When it comes to husbands, I hit the jackpot. Elie wakes up every morning with a smile on his face and fills our life with his joyfulness. If God loves a cheerful giver, then God surely cherishes my sweet husband, who gives of his time and talents, his love and his resources, to Theo and me, our extended family, our friends, community members, and strangers near and far. I am blessed to walk through life with him by my side.
This post is about his thoughtfulness. By sharing, I hope it inspires other husbands, wives, significant others or friends to make your loved one feel as special as Elie made me feel on my 42nd birthday.
Several months ago, an event popped up on our shared family calendar, “Lisa’s Special Surprise Birthday Dinner.” When I asked Elie about it, he just smiled and shrugged.
“You deserve a special surprise,” he said.
And for months, that was all I knew. As my birthday drew closer, he asked me not to look at his phone or computer, because I might see a message that would ruin the surprise. Sometimes I would walk into the room and he would snap the computer shut and grin. Or look at me and smile while he was answering a text. I had no idea what he was planning, save for a few details.
First, I knew my birthday was going to be our first full night away from Theo, and that my Mom was going to stay with him that night. So, I knew we weren’t going far away, just in case.
Second, Elie told me to pack two bags: one with a dressy outfit for my ‘special surprise birthday dinner’ and one with comfy clothes, something comfortable to lounge in. I couldn’t imagine what we were doing. And why would I need two bags?
Lastly, he told me to be ready at 3:50 p.m. Were we catching a ferry? That seemed like a very specific time.
Sometimes birthdays can feel a little melancholy, filled with self-reflection on goals and aspirations, questions of ‘what am I doing with my life?’ and ‘am I where I thought I would be at 42?’ Not this year. I woke up happy, content, joyful, snuggling in bed with my smiling husband and sweet, cuddly little boy. There is no where else or no one else I wished to be.
My birthday morning started with a knock on the door, a beautiful bouquet of flowers delivered from our local florist. They were from Elie, along with a card, or a piece of a card, I should say. It was one-third of a birthday message, a little tease for our surprise adventure.
The early part of the day was spent playing with Theo and going out to lunch with Elie, Theo and my mom. Our friends, Jessica and Mataio, own Ciao Thyme, and it’s where we celebrate every occasion, including Theo’s first birthday. Later, while Theo took his afternoon nap, I packed and got ready for our 3:50 departure.
When Elie came home to pick me up, he handed me a key, saying, “We’re going to need this later.”
We kissed Theo and said ‘thank you’ to Mimi before hopping in the car. I really had no idea where we were going. It turns out, it was a short drive through Bellingham to the waterfront, to the Bellwether Hotel, where he had booked the Lighthouse Suite, a three-story lighthouse-shaped room overlooking the bay. I pulled out the key and we walked inside for part one of our celebration. In the living room sat another beautiful bouquet of flowers from Elie and another third of my progressive birthday card. Even on an overcast March day, the suite provides a stunning view for sipping a glass of champagne and talking about how life has changed over the past few years.
As we were leaving our suite for dinner, Elie said we were going to make a quick stop at Ciao Thyme so Mataio could give me a birthday present. As we pulled into the driveway of Ciao Thyme Commons, I saw twinkle lights winking at me through the windows, and I had a sneaky suspicion our night was ending here.
We walked into Ciao Thyme Commons and the room glowed with candlelight. On the movie screen flashed pictures of my life with Elie over the past six years, from North Carolina to Tel Aviv, Mexico to Greece, from single adults falling in love to newly married to our new life as parents of our precious little boy. Elie had put together a slideshow with hundreds of pictures, each picture sparking laughter and stories.
In front of the movie screen sat a living room setting, a sofa, rug and ottoman Elie had delivered from the store. A side table held my favorite movie snacks: popcorn, my favorite chocolate and crunchy peanut butter.
“We’re watching a movie?” I asked.
“When Harry Met Sally,” Elie answered. My favorite movie.
A night filled with all of my favorite things.
