Life Update - 80+ days later?!

Monday, 29 August 2016

Hi! has been a while.  Feels good to write here again.  Things have been quiet on this blog, I know.  I also know that I have started several other posts like that in the last year.  And while I have written about the sweet and bitter pieces of life, my pursuit of transparency and choosing my priorities , I could write them afresh and have them be just as relevant. We have also had some news that Luke's Dad has leukaemia, so needless to say, our worlds have been shaken.  The good things to note - the family is strong, we see God's timing and love in so many pieces of it and he (and we) are getting through it.  Grit and love are two things that you need in equal measure in these kinds of situations.

This has put me in a strange situation in relation to blogging, as much of this isn't my story.  I am absolutely effected and I could put my experiences out there and give light to some of the pain, joys and fears, but it effects many people who I dearly love - this is their story too.  With this being so primary in our worlds, I have often felt disingenuous about putting regular content up, whether it be travel, beauty, etc.,  related - all things I love, but things that don't take priority right now.  It's also about emotional energy.  I love this blog and want to do it well and not do it for the sake of it.

Yet, there are some things I'm so excited to share with you and they'll be coming up in the coming days/weeks.  I appreciate all of your patience - for any check-ins to see if anything is up, any perusal of archives, and any and all prayers, love and understanding.


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15 of my Top Tips for Planning a Wedding

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Wedding season is upon us again, and having gone through it just last year, I have some tips that I either wish I knew going into it, or learned fast once in the process!  It's a crazy time and every couple's experience is going to be different.. do what works for you, ignore what doesn't.  Here is what I found to be helpful and what I'd personally suggest:

In the pre-planning:
1.  Get off Pinterest.
At least at the very beginning, stay off Pinterest.  You may have had a "some day" board or something similar pre-engagement and that was great for dreaming and brainstorming, but at the very beginning of engagement, get off pinterest.  First, think about what you want.  Think about what is actually available to you.  Think about the venue (if you have one already) and think about what would work in that space.  Then, you have your playground that you can play in.  Pinterest can give you so many ideas that may not seamlessly work together.  They're fragments - good ones, definitely -but in order to make a wedding flow and feel 'together', start with your vision, your ideas, and what is important to you.  Not what Pinterest tells you you "CAN'T MISS".

2.  Delay announcing your engagement.
I remember people wondering when the heck I was going to change my status or post a picture.  We waited for a little bit to announce to 'the world' and I'm so glad that we did.  There were people I wanted to tell in person or at very least, over a phone call.  That was important to me.  There was also a really happy bubble that you're in then!  It's this limbo land where it feels so surreal and blissful.  The well-wishes only continue once you announce it, but it's fun to just keep it to the family and closest friends for just a little while!

3.  Don't cram the schedule in the last few days. 
This partially depends on the venue and the help that you have available to you.  If you have a wedding coordinator this may not apply!  We had our reception in my in-law's backyard.  It was amazing.  It was also a lot of work.  We were the ones setting everything up.  We had a lot of help and my Mum truly enabled me to be the bride and not the coordinator.  That said, there was still a lot of last minute work.  Originally, I had hoped that we could do a girls outing to get our nails done the day prior.  That Friday was the craziest day ever.  There was no chance of that happening!  If you're in a similar DIY situation, keep the few days prior as clear as possible.  You'll be busy.  I promise.

4.  Try to minimize the time in-between the ceremony and reception. 
I was big on the momentum of the day.  I had always envisioned a wedding where the ceremony and reception were at the same place.  As that wasn't our reality, I wanted to ensure that people went straight to the reception site and not divert to their own happy hour, home, or wherever else. Our guests got clear instructions right within the ceremony (and on the programs!).  Immediately upon their exit of the church we were having a big group picture.  Then, everyone was headed to the reception site for cocktail hour!  Even with a location change, it totally worked.  We didn't lose anyone.

5.  Ignore the "must-do" instructions.
This isn't the day you have to wear a huge face full of makeup.  You don't even have to have a traditional wedding.  You don't have to wear heels.  You don't have to do anything.  You have to sign a marriage certificate.  Beyond that, you do it in whatever way you feel comfortable.  It's completely up to you and your partner.

