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“Nick, this is the special occasion.”

March 2, 2015

An hour before I asked Alex to marry me, she was explaining to me that she might have to go back to Group Health later that evening for additional tests. The doctors were pretty sure that she had her second ovarian cyst in six months but were waiting one some blood work to confirm their suspicion.

I told Alex that should be fine since our dinner reservations were at eight. This was of course a lie. There were no dinner reservations at eight. In fact, I was freaking out because our closest friends were gathering in 45 minutes at Quinn’s, where I had planned to surprise Alex on the night our “anniversary” and ask her to marry me in front of them. And one rogue ovarian cyst was about to ruin the best laid plans.

We met at Quinn’s in Capitol Hill three years ago. It was a Friday night. The rain pissed down from the dark February sky. From my hazy memory of that evening, I remember we sat at the table by the window. I remember the flickering candle light that was illuminating our cocktails. I ordered something with whiskey. Alex ordered something with gin. We had two drinks each. I wore jeans with the suit coat I bought with my Fantasy Football winnings a month before. At the end of happy hour, neither of us wanted the night to end. So we walked to Smith. Almost a mile uphill. The rain picked up and our umbrellas provided the only respite from the cold February rain.

I remember there was a wait. Alex ordered the fish. I ordered the pulled pork sandwich with either an Olympia or a Rainier. I thought the pulled pork presented me less as a carnivore than the Smith burger would have (Alex was a pescetarian at the time). Despite only knowing each other for a couple of hours, I knew I had stumbled upon something special. And I hoped for the best as we parted for the first time.

Within a year, we moved in together. After two years together, we spent three weeks in France. Soon after we got back from abroad, we had a joint banking account. And we knew were going to get married. We settled on a ring. All that there was left to do was simply ask her.

I asked Paul if he had any Champagne that I could buy from him. He didn’t. He asked me if I had some. I said I had a couple of bottles that I was saving for a special occasion. “Nick, this is the special occasion,” Paul quipped.

I lied to Alex and told her we had reservations at Westward. I told her that the restaurant had a random buyout on that Tuesday and the earliest reservation was at 8:00 p.m. I did this so I could suggest casually a drink at Quinn’s. Meanwhile, I had asked our closest friends to come to Quinn’s for dinner without Alex knowing. I wanted to propose in front of them. That afternoon, I had dropped off the wines for dinner. Now, I just needed to her to get to Quinn’s.

Around 5:30 the lab results came back clear. No additional tests needed. Alex was relieved for obvious reasons. I was relieved for obvious reasons. I suggested that we go to Quinn’s for a drink before Westward. She agreed. I packed two more wines into my messenger bag.

As it was a Tuesday night, Quinn’s was relatively quiet. The hostess had left her stand and I suggested to Alex that we go find a seat. We headed upstairs to the communal table and we saw everyone there. They quieted down. I said the following:

For the last year or so I knew I wanted to do this in front of our closest friends. Such a life event should not be just for the participants involved but also for the witnesses that have helped carry this journey forward. Especially, as someone who has kept their dating life as public as I have.

These past three years have been a blur. And it is hard to remember the life I had before meeting you. Often when I recall going to a particular restaurant, I always think it was you by my side. Not one of the random numbers that came before. And while we may have known that we are going to spend the rest of our lives together for some time, we both know it is time to make it official.

On this day three years ago, in this very gastropub, we met on a rainy Friday evening. We talked about the meaning of life. Death. Purpose. Existence. In these three years, I don’t think we have figured out the answers to these topics. But I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you trying. Alex, will you marry me?

She of course, said yes.

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What I Have Learned This Past Year

December 31, 2014

A forgotten wallet, coupled with our cat running at top speed out of the apartment, made me miss my bus. I was pissed. I’m in the coffee shop 15 minutes later than I normally would be and I am waiting for my coffee. In walks in Garrett McKinney. A friend I went to elementary school with. I still remember his 3rd grade birthday party when we went bowling and rode in his father’s Volkswagen Beetle. I remember the cottonwood tree in front of house. I hadn’t seen Garrett in more than a decade.

