26. What was the best book that you've read?
One of my big accomplishments this year was that I started reading novels again (mostly because I finished coursework and finally have time to read novels again). Because I'm just now getting back to reading novels, my favorite books this year were all things that the rest of the world read years ago. My top-rated books this year were What is the What by Dave Eggers, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Spearhead and Otis Taylor. I need to listen to more music; the only things I know about now are the things Penn tells me about. I'm definitely more of a talk radio person.

28. What did you want that you also ended up getting?
I wanted to finish my comps and advance to candidacy, and I did! I also wanted to get engaged to Penn, although that was definitely more of a surprise than something I planned and executed.

29. What did you want that you did not end up getting?
It would have been nice to have a finished prospectus, but that's okay. It will be finished in 2010!

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
Uh...did The Hangover come out this year? I'm pretty sure that was my favorite movie of this year. Honestly, I haven't watched very many movies in the past year. I saw that one, the Dan Brown/Tom Hanks one (what the heck was that one called?), Zombieland, the one where Johnny Depp played John Dillinger, and I think that's about it. The cost of going to the movies isn't usually justifiable for me. I'd rather spend that money on a meal at a restaurant and I'd rather snuggle on the couch and watch TV shows and old movies that I've rented from Netflix, so that's what I do.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 27 this year and once again my birthday fell at a strange, busy time right as Penn and I were preparing to leave for Europe. Still, Penn made sure I had a good birthday. He took me to my first professional hockey game the week before, which was something I'd been wanting to do for a long time. On my actual birthday Penn and I both played hooky from work and went biking in City A and went to a museum and then to a book signing. (Actually, at the museum that day Penn got a mysterious phone call that turned out to be the jeweler telling him my engagement ring was ready to be picked up! Not that I knew that at the time, of course.) And then for my birthday dinner we went to this amazingly delicious Venezuelan restaurant. It was a great birthday.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Nothing. I'm really, really happy right now and I can't think of anything else I need at this moment. There are things I want in the future, but nothing else that would have made this particular year any better. Sounds sappy and cheesy, but it's honestly the truth.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
I own fifteen pairs of jeans. That's how I'd describe it.

34. What kept you sane?
Curling up beside Penn every night and making to-do lists and spreadsheets every day. I also write in my journal, spend a good ten minutes every day laughing at my dog, and have friends and family I trust enough to call when I need them. That's my formula, and it's working quite well.

35. What celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I've become a big fan of the Colbert Report this year, although I wouldn't say I exactly "fancy" him.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
I think I've been on vacation too much lately. I feel like I've completely turned off that portion of my brain. I honestly can't think of a single issue I cared about this year, although that can't possibly be true...Healthcare, I suppose.

37. Who did you miss?
I've been missing my parents and siblings a lot this year. Turns out I miss them more the older I get, not less. I'm not missing them enough to move home, though. I'm pretty sure that could never happen! I'll just have to figure out ways to get them to come out here more. Wedding planning is a good start.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
I really need to get out more and make more of an effort to broaden my current social circle, I guess, because off the top of my head I can't think of anyone new I met this year! I mean, I met some people, but I didn't really get to know them. For instance, there are new people at school, but I don't really know them because I'm not in classes anymore. I am getting to know some of my local friends much better, though, and that has been a nice element of this year.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.
Okay, this is going to sound ridiculous, but it seriously is a lesson I learned this year that I would like to remember: stick to the path and don't try to take shortcuts. And I don't mean that in some profound, deep way (although I suppose I still believe it in that sense, too), I mean it very literally. Penn and I had several instances this year on our bikes or in the truck where we thought we'd take a shortcut or, say, try to go back roads to avoid toll roads. Every single time we tried a shortcut or detour, it ended up being way more complicated and difficult than it would have been if we'd just stuck to the beaten path. So, seriously, stick to the path. Trying to take shortcuts will only mess you up in the long run. On a related note, we have learned that he is the driver and I'm the navigator. Reversing the jobs leads to us getting lost or making slow time or just both generally being annoyed. I'm glad we have figured this out. I imagine it's going to save us years and years of arguing.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
"Seems like everywhere I go,
The more I see, the less I know
But I know one thing
That I love you."-Spearhead

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Merry Little Christmas

I had a great Christmas with my family, made even better by the fact that Penn was here with us so we could spend our first Christmas together.

