Natalia and Brayden

Image 1 of Natalia and Brayden

How We Met

I truly believe that fate brought us together that day. A small town boy from the True North, and myself being from the Sunshine State. Brayden and I met on April 14th, 2014. His dad, mom, and youngest brother, Kylynn, traveled with him from Saskatchewan, Canada all the way to Florida. Well, it was the late evening and I was having an awful day. I had just finished taking my third exam for my worst and least favorite class, General Chemistry II, at the University of South Florida, where I was obtaining my Bachelor’s in Health Science. I was beyond nervous for the next week, because it was final’s week. Since I felt that I did terrible on exam three, (which I actually did, my lowest grade out of the three of them) my total grade would depend on the final exam. It was either pass or fail.

This also meant if I were to fail, I would need to start the course all over. (Spoiler alert: I ended up passing the course by a miracle.) Needless to say, I came out of the third exam in a panic and extremely upset. After the exam, my friend Emily and I decided to get our minds off of it and go to the Super Target down the road. (I didn’t know it at the time, but the horrible day that I was having would soon turn into my favorite day for years to come.) Brayden was busy enjoying the coastal sun with his family, jumping from theme park to theme park. Brayden’s mother’s 50th birthday broke up his vacation, leaving them a planned night of relaxation at their rental townhouse in Kissimmee after a couple of busy days at Disney World. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to celebrate an important life milestone, such as a 50th birthday without indulging in some high class foreign treats, Brayden’s family had agreed.

The treats would eventually come in the form of a chocolate cake from Publix, as well as a few late night snacks from the neighborhood savior, Super Target! Emily and I strolled into the automatic doors, and the first glance of the displays set up for Easter caught our attention. All the little trinkets and candies were set up for making baskets. After browsing the seasonal section, and adding a Charleston Chew Big Bar to my cart, Emily received a phone call. She told me she needed to go to the bank quickly and then drop off a nursing application to a friend’s house. I insisted that I would go with her, but she convinced me to stay and continue shopping. So, I did exactly that. I proceeded to the candy and cracker isle. I added some flavor blasted Goldfish, a bag of snack size Kit Kats, and the new Butterfingers Cups.

I then made my way down to the next aisle. After skimming the shelf, I grabbed the extra strength Tylenol, since my Pamprin back at my apartment clearly wasn’t working. (Yes, to top off my horrible day, I was also seriously cramping and craving chocolate.) After collecting all the items in the store that I would later regret eating all in one sitting, I went to the checkout lines and made my purchases. Emily still hadn’t returned so I decided to go sit on the benches that are usually only ever occupied by the elderly males that didn’t feel like shopping with their wives. As selfish as it probably sounds, I’m so thankful for the fact that Brayden was too lazy to browse the aisles at Target after a long day waiting in line for rides. While his family casually toured the Deli department, he decided to take refuge behind the check-out aisles, half expecting the Starbucks at the front of the store to also be open for business.

To his disappointment, his necessary caffeine rush would have to wait, which led him in an awkward loop back past the Redbox dispensary and the bathrooms. Rather than attempting to locate his family, he settled at the checkout, where he knew they would eventually turn up. So, as I was sitting there people watching, this cute guy caught my attention and sat on one of the red wireframe benches adjacent to mine. I tried not to look in his direction, therefore, I continued watching as other student’s filled their carts with energy drinks, and late night studying snacks. I glanced back over at him for a second, and there he was, dead staring back at me. I smiled and turned away, still feeling his eyes pointed in my direction. And that’s when it all happened. This guy about my age, with dark curly hair that was peeking out from the sides of a baseball cap, sat down next to me. After an awkward moment of just sitting there, he had finally said something.

