blogpic2.jpgIt's been four months since Chris and I got married.

I have no idea whether we still classify as newlyweds, or indeed whether we are still in the 'honeymoon stage', but it seems a good point to reflect on the early stages of married life.

The first four weeks didn't count; we were on honeymoon, which in no way reflects reality. But it did mean that by the time we got back to Madrid, we had already racked up a whole month of marital bliss.

And within two weeks of Chris carrying me over the threshold of our apartment - typically we forgot the first time around so had to re-enact the moment - we had established our routine.

It's really not that much different from life before the wedding (minus, of course, the incessant planning).

I could never have married someone I hadn't lived with first. It might not be the most romantic approach, but when it comes to your life partner, practicality should win out.

So, when I made my vows I already knew I wasn't just committing Chris. No, I was also committing to all the dusting, bathroom cleaning and clothes washing. He, on the other hand, was signing up to a lifetime of cooking and the hoovering - we had to go a buy a brand new Dyson for him to agree to the latter.

As a result, we came into our marriage with clearly defined responsibilities. And with ten years behind us as a couple, there have been no surprises on the relationship front either.

It was not a big shock then, when Chris announced he was going to buy himself a wedding present. He did promise to also buy me a gift, but his was the definite priority.

So within weeks of us getting back, he had proudly come home clutching a Playstation 3; no man can survive on an Xbox, Wii and two laptops alone. In contrast, I received my wedding present about three weeks ago.

Thankfully it was definitely worth the wait. Somewhere in-between looking at clothes and food shopping one Saturday, my husband bought me a hot pink Dior bag.

Actually that's one thing that has changed - ideally I will only refer to Chris as my husband; I love it.

Not much might have altered day-to-day, but the feeling of being married is truly amazing. I have always been incredibly proud of my relationship with Chris, and never more so than I do now.

As for the future? To the bitter disappointment of my in-laws, babies are on the back-burner. We are blissfully happy the way we are, and honestly, far too selfish to give up the life we love at the moment.

No, the next big event in the Strong household is Christmas - our very first one just the two of us. Because of work commitments, we will both be spending December 25th together, and on our own. I couldn't be more excited, Chris definitely could.

In his opinion, Christmas just the two of us will be "really boring". I on the other hand am thrilled, and have been desperately trying to get my goodwill to rub off on Chris - with little success.

Still, I will persevere. At my suggestion (insistence) we will be staying in a lovely hotel, and I am employing a number of tactics to win Chris over. I have spoken to my mother-in-law about 'ways to make the day special for Chris' which seems to work in ratio to the number of presents he receives.

But when it comes to it, I know we will have so much fun together - we always do. That's another thing that definitely hasn't changed with marriage.
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banda-outside-200.jpgAfter being welcomed with a fresh coconut and some big smiles, we were led to our banda, one of just 12 in total. As honeymooners, we were located at the far end of the resort - not that they needed to worry, aside from Chris and I, the only other guests were a Swiss family of five.

We very quickly settled in. Our mornings began with hot chocolate, coffee and home-made biscuits hand-delivered to our shore-side accommodation - this happened every day, which, in hindsight, really set the precedent for the whole Lamu experience.

Our days in Kipungani were taken up with walks along the beach, swimming in the pool, swimming in the sea and, just occasionally, some activities.

Two-man kayaking was a particular favourite until we ventured out one windy day and ended up at far end of the resort - disappointment written all over his face, Chris told me my lack of upper strength was to blame and that I could no longer be his kayak wingman.

We went along to Kipungani village one sunny morning, where we were shown around a school by one of the locals. That was an amazing and incredibly humbling experience. We also took a boat ride to Lamu - my stepmother Sue, who arranged the whole honeymoon, spent some time living there so I was keen to visit.

banda-200.jpgLamu is the most colourful, wonderful place - a town that time forgot. The sole mode of transport is the donkey; in fact there is just one car on the whole island. So there are animals roaming everywhere, navigating their way through the tiny winding streets unsupervised - apparently they all know their way home.

While there we visited the bustling food market, the fort, squeezed in a spot of shopping - saris for the girls - and I had both my hands hennaed.

So, there were plenty of lazy days in Lamu - the perfect antidote to our hectic safari tour. Aside from our inertia, our general fitness was not helped by the food. It was incredible - Michelin star-incredible - and our waiter David just happened to be something of a feeder. That's a pretty bad combination.

All of the staff at Kipungani were wonderful, friendly people; a trait common to the Kenyan people. And it was precisely because of David's gentle nature that I felt compelled to eat everything on my plate, every single day.

