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A Little Inspiration for You Lovebirds

By John Kelly
Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"She's been proposed to twice, so I guess I would be the third," Oliver Culley told me last week, a few days before he was planning to execute Project Marriage Proposal.

We were talking about Miranda Moore, the young woman Oliver met two years ago when they were both serving in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria.

Slender, dark-haired and brown-eyed, the 25-year-old Miranda, a graduate student at American University, is the love of Oliver's life.

"She's beautiful and attractive and intelligent," said Oliver, 29, a CPA.

They've been living together on Capitol Hill since October.

"I'm still as excited to see her and talk to her and be with her every single day as when I first met her," Oliver said. "I genuinely enjoy spending all my time with her. Once I realized that, it became pretty obvious to me that it was time to get married."

But how to pop the question? Memorably, Oliver decided. Publicly, with both their families as witnesses.

And presumably a little differently than those two guys who found themselves not engaged to Miranda.

Oliver started scheming months ago. Miranda, he knew, loved her mother Mauri's engagement ring. Miranda's stepfather had crossed 12 time zones to deliver it to Mauri, who was stationed in Israel at the time, as a producer for NBC News.

Oliver e-mailed Mauri: He was going to propose to her daughter, and, by the way, could he have a photograph of her engagement ring?

"I just started screaming and running around the house telling my family what happened," said Mauri, who lives in Edmonds, Wash. "It was so exciting. To have somebody so committed to your child is a wonderful thing."

With photo in hand, Oliver went to Bensons Jewelers on F Street NW. Yes, said owner Ken Stein , he could make a ring like that: a pear-shaped diamond set low in a simple band.

Oliver looked at the calendar. He reasoned that Miranda might be expecting some sort of announcement on Valentine's Day, so he decided to pop the question the weekend before to catch her unawares.

Miranda's mother was going to be in Washington for a conference then. Perfect! He'd invite her and his brothers to spend the weekend at his mother's house at the Bryce ski resort in the Shenandoah Valley. He'd nestle the ring in the pocket of his ski jacket and then . . . what?

"I'm in the process of trying to decide the whole thing," Oliver told me last week as the fateful day drew near.

One plan called for him to make a banner -- "Will you marry me?" -- that his brothers would carry to the top of the mountain and unfurl as Oliver and Miranda got off the ski lift.

Another involved a banner at the bottom of the mountain, unfurled after the couple completed their last run of the day. "Hey, I wonder who that's for," Oliver would say, nodding toward the sign. When Miranda turned to look, he would drop to a knee and pull out the ring.

"That's the plan," he said. "I haven't made the banner."

I had to ask Oliver a painful question: What if after all that planning -- a ring, a ski trip, a banner -- the answer was no?

"I'm not exactly the most sure guy in the world, but this is about as sure as I've ever been about anything," he said.

With a forecast of heavy snow, Miranda worried about driving out to Bryce. But Oliver insisted, and on Saturday morning he put his slightly modified plan in motion.

Oliver's mother, Susan , works at Bryce. She enlisted the services of Horst Locher , the resort's Bavaria-born director of skiing. Horst takes great pride in his yodel, and when he makes announcements over the public-address system, he brackets them with distinctive Alpine yelps.

About 9:30 a.m. Horst let out an especially impassioned yodel, then made an announcement: "Attention in the area! Attention in the area! Miranda Moore! Miranda Moore! You have a message from your boyfriend, Oliver Culley: 'Will you marry me?' "

It took Miranda a couple of seconds to figure out what was going on. She looked at Oliver, who for some reason was kneeling in the slush outside the lodge.

Then she screamed.

Then Oliver asked: "Will you marry me?"

On Sunday, when the couple were telling me their story on the phone from Bryce, I asked Miranda what was wrong with those two other men who'd wanted to be her husband.

"The first one, I was too young, 22. That's why I said no," she said. "The other one, I don't know why he thought I'd marry him. He was just a boyfriend. . . . But Oliver could have just asked me on any old day and I would have said yes."

Which is what she said: yes!

The couple -- fiance and fiancee -- spent the day skiing, Miranda stealing glances at her ring, Oliver stealing glances at Miranda.

Now there's more planning to do. Said Oliver: "I spent so much time focusing on the proposal I haven't even thought about the wedding at all."

Now It's Your Turn

Ken Stein, the jeweler who made Miranda's ring, said he's had customers who buy an engagement ring and then walk around with it for weeks, waiting for the right moment to pop the question.

My suggestion? It's Valentine's Day. Just ask your girlfriend or boyfriend to read the next line:

Will you marry me?

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