Wednesday, November 11, 2015

More on Preparing for Our Wedding

I can't believe it but it's now been nearly two months since our wedding. And since I didn't document any of it in real time, as is my way, I thought I'd share a little of the planning process with you now. We got married just outside of Barcelona, in a beach town called Sitges known for it's gay friendliness. Leading up to the wedding and even post wedding, probably the most asked question we receive about the event was/is not regarding the dress or the cake flavor, but why Spain?  For years people have been asking when and where we would get married. I always said it would be difficult to decide where, but I really had no idea what a challenge it would be. Oklahoma is quite out of the way for our European and African based friends and family, plus it's not exactly a tourist destination, so it was ruled out early in the game, but then was back on the table at some point midway through the process. The UK was originally not considered due to its tendency towards inclement weather, but like all global destinations and Mars, was at some point contemplated and discussed as a viable option.  Ideally, we would find a location that was appealing not only because our wedding would be there, but also nice for a vacation since most of our guests would be traveling great distances. The venue would also be able to host the ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner and dancing all outdoors in gorgeous weather. Most importantly to Phil, the event would not have a strict time limit as it often does in the US, starting not a minute before 5 (or even 7 at many venues) and ending at 12 (or sometimes 11) and not a second later, as you will be financially penalized.

Originally, we thought we would be able to find all this in New York City or very nearby. We were engaged in New York and it's about as midway as you can find, besides Bermuda, between Stillwater, Oklahoma and Manchester, England. Everyone wants a holiday to New York and supposedly it's the city that never sleeps, so it seemed ideal. However, finding this perfect venue proved impossible. After tons of searching and seriously considering Alder Manor in Yonkers and The Foundry in Long Island City, we settled on the Boathouse in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. It's a beautiful old building on a rather green and slimy pond but it has a lot of charm, from the pictures online. I never saw any of the venues in person as it seemed absurd to me at the time to travel all the way to New York for the second time in one year to plan a fancy dinner party.  In hindsight, if you too are planning a destination wedding, just go there and pick everything in person. You can't really get a feel for spaces properly on the internet and it will give you such a greater peace of mind if you know exactly what you're getting into. The Boathouse held 120 people, ceremony and dancing outside, dinner inside. We booked it and then tried to narrow down the guest list, as it was over 200 and we thought a good chunk would be able to make it to a wedding in late August in New York. We were engaged in July and booked the Boathouse in September as most of the dates for venues in New York were already filling up for summer 2015. We failed to narrow down the list and as result didn't send out my very well planned and beautifully designed Save the Dates. I guess I can share them with you here (I don't think either of these were the final, but I deleted a lot of files, but you get the idea):

I even had made the whole wedding website with lists of the places we like to eat and things we like to do in New York. So why didn't this wedding happen, you ask...well, we had an engagement party in October at our house in Kampala. It started at 7:30pm and went until 3:30am and then only stopped because the booze ran out (a little bit about that here). The Boathouse with the additional purchase of two hours only runs 7 hour events. Our engagement party flew by and was 8 hours without any formal pictures, a ceremony, first dance, cutting of the cake, etc. So we thought we had to find place for a longer period of time, plus, cutting down the guest list was horrible and we didn't want to do it.

The search began again, back through New York City but also now encompassing the whole of New York state. Did you know the state of New York is the most expensive place to get married? We didn't in the beginning but we certainly do now. I spent a million hours online looking at venue after venue. Looking to see if you could take a train from New York to get there, how long would the drive be if you rented a car? Searching and searching and nothing fit the bill. So then I looked in Oklahoma, North Carolina (apparently the biggest place for destinations in the US right now), Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California. Nothing. Then the UK and then the idea of Italy, Spain or France came up. Spain had the best flight rates from the US and the most direct routes plus it's known for late night parties. Next I had narrow it down to a place in Spain. I tried for a venue in Seville but it was all booked up (by now it was December and we definitely wanted to be married in the summer/fall of 2015) and then I tried a few other places.  Barcelona seemed really cool. I had never been and Phil had gone only for one weekend during university, but it was a young and happening city with a coast. I started looking for wedding planners and found one with decent taste online. I arranged to meet with her in January after spending Christmas in the UK and skiing in France for New Years (you can read more about that here). She was based in Sitges, not Barcelona city, so that's where the venues she knew and showed us were. It turned out to be really ideal as the town is very quaint, manageable and beautiful. You can take a train or bus easily from Barcelona or the international airport and it's ideal for spending a few days relaxing on the beach with lots of access to lovely restaurants, boutiques, bars and a bear festivals (if you happen to be there over the dates of wedding).