Each evening, David set up a special table under the stars for Chris and I. As our personal waiter, he went to amazing lengths to make 'his honeymooners' feel special, picking fresh fruit and flowers to decorate our table every day. And he definitely didn't want us to go hungry.

kayak-200.jpgLunch and dinner were both potentially four-course affairs; soup, salad, main and desert. Four days in, both Chris and I managed to negotiate down to three courses per meal - David was not impressed - and I quickly learned to give up the cooked breakfast in favour of fruit.

And so Kipungani turned out to be a wholly lavish experience, certainly one that neither Chris or I will forget.

As we prepared to leave our little paradise, Chris was made to promise that he would bring me back - maybe for our ten-year anniversary. That should definitely be enough time to shift that extra honeymoon weight.

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plane-200.jpgHaving starred death in the face on safari, Chris confronted his biggest fear back in Nairobi - a 15-seat propeller plane.

Part two of our honeymoon was an 11-day stay at Kipungani, a very secluded resort on the island of Lamu. And the only way to get there was onboard the smallest aircraft either of us have ever been on.

There was only one way Chris was boarding this particular flight and that was if he got the window seat, which was fine - although giving him a direct view of a propeller proved to be a bad move.

It was a very tense hour. But finally we came in to land at Lamu airport. And what an airport it is; the arrivals lounge is a patch of grass located 50 metres from the landing strip, and the adjacent departures area, a corrugated iron roof sheltering a few benches. Amazingly, though, it still has a small duty-free section, albeit it in a hut.

boat-200.jpgWe then faced a 45-minute ride in a speedboat to get to Kipungani; this immediately perked Chris up. As he raced along the water with his aviators firmly in place, I think he saw himself as a James Bond type figure. The good wife I am, I chose not to mention the bright orange lifejacket.

Our first glimpse of our resort was from the sea, and it looked like paradise. With nothing but beach for miles around, Kipungani seemed a tranquil haven hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Lamu, and the perfect place for the second part of our honeymoon...
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gem-200.jpgBefore we got married, Chris made it very clear that our relationship wouldn't change post-wedding - "well, you know what you are signing up for" was how he put it.

And since saying 'I do' I would have to agree that, particularly for Chris, our day-to-day life together hasn't changed all that much. In fact the biggest adjustment he has had to make has been wearing a wedding ring.

And it's been a bit of a struggle - he managed to lose it twice on our honeymoon.

The first time he packed it in our luggage without noticing and spent a good 12 hours worrying before it finally resurfaced in Nairobi. That was on the first day of our married life together.

The second time was more dramatic...

On our safari we travelled to a number of different parks and reserves in Kenya. We have been lucky enough to stay at the Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Naivasha, Samburu and Treetops - where Elizabeth II went up as a princess and came down as queen.

On a side note, Treetops was not what I was expecting. It's a wooden lodge on stilts that overlooks a giant waterhole where the animals come to drink. Except on the night we stayed there. So much fog had descended that you could barely see your hand in front of your face. There was great excitement when someone did spot movement by the water - until we discovered it was an elephant so badly injured by an electric fence, his trunk looked in serious danger of falling off. Not the wildlife experience we had been hoping for.

view-200.jpgWhile we might not have had much luck at Treetops, we did absolutely everywhere else we visited. We racked up the Big Five in the first four days, and we weren't stopping there.

We saw lions with a kill, a herd of elephants crossing a river, a leopard with an antelope up a tree, baby rhinos and everything in between. In fact we were so lucky that by our last day there was only one animal we had yet to see - the elusive cheetah. So you can imagine our delight when, as we prepared to return to the lodge for the final time, one stood up out of the undergrowth and walked directly towards our jeep. According to Mita, we are the luckiest people he has ever met.

And, as it turns out, I could have a future career in safaris - I am an excellent wild animal spotter. Having been told by our guide that in his whole life he has only ever seen a lion up a tree once, my proudest moment came when I spotted two hanging out in some shrubbery. And as we looked on, two more decided to climb up a nearby tree, right to the very top. I told Mita he could learn a lot from me...

Anyway, back to the wedding ring. While we staying at the Masai Mara, Chris and I went on a hot air balloon ride at sunrise - a very generous wedding gift - which included a champagne breakfast in the bush.

It was an incredible experience. The migration started early this year, and had begun the week we arrived in Kenya - told you we were lucky - so we got to see the most amazing scenes as herds of zebra and buffalo headed across the plains. It really was extraordinary.

