Steve Speaks: From the Other Side of the Table

Fiancé Steve chimes in with his take on our first meeting (and makes me blush).

You’ve heard from Sandee about how we were introduced through a mutual friend and became acquainted on Facebook before meeting in person. Indeed, Steve R. told me about Sandee on February 21st (isn’t e-mail archiving great?), and I contacted her that evening. We traded a few e-mails, scrutinized each other’s Facebook pages, learned what Google seemed to know, and set up a brunch date for February 24th.

We’d agreed on a nice restaurant in her neck of the woods, so I had plenty of time to reflect during the 45-minute drive in. As I motored along the interstate in light Sunday morning traffic, I tallied up what I knew about this woman. Steve R. had introduced her as smart, adventurous, really nice, and single. Excellent qualifications! He never mentioned her beauty, letting the photos I saw on Facebook speak for themselves.

Driving through gray, tree-bristled mountains, I mused that one positive sign was her active outdoor lifestyle. She hiked, ran mud runs, backpacked and mountain-biked—things I also enjoyed doing in the beautiful forests surrounding us. She held an academic position, which meant we’d made some similar choices, had some similar experiences. College professors always seem to have plenty to talk about, even if it’s only commiserating on the elegant dysfunction of so many academic departments.

I’d found an essay she’d written, so I knew she was skilled at expressing herself with grace and humor. And I knew she was witty—in one of her first e-mails, she implied Steve R. told her I had a Marie Osmond doll collection. What a great icebreaker! It poked fun at those red-flag oddities most Internet daters eventually tell stories about.

I knew she was comfortable in her own skin. I’d read with interest (bordering on awe) about her nude modeling on Valentine’s Day. Mind on the road, Steve, this is your exit!

I obediently followed the directions of my car navigation system to the restaurant, arriving early, as I usually do. (My Navy captain father instilled an almost obsessive attention to punctuality and efficiency, and academia has not quite beaten it out of me). By the time I sat down in the restaurant, eyes on the door, I’d catalogued a fair bit of knowledge about the woman who would soon walk through it. Things seemed promising.

However, I’d also endured six years of mid-life dating. I’d discovered how someone looks “on paper” does not necessarily translate to real-world compatibility. I was getting much better at restraining my optimism. I was hopeful, but not confident.

She walked into the restaurant.

The sun did not illuminate her hair like a halo from behind, nor did the camera switch to slow motion as she crossed the room, unfurled her scarf and tossed her hair. I didn’t look into her eyes and see inevitable love.

I saw a beautiful woman, a friend of a friend, someone willing to spend part of her day with me.

I don’t remember what she wore. I don’t remember what we ordered. I don’t even remember what we talked about. I do remember the time passing far more quickly than it usually does, the awkwardness of a first date melting gradually into the easy conversation of a pair of like-minded individuals. Once the bill had been paid, the waiter was more ready for our date to be over than we were, so we headed outside and sat a bit longer in the rare, warm, February sunshine.

For too long, I’d been a daydreamer, and I tended to let my mind skip to the future so quickly that I failed to savor the present. I’d often made the mistake of anticipating what might be rather than fully enjoying what is. It was so much better to enter a first date with no expectations other than “maybe I’ll make a new friend.” It allowed me to see what was really there before me: I had, indeed, just made a new friend. And without all those expectations and imaginings occupying my head, there was time and space simply to let things unfold.

I e-mailed her that evening to ask her on a second date.

Dinner celebrating our first dating anniversary, Seattle

Dinner celebrating our first dating anniversary, Seattle 2014


Once Upon a Facebook Status: How We Met

A Valentine’s break-up, a sad Facebook status, and a set-up: what could possibly go wrong?

Turns out, nothing at all.


The day before Valentine’s Day in 2013, I texted a man I’d been dating off and on for a while, asking if he’d be interested in catching a happy hour gallery talk at the art museum the next day. Shortly thereafter, my phone rang.

“Tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day,” he said.

“Yes,” I replied.

“That’s, well. You know.”

I did know. I knew we’d been drifting away from each other yet again. I knew spending Valentine’s Day together would signal we were headed in the same direction, when clearly we weren’t. I knew these things so well, in fact, I’d already made alternate plans for after the lecture, anticipating that otherwise I might well be spending the evening alone. Instead, I was scheduled for my first-ever figure modeling gig with a community drawing group.

