Hiding T. Rex Figurines — and an Engagement Ring

9 min read

“Just meet the coach.”

That’s what Sara Wacker Johnson had been saying to her friend Julie Lorraine Estrada Ewart again and again for nearly two years before Ms. Estrada Ewart finally agreed to meet Robert James Bishop, Ms. Johnson’s son’s ice hockey coach.

The two, along with Ms. Johnson and her husband Ryan, met for dinner and drinks at Omni La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif., on June 25, 2021. “I’ll always remember the date because it was the day before my son Evan’s 18th birthday,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said.

Ms. Estrada Ewart was drinking Cabernet that night and was giving Mr. Bishop a hard time for drinking Coors Light. “I kept offering him a ‘real’ drink.” But when they went back to his apartment that night, she discovered his wine collection. “I realized there was hope for him yet,” Ms. Estrada Ewart, 53, said. “We ended up making out like teenagers on his couch.”

Despite the teasing, when the evening ended, Mr. Bishop, 51, said, “I really wanted to see her again.” And he did, the very next day.

That night, June 26, he brought dinner to her place and unexpectedly met her sons who were supposed to be out for the evening. It turned out to be a good thing. “It was easier,” Mr. Bishop said. “No stress like if it had been planned.”

The next day, Ms. Estrada Ewart left for a five-day trip to New York for work and the two talked and texted daily. “Our talks got so intense that at some point I told him we needed to remember to take it slow,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said.

But baby steps didn’t seem to be in the cards for them. “We saw each other every day when she was in town,” Mr. Bishop said.

And just seven days after their first date, Mr. Bishop met Ms. Estrada Ewart’s brother, Steve Graves; sister-in-law, Cheryl Graves; niece, Christine Barnes; and mother, Norma Graves, while watching Mr. Graves’s band, Midnight Ride, perform at a sports bar called The Point in Dana Point, Calif.

Before they went to watch the band, the two had dinner. “We sat at the bar and started becoming chummy with the couple sitting next to us,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said. A half-hour into conversation they asked how long the two have been together. “We looked at each other and said, ‘Eight.’” And they said, ‘Oh, eight years?’ and we said, ‘Eight days.’ We already appeared as a couple in love,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said.

Ms. Estrada Ewart is the director of public relations North America for Merlin Entertainments, based at the Legoland California Resort in Carlsbad. She holds a B.A. in communications from University of California, San Diego. She was born in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles, but grew up in Mission Viejo, Calif. She has two sons, Evan and Ryan, now 20 and 24, from her previous marriage, which ended in divorce in 2013.

Mr. Bishop, from Toronto, Canada, is an ice hockey skills training coach. He began coaching in Canada before moving to the United States, where he moved his company Bishop Hockey Development to a training facility in San Marcos, Calif. He studied business at Seneca College for two years in Canada but left before graduating to pursue his coaching career.

Two weeks after dating, Ms. Estrada Ewart was at her community pool and a little girl was diving for rocks in the pool. “She came up and held a penny in her hand and said, ‘Daddy look — a penny.’ Her dad quickly said, ‘That’s not an ordinary penny — that’s a Canadian penny. Those are rare and unique, hold onto it.’” She took this as a sign.

“When we said ‘baby steps’ it was more like ‘T. Rex baby steps,’” Ms. Estrada Ewart said of the many T. Rex figurines that she began ordering online and hiding as a joke.

“I placed them sporadically in Rob’s apartment when I’d go away for trips,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said. “He started doing the same and placing them in my suitcase or my briefcase or purse.”

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After two months of dating, Mr. Bishop started telling Ms. Estrada Ewart that he wanted to marry her. When she asked him why he had never been married before, “he said he never found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with until me,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said. And in February 2023, Mr. Bishop moved into Ms. Estrada Ewart’s home in Vista, Calif.

On March 11, the Vista, Calif., couple went to the Beach House in Hermosa Beach for a weekend getaway. But, Ms. Estrada Ewart said, “I had a horrible headache and wasn’t feeling well and the weather was crappy. I had actually suggested we cancel but Rob insisted we’d be good once we got there.”

