Friday, May 28, 2010

Knowing When It's Not Worth It

We started doubting ourselves this week, wondering if maybe the extra $200 was worth it. After all, this is a once in a lifetime experience, so we really want to capture the moment and get everything we can from it. And it seems like a pretty standard part of the experience: everyone else is buying it because that last $200 really adds value to the base price of $400.

We weren't talking about weddings. We were talking about skydiving and whether we should splurge to capture the experience on film, for an extra $100 apiece. But the same rules and angst seem to apply to skydiving videos and weddings. We want the skydiving video set to our favorite rock songs. We want to really capture the full experience. The lower-price photo option wasn't available, so maybe it's best to get a video instead of nothing. We're only planning on doing this once, so it would be nice to really do it in style. And heck, if we're already throwing about $200 apiece at the skydiving adventure, the extra $100 (each) would significantly enhance the value of that initial $200 by letting us experience it all over again, whenever we want. And, according to everyone we talked to who's been skydiving, they all got the videos. In fact, it's the first thing that several people have mentioned,

     "You have to get the video."
     "OMG I had my video set to Rob Zombie and I LOVE it."
     "You're getting the video, right?"

It really sounds eerily similar to wedding planning and expectations, doesn't it? And similarly, even though we hadn't, in fact, ordered the video package, we began to doubt our choice once we heard a few too many outside voices.

     "Maybe we actually want a video?"
     "The video would be a keepsake forever."
     "Are we going to miss out if we don't get the video?"

Arg. This is silly. We have muuuuuch better things to do with $200 than spend it on two skydiving videos. Like throw a 30th birthday party, for example, since that's what our final party budget actually looked like. And, when we put it like that, somehow the video didn't seem nearly so worthwhile. I'd rather have an amazing night with friends than capture our 60 seconds of free-fall on a video snippet we'll probably watch twice. And, as we started to think it through even more, we realized that photos of us in skydiving gear before and after the jump will also capture our memories of the day. Perhaps pre-boarding photos won't be as visceral as a video clip, but the important part will be having a tangible reminder of our youthful adventures and proving to our children that we weren't always old and responsible.  

Yes, it would be awesome to have a video. Yes, we're spending a lot anyhow. And, in a perfect world where we had an extra $200 to blow as playmoney, sure we'd get a video.  But that's not our world and we decided to say no. However, for a moment, it was easy to get swept up in everyone else's thinking and to question our frugal approach to skydiving. It was easy to see the video out of context, as a once-in-a-lifetime chance that we are simply expected to capture in a particular (and particularly expensive) way.  But, in our context, the $200 is much better spent elsewhere and will not detract one whit from the experience or memories.

And heck, if I ever want to relive the skydiving moment, I can just visit You Yube and select any of the thousands of skydiving videos. The jumpers are all wearing gear anyhow. I can easily pretend it's me as I get myself back into the skydiving mindspace and remember the feeling of freefall. In an odd way, attending other people's weddings after you get married is similar to seeking out other people's skydiving videos on You Tube after you've jumped: you can relive the essence of your own wedding day without the pressure to spend money on the videography, favors, or spectacular dress that everyone said you needed to make the day worthwhile. You can stand back and see the $200 (or $2,000) in savings as an investment in a shared life instead of an investment in the more transient aspects of a passing experience.

Next time I start thinking I really need burlap table runners (yes, I've had moments of thinking I really need burlap table runners) I'm going to remind myself of the skydiving video in an effort to keep my wedding brain out of the clouds and feet firmly planted on the ground.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Venue Drama, Explained

It finally happened. I woke up at 6:00 am, still in mid-dream panic about my first wedding nightmare. It didn't even fully hit me until I looked over and saw Jason, and finally crumpled with relief upon realizing that it had only been a dream and I wasn't trapped in a vaguely and ominously wrong nightmare wedding scenario. It wasn't the kind of dream where something terrible happened, but it was a dream in which everything was just slightly wrong, I couldn't fix it, and everything just got worse and worse. I ended up at the altar crying that something wasn't right but everyone just dismissed my tears. It wasn't until I woke up and saw Jason that I realized just how wrong the dream-situation had been: the man at the altar wasn't Jason.

Usually, I don't remember my dreams. And usually, I don't put much stock in them even when I can recall them. But last night's panic stuck with me today, and not because I'm worried I'm with the wrong partner (my relief upon waking up and seeing Jason was like the heavens opening.) Instead, it was the feeling of that increasing panic and lack of control that continued to haunt my daylight hours. And I think it's that feeling of panic that inspired the nightmare in the first place. Because right now, I'm behaving as if we've got this wedding thing all under control, but the truth is I'm starting to panic. Everything is riding on our venue contract, and the venue contract is the one thing I've been unable to secure. We've interviewed a ton of other vendors and even started to price out options, but we don't know our actual date or budget to actually lock anything down unless we have a venue.

