Tag Archives: Engagement ring

A Second Engagement!!!

Congratulations to my amazing sister and her long-time boyfriend who just got engaged!!!

I’m so excited that we’re both in the fiance-stage together.  We can conspire and plan and laugh and read wedding mags.  We can do all sorts of stereotypical weddingy things and be super annoying to everyone with constant wedding talk.  Excellent!

Maybe we can even have a double wedding?!?!?

Just kidding.  That would be weird.

Here’s a pic of the lovebirds from our Texas vacation in January:


This ring (which was our grandmother Honey’s) looks amazing all polished up and fitted!

ring pic

I can’t believe she didn’t see it coming.  Her fiance called me back in December to conspire about getting to Baltimore to ask our parents’ permission formally and to discuss when he was going to pop the question.  Good thing our parents were on vacation for much of January so that they didn’t have to keep the secret in frequent phone conversations.

I felt like I was giving it away left right and center.  When we went to the bridal expo in January, I signed us both up as brides saying we could both get the bride-swag (which was disappointingly none).  When we were out at dinner, I mentioned that I had recently watched our grandparents’ wedding video, and when my sister asked why she’d never seen it, I said, Are you sure? I know your boyfriend’s seen it.  He gave me the death stare across the table, knowing that he had seen it when he made the secret trip to Baltimore to speak with our parents.  Oops I had forgotten those circumstances.  We quickly covered it up by saying that we were mistaken, that it was actually her Bat Mitzvah video he had seen.  She got up to use the restroom and he just about strangled me (good-naturedly of course…I hope).  When she got back, I think it was forgotten.

I was also suspicious that she may have been anticipating the proposal because it seemed like she was getting her nails done an awful lot recently.  Maybe that’s typical and I just don’t know.  Or maybe she was sprucing them up to gear up for showing off her hand constantly.  😉  No, it does sound like she didn’t see it coming, at least not in the moment, so that’s super cute and exciting.


I’m so so so so happy for her, I can’t stop grinning 😀


Wedding Planning 101: An Emotional Roller Coaster

In a prior post I lamented that picking an engagement ring was a trial in emotional, indecisive, internal turmoil.

IMG_0044 (Gratuitous ring photo just because I love it.)

Well, we got that out of the way to great success, and I was happy and content for a moment.  I had reached the first apex of the wedding planning roller coaster ride…ready to dive, hands-up, into the rest of the up-and-down journey.  Hold onto your sunglasses!  (No, seriously, I lost a pair of Oakleys that way.)


Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Subject: Millennium Force at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio *Author: Nick Nolte *Taken: August 8, 2004

Unfortunately, as with life and roller coasters, what goes up, must come down when it comes to my wedding planning emotions.

Why?  Why is planning a wedding such a crazy, all-consuming time-suck?  Forget what everyone who’s never planned a wedding has ever thought about fairy tale ball gowns and bounties of red roses…it stinks (not the roses, those smell delightful).  Yes, looking through wedding magazines is fun…clipping out pretty pictures, Google searching dress designers and getting ideas for centerpieces.

And then you close the magazine, realize all that you’ve accomplished is adding ten more things to buy/make/want, feel completely overwhelmed, and proceed not to think about it for the next three days.

First of all: Everything is seemingly-unreasonably expensive.  Everyone who has planned a wedding does say this.  But you don’t really know what they mean (unless you’re their accountant or financial advisor) until your own proposals start rolling in.  $65,000 for 100 people for the ceremony and reception, and that doesn’t include napkins?  I really thought that was a joke.  I’ve helped plan corporate events for 250 people for half of that.  Where’s the extra expense?  Fine, our corporate events don’t have DJs.  Well there’s $500.  Where’s the other $32,000?  Those corporate events have multiple meals, open bar, room rental fees.  But they aren’t WEDDINGS.  $$$$ (I really wish I could input some emojis in this post right now…imagine smiley faces with dollar sign eyeballs or greedy grins.)

The scary thing is that you start becoming numb to the large numbers: $1,000 for a dance floor that you thought was included with the price of the DJ (because if you have dancing, you would assume you have a dance floor, right?  Haha you’re silly) becomes like: “whatever it’s FINE” (eye roll, sigh).

So far, the most stressful part was finding and nailing down a location.  We thought we wanted to do a destination wedding, which would be a way for all of our friends and families to come together and enjoy some quality time with one another.  It would also give us an opportunity to hang out and bond with our guests over the course of a few days, rather than feeling rushed to say “hello” and “thank you for coming” to everyone within the two to three hours of the reception alone.