When they arrived, all she wanted to do was lie on the couch and rest. But Mr. Bishop said he had a surprise for her. “It was a beautiful box with extremely expensive champagne and two glasses,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said. “I said to him, ‘I hope that didn’t come out of my ring fund.’”

“I was laughing so hard inside,” Mr. Bishop said. Later that day, he realized there was a great view of the fog rolling in. He attempted to use that as an excuse to get her out on the balcony. It wasn’t working.

“I’d pop my head out and say, ‘Yeah I see it,’” before going back inside. But then she heard champagne pop. “That got me out like Pavlov’s dog,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said.

When she walked out onto the balcony, Mr. Bishop pulled out a ring and proposed. “I love you more than words can say,” Mr. Bishop said. “Will you marry me?” She said yes.

The couple were wed before 100 guests on Nov. 4 at the Mission Beach Women’s Club in Mission Beach, Calif. Steve Graves, Ms. Estrada Ewart’s brother who was ordained by American Marriage Ministries for the occasion, officiated. “My oldest brother, Will, died unexpectedly more than a year ago and my father a few years before that,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said. “It means a lot to me to have my only remaining brother and only remaining man in my family marry us.”

A cocktail reception followed on the patio with a reception inside later that evening.

Ms. Estrada Ewart wore a white gown by DB Studio, and Mr. Bishop wore a navy blue suit by Hugo Boss. They both were barefoot. “I even mentioned that in my vows because he hates having sand on his toes, it showed how much he loved me,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said.

The bride’s bouquet included the crown her mother wore when she got married, as well as the tulle hair piece complete with butterfly clip that her late maternal aunt wore in the 1950s as the maid of honor at Ms. Estrada Ewart’s mother’s wedding.

Ms. Estrada Ewart said her getting married has been very emotional for her sons. “We’ve been the three amigos for 11 years and this year has brought a lot of change to our tight clan.” She did a mother-son dance to Bon Jovi’s “Thank You For Loving Me” with each of the boys, both of whom escorted her down the aisle in place of her late father.

Barring one nephew, the wedding was the first time Ms. Estrada Ewart met Mr. Bishop’s family as they all reside in Canada. “It was the first time I had seen my family since Covid,” Mr. Bishop said. “So, four years.”

For their first dance, the couple began by dancing to “Love Like This” by Ben Rector. “My mom yelled, ‘Yay, Julie!’ and then Rob’s friends yelled out, ‘Atta boy, Bish!’ followed by, ‘You dance better than you skate!’” Ms. Estrada Ewart said.

When the dance seemed to be coming to an end, Mr. Bishop dipped Ms. Estrada Ewart and the two began a choreographed Latin-style dance to “Suavemente” by Elvis Crespo. “His family and my family freaked,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said.

“I was just giddy the whole day and the whole night,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said. “I was just bouncing up and down on my toes before he kissed me. It was like, ‘This is real. This is good.’”

When Nov. 4, 2023

Where The Mission Beach Women’s Club, Mission Beach, Calif.

Blocks and Barrels In a nod to Ms. Estrada Ewart’s career, the couple had Lego Duplo bricks engraved with each guest’s name for their seating assignments and table numbers. They also had mini versions of themselves as bride and groom built in Lego by the model shop team at Legoland California. And because of their love of wine, instead of signing a book, guests signed “a whiskey/wine barrel that has our names, dates and, yes, a T. Rex on it,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said.

A Dog on Ring Duty Ms. Estrada Ewart’s 8-year-old rescue dog, Maverick, served as the ring bearer, even wearing a doggy tuxedo. By the wedding day, he had been away from Ms. Estrada Ewart all week. “He was so excited to see me he started chewing through his leash while standing there as the ring bearer and eventually tried to leap up onto me in the beginning of the ceremony,” Ms. Estrada Ewart said.

Second Time Around Ms. Estrada Ewart’s best friend from high school, Trish Joines, served as maid of honor. “I was her maid of honor when she got married. She was my matron of honor at my first wedding. She is now divorced so will be my maid of honor this time around.”

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