On 55 Hours of Freedom, Springily

My 55 hours of freedom began with a dinner party. To add to the slight stress of meeting new people, there was also the panic of the location – an upscale eatery. Confident in my knowledge of which silverware to choose (learned watching Titanic – just work your way in), I selected my favorite sweater dress. It’s navy and red, short and tight enough to be alluring, and high-necked enough to be modest. Plus, you don’t have to worry about a necklace, since you’re covered. That plus tights and boots and a little bit of eyeshadow turned me into a very compelling dinner companion. I remembered to grab my sense of humor on the way out the door, and had a lovely evening. Also, I ate everything. All of the meats. It was spectacular. If all I need to do to go have entertaining conversation and delicious food is put myself together, I will happily do that any day.

When we got home, we decided that we were going to sleep in the igloo we made last week during the epic spring blizzard. (I got sent home due to a power outage at work on Wednesday, and so we spent 6+ hours building this amazing 6’ tall snow fort – the man encapsulated it on Thursday, and thus, we are now in brief possession of an immense front yard igloo.) We hauled out blankets and pillows and snacks and fell asleep in our snow cave. It was not a night of great sleep. I was cold and sore, my hips protesting about the ice below them, my body protesting about the lack of heat and the cold everywhere. At one point, I decided I’d be generous and give the man my hat (bad decision for me), and I think we woke up at least 7 times that night. Lots of pulling and rearranging.

However, on the plus side, I now know that I do not want to pursue snow-camping as a hobby, and I’m glad I didn’t have to drive to the mountains to figure that out. But it was fun. Our friends stopped by very late in the night (after we’d gone to sleep), so it was fun to wake up to a yell of, “They’re in there!” and have a late night igloo meeting.

Saturday brought cat-snuggling. Carlos has been missing me, because I’ve been a terrible cat mother lately, and so I went home Saturday morning to snuggle him. And in theory, to finish cleaning (ha, guess how that turned out?). Then there was a yoga party – we built a two-story tall snowman and had the most delicious sangria before coming home and napping hard. After the nap, we broke for Easter preparations and then made dinner (the leftovers from the steakhouse were amazing).

Easter Sunday – as usual, it was too cold to wear my Easter dress, so I selected a pink lacy shirt and jeans. I’m trying to get into softer, more lady-like colors, but I’m still not convinced. If it’s not black, I don’t know about it. Adulting is proving to be harder than I thought, at least sartorially.

We had first breakfast. I was excited to meet new family, and there were jelly beans involved (which is never a bad thing). Then we had brunch with my dad’s family, and stopped off to see my grandpa at the nursing home before we headed back home to wait for AAA to pick up my brother’s car, which had stopped working. Ha, trying to push an SUV into our busy street was quite the adventure. It got stuck in the hole next to our driveway, and so it had to hang out half in the street and half in the driveway until the tow truck driver could get there.

I brought my 9-year old to my mom’s family’s Easter dinner. She’s my favorite person – a small blonde bundle of energy. She had flowers and a card for my grandma, as well as a chocolate bunny, and she made bunny cake! (Everyone knows how to make bunny cake and I feel like it’s something I’m going to have to learn how to do – I’m into the idea of being able to garnish a cake with all sorts of additional sources of sugar, and when we were at my grandma’s house, I ate all of the Easter-flavored twizzlers off the cake while we were cutting it.) She’s so talkative! (Maybe I was that talkative at that age?) She’s headed off for Spring Break, and she goes to the same elementary school that we all went to, so we had a lot to talk about.

I wanted to show her some acro yoga, because I imagined that she’d enjoy it since she does gymnastics. As it turns out, she loved. Poor boyfriend could not catch a break. She had him going through pose after pose after pose, determined to learn more. At one, she was demanding that we do something really cool. It made me laugh to see how excited she was about it, and how determined. He told her that once she learns how to do a handstand, she can do a lot more. She was super eager, and he was a really good sport about letting her leap all over him. When we dropped her back off at her house, she made him do it all over again to show her parents. It was really sweet.

I was exhausted. 55 hours isn’t quite long enough, is it? I feel like this week is going to bring a lot of necessary errand-completion and tasks to be checked off, so I’m feeling productive and excited to leap into it.