Bears = big, hairy gay guys!
In the short 6 days my mom and I were in Sitges in January, we managed to book the planner, the venue, the caterer, the florist, and the photographer, so I felt great about the planning process for several months and did basically nothing, except occasionally perusing wedding blogs for decoration ideas and wedding dresses since I hadn't actually purchased any in London or Spain. I also sent out this save the date since everything was booked and we didn't need to edit the invite list due to the new location:

Besides trips to India in February and Kenya in March, I didn't have any international travel planned until September for the wedding. With very few dress options in Kampala and none of them to my taste (think meringue cupcakes with sequins and tiaras), in June I began to realize that a trip would be necessary to ensure I had something to wear. Phil was also without a suit so he could join and hopefully we could tie it into a lovely holiday. By the end of June, we decided we would go to New York again. Phil might do some more helicopter flying, he was going to take some Krav Maga classes, I would do some yoga and we could see friends and family, plus find wedding clothes. A lot of dress shops want you to order your dress months in advance and then have a month or so for fittings and adjustments. We were in New York for about 3 weeks so I had to choose dress shops wisely. I found New York based designer, Saja, on about the 5th try and all of her dresses were amazing. Luckily with her, I could get the dress in less than a week and have it fitted before flying out.  Shoes were the easiest find for me - I think in the first shop we tried - and while hanging out with Katherine Ann on her lunch break, we found the perfect veil just down the street from her office. Phil found his very nice three piece suit at Hugo Boss and was able to have it fitted in a short time, ready to go. He found shoes as well, but decided they didn't fit the day before we left, so were returned and never replaced. His older black shoes looked great any way and it all came together with a tie I ordered that matched the color scheme.

Katie and Latasha were my bridesmaids. Katie is based in New York and Latasha in Instanbul, so I thought coordinating dresses might be impossible. I just gave them a color palette in the coral or sage families and said to pick something they liked and felt comfortable in. They both found super cute dresses and nearly matching nude/gold wedges that looked absolutely perfect. Katie found fascinators the week before the wedding while shopping in Barcelona that stylishly tied the looks together. I don't think we could have coordinated better with all three of us in the same city and access to all the shops in the world. They truly looked amazing. For the groomsmen, we just said grey or black suits and bought them sage ties to wear. They looked great, too, but as usual, dressing men is a piece of cake.

Over email, I was able to coordinate buses, the DJ, the Monday BBQ caterer, cupcake maker and rehearsal dinner and welcome drink details. Decorations we kept minimal as the venue and the view were so picturesque. I told the wedding planner that we'd like a light safari/Uganda theme to go with the coral and sage, nothing fancy but not rustic either, just laid back and beautiful with a nod to our Ugandan roots ;)  Surprisingly, she interpreted this quite well. I loved the decor she came up with for the tables paired with the Good Glass candle holders I brought.

Good Glass tea light holders drying at the workshop

The bridal bouquets were not at all what I asked for but they were still pretty. I ordered other bits and bobs we needed to my mom's house and she brought them all to Spain - ie ties for Phil, the dads and groomsmen, necklaces and earrings for the bridesmaids, and ring bearer pillows.  So with all of that taken care of via email and Skype, there was little left to do....until just about a month or so before the wedding. I like to make things difficult for myself. When the wedding planning began, I thought welcome bags were unnecessary. I thought it didn't matter what I or my bridesmaids wore while getting ready. While I had toyed with the idea of a slideshow, I hadn't gotten around to it and wasn't sure it was necessary and while I always knew we needed programs for the ceremony, I had yet to design or print them. So during the last month, the pace picked up significantly because I decided we needed all of that plus framed pictures of our parents and grandparents weddings to put by the guestbook.

luckily I was able to find these great frames in Kampala and
I'm excited to hang them alongside our wedding photos 

These ideas did take some extra time to execute in the run up to the wedding, but I really think that those little touches made a big difference, especially the slideshow. Even if we hadn't shown it at the wedding, I love it so much and would be happy just to have for our own personal viewing. My mom said while she is in her office at home, she sometimes hears the music from the slideshow coming in from the living room where my dad is watching it over and over again in his retirement.  If Sahara could speak, she'd say the same about me. It's on my Facebook page in case you missed it.

To handle the what to wear while getting ready issue, I went shopping in downtown Kampala for some fun kitenge fabric and had matching robes made for me, my mom, Camilla, Leyla, Katie, Latasha and Ann since we would all be getting ready at the house together and possibly having photos snapped. I also had some made for the wedding attendants as gifts for their help getting people seated, passing out programs and signing the guestbook. Our attendants were my cousins, Anna and Mary, my 'little sister', Danci, and Phil's niece, Savannah. They were a great help.