I've been planning a wedding for nine months now, and we're still at square one. I've done everything in my power to move the contract process forward and research every possible contingency, but we're currently stuck.  I have 94 wedding scenarios and contingencies and what-ifs and vendor alternatives bouncing around in my headspace and I can't make a decision on any of them, because I don't have a clear yes or no on our first-choice venue. And, despite the months of insanity and inability to get an answer, this is still our number one venue option for a multitude of reasons, and so I'm not entirely ready to give up on it. Not to mention, I'm frankly terrified of jumping back into the Los Angeles venue hunt all over again in the vain hope of finding something attractive and affordable that meets our handicapped accessible, indoor-outdoor, BYOB, 150 people guest list criteria. Ha.

A bit of background on the venue.  It's owned by a lovely but incredibly unorganized non-profit. It's really a community group more than a full-time non-profit, and their limited office hours (Mon - Th from 3:00pm - 7:00pm) reflect that. Their inability to reply to emails or phone calls in under two weeks reflects that. And their inability to book our event in April 2011 when we did a site visit in October of 2009 also reflects that (literally, they didn't have a calendar yet for 2011, so they told us to come back in six months). So we came back in six months, willing to overlook the organization's quirkiness in pursuit of the amazing inexpensiveness ($1000 for the entire day!), the beauty (nestled in the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, about a mile from the beach with rolling hilltop views), the brick reception hall/community house with gorgeous high-beamed ceilings and a fireplace, a full kitchen, and handicapped accessibility, and the complete freedom to do whatever we wanted (BOYB! BYO Catering! Play lawn games with friends on the grounds!)

It was nearly perfect, and more than perfect for our budget and guest list, especially in a town where we've seen venues that cost over $8000 for an empty room and a restricted catering list (read: expensive.) It isn't perfect: we'll need to be creative with handicapped access for the ceremony site, we'll need to rent everything except tables, we'd feel more comfortable renting shuttles than letting our boozy guests loose on the windy canyon roads and there are no nearby hotels, we need to be in and out in a single day, and the staff is less than unresponsive. However, it's affordable, beautiful, and the limitations are manageable, particularly when we estimate that any other similar Los Angeles option would cost us $5,000 - $10,000 more. And particularly when we spoke with another couple who got married there and went through similar frustrations getting booked and organizing walk-throughs (though nothing as drawn-out as our process) and had a perfect-for-them wedding in the end. So we know this can work, but it just takes a lot of patience.

But, as the months tick by without a contract, I'm getting increasingly panicked and less patient. We contacted them in March to confirm our date and get a contract, but they've been distracted by two big fundraisers (one in April and one this upcoming weekend) so somehow our wedding never made it onto the Board agenda. We're penciled into the calendar, at least, but we still need Board approval to actually get a contract and finalize pricing. (Although we were initially quoted $1000, it turns out that it's more like $1000-ish to $1500-ish, since the Board has to make the final decision. $1500 is still a steal, and we'd take it in a heartbeat, but it would be nice to know.)  I know that they are distracted in general and in particular with this week's fundraiser, so I'm crossing my fingers for the June Board Meeting. Because, if the June meeting doesn't happen, we finally have to give up and start a frantic nine-months-out hunt for a different site.

I have two decent backup options, but neither of them make my soul sing like this site. Neither of them are perfect either: one is run by artists who are just as non-responsive as the non-profit at "our" site (awesome) and the other is inexpensive(ish) to rent but very expensive to cater.  Both are the best backups we've found, but would entirely change the feel of our carefully envisioned wedding and we'd have to pay a great deal more for the privilege. But we're starting to consider it, because we have to and because Los Angeles doesn't offer much in the way of affordability for 150 people weddings. The maddening part is that we just don't know. We don't know our site, our date, or the associated availability of any vendors we've spoken with. We don't know if we can have a taco truck wedding or we'll have to go with something more formal. We don't know if we're getting married on a rustic hilltop, at the beach, or in a downtown lofty-arts complex. We don't know what our decor or attire or invitations might look like because we don't have a site look-and-feel to frame the event.

Nine months into planning and ten months away from our hopeful date, we have nothing, except a growing panic that makes me vaguely uneasy whenever someone mentions the word "wedding." (which happens quite a lot, seeing as how we're engaged and trying to plan a wedding.) I have 94 options to kick into gear the moment we know, one way or the other, but for the moment juggling those 94 options is just exhausting and nervewracking.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wedding Lessons from my Birthday

This last weekend, I celebrated my 30th Birthday with a massive "adultified" kids party celebration. We had a neighborhood scavenger hunt (in case you're interested, here's the scavenger hunt list we created). We had an arts n' crafts table to decorate our crunk cups. We had beer floats (yes beer. And no, not watery Miller-type beer but substantial chocolate stout type beer.) We had cake. We had a barbecue potluck. We had prizes. We had a freaking blast.  Also, I had at least four stress attacks, some resentful how-the-heck-do-I-find-the-time-to-do-this freakout moments, and ultimately gained some insight into where my wedding planning might also go awry or could be improved.

