Springy on the inside

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Another day, another bouquet from husband. Gosh, I love that man for a million and one reasons.

And here are four:

1. Lately his favorite catchphrase has been “You got it, Toots.” I don’t really feel like a Toots, but it’s cute the way he says it.

2. In the mornings, if I ask nicely (or beg enough), he’ll crawl back into bed to snuggle for exactly one minute—even if he’s already showered and ready for work.

3. His love of green peas, and how it balances my mild tolerance for them (i.e., he’ll eat any I won’t).

4. His mild tolerance for olives, and how it balances my — you get the picture. (;

Oh, and the pretty flowers he brings me, so I don’t have to buy them for myself. Though, I do that too. -C

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The Manchester part

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You might ask, “Why Manchester?”

EVERY single passport inspector and taxi driver that we happened to share our travel plans with asked the same thing. It became a running joke. But when we explained that we were visiting family, they all agreed that was a pretty good reason—and apparently one of the few. Even Lee’s family members who live there describe it as “a bit dodgy” and “scruffy.”

Despite the scruffiness, Manchester was one of my favorite legs of our journey, though, for wholly different reasons than the first two stops. There’s something about seeing where L grew up, the people and places that shaped him into the man I know and love so dearly. That’s part of what makes us who we are—the smell of your grandmother’s biscuits (or scones!), the texture of the carpet in your childhood bedroom, the familiarity of a school uniform or a newspaper delivery route. The Eiffel Tower is lovely, but the precinct where his family used to do their weekly shopping means so much more to me. It’s real, a bit untidy, but it’s authentic.

Back to the reason for this whole post writing thing … It took two trains, but we eventually made our way to Manchester. Lee’s mum met us at the platform. Seeing her face the moment she makes eye contact with Lee is on my list of favorite things (like mittens and brown paper packages tied with string—only it’s too long to sing). That smile is one that fills you right up with warm, fuzzy feelings. There’s just so much love in it—and in the extra long hug she gives him. I can vouch that Lee is a pretty fantastic person to hug, though. (;

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We visited aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins, all of whom make me feel like I’ve been part of the family for ages. They’re all so funny. I can’t remember laughing so much. I think we were a tad too busy catching up over brews and laughs that we forgot to take as many pictures, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I heard so many stories about little Lee from each of his relatives. I won’t share them here because they’re not mine to share, but they’re as adorable as he is.

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Food was a big part of this visit. The mister has to make sure he squeezes in all the things he’s been missing, even if that means squeezing into an extra snug pair of jeans. I kid. A little. We ate pastys, bacon butties, steak and ale pie, kebabs, fish and chips, scones (that one was more for me), curry, toad in the hole, and plenty of chocolate. Lee’s granddad told us that some people were saying Cadbury’s couldn’t call its products “chocolate” because there wasn’t enough cocoa powder in the recipe. Whatever it is, it is good.

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^^^We went for a kebab at the same place Lee’s family used to go when he was a boy. Afterward, he showed me the parking lot across the street where they’d pull in to eat them in the car with tea towels they brought from home. I LOVE getting the chance to experience tidbits of L’s childhood—in case that wasn’t clear. (:

In between all the meeting and eating, we took breaks for some good old-fashioned TV watching with Lee’s mum. Some of the humor went straight over my head, but I got most of it. I think TV shows and grocery stores are two ways you can really get a feel for other cultures, but I promise that’s not all we do on vacation!

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The earlier parts of our trip were so rushed as we tried to fit in as much as we could. Lee and I joked about needing a vacation from our vacation, but that’s just what Manchester ended up being. I am about as far from a morning person as you can be, but that time of day ended up being something I looked forward to there. We never set an alarm clock. We all woke up at our own pace, came down in our pjs, had hot tea, and ate breakfast curled up on the couches. It was slow and easy, but it was so nice to feel that level of comfort with L’s family.

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We spent most of our third day with one set of Lee’s grandparents. We piled into the car and took the scenic route to Southport, a seaside town on the west coast. Outside our windows was a steady stream of cottages, farms, heaps of wildflowers, cows, and fuzzy sheep. If it had just been the two of us, I’d have asked Lee to pull over no fewer than twenty times, so I could take pictures of it all.

In Southport, we hit the penny arcade and strolled down the wooden pier. The view wasn’t quite what I expected. Apparently the sea is rarely in at Southport, so even the very end of the pier stood in wet sand. You could kind of make out the real shoreline out in the distance … if you squinted. Lee’s granddad said if you kept walking straight off the pier, you’d hit Dublin eventually (maybe a little to the left), but your feet might get wet. I adore grandpa humor, especially when it’s coming from Lee’s grandpas.

