A Look Back: Our Marriage Vows (Part 2)

Our first year of marriage promises reveal more about our personalities and our lives than our vows do, which is why I would love to write vows more similar to these for any future renewal. Our lives moved quickly and before long our focus was again turning, this time to how we wanted to raise our children. Having together broken down and rebuilt parts of each other’s souls before and after our wedding day, by asking the most profound and heart-wrenching questions, we emerged certain of our shared principles and priorities. What we wrote was a manifesto that summed up what it was to be a Catley-Richardson, the new family we had created by joining our names.

This is your life
Do what you love, and do it often
If you don’t like something change it
Question everything
Some opportunities only come once, seize them
Life is not a rehearsal
Enjoy the little things in life – one day you’ll look back and realise they were the big things
When you eat, appreciate every last bite
Travel often –getting lost will help you find yourself
Open your mind, arms and heart to new things and new people
Do not lose faith in humanity
We are united in our differences
All emotions are beautiful
You are part of a family that loves you very much
Life is a precious thing so don’t burn it up start living it day by day
Live your dream and share your passion
Don’t make do, make happen
Strive, don’t settle
Live for love

The manifesto was inspired by Holstee, but I’ve always been keen to have words on the walls of my home, because the written word to me is one of if not the most beautiful, precious human art forms. I incorporated some of my favourite quotations, borrowed from various sources of inspiration in my life, and we came up with a few key statements of our own that were the lessons of our first years of marriage. The manifesto serves to remind us and our children of what we consider the most important truths to keep in mind every day as you live your life. Less than three years on, the manifesto needs updating and improving to better reflect our reality now, so it is a living document.

How far our relationship has come in those short three years. Bubbles and bubbles – referring to prosecco in the bath – has become even more of an us thing, in the bath that we chose in the house we own together, it’s the centrepiece of Jam Jar Spa day gifts from him, and the at least weekly debrief and destress tete-a-tetes. We have embraced the Cotswold country lifestyle and Ben plays cricket when he can. We are absolutely convinced of staycations and local holidaying. We try to live our lives to the full, squeezing as much in as we can at the weekends, keeping in touch with good friends, travelling to see them and family, improving our home and garden, being involved in the community, individually doing the things we love and both striving little by little to realise all of our hopes and ambitions. We love each other completely, without any part of ourselves reserved, unconditionally, for exactly who the other is, openly and freely. When I gave Ben my hand, I gave him my life to keep. And keep my life he does.

Part 1 of the story is here

A Month Of (Hungry Mummy) Lunches

I thought I’d do a few ‘day/week/month in the life of’ type posts, and since I hear about a lot of moms (that’s mums for the non-Brummies out there) not having the time or inclination to eat well, I wanted to document my own eating habits. In keeping track of what I ate, I couldn’t help but take note of the context of each lunch. I love food. I love cooking and eating in equal measure. I’m like Nigella without the sultry sideways eye flirting. Happy reading x

NB. Halves or thirds listed have resulted from (un)intentional sharing with my husband, two year old son, and occasionally my six month old daughter…

