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The almost-proposals

I promise not to go on about the engagement forever, but a few people have asked about the scrapbook Andy made of his other proposal ideas, so here are a handful of my favorites.


proposal book 001Andy and I don’t have a song, but we do have a movie. And that movie, of all things, is Mulan. Because as soon as I found out that he hadn’t watched it, I borrowed my roommate’s copy and marched over to Andy’s dorm room. (I was a sophomore, he a junior.) It was the perfect excuse to spend an evening together, and after a couple hours of sitting next to each other on his futon, buzzing with electricity anytime our knees or elbows bumped, we finally confessed our feelings for one another.

For the Mulan Proposal Plan, Andy was thinking of taking me to a movie theater, ostensibly to see something else (i.e., something current), but the surprise would be an empty theater showing Mulan for just the two of us, followed by his proposal at the end. A super sweet idea, but Andy was worried that the suspense and excitement would fizzle out over the course of the movie.


proposal book 004Like the Mulan plan, this one hinges on our shared history. New House 5 is where we met — the top floor of my freshman dorm, for which Andy was my RA. And then he was RA again the year after — for a different set of kids, but I visited him a lot. And then I was the RA on that floor for the next 2 years. So many of our fondest memories, both together and independent, are rooted in New House 5. It was and forever will be a home in our hearts.

Getting engaged there would definitely have been meaningful and wonderful, but since everyone we know has graduated by now, I’m not sure he could have taken me back without arousing suspicion.


proposal book 002The seeds of Andy’s final proposal plan are probably first visible in May of 2010, with the Art in the Window scheme. This concept hinged on the fact that whenever we travel, we buy a piece of art as our souvenir. (Andy loves stuff, but I do not, so this is our compromise. No snow globes or keychains for me, thanks!) His idea was to lure me into a specific art gallery, and then after I expressed fondness for whichever item, the owner would say that he had other similar, better offerings in the back.

In the back room, the owner would show me through a series of paintings or sculptures — each created by one of my family or friends — which together would tell a story. Andy would unveil the final masterpiece himself: his proposal, in art form.

The logistics of this would probably have been a nightmare, but I’m glad that the core concepts — meaningful creations, friend involvement, sneakery — made it into the final proposal.


proposal book 003I think this might be the coolest, but also the riskiest, of Andy’s scrapped ideas. First, he would have had to sneak the ring with us to Ecuador without my seeing. Then, he would have had to plant the ring in a secluded snorkeling area. Finally, he would have had to propose underwater (!!).

While I adore the idea, the reality is that we were housed in a room smaller than some SUVs. He wore swim trunks most of the time. The currents were strong, and the wildlife were unpredictable. Either I would have seen the ring, or else a sea lion would have stolen it.

Plus, this was the trip where I discovered I was allergic to the sun. I would not have been happy to be proposed to when I looked half lizard, all bumpy and itchy and red.


proposal book 005And of course, the one that finally planned out. When Andy made this page for the scrapbook, he didn’t have all the details ironed out — namely, how he would present the book to me — he just knew that this is the one he wanted to go with.

It wasn’t the most elaborate or exotic of his ideas, but it was so thoughtful. So well-executed. So… me.



The scrapbook holds about a dozen other proposal plans — planting a tree together, watching a meteor shower, serenading me on-stage with Keith Urban — but the ones above were my favorite.

proposal book 006

A rather unassuming looking book, but now one of my most beloved in the world. Along with THE STORY SO FAR, of course.

World on fire

There is a stack of books on display in my living room that is very dear to me. One is a scrapbook of all the ideas that Andy came up with for proposing to me. One is the novelty book about our relationship that he actually did use to propose to me. One is the children’s book that my two best friends wrote and illustrated for me as a wedding present, based on our Twenty-Somewhere characters. And one is the scrapbook of our wedding weekend and three receptions.

If my house were on fire and I could only save one thing (other than Andy and Riley, of course) I would save that stack of books. It is priceless. It represents the best, most sacred things in my life. Love and family.

