Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why I Want To Get Married

When I get stressed, I am a grumpy mess.  And by mess, I literally mean mess.  Like clothes all over the floor, can't be bothered to deal with the household chores, MESS.  And these last two weeks were more stressful than normal people should ever have to endure.  Let's just say I slept about 6 hours this past weekend, total, at the tail end of a grueling few weeks at work, pushing through to an absurd deadline.  The level of mess and stress was simply unfathomable.

This was hardly the first time for my stress-mess implosion. My job is not exactly a walk in the park; for all of the amazing things I love about it, and for all of the world-changing green tech projects I get to make happen, there's very little park walking involved. (Let's just say that I'd appreciate a little more hippie environmentalism in my environmental industry life sometimes.)  But... as awful as the last few weeks were, it was also the best stress-mess implosion I've ever experienced.  It was somewhat related to the fact that Jason kindly took care of this dishes and making my healthy lunches while ignoring my raincoats and umbrellas strewn about the apartment.  But mostly, it had everything to do with just knowing he was there.  He called to say hello when I most needed it at 11pm.  He made space for my frazzled ball of stressness without complaint and with multiple hugs.  He reminded me each day that I'm not alone in this, that this will end and he'll still be there and that we can go hiking together next weekend (or whenever it next stops raining.) 

This feeling of having committed to each other is powerful stuff, more than I ever could have imagined in my single days and in my unhappily coupled days.  Because I know he's always going to be there for me.  And I for him.  And if marriage is nothing more than knowing in my core that I have a nook to climb into at the end of the day and a fun-partner for the days when we can leave work behind, then I'm okay with that.  I don't know what precisely the wedding is going to change about our relationship, our sense of being home with each other, or our knowledge that we're somewhat stronger and better when the other is around but, if it's anything like this, I can hardly wait to be married to Jason.

It's been a crazy few weeks.  Blogging will recommence as usual within a day or two.  In the meantime, it was nice to get a reminder of what all this wedding-related effort is actually for.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Another Damn Wedding

I'm still holed up in the recesses of my office, where I've been for the last two weeks straight (weekends inclusive), which helps explain my recent lack of posting.  But while here, trying to stay away from the end of my rope, I found something over at Another Damn Wedding that helped.  Perhaps it didn't help with my deadline-related frustration, but at least it helped me laugh off the silly wedding-related frustrations for a minute or two. 


Folks, there's so much more where that came from, because Lyn decided to have real fun with a scanner, ridiculous bridal ads, and her own amusing take on the wedding bs. So, until I unbury myself from this pile of work, get yourself over and enjoy the awesome results of Lyn's efforts.  And don't say I never gave you anything.  

Friday, January 22, 2010

I Love View

Jason here again, with one last guest-post for the week. As all you LA-area readers know, we've had a wet week. It's rained every day for at least the past 7 days, and some areas of the city have experienced flooding, mudslides, and even tornadoes. Certainly not your typical Southern California climate.

Luckily, the rains are scheduled to take a break for a few days, and we now have an opportunity to see our fair city at its most beautiful. The benefit of weather like this is that it clears the smog from the air, giving us a glimpse of unusually clear skies. The best way to take advantage of this is to go on a hike, walk up a hill to a nice vista, and take in the gorgeous scenery. You can get a crystal-clear view from Malibu all the way down to Palos Verdes, and even catch the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains.

There are tons of great parks and trails to hike. This list of LA's Best Post-Rain Hikes is a great place to start. My favorites are Temescal Canyon and the Parker Mesa Overlook. Both are roughly 5-mile hikes with moderate-difficulty terrain and incredible ocean views. Plus, the deluge of rain means that some normally-dry trails are bound to have running water (rivers, streams, and waterfalls), always a nice bonus.

Whatever you choose to do, have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sucka-Free Emcee

The prevailing scientific theory of the universe is that it naturally tends toward chaos. Orderly structures break apart; matter decays into energy; random events occur without warning. Despite our best efforts to make sense of the cosmos, chaos ultimately reigns.

Clearly, the scientists who conceived this theory have had some experience planning weddings.

Hey folks, Jason here again. Let's face it: random, spontaneous moments are unavoidable at even the most meticulously-organized event. Weddings are no exception. Yet we must still try to impose some order on the day, despite the perverse laws of the universe. While we can't control every last second, we can at least set up a framework for the day to follow (typically including a ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner, some speeches, and dancing). And since a crowd rarely steers itself, it helps to have a Master of Ceremonies who is responsible for directing the flow of events. Which brings me to the real point of this post: who will be our emcee, and how will we incorporate him/her into the proceedings?

First, we need to agree on what the stages of our wedding will actually be. It's a bit difficult to define the role of an emcee when we're not sure exactly what he/she will be doing. Still, I can envision a few key moments where an emcee would come in handy (keep in mind, these are my own thoughts; Becca may have a different take on some aspects):
- announcing the end of cocktail hour and steering guests toward the reception hall for dinner
- introducing the newly-married couple as we enter the hall
- leading a round of toasts & speeches
- encouraging folks to get up & start dancing at the appropriate time
- coordinating with the music supervisor (see my earlier post about having an iPod wedding) to start & stop the music so the emcee can be heard

Often, a wedding DJ will fulfill the emcee duties, but even if we were having a DJ, I'd prefer to keep the two roles separate. You can't always trust a DJ to be a good emcee. I've heard horror stories of deadpan DJs killing the mood, or of megalomaniac DJs veering off-script and hijacking the wedding. At best, a DJ/MC ends up sounding (and feeling) like a good radio announcer -- clear voice, smooth delivery, effective but bland. I'd prefer something a little more personal. Someone who really cares about the event and the people involved in it. Someone who's glad to fulfill the emcee role, not just doing it because they're getting paid to.