Know your planning styles
Whereas I'm the creative thinker when it comes to entertaining, Jason is the person who makes everything happen. I am a dreamer and procrastinator, whereas Jason's Eagle Scout training means that we have appropriate food and supplies for camping trips, parties, and, frankly, in everyday life. I can make the to-do lists, but Jason actually makes sure they happen (and happen spectacularly, I might add) by figuring out how to approach each task systematically and with enough time. He is the person who makes me deal with guest lists and evite wording at 10pm after a long day of work when I'd prefer to whine instead (I don't, because I respect him. But I like wishing I could whine and procrastinate.) He is the person who divided up our party errand checklist and took on the brunt of the running around while I took on the brunt of cleaning and decorating. It works for us. And it's good to know how we work before we head into the nitty gritty of wedding to-do lists. I'll promise to research, plan, and not to whine if he promises to help organize the tasks and really make them happen. Then we'll both run around with our respective task lists. Yay.

Focus your expenses on what matters to you
It was more expensive than we'd planned on (see: decor example below). About halfway through May, when the costs kept adding up, we had to make some hard decisions. First, we decided that this was worth it to us, and that June can be more frugal in response. Also, we decided which corners to cut and which corners would remain splurges.

Corners we cut:
  • We provided one box of beers from Costco, chips, Jason's famous guacamole, some booze, three bottles of soda, and beer floats. No snacks or main courses. We made it a potluck for a reason. We wanted to host people but needed to make it affordable. We ended up with too many desserts and not enough vegetarian options, but people were warned and we did the best possible. No one complained (to me, at least) probably because we kept them well-liquored.
  • The 99 cent store is your friend. I don't like the disposablity of it, but it was perfect for our immediate needs  in buying plastic tablecloths (helped with cleaning and protecting our wood table from spills) for cheap scavenger hunt prizes, and paper plates. We saved a ton going the 99 cent store route.
  • Although I really wanted to get cake at either our neighborhood French bakery or the bakery where we got all our childhood birthday cakes from, it wasn't in the budget. We splurged on the beer floats (Guinness+coffee ice cream and chocolate stout +chocolate ice cream) so excellent cake lost out to kid-like white frosting from Ralphs (cheap at $18).
Corners we didn't cut, and why:
  • We splurged on reusable decor, as described below in more detail.
  • We splurged on silly prizes for the scavenger hunt from the 99 cent store, along with 79 cent gift bags. I could have cut these, but I really wanted the kids-party feel and silliness of the Race car toy (Subaru branded!) and poorly bedazzled rhinestone picture frames (to name two) as party prizes. It was an extra few dollars in disposable crap, but it set the tone of the party and I don't mind having done it. Next time, however, I'd probably leave off the gift bags and use a mystery grab-bag instead.
  • We splurged on buying supplies for our arts and crafts table. We bought large colorful cups for people to decorate, a glue gun, puff balls, a variety of stickers, glitter glue, pipe cleaners, rhinestones, and permanent markers. This. Was. SO. MUCH. FUN. I don't care that it cost a pretty penny. It was worth it. Also, we have some craft leftovers. If we don't use them for the wedding, they'll keep for future craft nights or an eventual rainy day fun box. This was worth every cent for the focus on people and fun.It was exactly the vibe I wanted from the house party and gave us leftover crafts to boot.
Our crunk cup craft table

If I had to to it again, I'd save money by: 
  • not having gift bags (even if they were brightly colored and pretty) 
  • not buying a cake (there was more than enough sugar from the potluck items) 
  • not messing up the decor order
  • buying less expensive cups (clear plastic wine glass pimp cups would have been fine) 
If I had to do it again, I'd splurge by:
Buying high-quality Classicware sturdy white plastic plates. My mother has a set of 100 that she washes and reuses for barbecues and large at-home casual entertaining without worrying about breakage or the landfill. She's had them for about 15 years now, so they've been well worth the initial investment. I saw them for about 50 cents apiece at a local party store but bet I could find them cheaper elsewhere. I don't love that they're plastic, but I like that they aren't disposable and yet they're party-friendly.

We enjoy hosting parties. So I decided that this party was a good excuse to buy decent party decor. We have a box of holiday-themed decorations that get used each year and we have a box of entertaining linens and vases of various sizes. Therefore, I decided to buy strands of papel picado and two mini pinatas that we could reuse for generally festive occasions throughout the next several years. However, after my last sad attempt at finding a pinata "somewhere downtown" and without any real time for shopping excursions, I threw money at the lack-of-time problem by eating $10 in shipping costs and ordered 10 strands of papel picado and two mini pinatas from Amols online.