After about two-and-a-half hours, our 'captain' (he even went to the effort of dressing in a pilot's outfit) announced we were going to land. chris-200.jpg

As we began our descent, we could see one of the tracking jeeps race off to set up our food, while the other stuck close by. It was then we spotted four lionesses stealthily walking in single file through the grass. As our balloon came down, we realised we were in fact going to be landing really quite close to them, and our brightly coloured airship had, at the very least, caught their eye.

"Nothing to worry about," said the captain. "But when we land, don't hang about - just get yourself into the jeep as quickly as possible."

It was all going fine until it came to Chris' turn to climb out. Whether through nerves or perhaps excitement, he started to play about with his wedding ring and as his feet hit the grass, it fell off his finger and rolled off. Just as the lionesses began to approach.

As Chris dropped to his knees frantically fumbling around on the floor, assisted by four other desperate men, I calmly watched from the sidelines. Observing the annoyance/despair on the faces of the locals as they tried to help my wayward husband, I couldn't help but smile. Welcome to my world, I thought.
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honeymoon-200.jpgThere is an obvious disadvantage to honeymoons, and it's one Chris and I quickly identified during our time in Kenya. Simply put, once you have gone on the holiday of a lifetime, no other holiday can compete (which, I suppose, is why it's called a holiday of a lifetime. The clue is in the title).

Anyway, having spent three weeks experiencing Africa in a way we had only seen on TV, we are looking with some dread to our next jaunt abroad. Because it's going to have to be much more expensive than usual - on the back of our honeymoon, jetting to Tenerife on a budget package just won't do.

It has been a little over a month since we got back from our honeymoon, and high time I shared some of our adventures. Part one was safari - a tour around Kenya's top parks and reserves to see Africa's wild animals in their habitat.

We set off on the Sunday - the day after the ceremony. I would highly recommend this way of doing things; we were very much still in a wedding bubble. Unfortunately that same bubble was temporarily burst upon arrival at Heathrow.

Anyone who assumes that honeymooners will automatically receive an upgrade, think again. Not only did we not get bumped up, but Chris and I got shouted at by a very angry Virgin check-in girl, seemingly furious with us for going over our weight limit...Things picked up once we got on the flight and by the time we landed in Nairobi, moody airline employees were a distant memory.

We spent a night in the city before we were picked up by Mita. He would be our driver and guide for the whole nine day-long safari. Mita was brilliant - the man that everyone knew and liked and the leading authority on all that is Kenyan. What's more, we were treated to a private safari since no-one else had booked on our tour, an amazing result considering that going solo usually costs double.

Day one consisted of a good six of hours of driving in our jeep. It should be noted that all roads essentially stop outside the city. Drama seems to follow Chris and I wherever we go, and it seems that includes different continents. As we are driving through the wilderness, we passed a very small settlement by the side of the road. In passing Mita explained that this area belonged to a particularly unfriendly tribe and that it would be unwise to stop here. Then the front tire exploded.

No sooner had we pulled into the side then we were surrounded by men offering to help Mita in exchange for money. After being politely refused by our guide, the group started to talk in their own dialect - one that Mita could not understand.

Tension was mounting, until out of the distance we saw another safari jeep coming our way. The driver was not only a friend of Mita's but he could also partially communicate with the men, who, it transpired, were also very drunk. They stood around and watched as the two guides changed tires, and 15 minutes later we were on our merry way.

Unbeknownst to me, the incident had really spooked Chris. Much later he confided to me that he had devised a plan had the group turned on us which involved me hiding underneath the jeep whilst he ran around it manically swinging a tyre iron. Thankfully it didn't come to that...
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Click here to see a selection of our official wedding photographs

hug-200.jpg
It is no coincidence that the happiest day of your life is undoubtedly also the quickest. And this is coming from a girl who managed to drag her wedding out for three days.

Saturday began peacefully enough - my bridesmaids and I sat in our dressing gowns picking red rose petals for confetti, all the while drinking champagne and eating croissants. That sense of calm lasted for a good hour.

Then came the hairdressers, the make-up artist and our photographer, transforming our tranquil haven into a hive of activity. Work on my bridal transformation was now underway.

One of the best parts of any night out is getting ready with your friends. Preparing to get married is just like that - only better. I was pampered and preened with my girls around me, all the while laughing and sipping yet more champagne.

And then it was time to get married.

My heart felt like it was going to explode when we made our way up the stairs and I watched the bridesmaids walk in. And in all honesty I have no recollection of walking down the aisle; I only focused on Chris. The ceremony was perfect - I couldn't stop smiling and, most impressively, I managed not to cry - my make-up artist Maddie would have been proud.