  1. Bacon, red onion and cheese with Worcestershire sauce grilled on a split brioche; orange juice mixed with apple and elderflower juice and water (sat at my laptop on the dining table)
  2. Lemon crème fraiche tuna and sliced cucumber on granary roll, with lightly salted kettle chips; coffee and homemade olive oil chocolate cake (while watching Toy Story 2 again)
  3. Divine/sublime olive oil fried tuna cheese melt on fresh white bread (Seb pulled a face at his mouthful but I could tell Cali wanted a taste)
  4. Late morning: half a chicken and mushroom and half a steak, port and mushroom pie from local butchers; late afternoon: cheeseburger, fries, 1/3 chocolate milkshake (from McDo after swimming and Seb meltdown so it’s allowed)
  5. Husband-made chorizo, tomato, spring onion and various cheese scromelette with asparagus and half a toasted multiseed bagel (in garden in paint-stripping work gear)
  6. Cheese toastie (without the crispy melted cheese crown Jamie Oliver suggests makes it ‘ultimate’)
  7. Leftover tomato mascarpone penne pasta bake; slice of shop-bought chocolate raspberry cream roulade (feeling ill today but plotting a new campaign anyway)
  8. Bit more pasta bake leftovers (somewhat distracted from lunch waiting for Health Visitor to call)
  9. Ham and brie baguette and lightly salted kettle chips (at a new friend’s house!)
  10. More ham and brie on baguette (this time popped in the oven to go melty, eaten while working at laptop)
  11. Leftover roast chicken pickings sandwich with cheese and onion kettle chips for a change
  12. Husband-made bacon and posh tomato ketchup on buttered fresh bread (outside having got filthy working in the garden) choc olive oil cake I made AGAIN, this time hot out the oven
  13. Cotswold home baked ham, brie and fresh bread and butter – eaten stood up in the kitchen eager to get back to ‘exciting work stuffs’ on the laptop – then ate an obscenely big shop-bought white chocolate raspberry (a fave combo of mine) cookie
  14. Our son is ill and days go by in a blur, cant for the life of me remember what I ate for lunch, I mostly get by on homemade low-sugar chocolate fruit cookies
  15. Husband-made ‘for the love of pasta’ our go to al dente spaghetti with butter, nutmeg and parmesan
  16. Red pepper hummus, Moroccan couscous and pea shoot leaves in wholemeal pitta, half a pork pie, bought for husband working from home
  17. Traditional bacon sandwich made by husband we fantasised over while doing the tip run in Swindon
  18. Non-existent, fridge is bare, instead prepare lunch for Seb who turns face away. Some passionfruit yoghurt, a chocolate Freddo and fruit toast for me, later quite a few tomato and olive mini bruschettes while doing the online food order
  19. Really thick and warming homemade roast squash, sweet potato and onion soup; followed by leftover homemade bread and butter pudding served cold
  20. A fave from gestational diabetes pregnancy: three new potatoes microwaved into something resembling a jacket potato, with ample butter and cottage cheese
  21. Toasted bagel loaded with butter, cream cheese, smoked salmon, black peppper and lemon juice, hungrily scoffed in relief
  22. Half a bagel with scrambled egg (Delia style) mixed with smoked salmon and homemade watercress cheese sauce leftover from dinner, not as amazeballs as I imagined it would be
  23. A yoghurt and some fruit toast before rushing out to the shops without the children, while around the shops I grab a’detox’ smoothie
  24. Lip-lickingly satisfying real spaghetti carbonara made with our own eggs on a wet and cold Sunday
  25. Southern fried chicken breast with lettuce, our own tomato, grated cheese and honey mustard dressing sandwich, a husband work at home special, we have to wait for my Mom (who lives with us) to get in with the loaf of bread

Most weekdays I don’t ‘get ready’ because I don’t go out with the kids unless I have arranged a meet up with friends or a full blown day out with them. I’m to be found in the garden, in the bath, in the kitchen or in the Snug with my two young children. Most days when Daddy gets home from work at least one of us is still in our pjs, with dishevelled hair. And most days all three of us, the carpet, and every surface in the kitchen will be covered in the remnants of the day’s meals. This will only be my reality for a short time in my life, and I sure do love it.

An atheist prayer

Do I pray? Can an atheist pray?

Most devout atheists in denying the existence of God reject the supernatural (anything that cannot be explained by science) entirely. This means not believing in ghosts, angels, a spirit/soul, miracles, magic and even luck. I’m a bit of a black sheep among atheists in having a will to believe in these things while choosing not to believe in God. In the absence of proof, belief in the supernatural is an act of faith, or will.

And while I do not have the will to believe in God, I am open to the wonder of the universe. I don’t feel the need to understand or explain everything in human experience, I think beauty can reside in mystique. Experience itself can be intangible, mind-blowing, yet it is no less real. I simply choose to attribute the miraculous, the awe-inspiring, the heart-stopping, skin-tingling wonder that we have the privilege of experiencing to humanity and to the natural world rather than God(s).

