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Where'd Ya Learn How To Do That? - "A True 'Up North' Valentine Love Story"

"The Heart can do Anything"
It was several years ago (back in April of 1995) when I attended a Promise Keepers event at the old Pontiac Silver Dome with my father.  A rather memorable event, it's one I will not soon forget for many reasons, one of which revolved around my having to explain a few things to a guy sitting next to me (not my father), whose name I cannot remember, but who was probably left wondering what planet I was from.  He was a nice enough chap, to be sure, and even thanked me for sharing some fun 'ideas' with him.

The guest speakers for that event were all exceptional men of integrity: Bruce Wilkinson, Coach Bill McCartney, Randy Phillips, Joseph Garlington, and Joe Stowell.  But it was Wellington Boone who gave a powerful speech on "Raising the Standard In Your Marriage", that challenged all 78,000-some of us men in attendance [especially those who were married] to go out and 'raise the standard' of excellence in our society by living in such a way so as to make a difference.  To that end, he asked us to turn to the guy(s) next to us in that vast stadium and share something positive with each other about each of our lives, and what we were doing -- or could do -- that was particularly meaningful to our wives (collectively, as a group).  Specifically, he wanted us to learn from each other as older mentored the younger, and vice-versa, codifying what we should DO (as in, an active verb) for our wives in terms of the sacrificial giving of our time, talents, and treasures (not necessarily of the monetary persuasion) to help enhance and enliven our homes and marriages. 

Since my father was engaged in an active conversation with the guy seated next to him, I turned to the guy next to me...who said he couldn't really think of anything to share.  Instead, he asked me if 'I ever did anything for my wife once that made her feel special'.  'Once'?  Why, shoot, that's all I needed; I commenced to keep him busy for the next 20-minutes until Wellington got back up to tie a knot in his thoughts for us that we could all hang onto long after we left the stadium; to go out and Raise the Standard and live to make a positive difference in the lives of those close to us ('can I have an Amen, my brothers!').

Our Initials written with "Cheese Whiz"
...Love doesn't have to be fancy!
  Now, I'm not saying I'm anything special; far from it.  But, I have learned a few things over the years about what kind of behavior most wives like from their husbands, not the least of which is carrying out our roles as husbands and fathers with a sense of integrity, honesty, and with generous amounts of selfless giving (men, that's translated: 'sparks will fly' - of the kind and caliber that will ignite a friendly fire in ones' marriage when a guy goes into a marital relationship asking, 'what can I do for you to help make your life better', rather than making proclamations to his wife of what he thinks she should do for him to make him happy).  In the latter case, he may well become the victim of un-friendly fire if he's not careful :-)

In a humble but fun way, I shared with the man seated next to me how I used to write simple little love notes on the mirror in our bathroom with soap (OK guys, 'Dove' soap works great for this, especially since it is softer, and washes off cleaner. But don't be surprised if your wife lets it linger on the mirror for awhile; hey, if it gets runny, just 'write' her another one!).  I shared with him how I hid little slips of paper among the pots and pans in our kitchen with something special written on them for my wife to find and read, thinking it would take her some time to find them all (only to find she'd all but tore up the kitchen once she found a few, knowing there must be more; she didn't want to miss any). 

Then there was the time she asked me if I could get a jump on dinner one night, so I put some fish sticks in the oven, spelling out the words "I Love You" - with fish sticks - on the baking sheet, knowing she'd see it when she opened the oven to retrieve dinner that night.  She was then (and remains today) the laundry queen, so didn't want me touching it, but never seems to mind when I cook.  She has somewhat of an anxious aversion to shopping in general, and to grocery stores in particular.  I, on the other hand, tend to find grocery stores therapeutic; there's just something endorphin-like about about going up and down each aisle whilst planning the order of ingredients for a Duck l'orange dish, or Fillet Mignon with Mediterranean greens, or maybe Chicken Marsala smothered in sauteed morel mushrooms, or even some invitingly aromatic Italian creation.  It's only a small example, but is just one way I can take the pressure off of her by doing something I really enjoy that she doesn't care much for (e.g. foraging for food and making something out of it).