I do vaguely remember saying the vows, but reality really kicked in when we were signing the register. That was it, we were now married.

From the Great Hall, we had a blessing in the picture-perfect chapel, and then came the confetti line where I soon found my right arm laden with horse shoes - as a tradition I have never heard of, that came as something of a surprise. And then it was time for champagne and raspberries on the lawn.

By the time the wedding breakfast came around, I was running on pure adrenaline. The food was absolutely delicious; having said that, I barely managed to eat anything I was so excited. The speeches were a real highlight. James did an incredible job with the father of the bride speech; it was funny, moving and heartfelt and I have never been more proud of him. Chris' speech was everything I expected - he kind of made it up on the spot - and his brothers Alex and Steve were perfect as best men, delivering one speech each.

The reception, of course, kicked off with the first dance, Let's Stay Together by Al Green, before Chris' cousin Kev took over the disco. For Chris and I, the party ended at about 1 - more for the groom's sake than my own.

I didn't go to sleep feeling any different; all in all the day was quite surreal. But it was the very best day of my life. I couldn't possibly go into all the details - from our family and friends to the fireworks, the castle, the cupcakes, the beautiful flowers and the pink Harley Davidson sidecar brought along as a surprise, everything was absolutely perfect.

So thank you so much to everyone who made our wedding so special, in particular those with 'jobs' to do on the day - bridesmaids Laura, Lisa, Jenny and Georgina, ushers Gilly and Rick, my new brothers Steve and Al and of course James.

Thank you also to all the staff at Bickleigh Castle, in particular Sharon and Sarah, for making our day so magical. And thanks to Nathan and the girls at Energy Hair Salon, Maddie my amazing make-up artist, wonderful Polly for our extraordinary flowers, Joella for our yummy cupcakes and to Andy at Harrera Images for capturing out wedding in the most incredible way

And, of course, a very special thank you to my husband Chris for finally saying 'I do'!

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gem-casino-200.jpgIt's true that when I woke up on the morning before the wedding I was not at my sparkling best. The late night and celebratory drinks were mostly to blame, but so too were the nerves, which really kicked in around lunchtime.

It's a strange thing to see your nearest and dearest converging in one place, and as people began to arrive I did start to feel a bit overwhelmed. Because of course, on top of greeting new arrivals, Chris and I still had a few things to sort out.

There was the walkthrough with the photographer, a run-through of the ceremony itself and a rehearsal with the reverend leading our blessing, and then there was decorating, the cupcakes and the casino to arrange.

Do-able, but only just. Evidently the sheer panic on my face was quite noticeable because an hour before the rehearsals started, Chris grabbed my hand and whisked me away.

As a woman on the edge - well, close to it - I wouldn't have chosen a game of tennis to help calm my nerves. How little I know. We went and played, badly, for a good 40 minutes, and having laughed a great deal, I returned to the hustle and bustle feeling like a new woman - one more than capable of staging a wedding.

By way of kicking off our weekend, Chris and I had arranged for a casino night with roulette, a black jack table and a prize for the best man and woman. Turns out I am something of a pro in the latter; by the end of the night, I had made the most fake money out of all the ladies.

My celebrations were short-lived however; Chris wouldn't let me keep the prize - M&S vouchers - pointing out that since we had bought them, one of our guests should take them home. Had it not been the night before our wedding, I might not have been quite so obliging.

The night was a big success and was a great way for people to get to know each other before the wedding itself. What's more it allowed Chris and I to spend time with our guests without feeling the pressure of talking to everyone on our wedding day.

I am proud to report I was sensible that night; I think I was actually in bed by 12.30. Before I went to sleep, I wrote Chris a letter to read the next morning and had a final girly chat with my bridesmaids Laura and Lisa. And then it was time to go to sleep.

I didn't feel anything deeply profound or noteworthy on my last night as a single woman; I just felt incredibly happy. And I really couldn't wait to wake up the next morning.
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champagne-blog-200.jpgPeople are a lot nicer to you when you are carrying a wedding dress. I am seriously considering lugging one around with me on a regular basis.

We flew back to the UK eight days before our ceremony, having eventually made it to the airport with our cases - there were a lot. One big wedding suitcase, one equally big honeymoon suitcase, a holdall and of course my dress, which, as we have ascertained, was fairly sizable.

Chris of course refused to carry it; I can only imagine that he was worried someone would think it was his. But carrying my heavy frock with aching arms, teamed with the heat, the never-ending queue and the fact that our flight had been cancelled and rebooked, and we hadn't really got off to the start I had been hoping for.