So with a deep sense and appreciation of the beauty and power of everything in physical existence, I pray to all that is good and right and meant to be in the world. I pray with all my heart, and with every ounce of will in my soul, most sincerely and seriously for loved ones in pain, sickness, and heartache. I pray to all that is light, true and free, to all that is new, pure and full of life.

I pray that the sheer strength of our shared will to goodness, and our desire to let our own strength, resilience and belief pour out of our hearts and minds reaches those in need. I pray to the spirit of determination and optimism of mankind past, present and future. I pray to the stars, the sun and the moon that watch over us. I pray to the very core of my very own deepest heart.

I pray, and I believe in the strength of the will, in the will to survive, in the majesty of being, and living and loving. I pray. May my prayers be felt by my loved ones in need.

A Look Back: Our Marriage Vows

Three years ago tomorrow, Ben and I said ‘I do’ in an incredibly simple garden ceremony half as long as the average ceremony I have been composing for couples over the past two and half years. I know I would compose a completely different ceremony for us if I could do it all again. But how different would our wedding vows be? And more importantly have we been living up to those vows? These are the promises we made to each other:

I promise to keep myself open to you,
To let you see through the window of my world,
Into my innermost fears and feelings, secrets and dreams.
I promise to trust you and honour you.
To laugh with you and cry with you.
I will love you faithfully,
Through the best and worst,
Through the difficult and the easy,
Completely and forever.
Come what may I promise I will always be there.
As I give you my hand to hold,
So I give you my life to keep.

Not long after we returned from our Honeymoon, we found and moved into a cottage in a village which opened up to us the lifestyle we enjoy today. That home and that village came to define our first year as husband and wife. It felt like our shared life started there. It was there that we really found who we were as a couple, and discovered our shared dream for our future. In our jubilation and to help us to cherish each other and our lives there we agreed further promises to live by day to day.

We pledge to have bubbles and bubbles at least once every two weeks and give thanks for our blessings
To explore on foot the village and surrounding countryside once a week – on Sundays if possible
To meet for a drink in the pub every Friday
To buy our meat from the local farm and to try the local oil
To go swimming in (nearby town) once a week
To have people over at least twice a month
To attempt to grow veg in the garden
To improve the lawn and garden
To go to (nearby towns) for shopping
To holiday close to home
To watch village cricket on Saturdays
To share the cooking and washing up
To always smile and greet fellow locals

When we wrote our wedding vows we were still getting to know one another having only met 18 months earlier. What shines through our wedding ceremony and wedding day in general is our relief and elation that we had finally found one another, that we were more than soul mates, we were perfect for each other, and that we really wanted to marry each other and be together, in each other’s pockets, for the rest of our lives. Click to read the rest of the story

Destination Weddings & Dream Honeymoons

When we were planning our wedding I seriously considered holding it abroad. I knew I didn’t want the conventional form of CeremonySitdownmealDJ and wanting an outdoor ceremony I was drawn to the idea of marrying in France or Italy instead of beloved England. It would of course have meant sharing our day with fewer family and friends, but this too would have made sense for us – we had to either invite everyone, including children and spouses (I have 13 cousins) which meant a minimum 100 person guest list; or draw a line around immediate family and close friends which would enable a much more intimate feeling day. In the end, we achieved the intimate feel despite our 100+ guests because of all the style, venue, format choices we made. Because we were on a budget we then held an evening meal for just 15 of our closest family.

If you did choose to marry abroad, with a small number of witnesses, you could hold a reception for everyone else on your return. I love this idea of two weddings. By using a Humanist Celebrant you could even have two wedding ceremonies! If you love the idea of marrying abroad but are bewildered or just a bit nervous about navigating the legalities and cultural rules of marriage abroad, why not legally register your marriage in an English Register Office and have your Celebrant perform both symbolic ceremonies abroad and then again at home? You could also split the ceremony and save parts like the Blessing for your home ceremony so that your guests can be truly involved.