We had vacationed in Montego Bay Jamaica a few times and appreciated how easy a trip it was: direct flights from Baltimore, short taxi ride from the Montego Bay airport to a resort, where even if you’re not doing all-inclusive, you still don’t have to leave the property for meals or activities.  We’d gone a few times for long weekends, which were perfect do-nothing get-a-ways for reading and napping.  Funny how when it’s warm out and you don’t have anything to do all day, you really don’t get too hungry.  We never did an all-inclusive (because no one needs that much alcohol) and we never felt like we should have (monetarily).  We were always well fed and always fulfilled our daily pina colada quota.

Unfortunately, the resort where we had stayed during each of our visits was recently purchased and closed for renovations.  It is scheduled to reopen next year under new management and branding, but who knows what it will be like or if it will be available for a wedding.  So time to look elsewhere.

We had heard great reviews of the neighboring resort, Half Moon, from various sources, although we had never been there ourselves.  While it is seemingly fairly expensive, they quoted us a very fair and reasonable guest room rate.  The rest of the wedding was another story…Plan B?

Not knowing what other options might be available to us in Montego Bay, we started randomly Googling venues.  But what can you really tell from websites, stock photos and Trip Advisor reviews without having seen the places firsthand or knowing someone who has?  We enlisted the help of a wedding planner and her associated travel agent to do some digging into other Montego Bay locations.  They came up with a comprehensive spreadsheet of 14 alternatives that was so big it took grab-a-snack/watch-a-movie/do-a-crossword-puzzle-amount-of-time to open in Excel.  After more Google searching and wedding planner phone calls, we started narrowing the list based on particular requirements: this place doesn’t allow kids – cross it out; this place looks overrun with kids – cross it out; this is just a venue, no hotel – cross it out; etc.

It was stressful feeling like there might be other options out there but not really getting a firm understanding of what each place was really like.  I contemplated bringing it back to Baltimore because at least there I know generally what the different venues are, what feeling they exude and what sort of party our guests would experience.  But then I circled back to our main goal of wanting to create a relaxing, vacation-like atmosphere for our guests.  (Especially a warm vacation for a December wedding….y’all can thank me later.)

At the same time as we were analyzing the various options the wedding planner had found, I was going back and forth with Half Moon to see if we could chop out chunks of the original proposal to get the cost back in line with our budget.  I had them price up an a la carte wedding (um, no, that was not cheaper) as well as the next package down.  These destination places have various pre-arranged packages that include everything from flowers to meals to DJs all for one price.  So instead of using the package that had everything we could possibly want, we looked at the one that had the bare minimum of things, and then added a few extras on a la carte.

Like when choosing an engagement ring, I was again fraught with indecision about what the right choice would be.  I hadn’t seen any of these places in person.  I didn’t know what I might be missing or forgetting about.  It’s hard to hit the “go” button just to find out down the road that you hadn’t considered an essential element, and that it’s going to be an additional cost.  Like the dance floor issue.  Too-many-options paralysis.  Is this a diagnosed medical condition?  If not it should be.  I’ll send  a white paper to JAMA.

I’ve read lots of conflicting material about following your first instinct versus doing more research before making any decisions.  So far in this process, I’ve tried to do more research, but in the end, I inevitably come back to my first find.  I’m not sure if this is a case of turning up my nose at new information because I’m tied to my original idea (some form of clinging to the familiar) or if I’ve done a bang up job at uncovering the best option first (clearly just my impeccable taste 😉 ).  This is pretty much what happened with the engagement ring, and it’s pretty much what ended up happening with the venue.  Read on…

What pushed me over the edge on Half Moon was that some former colleagues went there for a conference in September.  Upon their return, they had nothing but fantastic things to say about the site and the service.  They all agreed that it would be a wonderful place to get married.  Well that pretty much confirmed my gut feelings and settled it in my mind.  After a few weeks of contract negotiation (and some much needed and appreciated help from a lawyer friend), we finally put pen to paper and swiped a credit card (I’d better be getting double Delta miles for this!) and put the wheels in motion.  Or more like brought the wheels to a screeching halt.

