Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Proposal Story Part III

The time as come for the third and final installment of the proposal story!

I managed to keep my big plans pretty much under wrap, and Andrea just thought we were going to visit Belgium for a few days before I had to go to work. We arrived in Brugge late in the evening, and I instantly realized that this was the perfect place. We stayed at the Die Swaene hotel in a cozy room on the quiet canal.

In the morning, Andrea and I strolled across the 11th Century bridge that connected our room with the hotel’s main building. The morning air in Brugge was beautiful! There were locals out for a morning walk, and folks on their bikes zipping all around town. It was at the cozy European garden breakfast that my proposal plans almost came crashing down!

I got up for some toast and cheese, and when I was walking back to the table, Andrea noticed a large bulge in my pocket (the ring!!). She asked, “What’s that in your pocket? Your cell phone?”

I immediately glanced down at the table and saw my phone sitting there in plain sight. Her eyes followed mine and she said, “Oh, no! The phone is on the table. That’s the camera. Here, let me put it in my purse!”

I looked at her smiling face and outstretched hand, down at the phone on the table, and then down at the camera sitting on the floor beside my chair, which was thankfully hidden from her sight. “No thanks, Sweetie. I don’t mind.” I responded, and sat down as fast as possible.

After our lovely breakfast, we decided to stroll down the road along the canal through town. What was to Andrea a casual stroll through the old Brugge streets was to me a quest to Minnewater Park and the Lake of Love. Not wanting to arouse suspicion, I allowed our walk to meander through the cobblestone streets for a while, as we took in the old-world sights. On our way, we were tempted by the tasty aroma of Belgian chocolate, and stopped in a few shops to look at local handicrafts and art.

As we walked around the picturesque town, I couldn’t help but be distracted by what I knew was coming. I always kept one hand in my pocket, clutching the ring box tightly. Over and over, I replayed in my head what I would say to Andrea at that special moment.

We walked down past the Begijnhof Nunnery where I wooshed us onward closer to Minnewater Park. Around a few more corners, we were upon the Lake of Love. I could feel the butterflies in my stomach, but tried to act as naturally as possible as I searched for the perfect spot to propose.

As we walked up along the lake, I saw the spot. It was just across the lake, under some old trees. By this point, I was getting pretty excited and pretty nervous. Andrea and I sat on a bench alongside the lake for a bit while I waited for a group of people to clear from the bridge (and tried to calm myself down a bit). I just kept thinking to myself how much I love Andrea and how excited I was to spend forever with her! We sat together on that bench for a while, until the crowd cleared, then we meandered across the bridge, pausing in the middle for a moment to admire.

“Sweetie,” I said, “this is called the Lake of Love.”

Andrea smiled and gave me a little kiss, thanking me for the sweet gesture of taking her to a romantically named spot! We looked out at the calm water and onto the old houses along the shore. In the background, the rooftops of Brugge pushed up toward the tall steeple of the Church of Our Lady.

We walked the rest of the way across the bridge, and I led us down a narrow stone path through the trees to a small clearing right beside the lake. As we sat down on the bench under the peaceful trees, I realized that this was it! I was here! All of my plans were about to unfold for Andrea. We chatted as we watched the swans on the lake, and enjoyed midday air. I can’t remember what we talked about at all, in fact I am surprised that I made any sense at all to Andrea. All I could think about was how to find the right moment and what I would say.

I knew Andrea would say “Yes,” and that she loves me as much as I love her, but I still couldn’t help being more nervous than I think I have ever been in my life. I had one hand tightly clutching the box in my pocket and the other on Andrea’s shoulder, probably rubbing it like a nervous twitch.

At one point, I told Andrea how much I loved traveling with her, and how much I was looking forward to our future travel. Andrea responded something to the effect of “yeah, I am really looking forward to seeing the Middle East as well!” Ready to seize the moment, I said, “No Sweetie, I mean that I am looking forward to traveling with you for the rest of our lives.”

