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A Wonderfully Nerdy Marriage Proposal at the National Book Festival

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Like most 20-somethings using social media, my Facebook newsfeed often features "Jane Doe is now engaged to John Smith" posts, with requisite thumbs-up, squeals of glee from friends, and photos of the engagement rings. Last weekend brought a round of several new proposals, but one in particular caught my eye—it was so unique and so wonderfully nerdy that I had to share it with you all.

On Sunday, September 23, Mike Muller proposed to my friend Rebecca Berkowitz at the Library of Congress's National Book Festival on the National Mall. With a ring hidden in a book. A book that was then autographed—and illustrated!—by the author.

The accompanying caption on Facebook: "Oh you know just hanging out in the media tent at the national book festival on the mall waiting to be interviewed about my engagement!!!!"

But let's start at the beginning...

Becca and Mike dated for years. Last year, though, they broke up; at the time, they were living several states apart and still figuring out their post-college lives. While they were broken up, Becca discovered Craig Thompson's autobiographical graphic novel Blankets (2003), which depicts Thompson's coming-of-age and first love. (The book won 3 Harvey Awards in 2004, 2 Eisner Awards in 2004, 2 Ignatz Awards in 2004, and the Prix de la critique, a French award for best comic album/book, in 2005.) She encouraged Mike to read Blankets as well, her message to Mike being for them "to have faith and to let each other grow and see if we come back together."

They rekindled their relationship during a New Year's trip to Costa Rica, where Mike purchased a wooden lady bug box—lady bugs have a special meaning to them—and they agreed that if he was ever to propose, the ring would go inside that very lady bug box.

So when Mike headed to the DC area last weekend to visit Becca, he brought the lady bug box, an engagement ring he designed himself, and one of their two copies of Blankets, in which he had carved a ringbox-sized hole. The initial proposal plan involved the Capybara exhibit at the Smithsonian, which would have been equally nerdy. That fell through, though, so Mike moved on to Plan B: the National Book Festival.

Once at the Festival, Mike and Becca listened to Thompson speak and then got in line to meet the man himself. When festival workers handed out Post-It notes so the fans could write down what they wanted Thompson to sign in their books, Becca asked Mike what he wanted, taking the book out of her backpack and opening it. As soon as she saw the box, she knew—and Mike dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him.

"We had a few wonderful moments to ourselves," Mike says, before the rest of the fans realized what had happened. The happy couple was soon being cheered and photographed by the Thompson fans around them, and word of the proposal quickly spread. The Festival workers "thought the idea was wonderful" and photographed the two to tweet the news. "It took a full 20 minutes for us to realize they had broken to news to our friends and family before we could," Mike told me; they then rushed out "the typical Facebook update" to alert their nearest and dearest.

The tweet that broke the story from the Junior League of Washington

And then their happy day got even better. Mike and Becca were rushed to the front of Thompson's signing line, where "Thompson seeemed as excited as [they] were." Mike reports that Thompson "was as friendly as could be" and was "flattered" that his book meant so much to them and was such an integral part of their story. Thompson not only signed and dedicated their proposal copy of Blankets, he also drew a personal picture in it.


Left: Showing Thompson their special book. Right: The author and the newly engaged couple posing together


Thompson signing Becca and Mike's book

Becca and Mike were asked by Festival workers if they would tape an interview for the web site, to which they agreed, and they were whisked off to the media tent. (In the photo at left, Becca and Mike prepare for their interview with event staff.) They had a few moments to call their families and have their "own little private celebration," enjoying the free coffee and food provided.

As the party guests—all the prominent authors of the Festival—filed in, they asked Mike and Becca who they were. Upon hearing Mike and Becca's story, the authors wanted to get photos with the happy couple. How many other newly engaged couples celebrate with the likes of Peter Reynolds (illustrator of the Judy Moody children's series), Ed Young (Caldecott Medal-winning author and illustrator), Christopher Paolini (author of Eragon), and Patricia Polacco (children's book author and illustrator)? For Becca and Mike, "it was beyond amazing" to share their day with such literary and artistic minds.

Becca with, from left, Ed Young, Patricia Polacco, and Christopher Paolini


Posing with Peter Reynolds. Says Becca: "He was inspired by us! Amazing."

Becca, an elementary teacher, considers it "a teacher's dream to be 'engaged' in a book." Mike, an aspiring author, found the whole thing "surreal," to have a story "leave the pages and come to life in such a real and profound way." As he wrote to me, "We were able to touch the story that inspired us [Craig Thompson's amazing work] and build it into our own, reinventing the narrative of our lives with every step of the way. All-in-all, not a bad Plan B."

I have to agree with his assessment—not a bad Plan B at all!


The proposal copy of the book, complete with the hole for the ring box and Craig Thompson's dedication and illustration


The custom ring Mike designed for Becca

Congratulations, Mike and Becca!

All photographs courtesy of Rebecca Berkowitz and Mike Muller.

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10 Terrific Facts About Stephen King
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Scott Eisen/Getty Images for Warner Bros.