We started a new family tradition: everyone put a dollar in a pool and placed bets on how many times Grandpa would say "whore" or some variation of "f*#k" while he was over here for Christmas dinner. So I spent the whole afternoon and evening with a notepad surreptitiously tallying every time Gramps said one or the other (and marking double points for the one time he referred to someone as an effin' whore and got both in one sentence!). The results were thrown off slightly by the fact that we spent the first hour he was here watching Curb Your Enthusiasum so he lost quite a bit of cussing time. Still, by the end of the night I'd tallied up 33 variations of the f-word and 10 "whores," which meant Dad won the bet with his guess of 45. Our plan is to not tell Grandpa about this game so we can continue to play at family gatherings from now on, because I'm pretty sure 45 will be nowhere near his record.

I'm thinking this game could be a big hit at the wedding rehearsal dinner. We'll make a big pool of all the guests and get a cousin to tally Grandpa's cursing as well as other family habits, like how many time's Penn's mother raises her eyebrows in shock/judgment (perhaps this will directly correlate to how many times Grandpa calls someone a whore), how many times my Dad says "sittin' there" when telling a story, etc. Start thinking of traits to add to the list of things to bet on, I think this is a brilliant iea.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Me: We need to take that Dutch clock to get fixed so we can hang it up.

Penn: Yeah, we do.

Me: What do you call the people that do that? Clock masters?

Penn: Uh, no. Definitely not.

Me: Then what are they called?

Penn: Clock fix-it people...or...not. Probably not that.

(Clock repair. Turns out if you google it, the shops are just called "Clock and Watch Repair." Lame.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bizarre Reactions

My Favorite Reactions to Our Engagement Announcement (i.e. Things You Probably Shouldn't Say to People Making a Similar Announcement, Although They are Very Funny to Me)*

"Is she pregnant?" I'm going to go ahead and assume (hope) that this one was a joke and not serious. While I should probably have been insulted, I just think it's hilarious. And, in defense of this question, I'd guess that half the time when people get engaged it IS because they have a bun in the oven, so this reaction is probably pretty reasonable, actually.

"Oh, wow, I never thought you'd be the first to get married!" Um...thanks?

"Meh. Good job. You know I'm not good in these situations."

"Engaged? To the same girl you were with last time I visited you?" This from a person that visited us six months ago. Apparently he thought there was a possibility that Penn and I split up, I moved out, and he had a whirlwind new relationship that led to the quickest engagement ever.

"That's great! How exciting! What am I going to wear?" This one was from my sister. She has her priorities in order. Ha. In all fairness, I'll probably do the exact same thing to her when the tables are turned.

"That's wonderful! Tell Penn I want to do the bachelor party at Cheerleaders."

90% of people have had lovely, very positive reactions to our news. But it's the reactions like this that make life interesting, don't you think? And all of the above reactions were from people who are genuinely happy for us, too. Sometimes things just come out wrong!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Calm Before the Storm