When I was in college, my sister-person’s house burned down. Luckily neither she nor her mother were home at the time, but they lost basically everything. Clothes, computers, photographs, heirlooms, keepsakes, and most heartbreaking of all, their cat and dog.

(We were told that the animals didn’t suffer. The smoke muddled their brains and caused them to simply lie down and sleep.)

My sister was not able to save anything. She was not given that choice. She could only make peace with the ashes and rubble, and move on. So that’s what she did, with unbelievable grace.

Last week, Paris burned. Literally and figuratively.

It seems like every day there is a “house” burning down somewhere in the world. And in the wake of those tragedies, we see what people chose to save. We see what they value.

We see people who have suffered yet still reach out their hands to offer assistance or comfort to others.

And we see people who turn their backs, trying to protect themselves from further pain and fear.

I am lucky. I have never been in a fire. I have never had to see my home or my belongings reduced to smoky nothing. I hope that I never do.

But I also hope that if that unthinkable worst were to happen, it would not reduce me to smoky nothing. I hope that I would not be ruled by anxiety and anger. I hope that, like my sister-person, the experience would reinforce my strength, not reduce it. I hope that I would honor my loss not by hoarding what little remained, but by sharing it freely. I hope that my heart would remain open, and full of compassion.

I hope.

Wisdom from James McBride and Maria Semple

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending Books by the Banks, an awesome celebration of authors and books and reading and writing, put on annually by the local libraries and my favorite independent bookstore (Joseph-Beth, where Andy proposed).

Previous years have brought some amazing authors like Garth Stein, Jennifer Weiner, and Dennis Lehane. This year was no exception.


James McBride

Author of THE COLOR OF WATER, a memoir about growing up biracial, which I read in college and loved and identified with, despite a few obvious differences. His latest is THE GOOD LORD BIRD, “a novel of caricature” (as he calls it) about abolitionist John Brown.

  • “I just think it’s easier to get to people’s hearts when you make them laugh.”
  • He found it compelling to write about this time period because people were making “real choices that could get you killed.”
  • Regarding John Brown’s letter-writing in prison: “In those 6 weeks, he did more with his pen than he ever did with his broadsword or a gun.”
  • “Every story has several different sides, and the responsible writer tries to present multi-faceted characters so the readers can see [those sides].”
  • McBride says he’s not really an outliner but that he spends a lot of time on characters, because “characters create plot.”
  • He rewrote the foreword and first chapter of THE GOOD LORD BIRD many, many times. “Because you’re competing for readers’ attention in bookstores. It’s you or… EAT, PRAY, LOVE.”
  • Within the “first 2 or 3 chapters, you really have to engage the reader deeply.”
  • “Slavery in America enslaved us all.”
  • “We are all slaves to something.” (Social media and our cell phones were examples he gave, if I recall correctly.)
  • Regarding gentrification, not just of physical areas but also of society: “All these bumps and bruises of American life are being flattened out.” He indicated that he did not think it was necessarily better or worse, but that there was some color/flavor being lost to the smoothness.


Maria Semple

Former TV writer (for Arrested Development and Mad About You, among others) and now author of WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE, a comedic novel about an unhappy wife in Seattle. Confession: I only read this because my book club chose it, but I ended up loving Bernadette so much that I bought copies for each of the two friends who hosted me during my recent trip to Seattle.

  • To my surprise, Semple revealed that BERNADETTE is in many ways autobiographical. She gave up her successful career in LA to move to Seattle, and became deeply unhappy there. Instead of looking inward, she blamed the city and the people. When a friend told her that she was becoming “a menace to society,” she thought that was a delightful idea and decided to write about it.
  • “You’re not just a storyteller; you’re a story-withholder.” In other words, writers need to think about what they’re not revealing to the reader, as much as what they are.
  • When asked about the relationship between her screenwriting and her novel-writing, and what writers of each discipline can learn from the other, Semple said that in both, “Scenes are the building blocks of story-telling.”
  • Also: “I don’t think enough stuff happens” in fiction.
  • Sometimes she actually asks her students, “Do you know what action is?” (Presumably because they are turning in stories where people just sit and talk about their feelings.)
  • As a writer, “you want to be out living life, seeing things, and meeting people.” Otherwise you’ll have nothing to write about.