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On our last day, we made the rounds to say our until-next-times, with hugs and cheek kisses aplenty. For the first time, I really felt the weight of those goodbyes. I’m never glad to see Lee’s family go, but my sadness has always been more for L. I know it’s hard for him to be away from people he loves—and vice versa. But that day, I was sad because I wouldn’t be seeing them for a while. His family just radiates joy and love for one another. You can’t help but be drawn to it. It makes me so grateful for this second family of mine. I truly lucked out.

Manchester, you might need a good scrubbin’ in some spots, but there’s still so much loveliness tucked into your corners. Mail slots. Rows of windows filled with white lace curtains. Tiny stained glass windows. We’ll miss you and all the wonderful people that call you home.  -C

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The Paris part

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Our first day in the city of lights and love started with very little of either. We had a painfully early train to catch at silly o’clock, but every minute of lost sleep was another minute in that beautiful city. So we called it good.

Our first stop was to meet Gilles (who I called Gil between me and the mister because my French pronunciation is pathetic—I just refrained from calling him anything directly in person). He gave us a quick tour around the flat we’d call home for the next two nights, then we headed straight for the Louvre.

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There was so much to see; we could have easily spent the day. We paid a visit to the grand lady, of course, but squishing through a mob of tourists kind of took some sheen away from that experience. My favorites were the sculptures. Venus de Milo is breathtaking, but I fell in love with two of Psyche (one with Mercury and one with Cupid). There was so much passion and grace—in the arms in particular. Gosh, those arms! I can’t even find words.

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We gave our feet a rest at La Bourse ou La Vie for some of the BEST steak frites in town. Yes, we ate French fries in France. (; We had the whole place to ourselves … for nearly two hours. There’s no rush when it comes to meals in France. Every second, every bite is meant to be enjoyed, and enjoy we did.

Those were the moments that I treasure most—the pauses in between the rushing around town. People watching around the Tuileries Gardens. Sitting and staring at Monet’s water lilies. (I love how he was patient and insightful enough to appreciate the details of his flowers in different seasons and times of day and kinds of light. If it had been me, I surely would have missed it.) Strolling around Place des Vosges, the oldest, some say most beautiful, square in Paris. Popping into a little patisserie because we had some time to waste before dinner, which Parisians don’t eat until 8 or 9 at night. It’s amazing what a pot of tea, a pastry, and a relaxing conversation can do for your soul, let alone your day.

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We tubed over to Monamarte, so I could get my Amelie fix. This entire part of the city is on the side of a steep hill, so it was quite a hike. The views of the city and Sacre-Cour were nearly worth all the pain and suffering. The crème brulee at Café des Deux Moulins was absolutely worth it. It was so fun to eat where Amelie worked. It was kind of like eating on a movie set. When I left the table to go to the bathroom, Lee said he sat there wondering how on earth I knew where it was without asking. Then he remembered that scene. You know the one.

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We climbed the winding staircases to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. There were infinitely less steps than the Eiffel Tower. Plus, if you climb the Eiffel Tower, then it’s not in any of your photos. Climb the Arc, and problem solved.

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On our last morning in Paris, we walked back to Notre Dame and behind the cathedral to the love lock bridge. We flew across an ocean with the very same lock we used on the locker we shared in high school, and now it will live in Paris on the Pont de L’Archeveche. The key, however, lies at the bottom of the Seine, per tradition.

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^^^Back in 2006, of all the locker numbers to choose, Lee happened to pick one with the combination lock broken off, so we bought a Masterlock at Walmart. Maybe he knew it would end up being something special. (It’s the black one a little left of center.)

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Our last few hours in the city were spent gazing up at the Eiffel Tower, where plenty of selfies were taken. We wandered down a few side streets still on the hunt for the perfect Parisian scarves. Everyone there wears the most beautiful scarves in the most carefree but elegant ways, so I couldn’t leave without one. Er, two.

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On our way back to pick up our bags, we ducked into a boulangerie and picked up a baguette. I loved seeing locals with baguettes underarm and snacking on the ends of them as they walk, so we pretended for a bit. And gosh if that wasn’t the best bread I’ve ever eaten. Then, speaking only French, we grabbed a Nutella crepe at the last minute, but, as Lee pointed out, it was a pretty spectacular place to enjoy one.

