Boy + Girl + Army + e-Harmony = Captain and Mrs. Butters! This is what we're up to. Observations, opinions, events, images, and more.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What it feels like.

I'd say that a majority of little girls...and teenagers...and women (the ones I'm acquainted with, anyway) dream about several romance-oriented events. In my opinion, here's the short list:
  • The first date
  • The first kiss
  • The proposal
  • The wedding
I know I certainly spent a good number of hours daydreaming about each of these moments as I grew up. I wondered when they'd happen, where they'd happen, with whom they'd happen, and how I'd feel during each of them. As I grew, so did my level of anticipation--and the scenery in my mental pictures changed quite a bit, too. (Thank goodness my tastes matured! There was, for example, a time in my life when I was convinced the only acceptable proposal would take place on a foggy castle parapet somewhere in England, and that my wedding would be medievally-themed.)

I did have longer than most girls to dream; I got a relatively late start in the dating game. I went on one bona fide dinner date my freshman year of college (to Olive Garden, specifically), and also watched a couple of movies in said guy's dorm room, just the two of us (oh, the scandal). Nothing came of it, though, and I forged through the next 3 1/2 years in a committed relationship with only my books.

I didn't embark on my first real (human) relationship until I was 22, which also led to my first-ever kiss on a living room couch. As far as that long-anticipated moment was concerned, I remember my thoughts running along these lines: "Wow! This is really happening! I didn't see this coming! What do I do? I think I'm bad at this. It's kind of slimy." Thankfully, kissing as a pastime has improved in my estimation since then, and I no longer mind that my first kiss didn't exactly live up to the soft, tender, warm-glow, Disney prince scenario I had long cherished.

In the intervening almost-three years, I've experienced a broken heart once, and fallen in "like" a few more times. Actually, this quote pretty much sums it up:

"Before I met my husband, I'd never fallen in love.
I'd stepped in it a few times."
-Rita Rudner

In terms of love and like, my experiences with others compared to my experience with Spike is kind of like thinking that out-of-the-box mac n' cheese is delicious, then eating homemade five-cheese macaroni with butter, cream, and pancetta baked in. No comparison.

I'm happy to say that my "firsts" with Spike were wonderful. Our first date was a drive up to snowy Blowing Rock, NC. It included (but was not limited to) a lot of giddy hand-holding (begun under the guise of helping each other over icy spots), a coffee pit stop, and nonstop conversation (a big deal for two "quiet" people). Our first kiss happened that same night when Spike took me home. We were standing under the stars, oblivious of the fact that it was literally freezing, and completely lost track of time.

And now, I've had my third dreamed-about romantic experience: The Proposal. I told the proposal story in pictures in my last post, but while things are fresh in my mind, mostly for myself, I want to try to capture my feelings as well.

I won't lie; I knew that a proposal was in the works, and I even knew more or less what my ring would look like. For awhile now, Spike and I have talked fairly openly about our future together. When he PCS-s to Fort Riley, Kansas at the beginning of November, we want it to be an "us" move--a move we make together as a married couple. (No, I don't know at this point how soon or where the wedding will take place. I just know it will.) Spike and I had also discussed my jewelry preferences, and he'd asked outright how I felt about solitaires.

Yeah, I pretty much knew that Proposal Weekend was coming up--Spike's responses to my questions confirmed that. (I will hasten to add, though, that I did not badger him in a crazed gold-digger/future Bridezilla/MRS-seeking way.) The Captain still surprised me, despite my questions. I had expected "It" to happen on Saturday, and I had no idea where or how he'd do it. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I did begin to suspect what was in the works when Spike made sure his mom had her camera and suggested we go to Mount Scott. Call it feminine intuition if you want, or the ability to read Spike's little cues.

I've heard some women say that they felt a top-of-the-roller coaster adrenaline surge when their boyfriends proposed. Others, I know, are overcome with emotion and cry. Some people jump up and down and scream (or squeal). Personally, I grinned like an idiot, said "yes" several times, and literally launched myself into Spike's arms.

