Paris is always a good idea

Paris, France

February 8, 2017

France. My European home. Now I get to share it with my love.

After spending two months on exchange in Dijon at the age of 16, returning to France on subsequent trips felt very much like returning to somewhere so familiar. I understood the customs, I knew how to navigate and I could communicate with the people. I couldn’t wait to share this place I’d spent so much time in and grown to love so much with my husband on our honeymoon.

Paris greeted us with a smoke smog that was to linger for most of our stay, which was a shame but even that couldn’t kill the beauty of this city – though I don’t think it helped John’s cold that he’d developed before the wedding.

We were staying in our first AirBnb – a little apartment in Montmartre. The stairs were a bit of a killer but the location was fantastic – on a surprisingly quiet street near the Moulin Rouge (ooh la la!).

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The weather was a shock to the system even though I’ve done several European winters. You really have to spend your time flitting in and out of shops and cafes to stay warm.

I had a few places I wanted to hit up while we were here – either for a revisit or to catch something I had missed on previous visits – but of course when you’re a part of someone’s first trip to Paris there are a few obligatory places you have to go.

So over the next few days we made our way to the Champs-Elysées and its Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Sacre Coeur, the Louvre and the Notre Dame.

 

The highlight of these for me was the Notre Dame. I’ve been inside it before but never climbed it and the view was gorgeous. The main reason I loved it though was because as soon as we got there it started snowing a tiny bit. Snow wasn’t even forecast for our time in Paris and I practically squealed with delight when it began. By the time we reached the top of the cathedral more snow had come in and it was truly magical. It was also John’s first time seeing falling snow.

 

To warm up we found tea and hot gaufres (waffles) at a nearby cafe while the snow kept falling outside. Honestly, this was the stuff of my dreams being in snowy Paris with my husband!

L’Arc de Triomphe was also well worth the admission. There’s not quite as many stairs to climb here but the 360 degree view is truly spectacular, as you watch cars zoom dangerously around the ginormous roundabout and check out the sights down the twelve main streets that lead from it. On a clear day I’m sure you could see a long way off, but on our visit we had to embrace the smog adding to the atmosphere of our photos.

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There are a couple of places I just love in Paris and I was excited to see them again and show these to John. The first was Shakespeare and Co. I spent ages in here on my last visit. Much to my delight John fell just as in love with it as I did and we had a great time picking out a couple of books to take home, playing on the typewriters, exploring little nooks and he even played some tunes on the piano (which did actually ask people to play on it). It’s a booklover’s dream place to stay all cosy on a freezing winter day.

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The famous Parisian macaron house of Ladurée was also on my hit up list. They may be pricey but nothing compares to the macarons here. Last time, I just purchased a salted caramel macaron at their airport store. This time we found ourselves in a queue at their restaurant on the Champs-Elysees. This place was seriously beautiful. There seemed to be a million different rooms in the building where diners were taken to tables. The carpet, walls, ceiling, chandeliers and tables and chairs were all like dining in Versailles itself.

We ordered a selection of macarons to sample and a chocolate frappé each. Hands down, best iced chocolate drink I’ve ever had, but way too small to satisfy.

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The rest of our time in Paris was spent just exploring the streets – my favourite way to get to know any city – and enjoying lots of the local cuisine (namely sweets but we did throw in some French onion soup for good measure).

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31 days of May

Something new I’d like to start on my blog is a monthly round up of some of my highlights from the month just gone and the things I read, saw and did.

May-be May is a good place to start!

So, what did I get up to this month?

  • I was a bridesmaid in my sister’s wedding!! I can’t believe that was only this month. It feels like it was much longer ago. Within three months the Shawcross sisters have become Mrs Okely and Mrs Goff. How can that be! It was a truly beautiful day and I had so much fun being a bridesmaid for the first time. I cried a lot that day.
  • Celebrated mother’s day with John’s family and surprised my mum with a visit. It was so nice to spend time with both our families that day, however brief.
  • Trained for and completed the HBF Run for a Reason 12km for the second time. I had a great first half of the race until I ‘hit the wall’ at the 7km mark and my goal time went flying away. Keen to make a comeback next year!

Something new I discovered this month was…

Dinner Twist! We placed our first order with the fresh ingredient box company and have kept our subscription every fortnight. You get the option of ordering from three different menus and they send you all the ingredients and the recipes you need to cook those meals. It’s a brilliant way to avoid thinking up new meal ideas, try new things and avoid going grocery shopping as delivery is free. You can check them out here. And if you’re keen to give it a go you can use the code 0420408300 for 20% off your first order.

