A few months ago I started this lifestyle blog to spread positivity, optimism, and a vicarious insight to life on the west coast, through married life in Los Angeles under the influence of caffeine. I was supposed to start writing next week, after the wedding. But if you’re reading this, chances are that you chose to follow my caffeinated adventure — thank you, you’re the best! — and thus know that I started early with engaged life in Los Angeles under the influence of caffeine. That, or you’re reading this from the future — perhaps our children reading what your parents’ life was like in their youth? Hi kids, dinner’s ready, get off you holographic smartwatches and come to the table.
At last, the wedding is days away. After 11 years since I met her, 3 years since I started pursuing her, 2 years since I asked her to be my girlfriend, and 1 year since the engagement, it’s time. Finally, I get to become one with my best friend under the eyes of God. To say that I am blessed, would be the understatement of the century. I am not trying to boast, but rather share the joy of this moment — and perhaps inspire you to believe in love.
As I wrap up my journey as a bachelor, I think of the long and broken road that led me here. I wish things had been different. I am thankful for every stage of the journey, but I wish I could have had all of those years we spent as friends, as the lovers that we are today. That said, if given the chance I would not change a thing. I would not choose asking her out on day one if that meant risking arriving at “I do.” It was a long, long road, but it was well worth the drive; and I for one, cannot wait to start the next journey later this week.
Tell me, how long did it take you to ask your significant other out? Would you change things if you could? Do you think we’ll have commercially available holographic technology in our lifetime?
This week the wife-elect and I picked up our wedding license! Upon signing our license in just a couple of weeks, we will officially be Mr. and Mrs. Ramdolfi! This experience has been, well, everything! It has been fun, confusing, stressful, and ultimately satisfying — that is, once we had the license in hand. That said, there were some interesting items we learned along the way, namely, the following.
• Legal Name Change: Perhaps the most shocking fact we learned, is that in the United States there is not one single governmental institution that legally changes your name. After asking over and over to no avail, we finally came to an understanding that a wedding license is effectively a “ticket” to change your name, which is “activated” upon signing it during the ceremony. We must then mail this license to the registrar via snail mail, in order to receive a marriage certificate. Then, we have to take this certificate to both, the Social Security Administration offices, and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), to change our names with each office. Only then, are our names considered legally changed.
• Name Change Cost: Last year when I was still working mostly with lawyers, I was advised about the process and cost of changing your name. It sounded like a daunting and expensive process reaching the hundreds of dollars price mark. Fortunately, we learned that getting married is the exception! You may change your middle and last names at no extra cost when purchasing your wedding license — at $91 for a public marriage license, I am thankful for the almost $1,000 savings!
• The Courthouse: Part of obtaining the license is picking it up, which can only be done in person with photo ID in hand. This was interesting because it resembled going to a DMV, but in a marble building, a fancy DMV — part of it I think was because we went to the Beverly Hills branch office, which is just awesome! We had to go through TSA-type security (not awesome), take the elevator to the 3rd floor, and enter the room designated for both wedding licenses and traffic court, which we were definitely not expecting. We thought it was funny that there was a long line in the traffic court section and absolutely no one in the wedding license section.
Shortly after we arrived, an elderly couple (with white hair, limited mobility, and likely no younger than 80) joined us in the wedding license section. We overheard them say “neither of us have ever been married and were wondering if we could get married.” It was heart-warming and inspiring. It was a nice reminder that it is never too late for love, and that I am incredibly fortunate to have met my future wife so young. I can’t wait to grow old by her side.
Tell me, what was your experience with the legalities behind marriage? Is getting a wedding license as complicated in your country as it is in the United States? Would you legally change your name for love?
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As soon as my fiancée and I returned to Los Angeles from our engagement trip, our first priority was to find a wedding venue. We were set on Descanso Gardens, as I took her there on our first real date. However, we were quickly out priced not just by their $7,800 venue rental, but also by their exclusive caterer Patina, who at (at least) $100 per plate, added an additional $8,000 to $10,000 depending on our guest count.
With a quote closer to $20,000 before the photographer, videographer, entertainment, tux and dress, or anything else, we went back to the white board. After the initial discouragement, we took a deep breath, and proceeded to research the best affordable wedding venues in Los Angeles — with a focus on nature-oriented outdoor venues.
While we found a number of decent choices during our seven months of research, we ultimately narrowed our options to the following three, plus an honorable mention.
Santa Barbara Zoo
The Santa Barbara Zoo is listed as the honorable mention given that it was magical, but not quite affordable (or even technically in LA). A venue with packages that include the nature-centered venue, exclusive catering, and bar service, the most affordable option (with only 50 guests) was $16,507. Between the breathtaking view of the pacific and access to a literal zoo filled with animals, the zoo was tempting, but alas above the entirety of our budget.
