Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Socially Concious Centerpieces

A bit of my past-self showed up again yesterday, and it left me a little uncomfortable. I was searching through the archives at 2000 Dollar Wedding, which I visit when I need to re-remind myself of what's at the core of this process after stripping away the party, the costs, and the fluff.  And there, in the October 2008 archives, was an email-post I'd sent to Sara about centerpieces.  And looking at my earnestness then, and my excitement about doing things differently, cheaply, and meaningfully, was a bit of a shock when compared to my recent excitement about our music, design, and photography options.

Jason and I started talking about marriage in "whens" and not "ifs" about a year before we got engaged, and I started researching this wedding thing around the same time since, until then, the idea of ever getting married had been entirely foreign to me. And I was entirely unhappy with what I found out here in the wedding world with the consumptiveness, the social pressure to conform to certain standards, and how I never saw my values or needs reflected in wedding-related media and resources. Finding 2000 Dollar Wedding, along with A Practical Wedding and Offbeat Bride, finally helped me see where Jason and I could fit into this process. 

And so, I wrote Sara. About centerpieces.  Specifically, about centerpieces made out of canned goods and donated afterwards to charity, just like I'd made at my Bat Mitzvah* in 1993.
"I worked with my Mom to make food donation baskets. We painted the baskets in dusky rose and silver (sigh, my 13-year old color palette preference) filled them with canned food items, wrapped them in cellophane and ribbon, attached a note saying where the food was going, and voila!"

"For a wedding, I'd probably go with something 'prettier' and stay away from non-eco friendly cellophane, but still. I was thinking maybe wrapping the cans and jars individually with pretty papers or simple ribbon, and maybe mixing them in with old tin-can vases for a similar stylistic impact (a la Style-for-Style). For shelters that accept fresh fruit, that's also a centerpiece option (not all do). Besides the charity impact and the waste reduction impact, using non-floral/non-perishable centerpieces would undoubtedly cut down on day-of stress about decor (flower shopping, transporting and arranging! ack!). For the less aesthetically inclined and DIY-impaired, I also found a charity that rents centerpieces in return for a charity donation."
Even a year and a half ago, I knew we couldn't afford a florist and I wasn't sure how I felt about the wastefulness of pesticide-covered cut florals for a single day event. And holding on to my memories of the centerpieces for my Bat Mitzvah felt like an important ballast against all the wastefulness, consumption, and single-day-focus of much wedding planning. However, since getting engaged and jumping into the reality of this thing, I think I've lost some of that focus on simplicity.  My real-wedding choices are still values-focused decisions, but I think it's fair to say that collecting succulent floral design options (pretty live plant decor) is somewhat more aesthetically-focused and less simple than charity-bound centerpieces, particularly when we're going to have to buy tons of wooden boxes and learn how to grow succulents without killing them (for me, this will be a challenge.)

It's not a problem to want pretty centerpieces and great music and a talented photographer, but I think finding this glimpse of past-me showed me how far I've come in the planning process and how much more stressful and expensive some of our choices have made this journey. I don't know what I'd change about now, since we're both comfortable with how things are shaping up for us, but finding this post certainly made me pause. During this pause, I want to spend some time re-reading Sara's summary of her $2000 wedding adventure to see where it takes me. And I might take another look at this canned food idea (which one of Sara's readers actually made happen here), which feels like it has some continuity with who I've always been, even dating back to age thirteen. And I'm just going to take a few moments away from the pretty and see how I still feel about my DIY garland, flower and pinata imaginings.  My guess is that I'll still hold onto our current plans, but I'd like to make my peace with them all over again, after re-reminding myself of our real values and priorities underlying this marriage and wedding.  

Image via Style for Style

*For readers who are unfamiliar with Jewish customs, a Bat Mitzvah is a Jewish girl's coming of age ritual when she turns thirteen. 


  1. It feels hard to keep the continuity and have the wedding reflect our personalities. Its a beast of its own and kinda makes its own path sometimes. I like the idea of taking some time to go back to my original inspirations and hopes and seeing if some of those can be pulled back in.