Lessons Learned:
  • Read the fine print and don't order the large size papel picado. Just DON'T. In my zeal to get things done, I ordered the large without reading carefully and they're not just large, they are OH MY FREAKING GOODNESS MASSIVE at 18" x 13". Yes, they are larger than the largest office size paper, per panel. I had to send them back ($8 shipping, plus post office wait time) and order new medium-sized papel picado banners ($10 shipping). In total, I spent about $30 in shipping for my freaking decorations. At least I love them and know they'll be fondly reused again and again.
  • It's a good thing I love them, because we now have 10 strands. Maybe that sounds appropriate to you (it did to me), but please bear in mind that we only needed five stands to make our apartment fully festive. Five. That means about $20 wasted dollars (plus the darn shipping.) On the plus side, we loved the look enough that we're considering it for wedding decor, so the extra expense may well be worth it (and will cut down on the wedding budget.)  
  • Our decor was an unanticipated pain in the bum that didn't save time or money. However, we chose something reusable that we love and, since we entertain regularly, this expense was ultimately worthwhile for us. If you, however, don't give a darn about decor, remember to start early to avoid expense and pain-in-the-bum-ness and to remember that people barely paid attention and no one commented. I loved the look of the room, but everyone else couldn't have cared less. 
Focus on the people. Focus on the fun
We could have cut a lot, but those arts and crafts were worth every bit of expense and planning stress, if just as a way to break the ice between disparate groups of friends (both sitting at the craft table and as a conversation starter throughout the party) and to watch adults get excited about rhinestones and stickers. The scavenger hunt list was worth every hair-pulling night to explore the neighborhood and come up with great photo and question prompts because people had fun together and bonded. Those sorts of community-building moments are near priceless, and I wish I could repeat again every weekend.

Four of the final decorated cups

Ask your friends for help
We tried to handle the planning insanity ourselves, and yet everyone pitched in to help anyhow. I had one amazing girlfriend help with the craft table and another offer to do my makeup as a gift (it was so purty). People brought tons of homemade food and drink for the party. Someone brought flowers. Someone else brought an entire Oreo cake and cupcakes from Crumbs Bakery (so we didn't end up touching the Ralphs sheet cake.) The party was more amazing for our friends' contributions. They made it better than we could have done on our own because everyone wanted to pitch in and help with the celebration, which was truly the best part of all.

The clothes don't matter
One of those four stress-attacks might have been related to my attire. Or, more specifically, to the attire I didn't have because none of my clothes fit anymore and instead of buying a new wardrobe I'm paying for a wedding. For my 30th birthday, however, I wanted clothes that fit, although I waited until the last possible minute to admit this to myself (think: Friday afternoon before the party.) So I ran to a local inexpensive-ish boutique after work and found a convertible black jersey dress for $32 (Like this, but not from VC). Versatile! Cute! Re-wearable! Allowed me to show-of my new accessories! And no one noticed because it was chilly enough that I had to wear a wrap the entire time. Ha. I shouldn't have bothered stressing.

Things will go wrong.  Oh well.
My think-ahead stress-free decor plans went to heck. My girlfriend (who helped organize the craft table) had to leave at the beginning of the party due to a family emergency (okay in the end, thank goodness.) Our carefully balanced scavenger hunt teams went to heck when evite RSVPs betrayed us and people canceled and some new people showed up. Everyone finished the scavenger hunt and got photos or answers for all the questions - meaning there was no single team that won. We forgot to play pin the nose on the clown (the donkey and its tail were unavailable at the Party Store.) We never ate the birthday sheet cake because so many people brought other (and better) desserts.

And it was a blast anyhow (especially once I got the "everything is ok" text from my girlfriend.) We planned everything thoroughly and then had to sit back and let it happen. I'm happy I felt prepared going into the day (less stress), but I'm equally happy that we could be flexible in the moment (more fun.)

The detours are sometimes more fun than the plans
Two of the three teams stopped for a drink at the Locals bar (which was a stop on the scavenger hunt list.)  Our team did not. We, however, stopped for tacos at Skye's Tacos (which was also a stop on the scavenger hunt list.) These detours helped make the adventure worthwhile. Let the fun happen, even if it's unplanned.

Photos lie
We had an amazing time. The house looked festive and welcoming. We (I) matched the same bold fiesta color themes throughout the papel picado, tablecloths, gift bags, plates and napkins. But, well, it was still a mess. And, well, no one really cared anyhow since they just embraced the boozy fiesta feeling. But you wouldn't know that from a few well-chosen photos. So long as you have a photographer or friend who can capture one or two photo stunners, even a messy fiesta can somehow come off looking wedding blog worthy, though they may lose the honesty in their retelling of the day. Compare:

Evocative. Simple. Mexican-inspired fiesta theme.

The Mexican-decor mess. I ran out of time and patience to care how the papel picado went up. There were, um, gaps in my consistency and party implementation so, by 3pm, I threw the remaining banners up with an eff it attitude and no one cared.