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On the Weekend, Always Belatedly

Ah, the weekends. The 9-5 grind is exactly that, a grind, and by the end of the day, I’m generally exhausted. But the weekend provides me with roughly 55 hours of usable free time – 5pm Friday to midnight Sunday – and I try to make it a point to use as much of that time as possible.

Last weekend was no exception.

My mom had asked me if I’d like to bring the guy that I’m seeing to family dinner on Friday night – my favorite meal of the year, corned beef and cabbage – and I’d immediately declined the invitation. But then I thought about it, after telling him that I’d declined his invitation without even asking him. I realized that it probably wouldn’t be too bad if he met my people, so I re-invited him, nervously.

I’m known for bringing guys home to meet the family very early on – maybe it’s the sadist in me that likes to see them sweat, or maybe it’s that I want to see how they can manage themselves. My family is quite lovely, so it’s not like it’s difficult, but I’m a firm believer that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he interacts with your family in that sort of environment. Is he polite? Does he speak up? Is he patient? I’m impatient, usually polite, and always talking, so I need someone who can be patient, polite, and match my level of enthusiasm for the conversation. I love my family, and I want them to know the people I spend my time with, and for those people to know my family. Also, free food. Plus, my grandmothers are pretty fantastic people.

To my surprise, he said yes in the very best way. A long text message string of rap lyrics. I laughed out loud when I read it, and then immediately sent a few panicky emails to my grandmother, mom, and aunt, so that there’d be another place at the table and to make sure there was enough food. (I promised to eat less, if need be.)

And so that happened. I picked him up, ten minutes late (surprise, surprise), and we made our way the four blocks to my grandmother’s house (convenient). The evening was wonderful. He talked – he may have talked more than I did! (Ehhh, probably not.) He deftly handled the faux-argument we have over the men’s side of the table (they always mess up the passing order to make sure that their buddies get the best food first – and the women always tease them about it), falling in line with the “rules” of the passing and the back-passing. He definitely got in on the good end of the back-passing – he had meat, potatoes, and cabbage before I’d even gotten the bread.

We lingered for four hours. He got to see the reenactment of the guys and my mom dropping me off at college – my uncle’s impression of me sobbing and begging them to take me back to Denver includes, “I’ll go to DU, I swear!” and is fantastically hilarious – as well as my mom’s excellent impression of the “purse carrier,” which is exactly what I’m not allowed to marry. It was a really wonderful dinner, and I felt so happy to be surrounded by such lovely people, and to come from such a loving and kind family.

On Saturday, I went to see an old co-worker, who’s now my mentor/friend. She has the most adorable two-year old son, so I was happy to play with him while we caught up. It’s so easy to lose touch with people once you don’t see them every day, so I’ve been trying to make an effort to stay in contact and not lose people just because they’ve slid out of the periphery. Also, she’s very good about getting in touch with me, so that definitely helps. I always laugh and thank her for being a part of my village (village people, I think that’s what I’m going to call my wonderful network of humans), because I’ve been to her kid’s birthday parties, her family events, and I was the first person to ever babysit for her son.

Babies are the sweetest things. He’s talking up a storm now, and he has the biggest eyes and the happiest smile. I chased him and tickled him, and his peals of laughter brought me so much joy. I love how determined they get, or how frustrated, or how giggly. There is so much pure energy and pure emotion, and as I left, he stood by the door and waved to me, over-ready for his nap. My friend texted me after I left and told me that he was out 60 seconds after she put him down.

For some reason, I was in cleaning mode on Saturday. I have been struggling to get my house under control for a while now (again, no surprise here), and I wanted to go home and do some good work. And so I did. I got my room rearranged, opened up the box that contained my new mattress and got it unfurled, foam puffing up immediately. I got more things folded and hung up and stuffed into drawers (I mean, folded, definitely neatly). I threw away trash and cleaned out the fridge. I scrubbed the sink and unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher. It was nice progress, and it felt good. My friend Gina will help me with the rest of it tonight.

Saturday night, we went to my old favorite Thai place. I’ve only ever ordered one thing there (five years is a long time to not stray on a menu, and I intend to keep up the streak) – pineapple curry, medium. Sometimes with shrimp, sometimes just extra pineapple, sometimes veggies. Always delicious. That is the food I crave on Sundays (when they’re closed), when I’m sad, or sick, or happy, or ….any time.