I feel like this month is the calm before the storm. There's really not much I can do this month. I am working on my dissertation prospectus, but since I don't have a full committee yet (long story) I won't defend it until the spring semester. That means there's really no rush to finish my prospectus until February. I'm working with some friends on a big project for the summer, a project that will allow us all to potentially make a little bit of money and get some great resume-building experience, but we haven't received the official go-ahead on that project yet, either. So, again, there are only limited steps I can take on that project for now. My parents and I are planning to talk about the wedding budget when Penn and I are home for Christmas, but since I don't have a budget yet that also limits what I can do wedding-wise. No point making a decision on a location only to find out I can't actually afford it.
As a result, this month has mostly been about making plans for a future that is going to get really crazy. When Penn and I come back after Christmas my plan is for us to spend the month of January looking at and booking a wedding location and firmly setting a date. I'm also planning to take a winter term class. When I finished coursework last spring I told myself I never wanted to take another class again, but this is a class on writing a publishable article and if I take it I'm pretty much guaranteed a publication. I just can't pass up that opportunity. The class is only three weeks long and only meets for a few hours Monday through Thursday, so I think I can handle it. After that I plan to really buckle down on the prospectus work and get that defended by March. Then it's research, research, and more research. Hopefully I'll be ready to start working on chapters by July. Meanwhile, I'll be working on that summer project with my friends and prepping to teach the summer school course I'm teaching in July and August. And somewhere in between all of that work I'll be planning the wedding.
On top of all of that, Penn and I keep going back and forth on the issue of buying a house, but we've once again picked up our research on that and we've started thinking that it really does make sense to buy if we can. We have the money to make a good down payment, and the great tax break for new homebuyers has been extended so we could still qualify for it as long as we close on a place by June. The main reason we'd been putting off buying is that Penn didn't feel like we could afford a big enough, nice enough place and we kept thinking that maybe in four or five years when I'm finished with school and Penn has completed his current promotion cycle we'll attempt to move somewhere with more affordable real estate (which would be pretty much anywhere other than New York City or California). But we both really like everything about living here other than the fact that a freakin' townhouse can sell for $500,000. Oh, and the traffic sometimes blows but I've pretty much come to terms with that. Everything else is great, and we're not eager to leave here. So why plan for a future that involves moving when we might be equally happy just staying here? Also, I think both of us were bummed that we can't afford our dream house here, but we weren't really considering the fact that there are very few twenty-somethings who CAN afford their dream house. We had a long talk the other day and came to terms with the idea that we were both hoping to be able to afford homes like the ones our parents live in now but conveniently forgetting the fact that our parents haven't always lived in their houses, either. It was only later in our lives that our parents moved into the houses they now live in. So we reconfigured our expectations, and that helped us a lot. The other thing is that we kept thinking, "We could buy, but what if something happens and we have to move?" Well, what if we do? People sell houses every day.So now we're thinking maybe we shouldn't waste the next five years paying rent when we could make an investment in a home and hope that prices will go up while we're in it. Barring some complete financial collapse and a coup that overthrows the entire federal government (always possible, I guess), Penn's job will stay stable and allow us to afford to stay in a house, and housing prices will hopefully only go up. I think buying a house is always a huge risk. There's always the chance that we could buy and then realize we hate the neighborhood, or not be able to sell when we want to and end up stuck somewhere we don't want to be. But I think we're weighing that risk well, and we did already take that home buying class over the summer so we have a better idea than many homebuyers about what we're getting ourselves into. I don't know what's going to happen. We may talk to the bank and find out that we don't qualify for a big enough loan to let us buy something we'd be happy with after all, in which case we'll put off buying for another year until I finish school and get a real job. But at any rate, right now we're thinking of house hunting this spring and maybe attempting to get out of our lease, which would definitely be another big project.
So, by my count that is three really major projects all at once: wedding planning, house hunting, and dissertation writing. Any sane person would probably want to do those things separately, but here we are, crazily thinking we're somehow going to do all three in the next 18 months or so, while also continuing to keep up with regular life. I know we can do it without losing our minds, but right now I feel like I'm standing on a shore watching big waves roll in and getting ready to hold my breath and dive in head-first. I know it's going to feel good and be wonderful and worth any stress we have to go through. Basically, the next two years are going to be a total whirlwind, but if everything goes well I'll emerge on the other side of the chaos with a husband and a doctorate and a house. It's going to be a major identity shift on so many levels, but I feel ready for it.
It's just going to take lots and lots of focusing on what is really important and ignoring everything else. And maybe taking up some relaxing yoga classes or something.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I'll Talk About Other Things Eventually