When I heard "I have a question to ask you..." as I looked out over the Oklahoma landscape, I felt a couple little butterflies, but not many. I felt happy, but not ecstatic (that came later). Essentially, I felt good. Right. Natural. I know, those are fairly simple adjectives, but I think they're appropriate in this instance. I knew that something wonderful was progressing in the way it was meant to. Something that needed to happen was happening.

Spike's proposal wasn't big, theatrical, or long. However, it did take place in a gorgeous setting, it was memorable, and it was heartfelt. It consisted of, "Will you make me the happiest man in the world?" For me, it was ideal. You see, I don't like productions, and I don't like being the center of attention. I'm certain that a jumbo-tron or an elaborately-planned scheme or a long speech would have made me squirmy. Funny--once again, my grandiose girlhood daydreams turned out not to be prophetic...but this time, in a good way. I'm glad that my real-life proposal turned out to be a joyful moment in time between me and my love--but I'm especially glad that it didn't overshadow how good our relationship is every day. It simply reflected that precious fact, which, I realize now, is just how I've really always wanted it to be.

My answer was "yes."

Spike and I have some big news: We're getting married! (Well, we've both known for awhile that marriage was in the cards, but now it's official.) On Friday, July 23rd, the Captain took me to the top of Mount Scott, Oklahoma, and proposed to me. Just like that, I became a proud Army fiancee, but more importantly, I became my best friend's fiancee.

There is so much I could say about Spike. I could talk about how he stands head and shoulders above the crowd in terms of integrity and character. I could mention his sneak-up-on-you sense of humor that always keeps me on my toes, and I could describe the way he works so very intently on whatever is in front of him. Yes, I could spend pages talking about those things and much, much more. But for now, I'll just thank God for bringing us together across the miles, because His hand has been evident in our story from our first email onward.

Now, here's what happened.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Spike's parents, both of whom I really love, came to visit us this weekend. After a very long drive, they arrived at our Oklahoma abode on Friday afternoon just as I was finishing work. After they had gotten settled in, Spike suggested that we go to Meers, aka longhorn burger heaven, for supper. Of course, I readily agreed and made a beeline for the car.

Our journey took us to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Preserve, which is near Meers and which Spike and I had visited on several previous occasions. It was a nice afternoon, so Spike oh-so-casually suggested that we drive to the summit of Mount Scott first. Again, I readily agreed because I love the view and I hoped Spike's parents would too.

Here's the view we enjoyed on Friday. That puff of smoke to the right is the artillery guys at Fort Sill doing their "boom boom" thing.
After parking, we all meandered to the overlook, which is littered with good-sized stones and boulders. I've never quite managed to squelch my inner 10 year-old (don't really want to, either), and I proceeded to scamper onto some of them. I later found out that in doing so I foiled the Captain's plan to get down onto one knee to propose (me being a head or so higher than him on my perch), but everything worked out perfectly, and happened pretty quickly.

"I have a question to ask you..."
"Will you make me the happiest man in the world?"
In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't knock him off the mountain with this maneuver.
Our first official "engaged" portrait

A little more kissy-face-licky-face, as the Captain's dad would say.
So yes, it's pretty safe to say that we're both extremely happy.
So, too, are the Captain's parents. These are my lovely future in-laws. Yet another blessing that has come into my life courtesy of Spike!
Mount Scott is only a few minutes' drive from Meers Store and Restaurant (which has been lauded on this blog several times), so we ate a celebratory dinner there.
Team Butters is Army Strong. Hooah!
Soon-to-be Captain and Mrs. Butters.
Especially for the girls: a close-up of my engagement ring, a classic white gold solitaire.
We've got a life to plan now. And at this point, the only thing we're fairly sure of is that Spike's career will take us to Fort Riley, Kansas in November. Which, I must say, is pretty exciting. More details to follow!

Friday, July 23, 2010

You know you're on a military installation when... see a sign like this.

Where I come from, we have tractor crossing signs instead.

One of Fort Sill's notable residents (in one sense of the word, anyway) is the famous Apache leader, Geronimo. Spike and I drove by his grave last weekend to pay our respects.