After that, we stopped into the PS Lounge – if you haven’t done that, you need to. Your life will get so much better. We had a few drinks there, and sat talking, oblivious to the bar around us. (Not entirely, but it makes it sound so much more romantic if I put it that way, doesn’t it?) Regardless, the conversations are so fantastic. I really like that I’ve met someone who knows stuff about stuff I don’t know. And who’s willing to tolerate the things that I love. He told me the other night that he loves that I always have something to add – actually add, a different perspective or input – to conversations. I laughed, what else am I going to do? We haven’t really disagreed about anything yet, and I keep trying to find something where we have drastically differing viewpoints…thus far, no luck.

My friend Jacob was playing at a bar down the road, so tipsy adventure me decided that we needed to at least pop in. So we did, briefly. I danced a little less than I would have liked, nervous energy coursing through my body. Bringing someone into your comfort zone is so hard. I like people. But it’s funny, because as much as I am uneasy in new places or doing new things, I’m equally uncomfortable when I’m bringing someone into my spaces, my people, my things.

Sunday morning, we woke up and went for a bike ride. He was so sweet a few weeks ago and put my bike back together for me (to be fair, he’s the one who took it apart in the first place….but I had a tangled chain somehow?), so I’ve been able to ride around with him. I’m terrified of city biking – too many people in Chicago get smashed by buses on bikes – but I’m getting better! We did 20 miles on Sunday, looping through the park on our way downtown, made a pit stop for ice cream, and then to REI (obviously), and then back around to the water treatment plant, and then back. By the end, I’d lost all of my energy, and the last few miles were me playing the mental fortitude game in my head. But I made it! There’s an uphill part right at the end, which is miserable. It’s the last big push before relaxation, and when I made it, I was overjoyed and that feeling of accomplishment (or at least, not failure) washed over me.  And on the way I ran into a couple of friends who I hadn’t seen in over a year, which was wonderful!

Ha, to make things way sexier, I wore bike shorts. And since I left my car at the Thai restaurant the night before, I had no shoes to wear other than my cheap little black flats. So between the bright orange bike shirt and short combo and the completely not bike shoes, I made a very official-looking exerciser. You know, I make fun of the bike shorts/shirt people (and will continue to do so…), but, there’s something to it. My sit bones were not even sore as a result of the padding in the shorts.

Then I went to Verizon and got a new phone. I’ve had my mom’s old iPhone for over a year now, and she had it for two years before that, and the thing was just starting to lose everything. No battery life, no storage, the whole deal. It was time. Verizon can definitely thank Lil’ Wayne for pushing me over the edge; I’d been vacillating between the iPhone 6s (or trying to wait until the 7 came out?) and an Android, and Samsung came out with the Galaxy S7, which is water-resistant (seriously, you could put it in a fish tank and it would still work – I’m so curious but not $700 worth of curious, so I’ll leave that to the professionals and try to keep my phone on dry land), and that’s what did it. I’m a bath-taker and also incredibly accident-prone, so this seems like the right choice. Also, I had an S4 once, and I loved it. Apparently, the S6 was a miserable piece of equipment, and they’ve corrected that (righted their wrongs and put things back) in the newest version, so I’m in.

We shall see. It’s been a funny adjustment, because I had forgotten everything. But alas, it’s like riding a bike. Your fingers and brain relearn the moves, and it’s been not even 48 hours and I’m back in the groove.

Then I had dinner with my mom. First dinner, to be more accurate. We ate salad and caught up for an hour or so. It was so nice. I really love my mom. Then I had second dinner with my friend Emily. Man, I really love sushi and sake. I also love having friends that you’ve known forever. It’s so wonderful to love someone who really knows you. Emily has known me since high school, and I am really happy that we haven’t let our friendship slip. She’s beautiful, smart, funny, and all of the things I love. We had a nice time, except for the fact that my dark circles threatened to swallow me whole. I had that blank, empty stare of exhaustion by the time we were done.

Finally, finally, came the sleep. My exhausted body was so pleased to find bed and pillows and blankets, and I was gone, weekend concluded. Not too bad for 55 hours, right? Errands, accomplishments, exercise, family, friends, dancing, date night, alcohol, ice cream, adventure, new technology, and babies! All of the best things. Nailed it.