That's why I plan to ask one of my close friends to play the role of emcee. He's a good buddy from my college a cappella group, and he's known me & Becca for several years (we attended his wedding last summer). He's an extremely talented actor, very funny, has a great personality, and would be a natural fit. I plan to request his assistance in lieu of a wedding present (frankly, Becca & I plan to ask several of our friends for help, and we intend to let them know that we consider their efforts gift enough for us). His improv skills will come in handy since, as I noted earlier, chaos has a tendency to intervene at weddings. I just need to be careful not to ask too much of him; I want to make sure he can relax, have fun & enjoy the party, and only revert to "emcee mode" when necessary. Hopefully, his presence will make the whole event feel more personal.

I'll open it up to your comments now. How did you folks handle the emcee duties? Any tips or suggestions?

Let's Put Bridezilla on the Endangered Species List

Yes Yes YES.  I just finished reading this guest post over at Offbeat Bride. I have never read anything that better captures every frustration I have about the term "Bridezilla."  I despise that term.  Hearing it makes me feel like I just smelled curdled milk.  And this article perfectly explains why.
Basically, you're a Bridezilla no matter what the hell you do. And this is only true for brides – few would rag on a groom no matter how much of the decision-making is his doing.
If you want a big wedding with all of your family and friends there, and want to be inclusive rather than exclusive, you're a Bridezilla because "you want a huge, overblown wedding" to, I dunno, get presents and show off how much money you spent. If you want a small, intimate wedding with only closest confidantes and immediate family, you're a Bridezilla because you "didn't invite Aunt Clytemnestra who sold your great great uncle a goat in 1923" and you are so stuffy, snobby and exclusive that you'd shun your loved ones.
If you spend a lot of money, you're foolish and immature to want to throw it away on a party that encompasses just one day. Don't you know that you should spend that on a down payment for a house? That's what we grown-ups do, you Bridezilla! If you don't spend a lot of money, whatever you do is…here's that word again: tacky. Are your parents paying? Daddy's Girl Bridezilla! Paying for it yourselves? Too immature to know that there are better uses for that money!
And that's only a minuscule piece of the amazingness.  If you want to read a mind-blowing piece that deconstructs exactly how brides are neatly set up to be labeled Bridezillas, then go read about our rock and our hard place over here at Offbeat Bride

As of this minute, Bridezilla is officially scrubbed from the lexicon here at A Los Angeles Love.  Let's all help put that beastly term into extinction.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Groom of One's Own

Jason here! As you probably gathered from some of Becca's recent posts, we've started getting down to the nuts-and-bolts decision-making. You could say we're moving out of the "honeymoon phase" of wedding planning (har har). Becca's done a ton of thinking and narrowing down options, and now I'm beginning to get a little more "engaged" in the process (sorry, I just can't help all these marriage puns). I must say, it's an interesting experience. As she stated, I want to be actively involved in things...maybe not the finer details of centerpieces & napkin rings, but I do care about how this event is gonna look & feel. My creative, artsy brain wants to have input. I just don't yet have as clear a picture of what I want as Becca does.

In the process of brainstorming, I realized something interesting yet totally obvious. Here it is: unlike women, we men don't grow up surrounded by a culture that encourages us to imagine ourselves as a "groom" and fantasize about our vision for "our special day". The cultural norm for grooms contains no drama, no agonizing over decisions, no peaks & valleys of emotion. At most, we're expected conform to a tried-and-true formula: don a sharp tux, get a good shave & haircut, and let the women handle all the planning details. You never hear of "groomzillas", and guys don't swap gossip about how so-and-so's best man was demoted to groomsman for refusing to wear a matching cummerbund.

The same cultural forces that drive many women towards "obsess-over-wedding-details-to-the-point-of-insanity" also nudge most men towards the "hands-off" mindset. For starters, there's a ubiquitous cultural stereotype to fall back on (which most of the grooms I've known have subscribed to). Plus, the lack of substantive groom-centric resources out there makes it challenging for a man to find a community of guys to share thoughts & advice with. Also, speaking frankly, it can be a little intimidating if the bride's mother takes a very active role in the plans (which is often the case), and it's tempting for a guy to just back off & let his fiancee and her mom hash things out. But the same way Becca takes an honest look at all the components of being a bride and tries to make them truly her own, I want to apply the same approach to being a groom. If the wedding is going to be a true collaboration, I should approach the trappings of my role with the same thoughtfulness that she's applied to hers.

Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of resources out there for a groom who wants to get this in-depth with planning. In an attempt to do some basic research, I made my first foray into TheKnot.com. I must say, I'm beginning to understand all the negative stuff I've heard about it. The gender bias there is laughable! A search for the word "Groom" brings up lots of articles, but they all center around three themes:
1) Tuxedos (shopping, tailoring & fit, fashion tips)
2) Groomsmen (bachelor parties, coordinating day-of stuff with your groom's party)
3) Toasts (how to give a good reception speech)

...aaaand that's it. As if there's nothing else a man should be concerned about regarding his own wedding. There's no advice for men on how to collaborate with your fiancee, how to jointly come to decisions or work through conflicting opinions. And certainly no resources for how to create a non-tuxedo "groom style" that suits your aesthetic and personal tastes. Web searches for "groom blogs" only bring up two or three active sites (Temple of Groom looks good), but for the most part, it looks like I'm left to my own devices. So I guess I've just gotta jump in and start tackling things on the checklist.

For starters, let's talk apparel (which is the only thing TheKnot.com acknowledges is important for a groom to consider). Tuxes aren't inherently boring - the standard penguin suit can be really classy and beautiful if done right. But luckily, I've got my outfit already. It's my nicest suit...and I do mean NICE. It was a recent "investment", and a good one. It looks effing SHARP. I feel like a million bucks in it, plus, Becca loves how it looks. It's lightweight wool, solid black, single-breasted, exceedingly well-tailored, and it looks SO much better on me than a tuxedo does. Plus, I save us some money by not renting an outfit. And anyway, a tux would be way too stuffy for our laid-back outdoor setting. It's a very logical decision, and at the same time it completely bucks the traditional concept of what a groom is supposed to wear. I guess I'm lucky that guys generally have a simpler, less-strict set of expectations than women, so breaking with tradition isn't such a big deal. Still, it's just one of many decisions that I'm considering more closely than most grooms typically do.

Also luckily for me, I've got a fiancee with a blog full of people willing to share their thoughts & ideas. I've just begun looking around for good groom-blogs and resources to spur some thinking, but I'd appreciate any suggestions you friendly readers might have, either for resources or for things your fiances found most helpful during your planning process. I know Becca just solicited you for input last week and was thrilled by the response, so if you're still feeling comment-y, feel free to share your thoughts. Thanks everyone!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vegas Baby - "How I Got Married on the Cheap"

As I mentioned before, I am a huge fan of sensible financial planning and, over the last few years, I've really worked to put my finances in order.  This is why, even though the $20,000 budget estimate for my wedding makes me choke a bit (and we're working to lower it all the time) it's ultimately going to be okay.  By the time time the wedding rolls around, I'll have been saving for three years towards this and various other goals.  It will be okay and I will NOT go into debt or interrupt more important savings plans like my emergency fund, my vacation fund or my future house fund. (hahahahaha. I have a future house fund but I live in Los Angeles.  Owning a house is still a ten-year pipe dream, at least.) 

My road to financial health has included reading a lot of personal finance sites, with my favorite being Get Rich Slowly. Sometimes personal finance sites highlight great cheap wedding options, but often from the viewpoint that spending any money on a wedding is a waste.  Needless to say, I often find wedding articles and comments on personal finance sites irritating as all heck (and the comments are generally of the smug "I only spent $1000 and this is why I'm better than you" variety), since I don't have the luxury of a small wedding and since I advocate using frugality as a means to finance the things that matter to you. A wedding matters to me, so we're spending some money to make it happen. 

But Get Rich Slowly is different - I think it really respects its readers and respects the idea of using personal finance as a tool, while highlighting frugal options and tools for conscious living and conscious spending.  So when today's post was a reader-submitted story of their frugal Vegas wedding, it actually made me smile.  And after all the Big Thoughts and stress of the last week, it got back to what was important about the wedding and the day, with a process that worked well for the couple in the post. It wouldn't work for me and it wouldn't work for everyone, but it's nice to be reminded of something outside the framework of my ceremony-reception planning.

And we all know I love a good Vegas wedding and elopement.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Thoughts

As we head off into the weekend, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all your incredible input yesterday, and for all of your support and stories this week as I work though planning a wedding that matters, even if it's not in a backyard. It's been interesting to discover that the process of marriage isn't nearly as easy as I'd anticipated, and that the emotions keep popping in and surprising me in unexpected ways.

But it's all leading up to a day I'm looking forward to, at the start of a married life together that I can hardly wait to enter into with Jason.  For one of my friends here in weddingblog land, Jenn of A Bride's Brain, she starts her married life this Sunday.  I'm sending her my hope for every joy in the world and every rain-keep-away wish for her Smog Shoppe-located wedding.  And, even if the projected storm hits and it does rain, I know she's still going to have such an amazing time full of laughter, joy, love, and perhaps even a moment of transcendence.  

Image from One Love Photo, at a wedding where "it poured rain, and was absolutely P-E-R-F-E-C-T."  And if the bride said it was perfect anyhow/because of the rain, I know that's exactly how it will be for Jenn, rain or not. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Advice for the Newly Engaged

My approach to wedding planning somewhat unusual.  I started researching budget, venue and sustainable ring options a year before we got engaged, and so I'd already dismissed much of the wedding porn and mainstream to-do lists before the nitty-gritty planning questions ever became an issue.  I had a year to sift through 80 different venue lists, cry out my frustration about prices, and shield Jason from the major stresses I went through upfront.