An engaging weekend

So, here’s what I thought was going to happen this weekend:

  • Dinner out on Friday night.
  • Wake up early Saturday morning to join the We Heart YA girls in reading to underprivileged children at Joseph-Beth.
  • Brunch afterward with the WHYA girls.
  • 9 holes of golf with Andy and a friend.
  • The usual reading/errand-running/TV-watching.

And here’s what actually happened:

So this happened...

Yes, Andy and I got engaged.

(No, that’s not how he proposed. I just thought Riley was cuter than my hand.)

More details, for those of you who are curious:

Andy has, unbeknownst to me, been dreaming up proposal ideas since 2008. They have ranged from the extremely private (just us) to the extremely public (Keith Urban concert) but always involved a level of sneakery, since he knew I wanted to be surprised.

7 months ago, Andy finally settled on The Idea.

Because writing and storytelling are so important to me, he decided he wanted to incorporate them into the proposal. So first, he made a book. A children’s book, sort of. It’s called THE STORY SO FAR, and it’s about us. How we met, fell in love, started a life together, etc. Told in alternate rhyming stanzas. Illustrated with pictures of us from over the years.

In a bold move, this book was hiding somewhere in our house until last week.

Two weeks ago, Sarah emailed to say she had volunteered us (We Heart YA) to read to underprivileged children as part of an all-day event at Joseph-Beth. She asked if I would meet her at 7:30 AM, before the bookstore opened. After moaning and groaning about the early start time, I agreed.

A couple days later, I was telling Andy about it, and he said it sounded like a cool way to give back to the community and asked if he could tag along. Since waking up early on a weekend seemed less painful if we were doing it together, I said sure.

The day of the event was Saturday, May 4, 2013. Our alarm went off at 6:30 AM. I snoozed it a couple times, then finally dragged myself out of bed to take Riley out and feed him before we left.

On the drive over, Andy was in good spirits, teasing me about being tired. He said that maybe this would be life-changing. I just rolled my eyes, since he says that all the time, about silly things like going to dinner at Ruby Tuesday or meeting up with friends for putt putt.

When we arrived at Joseph-Beth, Sarah was already there, and Stephanie was just pulling in. The four of us got out of our cars and were greeted at the door by Dave, whom I recognized from various author events at the store. He took us over to the children’s section where we would be reading to the kids. There was a theater-like area, and a chair with a short stack of books on it. I told Dave I had never done this before and asked how it would go. He gave me a funny look.

Dave: “You’ve… never been to Storytime?”
Me: “Nope.”
Dave: “Uh, well, the kids will come in and sit there, and then you’ll sit here and read to them.”

Yes, thank you, Captain Obvious.

(At the time I was thinking, “Well, duh.” But in retrospect, I suspect that my question caught him off-guard because it seemed like maybe I was catching onto things!)

Anyway, Dave wandered off, and since we were four smart adults, I figured we could handle Storytime ourselves. Andy suggested we take a look at the books on the chair. First was EXTRA YARN by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Second was CHLOE AND THE LION by by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex. Last was THE STORY SO FAR by…

Andy Butler?

My immediate thought was that this was a very strange coincidence. Then I wondered if Dave knew Andy somehow and was playing a practical joke. Finally I began to realize what was happening.

Holy crap he’s going to propose!

Only a second or two passed before Andy turned to me and said, “We’re not here to read to children.”

My head whipped around to find Sarah. “WHAAAT?”

(I assure you, it was a GIF-worthy moment.)

Andy suggested that I have a seat, and he would read to me. As I sat down, I began to realize just how fully I had been duped. This was a proposal. There were no children. There were never any children.