On Kids’ Movies, Tearfully

It’s no secret that I’m a cryer.

I have cried at Google commercials, movies, cute internet pictures, news articles….you name it. Sometimes it’s just a misty-eyed moment, and other times, it’s a full-on sob session. I can’t help it; I’m very empathetic and my weakness is adorable things.

A few weeks ago, I was babysitting my favorite 6-year old and we watched Brave. I had never seen it. It’s a lot of things, but it’s definitely a mother/daughter movie and I had reached near-Notebook levels of tears by the end. My 6-year old was very confused as to why I was sniffling on her couch watching the mom-turned-bear trying to become a human again but also survive and not lose herself to animal instincts while still being a mother.

“Why are you crying,” she asked.

Through my tears, I tried to summarize adolescence and especially parent stress, and how no matter what you do, even if you do something really stupid, they’ll still love you. I am pretty sure she thought I was completely crazy. She won’t remember that conversation, but she’ll grow up and be a teenager and it’ll all make sense.

Kids’ movies get to me. I cried at some ridiculous dolphin movie, and The Boxtrolls, and..I should just make a list, or better yet, maybe maybe a list of kids’ movies that I don’t cry while watching…that’d be so much easier.

Anyway – not the point – tonight we watched Despicable Me 2, which is such a fantastically wonderful movie. As we got to the end, and the main character (a lovely, reformed grump who adopted 3 adorable daughters and has a giant yellow entourage of incoherent helpers) is getting married to a woman with whom he’d worked on some spy work, I see my 6-year old’s head slide into my view from where she’d been behind me, brushing my hair.

She’d come to check to see if I was crying. “Not even a little bit!” I told her, slightly too proudly. She checked my face to make sure, and then giggled and went back to brushing my hair.

Wow. You know it’s bad when even the kids think that you’re probably crying.

🙂

On Kindness, Very Elderly

“Mustard and onions!” he would shout as soon he’d gotten himself through the door, gingerly shuffling up to the counter. He’s pull out crumpled dollars and some change. It was $1.62, always the same order: hot dog with mustard and onions, shortened to just “mustard and onions.”

Sometimes we’d see him coming and start his hot dog before he’d even gotten through the door (we had time; the man was 94 years old and no spring chicken. It’s interesting, to attempt to race an old man by microwaving a hot dog to have it ready for him before he’s even ordered it). His hands weren’t as nimble as they used to be, so we’d open the mustard packets for him and carry the hot dog out to his seat.

He would regularly give us a $5 tip and tell us not to spend it on the opposite sex. “Don’t spend this on men,” he’d caution, and I’d smile and swear I wouldn’t. And I never did.

He had a tiny white Pomeranian-looking dog thing he’d gotten from the Dumb Friends League. The tiny dog was tethered to the man’s walker by his leash, and the both of them were parked outside the large side window while the man ate his hot dog at the tall table in the corner. We used to bring the dog a little cup of ice cream to eat while the man was inside. One time, he yelled at me not to bite his dog, which made me laugh, mostly because it terrified some tiny children waiting in line. Once, the dog ran into the parking lot, dragging the walker with him. That caused a brief upset, and both the dog and the walker were safely recovered, returned to their post on the sidewalk.

Over time, I learned that the man had been a captain in the Navy during WWII. We talked about that when the captain ran his ship aground while showing off for friends off the coast of Italy. The man shook his head, clearly disappointed by the captain’s idiocy. When I was dating a Marine, he told me that the best part about the service was that when I got bored with the man, I could send him right back to the Marines.

He was the bright spot on many days. When we had new people working, who didn’t understand the “mustard and onions,” shorthand, they’d panic, confused by the gruff shout. He lived nearby, and walked the block and a half to the Dairy Queen regularly, exercise and human connection.

This morning, I read a post on Facebook written by a woman who’d taken her young children to a Target store for a quick necessities run, only to find herself behind an elderly woman in line who was paying for each item individually, in change. The woman wrote about her initial annoyance, but then wrote about how the cashier’s patience and helpfulness with the change counting and the interaction struck her. When the woman was done purchasing her items, she asked if she had enough to purchase a reusable bag, which she did. The cashier repackaged the woman’s purchases with a smile, no hint of aggravation or annoyance. She watched her young daughter watch the interaction, and she felt compelled to find the manager to speak about the cashier’s actions. And then she posted about it, which is of course how it came to me this morning, via a newsfeed so full of cluttered self-important noise.

When I was in high school, first beginning my time as the Dairy Queen (a self-imposed title, to be sure), we used to have an old woman come in and purchase a child-sized twist cone. Then she’d linger by the counter, chatting. At first, I was annoyed. I had things to do – re-stocking candies and cups and spoons. My manager at the time, a fantastic manager who somehow commanded and compromised and inspired with her honest work ethic and beautiful handling of high school employees who knew nothing about the working world, always encouraged us to stay and talk to her. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that for this woman, we were human interaction, not just a quick pit stop on the way to other things. It wasn’t until I grew into more adult awareness that I realized the haunting reality of the loneliness that comes with aging.

It tears at me, now, to think of people, not just the elderly, who are alone. I see the posts about how they’ve put a pre-school in a nursing home, and I’m fascinated by the sheer brilliance of the idea. I don’t know why we don’t have those everywhere, because we should.

I shed a few tears this morning, thinking of the hustling, frantic pace of our world, and the isolation that comes with our own self-involved narrow focuses. Much in line with my recent ruminations on the disillusionment of life, I find it disheartening that we feel compelled to share these stories of small kindnesses as some kind of heroic behavior, because in my own idealistic view of the world, these would be commonplace courtesies performed not out of duty but out of sheer goodwill.

I looked forward to seeing that old man every day. I brightened when he came in. I took as much (maybe more) from our interactions as he did. I still think of him, from time to time, and hope he’s okay. He might not be, it might be that he’s passed away or moved to a nursing home, but some small part of me wants to tell him how much he meant to me, and how his presence in my life made me better, happier, more fulfilled.

Listening to NPR cover the death of Alan Rickman last night, I heard the voice of one of his friends describe him using all of the words we all aspire to: kind-hearted, funny, and so on, and I started to think about the legacy that I will someday leave behind. The totality of our lives is summed up not on paper, which will eventually be filed away somewhere and left to the dust, but exists in the impressions we leave on those around us.

We get back what we put into this world, unless we don’t, in which case we must take comfort in knowing that we’ve done and been the best we could have been. My Russian co-worker, who became a dear friend, told me that she felt very deeply that the only reason she’d come back from Russia to be here for 9 months was so I could come into her life and we could become friends. She appreciated my sense of humor and my outlook. She’s back in Russia now, and I miss her every day. I miss our discussions of English language, and her laughter and our shared plants, which mingled in my tiny garden and grew together.

She’ll never know how much that compliment meant to me, and how it drives me when I’m in need of motivation. This. This is the reason we need other humans. We need them because the ripple effects of the smallest kindnesses don’t go unnoticed; they carry onward, softening over time, but still changing their environments. The harder we work to bring joy to those around us, the more joy there is to go around. That sounds Pollyannaish, and I don’t care. Taking the time to make small positive impacts is something that can have a very real and valuable return. It’s important, and we don’t seem to do enough of it.

On the Dog, Celebratorily

Our baby isn’t a baby any more! On July 4, Acorn turned one.

Why is his birthday July 4th? Since we’ll never know his actual birthday, but we know it’s some time in July, we decided to make him an “America dog” (not my choice) and to give him a birthday we’ll easily remember. Last year, July 4th was the first day that boyfriend and I started hanging out again, too. We went to a barbecue in Boulder with some of his friends. So it all wraps up nicely.

Baby Acorn in Mississippi.

How did he become Acorn? Well – naming things just has to come. You can’t force it. So of course we panicked. Something so adorable also has to be aptly named. We thought. We thought some more. We suggested things — most of them Mississippi related. I threw out “Acorn” — pronounced “A-kern” — since I had found it hilarious that boyfriend’s grandpa had explained to me how much deer love “a-kerns” when we went hunting. I spent two days trying to figure out what an “a-kern” was before realizing they were acorns.

We laugh because when we went to get him that bright orange collar before we left Mississippi, I was filling out the tag so it could be engraved while we were telling the store proprietor that we hadn’t named him yet. The tag clearly says, Acorn. At one point, boyfriend’s grandpa said, “Don’t know why the hell they named him A-corn,” clearly enunciating the corn.

He was about 35 pounds when we rescued him. Since he was clearly abused or dumped or both, boyfriend always teases me about how Acorn used to have a “loving family.” Whenever I talk about how much I love the dog, he’ll say, “I bet he never did that with his loving family” or something about how much they miss him. I usually end up just rolling my eyes at him and then snapping, “He did not have a loving family! They didn’t take care of him and they don’t deserve him!” (It’s like my mom always said when my brother was picking on me, “The reaction is the reward.”) I remember when he was tiny and sweet, a timid puppy who needed love and encouragement. Now he’s all about chomping and fetching and wiggling. He still needs (and gets) a lot of love, but he’s so much more confident now.

20 hours of car ahead of him on his way to Colorado.

It’s funny what a full seven months of love can do to a dog. He went from being terrified of EVERYTHING (cars, stairs, linoleum, wood floors, dogs) to being an adventure dog. He still has to defer to Carlos, who’s the head of the animal coalition in our house, but they get along and tolerate each other. (Usually — Acorn recently discovered Carlos’s other stash of squeaky toys, which didn’t go over so well.)

One of my friends said last week that she truly believes that we gave Acorn (who also answers to Mr. Corn, General Cornwallis, and Hey!) the best home possible. She looked at him, lounging in the front lawn, not running away because he knows better, and told me that a lot of homes would have given him love but that we had given him the best. Since they’re not my words, I can totally use them to brag about how much he rocks.

As I type this, he’s whining under my feet. Ha. It’s not all roses over here in puppy parenthood. When I got home from two fully exhausting days at adoption camp a couple of weekends ago, he had been alone all day and was needy and whining and miserable. So was I. It made me wonder how people do the whole parenting thing. Especially teachers. Whiny kids for eight hours, oh wait, you’re working a double, but with different whiny kids for the next eight hours! Woo!

He’s a black lab something mix (collie?), so his furry sweater is really long and when it’s 90 degrees out, it’s too hot to walk him. He doesn’t understand why we can’t go play all the time, because it’s hard to explain to a dog why I don’t want to end up on the 6:00 news for being the kind of dog parent who lets their dog boil. Communication problems.

How he feels about camping.

And miles and miles of sticks. I love him. I can’t explain how much I love him. It’s the same way I feel about Carlos, that whenever I look at them, my heart somehow manages to both squeeze and overflow with love at the same time.

The sass is strong in this one.

I love watching boyfriend with him, too. I know from the moment boyfriend carried him into the house in Mississippi that he was ours, but boyfriend wasn’t so sure. I’ll never forget it when, after we’d given the dog his first bath, boyfriend held the dog’s little head in his hands, wiggled the dog’s ears, and asked him if he wanted to be best friends.

Even though there were moments when boyfriend wasn’t so sure we’d ended up with the best dog, a lot of love and some hard lessons (don’t eat sandwiches or bad things will happen, etc.) have made him into a pretty excellent companion. Watching boyfriend come home from work and play with the dog is my favorite thing. Watching the dog try to run after boyfriend when he leaves for work tugs at my heart. It’s all good. We got so lucky. I know he did, too, but really, it’s us who came out ahead here. We have a funny, floppy son who brings up so much joy and so many sticks. And tennis balls. And antlers. And rope toys.

On Love, Simply

Boyfriend isn’t the type of guy to talk much about anything, especially emotions. It drives me nuts, because I love to talk about everything, especially emotions.

I’ve been under some specific stress lately, and whenever I’m under this particular stress, I seem to have developed the habit of waking up between three and four in the morning and laying there with my mind churning, unable to fall back asleep until much later, if at all.

This morning was no exception, and I whiled away the hours of four, and then five, into six, with episodes of House on Netflix. He had to be at work early, so I crawled back into our bed. I wrapped my arms around him and promptly started crying.

You know how trying to cry quietly, pretending you’re not actually crying, trying to swallow those sobs only makes it worse? Yep. That.

He rolled onto his back, asked me what was wrong, which made me cry harder, and then reached for me, said, “Come here,” and pulled me into his shoulder. I didn’t realize how desperately I was holding on until I unclenched my fingers.

I sniffled to him how much I love him and that I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have him.

“You don’t ever have to worry about that,” he whispered.

Sometimes he just hits it out of the park with boyfriend awesomeness, which is magical when I need it so much.