So I don't know how other people handle engagement and then immediately jumping into wedding planning.  To me, that idea sounds downright horrifying, and I'd be having a very different wedding today if I hadn't done a lot of pre-thinking first: my parents would probably be paying a good portion and therefore controlling more decisions, it would therefore be a lot more traditional and filled with their social obligations (Mom was pushing for a wedding at our Temple or a reception hall and initially hated all my "alternative" outdoor ideas), and I think I'd have been sucked into more of the must-have expectations based solely on stress, lack of time, lack of pre-saved budget, and overwhelming pressure.  We also might have started with discussions of budget and logistics without taking time to think about our big-picture values, just due to the where-do-I-start panic with it all.  I'm much happier with where we are today and the wedding we're actually planning, and I credit much of it to my upfront, unpressured(ish) research and daydreaming.    

As my closest girlfriend in the world is finally starting to talk about an in-the-near-future engagement (YAY!!!), I've been trying to think about the most and least helpful aspects of wedding planning, to help shield her from some of the upfront cr*p. I want to think about what sort of contextual advice I can give her as she starts her NYC-based wedding and marriage planning journey.  I use blogs to keep me sane, of course, but I think they're less helpful for initial context.  I don't feel like I can email her the Wedding Graduate series from A Practical Wedding and have it make as much sense in the beginning.  I don't feel like sending her a link to Offbeat Bride will help at first because the women may just seem visually interesting but not relevant to her, and the images will distract her from being inspired to do things her own way.  I feel like these are the first sanity-saving resources I discovered post-Knot/Project Wedding/Weddingbee freakouts that helped calm me down by showing me women whose perspectives I finally related to.  But, on any given day, they don't necessarily provide up-front context on how to think about the wedding overall.  Or on how to start thinking about planning.  Or on how I don't think it's a good idea to start venue research at all until you and your partner have had a few big-picture conversations first.

I've grappled with some of these questions before, as Jason and I started to talk about things together, and ended up writing three posts that really tried to get at context-setting: Why Wedding Planning is Like Grocery Shopping, A Different Sort of Planning Checklist, and Back to Basics (when I overdosed on Once Wed one too many times.) However, I feel like there's more collective wisdom that I'm still missing.  And I wish I had a step-by-step guide of how to survive that first month of engagement and set the course for a meaningful and (slightly) more sane wedding and marriage planning process.  There's stuff I think I needed to learn on my own, via my own frustrations, but there's tons of "you must have favors" brainwashing that I wish I could (partially) save her from upfront.

So I want to open it up to you, who have all stumbled through this process in your own way.  How did you start with your planning?  Did you think it was useful?  What would you change now about your start, after having arrived here in your journey?  What were the best put-it-in-context resources you found or processes that worked for you?  What were the best event-planning resources you found along the way?  What are your favorite sanity-check processes or article bookmarks?  And what's the best piece of advice you would give someone just starting out?

I'll start with mine, which are only reflective of my own experience, but may be relevant for someone out there.
  • How did you start?  For me, I started looking for affordable venues, since I figured that would set the budget and tone for the entire wedding. I started my research at the big mainstream sites like the Knot, Project Wedding and Here Comes the Guide, then moving onto the LA Conservancy List, LA Parks and Recreation options, LA County Parks, State Parks, other local City-owned resources (Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Culver City), Yelp, and insane amounts of Googling. 
  • Did you think it was useful?  Yes and no.  My best wedding planning "ah ha" moment was finding A $10,000 Wedding via L.A. venue googling, and finally feeling like someone got it: the frustration, the budgetary limitations (and the pre-engaged research.  ahem.) But I don't think I'd have appreciated it without crying about Here Comes the Guide's idea of low-cost venue options first. 
  • What were the best put-it-in-context resources you found or processes that worked for you?  This one's tricky.  I think once I stopped reading Style Me Pretty, Once Wed and Green Wedding Shoes etc daily (or pretty much at all), I started feeling better about myself and creating my own context.  And at that point I already had A Practical Wedding, Offbeat Bride, and a number of other personal bloggers I adore.
  • What would you change now about your start, after having arrived here in your journey?  I would have changed my approach to my joint start with Jason, but nothing about my own foray into research.  I should have been more gentle with him, but after a year of inspiration boards and thinking about weddings I was bursting to share.  I tried to hold myself back, and I didn't show him any pretties, but our first sit-down conversation was a bit draining and horrid.  He had no context for the discussion and I had too much.
  • What were the best event-planning resources you found along the way?  After the tears... forums with other local brides at the Offbeat Bride Tribe and Indiebride's Kvetch.  I learned from others' experiences, got inspired to cut the things that didn't matter to me, and learned to think outside the box due to their creativity.  I haven't found one of my vendor options through mainstream wedding sources. As for event planning... I'm lucky. I did that professionally for a year-plus and knew a lot upfront. (which is partly why I'm putting the question out there to you ladies.  If you never planned an large event before, what finally worked for you from an event-planning perspective? I simply don't know)
  • What are your favorite sanity-check processes or article bookmarks?  Your Wedding is Not a ContestOn Money and Marriage, 2000 Dollar Wedding's Summary of her Wedding Planning, these two incredibly honest posts from Accordions and Lace I've been discussing with Jason lately, Your Wedding is Tacky, Your Wedding is Not a Photoshoot, and newly posted genius (as of yesterday) Fear Mongering and You'll Seeeee.  And I could easily direct her to any of my favorite bloggers' sites for a moment of fresh air.  Or to some of my favorite books (pretty much all listed on Meg's sidebar.) But I'm still not sure they give upfront context - they just saved me when the insanity threatened to take over.
  • What's the best piece of advice you would give someone just starting out?  Figure out how you're going to announce the engagement, including a line that says "we haven't thought about the date or specifics yet, we want to take our time to get it right by starting to talk about the marriage."  It's so important to give yourself planning/talking/dreaming space before you give anyone specifics.  And I also think it's important to start by reading and thinking separately so you both feel sure in yourselves when you come together to negotiate wedding values, hopes, and budgets. 
And now, my amazing readers, what are your thoughts?  If your best friend told you she was talking with her partner about getting engaged soon, what would you say to help her?  Is there any upfront wisdom you wish you'd had, now that you've tackled/are knee deep in tackling the wedding beast? My questions above are just a way to think aloud towards some answers, but I'm curious to hear about the unique wisdom each of you have learned along the way.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wedding Dresses - Amanda Archer

