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Shawn & Elizabeth’s Engagement

In short, as of Saturday morning, 10/11/03, I was engaged to Ms. Elizabeth Nutting (of Shrewsbury, MA) in the town of Moultonborough, NH atop the Red Hill fire tower overlooking Lake Winnipesauke and the White Mountains. We plan to wed next May 23rd, 2004. The complete story unfolds below.

Being a project manager, I managed the whole engagement process like a project, i.e. in multiple phases. The engagement project phases were:

  1. Pay off the remainder of my student loans.
  2. After paying off the student loans, extrapolate my budget through the month of October to figure out how much I could afford for an engagement ring.
  3. Optimize diamond price vs. specs through Internet sources, then work to buy the diamond from a New Hampshire jeweler.
  4. Determine the ultimate engagement location & date in the Fall.

The epic tale that led up to the grand event starts about 10 months ago when I made the final push to pay off the remainder of my still rather sizeable student loan debt that accounted for two degrees. It was a daunting task that many faint of heart would not have had the intestinal fortitude to endure unless they had years of practice living in "college mode" and withstanding constant crushing financial stress through means of extreme frugal living. Nickel by nickel, pop can by pop can, I scrapped enough money together by tax refunds, increased paycheck exemptions, savings, donations, and some creative finance to pay off my last real debt on August 12th, 2003. It was a proud day, albeit short lived.

On August 13th, I began saving for the next chapter in my life… the engagement ring. I carefully sifted through my budget since the beginning of the year, extrapolating out 2 months where I thought I would be financially by the end of October. This gave me a rough idea of my price point for a diamond since I wanted to pay for it outright before the BIG MOMENT. Being a researcher by nature of my engineering background, I harvested information from various diamond databases after entering and sorting by specific 4C criteria. There were thresholds I just could not go below for personal reasons of quality. Optimizing the 4C’s to what I thought would be a "very good quality" diamond solitaire, I then brought my requirements to a jeweler in NH (no sales tax in NH) to see what I could get for a price on a similarly spec’d diamond. The results were quite unsatisfying unfortunately, but fortunately I had two months of honing left.

After 3 more iterations between myself and the New Hampshire jeweler, we finally came upon the crown jewel about 3 weeks before my targeted engagement date. The diamond met all of my thresholds without even seeing it, and I trusted this jeweler since she had worked with my step-dad in the past, so the okay was given to mount the sucker in a 6-prong white gold setting. Since there would not be enough time to pick up the ring from the jeweler before the Big Moment, the plan was for the jeweler to hide the boxed ring inside the piano bench at my parent’s cottage in NH the night before we were to arrive. That way, if I wanted to pop the question the night before, I would have that opportunity as an option. I love options.

So needless to say, all sorts of scenarios were playing out in my head as to the exact place and time and circumstances to ask for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. Boy were the wheels grinding! At a romantic restaurant, on a mountainside or mountaintop, at a beach overlooking the ocean, on a lakeside dock at night during a full moon, in front of a fire-lit fireplace, a scenic train ride in the White Mountains, or maybe while camping in Vermont during the Fall? Everything seemed to fall into place when I decided on Columbus Day weekend, when the leafs were changing and at their peek, as well as the same weekend that my family usually goes to the Sandwich Fair, which is the last fair of the year in NH. Both my family and her family would be there that weekend, so what better time!

Liz and I had climbed Red Hill in NH a few times while we have dated. In fact it was the first uphill hike we did together. Red Hill overlooks both Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountain range and is only about 10 minutes from my family’s cottage. It takes about an hour to climb and is well worth the spectacular view, particularly in the Fall when the heat, humidity, and bug count is low. This was the first place I thought of when considering places in NH for our engagement site, but got sidetracked with other sites. Well I finally came to my senses and went back to my first idea, with a backup plan just incase the weather turned sour. Man did I luck out!

Friday night Liz and I arrived at the cottage before everyone else to make sure all the bedrooms were cleaned, beds made, and everything was in order. Plus my hidden agenda of the benefit of having the place to ourselves for one night, as well as me making sure that I had the hidden ring in my possession. I told Liz before we left that I wanted to get up early Saturday morning before most people to climb Red Hill. The only problem was that we left Massachusetts late Friday night and by the time we got up there it was ~9:30 PM with another hour worth of work to do before we went to bed. That pretty much ruined any thought of setting a romantic mood that night (I was antsy to ask her and considered asking her Friday night). I did get a chance to get my first glimpse of the ring. It was in the piano bench, as promised. I sent Liz out to the car to bring in the rest of the luggage, while I used the excuse of needing to call my parents so I could get to the ring unnoticed. I looked at it and couldn’t have been more perfect.