6.  Delegate.
This one is multi-faceted.  First, know your strengths.  Know what you can handle.  Many budgets limit what you can hire professional help for.  instead of taking it all on yourself, maybe some of those "extras" aren't really necessary.  Consider whether you can let some of them go.  The other side of this, is ask for help.  Often, people are genuinely happy to lend a hand.  My caveat to this is don't overdue it. Don't have set expectations and monopolize their time.  This is your wedding, not theirs.  You have this vision of what it looks like - it's not their vision.  They'll probably be happy to help but just don't overdue it.  You want them just as excited about the day, not waiting for it to be over so they'll be relinquished of their duties!

7.  Design a wedding you'd want to attend.
Think about your guests' experience of the day and what you hope for out of a wedding when you're attending someone else's.  This could apply to transportation between ceremony/reception or home, drink availability, etc. Think about their experience when planning your day.

On the day:
8.  Allot extra time for getting ready day-of.
Luke scoffed at this one:)  Sure, he got to golf the morning of (only 9 holes!) and just had to shower.  The biggest task was getting the bowtie straight.  (And let's be honest, he now blowdries his hair -#marriageproblems) But when talking through the timing day-of, one of my bridesmaids called the hairdresser and negotiated an earlier start time with her.  She's very persistent :)  Thank goodness she was!  I had been doing some of my bridesmaids' make-up and while very relaxed up to that point, I was the last one to get my hair done.  It took a little longer than she anticipated, and I was rushing to do my make-up as the photographer had already arrived.  It turned out totally fine, but I felt a little frenzied at the end.  Not the end of the world, but avoidable.

9.  Stay classic.
In my opinion, this applies to your dress style, hair, lipstick, bridesmaid dresses, etc.  These are memories and specifically, pictures that you will keep and reference forever.  You don't want to be shocked at the lipstick colour you picked in five years, let alone fifty!

10.  Make sure you feed the staff!
This could be a band, the photographer, videographer, etc.  They don't need or likely expect to have a table within the venue, but make sure you chat with your caterer beforehand and communicate the number of extra meals that you'll need day-of.  (This isn't usually the full cost per guest... depending on venue/caterer, this gets ballparked).

11.  Do your very best to say hi to everyone.
This isn't the day you can have wonderful, in-depth conversations with everyone there.  But it's so nice to feel like you have touched base with everyone who made the effort to celebrate with you on your day.  That was why I was so intent on being there for the entire cocktail hour and doing pictures beforehand.  That was valuable time to mingle and feel present on the day!

12.  Eat!
I had a family friend bring scones for breakfast.  My sister took care of the other breakfast extras.  (Mimosas included, of course!).  My father-in-law brought sandwiches to the pre-ceremony photos.  Thank goodness for that!  Then my lovely bridesmaids and family brought me food during the cocktail hour.  Bless them!  It's important.

13.  Consider the music volume for all guests.
This applies to the dinner and the dance (and something to discuss prior to - just be the bride on the day).  My father was particularly sensitive to this one.  There's nothing he hates more than having conversation sacrificed for music volume.  I also wanted to make sure that people would have some areas to sit and chat if they didn't want to dance.  Some people took advantage of this, but most everyone was out on the dance floor!  Right where they should be :)

14.  Be the bride.
Put other people in charge of the timetables, corralling the guests, coordinating the caterers/photographer/whoever else.  You have done so much work in the pre-planning and it's now time for you to enjoy.  Put people in charge who you can trust and then wash your hands of it!  (I also wanted to free up my Mum on the day, so we had some other wonderful family friends who took the helm for day-of.  I've also had friends who swear by their day-of coordinators.  Do what works for you!)

15.  Don't worry about it.
Even as you're 'being the bride' and mentally thanking all of the people that are handling the issues on the day, you may notice a thing here or there that was not in the plan.  Leg it go!  The caterers might not be able to open the kegs properly (our story.  It was definitely delayed!) but don't worry about it.  Have your signature cocktail instead and just move along.  It's not the day to get hung up on the little things.  At the end of the day, you're there to marry your partner and celebrate that love with those around you.  The little things can go!  They will just rob your joy and that's only unfair to yourself.

There you have it.  What would you add to the list?  Also, I had to devote an entire post to my recommendations for the invites/guest list that you can also check out.