“That’s okay,” I said. And it was true.


The next day I went to the lecture alone, then hopped in my car to drive to the drawing class. I’d mixed up my directions, so by the time I arrived, I was more anxious about being a few minutes late than getting naked. I quickly changed into a robe, then almost just as quickly dropped it. I concentrated for the next hour and half on holding poses.

That evening, I posted on Facebook:

Spent my Valentine’s evening as the sole naked woman in a room full of strangers.

If you can’t make love, make art.

Steve, as yet unknown to me, also posted about his day on Facebook:

For Valentine’s day dinner—an evening at Bull & Bones with guys from the office and the Forest Service. Sigh. Such is life. At least there was decent beer!

Meanwhile, our mutual friend Steve R. scrolled through his newsfeed. He spotted our lonely-hearts updates—one right after the other, I like to imagine. He’d already been contemplating setting us up. A few days later, he sent me a message about a nice guy he knew who was looking to meet someone.

 Virtual Beginnings

After I agreed to be introduced, Steve R. sent me a message saying he’d told Steve about me. That was at 8:05 pm. By nine, I had my first message. Steve’s eagerness was refreshing, and the decisiveness seemed a good sign.

We traded a few messages on Facebook, including a running gag about Marie Osmond memorabilia. Since we’d both already learned that extended online communiques prior to meeting face-to-face were a bad idea, I quickly said yes when he suggested getting together that Sunday. I had afternoon movie plans, so we settled on brunch.

It was the first best yes ever.


When I walked into the restaurant Sunday morning, Steve had already arrived. He was seated at a booth along the left wall, and as soon as he saw me, he rose to his feet, his face hopeful, a little anxious. He was tall and bald, neither a surprise, vis a vis Facebook. After I joined him at the table, I noted his bright blue eyes and warm, handsome smile.

I don’t remember much of what we talked about that day. As academics, I suspect we shared our current projects—I was on sabbatical, working on a book; he was in the early stages of founding his center for sustainable forestry. I do remember that we lingered until it felt impolite to keep occupying the restaurant’s table, then lingered a bit longer over drinks purchased at the coffee shop next door. It was warm for February, so we sat outside in the sun talking until I had to leave to catch my movie. Steve walked me to my car and gave me a hug good-bye.

I liked him. I didn’t yet know where it might or might not go, but I liked him. And I really hoped he’d meant it when he said we should get together again.

Turns out, he did.

Today is the two year anniversary of that first brunch date. 

Happy anniversary to my honey, Steve!

Photo, Mountain Lake, April 2013: first picture we had taken together. Photo credit: B. Rotche


Valentine Kisses

How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said.

~Victor Hugo

We were so thrilled with our engagement photos by Noah Magnifico that we’re featuring some of our favorites on our Save the Date cards. We plan to address them over Valentine’s Day weekend accompanied by a bottle of champagne, chocolate truffles, and a few more kisses.

My joy is tempered by thoughts of the loss of three promising young lives in North Carolina, the senseless waste of their generous hearts. The world needs less pain and hate and more love and compassion. And love. Love, love, love, love, love!

Wishing everyone (and I do mean everyone!) a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Don’t forget: write your own happily-ever-after and submit it to the Traditional-Fairy-Tale-Takedown Challenge by Friday!


When Love Means Letting Go

for Eliza Jane 2002-2015

I have a blog calendar, and I typically plan my posts, or at least my topics, well in advance. I’ve had the “cats and weddings” topic from Tuesday on the calendar for at least several months (you can actually see the post-it on the calendar in “(Not Too) Much A-Do About Being”), even though I wasn’t sure exactly what direction the post would take until I worked it up last week. The timing, as it turns out, was either terribly perfect or perfectly terrible, because today, I lost my beautiful Eliza Jane.

I’d planned to write about something else for today’s post. And I cannot, at this juncture, be anything approaching eloquent on the subject of her loss. But to post about anything else feels disingenuous, and she taught me so much about love and life that writing seems the best way to honor her.

My Liza

Eliza Jane is the only cat I raised from a kitten. She came to me under coercion: a stray calico took up residence in my parents’ storage shed and gave birth to a litter. Eliza was the only black-and-white kitten, and I already had tuxedo cat Roscoe. My mother informed me Roscoe needed a friend, so the Holstein kitten with the half-mustache and perpetually startled expression would be mine.

