What a difference a day makes

A year ago today, this happened.

IMG_0385 IMG_0433 Much to my surprise, I have been very laid-back in my approach to our wedding. Having worked on and gone to so many weddings, both Dave and I were pretty certain about what we wanted for our own celebration. We had the date picked and the big four – celebrant, venue, photographer and videographer – booked within a month of announcing our engagement. We then sat back and waited for the 11 months to pass until the big day. It seemed like it would never arrive.

Now, 10 of those months have passed. The wedding is less than four weeks away and we are moving through all the final details on our to-do list. On Friday night, we took our parents to our reception venue to help us choose the wedding menu. It started out like a regular family dinner, but over the course of the evening we all realised that the day is coming.

We realised that in a matter of weeks, my Dad will walk me down the aisle towards the man he already considers a son.

That in a matter of weeks, Dave and I will stand in front of all the people we respect most to declare our love and commitment to one another.

That all the people we love will be in one room. (That there will also be champagne and cake in the room is a bonus).

That our two families will be joined and together, we will start a new family.

That in a matter of weeks, I will marry my best friend.

I am SO EXCITED.

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All photos copyright Koren Harvey.

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To my Mum on Mother’s Day

It always amuses me when people are asked for their ultimate dinner party guests and inevitably reel off a list of celebrity names in response. Celebrities? At my house for dinner? Pah. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than stressing as to whether my glassware was spot-free enough to impress some minor royals while crossing fingers that the prosciutto-wrapped chicken isn’t too calorie-laden for weight-conscious Hollywood A-listers. And what on earth would we talk about? Oxygen facials?

No, if I was having the ultimate dinner party, it would be filled with my real-life heroes, not people I watch from afar on a screen or sporting field. People like my sister, my best friends and my parents. People like my Mum.

Toddler kisses.

Toddler kisses.

If you were to ask my Mum to describe herself, she would use an array of non-specific words. Words like ‘ordinary’ and ‘normal’. They’re not the words I would use, however.

My Mum, Cath, has lived an extraordinary life. She was the second eldest in a family of five children and the only girl. She’s the first to admit that her earliest years were not easy with 4 ratbag brothers and no one to play dolls with, so much so that when she fell pregnant with my sister she wished fervently for a girl, purely so that I would have a sister to grow up with.

Waving Dad off to work, 80s style.

Waving Dad off to work, 80s style.

When Mum was 14, she came down with a virus she just couldn’t shake. She had regular fevers, blood noses and weight loss. Doctors were baffled; it wasn’t until my grandfather insisted on a blood test that a diagnosis was made. Mum had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, or ALL.

In the early 1970s, this diagnosis was effectively a death sentence. My grandparents were told that while treatment would occur, their beloved only daughter had, at best, six months to live and they should treat her well for what remained of her life.  They were also advised not to tell Mum of her diagnosis, believing it to be too much for a teenager to cope with.

But you see, no one had told Mum that she was supposed to die.

So she didn’t.

Pink was big with Mum, my Nan and I.

Pink was big with Mum, my Nan and I.

Aided by a team of young, well-connected doctors, Mum fought on. She left school at the end of Year 10, as was custom then (and the logic was, if you’re going to die, why do you need a High School Certificate?) and began working in a bank, where she met my Dad. Six years after her diagnosis, ALL in remission, she married him. Her doctor, as proud as could be, was in attendance and would later be one of the first visitors to the hospital when both my sister and I were born.

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know what cancer or leukaemia was, but Mum has never let it define her. Most of her friends would be surprised to read this and learn of the monumental battle she fought and won at a time when very few, if anyone else, did.

Hanging out at Katoomba, 1985.

Hanging out at Katoomba, 1985.

But that’s just my Mum and her attitude to life. She is fiercely competitive and loves a good challenge. Heck, this is a woman who took up marathon running at 48 because she was bored, despite never having run before in her life. She’s now run marathons throughout the world.

So today, on Mother’s Day, I want my Mum to know that she is top of the list when it comes to my ultimate dinner party guests.

Don't judge. It was the 80s.

Don’t judge. It was the 80s.

Mum, I want you to know:

I am so grateful for the examples you have provided to me of how to be a woman in a strong and loving relationship – whether that’s as a wife, as a mother or as a friend.

I am so grateful for the way you have proven to me, time and time again, that anything is possible if you want it enough.

I am so grateful for the sacrifices, choices and commitments you have made and continue to make for us.

I am so grateful for the courage, confidence and support you have given me throughout my life.

I am so grateful for your unconditional love and warm, open arms.

I am so proud to be your daughter.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mum.

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My very own proposal story

Proposal stories. I love them. Can’t get enough of them, in fact. It’s one of the first things I ask couples about. I start with a question of ‘how did you get engaged?’ and usually end up a) wiping away tears, b) happy clapping, c) grinning like a funfair clown or d) all of the above.

I have them all catalogued in my head, a veritable treasure trove of romance and consideration. Each story is different and each is wonderful. Here’s mine.