After this week's Big Deep Thoughts, I needed to step back a bit from the frustration. So I thought I'd finally get around to sharing some of the pretty and (relatively) inexpensive wedding dresses resources that I've collected during my research, all from designers and stores that I'd be happy to support*.

Amanda Archer

Multiple women over at Kvetch and Offbeat Bride have raved about their experiences working with San Francisco-based designer Amanda Archer. Her overall design sensibility tends towards the simple, with some bold choices in detailing. Her current line focuses on special occasion dresses and non-traditional bridal. All the brides recommending her gushed about her craftsmanship and quality.  Via her esty store and blog, I've come to appreciate her range of style options from her line and completely custom designs (see some of her past brides wearing a complete mix of stunning custom dresses here under "weddings"). I also especially appreciate her incredible prices.  Enjoy.

A Very Important Date dress for $425 ($650 for silk).

Her English Rose dress with this striking lace is also $425

Custom design with french lace and silk, v-neck front and back,. Finished with beaded flower appliques of pearls and swarovski crystals

Bridesmaids in her sky-blue pleated collar dress ($200 - a bit steep for 'maids, but it can also be made in white or ivory...)

This is a fancified version of the pleated collar dress... with ruffles and eyelet instead.  $250. 

Honestly, if I didn't have a dress already, I'd seriously consider getting the "A Very Important Date" dress.  I'm loving that touch of vintage lace on the bodice and the tulle underneath.  And I could rock the dress and buy an amazing pair of wear-again rockstar shoes without worrying about blowing my budget on attire.

*This is not a sponsored post.  I've just spent too much time researching wedding stuff and hope that my obsessive googling can help someone else. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Compromises that Matter - It's not MY Special Day

I want to preface this post by saying that I am not a fan of violence and would not generally advocate for its uses. However, that being said, I've increasingly found myself trying not to deck anyone or throw the closest heavy object whenever I hear someone say "It's your wedding, you can do whatever you want" or when insipid reality show bride caricatures start blathering on about "My Special Daaaaay."

Because you know what, this is wedding is nothing close to being My Special Day. In fact, if I could plan an ideal perfect completely selfish special day, it would have nothing to do with weddings whatsoever and would involve me, Jason, a South American beach at sunset, a bonfire shared with other world travelers and locals, and an escape to a hidden-gem romantic restaurant when the night gets a little too chilly.  My wedding, on the other hand, apparently has very little to do with me and my selfish desires.  It turns out that I need to account for Jason's desires too (though so many wedding planning resources seem to ignore that fact), and Jason has always wanted a larger, fancier wedding.  It also turns out that your party will be pretty lame if you don't make efforts to accommodate guests' needs. The same way I wouldn't invite a vegetarian friend to a barbecue and then not provide any vegetarian options, I wouldn't invite people to my wedding but not account for their comfort and convenience with respect to travel, weather, food, timing, and day-of transportation.  It also turns out that the same way I agonize over dinner party invitations (but if we invite Jim and Jane we need to invite Bob and Brenda, because they'll hear about it and get slighted) I agonize of guest lists (multiplied to the nth degree of stress and import, of course.)    

In other words, it turns out that I'm hosting a very large celebratory party with another person and with our families and their pressures, and so his needs, parents' needs, and our guests' needs have taken this wedding in a direction that doesn't remotely fall under the category "My [Selfishly] Special [Me Me Me Princess] Day."

Of COURSE it's going to be an incredibly special day - I wouldn't bother with any of this stress otherwise. But it's not going to be special because it's a me-and-Jason fest filled with cute mementos of our past and lovingly crafted personalized details.  If I wanted that, I'd hang out in my apartment with all our photos and art projects. Instead, I want to SHARE the day with our nearest and dearest, and it's the sharing that's going to make it special.  And it's the honesty that we find together in the middle of the maelstrom that we'll hold with us for the rest of our lives. 

Our nearest and dearest include 150 people.  This is non-negotiable.  In fact, this number has already been negotiated (honestly, it wouldn't be hard to invite 200.)  This number is higher than any accounting on a Perfect Special Day assessment of my wedding, but I wouldn't dream of getting married without our family and friends surrounding us.  Other people may have more leeway on their guest lists.  We do not.  It's either 60 family members (doesn't feel special to me) or 150 friends and family (feels pretty darn special, but not nearly as much mine.)

