Buying a house and falling in love make for great milestones. Cathy Wright and Dave Hollandsworth checked both off their lists in 2003--and added a few more.

Consider this: They were total strangers until the first week of 2003. Cathy says she had never been prone to approaching unfamiliar men and asking them out for drinks. But, she says, there was something about Dave's dimpled smile that prompted her to make a move at the Outback Steakhouse last January. Both were at the westside meatery having after-work drinks with friends, and each noticed the other from across the room. Dave even thought he recognized Cathy, and asked if he knew her. She said, politely, no--and then asked him if he was dating anyone. When he said no, she handed over her business card.

"I was shocked," Dave recalls. "That's never happened to me before."

Dave overcame his disbelief rather quickly: He called Cathy the next day.

They returned to the same restaurant that evening and spent hours covering a lot of introductory ground. Dave, a sales manager for Allstate Insurance, spoke of his three kids from a previous marriage who stayed at his Hillsboro apartment every other weekend. They discovered shared interests including playing golf and watching baseball. Cathy told Dave about her job outfitting college and professional sports teams for Nike. The first date--a success by all accounts--was sealed with a kiss.

Within a week, Dave says, he knew things with Cathy were heading toward serious. "It was one of those 'magic in the air' type of things," he says. "I wasn't really nervous about it because I was looking to find the right person."

Cathy's admits she wasn't so much nervous about delving into a relationship so quickly, but she says she was anxious to meet Dave's kids--ages 2, 4 and 15. Cathy calls that first meeting--at an area McDonald's--her "first date" with the kids. Turns out, she had nothing to worry about--Cathy says the kids fell for her right away.

Over the next few months, the couple traveled to Arizona for the San Francisco Giants spring training and were introduced to each other's families.

An engagement came that summer. It wasn't a formal, down-on-one-knee kind of proposal; it was a simple and informal declaration from Dave on his balcony. "I was going out of town," Cathy says. "And Dave said he didn't want me to go out of town without telling me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me."

The couple, who both celebrated their 40th birthdays last year, put a rush order on planning the wedding.

"We whipped right through it," Cathy jokes about the couple's six-month engagement. "We're both a little older, and we wanted to start our life together."

They also searched for a house to move into after the wedding. And by the time they were married in front of 125 guests (with Michael's oldest son, Andrew, as his best man) at the Embassy Suites downtown, the couple had secured a house on Portland's west side.

Although Cathy decided a few years ago to forgo having her children of her own, she says she loves her new role as stepmom to three kids. "It's great to be around them, and we also have our own time," she notes. "We have the best of both worlds."

It is a world that began when Cathy had the guts to introduce herself to a stranger in the bar of a restaurant.

"It's been a big year," Dave remarked just before leaving to celebrate the arrival of 2004 in New Orleans with Cathy.

A first meeting. A whirlwind romance. A winter wedding. A new house. A big year, indeed.