His Canadian accent was strong and I almost had to ask him to repeat what he had said. I thought about it and realized he had said, “A hockey fan? Awesome!” Being caught so off guard, I just smiled and nodded my head. He then followed with, “But the Rangers, really?” As he kept his eyes focused towards the top of my head. (I never really thought I would meet a guy in a Target while wearing baggy sweatpants, no makeup, and my hair pulled back underneath a bright blue New York Rangers cap. But then again, I guess love really is unexpected.) All I kept thinking in my head was don’t worry, Emily will be back soon, and you’ll have an excuse to leave, just make some conversation while you wait. “Why do I always get that?! Of course the Rangers!” I protested, shaking my head. So, I began to explain to him that I’m always asked that question. There doesn’t ever seem to be many hockey fans in Florida. (For the obvious reason of the lack of ice and any temperature below 80 degrees.) My New York born dad had raised me watching the New York Rangers since birth and I was his good luck charm since they had won their last Stanley Cup the year I was born.

Image 2 of Natalia and Brayden

I continued the conversation with asking him who his favorite hockey team was, and where he was from with such a strong accent. He told me he was a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, and that he actually had just came from the Toronto vs. Florida Panther’s game four days ago in Sunrise. He also stated that he was from Saskatchewan. At that point, I could only imagine the confused look on my face. Saskatchewan? Huh? Where in the world is that I just kept thinking to myself. Then he finished with, “Canada.” My heart then sank a bit, but I casually responded with, “Oh! Neat!” My phone then rang, it was Emily. She was outside waiting for me in the car. “Well, it was nice meeting you, but my friend is out front waiting for me,” I mumbled. Without even knowing each other’s names, he quickly asked me for my phone number before leaving. “Uh,” he hesitated just as I was saying goodbye, and interrupted, “actually, would it be weird if I asked for your number?” I basically just shouted back at him, “No, that’s not weird.” He handed me his phone and I jotted down my name and phone number. He looked at my contact information, smiled and said, “Bye Natalia.” I then left; not really believing anything would come from the strange meeting of this boy on the bench at the front of Target.

I laughed at the fact that I hadn’t even left the parking lot yet and already had a message from him, “Hey, this is Brayden!” We continued our long text conversation into the early morning and throughout the next day until we could FaceTime that night. He was already talking about buying a plane ticket to return, and he hadn’t even left yet. Maybe this encounter would turn into something more. Now that just about 3 years have gone by, I can honestly say I know that there was a reason I bombed that exam, that I went to that Target, that Emily just happened to need to leave, and that I just coincidentally put on my Rangers hat before leaving my apartment. There was a reason. All those things happened for a reason. That reason was Brayden. And I couldn’t be any happier. Our story, from the beginning to everything in our future, is my absolute favorite.

Image 3 of Natalia and Brayden

how they asked

Brayden has always been the type of guy who enjoys surprising me. He loves planning weekend getaway trips, spontaneous flower deliveries, and bringing home little gifts and love letters. Every time Brayden has planned a surprise trip for us, I’ve accidentally figured it out before we have left. Whether I have seen the confirmation email from the hotel pop up on his computer, or asking him if he’s seen an item of mine that he has already packed away in our luggage, I have spoiled his surprises for me since the beginning. This time, however, Brayden did a significantly better job of “covering his tracks”. By using his work email for bookings and all related communication, he meticulously devised a weekend that we wouldn’t soon forget. Because he wanted the weekend to appear as though IT alone was the surprise, he made plans to fill each day up with activities. While the entire weekend remained a secret to me, he shared his plans with only one other, his dad, so that he would be able to pack some winter gear for us to be prepared.

That was his, as they call it, tragic flaw. Brayden failed to mention to his dad that the event was to be a surprise for me, so his dad, thinking nothing of it, shared the information with Brayden’s mom. In the meantime, the two of us were getting prepared to deliver our foster pup to her new forever home on that weekend. Brayden had been working behind the scenes to create a plan that allowed us to do both the trip and delivery. When the topic of delivering the dog came up in a routine visit from his mom, the scheduling conflict triggered in her head, and she asked, “Aren’t the two of you going up to Elk Ridge this weekend?” Brayden immediately blurted out, “No!” in a flustered panic, “Where the heck did you hear that from?” I noticed the look he shot his mother – he should know by now that he never gets anything past me.