Pretty light. Pretty flowers. Pretty crunk cup.

Much more realistic depictions of the crunk cup insanity, sans pretty light or elegant composition

We're prioritizing photography for our wedding, but I just wanted to make it clear that sometimes great photos are striking because they crop out the messy reality of the day. It's entirely possible to have both, and that's something we're striving for, but it's clear that photos easily lie, or at least fudge, and that knowledge can and should be a factor in making event photography decisions.
Although my birthday wasn't filled with the emotional intensity of a wedding, there's something incredibly special about having 30-40 friends who are willing to be absolutely silly with you as they celebrate your birthday. Six years ago, when I moved back to Los Angeles, I didn't know anyone here. My high school friends had moved away and I had to build a new friendship circle from scratch. My first birthday in Los Angeles was spent with two co-workers at the Ivy (their idea. Fun nonetheless, but never quite right-for-me.) At this birthday party, I was able to look around and really appreciate the life I've crafted for myself since then: an incredible partner, an apartment that feels like a home, and a circle of friends and joy that just keeps expanding. My birthday was worth celebrating for that alone, and I feel lucky to have spent it in such ridiculous style with such an amazing circle of friends.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wedding Wishes for A Cupcake Wedding

When I began on this blogging journey, I was simply throwing words onto a page, searching for wedding-related clarity and using writing as a means to get me there. Along the way, this blog somehow became so much more than space for my musings. It became a link into a community of other intelligent, strong, conflicted women and men each battling to create meaning and maintain sanity while planning their weddings and marriages. I've read your blogs. I've treasured your comments. I've emailed with some of you along the way. And every bit of that has enriched my life, my wedding, and this process of marriage. 

All of these relationships matter, but I hold a special place in my heart for the women I met right at the beginning of this blogging/engagement journey, when they were at the start of their engagement journeys as well. A Cupcake Wedding is one of those special women. We immediately bonded over a shared appreciation for Jonathan Safran Foer, wedding pinatas, cake alternatives, and a shared frustration about planning a simple wedding on a limited budget. We've been feisty in each others comment sections. We've been indignant over each others' challenges. Most importantly, perhaps, we've cheered each others' victories. 

And Saturday, she's getting married. It makes me so happy that I could cry. In fact, truth be told, I'm getting teary just writing this post. We've traveled this journey together from the start of our blogs and now her wedding journey is finally culminating in her marriage.  She's the first of my from-the-beginning blog peers to reach this point, and I owe so many moments of sanity and clarity to her support and humor along the way. My wedding planning process has been immeasurably enriched by her blog and her friendship, and now her wedding planning process is coming to an end. Her friends and family are wrapping her in their love in these final days and that she's able to see past the ongoing challenges and into everything that matters between her and her partner and among her community. 

Her words have inspired me so much along the way, and her ceremony series alone is reason enough to read her blog. And so, I thought it would be fitting to try and find inspiring words for her, as I wish her and her partner all the joy in the world as they enter into marriage. I had thought of using Jonathan Safran Foer or Pablo Neruda, but their words are already woven into her ceremony and they were hers to choose. And so, instead, I selected some of my favorite musings on love and what it means over a lifetime. Cupcake, congratulations on your marriage, and I'll be thinking of you and your love and joy on Saturday.


But ultimately there comes a moment when a decision must be made. Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take…It is indeed a fearful gamble…Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created, so that, together we become a new creature.

To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take…If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation…It takes a lifetime to learn another person…When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling, and which implies such risk that it is often rejected. 
-Madeleine L'Engle

When you love someone, you do not love them all the time in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility, it is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity, in freedom. In the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting as it is now. For relationships, too, must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits - islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides. One must accept the security of the winged life, of the ebb and flow of intermittency.

-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Love is a temporary madness; it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.
- Louis de Bernieres

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

U.S. Census Recognizes Gay Marriage

As I was driving to work yesterday, there was a piece on NPR about how, for the first time, the U.S. Census will count same-sex couples who identify as married as actually married, regardless of whether their marriage is legally recognized in their state of residence. In the last census in 2000, whenever same-sex couples checked the box for "married," their responses were changed by the census bureau to "unmarried couple." By finally publicly recognizing these non-legal marriages with the validity of a census category, it's one step closer to recognizing people's marriages as true and legal. It takes these realities out of the shadows and gives them voice. It gives us numbers to use in our legal and political push. It makes people pay attention to the realities of these relationships, instead of being able to pretend they don't exist. And, with greater exposure, it makes the concept of same-sex love and marriage less different, more normalized, and more likely to be legalized that much sooner.  