  2. I've never been a huge flower person. Every once in a while I'll get some pretty daisies on my way out of the Farmers Market, but thats about it. When faced with the whole centerpiece thing, I pretty much immediately decided on potted flowers. I figure people can take them home and plant them in their own gardens and any leftovers I could drop off at the local hospital to brighten some patients' day. Its not quite as benevolent as donated cans, but at least it isn't 2k in the trash after 5 hours of no one *really* even caring about them.

  3. Wonderful! Our engagement didn't allow for reflection like this, so I'm twinging jealousy here.
    I also thought potted plants would be the way to go but in reality, we had so few people helping us that any extra worry regarding pick up and drop off made us crazy. I LOVE the idea though.

  4. This is such a great idea. Lately, I've been really hard on myself in terms of my wedding choices and how different the results are from what I initially wanted. I think part of this has to do with the fact that my parents are paying for most of it. While I don't mean to complain about it, because I know we're fortunate in this regard, I still want to make sure my wedding is in line with our philosophies on the environment and not wasting things.
    The reality for us, though, is that we didn't want to be that couple that focuses so much on our wedding, and instead, we ended up leaving things we should have planned for until the last minute. Sorry to ramble on...I think you know what you're doing and you seem organized, so you can plan for the succulents as opposed to researching fake flowers and realizing they can be just as wasteful, and searching for an organic florist that won't charge you an arm and a leg, and trying to explain to your mother why you want to limit flowers! Ugh. I guess I should write a post about this to get it off my chest. :)

  5. Bravo to you for reflecting. In August, I was begging my guy to elope in vegas and then suddenly, when he wouldn't budge, I was freaking out over not being able to find cheap dinnerware rentals and fending off stupid unappreciated feedback from the fam. Prespective is a gift, indeed. And I am sure your centerpieces will be lovely no matter what, as long as YOU like them.

  6. Huh. I can't quite put my finger on it, but. My first reaction to this post was that now-you was a lot more rooted in reality than past-you. Not that canned good centerpieces are bad (of COURSE!), but that something about this planning process calls on *all* of who we are. It calls us to be the people we are right this second, not the people we were then. It calls us to think through our relationships to style and to money. It calls us to make a million compromises. And that's a good thing. I too was an idealist with a passion for world changing at 13. But now, with a lot less idealism, a lot more realism, and a huge capacity for compromise? Now I think I actually have the tools to make some change happen. Even if that change doesn't start with my centerpieces.

    So what I'm saying is forward is the way to go... even if it's complicated. Though I'm very into the reflecting (obviously)

  7. How quickly our ideas change. Sometimes they are better, sometimes they loose sight of the true meaning. I think taking a reassessment of your plans thus far is never a bad idea — up until the point you actually shell out molla.

  8. I have never heard of doing that for centre pieces - what a great idea. We ended up a day before the wedding paying the rental place to put these round mirrors on the middle of the table. I was so stressed I just went with it. WASTE OF MONEY. And they reflected onto peoples faces with all the flash photos. Not good.

    It's funny how different ideas are at the start.

  9. It's interesting that you mentioned the centerpieces at your Bat Mitzvah. I've noticed there's no shortage of Jewish brides on the Internet, but I haven't read too much comparing their wedding to the earlier "big day." You have such wonderful perspective!

  10. The cans sound pretty cool. I ended up doing nothing. Yep, nothing for our restaurant tables of different sizes. I originally wanted to do framed photos of us, our family, and friends but ran out of time (3.5 months planning and no clue you know) and still think that would have been fun or some kind of food or favor centerpiece. I love flowers but have never been able to take care of them myself.

  11. Love the prettily wrapped cans. We did potted orchids for centerpieces. In part, as an homage to our mother's who both love orchids. It's a living thing that would last for more than 5 hours (as someone stated above). They're beautiful, simple, elegant, and a bargain compared to the alternatives. Also, people could easily re-gift if they didn't have a green thumb.

  12. I think I remember that post!
    I heard the orchid idea just recently--we'd been talking about potted flowers, since we don't like dead ones, but the orchids are so much easier [not a ton of dirt], and they look so elegant, can be bought for ~$12- plus tax, and given to friends at the end of the night.
    Pretty sure we'll be going with that! ;)


I love active conversations, including (civil) disagreement. I don't love spam or people who use internet anonymity to be rude and disparaging. Spam and rudeness will be deleted.