Apparently my relationship has reached the status of urban legend.
My aunt was here on business this week (the same aunt that was visiting the night I met Penn) so the other night Penn and I went out to dinner with my aunt and Rae and her husband. We were joking that we should return to the bar where Penn and I met and re-enact the evening, but Rae pointed out that we'd have to track down the strange hippie guy my aunt had been hanging out with that night to really complete the picture, and that seemed like way too much effort. Ha. Instead, we went out to a nice restaurant for dinner, where I had the most amazing macaroni and cheese ever because it was made with brie and had bacon AND lobster chunks in it. So fattening, so delicious.
Anyway, at the beginning of our meal Penn and I mostly fielded a bunch of questions about our engagement and our plans, and during that conversation Rae said, "You two are legendary to my girlfriends." I asked what she meant and she said, "None of them believe it's actually possible to meet your husband here. First I told them that my cousin had met a guy in a bar who seemed legitimate, and they were like 'Seriously?' And then I told them that you guys had moved in together and they couldn't believe it, and now I told them that you're engaged and they're like, 'How?! How did she do it?!'" We laughed about that, but it is sort of true. Statistically, it seems that your odds are probably pretty low of meeting a guy in a bar. Or, rather, it's easy to meet a guy in a bar to hook up with, but pretty much impossible to turn a bar meeting into a marriage. I don't know anyone other than myself who has done it (will do it), I've just heard of friends-of-friends who have done it (hence the whole "urban legend" quality to it).* When I announced my engagement to my friends at school, the first thing one of them said was, "Wow, turns out you CAN meet a good guy in a bar!"
In a way I feel good that Penn and I are this small beacon of hope to single ladies in City B hitting the bars on Friday night hoping to meet someone good. It really is hard to date in City B. I met nobody but greaseballs until I met Penn, so I do sympathize with how frustrating it is, and I like the idea of proving to everyone that there really are diamonds in the rough. But then I also feel like maybe people shouldn't tell our story without all the caveats. For example, the wonderful guy I met at a bar in City B? He wasn't actually from City B! Also, we may have met in a bar, but we didn't have what I think of as a typical bar meeting. Neither of us was drunk at the time (Penn may have been buzzed, but I had only had a couple of drinks so I was definitely sober), and we didn't dance or make out or stagger home together at the end of the night. We just had a nice conversation and exchanged numbers. So I feel like I should add, "Yes, you can meet your future spouse in a bar, but it probably helps if you're not engaging in the usual bar debauchery."

So, to complete the urban legend I have to plan the wedding so that my almost-husband** can become my actual husband. Here's what I have already discovered about wedding planning: you can do everything in your power not to become insane about it, but because so many other women are insane about it, you don't really have much choice. After spending over a week discussing various dates and vetoing almost all of them for various reasons (too soon, too far away, we have to move that month, I can't get away from school at that time, blah, blah, blah) we have finally narrowed it down to four potential dates, two in January*** and two in March. January and March of 2011. That seems like ages from now. It IS ages from now; more than a year. And yet when I went on (yup, I succumbed to peer pressure after 65 million people insisted that was the thing to do) and tentatively typed January 2011 in as a wedding date it put me in a group with other brides planning for the same date and about half of them have already booked venues! What the WHAT?! I figured a year was plenty of lead time, but already I'm feeling pressure to get a space booked before all the good ones are taken. Not that I know what I mean by "good ones" since I have no idea what sort of space I'd even like yet. But basically I've realized that although I'm going to try to stay laid back about all of this, I'm going to have to get on the ball if I want to have any actual choices. Otherwise it will be a matter of planning our entire wedding based on what is available and who is leftover. And I know it will be fun and nice no matter what, but I would like some choices.
So, yeah, wedding planning. I'll try really hard not to make this the all-wedding-planning-all-the-time blog, and I'll try really hard not to buy into all the hype and nonsense, but I would just like to point out now that other women are crazy when wedding planning, and after just a week of clicking around on the internet I can already sort of see how they get that way. Luckily, I've been told by others who went before me that the first few months are really frantic as you book the spaces and vendors and buy the dress but then after that things slow down for quite a while until right before the wedding. I hope that's true!

