Sunday 29 April 2012

The Weekend That Was: Baking

What do you do when it hasn't stopped raining all week and isn't about to let up just because it's Saturday? Why, you make Earl Grey tea cupcakes with tea-scented buttercream.

This was also a weekend in which we made butternut squash soup, bagels and potato dauphinoise, and cooked..... zebra. Pan-fried, in case you too have some zebra steak and just don't know what to do with it.

Result? A weekend of food so awesomely delicious that it makes me sad not be able to carry on eating all week. Still, the threat of having to try on wedding dresses soon is keeping the reins on temptation for now...

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Our Wedding - The Proposal

We've noticed a pattern emerge in the responses that people have given to news of our engagement.
  • Everyone has been very happy for us - which is surprisingly reassuring; 
  • Every recently married couple has responded instantly with "Congratulations! Oh, you have so much organising ahead of you ..." - which is unsurprisingly worrying; and
  • Every female friend, relative or colleague has immediately asked "How did you propose?!"
      The problem, if it can be called such, is that we don't really have a good answer to this. Let me explain how I proposed, and you'll see why.

      Controversially, I would like to start from the end:

      She says "yes"! (when I remember to ask)

      Let me set the scene. It's Paris, it's February, and it's so cold that everything is covered in a thin layer of ice that sparkles in the moon-light.

      I had debated getting down on one knee, but had left it undecided with the thought that I would know what was right at the time. The ice decided it for me - we were huddled close for body warmth and the frozen pavement looked uninviting.

      We found a secluded spot after a couple of failed attempts, and I brought the box containing the ring out of my pocket and held it between us.

      I was so caught up in the moment that it took me a short while to realise that I hadn't actually asked her to marry me yet! Fortunately when I did finally remember she said "yes", and I was able to put the ring on her finger.

      So this was the moment that we became officially engaged, and this will be the moment that we will remember forever. It means more to us than I can explain. But it leaves a lot of questions unanswered ("why were we loitering in a dark corner on a frozen Paris winter night?" being the premier ...). Upon asking me whether I was nervous, or Frances whether she was surprised, people learn that neither was the case ... because at this point we both already knew the answer - and that inevitably leads to the search for the true "moment" that I proposed.

      A night to remember

      What posessed us to brave the -10C of a Paris winter night? Unsurprisingly that wasn't the original plan.

      Frances had been in Paris for a few months with work, and I had been out to visit more times than I care remember. For her birthday we decided that we should go to a nice restaurant, but not knowing the city we set about researching options. It soon became apparent that we both had a favourite, and that it was the same restaurant - but it was too short notice and we couldn't get in.

      When we were organising the evening of the proposal it was obvious that this would be the place that we went. It seemed to be symbolic in some way. It was also located around a small square, with a park at its centre, that we had stumbled upon early on in our Parisian adventures. It had stood out to us amidst the chaos and noise as being so peaceful and joyous and we had spent some time just relaxing there in the sunshine.

      The restaurant was where I was planning on proposing. The place was beautiful, and we had a lovely meal, but it was too claustrophobic. The service was so attentive as to be hovering over our shoulder and we could not escape the feeling that someone was watching us at all times. (There was also the couple in the corner who looked suspiciously close to proposing as well - which would have been a bit awkward!)

      It was clear from early on that outside after the meal would be better - whereas in the restaurant we felt like sight-seers in a grand life that wasn't meant for us, outside where it was peaceful, natural and beautiful was where we belonged.

      So was it at the restaurant that my intentions became clear? Nope. We had planned the evening together a month earlier, around about the time that we chose the ring together ...

      Sparkle, sparkle, everywhere

      Nothing quite sends the subtle message of your intentions to propose like choosing an engagement ring together.

      When I told people I was engaged some people asked when we were going to get the ring. Maybe it is just me, but I kind of thought that having the ring was fairly integral to the whole proposal? ("Distract her with something sparkly and she'll say anything!")

      I knew that she would be happy for me to choose something myself, but I preferred to have her involved in the process for several reasons: a) She doesn't wear rings normally, so there was no way of getting a ring size without involving her somehow; b) I didn't trust myself to get it right; and c) because choosing a ring can either be an agony of self doubt and torturous paranoia, or a dream day out that you will remember forever.