Thank you for reading!

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Easter Break Part 2: Provence

Friday, 20 May 2016

Following up from Monday's post on the French Riviera, the next portion of the trip was spent in Provence.  The South of France was always a mystical land to me - so many beautiful views, bustling markets, quiet afternoons, mouthwatering food, delicious wine, etc. etc. etc.  Provence had it in abundance. While many things were very sleepy being early in the season, it was a wonderful time to end the latter portion of our trip.

This post also includes Marseille. While I wouldn't call it Provence, it's very close to it.  Again as a reminder of our total lack of preparation, Marseille took us by surprise.  It's a big city!  I loved the harbour area and spent some very enjoyable time wandering the old town, perusing the harbour and going through the castle and museum.

Avignon was probably our favourite home base of the trip.  Our Airbnb was so wonderful that we extended our stay by a night.  If you're looking for accommodation in Avignon, I highly recommend it. We had some excellent food and it served as a fantastic base for exploring the area.

The South of France was such a treat, and a week just scratched the surface.  There is so much more to see in this big and wonderful world.. we'll need to go back at some point :)

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Easter Break Part 1: The French Riviera

Monday, 16 May 2016

The speed at which the last few months have flown by is both a mystery and a wonder to me.  On one hand, it feels like Luke and my Easter getaway to the South of France happened yesterday... then well, I remember all of the things that have happened since then - both good things and hard things, and remember, yepppp, that was a little while ago.

But nonetheless, it has such a wonderful trip.  Easter is a mass exodus in the UK.  People shudder at flight prices and can talk ad nauseam about the best route out of the city, etc., all the while telling you, 'you should have left yesterday'.  We actually took that advice seriously and started our trip earlier and extended it by a few days, flying mid week both there and back to avoid inflated Easter prices.  I'd do it again like that in a heartbeat.

Our trip ended up having two distinct sections - the French Riviera, and Provence.  I hadn't especially researched this trip or really picked places based on the feel that we were going for.  I more so  got a good deal flying in and out of Nice, and plotted a route along the southern coast between Nice and Avignon. In my head, I was looking forward to the Provence style vacation, when I had booked the first portion in the French Riviera - with all of the flashy harbours, high-end casinos in all their Monte Carlo, St. Tropez loving glory.  I make it sound bad - it is fascinating for what it is!  I just needed to make the separation between the riviera and Provence :) 

We started off in Nice, which I have to say, was wonderful.  I love that city - the old town, the colours of the buildings, the old alleyways, the open spaces, the beach.  The colour of that water is absolutely breathtaking.  We also stayed in a great Airbnb in Nice - it had more space than we were used to living in and all of the amenities.  The bathtub even felt clean enough for a soak :) and that standard, when in a hotel and especially an airbnb, is high. 

From Nice we putzed around to little surrounding towns, including Eze, home of the Fragonard perfume.  Once we were on route West, some of our stops included Antibes, Cannes, Bandol and Cassis.  It was quite beautiful and refreshing to be off exploring together and taking it all in. 

3 things I learned:
  • I envisioned a drive along the south coast to be reminiscent of other famous coastal drives.  Instead of seeing Big-Sur style views, you'll go on the major highways then jut down to beautiful and quaint coastal towns to get the views and town atmosphere that you're hoping for.
  • There's something to be said for high season.  While I wouldn't want to be going in July, some of the shops or features (like some markets) wait a little longer to open.  You can still find all of the goodness, it just might be a little more spread out and may take more planning instead of stumbling upon it. That's not to say I would want to travel there in July, but I was reminded that there are some benefits to high season travel.
  • It's not the cheapest holiday destination! We had one of the best meals ever in Nice and while we certainly paid for it, we realized we were going to be paying a good chunk for most places we went.  So we went for it (and got a 40% off offer haha)

Next up, Provence!

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London Getaway

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

 If you're following along on Instagram, you could very well know that my sister Lydi is here visiting!  It has been so amazing to have her here.  Not just because she grocery shops, cooks and cleans but because she is one of the easiest people to hang out with and have around.  It's so good.

I am taking a few days off this week but have mostly just taken advantage of the weekends and evenings.  We benefitted from this past Monday being a bank holiday (North American translation: holiday Monday for a reason that few really know or care about) and we rented a car and headed over to Wales.  But the previous weekend, we hopped on a train to London.