After feeling insomnia-inducing, all-consuming stress about nit picky venue details, making sure I got the best deal possible (as if you ever really can know), crossing as many “T”s and dotting as many “I”s as I could think of, all I wanted to do after putting the deposit down was take a nap, watch TV and not think about wedding stuff at all.  So I didn’t.

That was over a month ago, and I’m just starting this week to slowly put the roller coaster back in operation (hopefully gently because I know the wheels will start spinning out of control with the slightest push), making appointments to look at invitations, sorting out the guest list (my next foreseen stress-inducing activity), and booking a photographer.

My problem is that I know what I want in some areas of the wedding, and I could care less about certain other aspects.  Unfortunately, the things I know I want are fairly amorphous (making sure my guests feel relaxed, welcomed, and well-taken care of), and the things I’m not too concerned with are easily defined (tablecloth colors, centerpieces).

For now I’m going to reduce my stress by making lists, and with each accomplished task, I’m hoping to find that exhilaration that comes from swooshing down the side of a roller coaster, even if I feel like I’m about to fly out any second, shaking in my little, wooden car.

Michigan Second Impressions, an Official Engagement, and More Pizza!

Last Thursday, I went to visit Mark in Ann Arbor for the second time ever.  The weather was nice, if not fall-like, which is making me concerned for how cold it’s going to be when fall actually gets here.  Maybe we’ll be going to fewer UMich football games and more Detroit Lions football games (since they have a dome).

For some reason I thought it might be a good idea to take a 6am flight out of BWI that landed at DTW at 7:30.  I must’ve still been in work mode when I booked it, since I did a lot of 6am flying over the past two years.  I also must’ve forgotten how miserable it is to set your alarm for 3:30am, and how even a few cups of coffee can’t keep you from falling asleep on the plane with your mouth open, head jerking side to side every few minutes like a possessed marionette.

Upon landing ridiculously early, I took a cab to the Residence Inn and had plenty of time to work out, check emails, Yelp some good Ann Arbor hair places and book an appointment for Friday, before meeting Mark for lunch at 11:30.

We ate at Biercamp, a BBQ and artisan jerky restaurant/deli counter in a small house on the southern part of State Street near the hotel.  The pulled pork sandwich was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, if slightly buttery for my taste.  Mark liked how they actually seemed to have cooked the meat in the BBQ sauce so that each piece was coated, rather than making you put your own sauce on top of dry pork, where you really can’t get the sauce distributed evenly.  The small things in life.  We wanted to try some of the homemade dill pickles, but they were currently out.

After lunch, I went to the local mall to find a cover for my new iPhone.  I was thinking I wanted a cutesy artsy case, but my sister reminded me that those probably aren’t the best damage control if you actually drop the phone (which I’m definitely prone to do). So I got a hearty case at the Apple store (ugh I’m not into the Apple store Kool-Aid – it tastes like conformity) and will go about my klutzy life hopefully a bit better prepared.  The mall there is pretty nifty.  It’s sort of smallish – all on one level – with not the best anchor stores (Penny’s, Macy’s and Sears) but all the rest of the stores are great!  There’s the usual Banana, J. Crew, etc., but then there’s also Michael Kors, Vera Bradley, L’Occitane and Lush.  Alright!  Mom would love it, as those last two are some of her faves!

I then decided I needed a “wedding vision book.”  Actually I had no idea it was called a vision book until someone else called it that….I just wanted an old school photo album with the peel back sticky pages so I could conglomerate all the scraps of magazines that are currently lying on the coffee table, and the bedside table, and the dining room table, and stuffed in corners of my purse.  I tear scraps out of all magazines – it’s really getting to be a problem – recipes, yoga poses, inspiring color combos, etc.  I have a shoebox full of yoga-related magazine bits that I’ve NEVER looked at again.  Maybe I should make an album for those too, so at least they are arranged in some semblance of order.

Well back to the photo album quest: it’s really hard to find photo albums these days since everyone keeps their photos online.  And when you do find an album, it’s of the newer, slip the photo into this perfectly sized slot, kind.  I tried to find a Wal-Mart near Ann Arbor on the car GPS but it kept telling me that the closest one was about 450 miles away.  That GPS is terrible for that kind of search.  I reluctantly went for the iPhone.  I know that’s what it’s there for – to look up every last bit of information that you could ever want – but it sort of feels like cheating, like I should just be able to find these things without it, and I don’t want to waste the data! LOL

Well, as far as I could tell, there isn’t a Wal-Mart close by to Ann Arbor, so I looked for a KMart.  See, my thinking was that Target might be too classy to carry such things as tacky photo albums with sticky paper, which is why I was sticking to the lower end big box stores.  Just in luck – a KMart not too far away that did indeed carry TWO fly paper photo albums!  Perf!