It is hard to believe that this is my 17th New Year’s reflection. I remember the reason for writing the first one. I wrote it because that year in high school my life was so very amazing (to my 15-year old self at least) that I wanted to remember it for all of time. Tragically, the first one is the only one that is lost to the bits and bytes of time and (cyber) space.

This past year we went to France, Iceland, and Monaco (though, all in the same trip). We tasted Champagne in Champagne. And Châteauneuf-du-Pape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We slept in a castle. And ate terrible (available) Chinese food (I remember most the wall of six microwaves they used to reheat the food) after visiting the Eiffel Tower. We gambled in the Monte Carlo. And ran to the Mona Lisa. In our apartment in Paris, I learned that the dishwasher and oven could be the same unit.

I will always remember the owner of the Au Lapin Qui Fume (the smoking rabbit) tease me about my French Language skills. He interrupted and quieted the entire restaurant. He told them that I would be ordering in front of them. In French. And I did. And he corrected every word I pronounced wrong.

We dealt with strikes in Iceland and almost missed our train in Paris. There were lagoons, cafes, and photos of me standing on things. There was great food and a Michelin Star. There were hounds and hounds, the occasional cat, and the truly bizarre.

And then there was a tour in Tours. When we boarded our Eurovan there were two other Americans (Andrea and Marcus) with us. We asked them where they were from and they replied, “Seattle.” After the initial shock of being from the same city and discussion of the world being incredibly small, we find out that Alex and Marcus work at the same University. We have had dinner with them a few times since April. No wonder they say it is hard to meet new friends in Seattle; sometimes you have to meet them a half a world away.

With a stroke of happenstance I found myself interviewing at two different places after our trip to France. First, my former colleague at Washington Business Week (my first job out of graduate school), introduced me to her boss who was looking for a new Major Gifts Officer. Lunch turned into a tour and into a discussion of benefits, which later turned into more interviews. Meanwhile, my former colleague at Pacific Science Center introduced me to her former boss. A phone call turned into group interviews, which turned into more group interviews. At the end of interviewing, I had run out of excuses to leaving work mid-day. And in the end of July, I started as a Major Gifts Officer at the University of Washington. It has been amazing. To Megan and Jannine, thank you so much for thinking of me. You have literally changed the course of my life for the better.

One of the reasons I left was that my good friends at the Science Center had left. Kristi (KP), who I considered one of my ‘work wives’ moved back to Minnesota after having her baby. She never came back from her maternity leave. I still remember our last coffee at work together. KP, 9-months pregnant, walking across the ponds to Starbucks on a beautiful, sunny, winter day. Alex and I had one last dinner with them in May before they headed across the country. And Jannine, who I considered a mentor, also left. Our endless conversations about nonprofits and fundraising would now have to take place over the occasional lunch.

There were many memories from this year that I will cherish.   Like visiting an old friend. Or Spending a long weekend at Lake Crescent. And another on Hood Canal. And as amazing as our meal at the Michelin starred restaurant in Paris was, it was probably the meal on Lummi Island at the Willows Inn that will be the most memorable. We popped open a bottle of Champagne (one of the 9.5 bottles we schlepped back in our luggage from France) and a 2007 K Vintners Syrah-Grenache. There was a great dinner at Loulay and a hospital stay after (ask Alex about her ruptured ovarian cyst). And a random, weird looking bug bite (ask her about that too). This past year we watched as the Sounders scored goal after goal, lifted a cup and a shield, and celebrated in complete joy for 15 minutes before our hearts were broken.

Most importantly, I think Alex and I will always remember 2014 as the year we decided to get married. We have a ring. Now I just need to pop the question. And I cannot wait to see how our wedding details will unfold.

I wrote several years ago in this reflection that friendships weave in and out along a timeline and you never know when they will intersect again. Yasmeen, a girl who lived on my floor at Morrison Hall in 2000 contacted me on Facebook. Despite us being Facebook friends and living in the same city, we hadn’t spoken in almost 13 years. We talked about our relationships and she told me about her son. And she reminded me that the first time I met her she was crying in the hallway because her boyfriend broke up with her. And I offered her a cookie. Another intersection.