Just a little something Phil can "whip up" at a moment's notice!

Besides coming up with a short list of things that I could do to help my wife that I could share with the guy-at-the-stadium, I was reminded of those sometimes silly-sounding love notes I'd leave in her car, or more of the same I'd hide in her make-up kit, or that I hid in her closet; I had stuff hidden all over the house for her to find, which ended up being rather a lot of fun for her to uncover, usually when she'd least expect it.  That, in-turn, only begat more of the same from both sides; it was great fun to think up ways to communicate kindness and love, while demonstrating as much in selfless deeds during those early years of married life (the dynamics and DNA of which I am enjoying only too well today by demonstrating for, and teaching to, our own two little boys who have now become seasoned pros at writing soapy love notes for their mother on her bathroom mirror).  After I finished answering the question for the man seated next to me that day, he just sort of stared at me with a look I could only interpret as 'bewilderment'.  Finally, he asked in a kind of slow drawl, "Where'd ya learn how to do that?"  I smiled and pointed to the guy seated on the other side of me, my father.

Abraham Lincoln, one of my all-time favorite U.S. presidents, once said that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.  Another great gift a father can give his children is the gift of his time, as well as that of a grounded Godly example, as both my father and mother have given to me.  Still other gifts no-less-precious may come in the form of those nameless, seemingly insignificant acts of loving service that often go unnoticed, yet which will have a profound impact on the lives of our children - and perhaps even more so upon the lives of those that intersect with our own as we both travel down the road of life.  For us, we are humbly grateful that that road led us to Northern Michigan, a very special place where we've been able to capture many precious moments together as a family, some of which we are privileged to share with you here.

Someone once observed, "There are many things in life that will capture your attention, while fewer still that will capture your heart; concentrate on that which captures your heart."  I love that saying, as it's one that captures the essence of everything we love about Northern Michigan.  Having been in the military for 25 years, I've traveled to a lot of places from one end of the country to the other for my work.  Some bases were nestled in seclusion that were far away from civilization, while other assignments were in places some might describe as glamorous, even glitzy.  The latter, while interesting to visit, were often places I couldn't wait to leave, longing instead for the simple serenity, breathtaking beauty, and gentle romance of Northern Michigan.

But this brand of romance isn't something relegated to, or expected exclusively of, just us men-folks; many fine women could write their own book.  My own wife demonstrated a pretty pronounced prowess in this department (not to mention 'Deception' with a capital 'D') -- by announcing that we had to pack for an upcoming 'spiritual retreat weekend for couples'.  Trusting my wife implicitly, while thinking we were going to one of those "Marriage Encounter" weekends, I dutifully took that Friday off from work, packed accordingly, shepherded our children off to school to be picked up later by my parents for safe-keeping, then headed out with Shannon to some unknown (to me) destination further north for what I assumed would be something completely different than what it was to be.  As if on a spur of the moment decision, while driving toward Petoskey, MI on US-31, she suggested that we drive into Bay Harbor to check out a shop, so, I turned in.  Her face was shining almost as brightly as the sun was against the snowy white Northern Michigan landscape on that Friday February day; I had been 'had'...Bay Harbor was our 'retreat' destination.  She planned the whole thing as a wonderfully romantic 3-day Up North get-a-way -- just us.  I might well have asked of her the same question once asked of me, "where'd ya learn how to do that?"  Was that ever fun!

We highly recommend the "Romance Package" at Bay Harbor
complete with "rose petal" turn down!