Something to note - book early enough and a one-way train ticket from Oxford-London is only £6.  In this crazy expensive country, those are the kinds of things that I have to do a happy dance over :)

We stayed at a no-fuss, we're-just-sleeping-there hotel by St. Paul, booked via Hotwire.  Location was the main factor for us and we were willing to take a chance on the hotel to secure the location - and the price - that we wanted.  We came out with the Citadines Barbican and it did the trick :)  Walkable to St. Paul's Cathedral and from there, Borough Market and Southbank (no way to better discover a city than walking!) and easily accessible to public transit.

It was so much fun to show Lydi London.  I planned ahead and picked our dinner places - but the rest was lucky happenstance and general hear-say.  Here's a quick review of our 48 hours in one of my now favourite cities:

I may have mentioned this before, but my family and I lived in Australia for a year in 2003 (on a teacher exchange, swapping jobs/houses).  It was fricking amazing, but that aside, the house that we lived in for the year had limited entertainment options.  There were two viable movies: 28 days (questionable for the teen/pre-teen and child ages that we were) and the beloved Notting Hill.  I don't think a movie has ever seen more airplay than that.  We know just about every word to that wonderful, delightful, whoopsie-daisy-loving film.  As such, we had our priorities straight and headed to Notting Hill for brunch immediately upon disembarking (alighting, as they call it here) at Paddington Station.

We went to 202 Cafe - but it was actually a default as Granger and Co. had a long line.  Westbourne Grove is a brunch-lovers haven.  We also passed Daylesford Organic and a few others that looked amazing.  You can't go wrong!

After a walk through the market and surrounding streets, we headed across town to the East side.  Not geographically efficient by any means, but a must for a Saturday drop-by to Borough Market (not opened on Sundays.)  It was a gong show but we navigated our way through for to get some strawberries, salami and cheese.  By that point on our indulgence weekend, we needed a caffeine pick-me-up, which in the area, is synonymous with Monmouth Coffee.  It's delicious and worth the line, if there is one!  Go for the personally brewed drip coffee or cappuccino and enjoy.

From there we explored the East side (home to the Tower Bridge, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Southbank, and close to St. Paul's cathedral).  After a brief stop to check in at our hotel, we met up with Luke at Marble Arches for a walk through Hyde Park and over to Buckingham Palace and onto Big Ben, Westminster and the Parliament Buildings.  I'll be honest - we didn't go into anything that required a (steep) entrance fee.  We wanted to eat!  #londontravelrealities

Speaking of eating, we were wandering around Soho prior to dinner and decided on a pre-meal drink at Spuntino.  Luke and I had previously been there for dessert and while you may not agree with Luke's rendition to Lydi, "hands down will be your favourite place you visit - ever" it is pretty darn good!  Great cocktails, good looking mains (presented more in bar snack food style, for a decent price) and may I personally suggest the peanut butter and jam ice-cream cake for dessert.

A good wander through Soho includes a stop at Liberty's - a more accessible Harrods.  Dinner was at a Mexican place, Wahaco.  Great margaritas.  Also, things work out if you make your reservation for 7pm but then think it was at 8.  It works out :) #NotTheFirstTime

Now for Sunday, after the intrigue of the line at the Notting Hill Granger and Co., we couldn't stay away.  Except that we found their east side location in Clerkenwell, just a little walk from our hotel.  It didn't blow me away, but I also think that the line set my expectations quite high.  It was a lovely interior, however, so there's something :)  It was a good meal, don't get me wrong - just nothing I would've waited 1 hour in line for.

The rest of the day had us seeing the other mandatory sites - Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Harrods for lunch - and then a needed afternoon coffee at Timberyard Coffee and a pre-train dinner at  Polpo for Italian tapa-style dish.  Don't be put off by the fact that there are several locations across London (and elsewhere, I believe.) The food was delicious! It also happens to be a sister restaurant to Spuntino, so there you go :)

So there you have it - an overly detailed recap of our London weekend, but one that I hope can help with your planning, if you're headed that way!  Feel free to reach out with any questions at all :)

Now if I can only get another one of those coffees :)

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