A Room with a View

Had money been no object, I would have flown our guests out to Tuscany for our wedding long weekend, and then have had a split destination honeymoon. I have always wanted to go to Florence, not Venice or Rome, but Florence. I have made my husband promise that the one thing we will do before we die is to be able to say ‘We have a view’ in Florence. So that would be one half of my dream honeymoon, a city adventure taking in the sights and sounds and smells. I’d like to go sufficiently out of season to feel we had it relatively to ourselves. You cant beat that. For the other part of the honeymoon, a luxurious, private villa in the Tuscan countryside. We would do nothing but swim, lounge, cook, and make lurve. Perfect I think!

I adore Europe, so while I admit to hankering after a tropical paradise with unlimited cocktails, warm sea water and amazing exotic animal spotting, I can live without it. Give me the South of France, give me Catalonia, give me the Greek Islands any time. I’m a believer in exploring hidden gems close to home, and hope I’m fortunate enough in my lifetime to visit Jersey, return to Belgium, and Germany, and see more of Scandinavia. I love that we will be able to take our children on holiday to the Isle of Wight, where we had a most romantic and nostalgic English honeymoon in June 2011. I have a theory that the less overtly dramatic a place is and the less expectation of grandeur there is, the more you will appreciate the subtle magic in the details of a place.

Of course we choose holidays which suit our needs, or what we think are our needs. I don’t have a stressful job or a stressful life so I dont hanker after two weeks of doing nothing but reading books and sunbathing because I need a break. I want to do the opposite to escaping life when I holiday. I want to explore and engage. I want to see as much as possible. But I dont seek out high adrenalin holidays either. You know how they say a change is as good as a rest? I see holidays as opportunities to break out of whatever is normal for you. If you usually cope by zoning out in front of the TV, why not try a different approach to relaxation, and find a non-stressful way to actively engage your surroundings. Your honeymoon should be as memorable as your wedding and although it WILL be memorable because you’ll be on your newlywedded high throughout, we should make sure we take every opportunity to make memories.

On honeymoon we were both floating on a cloud of bliss left over from the fact that we had married each other and had shared a most emotionally beautiful day with our family and friends. Sure we had a few deep and a few awkward discussions, all part of adjusting to the newness of our lives together. It was a unique chance for us to engage with each other, with our usual routines out of the way of getting down to what we needed to say to each other. Our honeymoon was the start of so many things in our lives. It provided my husband with inspiration for a new novel, and prompted us to decide to look for a new place to live as soon as we got back to Oxford. You’ll inevitably buy souvenirs on honeymoon. If you can, bring home something that will be in your lives every day, whether it’s a wall hanging or a pair of mugs. His and hers items are the cutest. Here’s to you, honeymooners, you lovebirds, you newlyweds at heart everywhere.

Souless Soulmates

When I was putting together my own wedding ceremony script, I wanted to convey to our guests how we felt about coming together as man and wife. Ben in particular felt strongly that you should not enter into marriage being warned that it was hard work, or that you had to take it seriously lest it fail. We both disagreed with the sentiment we often heard at weddings of our peers that marriage should be a time to remember that we are individuals and that entering wedlock should not affect our independence from each other.

Ben and I struggled through our adolescence feeling utterly alone and at odds with the world. When we found each other we found relief that we were not the only ones in the world searching for the other half of our soul. When we found each other we found validation for believing there was one perfect other for us out there, somewhere.

The belief in soulmates is ancient as can be seen in Aristophanes tale of four legged, four armed, two faced human beings being physically cleft in two by Zeus. The story resonates as we ARE our most powerful, our most content when we are joined by our partners, and we DO feel bereft when we are without them.

So how do I square my belief in soul mates with my lack of belief in a soul? Whatever we mean when we talk about the soul is undoubtedly the part of us, the essence of us, the humanity of us that aches for ‘the one’. In both cases we are referring to the complex, as yet ungraspable totality of our physical and emotional existence. We are not really suggesting there is a floating cloudlike soul that lives within us. We do not really believe in ghosts. When we die, sadly, I think we really do cease to exist in any conscious way. Where and how I am buried won’t matter to me once I am dead, but I would like to be buried nonetheless. I would like to buried next to my beloved nonetheless. I would like to be buried as close to him as possible nonetheless.