Paris, you were surprising and stunning. We’ll miss your flowers, everywhere … and stumbling onto fountains and statues and bits of history around every corner. Thank you for teaching us to revel in every moment no matter how small. We love you for it. -C

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The day my shoes matched everything. Thanks, pollen.

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I was texting my sister-in-law about upcoming weekend plans and the fact that Lee and I didn’t really have any other than the usual errands: dropping off dry cleaning, picking up a birthday gift, mailing off some packages, and so on.

I wasn’t dreading them, but I wasn’t exactly excited about them either.

Then that sweet sister of mine texted back, “At least you’ll be together.”

That’s when I realized why Saturdays are so splendid. It’s not because we don’t have to work, although that probably helps. It’s because most often we spend those days together, from good morning to goodnight. From the bowls of cereal we carry back to our still warm covers to our nightly rock, paper, scissors matches that decide who has to get out of bed to make sure the door is locked. (We can never remember if it is.)

So today we ran a long list of boring errands. Together.

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Most of these photos were from an afternoon stroll we took before dinner. We met two cuties with a candy stand. (I guess lemonade stands are old-fashioned now. (:) They were shy at first, but they gave us their sales pitch. And their grins—and missing teeth—sealed the deal. We were also pretty sure we’d be their only customers of the day because their stand happened to be on a dead end street, so we bought a Skittle concoction they made even though they weren’t quite sure how they made it. Haha. Like I said, they were adorable.

We walked away before looking in the cup they gave us, but when we did, we couldn’t help but laugh. The candy must have been soaked in lemonade or something because the shells had dissolved. They kind of looked like someone tasted each one and decided they didn’t really like the flavors. Lee nicknamed them Spittles. That’s his marketing brain for you. Then again, Spittles would be a hard sell. -C

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The London part

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We’re back, and we didn’t even mention we’d left to begin with.

The mister and I had been planning a trip to visit his family in England since the wedding. Not everyone could make it over last May, and, I mean, do we really need another excuse travel?

We had the good fortune of finding the most amazing airfare deal, so we decided to make the most of our time off by squeezing in London, Paris, and Manchester all in the span of eleven days. Phew. So two weeks ago, we packed up our carry-ons, gave the fishies a food block, and hopped on a red-eye to Heathrow.

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We hit the ground running; well, it was 5 a.m., so it was more of a slow teeter until we got some coffee. (I haven’t pulled an all-nighter since college, and let’s just say my age is showing.) We saw Buckingham Palace and waved at the queen just in case she was looking out her window. We strolled down St. James Park, which was filled with ducks and cherry blossoms and weeping willows and a few of her Majesty’s swans. This little part was completely unplanned and completely lovely. Quiet. Simple. Just holding hands with Lee while the rest of London was waking up. … Also, why aren’t more parks in the U.S. like this? That’s precisely what I asked Lee, well, thought aloud. He said it probably helps to have a palace in the backdrop that will pay to keep it that way. (:

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We took a lap around what we thought was Trafalgar Square—then around the real one. We saw Big Ben, who is much more gilded than I thought he’d be, and the Houses of Parliament. We spied the Eye, but the line was just too darn long. We sat beneath it instead and watched children in school uniforms walk in mostly straight lines. Those are my kind of views, anyway.

We wandered around the market at Portobello Road and a few of the many free museums. The V&A was our favorite. We toured Westminster Abbey and saw the coronation chair. We crossed the Millennial Bridge and made our way to Postman’s Park to see the wall of heroic self-sacrifice. Reading those tiles was heartbreaking, but it also fortifies your spirit, in a way, to know that there are people like that in the world, that there are expressions of love and compassion at that magnitude—some from complete strangers.

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^^^Wilted pink flowers left behind by an earlier visitor.

We walked and walked around that beautiful city until our feet were practically numb. By day’s end, we were shuffling like pensioners (what they call older folks). I gave in—and up—and bought myself a pair of trainers the third day. They might as well have come with a sticker that said: “Yes, I am a tourist. Nice to meet you.” But my feet were eternally grateful.

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Kensington Gardens was a pleasant escape from the crowds and the city. I need green in my life, and there was plenty of it there. It was originally built as a playground for the young queen at Kensington Palace, so it was fitting the wide-open lawns were dotted with wee ones. And their tiny accents are THE best.