Just as I said that, however, I realized that we were both still sitting on the bench. I had planned to propose on bended knee! “ABORT!” I thought….. Luckily, Andrea didn’t catch on.

“Me too!” she smiled, and leaned in for a kiss.

A few minutes later, she suggested we keep walking, and maybe find a café for lunch. We stood up together, and I realized that this really was it. As she turned around to get her purse, I heard the old church bell tower start to toll noon. I pulled out the ring box, and dropped to one knee. As Andrea turned back around, I took her hand and tried my best to give the speech I had planned in my head. Unfortunately, the excitement and nerves overwhelmed me, and my eloquent speech vanished!

“Andrea, I love you more than anything. Will you marry me?”

Silence. I looked up at Andrea smiling.

“I’m um, This was um, I’m so um? Wow! What? I mean um,” she stammered in utter surprise!

I stood up, still holding the ring and her hand with my two hands, and suggested we have a seat. We sat back onto the bench, and after a few seconds, I asked, “So is that a yes?”

“Yes! Of course!” she said. I looked into Andrea’s beautiful face and saw best smile I’ve ever seen! When those words hit my ears, and that smile hit my face, it was like my nerves were instantly calmed. I could feel the excitement throughout my whole body as I wrapped my arm around her and kissed my new fiancée.

We sat on the bench for a few minutes while Andrea tried to grasp for words, which as I recall had still largely evaded her. She stammered through partial sentences for a bit longer until I once again held up the ring box to her, and asked “So do you want the ring?”

Now, for the final moment of truth: Would the ring fit? I took the sparkling 3-stone diamond and platinum ring from its little box, and slipped it onto her left hand. I looked into Andrea’s eyes, and at the same time did my best to hold tears back in mine. That was the happiest moment of my life!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Proposal Story Part II

Working for an international oil and gas drilling service company has afforded me many opportunities for international travel, and whenever possible I try to arrange for Andrea to come along or meet up with me so we can see the sights. I figured that in order to keep the proposal a surprise, I would be best to do it on one of these trips. They are usually last-minute, and Andrea would expect me to be hooked up with work most of the time. All I had to do was wait for the right trip. I wanted it to be someplace far away (because we like going to far-away places), yet someplace fun and interesting.

That said, this winter at my company's annual management meeting, it became apparent that I would need to visit our Middle East districts this spring, and I had my first inkling of a place to propose. I had heard of Ski Dubai, a massive indoor ski resort in the desert in the United Arab Emirates, which seemed like the perfect place! We both really enjoy skiing (Andrea especially), and it is in a far away, exotic place that neither of us have ever been to.

I spent the next few months working out plans for the trip, which would include a few days each in Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Turns out that for various reasons, Oman and Saudi Arabia would not be possible on this trip, so the trip was shortened to just include Qatar (where I would need to visit some key customers) and the UAE (where I would hold a meeting of field coordinators from all Middle East disricts). As the discussions progressed, it became apparent that our North Sea division coordinators could stand to have a meeting as well, so meetings in our Holland office (about 20 mins drive north of Amsterdam) was added to my itinerary. Suddenly, I had a new idea: a European proposal!

Proposing in Europe (and in particular, Holland) had some significant advantages: First and foremost, I have been to Holland before. I know my way around the country, I have friends (work associates) there, and I thought it more "Western" so I could find things I wanted on the internet. (It is hard to even find a good map for cities in the Middle East.) I decided that this would be my new plan, so after haggling with the home office for time off before my meetings, I started to make (secret from Andrea) plans to get engaged there.

I called Lyda, our office manager in Holland, and searched the Internet for ideas. I Googled everything I could think of: Holland+Tulips, Holland+Canal Cruise, Holland+Castle, Holland+Cheese, Holland+Windmill, Holland+Romantic Stuff, etc., and started making a list of ideas. Somewhere along the way, however, I came across the city of Brugge, in Northern Belgium. Various travel websites listed it as "the most romantic city in Europe," or "the Venice of Northern Europe." Intrigued, I set about learning more about Brugge.

