Sunday 24 June 2012

The Weekend That Was: Home Cooking Come Rain or Shine

After 7 months of frustration, dreaming and asking ourselves a lot of questions, we think we have finally decided to take our house off the market. Oddly enough, this decision comes a few weeks after another couple made an offer. Sadly, it started off as an offer far far below the asking price - and has only just started to improve.

The fact is that because the offer has only just increased to what was our very bottom line, this has forced us to ask questions about whether now is actually the right time to move, where we would move to and how this would affect our lives in the near future.

There are several reasons why we wanted to move house - although it's ideal for a commute into the City, which is why Alan bought it (well before I turned up), I work in Canary Wharf and it takes me easily 80 minutes to get into work. I work long and sometimes unpredictable hours, and it can be tough sometimes getting home about half an hour before I want to go to bed (yes, yes, I know if I lived round the corner from the office this might still be the case, but at the moment I do this regularly)!

Secondly, our house is not walking distance from the station, and the bus service inexplicably finishes at 7pm and is non-existent on Sundays. I don't drive (a sad accident involving a driving test, failure, and moving to a city as a student where car use was far from necessary), and even if I did, the idea of driving separately to the station every morning seems ridiculous. So at the moment I find myself dependent on Alan being willing to pick me up from the station, or having to get a taxi, if I have a day or evening out without him. Fine for the short term (so he says!), but certainly not ideal for the long term.

Thirdly, the house is lovely but it isn't a family house. It isn't where we envisage setting up our family, and although that won't be for a while, it's certainly at the back of our minds.

But then against that are other issues we had to think about, and which seemed so clear when we first put the house on the market. I will find out in December whether I will be staying at my current firm, and although I love my job and want to stay there, I may not have a choice. This then has an onward impact on where we live - an easy commute to the City is not the same as an easy commute to Canary Wharf, and the former gives us far more options that we would be silly not to consider.

Secondly, we have booked our wedding on the basis of where we live now, and we are now keen to stay close to this area where possible.

We debated renting, but this is also not ideal. Reading Esme's recent post on Any Other Woman, and recalling the time my friend and I came home one day to a notice to quit from our landlord simply because he wanted to move back in, I realise how lucky Alan and I are to have a house. We have space, we have a garden and although it's taken time for me, it suddenly feels like our home. We can decorate, we have security, and paying the mortgage is not money down the drain. Yes, we want to move, but renting just anywhere as quickly as possible no longer works for us.

The odd thing is, that if this other couple had made an initial offer that was somewhat nearer the mark, we might not have had this conversation, we might not have asked these questions of ourselves and we might have rushed into something that wasn't quite right for us - and although we are not necessarily looking for a house for life, it needs to stand up to at least five years of family Godfrey-Iwaschkin.

This weekend's cooking:

Fish pie

Butternut squash and chilli soup

Cardomom loaf (l); Chocolate and currant loaf (adapted from recipes by the Hummingbird Bakery)
A quick snooze in the brief Sunday afternoon sunshine!

Sunday 17 June 2012

Soundtrack of a Journey into Marriage: Ooh

Or: How do you know the Dress is The One? And is there such a thing anyway?

This weekend, the Dress was bought. I wouldn't say I am indecisive but I have been known to take a disproportionate amount of time to choose a biscuit, so to choose a dress quite so quickly was quite a surprise.

Being honest, it was an experience I hadn't particularly been looking forward to. Sure, wedding dresses are pretty and I'd spent hours looking online and at magazines oohing and aahing and deciding what I was looking for - and all that was really really fun.

But the idea of walking into a shop, being the centre of attention and not being a magic size 8? The more I thought about it, the more butterflies were flapping frantically round my insides. I wasn't particularly expecting to find a dress I wanted, but at the same time I was anxious that I wouldn't find one at all.

Despite the friendly shop assistant who welcomed us and quickly went in search of tea (always bonus points in my book), my feelings of anxiety increased as I surveyed a room of what seemed to be a hundred strapless dresses.

Dear reader, I did not want a strapless dress. I don't do strapless dresses in general life, and it seemed to me that our wedding day would not be the ideal time or place to start. So for what seemed like hours, I stood in the middle of a sea of white (and various associated shades), trying not to follow my instinct to run.

Then, on closer inspection, I found one where the straps had simply slipped off the hanger. I liked it. I found another. I liked that one too. Suddenly my hopes lifted and excitement returned as I pointed out an armful of dresses to be carted to the changing room.

Spurred on, it was time to try them on. I stepped into the first dress, which happened to be one I had fallen in love with from the shop's website. I say "stepped". What I actually mean is that the lovely assistant* held the dress, I hung onto her shoulder for dear life and plunged a foot into the mass of underskirt and lace overlay. I came out of the changing room, and looked in the mirror.