Eliza snuggling Roscoe after a biopsy in 2009

Eliza snuggling Roscoe after a biopsy in 2009

Roscoe adapted pretty quickly. Eliza loved to snuggle with him, even after she grew too big for both of them to fit comfortably in one bed. As a tiny kitten she would hang out on my shoulder for short stretches, but she was never much for being held. She’d sit next to me, on rare occasions in my lap, but she was always more aloof and independent than her big brother. And feisty—she earned herself a star on her chart at the vet, and it was not for good behavior.

Eliza was the only cat I’ve ever known who played fetch. It was almost unbearably cute to watch after my mom bought her a kitty toy football. Touchdown! Continue reading

On Gratitude and Gay Marriage

I’m a middle-aged fashion model. According to conventional industry standards, I’m neither tall enough, thin enough, nor young enough to qualify as model material, but that’s one of the main reasons I took on the challenge: I wanted, in my own small way, to expand our narrowly defined ideas of what constitutes “beauty.”

I’m no pro, nor do I aspire to be, but I model fairly regularly with a volunteer organization that promotes diversity in fashion and the fashion industry. Back in June, we did a runway show at a local gay bar and dance club to support the launch of a new LGBTQ magazine. As we dressed backstage before the show, one of the other models, “Kesha,” a stunning African-American woman maybe ten or twelve years younger than me, commented on her wedding planning progress. When I told her I’d recently gotten engaged, too, she said, “Congratulations, girl!” gave me a big hug, and noted, “We need to talk.”

After the fashion show, Kesha and I sat in the club’s bar, drinking wine and sharing nuptial details. Her wedding is slated for this coming spring, so she’d already booked her venue, the Patrick Henry ballroom, and chosen bridesmaids’ dresses, floor-length Tiffany-blue gowns. We talked colors, sharing pics back and forth on our phones: her centerpieces, my vases. She’s planning on two dresses: for the ceremony, a fitted mermaid gown with beading and bling; and for the reception, a mini-dress with a frothy full-length tulle overskirt. As we clicked through pictures, one of us spotted a cat on the other’s phone, so we took a detour into trading pet photos. I’d modeled with Kesha for over a year, but this was the first real conversation we’d had. Weddings, it seems, have a way of bringing people together.

Continue reading


This is the Place!

We have a venue! Welcome to the Rooftop Garden at the Center in the Square.

A little backstory: Steve and I started dating in February of 2013, and one evening that May, we headed downtown, as we often did. It was a warm spring night, and after dinner at Table 50, we walked to Billy’s for a cocktail. You know how in every relationship there are those watershed moments, key conversations or experiences when everything seems to shift, either stall out or leap forward? Maybe the martinis were particularly strong, but as we sat at a high-top near the bar, our conversation turned, for the first time, to past relationships. We shared stories of dashed hopes and talked frankly about some of the painful and pivotal events that had led us to where we were. There were a few tears, tightly held hands, kisses of acceptance and promise. When we left Billy’s, my heart felt light and sure. I hadn’t yet told Steve I loved him, but the feeling had taken firm root.

On our way to dinner, we’d seen a number of dressed-up folks, women in evening gowns, men in tuxedos and sharp black suits. The party-goers were too mature for prom, so when we spotted a large white tent on the corner of the market, we’d figured there was a ball or fundraiser going on. By the time we left Billy’s to stroll around and enjoy the weather, the party was in full swing. The tent was lit up, and we  heard the unmistakable sound of my all-time favorite 80s-cover band, Superhold.

People were sitting at round tables scattered under the tent, and more were just outside it, dancing on the parking lot dance floor. Now that it was dark, we could see the atrium of the Center in the Square filled with the festively-dressed folks we’d passed earlier. The party was in celebration of the grand re-opening of the newly remodeled Center, which had been closed for several years for renovations. The spaces that housed Mill Mountain Theatre, the History Museum, the Harrison Museum of African-American Culture, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia had all been redesigned and upgraded; the atrium now featured several aquariums, and there was a new butterfly garden upstairs. Crowning it all was a two-story rooftop garden. Continue reading