The backyard wedding was my dream approach to a wedding, with a retreat/campsite with nice cabins coming in close second.  Unfortunately, neither of these are Jason's dream.  His dream would be something more big-party traditional with an incredible DJ, interesting food, and fabulous table decor.  Our mothers are mostly worried about access for our grandmothers, air conditioning/heating, whether there will be enough food and wine, and whether it will be nice enough.  We're meeting in the middle.  We're finding ways to love that middle and ways to all let go of the parts that are impossible.  Because the specialness is in the compromise and in the sharing and not in the misguided belief that it's My Special Day.

The next time I hear that phrase, I'm honestly decking someone.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wishing Things Were Different

Wedding-wise, it's been a hard few days for me. In a lot of ways, we're finally diving into planning our wedding. Yes, we already have a venue. And yes, I already have a dress. But since our wedding is scheduled for April 2011, we gave ourselves a reprieve on active planning until after New Years (though obviously I dove in and started researching and writing my little heart out before then.) I got acquainted with the wedding world, found some context, and feel comfortable that we can talk through the important questions with an overall vision and purpose in mind before we're up to our eyeballs in must-have BS. We're finally feeling ready and eager to design our own list of must-haves. 

However, now that we're finally at this stage, I broke down with a few days of serious resentment that I can't ditch this whole wedding thing altogether. Despite all of these blog entries and all of this thinking about weddings, I never really wanted anything like this in the first place.  For us, "this" means a 150 person ceremony and celebration.  It means at least $20,000 in expenses, even though we're trying to keep it simple and we're trying to focus on the enduring, meaningful aspects of the wedding instead of the fluff.  It means over a year of difficult and emotionally consuming discussions, negotiations, and compromises about what constitutes meaning, fluff and value. And so, just as I started looking this expensive year-long planning beast in the face, I got exhausted and wanted to slink away from it all. 

My dream wedding looks nothing like the event we're trying to lovingly build.  In fact, for a long time I had no image of a dream wedding whatsoever; I'd never wanted to get married and never anticipated finding a life-partner, so weddings simply never crossed my mind.  Only after being with Jason for a year did I start thinking seriously about getting married and weddings, and I immediately nixed the fantasy-ballroom popular culture idea of weddings. I started thinking about getting married like my parents did, in a hastily-planned, DIY backyard wedding. They bought a house, fixed up the house and backyard, made some sandwiches and punch, and invited their friends for their wedding a month after moving in. I started thinking about other weddings I've loved, and realized that they were all more low-key intimate weddings of 50-75 people, often in backyards or gardens, giving the couple time to savor their joy with each and every guest. 

Unfortunately, we don't have a backyard.  And unfortunately, my parents' backyard simply won't work for our wedding needs. We need a handicapped accessible event space that can hold 150 people.  Their tiered, multi-leveled backyard can comfortably meet the needs of 60 for a ceremony and 80 (scattered around) for dining.  I thought about building ramps (which would be do-able) but the real constraint comes in the guest list: Jason's family is huge, and we have a decent sized list of friends-who-are-essentially-family.

Therefore, our real options came down to elope, a backyard celebration for family only, or 150 person celebration in a rented space.  A backyard wedding would be dominated by Jason's 50-ish member family versus my 10-person group, which didn't feel right and excluded all my parents' friends who were essentially aunts and uncles to me through the years. As for eloping, our private commitment is already clear and we're not doing this for the legal rights (though we very much appreciate them and wish they were extended to all couples), so that didn't sit right with me either. Therefore, given our real-life choices, it was no contest: we choose the 150 person celebration in a rented space with our families, our friends and a variety of other loved ones.

Any vision of a wedding that might have fit want I wanted was simply out of the question.  Instead, we're focusing on trying to create a backyard/intimate feel, without having a backyard or an intimate-sized guest list. I'm generally finding joy in the process and in the preparation for our marriage, but all of a sudden I'm finding myself mourning the backyard-wedding-that-will-never-be.  I resigned myself months ago to the near-obscene cost of this thing, because I want a wedding and $20K+ is simply what it costs to throw a party for 150 people in a safe, welcoming, and minimally attractive way.  But although I resigned myself to the cost, there's a new element of resentment creeping in that I'm spending so much on something I never really wanted to begin with.

I know by now that life isn't all about unicorns and rainbows, and my approach is generally to find joy in the hand I'm dealt.  In this case, I was dealt a 150-person rented-venue wedding.  It is what it is and, if I want to have a wedding celebration, this seems to be my best option.  But I spent the last few days wishing things had turned out differently, and hoping that the joys of the day outweigh the hassles and challenges we're already facing down.  Last week, I read this post and comments at A Practical Wedding about "Not Loving Your Wedding" and I found myself tearfully nodding along and relating to the discussions, finally able to give voice to the secret fears and unspoken resentments that I've tried to silence as I move on and deal with the situation life gave me.  Because this isn't what I wanted, and yet it also is.