After his mom left I gave him a curious but flirty look, “So…” I started with a laugh, “Would you rather I pretend that we’re NOT going somewhere this weekend?” At this point I was feeling pretty guilty for spoiling yet another of his would-have-been surprises, little did I know, this would prove to be the most important diversion of all. Now under the impression that I had spoiled the surprise, Brayden took full advantage, conceding to having blew another surprise, all the while continuing to plan. In many ways it was a good thing that this part of the surprise had been “spoiled”, I love him dearly, but goodness, I’m not sure I can fully trust him with my makeup and packing for me! The weather over the weekend was beautiful, coming to Saskatchewan from Florida you really never know what to expect. The just below freezing temperatures made for a great winter getaway. We spent a lot of time exploring the resort, as well as, the surrounding area.

When we finally checked into our room we were pleasantly greeted with an invitation which had been left on the desk. “Winter Couple’s Scavenger Hunt”, it read. Among the beauty of our room and the resort, I hardly thought twice about the invitation. Brayden had definitely gone above and beyond this weekend, especially with booking a corner Jacuzzi suite, with a balcony that overlooked the snow-covered resort grounds. We spent the first day exploring, playing games, and relaxing in the Sport’s Bar. This place was truly a couple’s getaway. Flyers filled the hotel with romantic “dinner for two” advertisements, and activity guides. The lobby was filled with different games for the guests. Snowshoes, ice skates, hockey equipment, and cross-country skis were also lined up around the walls. I haven’t snowshoed, or cross-country skied before, so I kept my distance from them. We took a walk around the hotel and in the back were four large outdoor skating rinks, connected to another pond which had trails made for cross-country skiing.

Families were out skating and enjoying the fire pit. We decided to get out of the cold and had tea-time by the fire, while I kicked his butt in Yahtzee and Uno. The second day we woke up, and took a drive over to Waskesiu Lake. We spent the morning “Geo-caching” and trying to find the hidden goodies all around the National Park. The majority of the hidden treasures were dug deep into the snow and unreachable. Feeling discouraged, we headed back to the resort for a well deserved break. While I sat by the fire, Brayden made me another cup of tea, and got out the Yahtzee game to challenge me again. After a few more rounds of him being beat, and a refreshing nap, he mentioned heading out to do that “Winter Couple’s Scavenger Hunt.”

Image 4 of Natalia and Brayden

I was not looking forward to it since we had such a failed morning of geo-caching, but we headed to the front desk to get our first clue. I laughed as I read to the front desk employee the password that was found on our invitation, “Mr. Elk loves Mrs. Elk.” He handed us the first clue. The first clue read: “To solve this puzzle you’ll have to rhyme, we only do this in the summer time. Follow the trail south, and move your butt, to where we all can learn to putt!” We looked at each other and quickly realized the putting green was right out front next to the Sport’s Bar. Before leaving the lobby, the front desk employee said, “You may want to put on those snowshoes, you’re going to need them!” I mumbled back, “Really?” We grabbed a pair of them and headed outside. Brayden helped me get these large contraptions attached to my boot.

I could barely lift my feet. I could tell this was going to be a long scavenger hunt. We finally got to the putting green, which was completely covered with snow. I looked at him and thought, “Here we go again!” The putting green was outlined by these small flag markers. I took the three towards the left side and he took the three towards the right side. Digging around these flags, I found a plastic bag next to the second flag on my side. In the plastic bag was about 15 copies of the second clue. I called him over, opened the plastic bag, and took one of the little pieces of paper. The second clue read: “Head east now if you please, right of the pond and along the trees. To tamarack #1 you surely know, they call it a green but it’s covered in snow!” We decided it’s obviously at the end of one of these golf courses, but we didn’t know which one was Tamarack. There were three different golf courses right there in the area. We went around looking at the signs and quickly found Tamarack hole #1. We began to climb up a steep hill that had snow piled up above my knees. Halfway up I began huffing and puffing.