This month I read…

  • A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. You can read my review on my Goodreads account if you’re interested.
  • Continued working my way though the 700 plus pages of Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser.

This month I watched…

  • Beauty and the Beast and loved it
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and thought it was also pretty enjoyable but not quite as good as the first.
  • Broadchurch season 3. So intense.
  • The new Doctor Who series. So far so good (I’ve only got 2 or so other seasons to compare it to).
  • The Play that Goes Wrong at His Majesty’s theatre. This was just hilarious. I almost completely lost it at several points.

Memorable moment: shooting ‘arrows’ in our backyard with John’s home made archery kit.

Unconsciously Absorbing the Emirates

Dubai, U.A.E

February 7, 2017.

 

 

The idea behind a stop in Dubai was to give us a more chilled journey from Australia to Europe post the wedding madness. However, as good as it was to crash on a horizontal bed for one night I’m still unsure if a few hours layover was worth it, especially as we were setting the alarm for another extremely early morning flight!

If nothing else it was the opportunity I had wanted to set foot outside of the airport this time and experience a culture so different from our own.

Well, I didn’t have to leave the airport to get my first taste of that. What was to become quite the hassle during our European travels began on day one as my 20kg suitcase slid round the conveyor belt of baggage collection with a very obvious defect. Yes Emirates, thanks for the missing wheel from the get go.

I’m not the sort of person to let these things just slide so I marched right up to the baggage service desk to let them know about the damage. While waiting in line two men appeared alongside me also needing assistance. When the woman had finished with the man in front these men proceeded to move towards the counter first. I was overtired, over-traveled and not in the mood so I also edged forward making sure they were very aware I was there first. I got next to no acknowledgement, and if it wasn’t for the woman at the desk who had noticed me I would have easily been pushed aside. Even when she explained I was next they were not willing to concede.

It was an extremely unsettling feeling to be treated this way by other adults. This was not to be my only experience of this either. On our return home I also found myself pushed to the side at checkouts by other men and downright ignored. It was an eye opening experience to the local culture. At the time I was so tired, so sick of traveling that I found it too much and returned to John in tears. It really got me thinking about how crippling the restrictions placed on women in these parts of the world could feel. I’ve been so blessed to live in a country when in my eyes I’m treated as an equal to men and it’s not something I’ve ever had to think about.

All that being said, Dubai is a magnificent place. I have never seen anything like it. Driving through felt like being in a futuristic city with road bridges high above the traffic, looping over everywhere. After spending some time in our hotel, and doing our best to not give in to the desire to sleep, we set foot outside into pleasantly mild weather and a bustling city.

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We were staying in downtown Dubai with a view over a construction site, but handy proximity to the world’s largest shopping centre.

We didn’t much feel in the mood for shopping but we didn’t need to do that here. We were thoroughly entertained for ages with the 10 million litre aquarium and we didn’t even pay to enter the exhibit!

The shopping centre also has an indoor ice rink, countless levels of stores, a more cultural marketplace and an outdoor dining precinct where we watched a light, fountain show while enjoying our greasy Five Guys’ burgers.

We caught up with some of my family while over here too, which was a great opportunity.

After an all-too brief night’s sleep we were up bright an early for our next flight to Paris!

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Goodnight, no wait ‘Will you marry me?’

It’s been almost one whole month since John asked me to marry him! Time has really flown. We’ve been swept up in a wave of incredible joy, blessing, excitement and busyness as we plan our wedding and start to set up our lives together.

The first few days of our engagement were a whirl and I explained our engagement story in many different long and short variants. Here, I will tell it in full for those who never got to hear it or only heard the main points.

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About a month and a half before, John asked if i would like to go on a date some time the next month where we could film parts of the date and create a vlog from it. I was a little bit suspicious of this and thought it sounded out of the ordinary, but at the same time he had just come back from Vidcon and had talked about doing a vlog for some time so I tried not to get ahead of myself.

August came and went and we never went on the date. When I brought it up John feigned having forgotten and asked if i still even wanted to do it. I was a bit disappointed by that but let him know that yes, i did indeed want to go on a special date. (This was all part of an elaborate plan that would make me think the date was more my idea).