The welcome bags were probably the most time consuming, behind the slideshow, as they had multiple elements, however, I did have lots of extra help. I designed the bag and note and then had them printed locally. It took a few tries to get the words in the center of the bags, but they eventually worked it out. I purchased locally made lemongrass soaps from a project here in Uganda and also locally grown and dried pineapple. Good Glass made some cute little green glasses with wooden lids that we put the soap in and then wrapped with kitenge. We used the phrase 'You are most welcome' as that is a common way to greet people here in Uganda and is just warm and lovely. I think they were super personal and a great way to make sure people felt our love for Uganda, not to mention welcomed to Spain. If people are traveling great distances for your special day, it's nice to make sure they feel appreciated and thought about. Here are some photos of the welcome bag making process:

finishing the wooden tops

drying the glasses

cutting kitenge


everything just right

wrap it up

finished bags
And that was more or less the planning process for the best day of my life. I'm supposed to get the professional photos very soon and I'll be sure to share a selection of them here. To see more pictures, there a million nice ones on Facebook that guests took with their iPhones and they're incredible.

* 'We' is used very liberally in this post. While Phil supported all of my decisions, he wasn't overly involved in the planning process ;)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Sanctuary Within a Hectic City: Our Home

 As usual, it has been ages since my last post. It's not that I forget about my blog, on the contrary, I probably think about it more than is healthy - post titles, post topics, pictures to share and things to explain. However, when it comes down to doing the work, I can usual convince myself that there are other tasks at hand that I should prioritize over a silly blog that probably only my mother reads and then only because I remind her.

So with that, I thought I would just share a little about our 'new' house without obsessing over whether or not I have all the perfect supporting photography or time to craft a creative sentences.

Way back in the days when this blog was better stocked, one of my favorite topics was our house, house projects - mainly the garden and the pizza oven - mini renovations and decorating. That was when we lived in Makindye, a darling and mainly quiet suburb of Kampala. You can read about some of that here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here .

Plot 38 Kizungu Lane, Makindye

all our worldly possessions (minus that being stored by our parents'...) packed and ready to move 

In November of 2013 (a highly underrepresented year on Inglish as a Second Language), we moved into the Big Smoke (not known as such because of a large fire as in London, but because of the massive pollution emitted by poorly maintained vehicles - Kampala City). In September of the same year, I opened my darling little shop in town. Good Glass had mainly been selling at festivals, markets, a few small craft shops and out of my garage until then, so the shop meant a great deal for us in terms of sales, accessibility and being able to display our products in a fitting manner. (Note to self: a blog post about the shop would be nice!)

photo from the grand opening before the customers arrived

With the shop in town and the workshop at our home in Makindye, I was spending far too many hours driving back and forth with a glass laden Toyota Noah. This did not even factor in the time I spent driving to my various yoga classes peppered throughout town in a city that is known for some very unreasonable and frustrating traffic jams.  As has been the case for years, Phil's office is located in Kololo, also in the center of Kampala, so a move to town would be greatly beneficial for the both of us. Phil had been making his commute fairly speedy by using boda bodas, motorcycle taxis, but as we are now in our 30s and have somehow come out unscathed after years of boda transport, we really thought it high time we try not to use them on a daily bases. And for these reasons, plus the ability to be more social without factoring how long it would take to get to a popular bar or restaurant, we moved to Nakasero.

The hunt for the perfect house took time and patience. For triple the rent, I didn't want to move into a house I only loved half as much as our cute little abode in Makindye. But being realistic, we didn't think we would find a house we loved as much (with an acre+ garden, a garage and space for Good Glass, mature trees, quiet street, and fantastic birds) so we were willing to sacrifice a little for the location. Luck would have it, we didn't have to sacrifice at all in the end.

this is our front gate. we added grass mats for privacy.
I love the honeysuckle so much and we didn't even coach it to do that.
Come on in. You are most welcome.

front door of house that we never use

smallish front garden that Felix Chill just had this jungle gym installed it. the only problem is you have to be a giant to use it. the pile of rubbish on the corner of the house is a literal ton of vermiculite, a mineral used to make very efficient pizza ovens, but now I can't eat gluten (post on that too?), so we probably won't waste our efforts on the oven....ho hum.

Plot 3 in Nakasero has a house comparable in size to our house in Makindye, although we now have 3 full baths and one half! Our kitchen here is larger which is welcome as that was probably our least favorite part of our old house.

Makindye kitchen, cleaning honey from a gerry can...
(that was meant to be a blog post long ago)
Nakasero kitchen - we replaced the counters and the floor before we moved in
(someday I might find before pictures for you and share the process)

incredibly large pantry - quick shot without tidying and organizing properly
(you should see it when I get my real OCD on)

more of the pantry - to be fair, it probably deserves its own post
(I'm adding that to the list!) (also, that is NOT where the maple syrup goes! so embarrassing)

looking back to the kitchen from standing in the pantry the space for the fridge is wear the water cooler is, but it's for wee fridges and our's is more normal size, so our's is to the left in the entry, just out of view. we had that wood cabinet made to fit the space and go around our washing machine - it stores shoes, boda helmets and inverter batteries.