Andy’s hands were ever-so-slightly shaky as he opened the book to the first page, and in that moment, I very nearly cried. But then the shock took over again, and all I could do was sit calmly, smiling and trying to process everything while he read me his sweet rhyming words about our lives, our love.

His hands stilled and his voice gained strength with every page. When the story was nearing a close, he handed me the book and said that I should turn to the end. I did, and when I looked up, he was down on one knee, with a ring. He spoke the words that were written on the last page.

Will you marry me?

Breathless, I managed to say, “Yeah. Of course I will.” Not the most romantic or enthusiastic-sounding answer, but I assure you, I was over the moon. I put on the ring, and we kissed and hugged.

“You should thank Sarah and Stephanie for this,” he said as we stood up together.

“I’m going to kill them for this,” I joked.

sarah's 03 best

But of course I didn’t. I thanked them, and Dave, and then spent the rest of the weekend wrapping my mind around what had happened. Around all the careful planning that Andy had put into it. You guys, there are so many little things I’ve left out, seeds that Andy planted over the course of several weeks so that they would bloom naturally and I would not suspect a thing. The man is a diabolical genius and we are all just lucky that he uses his powers for good!

Andy had given certain people advance notice of the proposal, so many of my calls to friends and family were more or less like, “Hey, I’m engaged! But you already know that…” Still, it was nice to share the news and the story.

Later that night we updated our relationship status on Facebook — which was bittersweet, since I took a strange sort of pride in not ever having had a relationship status on Facebook before — but the outpouring of love and excitement from everyone made it totally worthwhile. (Also, let’s be honest: Social media is just such a good, convenient method of letting people know what’s going on.)

Last but not least, on Sunday, Andy gave me one additional gift: A scrapbook he had made of the top proposal ideas that didn’t pan out or that he had decided against, for whatever reasons. Going through that was like getting proposed to a dozen more times.

Now we’re just going to enjoy this phase for a while. After all, we dated for almost 8 years, so why rush to plan a wedding? (We do agree that we’d prefer something very small and low-key, though.) So technically, not much has changed.

And yet, calling him “fiancé” gives me a little thrill every time.

A new journey

What do “relationship reckless moving job changes” and “i wanna go somewhere away from reality” have in common?

A) They both have words that start with R in them.
B) They both represent thoughts/feelings that I’ve had recently.
C) They are both search terms used to find my website.
D) All of the above.

(I’m going to give y’all the benefit of the doubt and assume you guessed right.)

Lately I’ve been feeling my old wanderlust again — and the Eat Love Pray commercials aren’t helping. (By the way, I am loving Florence + The Machine, who sing the theme in the trailer.) Since I can’t actually get away right now, I find myself turning to the place I’ve always turned since I was 9 years old: fiction.

With the Twenty-Somewhere proposal and sample pages “in the chute,” I have time. Time to what? Good question. Anything! Read, watch Friends, snuggle with my dog… And that’s pretty much what I thought I’d do this week — take a break. But no, my fingers flew to a pen and whipped open my journal, and I spent all last night plotting. Yes, the evil P word: PLOTTING.

I’m still no expert, but after writing out several thorough synopses for the girls of 20SW, the process didn’t seem so daunting. In fact, it was — dare I say it? — fun. Who woulda thunk it?

I decided to write my YA contemporary/dystopian idea next, which is full of political and cultural subtext, lush exotic settings, and Girl Power. First I roughed out a storyline using the Six Stage Plot Structure, and then I jotted notes on key characters and their motivations. Of course, fleshing out the characters affected their roles in the story, so then I had to go back and revise the plot a bit. It’s definitely a give-and-take process, but I like that back and forth, that sense of discovery, of malleability.

I also like having this framework before starting the draft. It’s not rigid, but it’s a road map. I already expect a few detours, but the outline still gives me a sense of security, you know?

So for the next day or two, I will make sure my ideas seem logical and compelling, and then I may just dive in. I seem calm, but I’m actually squee-ing inside. (New project new project new project!) This is one of the things I love best about the writing — or reading — life: Anytime a journey ends, you can just pick up and start a new one.

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