I can't picture anything more important than sharing a day of such monumental importance and joy with the people who matter most to us, but I'm fed up with all of the logistics, cost, and compromises that seem to be taking me further and further away from what I wanted out of this to begin with.  I feel like I'm shouldering a lot of this myself - the endless research, the logistical planning, the savings - in large part because it makes sense for me to shoulder these.  I enjoy research/planning and have a background in event planning.  We decided to not ask our parents for financial assistance (for a variety of reasons) but, since I have the higher salary (I'm older and higher on the career ladder), the financial burdens are heavier on my end for the wedding.  So even if it makes sense for me to take on these responsibilities, I just wish I felt better again about whether it's all worth it.  And I wish I lived in the land of unicorns and rainbows where everything perfectly supported a low-key backyard wedding soiree with an into-the-wee-hours dance party celebration, capped off with a campfire, guitar playing and smores.  Because that wedding would be worth it, and I would happily embrace the planning and cost challenges associated with it.  I don't care much about the Prince Charming myth and I'd choose Jason anyhow but, just once, it would be really nice to get everything I wanted, in all it's imperfect backyard glory.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lessons Learned

I've been feeling a little zen lately about this wedding planning thing.  Perhaps even a bit smug in my I-have-this-totally-under-control mode.  Perhaps even excited that Jason is finally getting excited about the planning too, and I can finally start to share all of my fabulous ideas, hear about his, and and we can start to make all the big decisions (of the Important and Fun varieties).

Clearly, I was due for a comeuppance.

If I have learned anything from this morning's tiff, it's that talking about weddings before I've had my second cup of coffee or Jason's read the news is a bad idea.  Right now you're probably feeling smug too, because of course it's a bad idea and you already knew that.  Well, in theory I already knew that too. And in theory I was just forwarding todays' post from A Practical Wedding because it made for good put-it-in-context reading, and we're at the point in planning where we're trying to put it in context and cut away the fluff and stress.  And I felt quite superior in realizing that I was already cutting away all sorts of fluff and potential stress.  And then I decided to try and talk about the article - which he liked - before coffee and news. 

Bad idea folks, bad idea.  Somehow* we started talking about decor, which is silly and unimportant in the big picture, and about which we currently disagree.  So we're implementing a new rule.  If we find something awesome that excites us about weddings, we don't need to share it right away.  Unlike when we see funny things online, or interesting news tidbits, or receive great emails, we do not need to share wedding articles, inspirations, or "what if" ideas right away.  We can practice delayed gratification, file away the idea on our computer or in an email file labeled "wedding ideas," sit down like productive organized adults at designated wedding planning times, and discuss wedding ideas and tidbits in context of our overall hopes, goals, and priorities for the day. And not in fragments before my coffee has kicked in.  Nothing, in fact, should be discussed before my coffee kicks in.

Lesson learned.  Comeuppance earned.  Moving on and forward.

*somehow might have been due to my overeagerness in pointing out that my decor approach was reflected in Meg's post.  His is not (necessarily, though he's done less comprehensive thinking about wedding fluffery than I have).  Hence, the really bad idea to discuss. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reconciling Post-Holiday Gluttony with Wedding Image Overload

For me, January 1 usually brings a real reckoning in terms of my weight gain, and this year did not disappoint.  Those five to ten new pounds are noticeably present in my vacation photos and in my tightening pants size. As someone who's spent most of her life overweight, those holiday pounds tend to freak me out.  As someone who's spent far too much time recently looking at wedding photos of slim, white, traditionally attractive brides I should probably be in weight panic overdrive.  Well, I'm not.  And I refuse to be all that bothered that I spent a month fully appreciating thanksgiving, holiday parties, Christmas and our recent foodie vacation (gourmet Nirvana begins to describe all the incredible meals we tried in San Francisco.) 

Unfortunately, there's immense cultural pressure that equates being beautiful with being slim.  And with the confluence of the WIC, New Years resolutions, engagement photos, and the d*mn expectation that all brides are out to lose ten pounds, it's really easy to hate January and hate myself for being "fat" and to jump into must-lose-weight overdrive. 

F*ck that noise.

I refuse to feel guilty about all the incredible deliciousness I ate in December.  I could spent three blog posts detailing all of the incredible family meals, the melt-in-your-mouth richness of our office holiday party food, and the explosion of complex flavors at Dosa in San Francisco (which may be my new favorite restaurant ever... or at least this week.)  And yet, I was feeling pretty alone in feeling grateful for experiencing all this amazing food as I started seeing weight loss ads all over Facebook and as women in my office began with the inevitable I-feel-so-gross "bonding" conversations in the kitchen.  Don't get me wrong - I don't want to participate in overindulgence all year long, but I don't think there's anything wrong with taking a season (or weekend, or evening) to really appreciate our food, given that we strive for an overall sense of balance and health.  I got back to counting my weight watchers points yesterday, fully aware that I'm a few more points away from my weight/health goal, and not too bothered.

And so, I really appreciated catching up on my reading and finding two incredible weight-related posts from some of my favorite thoughtful blogging ladies.  A over at Accordions and Lace described some of my frustration with New Years weight loss overload so well (emphasis mine):
...This has been particularly on our minds lately not only because we spent our time off having so much fun with food and reading such interesting stuff, but also because of the usual dysfunctional chatter that punctuates holiday celebrations: newspaper articles about how not to “overindulge” at Christmas dinner (you eat it once a year! Dear lord, are we not allowed to just let loose and enjoy our food even once a year?), and the inevitable new year’s talk of resolutions, with the gym memberships, diet plans, and weight loss goals that they always seem to involve. None of those ideas are inherently problematic in and of themselves... but what gets to me is, again, the pathological attitudes: going to the gym because we’re fat and unhappy, and not because we want to live a balanced lifestyle and physical fitness is a huge part of that... Is it possible for us to live well-rounded lifestyles without the guilt? Perhaps even with a little bit of joy? I hope so. I want to believe I can care about my health and my body without having to hate both food and myself.
I love my food. I love feeling healthy. And I'm learning to love my body, and fiercely want to know, to really and truly understand, what is is that Jason finds so definitely attractive about me, ten extra pounds and all.  Because we're pathologizing food-related pleasure because we're unsatisfied with how we look.  And we're unhappy with how we look because we have less cultural currency as women if we're not slim-attractive.  And we're not "real" brides unless we achieve a blog-worthy size four (or preferably size 2) picture-perfect body.