Blissfully happy.
Copyright K. Harvey

I think the boy despaired for quite some time that he would find a way to propose that I hadn’t heard before and in a way that I wouldn’t see coming. I’m the born organiser of the two of us – if we have social plans, I’ve made them. If our tax returns/dry cleaning/chimney sweeping needs doing, I’ll arrange it. We used to joke that if Dave ever announced he’d made plans for us to go out for dinner on a Saturday night, I’d know to buy a wedding dress.

But he managed to do both. When Dave did ask me to be his wife, I was so shocked that I was lost for words. And that, my friends, is remarkably unusual for a woman who manages to keep talking during dental examinations. (It’s true. Ask my dentist.)

In June, we set off on what I can only describe as a five week adventure. We would start in China, where my sister and her partner live, exploring Beijing and Shanghai. We would then spend 11 days in Italy, eating ourselves sick and having romantic couple time, before making our way to Germany for a family wedding. The last four days of our trip were to be spent pool-side in Hong Kong, cocktails in hand. All of that happened, except that after the first day it all happened with my fiancé rather than my boyfriend.

It’s big.
Copyright K. Harvey

Our first stop was Beijing where on day one, my sister, Trea, and her partner, Tom, were taking us hiking along the Great Wall of China. Any traces of jetlag were washed away by our excitement to see TnT again and to be standing atop the most impressive structure in the world. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the sheer awesomeness of the Wall. Just. Amazing.

After a 2km uphill climb to get to the Wall, we then spent three and a half hours making our way along it in 38 degree heat and full sun. The section we went to hasn’t yet been discovered by hordes of tourists and most of it lies in disrepair. The four of us had a merry time looking out for rabbits, dodging loose gravel and making our way up and down the steepest hills I’ve ever encountered. Oh, and posing for a photo or 300.

Three monkeys on a wall.
Copyright K. Harvey

Dave had bought a new camera just before we left and would not let it out of his sight. Even at the airport he insisted on carrying it, which I put down to possessiveness of his new toy. Along the Wall, Dave took most of our photos, relinquishing the camera only when I demanded that he be in a few of them as well. In all the photos he is still wearing the camera bag. I should have seen it coming, shouldn’t I?

Not engaged yet.
Copyright K. Harvey

When we’d had enough, some three hours later, Dave passed his beloved camera to Trea and asked her to take one last photo of the two of us on the Wall. The climb had been so tough that my legs were shaking from exertion. While Dave set up the camera, I held on to the Wall as support for my weary legs and took in one last valley view. I still don’t know what made me turn – I think Trea gasped. I turned to find Dave on one knee and even though the words came out of his mouth, it took me several seconds to realise what was happening.

The moment.
Copyright K. Harvey

My thought process went something like this:

he’s on the ground why is he on the ground oh hell did he drop the camera no Trea has the camera oh good the camera’s safe what’s that in his hand it’s black like the camera but it’s not a camera is it a lens cap it’s a black box oh my god there’s a ring in the box oh my god he’s on one knee did he just ask me to marry him oh my god this is happening really is this happening why is it happening now what happened to Italy I thought this would happen in Italy I’m all sweaty and gross he’s PROPOSING you need to answer him Koren oh no I’m crying stop crying say something give the boy an answer nodding is an answer stop crying where have all my words gone

And then I kissed him.

Yes, still crying.
Copyright K. Harvey

Once Dave was back on his feet Tom pointed out I hadn’t given a verbal answer yet. I very happily said yes and then went back to clamping my hand over my mouth in shock. Trea, meanwhile, had got trigger-happy through her tears and snapped over 200 photos of those beautiful minutes. Neither she nor Tom had been any the wiser to Dave’s proposal and were just as surprised as I was.

I was so convinced that I’d see a proposal coming from miles away that I thought Dave hadn’t realised what he was doing. I do believe I even asked him if he was ‘sure’.  I had decided – without any discussion with Dave – that if he were to propose, it would happen in Italy (because we were booked into a Tuscan villa so beautiful that it practically begs to be proposed in), so seeing him on one knee in rural China threw me.

I said yes. Obviously.
Copyright K. Harvey

But the boy had other plans. He had meticulously planned this moment for months, secretly meeting with a jeweller to design my ring, asking Dad for his blessing, working out how to surprise me (here’s a clue: don’t give anything away. Just drop to one knee) and making sure the entire thing was captured on film. Most importantly, he had thought of something I hadn’t – how meaningful it would be for us to have Trea and Tom there to witness the moment.

Once the four of us were back at our hotel, we rang our parents and gleefully told them the news before making a serious dent in Beijing’s champagne supply. We swore our families to secrecy and didn’t tell anyone at home for the rest of our trip.

Two very excited, mascara-stained (and a little shocked) sisters.
Copyright K. Harvey.

Neither Dave or I liked the idea of our close friends hearing about it over Facebook and it was so special to have those five weeks to absorb what the news meant for us both and our future. It also meant we got to tell people in person and see their joy on our behalf, which only served to magnify our joy.

Proposal stories now mean all the more to me. Whether elaborate or simple, planned or impulsive, each is wonderful because of what it means to the couple. I still love hearing them. It’s just that I have a favourite now.