Our new house has high ceilings which makes it feel large and wood floors throughout, my most favorite part!
repairing the floor before we moved in - living room
sanded floor - dining room

in the process of varnishing - guest bedroom

accent wall in the living room with finished floors

Overall, it's just a more distinguished home. It rests comfortably in an ambling acre+ triangular-ish plot, with a 2 car garage. Monica's house is behind the garage and beyond that, there was a large triangle of garden that was mainly unused. We were able to use a crane, to lift our old workshop onto a truck and haul it across town. To put it in our Nakasero garden, the crane hoisted the whole workshop over the compound wall. And there she sits, almost as lovely and put together as she was in Makindye. We also built a machine room with a concrete slab so the machines wouldn't be able to shake as much as they had in the wooden workshop. There is space for bottles still beyond that, and the whole thing exist without you hardly knowing it.

Here is the garage, my car is parked to my left and the house is behind and to my right the garage houses tons of Good Glass stuff, the rest is behind it. I'll be sure to show you sometime..

The rest of the yard is host to magnificent tropical trees of several varieties, space for a huge vegetable garden, room for passion fruit and the addition of 5 sapling orange trees.
the early days of our vegetable garden. 

There's even enough space to hold an intimate dinner party for 180 friends.
our engagement party set up

And the best part....(drumroll)....a swimming pool!
she's pretty tiny and often chilly, but lovely nonetheless

We definitely weren't looking for that, but when this lovely home had one, we thought we would 'deal' with it. Really! Like it was going to be a massive hassle, but it's such a blessing. It's not very hard to maintain, there is a little extra cost, but overall, the joy it provides is much, much more! We built this 'pool shelter' (that is what Bico the builder dubbed it) beside it to host dinners and BBQs, but it's mainly used as a yoga shala for weekend workshops, private lessons and my occasional solo morning practice.

a going away party for Hollie back in 2013

the beginning of the pool shelter
the middle of construction
all done and outfitted with wonderful yogis!
house from the back yard - pool and pool shelter up and to the left

And it is quiet here. We're not sure how. Maybe it's the trees or the way the sound travels around these hills, but for the most, we enjoy real peace. You would never guess that this is just a 15 minute walk away. Soon I'll show you more of the inside.
the taxi park

Come visit. We have 2 spare rooms and you'll have your own bathroom! Sahara and Tuna are excited to greet you.

Monday, February 9, 2015

a little wedding planning

After our return to the UK from our fun-filled week skiing in France, we spent a few days in Whaley Bridge. Then Phil flew back to Uganda to get back to work, while I took a fast train to London to reunite with some my favorites and do a little wedding dress shopping. London managed to rain as it ever does, but there was also some sun in the short two days I visited.  Assisting me in the wedding dress hunt were the lovely Shadi, Caroline and Eleni who were all very supportive, oooing and ahhing at all the right times and maybe even getting a little choked up (ahem, Shadi). Several big contenders with one in the lead were the result of two hard days trekking through London and trying on a million dresses. I also had a chance to share a meal with Karin K formally of the UG and a night at the pub with Gina and Ed. It was fast and it was fun. Why don't I go London more often?

Phil and nephew Taylor found a bivouac (apparently a real word that means this thing)

reservoir walk in the High Peaks

we found some ice

Tay and I take selfies at dinner

Caroline and I modelling (??) over some tacos

Hufflepuff and Gryffindor at the Vietnamese place 

Karin K!
(not pictured Eleni, Gina or Ed - camera fail on my part)

Then it was time to bring in the big guns. I met Constance Elaine (my momma) in Barcelona where we were faced with the task of hiring a wedding planner, booking a venue, finding a caterer and sorting out any other possible vendors, logistics and details of our wedding in only five days!  Could it be done??? As we arrived on Saturday afternoon and no one works on Sundays, the thought that maybe we could not did cross our minds before we got around to Monday morning. But then after a few meetings and a lot of venues visits, we were well on our way by Tuesday. We even took a day off in the middle of the week to try on a few more wedding dresses. By the end of Friday, we had managed all we needed to and more - planner: check, venue: check, caterer: check, photographer: check, florist: check. Phew! We even managed to fit in what felt like 30 different tapas restaurants, a Gaudi house, the purchase of the mother-of-the-bride dress, loads of walking around Barcelona, and two seriously good brunches.

Photos below from my new camera! (a Canon EOS 70D Digital SLR Camera with 18-135mm STM Lens) We're still getting to know each other, and I should probably look at the manual, but so far I am pretty smitten. Hopefully she'll be bringing you a bucket full of gorgeous photos in the near and distant future.

Momma in Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo

eye lashes

dragon spine rooftop

Sagrada Familia

Casa Batllo at night


Casa Nova: the wedding venue!

sunset in Barcelona

so so full while tasting delicious wedding menus at the caterers

these were just the desserts!

Mercado de la Boqueria