Working back in the U-District is strange. It is a place where I lived and went to school for 2.5 years. And I have been spending the last 5 months revisiting my favorite places. Recently, I went back to the Mandarin Chef. The place where “Chopstick for One” was born. Where the owner knew me by name. After I ordered she gave me this knowing smile. I hadn’t been back in 8 years. And the next time I came in, she said, “Thank you Nick.”

I see Garrett a lot now in the U-District since running into him. It was probably only a matter of time until our paths intersected again. But such is life. Old friends intersecting our new lives when we least expect it. And new friends being met in a Eurovan a world away. A 7 year old Syrah-Grenache consumed during an evening, at restaurant, and with a woman, that myself 7 years ago would not have been able to comprehend or imagine. Thank you to all who made 2014 another great year. Happy New Year.

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The Push Present

December 8, 2014

The receptionist at Greenlake Jewelry offered us an espresso soon after we arrived. We declined. We also declined the Pellegrino. I peered into the fridge and I saw several bottles sparkling wine. Perhaps it was too early in the morning to ask for that.

From a business perspective, Greenlake Jewelry reminded me of a car dealership. Instead of a showroom filled with cars and new tires, we had glass cases of diamond rings and other forms of bling. A salesperson was immediately assigned to us to help us find our perfect ring.

Alex never wanted an engagement ring. I wanted one for her. When I imagined our ‘Facebook “We’re engaged!” status update,’ I always pictured it with Alex holding her hand out, with a ring on it. She wanted to be practical and save the money (we are saving for a house). Perhaps she thought it was a bit antiquated. We really didn’t talk about it again.

We had a friend over for dinner and this conversation came up again. And I said that I was fine with not having a ring. If Alex didn’t want it, I shouldn’t push.

In the meantime, Alex had shifted her position as well. If having a ring was important to me, than she didn’t want to stop me from having that. Plus, with our actual wedding being a year and half away, she wanted something public to show our commitment together.

And that is how we found ourselves declining espresso at Greenlake Jewelry one Sunday morning in Northgate.

Alex sent me a half of dozen emails of rings from Greenlake Jewelry and she found one that she really liked.

The salesperson and his apprentice told us that they had just sold that ring the other day. But he had another one in back. He comes back with the ring, takes it out of the brown envelope, pops open the ziplock bag and hands the ring to Alex. The ring looked like it came out of a .25-cent machine. It was comically small. Also, it felt weird knowing that our potential engagement ring was stocked in the back like a gallon of milk or a new iPhone.

They slide us a couple of glass cases over. The diamonds grow in size proportionally to the cost. They show us a ring that is outside of our ideal price range. But Alex likes it a lot. I like it lot. And in that moment we both learn that Alex actually wanted bling. They write up the specific details, size her finger, and send us on our way.

Alex’s Great-Grandfather gave her Great-Grandmother a present each time when one of their four children were born. When her Grandmother was born, she received a ring. A turn of the century Push Present, if you will. Alex’s mom had given her this ring many years ago. We decided to pass on the Greenlake Jewelry ring; Using her Great-Grandmother’s ring as our engagement ring would be a great way to honor her family and use a family heirloom.

After slogging through many yelp reviews of jewelers, we settled on Lisa Esztergalyos. Don’t ask me to pronounce her name. She was fast with the re-sizing, the polish, and securing the old diamonds. Her work was perfect on our antique ring. We could not be more pleased.

Lisa asked Alex if she wanted to wear the ring out of the store. Pre-engaged she replied. I have some ideas in changing that status. And I am sure you will all know when that happens.

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Genesis: #peydamewed

November 21, 2014

Over the summer, Alex and I decided that we are going to get married in 2016. It happened rather organically. Basking in the glow of our French vacation in April we were excited for our next trip. And to take that much time off again would require planning.

When thinking about our next trip we realized that in 2016 we will have been together for more than four years. And it was time to make it official. Italy would have to wait, or become our Honeymoon.