I got Mark from work and we went up to the new apartment to do the owner’s punch list before dinner.  And that’s when IT happened!!  I was taking an initial walk-through when Mark got down on one knee and did the “official” proposal!!  Here is a glamor-shot of the bling.


And then we cracked a bottle of wine and did the punch list.

For a celebratory dinner we went to Mani, a modern Italian restaurant downtown.  I may have been laughing a little too loudly and was certainly very animated.  The people at the table next to us kept giving us the eye.  Ooops.  Just happy.

We each got appetizers and split a margherita pizza.  The pizza wasn’t amazing.  A bit too dry and cheese that fell off in clumps when you bit into it.  BUT the burrata appetizer I had was SO GOOD!!  Fresh, cool and creamy burrata cheese with macerated sour cherries, mint, fennel, micro greens and salty olive oil crostini.  I could’ve eaten two of these and skipped the pizza altogether.  It was perfectly sweet, salty, sour, crunchy and creamy all together.  Best burrata of the season (and I’ve had at least 3 others at various restaurants).

Friday I got my hair cut (not bad and reasonably priced) and started piecing together the photo album.  It took a lot longer than anticipated given I didn’t have any scissors!  That evening, we drove out to Grand Haven, about 2.5 hours west of Ann Arbor on Lake Michigan to visit a former co-worker at her summer home there.  Grand Haven is also called Coast Guard City, USA, as dubbed first by the locals, then officially by President Clinton.  There didn’t seem to be a great story behind the name that I could glean, other than there is a coast guard station there.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Spring Lake about 2 miles from downtown Grand Haven because the city was packed with 250,000 people for Coast Guard Week which culminated Saturday with a 2 hour parade.  Friday night we walked around and ate a yummy dinner of steak and salads at Kirby House.  There were lots of teeny boppers out at the street fair dressed in their summer cutoffs (I was feeling old and cold in full-length jeans) and lots of campers lining the parking lots with their grills going.  Different tents held various bands – everything from Beatles to 80s hair band covers.  There was definitely that beach town vibe going on.  Also, we noticed that people had already staked out patches of grass with blankets or bits of string to rope off seating for the fireworks display – Saturday night.  We were told later that you weren’t allowed to start saving spots until Thursday night….2 days in advance!  These must be some good fireworks we thought!

Saturday, we walked the 2 miles into town to set up at our friend’s house for the parade.  She has an awesome house on an elevated corner lot right along the parade route.  There were marching bands, old and new cars and various floats in the street.  And out back there were great summer drinks, including Bloody Mary’s made with dill juice and a pickle (yum!) and amazingly juicy pork tenderloin and half chickens grilled up by her husband’s high school friend who’s a butcher.  You know it had to be good since the man deals with meat all day everyday.

After taking an afternoon siesta, we went downstairs to watch the fireworks across the river from the hotel lawn, where the mosquitos were buzzing and humming all over.  We didn’t stay too long out there for fear of giant bites, so we only saw a bit of the show.  It was odd because about 10 fireworks went off and then it stopped.  We thought, hm I’m sure that can’t be the end of it.  And then a woman behind us said, “Was there another fire?”  We said, “Huh? Was there a fire earlier?”  And she said, “Oh a few years ago the fireworks caused a fire and they had to put it out before they could resume.  Ya know, it’s Grand Haven,” shrugging.  And we said, “Oh hm.”  And she said, “I guess you’re not from around here.”  Nope.  So we went back upstairs and heard the fireworks resume a bit later.  Oh well, I’ve seen ’em before.  I subsequently found a YouTube video of the 2005 fireworks fire – it looked pretty massive, like the whole hillside was on fire.  I’m not sure they could’ve resumed the show after that!

All in all we had an excellent time visiting Grand Haven and thank you to our wonderful hosts for having us!  I’m liking our Michigan explorations, from Traverse City to Grand Haven.  We still need to see downtown Detroit, Mackinac Island and perhaps some other small towns along the way.

Sunday we grabbed some fresh salad, local Michigan cherries and a Michigan hard cider at Produce Station – a boutique grocery, garden center and cafe near the hotel.  I loved this place – it has a lot of gourmet-y type food products that you wouldn’t find at the regular grocery store, as well as very fresh produce (as the name suggests) and locally-made products, like the cider, ice cream, bread and desserts.