*I do know of a couple of people who were introduced to their spouses at bars, but it was a meeting arranged by their mutual friend(s). I don't know of anyone other than Penn and me who met a total stranger in a bar and turned it into a marriage. Do you?
**Penn thinks the word "fiancee" is ridiculous so he has begun referring to me as his almost-wife. So now he's my almost-husband. We're disgustingly ridiculous sometimes.
***January is definitely my preference since I have fun envisioning a winter wedding. I'm meeting with mixed reactions, though. About half of the people I've told have cheered about how fun it will be to have something to do in winter and how beautiful a winter wedding could be, and the other half has looked at me like I'm crazy for wanting to get married when a blizzard could potentially derail everything. I'm sort of hoping that this winter we get "the big one" and end up with several feet of snow, because that is very unlikely to happen two years in a row...right?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I'm back from my trip to Europe and I have big news:
I'm engaged!!!!! I'm getting married!!!!!!
I don't think I could possibly put enough exclamation marks to properly convey my level of excitement and joy about this turn of events. Truthfully, this is probably not big news to most of you who read this since I know you are either my Facebook friend or I told you in person, but it's the biggest thing that has happened to me, well, ever, so I need to write about it here. The proposal happened almost two weeks ago, on Saturday November 21st. Penn had arrived in London the morning before, and we'd spent the day exploring together. I showed him the path I'd been walking along the Thames to work every day and all of the sites I would pass, and we walked across the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul's Cathedral and then climbed to the top together and took dozens of pictures as the sun was setting. We went to a show at the Globe and then went to an outdoor (heated, thank goodness) pub at a market decorated beautifully for Christmas. We went to all of these lovely places, and the whole time I was wondering, "Does he have a ring? Is he going to ask me now?"
Because here's the thing: I was pretty sure he was planning a proposal. Back at the end of October, just after my trip to visit my roommate, I was doing laundry and I found two of my rings in the dryer when I was done. I was really baffled by the fact that my rings were in the laundry, especially because one of them was a birthstone ring that I haven't worn in ages because it has a chip in the stone. I puzzled over it for a bit and then forgot all about it until three days later when it suddenly hit me as I was riding the bus to campus: my rings ended up in the wash because they'd been in Penn's pocket! He must have been out getting a ring sized for me while I was out of town! (Incidentally, yes, I'm slow for not realizing that right away.) So from that point on I was wondering what he was planning. My birthday was coming up, as was our trip to Europe, as was our trip to my hometown for Christmas. All perfectly good times to propose. My birthday came and went with no proposal, so I started thinking maybe he'd do it in Europe. I thought it would be perfectly "us" because we both love traveling and going on adventures and doing new things together. Basically, I psyched myself up so much imagining how nice a proposal in Europe would be that I knew in my heart that I was going to be slightly disappointed in my trip if I didn't come home engaged. And I knew that was stupid because, hello, I was on a pretty-much-all-expenses-paid trip to Europe, I had done lots of valuable research, I was going to get to travel with my boyfriend for a whole week...basically, it would have been a fabulous trip no matter what. But the whole week and a half that I was in London by myself I would wonder at least once a day if Penn would be popping the question when he arrived. I was really, really, REALLY hoping he would.
But then we spent that first day and night in London and...nothing. Well, not nothing. We had a great time catching up after being apart for ten days and exploring London, but there was no proposal. When we went to bed that night I thought, "Well, that's that. Maybe he doesn't have a ring after all. He's definitely not planning to propose on this trip." The thing you need to know about Penn is that he can be extremely impatient. Once he decides he wants to do something, he usually wants to do it immediately. I figured if he did have a ring the wait the whole ten days we were apart in Europe would have been driving him crazy, and the ring would be burning a hole in his pocket by the time he finally got to London. So when he didn't propose at one of the many places he could have proposed in London, I figured while a proposal was going to happen eventually, it wasn't going to happen on this trip.