For a moment, I got truly excited. Giddy even (which never happens on a commute). And then, I listened to the rest of the report, which went on to primarily discuss how being able to count gay couples as married will be "gold for advertisers." Yes, you read that right, the NPR piece (via American Public Media) was using this major turning point as the basis for a discussion about targeted advertising:
"He says for marketers like him, it's not only important to know where gay people live, but also the kinds of relationships they have with each other.
"So for example, if I was looking to sell, say luxury cruises, I'd probably be targeting couples," says Paisley.
And the census information will tell marketers which communities have a larger percentage of gays and lesbians in long-term relationships. But marketers won't be able to get their hands on this information until next year when raw census data is released."
I wish I could tell you that the story didn't end with the above excerpt, but it does. I wish I could tell you that the story talked more about how the numbers might under-count the real number of same-sex marriages because it seems counter-intuitive to declare your relationship on a legal document to a government that doesn't legally recognize it, but it didn't. I wish I could tell you that the story talked about the contradictions inherent in this census action, but it's NPR and so they refuse to ever discuss topics that are controversial in a meaningful way. And I wish I could tell you that the story talked about the importance and power of finally being publicly recognized for who you truly are, even via an interview snippet with a major LGBT activist, but NPR didn't bother. I wish I could say that the article discussed how demographics can influence politicians and therefore policy, but it didn't.

There are a lot of ways to make a radio piece boring and tame enough to not offend anyone (which often seems to be NPR's morning news goal) but an insipid story about the benefit of the same-sex marriage census data to marketers isn't what I expected. I wish I had some insightful rant or commentary, but I'm mostly just floored. Marriage isn't a marketing niche, it's a personal commitment and a legal right.  Overlooking the glaring contradictions in the government's actions and injustice-yet-benefit in this small step forward isn't a chance to make a point about selling more luxury cruises to gay couples. The point is that we're at a crossroads in this country. Demographics will ultimately win the fight for marriage equality, because the younger generation is increasingly more tolerant of gay marriage than older generations. And they are more tolerant because of exposure to their neighbors and friends who are (sometimes) more comfortable being out and who are therefore normalizing the normal. And high rates of self-reporting from same-sex married and domestic partners could increase public understanding of that normal. This is a big deal - both in its contradictions and in the potential for change - and I wish we as a society were actually adult enough to talk about the real issues here without shying away from "controversy" on our morning commutes. Because to me, it's controversial that most people don't talk about the civil rights injustices at all.

UPDATE: My discomfort with this NPR article has been nagging at me since I heard it, and I think I finally put my finger on the real reason why in the comments below. Because I don't have a (significant) problem with dollars as a catalyst for (this sort of) social change and I know how NPR and the Marketplace program work. But it was something deeper that didn't feel quite right. And I think I better articulate why in the comments below.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gut Checks and Weddings

As a woman who never cared much about weddings or getting married, I had a clear vision in my head of what my theoretical wedding would look and feel like, if it ever came to that. My wedding would be a small, casual, backyard or barefoot beach affair. Unfortunately/fortunately, wedding planning was complicated by the need to account for Jason's clear visions too. And for the needs of our family and friends who matter dearly to us and with whom we want to share our celebrations. Darn.

Jason and I have been working hard to develop our own combined vision of what's important. We've researched and re-researched and talked over all the options ad nauseum as we attempt to craft an honest day that meets everyone's needs and our core desires. Of course, this has been hugely beneficial for our relationship and wedding but, paradoxically, it's also made clarity more elusive and difficult to achieve than ever. Although we're definitely on the same page now, our exposure to so many incredible real weddings and DIY ideas has somehow muddled our focus. One day we want fabric bunting, the next we want papel picado, the next day we want fabric draping, the next day we want vintage chic, the next we want bold paper lanterns, the next we want paper flowers the next we want pinwheels and so on. Decor, however, is not a major wedding flashpoint for us. We like the pretty, but we're willing to settle on something that's simply right for our site, our vibe, our budget, and our sense of DIY ease. In the meantime, it's just inspiration (for the wedding or our next party, whichever comes first.)

Or so I thought. I thought I was doing well keeping it in perspective. I though I was doing well keeping focused on our shared vision. I thought I'd learned to dismiss most of the blog photos as too-expensive-for-us, but nice to look at and adapt.  I thought I'd been able to view it with a clear "that's great for them" and "oh how pretty - for someone else" approach until late last week, when I made a birthday-present-to-myself jewelery purchase that's closer to my true personal style than anything I've been obsessing over in my recent wedding dress shopping. The surprising immediacy and strength behind my desire for that jewelery showed me all the ways in which this wedding inspiration has been more insidious than I'd realized.

I wasn't planning to make this jewelry purchase. And, I admit that I got a bit carried away. But I love bold statement piece jewelery. Purses, shoes and dresses are great and all, but jewelery is my true personal style love and weakness. I know about quality jewelery. And I know an amazing deal on jewelery when I see it. So when I happened upon an amazing deal (over 80% off worth-it designer jewelery) on a one day secret boutique at Rue La La last week, my heart skipped a few beats, I checked my bank account, and pounced.

