Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Our Traditional Valentine's Day Dinner Dates Back To 2011

On our living room wall, we have two collage photo frames. The one on the left contains various family and friend photos from over the years. The one on the right holds photos that are symbolic to Lisa and me. The day Lisa proposed. Our first trip to the ocean. A plate of Valentine's Day cookies Lisa baked for me in 2012. Our first Christmas tree. A lot of people who have visited our home stop and admire the photos. At times, we've shared a few of the stories behind the photos. There is one photo that most people will point to and ask, "What's the story behind this?"

I'll admit, the photo is a little peculiar. It's a photo of a coffee table. Two shallow bowls filled with a mixture of macaroni and cheese and hotdogs. A basket of bread. Two wine glasses filled with soda. A small tub of whipped butter. Utensils. Napkins. In front of the coffee table, across the room, is a fireplace. That photo represents our simplicity and how our Valentine's Day dinner tradition began.

In late summer of 2011, I was living in New Hampshire. Lisa was living in Connecticut. Most weekends, Lisa would drive to New Hampshire and stay for the weekend.

One weekend, Lisa surprised me with a weekend stay at a familiar timeshare resort. One of her family members has been working there for at least 2 decades. There are "perks" to that including the occasional free night or weekend.

The place is gorgeous. Indoor swimming pool. The living quarters had a full living room, kitchen, 2 bedrooms, a full sized hot tub in the master bedroom, and a large porch. It's the ideal place to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and relax.

The first night we stayed there, we had dinner with my mother. Then, we visited one of old stomping grounds...Weirs Beach. We walked the pier, strolled the area with little shops, and spent almost 2 hours in the arcade we used to frequent as kids. On the way back to the timeshare, we stopped and got an ice cream cone.

The following afternoon, Lisa asked the big question.

"What would you like to do for dinner? We could have a romantic meal at Fratello's Italian Grille or a seafood restaurant. Or, we could go to a pub for drinks and burgers. It's up to you. Whatever you want, you can have. Where ever you want to go, we'll go."

There was a moment of silence. A. Long. Moment. Of. Silence.

At the time, in 2011, Lisa and I had just reunited a few months prior after being separated for over a decade. We knew each other very well. In fact, we had been in a relationship and started building our foundation about 2 decades ago. It wasn't the right time. We split up and parted ways. The Universe and Fate had brought us back together again.

Even though our personalities and personal preferences hadn't changed much, a few things had changed. Back in the very beginning, in my early 20's, the first time around, I enjoyed romantic dinners at restaurants. For me, a romantic or celebratory dinner at a restaurant was the way to commemorate a special occasion. That afternoon when Lisa asked what I wanted to do for dinner, I knew she remembered that.

However, during the time we had been separated, one thing that had drastically changed was my perception of restaurants. I no longer found it imperative to associate having a meal at a nice restaurant with romance and celebration.

Lisa didn't know that yet.

After a long bout of silence, I'm fairly certain I shocked the shit out of her.

"We have a full kitchen here. I'm in the mood to make dinner. We'll make a quick trip to the grocery store. Come back. Maybe go for a swim. Get in our comfies. Start the fireplace. Make dinner. Relax."

I could tell Lisa was attempting to display her best Poker Face, but epic fail. Her expression was a mix of shock, awe, and relief.

"That sounds like a great idea, but are you sure? This is supposed to be a romantic weekend. I don't want to feel as if I've failed you or let you down."

"My idea of romance isn't what it used to be. I've had a fabulous weekend all the way around from soaking in the hot tub to playing skeeball at an arcade my parents took me to as a kid. We've talked and laughed and had a chance to exhale and relax. I couldn't have asked for a better weekend. Let's end it with a swim, homecooked meal, and a peaceful evening."

Lisa sat back. I could tell she was completely loving the plans I had set forth.

I broke the silence and asked the next big question.

"What do you want me to make for dinner. I'll make you anything."

Lisa thought long and hard. She hesitated a bit before answering.

"You know what I've been really craving?"


"You probably won't want it."

"Try me."

"Velveeta macaroni and cheese with hot dogs."

I'm fairly certain Lisa expected me to either laugh or make a disgusted face. Neither happened.

"Okay. That actually sounds good. Let's go to the grocery store."

Lisa was a bit shocked.


"Yeah. If that's what you want, that's what I'll make."

"Macaroni and cheese and hot dogs aren't what you'd really consider a romantic dinner."

I giggled.

"To most, probably not. But, to me, that sounds perfect. A romantic dinner isn't about what's on the plate, it's who you're spending it with."

We went to the grocery store and picked up hot dogs, Velveeta macaroni and cheese, fresh baked Italian bread, whipped butter, a diet Mountain Dew for me and a regular Mountain Dew for Lisa.

Before making dinner, we went for a swim.

To play up our unconventional romantic dinner for two, we poured our sodas in wine glasses. We started the fireplace. The coffee table was utilized. We sat on the sofa and ate.

Between the time the coffee table was set with dinner and eating, I snapped a few photos.

It was one of our best meals ever. We talked. Laughed. Reflected on the years during our separation.

Since then, on Valentine's Day, we honor that unconventional romantic dinner that we shared at the timeshare back in 2011. Before we found a home in Connecticut. Before we started our family. Our last stay at that timeshare resort. At the tail-end of us taking "away" vacations and weekend getaways.

To this day, our Valentine's Day dinner consists of fried hot dogs. Now, instead of Italian bread on the side, we put the hot dogs on a grilled bun and load 'em up with our favorite toppings. Our side dish is always Velveeta macaroni and cheese.

When I tell this story, people smile and comment, "How sweet..."  However, sometimes I get the feeling that they're thinking, "Macaroni and cheese and hot dogs is not a romantic dinner and certainly not suitable for Valentine's Day."

We. Don't. Care. What. People. Think. 

This tradition is sacred to us. It represents who we are. Our simplicity. How much we've changed for the better over the years. How the Universe and Fate were introducing what our Dog Mom family life would be like less than a year later.

More so, it defines what our version of romantic is and we're proud of that. Too often, especially on Valentine's Day, there are so many expectations, pressure, and people setting the bar way too high. It's an expensive holiday if you follow the path of the masses.

Like with most everything in our life, we have our own path. We march to the beat of our own drum. Yes, that includes enjoying a meal of Velveeta macaroni and cheese with fried hot dogs on grilled buns for Valentine's Day while playing cards at the kitchen table. We've deemed it a family date night. The kids get a special meal too along with their favorite homemade Valentine's Day dog treats. 

That's us. That's who we are. 

This Valentine's Day, do something a little different. Step out of the box. Ditch the long-stemmed roses and polished gems and pricey dinners. Take a step back. Start a new tradition. Focus on the positive energies in your life. The love. Your friends and family. Your spouse. Boyfriend. Girlfriend. Think back to what represents the love that keeps you all connected. Go from there.

My social media streams have been filled with so much aversion to this holiday. Let's change that. Valentine's Day doesn't have to fit a certain mold. It's about appreciating the love that exists in your life. It's about extending the love with a random act of kindness or two. In this day and age, the world could use a lot more of that.

Happy Valentine's Day from our Bodacious home to yours!

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