We left a few coins on the ledge below the eagle. As you can see, others have brought flowers and even a butterfly.

I was a bit surprised to find that Geronimo is actually buried in a Native American cemetery--for some reason I thought his grave would be alone. Spike and I walked around for a bit looking at the tombstones.

Evalina Eyelash--quite a distinctive name.
And here is a shot of the Captain and myself.
In other news, Spike's parents are coming to visit this weekend--they arrive later today. I have to start compiling a list of Lawton, Oklahoma must-sees!

Monday, July 19, 2010

National Ignore Spike Month

So, here's a funny story about how Spike and I "met." In a nutshell, I communicated with him once and then proceeded to ignore him for a full month. No joke. And here's why.

You see, there's this thing called "National Novel Writing Month," which is pretty much what the title says it is. During the month of November, participants try to write 50,000 words of fiction--in other words, a Nicholas Sparks-length manuscript. Did I mention that you do that in a month? (If you're interested or curious, check out for more info.) The program is free, and generally attracts the desperately bored, the clinically insane, and lots of English majors who harbor delusions of grandeur (that's me).

Approximately three days before November 1st, 2009, several of my friends informed me that they had signed up for the NaNoWriMo challenge, and encouraged me to join them. "It is one of my life goals to write a novel," I responded, "but this thing starts three days from now and I have no plot to speak of."

"No problem!" responded my friend Melanie, who was a non-participant. "You should take that poem 'The Highwayman' by Alfred Noyes and turn it into a novel." (You can read it here.)

Well, I must have been mentally impaired that day, because I took this suggestion to heart and created a NaNoWriMo account. You see, I simply wanted to write a novel for "practice," just to prove to myself that I could. And so on November 1st, I began writing. And writing. And writing some more. And researching. And writing even more. I set my story in 1721 England, and made my highwayman a young nobleman who finds himself penniless and outside the law after losing his inheritance in the South Sea Bubble (an 18th century stock collapse). To support himself and to exact revenge on certain government officials, our hero, Edmund, becomes both a Jacobite messenger and a highwayman. On his travels, he meets a certain innkeeper's daughter named Bess...and, well, you can figure out the general ending from the poem. I decided (quite cheesily) to name my novel Stand and Deliver, after the famous highwayman's challenge.

I must say, I learned a good bit about 18th century English history and daily life from my research, and had quite a bit of fun creating Edmund's story. In fact, I didn't get to the actual events of the poem until the last week of November. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

To stay on track to hit 50,000 words by November 30th, NaNoWriMo-ers must write around 667 words per day. This I tried for the first week and a half of the month, but found that I was falling behind since there would inevitably be at least one day a week during which I couldn't take the time to write enough.

On November 11th, I received my very first e-Harmony communication from Spike. (Little did I know then how important he would become!) I took a few minutes, responded to his questions, and sent some of my own--which he answered within an hour. And then, NaNoWriMo ate my soul. I started to write 1,000 words a day for six days a week, so that I could have one day free to do other things and to recuperate.

You must understand: I was working full 40-hour weeks, and generally wasn't able to sit down at my laptop until 7:30 or 8:00 at night. Then I'd rack my brain for inspiration and type until midnight or 1:00 AM. (Yeah, I'm a fairly slow writer.) Basically, my life consisted of work, meals, basic household chores, coffee, and NaNoWriMo. I'm not the only one; some call it "National Chain Yourself to Your Laptop Month." For our purposes, though, the takeaway from this explanation is that I completely forgot about e-Harmony and all of its users. Including Spike. Yes, I know. I forgot about my one and only e-Harmony match who was serving his country in a war zone. I feel terrible; no need to rub it in.

The good news is, I "won"! I hit the 50,000 word mark, and wasn't even completely finished with my story. I took the first two weeks of December to complete my novel at a much more leisurely pace. Then, when I could look at my laptop without feeling that my head was on the verge of exploding, I returned to my normal computer activities. Like e-mail. And e-Harmony.

See? My efforts were NOT in vain.