I am a firm believer in the gut check method of decision making. And recent books and research tend to support this. It's almost as if, the more choices we have, the more paralyzed we become. It's (one of the many) reasons I hate going to the Cheesecake Factory, because their 20 page menu entirely stresses me out. I would far prefer an edited menu of quality choices, thankyouverymuch. Wedding planning is like the Cheesecake Factory menu on crack. It's endless websites devoted to options: some great, some awful, many mediocre, and a lot of reasonable compromises-for-now. It's how I end up choosing a cajun chicken pasta because I just have to pick something and it sounds tasty enough and healthy enough and dear god I can't spend any more time with the menu but, when I get home, I realize I had really wanted a lemon chicken salad. 

This overabundance of choices actually tends to erode our well-being and happiness with the choices we've actually made. That chicken pasta doesn't seem so great anymore when I'm wondering if I should have gone with a personal pan pizza or whatever. And our gut check is an important subconscious means of cutting through the analysis as we sift through the endless options to hit at the truth of what we really want. The gut check is actually a very sophisticated means of sifting through our amassed data, drawing on our past experience and knowledge, and handing us an honest response in an instant.* And our gut check mechanisms are often overwhelmed, the more research we do and the more options we have.

The jewelery I bought at Rue La La was my personal style gut check. My "I HAVE to find a way to buy this" response was a burst of aesthetic honesty that got lost somewhere along the way in this wedding planning process.  Somewhere along the way, everyone else's beautiful dresses and weddings have clouded what I've always known I wanted in our wedding style: a simple and classic base punctuated by bold architectural lines, strong colors, and modern takes on tradition. These are the aesthetics that make my soul sing, and somehow they've been clouded by the inspiration photos of beautiful dresses, locations, decor, and core elements that are stunning in their own right.  Just not for me.  And so, my gut check gasp upon finding the Amrita Singh boutique at Rue La La finally brought me back to my own authentic style. And I purchased each of the following pieces, investing in jewelery I know I'll wear and treasure throughout my life.

These are the sort of necklaces I'd always imagined wearing to my wedding. I don't have a dress yet, so I don't know if these specific necklaces or earrings will work with my future wedding attire, but I do know that this is the style that makes my soul sing. This is the style that I've been investing in for years, as I've saved up to buy one or two special jewelery pieces every few years. This is me, and this is what actually that feels right for my wedding, where my true self wants a simple-but-chic white dress, some killer colored shoes, a hairflower, and accessories like this that I can re-wear each anniversary, and any other time I choose. 

It's been so easy to get off track with the wedding. It's been so easy to get seduced by all the truly gorgeous dresses I've fallen a little in love with. But some part of me has always known they're not right. Some part of me knew my previous dress wasn't right when I sold it. Because, while the dress actually fit my personal style description (bold, architectural/interesting lines, modern take on tradition) I didn't really want that style in a dress. I want it in everything else. I want it in the pieces I can carry with me and re-wear after the wedding, in accessories that make my heart sing. The dresses may be most other brides' style priority but, given that I'm working on a limited budget that doesn't generally allow for dress amazingness anyhow (though lucky breaks can and do happen for some women), my true style priority is my accessories (which also fit with my desire to keep the wedding sustainable and less focused on single-use items or attire.) From here on out, I'm looking for a basic dress with a cut that flatters and material that doesn't feel too cheap, and for long-term accessories that make my soul sing.

I'm so grateful to have rediscovered that basic truth about myself, after being so subtly pushed in other directions by other peoples' wedding truths. I'm so grateful to have refocused myself on a simple-but-flattering white dress search. This gut check is helping me retrust myself again, and I'm more excited about the wedding again as a result.

*If you're interested in the science and psychology of choice (including an overview of the value of gut checks), I just listened to an excellent episode of Radio Lab devoted to the topic. I started listening to podcasts after Ira Glass raved about Radio Lab as the best thing on the radio today, and now I'd be hard pressed to decide whether I like This American Life or Radio Lab better. It's that good.

Monday, May 17, 2010

On the Anniversary of my Proposal to Jason

Exactly one year ago, I proposed to Jason and he accepted. Several months later, we got engaged when he proposed to me. If you're confused, trust me when I say we were even more mixed up about the process.

I'd never been comfortable with waiting and passivity inherent in the woman-waits-for-man-to-propose process of engagement, and I felt like it should just be a decision between two people. I wasn't terribly tied to the symbolic act of proposing and I hated the idea of an expensive engagement ring (or of diamonds, mined gems, or mined gold). I felt like, if we'd already agreed that we were right for each other and wanted to get married, that meant we were engaged.

Someone, ahem, didn't quite agree. The symbolism of honoring the relationship with a special proposal was important to Jason. The symbolism of investing in a ring and relationship was important to Jason. And, while he could see my point about the man-asks-woman proposal excluding the woman's agency, it was really important to him to do the asking only once he was truly ready.