      It almost didn't work out that way. With her in Paris the opportunities were limited, so we picked a weekend and went shopping. Like Goldilocks, we got it right on the third attempt - the first area being at the "if you have to ask for a price you can't afford it" end; and the second area full of window displays that they "don't like to open unnecessarily, so let us know when you've chosen one and we'll get it out for you". We finally found somewhere that worked for us, who made us feel like we were the most important customers they had and that no request was too much. We spent just over two hours in there - not because we were particularly indecisive, in fact we'd already worked out pretty much what we wanted before we walked in - but simply because we were having so much fun.

      The ring we chose needed some alterations, but they agreed to get it done by the day that I was due to catch the train out to Paris. In the end I picked it up the day before, and so had it with me in my luggage on the Friday morning at work. (I was a little startled by a colleague who asked where I was going that morning, and then declared that it would be the perfect opportunity to propose! They then spent the rest of the day trying to convince me, while I pretended that it was the last thing on my mind.)

      You can probably see what's coming next. Was asking her to choose the ring with me the "moment"? No, of course not. I'm not quite that blunt. We'd even decided on the restaurant a few months before. Although we lived together beforehand, she had been seconded to Paris for six months, and the idea that I would propose in Paris, at the end of her stay there, right before she returned home to (hopefully) live with me forever, just felt so obvious.

      A tale of two cities

      How far back is the story going? Did we know even before Paris? We sometimes say that we knew very early on in our relationship. I still think that I did, but I can't honestly say that it was anything that we discussed before Paris.

      Living together for a while, and then seeing how hard being pulled apart was, seemed to make up both of our minds. The question was never asked, but one day we just found ourselves talking about it, and as soon as we both realised that the other person hadn't suddenly run off into the distance the decision was made and rapidly escalated into the plans above. 

      So the "moment" is in here somewhere, it's just not possible to put our finger on it - hence why we stick to "a secluded corner of Paris, with the world sparkling in the moon-light".

      Sunday 15 April 2012

      Soundtrack for a Journey into Marriage: Wheeeeeeee!!

      Getting married seems easy until you get engaged. Not at first - at this point the feeling of being engaged roughly translates as "Wheeeeeeeeee!"*

      But then you come to the realisation that a wedding is a huge party. And you have to organise it. And someone - whether that's you, your parents or anyone else - has to pay for it. And thus begins the planning.

      The first step to planning - once you have dragged yourself away from spending hours admiring pretty pictures on blogs (not something I have done at all. Oh no. Ahem...) - is finding a venue.

      Who knew there were that many venues offering to create your "perfect day"? And who knew that as a bride-to-be, what you really really need to know is that there will be chair covers? With sashes in your 'accent colour'? I have spent 26 years not caring about chair covers - do I really need to start now? I can't even remember if there were such things at any wedding I have been to.

      Out of interest, we interrogated asked politely how various of our friends had found a venue? Their (kindly meant) responses: "We didn't really look at that many"; "We just knew when we saw it"; "It just seemed obvious". Ok. That's clear as mud then.

      We did an initial internet search and booked some visits - and I can only be honest and say that all this has been a mixture of terrifying, depressing and incredibly exciting. Neither of us likes to be rushed into decisions - not least for something that for which we are about to bear our souls and spend our hard earned money - and yet sometimes it seemed that the instant we turned up to a venue we were supposed to know what we wanted, how we wanted to do it, who we are inviting. That's the terrifying. The depressing - we have spent so many hours poring over websites, driving across the county and visiting venues that we can tell instantly are just not for us. The depressing is wondering whether our current house is big enough for 90 people to have a huge party (it's not) because it seems to be the only place for miles that makes us happy.

      But best of all is the exciting - finally stumbling (for that is the only way I can describe it) across somewhere that we both love. Somewhere that we can see ourselves throwing a party with our friends and family as we start a new journey together. Exciting? We were one massive grin. And the really quite wondrous thing is that we just knew it when we saw it (this may or may not be because chair sashes were not mentioned once).

      Today we booked a provisional date. And guess what? It turns out that completing the first step to a wedding also sounds mysteriously like "Wheeeeeeeeeeee!!"**

      *other reactions are available.
      **nope, that's it for now. Just "wheeeeeeee!!"

      Testing Testing 1 2 3

      This is a test post.

      Weddings, houses and life in general.