Here's the "book cover" I created for my NaNoWriMo profile.
It is with much sheepishness that I admit to you that I finally got back to Spike (who, recall, had been waiting on me since November 11th) on December 14th. Luckily for me, he hadn't said "to heck with this one!" and kicked me off his list of matches. And by Christmas, we were writing lengthy emails to one another. Obviously, all's well that ends well. Over the course of time, though, Spike found out exactly why I hadn't responded to him for a month. "Ah!" he exclaimed, pointing a finger at me. "I wondered why you didn't respond to me for so long. I thought maybe you'd decided you didn't like what you saw on my profile. Now I know that it was National Ignore Spike Month!"

I really didn't have any defense. But I'm glad I allowed Stand and Deliver to take possession of my mind, body, and soul for 30 days. Because I did prove to myself that I am capable of writing a novel. Mind you, I'll never be publishing Stand and Deliver. It's essentially a long string of drivel, with a few decent passages and ideas thrown in. Believe me. This is not false modesty. I'm in publishing. I know. My next novel, though...well, hopefully that'll be a different story. (It'll also be a Regency romance. But that's beside the point.)

CreateSpace, an online publisher, offered to print one free proof copy for each NaNoWriMo winner. Here's mine:

This is a graphic of the front and back covers--I used my cover image and a CreateSpace cover template.

And here I am, looking quite haggard, with the finished product! It arrived about a week ago.
While I was taking awkward self-portraits with my proof copy of Stand and Deliver this evening, Spike walked into the room unbeknownst to me.
See? There he is behind me.
Now, let's look a bit more closely at this photograph. See the Captain's face? It practically screams, "Ah! So this is my rival. This is what caused me to be treated so callously last November. Stand and Deliver, we meet at last. May the best man win!"

The picture doesn't lie, folks.
In case anyone is A) curious and B) not yet tired of reading my meanderings, here's an excerpt from Stand and Deliver. I do feel compelled to qualify this by stating that I'm not proud of the quality (Meg doesn't do her best work at midnight), but if you've read this far in the post, I think you deserve to see some of what I've been talking about. In this scene, Edmund finds out from an innkeeper that Bess has died.