Here's my New Years promise to you: this blog will not provide diet tips or celebrate only one type of bride or beauty.  Instead, as I focus on creating an authentic wedding I want to celebrate my authentic beauty, backfat and all. I wanted to email all my girlfriends when I read A's musings about weight and food and I wanted to stand up and cheer when I read Cupcake Wedding's celebration of her authentic beauty:
But, as you start your wedding diet or stress over which industrial strength corset will best suck in your back fat, please remember:  You shouldn’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on makeup, diet pills, gym memberships, hair extensions or teeth whitening to feel like a beautiful queen on your wedding day.

If the look of wanton happiness radiating off your face isn’t enough to cinch your title as Most Beautiful Woman in the Room, consider this: Another person is willingly standing next to you agreeing to sex you, and only you, up for their rest of their lives. They are committing to your soft stomach and double chin and hairy feet because they think you are wonderfully imperfect.

Doesn’t that make you feel sexier already?
So perhaps like me, you're cheering and nodding along.  And perhaps like me, you're still gearing up for some health-related weight loss efforts and balance.  And perhaps, also like me, you want to believe this and embrace the weight loss healthy living zen, but sometimes it's too d*mn hard and the cultural and wedding pressure is too d*mn much, particularly when we don't have reference points for seeing larger women as beautiful.  Well, if you're anything like me, then these pictures from V Magazine's plus-size spring issue will make you dance a little jig of fist-pumping joy.  And if your partner is anything like Jason, the photos will catch his attention from the corner of his eye, and he will literally stop what he's doing on his computer to stare and appreciate this incredible beauty.  

More images and commentary on the V Magazine plus-size issue at Jezebel.com

Images of women and beauty who look like us tend to be alien in our popular culture landscape, unless we're directing scorn at celebrity weight gain.  But these photos show us that "plus-size beauty" shouldn't be relegated to Lane Bryant catalogs or out-of-the-norm concepts.  These women are me, or your girlfriend, or your mother, and they are stunning in their own right, without any "plus-size" descriptor.  
Own your beauty.  Own your body.  Own your food-related pleasure.  And this year, let's all try to focus on the process of health and not on the product of some prescribed notion of bridal beauty as we approach our wedding preparation efforts.  Because these women look stunningly sexy and beautiful, fat be d*mned, and we will too, on our wedding days and every day thereafter.   

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lessons From Our Vacation

We just arrived back from five days in San Francisco.  After a year of ups and downs without much time away for ourselves, this was an incredibly welcome break for me and Jason. Besides visiting with numerous friends and family, stuffing ourselves silly with delicious food, and exploring nearly every inch of San Francisco, we also managed to talk a lot about our plans and hopes for the next year and get to know each other better via the process of traveling and talking.
  • We both have very different styles of vacation planning. I'm the"let's research a lot but then wing it" type while he's the "plan a detailed itinerary for every day" type.  There were a few moments of friction while preparing for the trip, but we figured it out in the end and thoroughly appreciated the other person's insight and contributions (hint: I got my way with a bunch of open-ended neighborhood walking tours and he got his way with a detailed list of nearby sights-to-see.  I liked his organization and he liked my get-to-know-the-city approach.) 
  • Sometimes it's worth it to get a fancy-schmancy hotel for a couple of romantic nights (even if we hadn't lucked out with with incredible last-minute deal pricing.  I cannot say enough amazing things about our Bay Bridge view, the stupid-comfy bed, and incredible service at Le Meridien)
  • But my heart belongs to funky boutique hotel discoveries like the Joie de Vivre's Hotel Carlton in the area between the Tenderloin and Nob Hill. Yay for the neighborhood, the free wine reception, and the Southeast Asian-inspired decor.
  • The whole "men hate planning weddings" thing is a cultural myth that harms everyone involved.  Jason's vacation reading was The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant and it sparked some great conversation about weddings and marriage.
  • Once men get involved, you may be surprised by where their priorities and interests lie (decor?  really?  we may have some mini-battles-to-come on the decor front, and I'm preparing for compromise.) 
  • And once we do away with prescribed wedding and marriage-planning roles everyone can appreciate more joy in the process. For example, I can definitely state that my New Year's Eve (re)proposal to Jason with his ring was every bit as mushy, emotional, and meaningful as when he proposed with my ring.  Oh, and if you're counting, that makes three proposals in our egalitarian process of engagement.  It's just as fun the third time around remembering just how much we love each other and just how much we already treasure this partnership.  

View from our hotel room.  Ignore the building and focus on the balcony awesomeness and the Bay Bridge.

The Ring!  We absolutely love the half-matte half-shiny silver ring (both the craftsmanship and the symbolism) from Starving Artists Designs.

I hope you all had a fabulous holiday season.  I'm looking forward to sharing 2010 with all of you as Jason and I really dig into this wedding, marriage and life planning process.