Copyright K. Harvey

My first Dum Dum De Dah dress

If you’ve been hanging around the blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve loved weddings for longer than I can remember. As a toddler I couldn’t quite get my tongue around the sounds in the word ‘wedding’, so I invented my own term  –  dum dum de dah. It, and my wedding obsession, gained such notoriety within our circle of family and friends that it is now used with frightening regularity – it’s not uncommon for my Mum to call me of an evening and ask how the day’s dum dum de dah has gone. (If you’re confused by how I came up with dum dum de dah, hum The Wedding March. Make sense now?)

On a recent mission to clear some more cupboard space, I found some photos that may better explain why my love for weddings has lasted as long as it has.

My first wedding gown, Christmas 1986.

By the time I was three, my wedding obsession had picked up speed and was hurtling along. Perhaps in the hope of calming my bridal fever, my grandmother made me a bride doll for Christmas, complete with custom-made gown and veil. I named her Annabel and she became my constant companion. I was forever fluffing her train and straightening her veil before walking her down imaginary aisles, all the while singing The Wedding March at the top of my little lungs. My sister, at that stage only a few months old and unable to go anywhere fast, was often required to be a witness. 

I could not get enough of  pretty ladies in white dresses. They looked like princesses in their diaphanous gowns and veils. I wanted to be near them. No, I wanted to be them. I didn’t want to marry a boy (gross!) or have to do any kissing (even grosser!) but I wanted to spin around in a big white puffball and wear a veil. Mum was starting to get sick of having to wash grass stains from sheets I’d tied around my waist and traipsed all over the lawn with. What to do?

Christmas 1986.

Nan to the rescue again. The following Christmas, I was given a dum dum de dah dress of my own. It was love at first sight. Lined, cap-sleeved and edged with lace, the gown had a delicate train and a hem that flounced when I walked. Not only had Nan made me the dress of my four-year-old dreams, she had also put together a bridal trousseau. The dress was complemented by a two-tiered veil, a blue garter, a ribbon-trimmed bouquet and a horseshoe to drape over my arm. Photos were taken of this baby bride with her parents, toddler sister, grandparents, uncles and aunts. I daresay the photos when I actually get married will have a lot to live up to!

Nan was no fool, she had made the gown big enough for me to grow into. She figured I wouldn’t grow out of my love of all things wedding and she was right. However, as I grew taller and taller, my sister started to play the role of bride with me as maid of honour. I LOVED this role as I got to fluff her train and, in the way that only big sisters can, order her about.  Most days you would find the two of us slow-walking down the hallway, again singing The Wedding March at the top of our lungs before little sister was married off to someone imaginary. Occasionally we would rope our neighbour into the role of groom, but he never seemed as excited about it as we were, funnily enough.

By 1989, my sister was the bride and I was maid of honour.

Three years later Nan made me another wedding gown, this time with a lace bodice, satin sleeves and a tulle underskirt. Little satin flowers had been picked out on the skirt, and the dropped waist featured an arrangement of flowers and beading at the hip. It was beloved by me, my sister and every friend either of us ever had over to play. It was a real princess gown and I’m on a mission to find more photos to share.

I still have my bride doll, Annabel, and my first wedding dress.  Every few months the dress is brought out, lovingly tried on and twirled around in before being paraded in front of family and friends.

It’s just that these days, I’m not the one doing the trying on – that role falls to my best friend’s little girl, who seems just as fascinated with weddings as her Aunty Koren still so proudly is.

Happy birthday to us!

Today marks exactly one year since I became an authorised marriage celebrant.

WOOHOO!

East 13 Photography

I was so excited when I received the email stating that I had been authorised as a marriage celebrant by the Australian Attorney General’s Department. It was the culmination of many months of work and finger-crossing. Having loved weddings since I was a little girl, this feels like the role I was born to do.

I get asked – a lot – why I became a marriage celebrant. I should be used to the question by now but I always find myself pausing before I answer. Usually to catch my breath before launching into a long and enthusiastic explanation.

I have loved weddings ever since I can remember. When I was little, the dress was a big part of it (‘PRINCESS, Mummy, LOOK!’) but the older I got, the more it became about the sacredness of the occasion.

Put simply, I became a celebrant because I love love. I love seeing how happy a wedding makes not only the couple involved but their family and friends, too.

At my most recent wedding, the couple asked the bride’s aunty to pick or write something about their relationship. She wrote a beautiful piece from her heart that spoke about marriage and the path that lay ahead of them and they heard it for the first time on their wedding day. I was very glad I’d had the chance to read it before the day, else I would have been crying with them!

I love that I get to work with couples to articulate the depth of feeling they have for one another. I love that they trust me enough to let me be a part of that.

Most of all, I love the people I get to meet. Once you’re past your school years, the window for meeting new people becomes narrower and narrower. Every time I meet a new couple, I usually end up dancing around our living room, telling Dave that I want these people to be our FRIENDS!

I can honestly say that every single person I have met through my work as a celebrant is someone that I would be thrilled to have in my life as a friend. I’m so grateful that I have the opportunity to meet these people and be part of such a significant moment in their lives.

Thanks to everyone who has been along for the first year of the ride. You’ve made my year.

Here’s to many more! xx