According to what I read, Brugge is a an old city (many 12th and 13th Century buildings) that retains much of its old world charm. Its city center is a UNESCO World Heratige Site, which in my experience designates it at least as a place worth visitng. Best of all, Brugge is only a few hours drive from Schipol Airport in Amsterdam!

I began a more directed search on the city of Brugge and found a place called the "Lake of Love" in Minnewater Park. "Hmm," I thought, "Can't do much better than the Lake of Love!" Google Earth was not too much help in scoping out the lake (see for yourself: N: 51.198808° E 3.224369°), so I resorted to looking at peoples pictures and descriptions. I decided after some searching, that this would be my spot, and looked for a hotel in the area. To my delight, I came across the Die Swaene hotel. The reviews were all top notch, and there was availability on my dates, so I booked two nights. My plans were set for the Brugge proposal, but just in case of the unexpected, I decided to set up a few back-up plans.

I booked two tickets at the Keukenhof Tulip Gardens, as my first alternate plan. I decided that we could walk amongst the beautiful tulip fields until I found a quiet, secluded spot and I would pop the question. Luckily for me Brugee worked out instead. As it turns out, the tulips in Holland only bloom for a few weeks a year, and they are a MAJOR attraction. The gardens were quite busy, and it would have been rather difficult to find a secluded, yet romantic place there. I might have been able to sweet talk us in before the opened (I heard that for special occasions, they will do that), but I doubt I could have got Andrea up at 5:30am for tulips anyway! The tulips were amazing, by the way, you can see our pictures in the travel section of the gallery.

Wanting to be extra prepared, however, I decided to plan a second alternate proposal as well. I reserved a private table for two on an evening candlelight cruise through the canals of Amsterdam. The cruise line was highly recommended by Lyda, and had good reviews. Best of all, the cruise passed underneath Amsterdam's Skinny Bridge. They say that if two lovers kiss while passing under the Skinny Bridge, they will be true lovers, and will stay together forever. So, as alternate #2, I decided a kiss while passing under the bridge would be followed with an engagement ring! Even though I had already proposed, we still kissed while passing under the bridge, so we should be set in the "true lovers" department.

All the while, I kept Ski Dubai as my last resort backup, although I was never fond of the idea of carrying the ring through customs in unfamiliar countries. We still went skiing as planned, although in retrospect had I needed to propose in the Middle East, I think that the Majlis Al Bahar resturant at the Burj Al Arab would have been my first choice. The Majlis Al Bahar is located on the Jumeirah beach looking on to the hotel. We had an outdoor candlelight dinner on the beach, set against the waves of the Persian Gulf crashing on the shore. This was much more romantic than Ski Dubai, which was located in the Mall of the Emirates. (Not a bad mall, as malls go.)

All said and done, I am sure glad that the first option worked out. By now, you've no doubt already read Andrea's version of the day, but I still plan to post the proposal from my point of view.....

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Proposal Story Part I

Generally speaking, I think of myself as a confident, knowledgeable consumer, but when it came to shopping for an engagement ring, I was clueless. I started my ring search at Tiffany & Co. as they make it easy; there is an implied quality in their product, and as a consumer, you needn’t know much to be assured that you’re walking away with quality. This worked well for a novice like me! I snuck away during a few visits home with Andrea to meet with the salesman there, and more or less had narrowed down the parameters of what I wanted to a particular size range (and associated price range).

Somewhere along the way, I stumbled onto, a website and forum dedicated to buying diamonds. There was detailed information and links describing all aspects of how diamonds are graded, and what makes a diamond sparkle. I found the whole thing interesting, but the volume of information was a bit overwhelming. I read enough to know that T&Co. carried a substantial markup and to know that if I was going to buy from somewhere else, there would be a serious diamond learning curve.

I decided to take the easy way out (since time is never on my side anyway) and arranged to meet my T&Co. salesmen one weekday morning. I needed to keep this whole thing a secret from Andrea, so I invented a story about working in Bakersfield and instead headed north. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the T&CO store, they did not have the exact ring that I wanted. The ones that were brought in were either too small (I had an idea in my head of what size I wanted) or too big (I am not related to Bill Gates.) I went home empty-handed, and started thinking about Pricescope again.