During the week of, John told me he was going to buy a new suit for our date and encouraged me to also get a new dress. I went shopping with Lauren and bought something a couple of nights before and we talked about our suspicions and excitement about this date, all the while trying to make sure I didn’t get my hopes up. On the day dear Susan came around to do my hair and make up beforehand. I’m lousy at doing both of these and wanted to look a little nicer than just diverting to the messy bun.

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John came to my door and picked me up just like he did for our very first date and looked very handsome in his navy blue suit with brown shoes and bright red socks (which he knew i would appreciate). He brought me a huge bouquet of flowers as well!

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He drove us to a surprise dinner at Friends restaurant in the city. We were given the perfect table sitting right in front of the window overlooking the Swan River. We enjoyed an amazing five course meal and were devastated that we both couldn’t come close to finishing our dessert.

Towards the end of the meal, I said I might order a cup of tea with dessert, to which John said he had thought that maybe we could go next door to the Hyatt to have tea, but then added that I could have one in the restaurant instead if i wanted. I said we would stick with what he had in mind, but it did make me think i must be wrong about the date and he didn’t actually have a particular plan.

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The restaurant gave me a flower as we left and went next door to the Hyatt conservatory for tea. As we often do on dates we talked a bit about marriage and the future, and John said he promised to make a decision about us before we got to four years of dating as he knew he needed to make one soon. I got quite sad at that point, realising that I was obviously all wrong. (Later that night John told me that he said it because he felt i was getting too close to guessing, but tried to change the topic when he saw how it affected me).

After leaving the conservatory John suggested a walk around Elizabeth Quay if i felt up to it, but that maybe I would like to go home as it was getting on in the evening and we were both still recovering from colds. At this point i was fairly convinced he couldn’t have anything planned since so much of the date seemed to be my prerogative. We did end up going on a little walk about the Quay and John set up his camera on a step to film us hugging in front of the changing lights. Something in his personality changed during that moment and he held me for a long time (he later told me he was tempted to propose then but decided to stick to the plan and not do something “so cliche”).

After this lovely evening of talking, eating and enjoying being with one another we drove  back to mine. John walked me to my door (as he does every time he takes me home) and said goodnight. As he hugged me goodbye he said in my ear “just a little bit longer”. It made me smile, knowing that he was thinking about our future and that maybe he had intentions to propose in a few more months (little did i know it was more like a few minutes).

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I went inside and said hello to my parents (who knew and were wondering what on earth happened). I told them about each course of our dinner and went to get ready for bed when John texted me to ask if i had changed yet. He said he lost some of the footage we had filmed and asked if he could come back to redo it.

We walked to a nearby park with his camera and as we entered the park I saw all these candles lighting up the ground and could eventually make out his keyboard with fairylights. I was so confused and happy and completely overwhelmed. In my mind our date was done, so what was happening now!?

He stood behind the keyboard and played the beautiful piano piece he wrote me when we first started dating. I was gone. I completely burst into tears. John said he couldn’t finish the rest of the song as he wanted to come and grab me. He took me around the side of the piano, held me close and said a whole lot of lovely things.

Then he took out a ring box and got on one knee and i couldn’t believe what was happening. Still writing it it feels surreal, but wonderful. More crying followed until i had to take off my glasses because i couldn’t see a thing!

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John asked me to marry him in the same park where I embarrassed myself two and a half years ago by telling him i already knew i wanted to marry him.

All through the date i kept asking what was going to be the end of our vlog as just the date alone didn’t seem like a very good story. Well this was by far the most perfect ending. John set up the camera before he played the song and filmed the whole proposal.

God has blessed me with a love story better than what I could have ever been praying for.

 

 

 

 

South West is best

I just can’t seem to get enough of our South West.

I’ve been down three or four times the winter just gone. Sometimes for camps, and the other times for a weekend getaway.

There’s something about leaving the ‘burbs behind and getting out into the fresh country air that feels so good for the soul.

My last trip was with my dear friend Allison to show her a bit more of our lovely state before she heads back home to the US of A.

We spent two nights at Dunsborough Railway Carriages and Cottages – a place I had remembered staying with my family at least 10 years ago. Then we stayed in a cottage, now we had a cute old railway carriage. It was simple but neat and just what we needed for a weekend.

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This weekend was about getting out and seeing the Margaret River Region and we managed to squeeze a whole lot into our day and a half.