In the beginning of our wedding conversations, Alex would have preferred that we get married next year in 2015. But the event planner in me was panicked at that prospect. We don’t have a venue. Or a guest list. Or even a plan. Not to mention the other million other details we need to figure out. And probably the most important detail not completed is the fact that we are not even engaged.

So we agreed, summer 2016.

Months later, we are working on the guest list (it is at 200). We have started to scour yelp reviews on potential venues. And we have agreed on our current top priorities (mine: food and wine; hers: the ceremony and venue). We both don’t give a shit about the cake (it should be good), or flowers (let’s have some, but doesn’t need to break the bank), or invitations (we are going to make them at home).

Much like new parents, we are receiving a lot of unsolicited advice from our friends and family. Everyone has an opinion. And I/we have to remind them that this is not 1970s/80s anymore. The wedding business has changed. And while my parents were married in the sleepy town of Cheney (today population over 10,000), we are getting married in the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. For better or worse, there is more than one caterer, one venue, one florist, etc, etc, etc. This will be unlike anything my parents did when they were married. They are slowly realizing that.

So the last couple of years, I haven’t written much in this blog. Stories about our daily life together is very boring. Take today for example: During breakfast, Alex drops bagel crumbs on Miles. Nick teases her and tells her she doesn’t love the cat. Alex rolls her eyes.

Well at the very least not as exciting as some of my past dating stories like the one about the date told through text messages, or the girl I asked out with my business card, or the girl who told me she was married to my former co-worker.

But our upcoming engagement and wedding provides me an opportunity to write more about our relationship and the craziness of a wedding. And hopefully it will be interesting. And hopefully, you will find it funny.

Next time on #peydamewed: Nick and Alex go ring shopping; offered espresso; Alex realizes that she wants bling.

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Meal Time in France

November 9, 2014

During our trip, I took a two second video of everything I ate. I hope you enjoy.

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Top 10 Dishes of the Trip

June 17, 2014
Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Here are my favorite dishes of our trip:

Steak Frites with a marrow boneSteak Frites with Marrow Bone at Aux Tonneaux des Halles in Paris, France. In this David Lebovitz recommended bistro, the steak was perfectly cooked and the fries were the best on the trip. The marrow bone was the perfect amount of added decadence to put this dish as number one. We ate outside and watched as our waiter got into a French-styled argument (angry whispers, finger pointing, and cursing) with a women walking her dog. Alex roughly translated the fight for me:

Waiter: “Don’t bring your dog here, this is where people are eating.”
Woman: “This place is no different than a cafe”
Waiter: “Something in French
Woman: “Something in French,” with finger pointing.
Waiter: “French cursing,”
Woman: “French cursing,” she continued her finger pointing and got right in the waiter’s face, before leaving with her dog.

Steak TartareSteak Tartare with Salad and Homemade Potato Chips at Le Bonheur Suit Son Cours in Vaison-la-Romaine, France. One of the couples at our B & B thought that this restaurant was a little “full of themselves,” because they had a very large wine list. Don’t show them the Canlis 75-page wine book. The tartare was served without egg and shallot. So the beef was the star. I scooped it up with the homemade chips.

FalafelFalafel Sandwich at L’As du Fallafel in Paris, France. Mark Bittman calls this the best falafel anywhere in Europe. Lenny Kravitz has endorsed this place. It has 4 stars through 983 Tripadvisor Reviews. And 4.5 stars through 515 Yelp reviews. It’s just pita, falafel, hummus, pickled red cabbage, salted cucumbers, fried eggplant, and spicy-hot harissa. There is always a line. But it moves fast. The Brits in front of me wanted a Sprite but got a Coke. They were too shy to correct them. I ate this under an eve while people danced in the street. With all of the hype you expect the sandwich to be underwhelming but it was one of the best sandwiches I have ever had.