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One place I’ll definitely be going back to is the Borough Market—of course it has to do with good food. The outdoor stalls sell everything from fresh cheese and bread to twenty flavors of Turkish Delights to hot, ready-to-eat meals. Lee had seafood paella. I had a salt beef sandwich. Apparently they’re quite the thing in London—a hefty helping of roast beef (extra salty), spicy mustard, and sour pickles between two slices of bread.

Oh, I also had a pistachio ice cream cone because it was the first day of spring, and that should be a life rule.

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The award of best meal, however, goes to Foxtrot Oscar, one of Gordon Ramsay’s less expensive restaurants. It was all sorts of scrumptious. Mr. Ramsay knows how to make a Sunday roast: roast beef, duck fat roasted potatoes, parsnips and carrots, green beans, gravy, and an enormous Yorkshire pudding on top. (My cousin commented on Instagram asking if that was a doughnut, and Lee’s mum thought it was hilarious. (:)

London, we miss you and your fantastic transit system. As soon as we were Tube pros, we had to leave. But goodbyes aren’t so sad when you’re off on your next adventure. -C

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Just your basic early morning ramblings

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March, you are a fickle one. But I kind of like that about you. As much as I want some sunbeams on my face, having a blistering day followed by a blustering one is a heck of a transition period. None of that gradual nonsense—you keep us on our toes. (:

That’s about how the rest of me feels. Running hot one day, cold the next. There’s something about this age, I think. A rite of passage, maybe? It has to be written somewhere wherever these things are written that your twenties are humbling. This is the time when everyone is figuring things out, and some days I feel like 2+2 is coming out 5 for me.

I have friends out there kicking butt at their dream jobs during the day and pursuing passions like starring in musicals at night. They’re having babies, buying first homes, and getting signing bonuses. And I can honestly say that I am thrilled for them. Seriously, I’ll celebrate just about anything—job offers and Tuesdays; it’s all good. But I can also honestly say that I feel like I’m falling behind. I know, I know. Life’s not a game or a race or anything with winners and losers. Frankly, I feel pretty silly when I let myself get caught up in these thoughts. I know I’ve been blessed with so much—especially that loving (not to mention dead handsome) husband who just left for work.

Instead of taking sidelong glances into other people’s lives (and Instagram photos), I’m going to stick to looking at my own. Maybe then I’ll notice, and be more grateful for, what’s smack dab in front of me.

So, here are some to start us off:

- The hand on my hip as I fall asleep

- A quiche that looked fantastic, became a mess, then turned out A-OK

- Crisp white sheets

- A husband who will scrub the toilet without a word from either of us

- Those rare days when you have more clean clothes than dirty ones—or is that just me?

- Watching Amelie

- Translator apps + my terrible French and pathetic but hilarious results

- Lying in bed in the morning and watching the mister pick out his clothes with the utmost consideration, chiming in that he should wear “the blue one,” and seeing him smile (He has LOTS of blue ones.)

- Finding out the broken garbage disposal you haven’t used for a week (and smells FANTASTIC, by the way) isn’t actually broken

- All flowers everywhere

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Waving goodbye to Old Man Winter

We’ve had three days of warmth and sunshine, so it seems safe to say that spring has finally sprung around these parts. Boy am I glad, too. I usually love layering up for the cold, but right now all I can think about is not wearing tights (even if that ALSO means having to shave more, ahem, regularly). I debating sharing this batch of photos from our recent stroll through the woods because of their overwhelming brown-ness, but I thought Old Man Winter deserved a proper send-off. It’s been a backwards sort of day anyway. Seventy degrees outside. A pot of vegetarian chili inside. Why not throw in some pictures of bare trees?

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These were taken just over a week ago — I actually pulled out the calendar and checked because I thought that couldn’t possibly be right. But it is. One week ago we were bogged in browns and straining our eyeballs to spy anything green, and now there are daffodils popping up on the roadside. Gosh. I love this time of year when the colors begin to wake up from their quiet wintry slumber. It’s like the whole world is stretching and yawning and starting over again. I just want to be outside all day to breathe it all in. … Then again, we were only out for a couple hours this past weekend, and my pale self managed to get a sunburn. THAT’S how badly I need some vitamin D. (;

Winter, you were good for cuddles, wooly socks, and mini marshmallows bobbing in mugs of cocoa. You gave us snow days and plenty of excuses to bake. (Is it me, or does nothing warm a tiny apartment quite like an oven? — That and the dozen or so cookies inside it; those warm you on the inside.) For all of that, we thank you. -C

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A Sunday sundae

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The husband and I had ourselves a little afternoon ice cream date, and it was sweet in every sense of the word. Then again, life with L always is.