I enjoyed a morning run on Saturday, exploring the grounds of the place we were staying. They had cows, alpacas and chickens on the property who all stared at me as I ran past as if to say ‘why on earth would you do that?’. I also saw several kangaroos as I ran a small trail through the trees, finding bridges and native flowers. It truly was incredibly refreshing and serene.

Our first destination was to explore the town centre of Margaret River. We found an amazing bakery for morning tea that was a little squishy due to it’s popularity but offered an amazing selection of breads and desserts.

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Next stop was Rosa Brook for some hose riding. It was a pleasant ride despite a bit of drizzle. However we both wished we would have had the opportunity to canter our horses but we rode in quite a large group with several young children.

Afterwards they served some fresh bread with dukkah to enjoy, which was a nice touch.

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Having worked up quite an appetite we drove to The Berry Farm for lunch. It’s a sweet little spot for a meal. Expect a few little chirpy visitors at your table as you eat. The birds are quite happy to come close, especially if there’s some sugar to eat on your table.

I imagine there’s more to do here in the warmer months as visitors are free to pick berries, but as our visit wasn’t seasonal there wasn’t anything growing.

We did really enjoy sampling all the unique jams and couldn’t help grab a couple, as well as a bag of avocados for $5!

We hit up the Margaret River Chocolate Factory for some free samples on our way to Indijup Beach.

Another stunning location, we trekked across the beach to watch the sun start to go down atop some impressive rock formations. It truly was a beautiful sight.

I love how it doesn’t seem to matter how often I visit our South West, each time I discover just how little of it I have seen and just how many more hidden gems there are to find.

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Veg head

John and I love cooking with lots of vegetables. Any dish we make – curry, enchiladas, burgers, stirfrys – we add about five different varieties of veggies, whether the recipe calls for it or not.

Being keen eaters of colourful food we’ve said how cool it would be if we could take vegetables from our own veggie garden.

So last weekend, inspired by the sad news about Masters closing down, we headed to the hardware store to pick up some seedlings to begin our garden (despite the closing down sales not actually beginning until later).

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We picked our favourite and only herb for our garden at the moment, a small rosemary bush as well as the very necessary lettuce seedlings and some cute accompanying baby carrots.

We decided to give two of our favourite vegetables a go from scratch as seeds so we grabbed packets of capsicum and zucchini seeds as well.

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Now we’re fairly novice gardeners, in fact we have no experience at all (although John once grew a thriving spinach plant, so that’s a plus), so our expectations of being able to produce a harvest from these seeds are not high especially given how temperamental some plants can be.

However, I have great hope that at least one of the 125 seeds we planted may bring forth a shiny red capsicum or even a teeny zucchini.

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We began our planting as the sun was going down, which made for a more exciting experience as we used the light of our phones to plant.

Before choosing our plants we researched online the best vegetables to plant at the end of winter/beginning of spring and read and reread the back of the seed packets to make sure we were planting them correctly.

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We’re still fairly confused about how often to keep them watered though as different sources say different things and many say nothing at all about the watering processes prior to green shots. I’ll be so excited if we can get that far!

I didn’t think I’d be quite so pumped about growing vegetables but I can’t wait until we can see some progress and I’ll be so proud of our little seeds if they can reap a harvest.

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Edit: John would like to add that both capsicum and zucchini are technically classified as fruits, after some extensive research. However, they are considered vegetables for culinary purposes.

 

Fair ladies at Fairbridge

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Our state is so beautiful. Whether it’s the bustling city, the rough and tumble of the red outback or the tranquility in the lush south I can’t help but find myself in awe of the beauty that surrounds us.

I spent the last stormy weekend on a retreat, with a bunch of beautiful women from my church, at the quaint Fairbridge Village near Pinjarra.

This was a wonderful time to get away and share connection with one another and hear and experience some powerful things God wanted to do over that weekend.

The first morning we woke to the great storm of 2016. The thundering of rain on the tin roof of the dorm while I was cocooned in my sleeping bag was the most cosy sensation.

Although the rain pelted down and the wind was fierce it didn’t dampen our moods in the slightest. And for those like me who love winter weather, made it all the more enjoyable.

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During a period of free time, my lively and lovable friend Jordi and I ventured out of Fairbridge, through debris on the road from the storm and into Pinjarra.

We had a quick squiz in an op shop and enjoyed a little walk around one of the town’s churches and then by the Murray River. It was a gorgeous place and we took some snaps that were quite insta-worthy (that is how you rate quality pictures theses days). Enjoy!

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