After a restless night, Saturday morning finally came. I looked out the window to take in the outdoor scenery at about 7 AM, but low and behold there was none! I just couldn’t believe it. A fog bank had settled in over night, so thick that you could only see only 10 feet around you. I sprinted to the TV and flipped over to the Weather Channel to confirm that the weather was suppose to be good for Saturday. All indications pointed to a perfect day… once the fog bank burned off later in the morning. Ugh! So much for starting off the day with low stress. I roused Liz to let her know of the news. She was more than happy to sleep in, so we decided that we would leave the house no later than 10 AM.

10 AM came and we were in the car, backpack loaded with trail snacks, water, and a carefully concealed ring inside a baseball cap. I tried to put the ring in my short’s packet, but it bulged and looked obvious. The fog was still apparent leaving the cottage, but had noticeably brightened, indicating that the sun was starting to burn through. By the time we got to the trailhead a mere 10 minutes later, the fog was completely behind us, and there was nothing but clear blue skies in front of us. The colors of the leaves were bright and sharp, the air crisp and warm. And much to our surprise, there was no one at the parking lot for the trail leading up Red Hill! I was so excited that everything was suddenly turning around weather-wise and working out to my advantage.

We pulling into the parking lot and began unloading the few items we needed – camera, backpack, jackets – when I noticed a truck parked on the other side of the trailhead gate. It was the park ranger that usually mans the firetower station during the summer months. He and his wife and young child were heading up the trail for the last time this year. I began worrying that they would get up there before we would, which could ruin our Big Moment. I tried not to think about it, but was outwardly upset enough that Liz asked if something was wrong. I divulged to her that I wanted to be the first to the top of Red Hill today. I chalked up my reaction to my usually competitive nature to being first. She understood. So we started out. What lay ahead was life changing.

The pictures I took along the hike do more justice to the scenery than I can portray in words. I tried to pictorially document the journey that would forever be remembered and retold in years to come the best I could. Even the pictures aren’t true to the day’s beauty. It was incredible. Fall is Liz’s favorite time of year, and she was in 7th heaven that morning. The temperature’s felt like they were in the low to mid 70’s. We were happy to be in shorts. I was sweating not only from the hike, but also from nerves. What would I say? When should I say it? How would I start my proposal? All I knew for sure was where I would ask. And hopefully no one would interrupt us. As it turns out, we ended up passing the forest ranger and his family. Fortunately for us, his child was old enough to walk, and they were allowing him to dictate the pace. I practically bulldozed my way past them. Some people have no sense of urgency! At that point I stopped taking pictures until we got to the top, keeping up a brisk pace to put everyone as far behind us as possible. Even the mysterious golden retriever that kept catching us.

At the top, my heart was racing as if I had an atrial ectopic tachycardia arrhythmia. The Big Moment was almost here. I tried to pace myself, acting nonchalant and taking more pictures. We climbed the firetower to the highest platform, where a storage chest was conveniently located for our sitting purposed. From there you could spend an indefinite amount of time enjoying God’s creation. We pulled out our water and granola bars, sitting quietly for a moment. The wind was light at the top, just enough to cool us. I projected that we had about 20 minutes of solitude before others would start arriving. While conversing, I asked Liz how long we had been dating. She thought for a second or two, then decided we had been dating for a year and four months. We continued on in conversation about others things while I dug into the backpack. Once I located what I was looking for, there was a somewhat dramatic pause. I took a deep breath. And I said something like this as I descended to one knee:

"Liz, we’ve been dating for about a year and a third now. I’ve been doing some thinking about some things recently. Mostly about us." At this point Liz was looking at me like "What are you doing down there?" as if I had sprouted another head out of my shoulder. I continued:

"I love you very much and I would consider it a great privilege for you to be my wife, the mother of my children, and the grandmother of our grandchildren. As you know I have been working to pay off my debt since the beginning of the year. In the last couple of months I have been working toward this moment, and I was wondering [opening ring box] if you would…" Liz’s face turns from being perplexed to tears as she realizes what I am trying to ask her. Before I can finish, she says "yes!" and kisses me. I then say, "…marry me?" and I put the ring on her finger. She was glowing.

After a few more pictures of the ring on her hand, Liz and I wait for about 20 more minutes until someone from below is brave enough to climb up the firetower. That is when we got our first picture together as fiancée and fiancé. Hordes of people were arriving in a steady stream, and we decided it was time for us to go. I don’t remember much about the descent other than taking in more of the scenery and saying hello to a bunch of strangers that were unaware to what just happened at the top. All that was left to do was to tell everyone the story. And so now I have.