Foie GrasFoie Gras, Cream, and Eggs at Au Lapin qui Fume, in Tours France. Three of the top ten dishes came from Au Lapin qui Fume. I don’t know if it was strictly the food or perhaps it was knowing that this was our first taste of French cuisine or maybe it being the our meal after this day but this place served some of my favorite food on the trip. This rich dish was one of my favorites. It was served with sliver slices of sweet rye bread. And when that was gone, I sopped up the rest with torn pieces of baguettes.

Chocolate BiscuitChocolate Mousse with Sweet Biscuit and Vanilla Meringue Cookies at Au Lapin qui Fume, in Tours France. This dessert featured the most intense chocolate that I have ever had. And the crunchy biscuit was the perfect pairing to go with it.

I ordered this dessert on our second time at the Au Lapin qui Fume (the only restaurant we went to twice on the trip). And the waiter/owner had been teasing me about my French the first time we went. So on the second visit, he got up, announced to the entire restaurant that I would be ordering my meal in front of them, in French. The restaurant suddenly silenced. I gulped hard. And ordered. In front of everyone. And every mistake I made he would correct me until I got it right.

CrepeReine Crêpe (ham, cheese, olives, mushrooms) at La Droguerie du Marais, in Paris France. When I got back from my France trip in 2012, I was haunted by one meal. Actually one crêpe. It was a crêpe I ordered at random place in the Marais. I didn’t know the name. Or the address. But it was one of the best crêpes I have ever had. Alex wanted to visit the Marais during our time in Paris. And when we got there, I ordered us to walk street by street in a grid until we found it. The chef lets the overflow cheese hit the crêpe iron and burn slightly. This is the key to a life changing crêpe. Alex almost fainted from hunger while waiting for hers. She admitted later that it was worth every minute she waited.

Beef Egg CrepeTimbre Poste Crêpe (ground beef, onions, potatoes, egg, swiss cheese, and cream) at Le Timbre Poste, in Tours, France. I love savory crêpes. I love runny eggs in my meals. And when I find myself in a new restaurant, I try to order the dish that they put their name on. Check, check, check. We found this place randomly walking toward old town. A group of college students sat a couple of tables over. I cut into the yolk and watched it ooze out over my crêpe. Perfect ending to a day of wine tasting.

RigatoniRigatoni with Eggplant, Sausage at La Voglia in Nice, France. Rigatoni with Eggplant and Sausage at La Voglia in Nice, France. With Nice so close to Italy, you expect some good Italian. Rick Steves said that this place serves great Italian at great prices. This is exactly what you want to hear toward the end of your trip. We sat outside engulfed in the warm Mediterranean breeze (maybe that was just the heat lamp). Two college aged girls next to us asked if they could smoke after their meal. Of course we said. The crispy bits of cheese and pasta made this dish a winner.

Strawberries Ice Cream Whipped Cream

  • Strawberries, Vanilla Ice Cream, Whipped Cream, and Shaved Almonds at Au Lapin qui Fume, in Tours France. After several bites of this dish, I claimed it was the best whipped cream I have ever tasted. Completely sober and back in the U.S.A., I still believe it. Such a simple but wonderful dish at a wonderful restaurant.

    Foie Gras ChampagneFoie Gras and Toasted Bread, at André GOUTORBE & Fils, in Damery, France. Aunt Paula asked our host if she made lunch for us. Our host laughed and said she gathered the components from local producers around the area. She did pick each element to pair perfectly with the Champagne. And it paired perfectly. This was a lunch I could do every day.

    There were other amazing dishes but these ten stand out to me.

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    Je Voudrais un Café, S’il Vous Plaît

    June 12, 2014

    I normally drink my 16 ounce, quad shot, Americano from Starbucks every morning. Add a dash of skim milk and a couple of shakes of cinnamon (for health) and I am on my way. But when in France…

    A café at the start and end of the day is perfect when traveling.

    Can you guess which one below was the most expensive? The answer is at the bottom.

    Click to enlarge

    Click to enlarge

    Most expensive café was 5.50€. Located in the fourth row, the fourth one from the left (it was at the Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris). The second most expensive one was 4.50€. Located in the top right corner of the collage. It was shocking at the time but it did come with a freshly baked mini madeleine.

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