Friday night I proposed to Alisa. After much squealing and bouncing,
she said “Yes”.

We’ve been talking on-and-off about getting engaged for several months
now. Not directly, though–only in roundabout ways. It started when
two friends of hers were planning on getting engaged and asked her to
go ring shopping. I suggested that this would be an excellent
opportunity for her to look at rings and let me know if she had any
particular preferences and her ring size, on the off chance that the
information might come in handy someday down the road. She leapt at
the opportunity, went shopping with a couple of different friends, and
told me about the sorts of designs she liked and didn’t like. I
hadn’t expected her to act quite that quickly. She was fairly
specific about the kind of setting she was interested in, but not too
picky about the diamond (“not crappy”).

I started reading up on diamonds. I may have gone a little overboard
in my diamond research. In addition to talking to several jewelers
and diamond connoisseurs, I picked the brains of:

  • a physics professor who studies the effects of variations in the
    atomic structure of diamonds
  • a geologist who studies the formation of diamonds and their travel
    through the earth
  • two gemologists who run their own independent gem labs
  • the president of one of the finest name-brand diamond cutting
    companies in the world

What can I say? I’m an information junkie and a slow but thorough
shopper. I’ll make a separate entry on what I learned (along with
links to useful resources), but I imagine most people are more
interested in the proposal. Back to that story.

Around a month ago, I told Alisa that the deadline INFOCOM had been
extended by a week to August 8th and that I’d need to be in Eugene for
the final push to complete and polish the paper. Regrettably, I
wouldn’t be able to be in Dallas for her birthday (August 5th), but
I’d come out the following week. Alisa was pretty good natured about
me missing her birthday, but I did have to endure a lot of teasing.

We really were submitting a paper to INFOCOM and there really was a
lot of work to do, but the extended deadline was a fabrication on my
part. Other conferences have extended their deadlines in the past
though, so she bought it hook, line, and sinker. Since I wasn’t
coming out to visit, Alisa’s sister, Teresa, was going to come visit
her so she at least wouldn’t be alone for her birthday. This worked
out well for me because I could invite Teresa to cooperate with me in
my proposal scheme. I spent the time after the actual deadline
(August 1st) frantically lining up all the surprises that would lead
up to the proposal.

On Thursday, August 3rd, I drove up to Portland to pick up the ring,
then drove back to Eugene to hop in a plane to Dallas. Alisa and I
usually chat on the phone each morning and evening, so I gave her a
call before I headed out “to school”, and told her that I’d be working
late into the evening on the INFOCOM paper and might not get home
until she was in bed.

Arriving into Dallas around midnight, I rented a car and spent the
night in an inexpensive hotel. The following morning (Friday, August
4th), I called Alisa in the morning, but didn’t reach her. I left her
a voicemail saying that I’d be heading into school soon. The rest of
the day, I didn’t return Alisa’s calls, feigning being busy working at
school. I scrambled around make some last-minute purchases, buying
streamers, a “Happy Birthday” banner, packing tape, wrapping paper, a
nice button-down shirt, and a tie.

Around 11am, the florist delivered the four dozen long-stem roses I
had ordered, along with an “I love you” balloon and a “Happy
Birthday!” balloon and a card reading “It’s almost somebody’s
birthday… Love, Daniel”. I got some very happy voicemail and email
from Alisa (using such phrases as “::huge, enormous, gigantic,
bone-crushing hug::”). Apparently, she interpreted the roses as
making up for missing her birthday.

I got in touch with Teresa and went over to Alisa’s condo. I had
brought a package with some other gifts with me on the plane.
Unfortunately, the Transportation Security Administration cut open the
package and put their own packing tape on it (which has “TSA” written
all over it in blue and white letters). I removed their tape and put
some ordinary packing tape back on the package. I also hid the ring
and my laptop in Alisa’s condo so I didn’t need to carry them around
everywhere I went.

I made myself scarce while Alisa and Teresa met for lunch, grabbed
some lunch myself, then went to work trying to get my package of gifts
delivered to Alisa at work. I headed into the SMU Post Office and
explained that I was planning to propose to my girlfriend who works at
SMU, and that I’d like the package delivered to her sometime in the
late afternoon as if it had been shipped from Oregon. The gifts would
lead her to believe that a proposal might be coming soon–next week
when she saw me.