Monday I flew back to Baltimore at the more reasonable hour of 2pm.  This week I’ve really got to buckle down and sort through things I want to take with me or give away.  I’ve also got to create an area for items that we will move ourselves, since once the movers take our stuff next week, it will be 2-9 days before we get it in Michigan.  I can’t believe the move is almost here.  I can’t believe I’ve been out of work for almost 2 months.  I’m done volunteering, which was a great experience, and now I’m on the farewell tour of lunch dates with various friends.  My friend Graham and I are going to hit the pool and work on our blogs.  Graham is leaving Bmore to travel the world for a year or two and has started cataloguing his planning and future travel at exploringsevencontinents.com – check it out to see where he’s going – I’m jealous of that adventure!

Next time I’m in Ann Arbor it will be for real, and that’s going to be an adventure all its own!

I Thought Quitting a Job Should Equal LESS Work

Does it ever feel like work is the least work-like thing you do?  I’m starting to feel overwhelmed by the massive TO DO list I’m accumulating by being unemployed.  And not having a smart phone (more on that at a later date) is making my life turn into a pile of lists written on paper scraps, a free “health & wellness” wall calendar that I’ve been lugging around, and on the back of my hand…creating a ton of worry and stress dreams.  I’m trying to read Harry Potter before bed to remain calm and pretend I’m 12 years younger.

I quit my job – yay!  Time to celebrate!  For about a minute.

Then I realized that I don’t have an income.  Or health insurance.  Or access to the employee website to find out about processing health claims.  And I have to return the garage parking pass before the next billing cycle but there never seems to be an attendant at the garage gate.  And what about that employee stock purchase plan I’ve been contributing to – aren’t I supposed to get a check back for that?  How exactly did they calculate how many vacation days to pay out?  And what about the fact that I already got reimbursed the max amount out of my FSA but I haven’t made enough contributions, which doesn’t seem to be reflected in my last paycheck? AAAAAHHHHHH

It’s been about 3 weeks since leaving work and I’m still waiting on/need to do/stressing about the following:

1. My final paycheck…not sure what this represents since it was a direct deposit…..How do I access the pay stub? (Okay, called HR and they mailed it to me.)

2. To figure out how much vacation I got paid for (judging by this ridiculously small final pay it looks like negative 10 days…only kidding)…Apparently I thought we were on a delayed pay so that I should have gotten another two weeks’ worth for my last two weeks of work, which would have been paid during the next pay period….if that convoluted logic makes any sense.  Turns out this was false and I’ve been operating under the wrong thought process for six years.  Oops, my bad.

3. What happens to my 401k? (Rollover or leave it as is? Do I accumulate higher fees by leaving it in place when I’m not with the company anymore?)

4. What happens to my employee stock purchase plan? (Still have no idea on this one)

5. Buying health insurance – for Maryland or Michigan? (PURCHASED!! $115/month including dental, but apparently it goes up to like $130/month in Michigan….I guess we’re just super healthy here in MD! Woo woo!)

6. Or COBRA? (Um, NO)

7. Gotta get a smart phone (Seriously)

8. Retuning my parking pass (Finally done after many failed attempts)

9. Using my HSA – just keep using the debit card?  How do I track it if I can’t get on the employee website?

10. Am I going to get kicked out of my “select” bank account now that I’m no longer an employee?  Am I going to have to go back to paying $5/month like everyone else?  Are they going to start charging me $2.99/month to have access to my credit score (which is super high by the way in case you had any doubts)?

11. MOVING! And in that same vein, what to do with my car? Have them ship it out there and run it into the ground, or buy a new/used one here and drive it out there?  I’m starting to lean to the latter given the movers won’t move liquids, including wine (of which I have a lot) or cleaning supplies or shampoo/conditioner.  Nor will they move valuables or documents….not that I’d want them to, but it’d be hard to fly out there with all that stuff in tow.

12. Planning vacations! Okay, this one is fun, but it is still stressing me out piled on top of everything else going on.  For instance, Mark and I are going to Napa in October and everything is set except I have to rent a car, which takes all of 5 minutes, but I’ve been procrastinating needlessly.