Hartley Botanica Gardens
Hartley was recommended to me by a coworker, and I can say with absolute confidence, that if it was not for her I would not have found this place. About an hour northwest from DTLA, right off the 118, Hartley is a small, hidden, man-made garden composed of an amalgamation of styles, nature, and turf. Still, it works. Unfortunately, at $13,900 for a required minimum 100 guests (on Sundays), plus sales tax (7.25%) and an 18% service charge, its $17,409 price tag was also above our budget.
The Castaway, which sits on a hill and overlooks Burbank, held our date in their books for months and nearly became our venue. With a beautiful ceremony site and several surrounding rooms at different prices ranging from $1,400 to $20,000 (depending on the day and time of the week), and with excellent discounts should you choose to use their restaurant’s catering, Castaway is an extremely affordable venue. The downside: Different weddings can and will take place at the same time in different rooms.
Orcutt Ranch Horticultural Center
Orcutt was a godsend. With the garden feel, flowers, and beauty of Descanso Gardens, the abundance of nature found at the Santa Barbara Zoo, the isolated privacy of Hartley, and the cost of The Castaway, Orcutt is the perfect venue in Los Angeles. Priced from $1,387 to $2,310 (with a refundable deposit of $500), Orcutt provides a stunning venue with unmatched affordability and the freedom to choose your vendors. Needless to say, it is my genuine privilege to be marrying Ms. Dolfi here in just a few weeks.
A year ago around this time I was still planning the engagement. I had saved up for nearly a year and everything was falling into place. While I think it’s expected for people to feel nervous or anxious around this time, I simply could not relate. In fact, I had never been more confident about anything else in my life.
I should provide some context. I met my (at the time) girlfriend exactly a decade prior to my proposal, and in those 10 years she became my best friend. We did not live a Hallmark movie though; rather, we lived life. We went from effectively being neighbors in (technically) Los Angeles, to me moving for college, and then moving as far away from her as I could within the conterminous United States, to New York. It took me being a country apart to realize I did not want to live without her. But that’s a story for another post.
Eventually, I took a round trip red-eye flight, coordinated a surprise-serenade at Royce Hall, and asked her to be my girlfriend, to my delight she accepted. Needless to say, I packed my bags, quit my job, and subleased my apartment to take a one way flight to Los Angeles to pursue love — I swear I am not Nicholas Sparks in disguise. Within a month I found a job (that I would later leave for a startup), we looked for an apartment halfway from each of our employers, and we moved in together. The Christian in me thought it was a bad idea, but the more liberal New Yorker in me knew I should listen to my parents’ advice, and make sure that our relationship would be as successful as our friendship.
As such, by the Spring of 2018, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Ms. Dolfi was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, I just needed to plan the perfect way to ask her. I knew I wanted to surprise her on the exact 10 year anniversary of when we met, but there was no way she would not suspect that date. After all, it took me 2 years into our friendship to remember the date, 2 years in which she would always remind me and celebrate — I know, I was oblivious, young, and naive. The surprise would be impossible, unless… Her birthday!
I realized that her birthday was within weeks of our friend-aversary, and that opened up a wide array of options to consider. Suddenly, I no longer had to formulate a reason to go somewhere special, I had an actual reason. Unlike the public display of affection at UCLA the year prior, she wanted the engagement to be a more private event, she wanted it to be intimate. I know because we had talked about it. That’s when the multiple times that she mentioned bioluminescence to be her favorite phenomenon came to mind in a seismic wave of flashbacks that more closely resembled a tsunami.
I quickly searched for bioluminescent beaches in the U.S. and did a double take upon realizing that the best chance for witnessing this was in Florida, right down the road from, you guessed it, “The Most Magical Place On Earth.” She had always, and I mean always, wanted to visit Walt Disney World, and now I had the perfect reason to take her there: “her birthday.” Like I said, everything was falling into place, a very magical (and very expensive) place.
I looked for deals and I looked for offers, but there is only so much you can do when Disney’s label is attached to the price tag. Fortunately, I had been saving for this since she became my girlfriend. Credit card in hand, I booked a week-long vacation complete with round trip flights, a 7-day/6-night stay at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, and 5-Day Tickets to Disney World (and a car rental for the trip to the beach).