On Saturday morning Penn and I picked up our rented car at Stansted Airport and got on the road to Edinburgh. In retrospect, there are many things that should have clued me in to the fact that Penn was planning to propose in Scotland, and one of them was the fact that he'd been adamant about renting a car instead of taking a train or going up on one of the bus tours. He'd sold the idea to me by saying that renting our own car would be less expensive and would be a fun adventure, but the truth was he wanted to be able to propose in a scenic spot, and he didn't know how he'd manage that on a train and he really didn't want to propose to me and then have to get back onto a tour bus with a bunch of strangers. So we rented a car and had our first experience with "wrong" side of the road driving. It was fun, actually, once we got the GPS working. For the record, if you're ever planning to try this yourselves, it helps to have two people in the car, one to drive on the wrong side of the car and the other to sit in the passenger seat and helpfully shriek things like, "Stay to the left! The left!" Oh, and almost all of the cars are stick-shift and you'll have to shift left-handed. It helps to have another person for that, too, because some of the time Penn would have me do the shifting just because I could do it right-handed and it was easier.
Anyway, the drive up was going really well once we got the hang of things. It took about six hours to get to Scotland, and we talked the whole time. We spent a lot of time making fun of British radio because a) apparently British citizens are really into bad pop/dance music for some reason and b) the weather report comes on every fifteen minutes and you know what? It's always still raining! As we started approaching Scotland, Penn began speeding. I told him to relax and slow down, but he insisted that he wanted to get to Scotland before it got dark so we could see the countryside. I didn't understand what the big deal was; we were planning to be in Scotland for two days and to spend one of those days driving up into the highlands, so I figured we had plenty of time to see the scenery. Little did I know that the speeding was Penn's impatience finally coming out. Apparently he had decided a couple of months ago that Scotland was where he wanted to propose. He knew he wanted to do it in Europe and he thought it would be cool to do it somewhere neither of us had ever been, so he was determined to do it somewhere in Scotland. He didn't know where in Scotland, though (since, like I said, neither of us had ever been there) so his plan was to just carry the ring with him until he found the perfect spot. But he was fairly determined to find that perfect spot on Saturday because once we got to Scotland he just couldn't wait to propose anymore.
So he was speeding along and I was completely clueless and the sun was going down and since it was already cloudy and rainy it was rapidly getting dark. The instant we crossed the border into Scotland--I mean, within the very first mile--the landscape changed entirely and instead of basically flat land with some slightly rolling hills there were towering hills to our left and the ocean to our right. Not far over the border we saw a sign that said "East Lothian Coastal Highway." Penn suggested that we take it, and I said sure, and I started trying to set the GPS up to direct us toward a gas station since we were almost out of gas. About that time it finally stopped raining, and I looked to our right and saw that we were right beside this beautiful view. I'd try to describe it, but, here, how about a picture?