Still, there were plenty of smiles from our fellow passengers - as I say, the dress was hard to ignore - and, joy of joys, when we got the front we were upgraded. I am not sure if this was solely down to my considerable hand-luggage or that fact that Chris incessantly told everyone we met about our wedding. But it worked and we were soon heading for our seats in business class.

Now that was more like it. I didn't think it was possible to eat a three-course meal on an 80 minute flight - you absolutely can. Chris and I had a ball; it was a great beginning to our wedding week.

Our plans to have a restful and relaxing build-up to the big day once we landed were, in hindsight, naïve. We had 'last-minute' jobs to do right up until the day we left for Bickleigh - our highly ambitious 11am car journey eventually commenced at 1.30, thanks to a balloon/camera/map dilemma.

But on the Thursday, a week after we had left for England, we were finally there, at our wedding venue.

That evening we went out for our first celebration - a dinner with our families and close friends. It was a fantastic way to begin our weekend; relaxed and informal and a great deal of fun. After the meal, we all headed back to the bridal suite at Bickleigh where the party continued. I am not sure what time we all eventually turned in - with the arrival of a lot of our guests the next day, and of course our casino evening, I'd like to think we were sensible.

It was a strange feeling lying next to Chris that night while he slept, knowing we were days away from our wedding. Having talked about getting married for so many years, it was unbelievable to me that we were finally here. I eventually fell asleep, with the biggest smile on my face.
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wedding-s.jpgWe did it! On Saturday July 3, Chris and I became husband and wife on what will always be the very best day of my life.

Nearly a month has passed since then, but our three week honeymoon completely suspended reality - I am happy to report we are still very much in our little wedding bubble.

I have been at a loss what to write about in my first blog back. But to prevent it turning into an essay of enormous proportion, I shall write in sections to keep it short and sweet.

First up - life as a newlywed so far. Honestly, it's a very strange feeling. Neither of us have really changed as people - Chris is still very much Chris; he lost his wedding ring twice within the first week of married life. But I feel excited and proud that he is now my husband.

Of course I still haven't gotten used to my marital name. And I am really going to have to work on responding when people call me Mrs Strong - staff at our honeymoon resorts must have thought I was either incredibly rude, or some sort of an imposter.

But that will come in time. This week I shall make a start on making it official and changing over my passport, driving licence etc which should help matters.

So, so far so good! We have only just returned home - Chris did carry me over the threshold, which was no mean feat after three weeks of four course meals - and we are still adjusting to becoming husband and wife.

But all in all, life is just perfect. And after finishing my first day back at work today, I shall return home to my husband, still walking on cloud nine.
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blog-dad-200.jpgI was nine-years-old and in the car with my mum on the school run when I had the first conversation about my wedding day. Despite my protests to the contrary, she already knew she wouldn't be with me when the time came.

But we did make a pact - if the man I was marrying wasn't good enough then she would send a thunder storm as a sign for me to get myself out of there. Eighteen years on, and I remember every single detail about that car journey.

Every girl getting married should be able to do so with the help of her mum. Throughout this process I have been acutely aware that I have missed out on so many special moments, and there have been plenty of times when, if I am honest, I have felt incredibly lonely. It still breaks my heart that I had to buy a wedding dress without her.

Having planned the big day without my mum's help, I will soon face my next personal battle - walking down the aisle without my dad to give me away.

My brother James and I are used to life without our parents, and, apart from the occasional inevitable low, we get on with day-to-day life without constantly feeling the ache of our loss.

But this, planning the wedding, has been so hard. My emotions as I approach 'D-day' are all over the place - I continuously battle to balance my excitement with the knowledge that the two people I want with me more than anything in the world will be missing.

On Sunday, it all became too much - Father's Day didn't help - and I cried, and cried, and cried. And Chris, now a master in these situations, behaved perfectly. Because there is nothing to say. There is nothing that will make everything alright, and nothing that will stop the lump rising in my throat every time I actually stop and think about them.

The only thing to do was to face the pain head on, and the end result - namely my tears - came as a relief to both us. Ever since this process began, I have taken great pains to focus on everything except the absence of my parents, and addressing that at the weekend went a long way to helping me find resolve.

There won't be a moment at the wedding that I won't think about my mum and dad, and it goes without saying that I wish more than anything they could be there with me. But I do take comfort knowing they will be proudly watching me as I look ahead to my future with Chris. Thunderstorms permitting of course.
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