At this point you may be wondering, “How are you going to get an entire week off with only a few weeks to go?” Excellent question fellow work-force member who knows how impossible this is. The only way to secure a week off would be to request it months if not a year in advance, and that is exactly what I did. Almost as soon as I started working in Los Angeles, I requested a week off for early June 2018 (with fluid dates), almost a year in advance.
A couple of months later, during Ms. Dolfi’s work Christmas party, I took the opportunity to pull her manager, Dr. McFarland, aside and explain the early details of my plan. She rejoiced at the sound of it and agreed to secretly help me on the spot. All I had to do was give her the dates upon securing them and she would approve the time off — There was something very exciting about having a secret deal with the founding doctor of Ms. Dolfi’s clinic that no one but the both of us knew about. With everything booked, I called Dr. McFarland, emailed the partner at my firm, and just like that, unbeknownst to Ms. Dolfi, we had a dream vacation planned.
Within a couple of days I received our customized MagicBands in the mail, which I promptly hid in my desk. A few weeks later during her birthday, I wrapped the MagicBands and surprised her with the trip she had always wanted. Confused as to how she would get the days off, I proceeded to surprise her yet again, “everything has been accounted for, everything has been paid for, the only thing is that I could not find affordable tickets for May, so we will be going in a couple of weeks in June” I said. She suspected nothing. I had done it, I had manged to surprise her and take the focus away from the proposal date.
With only a couple of weeks before the trip, we spent every waking minute planning our adventures and anxiously awaiting our greatest trip yet! Hours, days, and weeks flew by in the blink of any eye. Before we knew it we were on a plane departing LAX en route to MCO. Five hours later we were on the roads of Orlando, FL on our way to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. But first we would make a stop by Walmart to stock up on the essentials, like Oreo’s, Diet Coke, Doritos, SPF 50 sunscreen, and ponchos for the hurricanes we kept hearing about.
Within the hour we were at the resort, which was perfect. At the risk of sounding like a sponsored ad, from the moment we arrived we felt the magic. I knew Disney set the bar for entertainment and amusement parks (I grew up watching Disney movies and held a Disneyland annual pass until I started saving for the wedding), but I had no idea they were the standard for hospitality too!
We arrived several hours before our check-in date and they managed to let us into our room early. We were also given the option to forgo our daily house keeping in exchange for a $50 gift card, and we were still allowed to request service when needed (towels, soap refills, etc.). They even came in daily to take out the trash. In reality we were paid for them not to make our bed every day. Upon finding our room, our MagicBands served as our room keys, which was simply the coolest! The room itself was true to the pictures, themed, impeccable, and pristine. It was luxurious, but also cozy. We instantly felt at home.
We unpacked, rinsed off, and relaxed for a minute. It was still early in the morning and we had planned on going to the first park on day one. It would be a week full of adventures visiting each of the four parks on different days, and then return to Animal Kingdom for our fifth and final ticket. As an animal lover, Animal Kingdom was the park Ms. Dolfi was most excited to visit. But we would first start with Hollywood Studios. We figured that if there was a park that we did not mind potentially rushing through given our jet lag, it would be the one that is themed after our own hometown.
As expected, each and every one of the parks was an unforgettable experience, each with something vastly different to offer. While I could go into depth reviewing each of the park, in a nutshell, our experiences were as follows:
• Disney’s Hollywood Studios: On Day 1, we ignored our flight-induced exhaustion, and perused streets that made us momentarily question, “did we ever leave LA?” Amazed at the park’s ability to recreate our stomping grounds with landmarks such as the Chinese Theater, the Hollywood Tower, and the iconic palm tree-lined Sunset Boulevard, we proceeded to enjoy that which we could not find in LA. Our fast passes were well spent on Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!, and Star Tours – The Adventures Continue. Our day ended with our first storm, which made us so glad to have purchased those ponchos. Unfortunately, Toy Story Land and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge were still under construction at the time, which just means that we’ll have to go back!
• Disney’s Animal Kingdom: On Day 2, we explored the foreign lands of Africa, Asia, and Pandora! Ms. Dolf could barely contain her excitement. Starting in Africa and heading straight to Kilimanjaro Safaris in the morning, we felt like real explorers. We had never seen so many species of animals at once (34 to be precise), let alone in the wild! After a quick bite at the Harambe Market via my new favorite thing: mobile order, we ventured through Asia and over to Finding Nemo – The Musical. Upon exiting the theater, we unpacked our ponchos and strolled through another storm on our way to Pandora – The World of Avatar. From the bioluminescent habitat, to the floating mountains, to the immersive sounds, we were transported to the land of the Na’vi. We finished our day with the Na’vi River Journey and dinner at the Satu’li Canteen. Seeing how happy Ms. Dolfi was on this day alone was worth every penny.