Just last year -- also in February -- rumblings of romance flared up in her veins once again; she said she wanted to take me on a Friday night "mystery date".  Not the kind you've learned to loathe as a single person when someone dared to offer that to you, this was much more of a fun adventure, one I'd learned from experience not to ever question.  Knowing of my affable affinity for Cajun food and all things spicy, she suggested we go to Pearl's New Orleans Kitchen in Elk Rapids (the chef there once worked for famed chef Dr. Emerill Lagosse in Emerill's New Orleans restaurant before bringing all that talent with him Up North)!  We turned off of US-31 onto Ames St. to head to the restaurant, but turned -- at Shannon's suggestion -- onto Rivershore Dr to go to White Birch Lodge to see if her friends were up - they might want to join us for dinner."  (I should've known something was up, but remained totally clueless up to this point).

White Birch Lodge,  Elk Rapids, MI -
Condos Open Year Round
See their website for more info. - Amazing Summer Program!
We pulled into that beautiful compound, drove toward the condo that was mere feet from the lake, then got out to knock on the door of what I was told was 'their' unit, only to discover no one was at home.  Shannon asked if I could return to the car to fetch a note-pad so we could leave them a message to tell them where we'd be for dinner, only to return to find Shannon having already opened the door to 'their' condo and gone inside.  "Shannon, I really don't think we should just walk in someone else's home like thaaa....".  Then I saw it: that wry grin, the same one I saw at Bay Harbor earlier.  There were no "friends" to go to dinner with, and it wasn't 'their' condo she was breaking into, it would be ours to enjoy for the long weekend. 

And what a uniquely defining weekend that turned out to be! It wasn't the fact that I inadvertently aroused the entire Elk Rapids Fire Department with my cooking the next morning (OK, I made Cajun blackened cottage fires -- I mean FRIES -- to go with our breakfast that set off a disturbingly sensitive fire alarm, followed immediately by the ear-splitting wailing of town's old 'air raid siren' atop the fire station, followed by yet more sirens from all the fire trucks that showed up right after that).  Nor was it the exquisite dinner we enjoyed later that night at  Siren Hall in downtown Elk Rapids (as if I hadn't had enough of 'sirens' from all the fire trucks earlier that morning).  What was so special about that weekend was that it was not only something spontaneously romantic that has come to define our marriage, but was a pivotal moment in the life of this enterprise: it was then and there that the idea for this blog was born.  We knew we wanted to creatively capture the magic of 'Up North' and somehow package it; that is where it all came together on that defining weekend (I suppose I shall always think of that fondly whenever I hear a fire truck).  Now, one year later, the blog and an ever-expanding line of frameable cards and one-of-a-kind prints shot on-location from Up North are now available to an ever-growing audience.  What a labor of love this has now become.
Fun "Self Timed" picture at White Birch Lodge documenting our leap into the Blogging World
During the month of February, at least the first part of it leading up to Valentine's Day, we'd like to offer a little incentive for our many friends who've come to check in on us here Up North.  Shannon has developed some beautiful new cards and framed prints, each one of which is designed to 'capture your heart' - or that of someone you love - with something of the romance of being Up North.

We'd love to hear from YOU!  Leave us a comment on our blog about someone or something that YOU love...we'll enter you in our "Valentine Giveaway" for a package of 10 love/area themed cards and a package of Murdick's Fudge Shoppe Chocolate Covered Dried Cherries! (To leave a comment, simply type in our namein the comment section below. You do not have to enter a URL. Hit publish.  We receive an e-mail with your pending comment and then we will publish it. Thanks!) Want more ways to be entered? Visit our facebook page: and click through our "Valentine Giveaway Album".  Each card 'like' or 'comment' gets you a ticket for the package drawing as well as a chance to win the card(s) you liked and/or commented on! Hurry...we'll notify our winners the morning of February 15th. In addition, we would like to extend our "purchase a card/get a stamp FREE" in February (up to 10 stamps.) As well, take a look at our 12x12 Prints and 10x20 prints on the tabs above. Many "love" themed pictures are now available.  February Special: 10% off prints - framed or unframed -- through February 29th, 2012.

Thanks, everyone.  We appreciate the "Up North" LOVE you are sharing with us and your friends!  We wish you a super-fun, love-filled Happy Valentine's Day!