No One Eats My Cupcakes Any More

For my exam reviews in the courses I teach, I motivate students using cupcakes as prizes for the winning team. I’ve noticed that fewer students have been taking cupcakes. They’re dieting or eating healthy or don’t eat cupcakes. When I try to gift them to other students in the hallway after class, I find the same unusual phenomenon. When I bake for events I’m attending, I’ve noticed a similar pattern. Fewer and fewer people are enjoying my baked goods. Are people just decreasing in their love of sugar and tasty treats over time? I doubt it. Often people will look longingly at the desserts before refusing them. So what is going on?

I’ve recently become aware of a movement called Intuitive Eating. One major observation that this movement has made is that of “Diet Culture.” We are living in diet culture. Magazines tell us to “lose the flab”, or “get ready for that beach bod.” Disturbingly skinny models are advertised everywhere. Diets are cropping up like weeds- paleo, keto, Adkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, and more. Each one is the “answer you need” and is “unlike other diets.” They all have the “solution” for your “problem.”

The terrifying part is that they work. Yesterday alone, I overheard at least a dozen diet- or eating-related comments. People refused the adorable (and delicious) Halloween cupcakes I baked because they were “on a diet” or “felt disgusting” for eating “bad food.” Another person looked longingly at photos of herself in an old Halloween costume, remarking “if I lost 10 pounds, I’d totally wear that again.”

We spend so much of our lives hyperfocused on food. Losing that last few pounds, getting “in shape for the big day,” preparing our “bikini bods”, and so many others. The problem is, diets don’t work. Yes, you heard me correctly. Diets do NOT work.

In the short term, you may lose a few (or even more than a few) pounds. You may have a support group (like in WW) cheering you on or giving you rewards for every few pounds you lose. People compliment or even clap and cheer at your weight loss. It feels exhilarating. But sure enough, months later, you’re back at the meetings. Why? Because the weight came right back on. And sometimes, with a vengeance- you weigh more than you did when you started the diet.

Our bodies react to diets like they do to starvation. Our metabolism decreases and we become hyper vigilant to any sign of food (See the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.) Restriction makes us binge- we gobble down that forbidden food because who knows when we might have the chance to do it again.

Research shows that diets fail for 90-95% of people. For the rest of us, we’ve just wasted weeks, months, years of our lives feeling guilty and depriving ourselves of our favorite foods. So why are we doing this?

Diet culture sends us messages that weight is equivalent with health. No surprise there, given that BMI is used as a universal indicator of health, despite the fact that it was NEVER designed to do so (10 Reasons why BMI is bogus.) In fact, the standards for BMI’s “normal,” “overweight,” “obese,” etc. are completely arbitrary. They were changed to be even lower in 1998 when insurance companies wanted to change the way they billed their clients. Even more interesting is the research showing that “overweight” and “obese” people (according to their BMIs) actually tend to live longer than those in the “normal” weight range. So if we aren’t losing weight to be healthy, what are we doing it for?

It certainly isn’t to feel good about ourselves- diets “work” based on making us feel guilty when we eat the foods we love. Then they don’t work by making us binge on those foods we crave.

I’ve been dieting for a long time. I’ve felt bad about being chubby since I was in middle school and have been actively restricting my eating with calorie counting, Noom, Weight Watchers, and more for 7 years. My weight has been up and down the whole time. I’ve always felt that there was something wrong with me for not being able to succeed on these diets. I’ve felt I didn’t have the willpower, I wasn’t good enough, I was addicted to sugar, the problem was me. But no longer.

I’m working on trying to eat intuitively. To eat when my body says its hungry, and to eat what it wants me to eat- even if that is french fries and chocolate and ice cream and donuts. Even if that is salad and vegetables and chicken breast and fruit. I’m terrified of letting go of the control I’ve grasped for years. I’m afraid I’ll gain tons of weight and everyone will look at me differently.

But I also feel so relieved. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not addicted to sugar. I don’t have a problem. I just like food. And that’s okay.

If you’re interested in reading more about this movement, I highly recommend the books “Intuitive Eating” and “The Fuck It Diet.” You can also find websites and Facebook groups about these topics.

You are not Alone

My heart bleeds for my students’ struggles. So many of them are facing all kinds of intense personal issues at home that affect their mental and emotional health, not to mention their grades and academic careers.