I ripped the snowshoes off and continued the journey just in my boots. At this point, I was asking Brayden to just give up, but he encouraged me to keep going. We followed the path made from all the other footsteps that we assumed were doing the same scavenger hunt. We reached the green and hung to a tree was the third clue. The third clue read: “He goes here and she goes there, I hope you wore long underwear! Now is the time you have to divide, to conquer this clue you’ll have to spread wide. Girls, let him to the hard work, through the bushes he’ll have to lurk, onto birch #1 he will stride, where many like him have chipped and tried. Ladies, back to the pavilion you’ll have to hike, your clue will hide there, hung on a spike. When you solve the next clues you’ll be brought back together, to a place you can enjoy the weather. These are the rules now follow them please, and always remember, teamwork is key!” At this point I didn’t know what annoyed me more, the fact that we had to split up, or that I had to head back up and over that hill I just climbed. We decided to keep going figuring we were close to the end and continued on our separate ways. He started through the woods, and then I slowly made my way back over the hill.

I reached the pavilion and there it was. My clue number four was hanging by a tac on the side of the pavilion. My fourth clue read: “In the middle you two will meet, bring him this clue to receive your treat. A figure eight the two ponds make, look out from the restaurant- the prize is yours to take!” I knew exactly where to go, the restaurant inside the lobby area of the hotel. I made my way back over to where I started. Completely out of breath, I reached the front desk and the employee laughed and handed me a bottle of water. I went over into the restaurant and the food and beverage manager, Mike, greeted me. He looked at my clue and said, “Do you know where you’re headed now?” I read the clue over, and looked out the restaurant windows. In front of me were the four ice rinks and the attached pond that was used for cross-country skiing. I instantly remembered from our walk the day before, and that a trail surrounded the two areas, which was shaped like an 8! I ran down the staircase, and out towards the ponds. I could see Brayden in the distance waiting for me right between the two of them. I made my way over to Brayden and handed him my last clue.

I was just so relieved that we had finished the scavenger hunt, I didn’t even ask or look for our prize right away. He hugged me, kissed my forehead, and then started a short speech I could tell he had prepared. He was nervous, and his voice was shaking. “On April 14th, 2014, you became my best friend, regardless of any circumstances, that day, you changed my life for the better, and forever. You immediately became the person who I could talk to about anything on my mind, the person who appreciated me and the things that I love, and cherished them along with me. Since then you’ve shared my passion for life, and everything that we share. You’ve shown me a love so strong that we’ve proven time and time again cannot be softened, only strengthened. You’ve introduced me to new happinesses, new points of view and the person who I want to be for you, myself, and our future. You were my best friend first, then you became my girlfriend and my soulmate.” He then got down on one knee, “Natalia, will you marry me and now be my wife?”

Image 5 of Natalia and Brayden

Image 6 of Natalia and Brayden

Of course I began crying tears of joy and quickly answered, “Yes!” After hugging, kissing, and being in awe of my gorgeous ring, we took a bunch of pictures, so I could quickly show my family and friends. We headed back towards the resort. Once we reached the back entrance, Mike, came down the staircase with some celebratory glasses of sparkling white wine. We immediately headed back to the room to take in the moment and call our families. We made dinner reservations down at the restaurant in the lobby for 6:30pm. We got dressed up and had a delicious meal. I could barely keep my eyes off of my ring the whole evening. The whole day just seemed so surreal. At dinner, we talked about how he planned everything. Thanks to the help of Mike, he was able to create the exhausting scavenger hunt around the resort that led the two of us to the grand finale! While Brayden was at work, him and Mike talked hours over the phone planning this event.

Brayden had typed up the clues from work, and sent them to Mike. Mike then laminated them and placed them in the appropriate places around the resort. Mike also printed multiple copies of the clues to make it look like more couples were also involved with the scavenger hunt. He also went a few steps further (literally) and traced through the scavenger hunt multiple times to make it look like there were a bunch of different footprints on the path. Brayden created such an adorable and unforgettable proposal. I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with him and continue to be surprised.

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Special Thanks

Manager Michael Valtais
 | Set up the scavenger hunt at Elk Ridge Resort