13. Engagement ring anxiety.  Finally settled on it and put down a deposit and waiting for it to be delivered in the mail.  OMG NERVOUS.  I said when it comes I’m just going to open the box and put it on and start walking around since Mark’s in Michigan.  I’m not NOT going to open it!  But my friend Katie said that this plan is unacceptable and that there needs to be an actual proposal.  Well, we’ll see.  We’ll see.   😀

And that’s all that’s popping to the front of my brain at the moment.  I can’t even write anymore about it, I’m getting overwhelmed by the tasks.  I’ll keep you posted as to my progress on these….

Potter time.

Engagement Ring Crazed – Oy!

I’m a girl of marrying age, so I think most people would assume (myself included) that I should have some idea of what I want out of an engagement ring.  How wrong could I (and everyone else) be?

As I noted in my prior post, Mark has courageously handed me over the reins in picking out just what I want in a ring.  Now, if only I knew what I wanted.  Well, I thought I did.  So Mark and I went to a few jewelry stores to look around, but when I tried on various rings of that particular so-thought-desired style, they seemed to fall flat on my finger.  Shoot.  As I slowly made my way around the store, hovering over case after case of sad-looking empty settings, trying to envision what they would look like with a center stone, I got frustrated.  There are so many choices – cut, size, metal, “trimmings” if you will.  How am I going to decide?  And how do I know I’m seeing all the options?  What if I make a decision today and then see a much more interesting and BETTER ring 6 months from now?  I try to be decisive in life, I really do, but as my friends know, I’ve been searching for a table lamp for 2 years, and I just can’t seem to pull the trigger on buying any of the gagillion I’ve seen.  God forbid I waste $39.99 on a lamp and then see a better one two weeks later on sale at Marshall’s.  No, no, that just won’t do.  For now, I’m content to continue squinting at magazines in the semi-darkness on the far end of the couch until just the right lamp presents itself to me (in my price range).

I certainly have a much better understanding of the crazy stress guys must go through in buying an engagement ring for their girlfriends now.  Not only are making THE major life decision to commit themselves to another, they are shelling out some potentially serious $$$ to purchase that “perfect” ring.  And a lot of times, there’s an assumption that this must all be done without actually asking for said girlfriend’s opinion about what she may want, so that the ring, and often the actual proposal, is a surprise.  I like the idea of all this mystery, but it’s just gotta amp up the stress hormones.  Take for instance this guy’s guide to buying engagement rings from the infamous wedding website “The Knot”.  (Full disclaimer, I too have a “Knot” profile…please don’t judge, it seems really helpful so far!)


Entitled “Rules of Engagement Rings”, there are some potentially helpful tips about shape (for those that failed kindergarten) and style, but then it goes so far as to advise that you SPY on your girlfriend.  Now I understand they aren’t telling you to read your girlfriend’s text messages and go through her diary, but it still feels a bit creepy to follow her around and take “mental notes” as to her style choices.  I mean, why don’t you just go ahead and create a “case file” notebook like the kids on “Ghostwriter”…does anyone else remember that awesome PBS show? No? Okay, nevermind. It was great.

Well anyway, suffice it to say I think I’ve made a decision and committed to a style.  (But you’ll have to just wait and see once it’s officially on my finger…unless I already showed you a picture, and then, well, good for you.)

Although now the next hard part is upon me in where to actually purchase it.  I started with a standard style and then decided to make all these adjustments to it, so it’s not like I’m going to get to see the final product and then say “Eh, this looks like crap, nevermind, I’ll keep looking.”  I will have to be committed to this from the get-go so I better well enjoy working with the people who have my little ring’s fate in their hands.  My choices seem to stand in two camps at the moment: 1. Work with my local retailer where I can walk in and harass them about all the details of the design up until the finished product is on its way; or 2. Work with a remote designer that, while I won’t have that same person-to-person experience, will likely save me some dollars and cents.  Either way seems risky to me in that, as previously stated, I’m super paranoid that the end piece won’t be what I want (don’t worry, I realize this is obnoxious of me since I’m getting a pretty ring at all, but I can’t help worry about it).

So I can only imagine that guys going through this same sort of decision tree process blind to the tastes and peculiarities of their girlfriends find the whole thing overwhelming and a huge time-suck.  Or maybe not?

If anyone has any suggestions or pros/cons on going with a store vs a designer I’d love to hear them!  (However, be forewarned that I will likely promptly ignore your advice and continue to stress out until the money is on the table and there’s no turning back.)