If you ever find yourself in Atlanta, get your bum over to the west side for a scoop (or two, or three) from Jeni’s. The cones are hand rolled, the tables are topped with flowers in mason jars, and the big chalkboard on the wall lists flavors you’ll fall in love with, some you’ve never heard of and some reliable classics. (Try cedarwood vanilla, with a hint of balsam, amber, wood, and donuts. It supposedly tastes like, “The smell of a cashmere sweater on a nice man.” Mmmm.)

The mister is more of a taste bud daredevil, but I’ll take Jeni’s black coffee in a warm waffle cone every time. -C

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Here lately

I present to you in no particular order some bits and bobs from our days of radio silence back in January … and February. We weren’t up to anything earth-shattering, but we enjoyed ourselves.

In a bout of bravery, I flipped the switch on my dslr from auto to manual, so there’s that. Most of the little scroll party going on down below is the result of that courageous endeavor, says the amateur. But hey, I took the first (scary!) step, and I’m pretty proud of myself. Honestly, I’ve been feeling a tad STUCK lately. Maybe it has something to do with being under the weather long term (i.e., feeling pretty much useless). I want to make an effort to grow and better myself in small, tangible ways—reading more books, learning new skills and honing the ones I’ve already started. So this is an inch of that miles-long journey …

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When winter throws you a curve ball, the kind that’s warm and filled with sunshine, you have a picnic and soak up some rays while you can. Ironically, this gorgeous afternoon was the day before my “sick month” ensued. At least I went out with a bang. (I’d just like to clarify those are husband’s stems—and polka dots—not mine. His fun socks are one of the many things I adore about that man.)

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The meteorological bipolar disorder that is Georgia weather stayed true to form and gave us six snow days AFTER those glorious sunbeams up there. Apparently, for L and me, prepping for an ice storm means baking salted rosemary bread and pull-apart cinnamon coffee cake—partly so there was plenty to nibble on and partly to use up the eggs and butter and milk in case the power went out like the weather alerts kept saying.

It didn’t.

We stuffed our faces anyway.

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We spent most of those snow days admiring the white from our window while we remained bundled in pajamas and blankets. We only ventured out twice—once with a mixing bowl and ladle to scoop up some fresh flakes to make snow cream. Have you tried it? (All you do is mix in vanilla extract and sugar to taste, then add a bit of milk to thicken it.) Ours was tasty despite my being heavy-handed with the sugar. Whoops.

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There’s something about this last photo. I can’t put my finger on it, but I love it (and the stud in it) so much.

I have a lot more learning (and practicing) to do with my acquaintance: manual mode. I’m hopeful we’ll be pals in no time at all—doubly hopeful that it will be before our big, exciting travel plans in the spring. But more on that later. (:

We made it to hump day! May the rest of your work week fly by! -C

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Twenty-four: the age it takes five tries to blow out all your candles

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There’s nothing quite like seeing an empty box of candles to make you feel a bit … old. (Then again, ask me next year when I have to crack open that second box.)

Twenty-four. I feel like I blinked and got here, like I must have miscounted. It’s not that I’ve reached the point I dread birthdays. It’s just that there are still restaurant servers who take away the wine list when they seat me — and L for that matter.

I’ve actually been looking forward to this birthday more than any other, in recent memory at least. It’s been six years since I got to spend it with the people I love most (silly out-of-state schools), and let me tell you it zipped right past any and all expectations — not because the mister and I did anything remarkable. It was actually a pretty simple day.

L made me a yellow cake with chocolate icing all by his handsome self. The mix was one of those add eggs and water deals, the icing was from a can, and the whole thing was only slightly lopsided. But it spoke volumes. I could just see the love he put into it. (He knows that’s been my favorite cake since I was five or so.) Now, I don’t have a thing against balloons and streamers and hoopla, but sometimes it’s nice to strip away all the frills, to realize that underneath all the STUFF we’re happy with what we’ve got, with each other, with cake from a box.

That night, as we spent some of the last few hours of my birthday curled up on the couch, Lee asked what I thought of the day. (He really wanted it to be spectacular. I could hear it in the question, like he was hoping it was enough, which is silly because I know that man would have put on a firework show just for me if he could have.) I told him it was wonderful, and he smiled and said it’s nice to know I don’t need anything big to make the day special — that time with him — and maybe some sweets — was more than enough. And it is, L. Every single day. -C

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