• Disney’s EPCOT: On Day 3, we visited the park I was most excited about, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT. Within minutes we flew through Canada, the U.K., France, Morocco, Japan, the U.S., Italy, Germany, China, Norway, and Mexico! There are few places where you can get an authentic crème brûlée for breakfast and equally authentic tacos for dinner. Needless to say, we were not going for healthy on this trip. We were however seeking rich experiences, of which EPCOT had plenty. From the time travel themed Spaceship Earth, to The Seas with Nemo & Friends, and Frozen Ever After, our fast passes did not disappoint. Additionally, as the holder of a Political Science degree with a concentration in International Relations, I simply could not leave without completing a NAFTA trip, which took us from O Canada!, to The American Adventure, to the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros. We then wrapped up the night with a prime view of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, also known as the perfect conclusion to a multicultural adventure.
• Disney’s Magic Kingdom: On Day 4, we returned to the familiar, the East Coast’s version of Disneyland. The Magic Kingdom, in many ways, felt much like Disneyland, but bigger. The Cinderella Castle was taller than the Sleeping Beauty Castle, Tomorrowland felt at least twice as large, and Magic Kingdom had sections without counterparts in California, such as Rapunzel’s Tower. Despite the differences, we felt at home riding Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight, and even it’s a small world (although it was mostly to avoid getting drenched from yet another storm). That said, we were delighted with the attractions exclusive to the Magic Kingdom, such as Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, The Hall of Presidents, and Mickey’s PhilharMagic. With all of the familiar and all of the new, the Magic Kingdom was truly, magical.
Finally, after 4 days of Walt Disney World and 10 years of friendship, the proposal date was upon us. As such on Day 5, we (drum roll please) slept in. Ever since we arrived in Orlando, we had been running on Disney magic-induced fumes. Naturally, we just wanted to relax, and relax we did. We finally enjoyed the main pool reminiscent of a Spanish fort from centuries past and indulged in so much junk food that I wondered if I would fit in the suit I intended to wear that night. Fortunately I did, and with the surprise that we were within driving distance of our best shot at bioluminescence, we got in our rental car, and drove.
This was it. Almost to the minute, it was the exact decade anniversary of the moment we met as teenagers at church on a Wednesday night in the middle of the desert, and now we were holding hands on the road to Cocoa Beach. I played the most romantic playlist I could find, with songs about love, proposals, and marriage, almost as if to foreshadow the main event of the night. During the drive I kept mentally rehearsing the sentences and question I hoped would soon change my life. My focus was only broken by Florida’s frequent turnpike toll stops (which made me appreciate California’s freeways). Within an hour, we were parking at the beach in the deep darkness of night.
As we made our way to the Atlantic ocean, I thought one last time if I should call her father, the man I had known for about as long as I had known my (hopefully) soon to be fiancée, and ask him for his blessing. I knew he would appreciate it, but I respected the previously discussed wishes of my partner not to do so. We arrived at the water, walked for a few minutes along the gently clashing waves, and came to a halt. Without a single biochemically emitted light in sight, I briefly considered rescheduling the question. Then, I looked up at her and realized, the light was in front of me all along. That’s when I knew she was the one. I got on one knee, reached into my pocket for the ring, opened my mouth, and spoke:
“Exactly ten years ago today, I met the woman I would want to spend the rest of my life with. In that decade, you went from being the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, to my best friend, partner in crime, and love of my life. You inspire me, make me want to be a better person, and make me happy. I love you, Ms. Dolfi. Will you marry me?”
“Really!?” She replied genuinely surprised and incredulous. “Yeah… ” I paused for a second struggling to belief that I had actually managed to surprise her. “Will you?” I asked again. “Yes!” she finally replied. In a moment of pure bliss, I put the ring on her finger, and for the first time ever, kissed my fiancée. That kids, is how I asked your mother to marry me.
The next day we returned to Animal Kingdom as an engaged couple. We went on rides and we watched shows, but there was no better view than my fiancée wearing her engagement ring. Ten years and one day, and I still could not take my eyes off her. The next day we flew back to Los Angeles where we promptly proceeded to make our way to the In-N-Out down the street from the airport, and began a new chapter in our lives with a double double. It was, and continues to be, the best chapter yet. Disclaimer: I promise this was not an ad for Disney World resorts or Florida, but given the incredible experience we had, I admit that this post is a logo short of being just that.
Tell me: How did you propose? Or, how do you intend to one day propose? Did you surprise your significant other or did you talk about it beforehand? How long did you wait to ask the question? And most importantly: When did you know they were the one?