To say I was speechless is an understatement. I looked - different, yet like me. I don't know what I was expecting. Did I like the dress? Yes. Was it right for me? I honestly didn't know. So I ummed and aahed, and went to try on the next one.

After what seemed like more hours, I eventually narrowed the choice down to two. I couldn't decide (cue more umming and aahing - I am getting to be an expert at 'decision' noises) - and then that great saviour, gut instinct, kicked in.

We as brides-to-be hear so much about finding the Dress that is The One. We are supposed to try on dress after dress after dress until we step out of the changing room and make the mirror shine with Disney-like brightness (never likely in Hertfordshire, although a singing teapot wouldn't go amiss). In reality, life isn't like that. In my oh-so-logical mind, how can you possibly know that a Dress is the most perfect one that exists for you?

Do I know if this dress is The One? Despite the gut instinct, no. But I know I have bought the dress that made my mother go "Ooh" when I walked out. I know I have bought a dress that my fiance thinks is gorgeous (yes, he's seen it; no, he probably won't remember what it looks like in 11 months time; yes, I love that he helped choose it - why should he not?). I know that this dress made me smile when I first saw it, and makes me smile even more when I think about wearing it to say my vows on our wedding day. It makes me happy, and if that makes it The One, then that's an added bonus.

*Becky. She was genuinely lovely, so so helpful, and even arranged an ad hoc appointment for Alan to try on suits. He looked awesome.

In other weekend news, here's a Berry Pavlova I made (the best kind of meringue).

I will not be able to eat this again for a year.

Friday 8 June 2012

Soundtrack of a Journey into Marriage: The Kettle Boileth

This week has been an eye-opener. In both a passionate "this is our wedding taking shape" way and a "this just isn't for us" way. Nope, not a change of heart, but a meeting (or several) of suppliers.

We booked this week off work, originally just to benefit from the jubilee days off, but also to concentrate on getting a few wedding plans concreted, as we both work long hours during the week and don't get much else done. This post is about those initial supplier appointments, and all the cups of tea we have drunk along the way.

Suppliers may vary. Nothing is more evident than this after the last few days. And that's how it should be. Wedding budgets, and the personalities of the couples, vary hugely and it's good for there to be a range of real options.

So it's interesting to reflect on what made us drawn more to one than another. What made us come out of one appointment with even Alan being passionate about floral arrangements (although he did struggle with the concept of raffia, which I suppose is allowable), and yet leave other appointments with a subtle shake of the head and the word "No"? Here's some musings:

1. Florists - we appreciate you helping us with a vision - you are the expert. We've thought about bouquets but got stuck on centrepieces; can you help us tie that together? Do you get what I mean when I say "kind of like a slightly vintage-y lace effect but not so vintage that there's milk jugs"? We will be flexible with flowers, but if you don't give the impression that you know the look we are after, it's not particularly helpful.

2. Please don't talk over us, however enthusiastic you might be. This could also be rephrased as "please listen to us" (in case you weren't paying attention the first time round). If I mention that we'd quite like some flowerheads/ small flowers on the cake table, please don't insist that loose petals are really popular. Equally, if Alan has spent 5 minutes talking about a traditional, natural, garden-flower look, showing us modern cube vases and mirrors probably won't win you many brownie points.

3. Prompt email quotes/ notes are appreciated. You messing around on the computer sending us an email when we are still talking to you face-to-face is not.

4. If your showcase is on a computer - know how to work it. We don't want to waste time with you looking for a photo that may or may not be in a folder somewhere.

5. There's a difference between small talk and inane chat. It's good to get to know you and a bit about your product. We do not need to be told in detail what a DVD slideshow is. Secondly, please don't bad-mouth specific venues or other suppliers. It's unprofessional, and we've already booked our venue.

6. Please remember that we have an appointment with you. If you can also remember that we're having a church wedding that would be just lovely.

7. We appreciate being able to taste the cake. Taste is an important factor to cake - good cake is why we're here.

This may sound like one long criticism of suppliers. It's really not intended as such. The most important point we take away from this is that, like your friends and colleagues, a wedding couple will click with some suppliers and not with others. We have found that some suppliers just 'get' us and what we want, even if we haven't quite decided it ourselves. Whether that's natural or simply the result of making a professional effort, these are the people we've gone with.

And to wedding suppliers everywhere - in return, we assure you we will buy more coffee.Lots more coffee. Apparently not everyone drinks tea. Odd.

No coffee here, but here's some cakes I made for a picnic that got rained off.