I found out that Elie has asked Mataio to make dinner for us, and to let us borrow Ciao Thyme for the eventing, for our own private movie. They had been working on the plan for months, and Mataio and his Sous Chef, Kraig, had created an Italian menu filled with all of my favorite flavors, with wines paired by our favorite wine shop. Everything was perfect, and I was truly, truly surprised.
When our dear friend, Terry–an entertaining phenom with the most enviable collection of linens, silver, china and other design treasures–found out about Elie’s plan, he wanted to set the table for us. He created a magical, intimate dining area framed by four wooden pillars topped with grand silver candelabras lit with pillar candles. He set the table with his own French linens and designed a beautiful floral centerpiece from Rebecca’s Flower Shop. Terry, thank you for helping to make my birthday special. And on the table, the last third of my progressive birthday card from Elie.
Mataio and Kraig outdid themselves in planning an incredibly beautiful and delicious six-course dinner for us. Sometimes fine dining can be appreciated, but leave you wanting something else, something more nourishing. Not so with Mataio and Kraig’s food. Not only is every dish thoughtfully and creatively planned and exquisitely executed, it’s also deeply satisfying.
We started with tigelle–little olive oil-fried pizza-like bread originating from Northern Italy–served with handmade duck proscuitto, a duck fat ‘butter’ with fennel pollen and fried rosemary.
See what I mean? I could have eaten a dozen of those.
Next came our pasta course, an open raviolo, a single plate-sized sheet of pasta that had been pressed with flower petals and pink peppercorns. On the raviolo sat a pillow of handmade sheeps milk ricotta, a local egg yolk slowly poached in olive oil, roasted mushrooms and parmesan ‘snow.’ This is the last time I’ll write this, but… See what I mean?
A delicate saffron-laced Cioppino came next: silky halibut and tender grilled octopus tucked with clams and mussels into a savory broth of wine, roasted tomatoes and braised alliums. With the cioppino came a bowl of slightly-spicy carrot fritters that I will definitely try to recreate.
When Elie and I got married, Mataio created a lamb porchetta for our wedding dinner. He continued the creative porchetta tradition with an amazing rabbit porchetta paired with discs of cornmeal-crusted gnocchi romagna and served with a stunning sheet of braised leeks with olive garnish and fried tarragon.
As I am writing, I want to eat this entire meal again.
For the salad course, thin discs of Gothberg Farms chèvre sat below precisely placed leaves of mache, sorrel and shaved fennel scented with blood orange and meyer lemon and candied roses made from the peels of those citrus.
Last came a beautiful pistachio semifreddo filled with creamy dulce de leche and topped with a raspberry dust.
Mataio and Kraig, thank you, thank you, thank you!
Elie still had one more surprise waiting for me–a big, beautifully-wrapped (thank you, Brittany and Spruce!) present sitting on an easel. I couldn’t imagine what it was. Elie surprised me again with another favorite thing. For years, I have been coveting one of Sharon Kingston’s paintings. Elie had been sneaking over to her studio to look at paintings, to choose the perfect one for our new dining room space. I felt spoiled, and loved.
After dinner, we changed into comfy clothes and snuggled on the sofa to watch my favorite movie. It was a perfect ‘special surprise birthday dinner’ from start to finish.
This was an elaborate evening filled with so many special surprises and so many of my favorite things. But the best part of the whole evening was spending it with my favorite person in the whole wide world. Elie made me feel special and cherished, and that’s the best birthday gift.
The moral of the story is that anyone could recreate an evening like this. It wouldn’t have to be staged in a waterfront hotel or with a six-course dinner, multiple bouquets of flowers and a big present. It could be a cabin in the woods, a friend cooking you dinner, a bouquet of daffodils and a thoughtful gift. It’s the gift of knowing that someone knows and understands you so well, they know exactly how you would want to spend your perfect evening.
Thank you, Elie, for knowing and loving me so well. I am the luckiest girl in the world.
P.S. The next morning, we didn’t sleep in. We rushed home to give all of the hugs and kisses to our sweet little Theo.
Photographs by Mataio Gillis. Yes, he cooked, served and took pictures. Thank you, Mataio!