After the story spread through seemingly everyone working there, I
paid for some postage and they found a driver willing to get the
package and deliver it. I had written on the package something to the
effect of, “Here are some gifts for your birthday. There are more
gifts, but you’ll have to wait until next week when I can give them to
you in person!”.

I stopped by another florist to pick up a bag of rose petals I had
ordered, then headed back to Alisa’s condo to meet up with Teresa,
only to find that she had locked herself out. Oops. I drove down the
street and parked while Teresa called Alisa and asked her to come back
home to open the door. Awhile later, I got a call from Teresa letting
me know that she was inside and that the coast was clear–but that
Alisa had brought the package back home without opening the gifts that
were inside! A short while later, I got a voicemail from Alisa
telling me that she had received a package with gifts, but she wasn’t
sure if she was supposed to open them or wait for her birthday (the
next day, the 5th).

The plan had been for Alisa to open the gifts at work, then come home
to a decorated house and the proposal. Teresa and I had no trouble
brainstorming our way around this unexpected development; we would
just move me and the decorations upstairs, and get Alisa to open the
gifts downstairs as soon as she got home.

We set to work decorating the bedroom with the happy birthday
banner and streamers, lighting candles, and covering the room with rose
petals. We also worked out where we could stand so that Alisa
wouldn’t see me until she was actually in the bedroom, while allowing
me to stand close to her, and leaving Teresa in a good spot to take
pictures. At around 4:30, I sent Alisa a text message saying
something to the effect of “Of COURSE you’re supposed to open them,
you big goon! I should be done working around 6pm and will give you a
call then.”

The hardest part was when we were all set up and had to just sit
there, twiddling our thumbs waiting for Alisa to come home.

Finally, she arrived. Teresa met her at the door downstairs, while I
quietly waited upstairs in the bedroom. Alisa got to work opening the
card and two gifts from the package. The first gift had a little
label on it, “Normally I wouldn’t buy a pet without asking, but he’s
just so cute!”. Inside was a vintage 1975 Pet Rock, complete with
box and training manual, that I had picked up off eBay (his finer
tricks include “Sit” and “Play Dead”). Alisa thought this very neat.

The second gift had a little note on it reading, “We can’t have a hot
tub right now, but I thought at least our pet could have one”. Inside
was an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. I think this threw Alisa a little
off guard and it took her a moment to piece together the
implications. Just as she was starting to figure it out, Teresa’s
cell phone rang (from upstairs) with her husband’s ring-tone. Teresa
headed up stairs, answered her phone (which in fact I had dialed), and
said “What? Really?” then “Alisa! You have to come here!”. Alisa
raced up the stairs and got to the bedroom door where she stopped,
dumbstruck. She saw the rose petals, and the streamers, and the

“Happy Birthday” banner and Teresa grinning and pointing a camera at
her. I was standing in Alisa’s peripheral vision, and she hadn’t seen
me yet, but she was already grinning and giddy and squealing.

Then she caught sight of me, who as far as her brain was concerned,
ought to be in Oregon, thousands of miles away. It was fun watching
her try to mentally shift gears to accommodate this new information
and all that it implied, as she grinned, and giggled, and squealed, as
well as closed in for a bear-hug! After quite a lot of hugging, I
dropped to one knee. She was still trying to hug me and kiss me,
then I popped the question. After more squealing, came a delighted,
“Yes!”, then more hugging and kissing. She was so completely bursting
with happiness and surprise that she forgot there was another part of
this ceremony, and I had to shake the ring right in front of her
face (which of course led to more squealing and happy giggles!).
I slipped the ring onto her finger and that was that.

We headed downstairs for more pictures, to call our parents, and
explain to Alisa how I managed to be in Dallas rather than Oregon. At
some point Alisa said “I just can’t imagine how my birthday could get
any better!”. I raced back upstairs and came back down with one final
gift. Alisa opened it to reveal two travel books about Rio de Janeiro
and a Brazilian Portuguese phrasebook
(a trip that we were hoping to
make in October, contingent on my getting papers accepted to the
Internet Measurement Conference, which I found out about the previous

Pictures at


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