In the past month, I’ve had a student decide to take a break from college because she just had a baby and has a full time job, a student who had to room with someone who brought her flea-ridden cat into her apartment and is still (2 weeks later) taking showers in dish soap and washing her dog daily to deal with them, a student whose dad got in a car accident and she is his power of attorney so she’s had to quit her job and spend every free moment at the hospital, and a student who just came into my office crying because I was the only one in her life she felt close to.

Many of my friends, and myself included, did not have these concerns in college. Our biggest problem was not wanting to wake up early or experiencing social drama with our friends. We didn’t have to work one or more part or full time jobs to afford our schooling. We didn’t have to take care of children or siblings or parents. We had social support at home. (Or maybe you did have these concerns and, if so, my heart bleeds for you too!)

It’s hard to see this. It’s hard to notice other people’s struggles while we face our own and it’s hard to bring the emotional energy to care or do something about it. I hate knowing what my students face and giving them penalties for late assignments or missed work. I want to tell them there are sometimes more important things than school. I want to give them hugs. I want to bake for them and pay off their loans and buy toys for their dogs or babies. I want them to only have to worry about their assignments for class and their friends and how early they have to wake up and to solve all of their other problems. I want them to know how much I care and I want them to know there’s always someone they can talk to.

Unfortunately, I am a college professor, and I can’t do many of those things.

But, I am a college professor, and there is something I can do. I can listen to my student cry in my office and give her candy and tell her she can stop by anytime. I can bring my positivity and enthusiasm to my classes and interactions with my students. I can see them and acknowledge their struggles.

And my students are not the only ones who struggle and these are not the only issues. If you are struggling, know that you are seen. You are appreciated. I am here for you. If you want a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen or just someone to feed you candy while you cry, I am here.

Be that person for someone. Understand that everyone struggles, and let your heart bleed for them.

To My Brother

Being around people who know me really well is comforting, like wearing a well-loved hoodie or drinking hot tea on a cold day cuddled under a blanket inside. Being around people who make me really happy fills me with a sense of effervescence. Like my whole body is a terrible metaphor for champagne- full of laughter and light.

Spending time with my brother is both of these things.

Siblings know each other in a way that no one else in the world does. Mike and I are extremely different people, yet also eerily similar. I like rules and control, planning what I’m doing for the next five years. He likes spontaneity and prefers not planning even what he’s doing the next day. I’m a huge nerd, spending my free time reading fantasy books, playing board and roleplaying games. He (fondly) teases me for my nerddom, preferring going out with friends or just chilling out and talking. I can’t stand being idle, he loves having nothing to do.

But then we somehow have the same worldview, the same sense of humor. We know exactly what the other is talking about when we can’t remember a word or phrase or person’s name, with very little context. We have crazy inside jokes that make each other break into uncontrollable laughter with just a word or a look. My future in-laws recently commented that we were practically twins.

We have the best conversations. We once ate lunch at Chipotle while talking about whether or not math exists. We contemplate the fundamental nature of existence in one breath and make fart jokes in the next. Once, we had an entire phone conversation speaking entirely in sound effects without using any words. Going on family vacations when we’d share a room meant silly conversations until late in the morning where we’d laugh so hard we couldn’t breathe.

Just being around him makes me unbelievably, ridiculously happy. My brother is the funniest person I know. Laughter comes easily to him and he brings it to others even more quickly. Often our family gatherings without him feel plain and boring. There’s an energy they lack that he never fails to bring. He isn’t afraid to bring humor to ANY topic. There’s nothing that fazes him, whether gross, disturbing, or taboo. He lets you view the world more lightly by questioning everything- and laughing about it.

We always have each other’s backs. When we were kids, we would always play Super Smash Brothers on our N64 with my cousins (also a brother and sister). Without ever talking about it, we would team up, destroying them first before having to fight each other. This strategy would work every time. They got so frustrated with us for doing this, but it never occurred to us to turn on each other.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t fight. The most intense fights I have are with my brother. But we don’t hold grudges. My favorite description of our relationship is a time I was visiting home from grad school and he from college. We had the most intense bitter argument about something stupid- I wanted to join him in running this errand and he didn’t want me to come. It ended with me stomping out of the room and going to my own, slamming the door behind me. Not two minutes later, my brother knocks on my door and asks if I want to come on the errand with him. I say yes, get in his Jeep, and we head out, having a great time on the way- previous anger completely dissipated.

I am unbelievably proud of my brother. He’s living in China right now, teaching English to children. He’s been there for a year already and plans to stay at least another year. It takes incredible courage to leave everything that’s familiar to you to go to a foreign country where very few people even speak your language.

But I also miss him like crazy. He was just in town visiting for about a month and it was such an amazing time. Sometimes I forget just how much I love my brother until he’s here hanging out with me. And when he’s here, I forget just how much I miss him when he’s away.

This one’s for you, bro! Keep living it up in China, being awesome, and visiting your boring sister here in Ohio ❤

On Endings

Recently, my hard drive crashed. There was a long 2 month saga of trying to get it fixed, including two weeks of being lost in the mail and several phone calls involving pretending to be my mom, shouting, crying, and more headache. Needless to say it was incredibly stressful. After that incredibly onerous process, I was really hoping for a happy ending, but it was not to be. Nothing could be recovered. Luckily, all of my photos were backed up to the cloud. However, so much was still lost. Old assignments, journal articles, teaching resources. Probably the biggest lost for me were my old stories and journal entries.

It’s funny, because I didn’t regularly use that hard drive. It wasn’t like I read those files every day to reminisce (maybe if I had, I would’ve backed them up elsewhere as well). But I would occasionally do so and I liked knowing that I had them if I ever wanted them. Now that I’ve lost them, of course, I feel the need to check them out all the time and an odd empty feeling when I remember they are lost forever.

My best friend in college and I spent probably hundreds of hours working on a universe and characters that we just referred to as “The Sci Fi Story.” I wrote a bunch of short stories about it and we have so many notes on the small amount of plotting we did (we liked inventing characters a lot more). Mostly, we have a lot of timelines (No joke, I managed to rescue- from email- files entitled “Very Useful Timeline” through “Very Useful Timeline 8 overhaul”). Somehow though, I lost the majority of the short stories I wrote.

No problem, I figured. I could just email my old friend. We had been out of touch for awhile, but I have so many long distance friends who easily reconnect even when we haven’t spoken in months or even years (in fact, one I haven’t spoken to in about 3 years messaged me today about my wedding dress!)

In response, I got the most passive aggressive email I have ever received, beginning with “Wow, an email from you out of the blue! What an unexpected surprise.” and including such gems as “As things stand right now, it is not enough of a priority for me to spend effort on at this time.” 

I honestly don’t know if it’s the loss of the stories or the friendly acquaintanceship I thought we had that makes me more sad. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I am incredibly disappointed. We were almost inseparable in college for three years and remained close for the next year or two while I was in graduate school. We had a pretty intense falling out and didn’t speak for three years until I reconnected with her about 5 or so years ago. It’s been rocky since then but I had hoped we were friendly enough to at least occasionally catch up. It wasn’t that long ago that I was visiting Chicago and spent the day with her. I guess this relationship, along with the hard drive and the sci fi stories, is just another loss.

Maybe it’s the hoarder in me, but it’s hard for me to view this as an opportunity to start over and create afresh. I could always have done that, but I can never get the writings (and other various data) back. I guess this is just what endings feel like- bittersweet. An excuse to start anew, but a loss of something you hoped to have for some time to come.

 

Dragon Thrones

This weekend I had the great fortune to participate in one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences ever,Dragon Thrones. My fiance and I made a last-minute decision to attend, just 2 months before it happened. The description sounded incredible- and it was.

About a hundred people participated, all dressed in renaissance-like costumes, acting as fantasy characters on a college campus with buildings that look like medieval castles. From 1 pm on Friday to about the same time on Sunday, we were all entirely in character. We ate meals in costume while discussing politics with other characters. We watched magic shows, talented singers, dancers, and comedians in the Great Hall in character. Not to mention, of course, the majority of the time spent running around as a Diplomat (my character’s role) speaking with leaders of other nations, making trades, alliances, or demands. There was time for personal missions as well, like my team’s (the Draconian Federation) missions to find and hatch dragon eggs and my character’s mission to seek out someone who could help return her magic to her. In case you were wondering, all of these missions were successful!

Meanwhile, war was occurring of course, on the two continents and the Generals from each team spent their energies building troops and structures, using the alliances from the Diplomats to attack other teams or defend against them.

It was incredible. Everyone’s costumes were amazing and the roleplaying was impressive. I spent the first day and a half running from room to room, making trades and alliances with other nations, being one of the first and the few Diplomats to complete our trade goals. I was so successful at this, I was even able to ascend as a Queen of my people.

The game was so immersive, time just flew by. We were up until 1 or 2 am each night because there was so much to do in character. For example, at around 11 pm one night, we found out that a human nation found our dragon eggs that a different nation (one we were allied with by marriage) had stolen from us. This set off a flurry of activity that didn’t end for about 2 and a half hours. We collapsed into bed each night, minds still whirling, dreaming of Dragon Thrones.

And still there was so much more to do! I missed attending the ball (which included dancing lessons) because I was needed (and wanted) to hatch more dragon eggs. We had a cool puzzle that one of the GMs made that I was interested in working on, but never even got to look at because I was so busy in my social role (which I loved doing!)

Part of what made it so extraordinary, were the people. Besides having gorgeous costumes and being amazing roleplayers, everyone was extremely friendly and kind- especially to new players. Though we may have yelled at each other in character or been enemies in some other way, it was clear that there were no hard feelings or insults actually done. My team of Draconians was amazing as well. Despite the GMs trying to cause dissent, we were one of the most united teams. We were often on missions together or plotting with each other in our War Room. One of my personal favorite moments was when our discussion was interrupted by the spotting of a giant cockroach. Apparently, nothing clears a room of strong dragon-blooded faster than a large bug.

Personally, I felt this experience helped me grow as a person. As Queen Cynia of Ashbridge, I was confident, strong, efficient, inspiring. I talked with different groups of people with ease. I led my team in diplomacy and in other ways without a second thought. I never doubted myself, my anxiety was nowhere to be seen or felt. It showed me that a part of me, Stephanie, is Queen Cynia. A part of me is also confident, strong, efficient, inspiring. A part of me can do those things with ease.

I was shy in the beginning of the weekend. As we sat in the Great Hall for the first time, I looked around at other teams and people interacting with one another and wished I had the confidence to do that. I asked the Queen of our team if I should go speak to other nations and she encouraged me to do so. I took the first step, and I walked over to the leaders of the Elven Coalition, and I spoke to them. That first step was all I needed to form a strong alliance with them, and start being one of the most effective Diplomats in the game.

I am taking that home with me. That ability to take the first step. To do something scary, outside my comfort zone. Something that I want to do, but am too nervous to do. I am taking home that confidence. And most importantly, I am taking home a sense of friendship, of welcoming, of being at home with all the amazing people I met this weekend.

Don’t Judge a Relationship on the Size of the Ring

As most of you know, I got engaged several months ago. I was beyond delighted by the experience, prospect of spending the rest of life with Michael, and the ring (photo below in case you haven’t seen it yet!)

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I’m not sure how you couldn’t know this about me, but my favorite color is purple. So the giant purple stone in the middle absolutely thrilled me. Most people I know had really lovely comments to say about it- how unique it is, and how much it suits me. How Michael did a great job picking it out (he did- I had even told him I wanted something unique- I didn’t need giant diamonds.)

But not everyone has been as supportive. At a wedding of one of Michael’s friends and my family function, more than one person commented that I should get him to buy me something bigger or get him to buy me a real ring or to make sure the wedding band was bigger.

I recently read a disturbing article about how a jewelry store employee trash talked a couple because of the price on an engagement ring they bought.

Until people made these comments, it never even occurred to me that I should want anything else. This is the ring Michael picked out for me. It is beautiful, it is unique, it is me. don’t want anything else. But it sure would be nice if the rest of the world could get over it.

See, why do we judge people’s relationships on the size of their diamonds? My friends, diamonds are a marketing ploy. They actually are inexpensive and have only started meaning weddings and “forever” in the last century (clearly forever is not that long yet). Marketers know their game. As a social psychologist, I, too, know that once an idea has taken root in society, it’s hard to pull it up.

If you, yourself want a giant diamond ring regardless- that’s okay. I’m not judging you. But I really would like to ask the same of you.

Don’t judge me, don’t judge my partner, don’t judge our relationship on the size of my ring.

Not buying a diamond doesn’t mean your partner isn’t rich enough or doesn’t love you enough to get you one. Sometimes it just means that’s not what you want.

Or if your partner doesn’t have the money for a diamond- that’s okay too. It’s not about the diamonds.

Love takes different shapes and sizes, why can’t our rings?

Why can’t we respect people for the choices they make? Why can’t we care more about the quality of the person than the size of the ring?

I love my fiance with all my breath and all my heart. I love that I’ll be spending the rest of my life with him and I love the ring he gave me as a symbol of that.

A World I Would Like to Live in

When I was a child, I learned about the Holocaust in Hebrew school (for those of you don’t know- I was raised Jewish, though I’m not particularly religious at this point in my life). Besides the obvious horror and disgust at the atrocities committed during that time, I remember also being surprised at why the Jews didn’t just leave- move out of their country to safety. Cartoon videos like the Prince of Egypt and Rugrats Passover showed Jews refusing to deny their religion, practicing openly and facing persecution or death. I just couldn’t understand how you could stay living in a country where you weren’t safe. Where your leaders did terrifying things to its people.

Recently, I came to realize that we live in a remarkably similar time. It’s not (always) the Jews this time, though. There are different scapegoats. There are different targets.

I read about things like the Supreme Court now making the decision if firing someone for being LGBTQ is constitutional or Ohio (and many other states following suit) banning abortion before women even know they’re pregnant- and these are just the current hot button issues. This is above and beyond other abhorrent current events like what is being done to immigrants and people of color in our country. Some of these things can be attributed to President Trump, sure, but many of them have been going on for much longer and are rooted in deeper, institutional issues.

My friends, we are living in the time I described. A time when it is no longer ridiculous to liken our present situation to that of the Holocaust. When I can now understand why people didn’t just leave their country when these terrible things started happening.

I don’t want to leave my home; it’s the place where all my friends and family live, my job, everything I’ve ever known. Lucky for me, I’m a White, American citizen- not straight, but with a male partner. It means I have the privilege for most of these laws to not affect me personally.

But not everyone is so lucky. And I would imagine that many of them do not feel safe to speak out or feel like they have a voice.

Be their voice. Stand for human rights.

Because it’s not about politics. I think the biggest injustice we have done our country is equating human rights with politics. It isn’t part of the “liberal agenda” to want non-heterosexual people to get married or be able to work a job without fear of being fired based on who they’re sexually attracted to. It’s not part of the “liberal agenda” to want Black lives to matter just as much as my own. It’s not a part of the “liberal agenda” to want our children to go to school without fear of being shot or watching their friends and teachers be shot. It’s not part of the “liberal agenda” to want women to have just as much control over their bodies as men have. These are basic human rights. And it is not fair that because of politics and policies, we lack them.

So many people with privilege read the news and threaten to move to Canada or leave the country. I can understand that sentiment fully. We have the luxury of being able to detach and not care. What would this country, this world look like if everyone did care? If instead of detaching, we stood up for human rights?

That’s a world I would like to live in.

Share Your Voice

A few weeks ago, I received a document from a student to review before it was going to be published as a part of a Psychology Club newsletter. One of my students, an incredibly talented writer, brilliant, and passionate was the author. It was a very provocative article and addressed some issues that politics has made people very sensitive about: the government, Trump, race, mental health. I was nervous about its publication and talked to a colleague. This person is someone who I really respect- in general, but especially for her sensitivity about and passion for social justice. One of the takeaway messages I remember most strongly from that conversation was essentially this: Why am I more concerned with the majority? Why am I more concerned that majority members will have a negative response to this article rather than concerned that minority voices don’t get heard?

It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot. Racism and social justice issues have been on my mind a lot, largely inspired by the conversations and programs that BW has sponsored. If you’re looking to get started, I highly recommend Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? It is one of the most meaningful and significant books I have read in a long time.

In one of my classes today, we discussed the topic of aggression. During our discussion, the related issues of gun violence, mental health, and government spending arose. Usually in these situations, I feel external, societal pressure to be neutral. But what I realized today was that all I was doing was ensuring that the majority opinion was represented. And that concern wasn’t letting my students’ voices be heard.

So I did something that I rarely do in class- I shared my (partisan) opinion. I agreed with their frustrations about the lack of gun laws and government money being spent more on the military than on health care or education. I shared a story about a student in my class last semester who couldn’t afford her depression medication any more after insurance changes and stopped attending class because her mental health was affecting her so strongly. I shared my passion that students shouldn’t have to worry about how insurance is going to affect their performance in college. This story inspired another student to share a similar experience- her inability to afford her own medication and how challenging the semester had been because of it.

Sometimes, learning about bias and privilege makes me overwhelmed. I think that I can’t do anything to change people or society; it’s so broken, what difference will my small voice make? But you don’t have to change the world for everyone. It’s enough to change it for one person. I may not be able to change how the government spends their money or if guns are finally banned in this country. But I can change how my students feel. I can give voice to their stories and I can give them the courage to share their own voices with the world.

Don’t underestimate the positive effect you can have on others’ lives. Share your voice.

The Value of a Life

I just started watching Black Mirror with my fiance. This evening, we watched the White Bear episode- spoilers ahead for this episode if you have not seen it yet and are planning to.

During the episode, you watch a young woman run and fight for her life as the world, it seems, has gone crazy. Some people are chasing her and trying to kill her. Others- the vast majority of them-  are chasing after them to catch all of this on their phone cameras. It’s really quite disturbing- especially when you see people filming others’ deaths.

At the end of the episode, you find out that it’s all a show. This woman was convicted of abducting and murdering a child with her fiance- and filming it as she did so. Apparently, as a part of her punishment, an entire facility was created where people can come and film the scene of this woman fighting for her life. At the end of the night, the person in charge takes the woman back to her room and forces her to watch the video where she murders the child as they erase her memory of the day so they can start again the next day.

It is an extremely disturbing episode. They make you sympathize with the main character- a child murderer. That feeling itself is extremely uncomfortable. To me, there is an ethical line you cannot cross, no matter how awful a person someone is and no matter how much you think they might deserve it. Torturing a person for entertainment day after day is always unacceptable, no matter their crime.

Relatedly, this made me think of the justice system and capital punishment. For a long time, I didn’t know how I felt about capital punishment. In general, think I often come across as somewhat of a cynic and a Utilitarian- finding the best outcome for the least amount. But at heart, I really am a Kantian. I believe that the value of a human life is infinite. You cannot put a price on it. If someone has murdered another person, this is an absolutely despicable crime. But ending that person’s life in return is also unacceptable.

I, therefore, don’t believe in capital punishment. Besides the fact that our justice system is extremely biased, racist, and broken in a lot of ways, I still don’t believe the appropriate action is to end another life.

Truly, I believe the best in people. I believe in their potential. I see their best possible outcomes and strive to encourage and inspire them to work towards those outcomes. Even the “worst” people, even prisoners have value.

I believe in rehabilitation rather than revenge. We can’t save everyone, but we can do a lot better for a lot more people if we didn’t throw them into a cell. I was recently introduced to Norway’s prison system and think we could serve people so much better if we aimed to rehabilitate them.

If all of us cared a little more about others and a little less about ourselves, we could truly change the world.

My Person, Our Engagement

This past Friday, January 25, 2019, is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. My best friend, the love of my life, asked me to marry him.

Let me back up a bit. After work this past Friday, I drove down to a place called Ravenwood Castle where I was meeting my then-boyfriend for a Harry Potter-themed Murder Mystery weekend. I was pretty excited for this- I re-read all the Harry Potter books in 2 weeks, we got nice Ravenclaw robes for Christmas and I bought us wands, and I even created a detailed fake puzzle to throw the other teams off.

It started off a little rough- most people had already formed their teams and the one we wanted to join (with other people wearing robes) was full. We got stuck with a trio of women who didn’t seem all that bright (spoiler: they weren’t) and one nice couple (who it turned out also got engaged there and were planning their wedding there in a few months). It picked up some when I started getting singled out with some special clues that said “Books turn Muggles into Wizards.” I was pretty excited that I got to be a special part of the mystery. Pretty soon Mr. Denham, the guy running the mystery weekend, showed me an ad in the newspaper (a clue!) and informed me I needed to call that number.

I tried a few times, but no answer. I left a message and then joined everyone else for dinner. In the middle of dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Denham encouraged me to call again. Apparently, the person on the other end (a part of the mystery, of course) had pneumonia and was asleep, but he woke up to get in on the mystery. I felt a strong sense of urgency, so I left the middle of my dinner to call again.

Swvenson Global Services was not terribly informative. To be fair, the actor was probably a bit confused; he was expecting the engagement call, but I gave him my fake character name and remained in character to say that the clues were “disturbing.” He asked me questions and made remarkably astute assertions like “You’re in a long-distance relationship” and “the place you live starts with C,” “the place your boyfriend lives starts with C.” I was so convinced this was a part of the murder mystery though, that I thought nothing of it.

Eventually, after about 20 minutes of relatively unhelpful observations and suggestions, talking to Swvenson Global Services led me downstairs to the library. I now knew I was looking for a book, but which one? There were thousands here. Then it hit me- Harry Potter! Of course! It was a Harry Potter Murder mystery! I asked my boyfriend to help me look for the Harry Potter books and was a little annoyed when he announced “they’re not here” after not looking very hard. How could he possibly know that?

Swvenson Global Services kept saying things like “is there a book that you read to each other before bed?” which struck me as an odd question, but this was coming from a man who had done about 5 different voices in 30 minutes while asking me to hold my arms up in the air and do the hokey pokey.

I was distracted by the mystery, so I missed Michael’s hushed conversation with a woman who was in the library with her phone out. “Are you the one who’s supposed to be taping this?” He asked her. She wasn’t, so we made her extremely nervous and she spent a good day and a half thinking we were the murderers. We later tried to explain that we had got engaged, but she was so suspicious of us that she pretended she was someone else.

Finally I picked up a book on the shelf that I’d noticed previously. Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. It was one of my favorites and, as Michael pointed out, was newer-looking than the other books. I didn’t think it could be the right answer though- what did this book have to do with Harry Potter? I gave it a cursory flip through and, seeing nothing, put it back on the shelf. It would have to be more obvious than that for people to find it.

Annoyed and hungry, I gave up looking and went back to my dinner. We were even missing the welcome and announcements! (The proposal was supposed to happen after dinner, but I guess they forgot.) I’m sure Michael was sweating at this point.

After dinner, I became very concerned with the fact that they forgot to post our baby photos. So many things were not starting out right. I confronted them and followed them to their rooms while Michael went off to search for something. I helped them use the internet (Mr. Denham didn’t know how to search his email…) and get the baby pictures.

Michael comes back with a newspaper. “Look at this article! You had the right book after all!” There was an ad in this article all about Shallan, Kaladin, and Jasnah- my three favorite characters in the book. Clearly, that was a clue meant to lead to Words of Radiance.

I wanted to get back to the book before someone else found my clue first! I raced back down to the library, Michael following a little more slowly as he grabbed someone to film the moment he knew was coming.

I grabbed the book and started leafing through more carefully. Sure enough, there was something in there. A gorgeous engagement ring and a photo of the two dragons in How to Train Your Dragon saying “Will You Marry Me.”

I look up and he’s down on one knee and I’m just in shock. I always wondered how I’d react when someone proposed to me. We have the moment on video- my mouth is dropped open and I’m looking back and forth from the book back to him, breathing heavily.

Maker:S,Date:2017-11-16,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Of course I say yes and the shock turns to elation as I excitedly relive the moment, talk with him about how I couldn’t believe I missed the book the first time, and tell everyone I can see that I just got engaged!

And then a carrot falls out of his ear.

Earlier at dinner, he received a note in his silverware- he had a magical disease and needed to see the healer. The healer gave him a carrot to keep in his ear for 15 minutes as the cure. Michael is a good sport and plays along, eventually forgetting about the carrot.

“Do you know what this means? You proposed to me with a carrot in your ear!” I inform him, delightedly.

I’m only a little disappointed that the carrot doesn’t show up in the photos!

Almost every girl dreams of the day that someone will propose to her. I wanted something creative, something special. I couldn’t tell you exactly what, but I loved watching those crazy engagement videos online and dreamed of them one day being me.

So many little things went wrong, but I wouldn’t change a thing about my proposal. My fiancee conspired with the man in charge of the murder mystery, and used a series of clues to lead me to a library, complete with my favorite book, a photo of dragons, and a ring with a purple stone. I couldn’t have planned it better myself! He knows me, he knows what I like and what I would find meaningful and exciting.

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Before Michael, I never knew what it meant to have your partner be your best friend. Mine never were. Michael is so clearly my best friend, I don’t know how I ever thought anyone else was worthwhile. We have the same interests and values. I want to spend every moment with him. When we’re not together, I’m thinking about him. Best of all, he loves me in the same way I love him- as much or more than I love myself.

Before Michael, I used to try and guess- “I’ll be with this person forever,” I’d say, because I wanted to but not because I knew that it was true. Maybe I even said it because I knew it wasn’t. I didn’t know how it felt to be so sure about someone. But it was so obvious when we got together. There was no one else. Neither of us is perfect, but we are perfect for each other. There has never been any question in my mind that this day would come. I can’t wait for the day that I can officially pledge my love.

Don’t settle for second best. Wait for your special person. It sounds so cheesy, but you really will know when you find them.

Maker:S,Date:2017-11-16,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y