I set up a secret email address that I could use for diamond-related business (since Andrea sometime uses my computer, and I am sure that an email titled “Your Diamond Ring Request” would have caught her eye). I am an engineer at heart, so I spent a lot of time learning about diamond mathematics, preferred angles, color, clarity, and cut. I was amazed at the various tricks that a diamond cutter can use to make diamonds weigh (and cost) more but sparkle less.

After some time, I was confident in my knowledge of diamonds and felt ready to make a purchase (from someone other than T&Co.). I contacted a few internet diamond vendors and while on a trip to Houston, decided to meet one of them to check out their stash. I made my way down to a nondescript jewelery building in Southwest Houston (not very flashy, really – I guess fitting for an internet vendor).

When the elevator doors opened, had a few butterflies in my stomach. I walked out into a long hallway with cameras and locks on all the doors. On the inside, I poured over loose diamonds with the VP and selected the perfect center stone and matched pair of side stones for Andrea’s new ring. We looked at the selection of settings, and while I saw some components of rings that I liked, there was no ring that jumped out at me as the one. I told the exec just that, so we decided to design a custom ring instead. He took out a pad of paper and we started to design a ring. Together we worked out the prongs that would hold the diamonds, the shank around the finger, the relative heights and taper of the three stones, and other details.

A few days later and back in California, I saw the ring take shape for the first time. I received two CAD-generated images of what the ring would look like. They were a bit crude, but they certainly showed that the ring would come out how I wanted. I decided at this point to go for the custom ring! I did the paperwork to arrange for payment for the finished product (had to pay by wire transfer – a new experience for me), and made a few minor design changes that I had considered after my meeting in Houston.

About a week later, I got an email that the ring was ready. It included photos of the finished product, and I was sooo pleased. They also informed me that if I had no problems, it would be shipped out the next day. I made a special trip down to the FedEx station in SLO to pick it up, and as soon as I got back to my car with the box, I tore into it so I could see it with my own eyes. It was exactly what I wanted. Now, I just had to keep it a secret for the next few weeks while I planned the proposal….but that’s another story!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day Fun


I used the day off work today to get the dining room closer to completion, and even managed to enlist the help of Andrea for some sanding. Once we get the dining room finished, we should be past the worst of the dusty days in the house, and can move our new dining table to its final location.
Now that the walls are smooth and the windows are finished, we just need to pick out paint colors and a new chandelier. Home Depot run!
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Saturday, May 19, 2007

BIG News

Well, it's been a long time since I've blogged, but this is big enough to shake me back into the habit:

On April 23, I asked Andrea to marry me and she said YES! The proposal day (my happiest day so far) couldn't have turned out better, if I do say so myself. I suprised Andrea with a trip to Brugge, Belgium (a quaint late-medieval city) ahead of a work trip. At the stroke of noon in Minnewaterpark, I got down on one knee and gave her a ring. Here's a picture of Andrea sporting the smile she gave me after I asked if she wanted to marry me!

Over the next few weeks, I am going to use this blog to tell the story of the ring purchase, the proposal plan, and the proposal day. If you want Andrea's side of the story, you'll have to ask her!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The BIG Update

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a very good blogger. Quick update on what has happened in August, September, October, and November!
• Went to Oklahoma, Arkansas, Canada, and Mississippi for work.
• Went on vacation with Andrea to Canada in September and China in October.
• Worked on the house (the living room is almost done).
• Saw the families for Thanksgiving and looking forward to Christmas!

For the future - If I am not blogging regularly enough, check Andrea's Blog to see what I'm up to (she's a MUCH better blogger then me!).

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Six Years!

Happy Annniversary, Sweetie!
   Today marks six years since Andrea and I officially became a couple. We have had a lot of fun times, and had many new experiences together. I can't wait for what our future holds! I love you, Andrea!