As if being one of the world's most successful and prolific writers wasn't already reason enough to celebrate, Stephen King is ringing in his birthday as the toast of Hollywood. As It continues to break box office records, we're digging into the horror master's past. Here are 10 things you might not have known about Stephen King, who turns 70 years old today.

1. STEPHEN KING AND HIS WIFE, TABITHA, OWN A RADIO STATION.

Stephen and Tabitha King own Zone Radio, a company that serves to head their three radio stations in Maine. One of them, WKIT, is a classic rock station that goes by the tagline "Stephen King's Rock Station."

2. HE'S A HARDCORE RED SOX FAN.

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Not only did he write a story about the Boston Red Sox—The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (who was a former Red Sox pitcher)—he also had a cameo in the Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore movie Fever Pitch, which is about a crazed Sox fan. He plays himself and throws out the first pitch at a game.

In 2004, King and Stewart O'Nan, another novelist, chronicled their reactions to the season that finally brought the World Series title back to Beantown. It's appropriately titled Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season.

3. HE WAS HIT BY A CAR, THEN BOUGHT THE CAR THAT HIT HIM.

You probably remember that King was hit by a van not far from his summer home in Maine in 1999. The incident left King with a collapsed lung, multiple fractures to his hip and leg, and a gash to the head. Afterward, King and his lawyer bought the van for $1500 with King announcing that, "Yes, we've got the van, and I'm going to take a sledgehammer and beat it!"

4. AS A KID, HIS FRIEND WAS STRUCK AND KILLED BY A TRAIN.

King's brain seems to be able to create chilling stories at such an amazing clip, yet he's seen his fair share of horror in real life. In addition to the aforementioned car accident, when King was just a kid his friend was struck and killed by a train (a plot line that made it into his story "The Body," which was adapted into Stand By Me). While it would be easy to assume that this incident informed much of King's writing, the author claims to have no memory of the event:

"According to Mom, I had gone off to play at a neighbor’s house—a house that was near a railroad line. About an hour after I left I came back (she said), as white as a ghost. I would not speak for the rest of the day; I would not tell her why I’d not waited to be picked up or phoned that I wanted to come home; I would not tell her why my chum’s mom hadn’t walked me back but had allowed me to come alone.

"It turned out that the kid I had been playing with had been run over by a freight train while playing on or crossing the tracks (years later, my mother told me they had picked up the pieces in a wicker basket). My mom never knew if I had been near him when it happened, if it had occurred before I even arrived, or if I had wandered away after it happened. Perhaps she had her own ideas on the subject. But as I’ve said, I have no memory of the incident at all; only of having been told about it some years after the fact."

5. HE WROTE A MUSICAL WITH JOHN MELLENCAMP.

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

King, John Mellencamp, and T Bone Burnett collaborated on a musical, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, which made its debut in 2012. The story is based on a house that Mellencamp bought in Indiana that came complete with a ghost story. Legend has it that three siblings were messing around in the woods and one of the brothers accidentally got shot. The surviving brother and sister jumped in the car to go get help, and in their panic, swerved off the road right into a tree and were killed instantly. Of course, the three now haunt the woods by Mellencamp's house.

6. HE PLAYED IN A BAND WITH OTHER SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS.

King played rhythm guitar for a band made up of successful writers called The Rock Bottom Remainders. From 1992 to 2012, the band "toured" about once a year. In addition to King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Barbara Kingsolver, Matt Groening and Ridley Pearson were just some of its other members.

7. HE'S A NATIVE MAINER.

A photo of Stephen King's home in Bangor, Maine.
By Julia Ess - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

King writes about Maine a lot because he knows and loves The Pine Tree State: he was born there, grew up there, and still lives there (in Bangor). Castle Rock, Derry, and Jerusalem's Lot—the fictional towns he has written about in his books—are just products of King's imagination, but he can tell you exactly where in the state they would be if they were real.

8. HE HAS BATTLED DRUG AND ALCOHOL PROBLEMS.

Throughout much of the 1980s, King struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. In discussing this time, he admitted that, "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all. I don't say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page."

It came to a head when his family members staged an intervention and confronted him with drug paraphernalia they had collected from his trash can. It was the eye-opener King needed; he got help and has been sober ever since.

9. THERE WAS A RUMOR THAT HE WROTE A LOST TIE-IN NOVEL.

King was an avid Lost fan and sometimes wrote about the show in his Entertainment Weekly column, "The Pop of King." The admiration was mutual. Lost's writers mentioned that King was a major influence in their work. There was a lot of speculation that he was the man behind Bad Twin, a Lost tie-in mystery, but he debunked that rumor.

10. HE IS SURROUNDED BY WRITERS.

A photo of Stephen King's son, author Joe Hill
Joe Hill
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Stephen isn't the only writer in the King family: His wife, Tabitha King, has published several novels. Joe, their oldest son, followed in his dad's footsteps and is a bestselling horror writer (he writes under the pen name Joe Hill). Youngest child Owen has written a collection of short stories and one novella and he and his dad co-wrote Sleeping Beauties, which will be released later this month (Owen also married a writer). Naomi, the only King daughter, is a minister and gay activist.

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Kyle Ely
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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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