I penned and placed the following note in a gift box filled with antique china for my eldest niece Jessica's bridal shower this past week, and I feel certain that other than revealing my pet name for her, she wouldn't mind me sharing this a bit.

Dear Jessica Rose,

I’m so genuinely happy that you and Justin found each other, you compliment and support each other in so many important ways, and it’s wonderful to see you smiling when you are with him.

As you start your marriage, I hope you’ll consider embracing somethings that always served Uncle Fred and I well in our life together.

Taking the time and effort to make and spend special moments with each other in the midst of everything life threw at us, was something that was very meaningful to Uncle Fred and I. It kept us close, connected, and allowed us to enjoy each other one on one, and it deepened our love and abiding friendship with each other. It's memories of some of those special times that sustained me through my darkest hours after losing him, and continue to be cherished remembrances today.

Our traditions sort of developed on their own, based on our lifestyle and what we both loved most. Uncle Fred would see different things on the ranch each day while he was working. Every few days, he’d see something that he knew I’d love. He’d cut out a bit early and come get me for “a ride”. Sometimes, I’d been working in town all day or at home after we had Patrice. It was such a treat to hop in the pick-up or on an ATV and head out with him on a little adventure. Sometimes, it would be meadow in springtime. The timothy or wheat grass would be tall and moving like waves on the ocean. Other times, there might be a couple thousand geese or ducks on a grain field, or a beautiful bald eagle up in one of our big old trees. One spring, a hummingbird built her nest on top of the old dinner bell on the porch of the old cookhouse, and the little ones inside were the size of bumblebees instead of birds. It was enchanting. There were always rides when we looked at brand new calves or foals, or a mama deer with tiny twins or triplets. We’d usually bundle up towards the end of winter and head down to look at the far south end of the ranch. The Little Humboldt would be iced over during winter, but some years when it broke up, there would be pieces of ice the size of small cars floating by. Quite a sight in the high desert! One year, we chased a big ol badger down the snowy road. She had turned white for winter and we got such a kick out of watching her in front of us on the snowy two track road, until the game ended for her and turned on us. You never saw Uncle Fred turn an ATV around faster. That pastel badger wanted a piece of us!

We took time to watch sunrises together from our living room and out in the hay fields if it was summer, walk out onto the porch for sunsets any time of the year, and take our bedrolls out for meteor showers or just great star gazing from his favorite meadow below the corrals.

Between all the work on the ranch, being parents, caring for his parents and Nana during their last years, and some of his health battles, he and I didn’t always have a lot of alone time; but we determined early on that it was important to carve out little moments and enjoy them together. Memories of those little “couple” moments are what sustained me through my darkest days after he passed and are still among my most cherished memories.

So, I’ve told you what Uncle Fred regularly did for me, and now onto  what I did for him…

As you well remember, Uncle Fred loved good food. He loved shared times around a cook fire, or a dinner table. He also really loved the tradition of lunch and dinner dates with me. Because the ranch is an hour from town, true “go out” date nights were rare for us, especially without taking Patrice along, so we made a habit of carving out time for home dates. I made the effort to spoil Uncle  Fred with lunch and dinner dates in our own kitchen. I’d breakout some beautiful china and set a lovely table. If things were blooming outside, I’d pick flowers for our table and light candles. He’d walk in after a long day, get a hug and kiss and be able to walk upstairs for a relaxing bath before supper. He’d clean up and feel like a new man. He’d come down to music on the stereo (nothing romantic, usually something he loved like ACDC :) and good smells in the kitchen. Then he’d giggle and walk beside me at the stove or oven and try to see what I had cooking and maybe  get a taste. If we were BBQing, he didn’t even mind doing the honors in our backyard. It didn’t matter if it was homemade hamburgers or steaks, we’d enjoy a relaxed meal, talk, laugh and just enjoy each other. It was pretty unusual  for us to have dessert at home, but I always tried to have something special for him on those occasions. Sometimes, it was as simple as a strawberry or two that I’d found and picked from our garden boxes. Nothing put a bigger smile on his face than getting the first strawberry or bunch of wild asparagus of the year.

Now, I know you are already loaded with pretty china, but I hope you will enjoy this little antique set just for two. I guess the significance of it is that I just loved the pattern, and when I looked it up, I discovered it was first made in 1923, one hundred years ago. It’s kind of a little centennial reminder of your wedding date.  Plus, it’s just enough for the two of you, something exclusively yours as a couple. I also know that both of you have big responsibilities and crazy schedules so don’t feel like you have to cook intricate meals to make sweet little memories with Justin. Maybe this old china is an excuse to jazz up take-out nights with a pretty table instead of Styrofoam, and substitute music, candles and flowers from your garden instead of cell phones or a TV in the background.

Every couple needs to make their own traditions, and I’m not trying to force ours onto to you and Justin. I just hope you know that it’s rarely the grand gestures that make a marriage happy and lasting. Instead, it’s the consistent and intentional everyday acts of love, trust, goodwill and caring that separate the marriages that thrive from those that do not. For us, it was the day to day knowing that we were thought of, loved, trusted and valued by the other that made all the difference and kept our union very happy and secure for almost twenty-six years. Our relationship thrived through the small, everyday gestures and loving habits that bound us together and gave us strength when we needed it most.

As the old saying goes, “little things mean a lot” and there is no better time than your beginning to start those loving habits and traditions of your own.

I sincerely wish you and Justin the kind of love, contentment, joy and safe harbor that Uncle Fred and I had in our marriage.

Love you always Rosie Toes,

Aunt Kris