“A good morning to you, sir. I trust you’ve passed a pleasant night,” Edmund forced out. Although the last thing he wanted was to engage in polite, frivolous conversation, he knew he must not give the other man the least cause for suspicion. He stretched his legs out in front of him, and appreciatively took the mug one of the serving maids had just brought.
“A pleasant night,” the innkeeper replied slowly. “Yes, I did, myself. But I cannot agree that it’s a good morning.”
Curious despite the exhaustion he felt, Edmund finished a draught from his ale and looked up. “Why, what’s amiss?”
“Something terrible. Up in Torshill. Fellow in the corner brought the news not an hour ago.”
The innkeeper gestured toward the back of the room, where a man Edmund hadn’t noticed was slumped over his table, head in his hands, mumbling to himself. Edmund squinted, then stared in surprise. It was Tim, the taciturn ostler from The Crown’s Rest. Feeling a bit uneasy, he asked the innkeeper what had happened.
“Tragic, it was,” the man replied, face grave. “You know The Crown’s Rest…”
Edmund nodded shortly, his apprehension growing.
“A troop of redcoats showed up there yesterday—no warning—said they were there to catch a highwayman. Knocked the innkeeper out. Took over one of the rooms, and kept his daughter with them. A beauty, I’ve heard. Apparently this highwayman did come, but the girl warned him with a shot.” The innkeeper stopped.
That was the shot Edmund had heard. If not for it, he might be dead now. Feeling an upwelling of pride in Bess but carefully keeping his face blank of anything but mild interest, Edmund asked how she’d managed to do that.
“That’s the tragedy. She was tied up, along with the gun. When she shot the gun…well, she killed herself to warn him. They must have been lovers, and no one knew…”
She killed herself to warn him…killed herself…
Edmund’s face grew ashen beneath his tan, and his chest tightened strangely as he tried to understand, to breathe. It wasn’t possible. Before last night, Bess alone could connect his true identity to his activities, and no one outside The Crown’s Rest knew of his involvement with her. There was simply no way that the redcoats could have known he’d be returning…and yet he was being told they had known just that.
Jerking his eyes from the point on the far wall they’d been fixed unseeing upon, Edmund forced himself with fading hope to look into the innkeeper’s grave face. He saw with a sickening sense of certainty that the man was telling the truth…and why wouldn’t he? He had no idea that he had just informed a man of the death of the woman he loved, of the brightest point in his life. A low moan, despairing and involuntary, escaped from Edmund’s white lips.
Feeling a rivulet of liquid run down the back of his right hand, Edmund looked down and was distantly surprised to find that his hands were trembling violently—with anger as well as grief, he realized—and that some ale had sloshed over the rim of the mug. Carefully setting it down on the table, he automatically inserted his hand into his pocket, placed a handful of coins—he didn’t know or care how much the amount was—in the innkeeper’s palm, and walked as if in a fog towards the door. The air itself seemed to press on him with a crushing weight. His brain could comprehend only one thought, that Bess was gone, that she had died for him, and that he hadn’t even known.
Red, searing self-hatred flashed through his mind as he remembered how relieved he’d been when that shot had warned him. That shot…that shot had killed her. Edmund savagely bit the inside of his lip until he tasted blood. He didn’t notice the serving maids who had to jump rapidly from his path, or hear the innkeeper’s confused, “Sir? Sir, you’ve left your cloak…”
Gritting his teeth and blinking rapidly against the strengthening rays of the sun, Edmund pushed through the door and half-ran to the stables.
Gideon, he knew, was spent. The ostler was leading a fresh, saddled horse to the stable’s entrance, though—presumably for another traveler. Well, no more. Roughly, Edmund pushed the man aside, vaulted into the saddle, and galloped out of the inn yard, the ostler’s shouts pursuing him.
He should ride south, he knew, or west. Anywhere but north, towards Torshill. He did anyway, savagely pushing aside the voice of reason inside his head. If Bess was dead, there was nothing he could do to bring her back, and an attempt at revenge would surely fail. He knew that, distantly, but he didn’t care.
All he could see was her face. He had loved her. Loved her. And he had promised her that he would return. His hands tightened convulsively on the horse’s reigns. He would find the bastard who had taken Bess…tied her to a musket… The mental picture that resulted from that thought made him think he might explode, unable to contain the impotent anger that coursed through him. It burned through his veins, invading every corner of his body. He was utterly helpless, and it was killing him.
In conclusion, I will never ignore Spike for a month again. Not even for the sake of my in-progress Regency romance.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Happy Birthday to my momma.

Today, July 12th, is my marvelous momma's 60th birthday. I mean, it's the 21st anniversary of her 39th birthday. However you want to slice it, though, I think that Ruth Ann proves that 60 really is the new 40! I mean, look at this picture. Granted, it was taken about three years ago at my college graduation, but I think my point still stands. She always looks this marvelous, too.

As you can see, Mom blazed the redhead trail before I did.

In addition to being mistaken for a woman who is 10 to 15 years younger than her actual age, though, Mom is pretty incredible in and of herself. She's a Homecoming Queen who managed not to let popularity go to her head. She's a former high school algebra teacher who is still recognized and approached at the store by students she taught 30 years ago (They always comment to me how well-dressed she was, too!). She's a basketweaver who has taken her hobby and turned it into a small business. She keeps my family's hectic home running smoothly, a feat for which I admire her more and more as I get older.

As a parent, Mom was always what the kids at school designated a "Mean Mom." She was strict. My brother and I weren't allowed to watch TV at will--we had to do something constructive (horror!). We had to get up two hours before school started so that we could practice piano. We were expected to work hard and bring home grades that were in keeping with our intelligence--or else we'd be in for it. We didn't get to go out whenever we pleased. We had to always make sure Mom knew our whereabouts. And we had to sit down for a family dinner every night.

I'm so glad Mom was "mean." I credit her strictness with my love for reading and for learning, and for my drive and determination. Because she set boundaries and didn't let Jordan and I run amok, we both had the blessing of parents who were good examples and who we knew loved us very much. I hope I'm as "mean" to my future kids as my mom was!