The picture doesn't even begin to do it justice, but the view was amazing. I remember thinking how interesting the lighting was, with the combination of the water and the storm clouds and the setting sun. It was the most perfect deep blue. There was a stairwell leading down the side of the cliffs to the beach, so I asked Penn if we could park the car and walk down to the ocean. He said sure, so we parked on the side of the road and walked down the steps and hiked out onto some of the rocks that jutted out into the water. In retrospect, I think it's a really cool fact that Penn and I collaborated on the site of our engagement. He was the one that suggested the coastal highway, I was the one that picked the spot, although of course I had no idea that that's what I was doing at the time.
We were standing out on rocks jutting out into the water and I was staring out at the ocean and listening to the waves when all of a sudden Penn pulled me to him and started kissing me. That wasn't unusual, really. We're not big on public displays of affection, but Penn has made a habit of pulling me in for a kiss whenever we suddenly find ourselves somewhere secluded. We were the only people around and it was really beautiful so I figured he was just caught up in the moment, as was I. But then when he stepped back from me he unzipped his top coat pocket and said, "There's something I've been meaning to ask you..." and before he even finished uttering the sentence I knew what he was about to do. I said, "You didn't!" as he pulled the black box from his pocket and knelt down on one knee. To be honest, I can't remember if he was saying anything as he knelt down. My mind was buzzing with a million thoughts at once, most of them some version of "This is really it!" although some of them completely mundane. For instance, I distinctly remember fleetingly thinking that it must have hurt him to kneel on the jagged, wet rock. But he did, and he had opened the box and he held it up to me and I could see the diamond nestled in the black velvet and he said "So...." and then he paused for a long moment, and I wasn't sure if he was really going to ask the question or if "So?" WAS the question, and I was just so excited that I completely jumped the gun and said, "Yes, yes, yes!" And only then did he say, "Will you marry me?" So I continued to say "Yes, of course," a dozen more times. He told me later that he was purposely taking a pause before saying, "Will you marry me?" because he knew it was going to be one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, he ever said in his whole life. I feel a teeny bit bad for stepping on his big moment, but it felt perfect just as it was.
After that everything is a bit of a blur. I remember kissing again, and I remember him insisting that I put the ring on right then to see if it fit, even though I was petrified to take it out of the box because I was afraid I was going to fumble it into the North Sea. He also gave me something he had written for me on the train the day before, and that's when I really started to cry. I was already tearing up a bit, but I had to start wiping tears away at that point. I said, "I thought I wasn't going to cry when you did this!" and he laughed and said, "I knew you would." [Nope, not going to share what he wrote for me. Sorry to be a tease! I have several things he has written for and/or about me now and I have never shared them with anyone and don't think I ever will. I love them and love having them just for me.]
It started getting really dark after that, so we made our way back up the steps to our car. I was bubbling over with questions about who already knew and when he had gotten the ring and how long he'd been planning to propose and, oh yeah, where on earth were we, anyway? We drove around the little town closest to the beach until we found enough signs to figure out where we were: Dunbar. Dunbar, Scotland. Which, I found out through research several days later, is where James Earl of Bothwell had a castle that he took his lover Mary Queen of Scots to on the night that he "kidnapped" her and ravished her all night so he would then be forced to marry her. Supposedly they both really wanted to be married, but the rest of the nobility wouldn't approve the match so they staged a kidnap and rape so that he could have her as his wife. It's not the most chaste and proper story, I'll give you that, but I read this one book about Mary Queen of Scots so many times in high school that the cover fell off of it, and I was always so enchanted by the rogue Bothwell and I loved the scene when he kidnapped his queen. I couldn't believe that Penn coincidentally proposed at the ruins of the castle! You can see them in the background of the picture. (I'm ignoring the fact that their's ended up being a very ill-fated love and that they never really got to spend much time together before he was killed and she was imprisoned. Instead, I'm focusing on the romantic fact that Bothwell was her one true love and I like to assume that the nights she spent at Dunbar with him were some of her best.) I never in a million years would have imagined that I'd get engaged in Scotland, of all places, but my life has taken so many interesting and ultimately happy twists and turns in the past couple of years that this was just the icing on the cake (or, actually, I guess it's just the beginning, isn't it?).
Anyway, we finally found that gas station we needed, and I stood outside the car as he filled it up staring at my ring under the fluorescent gas station lights. It sparkles. It literally makes rainbows! Once we got settled into our hotel in Edinburgh we went out for a nice dinner and a bottle of wine (oh, and also a brief bit of a Scottish rugby match watched on TV in a pub) and then we both called our families to tell them the news. Everyone seems really happy for us, and we're both thrilled.
I can't believe I get to plan a wedding for real. I met Penn in March and knew by June that I wanted to marry him. I'm not sure if he was convinced about me quite that early on, but he did say to me when we moved in together last October that he wanted to marry me eventually and wasn't asking me to move in with him just out of convenience. In the past few months I occasionally started doing things like looking at wedding dresses and venues online, but I was too superstitious to make lists or save favorites or start profiles on planning websites or anything like that. But now I can!
More than being excited about planning a wedding, though, I'm incredibly excited about planning our entire life together. To talk about what kind of home we'd like to have in the future and to think about when we'd like to start trying to have our first baby and to know that, short of horrendous bad luck (knock on wood) these things will actually happen?

It's the best feeling I've ever had in my life.

Incidentally, the ring fit perfectly: