Getting Personal #6: My Love Story

Ah, love. Ain’t it great?

I know I’ve mentioned my relationship with Al on this blog before, but today, I wanted to share a bit more about us.

I have to give most of the credit to Al’s brother, Nick. If Nick and I hadn’t become such good friends in 2009, I don’t think Al and I would have ever met. Nick tried to set up Al and I in the summer of 2010, but I knew I needed to wait a little bit, since I had just ended a long-term relationship.

I returned to Longwood for my senior year, and before I left, Al and I exchanged phone numbers and started talking and texting – A lot. For the first two weeks of that semester, I couldn’t believe how close we were getting – I knew I would be happy if Al and I remained friends forever.

Well, fast forward to Labor Day Weekend. Nick’s then-girlfriend lived near us and went to Longwood, so he asked me to bring her home for the weekend. I realized I was going to be able to see Al, so we set up a dinner date for Saturday, September 4, 2010. That afternoon and night changed our lives forever. We had our first kiss on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, and the sparks and fireworks were there from the very start.
Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

This was the very first picture that was taken of us, on Labor Day 2010. Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

Facebook Credit: Laura Beth Stricker

We took this picture when Al came to visit me at Longwood for the first time, just a couple weeks after we got together. Facebook Credit: Laura Beth Stricker

We endured a long-distance relationship from September 2010 to May 2011. I still remember how excited Al was when Christmas break approached, “You’re going to be home for FIVE WEEKS? I get to see you every day for FIVE WHOLE WEEKS!”

Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

Al came to visit again during Longwood’s Oktoberfest weekend in October 2010. We played Color Wars together, and enjoyed the weekend with friends and my sorority sisters. This photo has Erin, far left, and Kelly, far right. Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

In November, Al came to Farmville again to be my date for the AST Anchor Banquet. Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

Right before Christmas break, he was my date for the Lancer Productions Snowball Dance. Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

Four years together seems to just fly by!

Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

We had a lot of fun with our friends in February 2011. This was taken at Macado’s, a favorite restaurant in Farmville. Back row, L to R: Lexi, Lyndsey, and Amanda. Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

Facebook Credit: Laura Beth Stricker

Our six-month anniversary was March 4, 2011. I got creative with photos, and posted this to Facebook on our anniversary. Facebook Credit: Laura Beth Stricker

Facebook Credit: Laura Beth Stricker

I was in Los Angeles, California with The Rotunda newspaper staff for the ACP newspaper conference in March 2011. I wore the same outfit that I wore on our first date, had one of the staff snap my picture, and I posted this photo for Al online. Facebook Credit: Laura Beth Stricker

Photo Credit: Carley York

During the last weekend of April 2011, a fabulous photographer friend, Carley, did an amazing photo shoot around campus! Photo Credit: Carley York

Photo Credit: Carley York

Sitting on top of the Brock Commons Fountain, near the center of Longwood’s campus. Photo Credit: Carley York

This was my Facebook status for Valentine’s Day, 2012:

One of my favorite songs that makes me instantly think of Al and I: “Standin’ here feeling like a love struck Romeo…All I wanna do is hold you close and steal a little more time, is that such a crime? Sweet thing…Cause you know I need you and there’s no way I’ll be leavin’…til we’re kissing on the porch swing…oh my little sweet thing” ~Keith Urban

Happy second Valentine’s Day to Al, one of the best things that could have ever happened to me! ♥ 9/4/10 ♥

Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

August 2012: When Jesse and Jessica came to visit Chesapeake! Facebook Credit: Jesse Rountree

Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

August 2013: One of our favorite places to visit, Busch Gardens! Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

Al’s caption on Facebook/Instagram: “Awesome girlfriend won VIP tickets to a Busch Gardens concert. KC and the Sunshine Band.”

Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

December 2013: Can you tell that we like the Man of Steel? Center: Jesse, Al’s best friend. Facebook Credit: Al Vardaro

Facebook Credit: Laura Beth Stricker

This is one of my all-time favorite photos of us! Facebook Credit: Laura Beth Stricker

This is one of my favorite pictures of us. I had a housewarming party in my apartment last September. My beautiful Little, Lane, took this picture, and it is amazing. This picture is my background on my work computer, and every time I see it, it makes me smile from ear-to-ear.

One of my favorite songs, and one that makes me think of Al and I every time, is Taylor Swift’s “Mine.” I love these lyrics, and it gives me chills every time I hear it.

“… I say ‘Can you believe it?’
As we’re lying on the couch?
The moment I can see it.
Yes, yes, I can see it now.
Do you remember, we were sitting there by the water?
You put your arm around me for the first time.
You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.
You are the best thing that’s ever been mine.
But we got bills to pay,
We got nothing figured out,
When it was hard to take,
Yes, yes, this is what I thought about.
Do you remember, we were sitting there by the water?
You put your arm around me for the first time
You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter
You are the best thing that’s ever been mine.
Do you remember all the city lights on the water?
You saw me start to believe for the first time
You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter
You are the best thing that’s ever been mine.
You said, ‘I remember how we felt sitting by the water.
And every time I look at you, it’s like the first time.
I fell in love with a careless man’s careful daughter.
She is the best thing that’s ever been mine.’
Hold on, make it last
Hold on, never turn back
You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter
You are the best thing that’s ever been mine …”

Al has been so sweet to give me jewelry pretty much every Christmas, for the last four years.

We have talked about getting married for a couple of years now, but we started ring shopping earlier this year. We chose a wonderful jeweler in Virginia Beach and they made a gorgeous custom ring from a picture I found thanks to Google.

I had an epiphany a couple of months ago, realizing that Al may propose to me on Christmas Day, keeping up with the jewelry tradition. I went back and forth for many weeks, trying to prepare myself, mentally and emotionally, for either scenario.

The only clue that he gave me was “something had come in the mail for me for Christmas” about two weeks ago.

Well, this morning, I went over to his house so we could exchange gifts before going to his dad’s family’s Christmas breakfast. He had a box wrapped up beautifully, complete with a red bow. When I got the paper off and the box open, this is what I saw:

Proposal 2014 (1)

Al explained that it was a music box, and when wound, it plays “You Are So Beautiful To Me.” I thought it was such a gorgeous and thoughtful gift!

Then, I opened the music box, and saw the black ring box next to it. I started shaking and I saw Al get on his knee and he asked, “Will you marry me?”
Photo Credit: Al Vardaro

Photo Credit: Al Vardaro

So, we are officially ENGAGED! We couldn’t be happier, and we are so excited to start this next chapter.

Best. Christmas. Ever.

Merry Christmas, to you and yours!

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #3: The Family that Cancelled Christmas

Here we are, less than a week until Christmas, 2014.

Earlier this month, a story on caught my eye – A mom and dad cancelled Christmas for their three sons.

Photo Credit: Lisa Henderson (Over The Big Moon)

Photo Credit: Lisa Henderson (Over The Big Moon)

… Cancelled  … Christmas?!

Did your eyebrows go up like mine did?

As I read the story, I realized that mom Lisa and dad John were trying to teach their three boys about the reason for the season – Giving, rather than receiving.

It was intriguing to me. The story that TODAY featured was abbreviated, so I found the full essay on Over The Big Moon.

Lisa and John had noticed their boys were caught up in entitlement and were having some related behavioral issues, so they decided to turn the month of December into a giving season. There won’t be presents, Santa, or stockings in their house next week.

Rather, they have worked on multiple service projects and using money for gifts for others, together.

I think this is awesome!

About two weeks after the original post, Lisa Henderson published an update on Over The Big Moon, the site that she runs with her friend/neighbor Dana, out of Utah – Check it out here.

She was, understandably, overwhelmed by the viral response and the Internet “trolls”, along with the reaction to the  multiple media appearances (Good Morning America, TODAY, etc). The main negative comment/opinion was that Lisa and John were doing this to punish their boys – and Lisa responded with a resounding Absolutely not.

Read more below:

” … Somehow the word consequence has become synonymous with punishment. I never used the word punishment. What we are doing is done out of love, not anger and we are making sure that it is a positive experience. Every choice we make has a consequence.  The definition of consequence is: an act or instance of following something as an effect, result, or outcome. Consequences by definition are neither good nor bad. I want my kids to understand that their behavior and choices matter, so we try (as much as possible) to have natural consequences rather than punishments. If our society teaches kids there are no consequences we do them a huge disservice for their future lives. My kids were expecting the world without giving much thought to others. The natural consequence is that we are giving them opportunities to give and not receive this Christmas season. We are making it fun and enjoyable …”

I can see the perception of punishment, but personally, I don’t see it that way.

Case in point – My own family.

My parents were out of town the week prior to Thanksgiving. The day before the holiday, my mom texted me, saying that she and Dad had discussed an idea – Instead of giving gifts this year, what did I think about adopting a local family of African refugees for Christmas?

Immediately, I wanted to say yes. I decided to wait to say yes in person, but there was no question in my mind when I saw that text.

A dear friend of ours, Emily, has been studying social work at a local university. We learned about this family of African refugees – A mom, dad, and three children, ages six, two-and-a-half, and a newborn – through Emily working with them this past semester.

After letting Emily know that we wanted to do this, my mom and I went shopping one cold Wednesday night. We set a budget, and wanted to get at least one piece of clothing for all five family members, a toy for each child, and then books.

Mom and I had so much fun that night, although the hardest part was finding just one toy for a 6-year-old boy that didn’t have a choking hazard. I had no idea! We definitely enjoyed it though.

Plus, we got everything we wanted, and we were under budget!

Mom put everything in gift bags and I met Emily at the university that Friday to deliver them. Emily was overwhelmed with our generosity and kept saying thank you. I was tickled pink that we decided to do this, and it was another reminder of the real reason for the season.

The end of Lisa’s update post struck me:

“I think one commenter summed it up perfectly. Her words in response to our Cancelling Christmas were, ‘Sounds to me like this will be their first true Christmas.'”

I couldn’t agree more. I feel that way, too.

With just six days left until Christmas Day, I wanted to share my thoughts. I think this is a wonderful story. As for my parents and I – I mentioned to my mom after we finished shopping that Wednesday night that I think we should make this a tradition for every year, and she agreed. I like giving back to others, and I feel like this is a great way to do it.

I’ll be posting a few more times before Christmas … But I also wanted to wish my readers a very safe, healthy, and happy holiday season!

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