I'm 99% sure this picture was taken 20 years ago at Mom's 40th birthday. Also, if I ever do anything exceedingly ditzy, I can prove with this and other photos that I'm a natural blonde.

Happy Birthday to one of the best moms in the world!

On another note, I thought I'd include a couple more pictures that Spike's mom took at the beach. This one is the whole group. There wasn't a single person in Spike's family (and this is just his mom's side!) whom I didn't enjoy meeting. I'm so grateful to be included in such a fun-loving, close-knit crew.
I hope to see all these folks again--soon and often!
And here are the Captain and myself walking in from the beach. Doesn't get much better than this!

Lastly...I fly to Oklahoma tomorrow, and I'll be there through the end of July. Can't wait to see my Captain!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Yes, Beaches! Not the Better Midler movie, though--the real thing. The beach is where I was last week, and it was glorious. The week after I returned from Oklahoma, I joined my parents and brother on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, a destination that pretty much epitomizes "non-commercial, family-friendly fun." No tourist-trap attractions, neon signs, or loud parties there! It's truly an escape from the fast-paced, hectic, constantly bombarding series of events called "life," and I look forward to visiting every year.

Told you I liked dramatic clouds! This is Shelter Cove on Hilton Head Island.
In a nutshell, I could really get used to a life of devouring 1,000-page novels poolside and going on long walks by the ocean. And hitting up outlet stores for some (controlled!) spending on the side. And eating fresh shrimp, swordfish, crab, and tilapia. Alas, I have yet to find a job posting with duties even remotely approaching this, so now I'm back in the real world.

Unlike most of my young compatriots, when I'm at the beach I normally establish myself on a lounge chair underneath an umbrella or shade tree to avoid the sun. While some might accuse me of vampiric tendencies, that's just a myth--mine are simply not a tanning people. Several years ago I finally accepted this fact and quit subjecting myself to hours of laying in the sun. After all, they only led to painful skin burned to the color of a lobster's back--skin that faded not to tan, but back to white. 50 spf sunscreen is now my good beach buddy.

My miniature pinscher Jasper (on paper, anyway--in reality he "belongs" to the whole family) came on vacation, too--though I doubt he'd consider staying in a kennel to be a vacation. We took him on walks in the morning, which he greatly enjoyed. He just doesn't enjoy the ocean itself. To experiment, my brother Jordan carried him out into the surf and put him down. Poor little guy swam all right--but he swam for the shore like his little life depended on it, and emerged wild-eyed and frantic to be picked up. Sorry, Jasper!

Jasper and Jordan on the beach. Jasper doesn't normally look that goofy. Conversely, Jordan normally looks more goofy.
I found this bathroom stall art in a public restroom at the beach. It was too odd NOT to share. I think I will mentally catalogue the last bit for personal use: "Inconsiderate little weasel!"

Contrived-yet-charming buildings at South Beach.

For the weekend of July 4th, I drove four and a half hours up the South Carolina coast to Myrtle Beach, where I joined Spike and his family on their vacation/family reunion. It was my first time meeting Spike's sister, brother-in-law, and niece, as well as his extended family on his mom's side. I'm happy to report that the whole crew was, in a word, delightful. I think it's more or less universal to worry, "Oh my stars! What if I don't like his (or her) family? What if they think I'm a mutant freak who just crawled out of a swamp filled with radioactive toxic waste? What if we have nothing to talk about? What if they disapprove of the match and I find myself in the middle of a modern-day Jane Austen-esque social quagmire?" Yup...worried for nothing. I am told that I'm now "family," a designation I wear with pride.

I snapped this iconic (I think) shot of the Captain while he and the men were cooking a low country boil. I think it's an accurate visual representation of his sense of humor.
And here the boys are, boiling away. There were somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 people to feed, hence the gigantic stock pot. And yes, Spike is using a mop to lift the lid. Resourceful, that one.

The Captain being studly.

Here's the obligatory shot of the two of us on the beach.
And to conclude, Spike and his dad smoking some cee-gars at sunset.

Yay family! Yay America! Yay vacation!

Until next summer, beach, I'm out.