I had to respect his needs, especially because that there's a vast difference between knowing you're with the right person and being ready to say yes to marriage. I won't speak for Jason, but with other male friends, I've seen it bound up with feeling like they're at a stable enough point in their professional and personal lives to feel ready to build a life and not just enjoy a relationship with the right person. I understood where Jason was coming from. He's a few years younger than I am, and I couldn't have imagined feeling ready for marriage when I was his age. Of course, I hadn't been in a great long-term relationship at that point but, even so, it would have been hard to picture. Accordingly, I understood his needs and shifted my thinking about the proposal. I knew it was the fair and right thing to wait for him, especially since we were both already secure in Us.

Our specific relationship context challenged both of our notions of engagement. And so, we had to work out new rules that were right for both of us: I had to give him space to figure our when he was ready, he had to respect my general timeframe (which we talked about). I had to respect his desire to buy me a ring, he had to respect my environmental and cost parameters about the ring, and he had to respect my need for this to feel equal by allowing me to propose back to him with an engagement-ring equivalent present of similar value (I secretly decided on tickets and a flight to the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee, which he'd always wanted to attend).

As we stumbled through the process of defining an egalitarian proposal that felt right for both of us, the one thing that became clear was that the process of defining our egalitarian wedding and life will be equally defined by trial-and-error confusion.  Working through what our ideals mean in our real-world context is a process of stumbling closer towards our personal truths.  Despite my best attempts to search out role models and feminist success stories related to domestic harmony, I haven't quite been able to find anything that fits our specific needs and situations. Happy feminist marriages abound, of course (I was lucky to be raised by a pretty amazing pair of parents myself) but there's no real roadmap here. There's no standard "feminist/egalitarian proposal" or "feminist/egalitarian wedding" or "feminist/egalitarian marriage" models to help shape our approach.

Instead, our approach has been long, difficult conversations that seek to find the real intent and emotion behind each of our life-desires and symbols in order for us to define (and constantly re-define) the parameters that work for us. While I'm not fan of the definition that feminism = the right to choose your life*, the modern women's movement has certainly blown the lid off gender roles that were easier to define and off life pathways and transitions that had a well-understood trajectory.  We've been left with an overabundance of choice with only our own convictions to guide us. Either of us could stay at home with our future children. Neither of us might stay at home with our future children. We could forgo children altogether. We could split household chores entirely evenly or find new modes that make it work based on work hours, preferred chores, etc. It's all open. Our life is whatever we want it to be, and we haven't quite figured out our notions of equality based on income, time, personal desires, and emotional symbols.

I'm not remotely advocating for a return to prescribed gender expectations (and their limitations) but I'm learning that forging your own path, every darn step of the way, can get exhausting. And then explaining our choices is exhausting all over again, without even accounting for the occasional need to defend them. It's worth it, every step of the way, but it makes these choices surrounding our proposal, our wedding planning, and our life both more difficult and more rewarding.

Our egalitarian process of engagement was long, convoluted, and right for us. Along the way, many of our friends and family have misinterpreted our dismissed our actions or intention, perhaps because it doesn't fit neatly into the standard man-ask-woman framework or the misconceptions of whatever a feminist proposal might look like (unshaven legs, vegetarian dinner, and me browbeating him into agreeing to my every whim, perhaps?) Everyone else's interpretations aside, we've worked out our definition: I proposed one year ago, but we weren't engaged until we'd both engaged in the process and by proposing to each other. I suffered through a few anxious months during which Jason was ordering my ethical stones and having the ring made and before he could put his incredible proposal night plan into place. But by trusting each other, we found ways to trust our own truths. For us, that's all we have. And for us, it's enough.

via Ferran's flickr (creative commons)

*that's a conversation for a different post. Or twenty.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

From a Friend

"I know most people don't equate getting married with freedom, but when I woke up on my wedding day that's what I felt. It was the happiest day of my life - partially because I was getting married and partially because the wedding planning was finally over."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Relying on our Strength

One of the reasons I keep writing sanity check posts, seeking out sanity check inspiration from you, and heading back over the the Wedding Graduate series at A Practical Wedding is because I need reinforcement that we're right about our particular wedding choices. I need it when I hear an offhand comment about how tacky someone's homemade wedding decor looked. I need it when a loved one makes an offhand disparaging remark about a non-traditional dress I've fallen in love with. I need it when people keep offering me unsolicited advice on how to make our wedding better (which usually means more expensive and "traditional"). Because the flip side of holding onto our own personal wedding truths is that we're going to run smack up against other peoples' judgments about our weddings.

After Tuesday's amazing "It's Almost All Small Stuff" post, I received an email from A Cupcake Wedding that raises really important concerns and realities about that flip side:
As someone not sweating many of the details, let me add that you have to be prepared to brace yourself for when other people comment on that inattention to detail. For example, some guests invited themselves at the last minute, so we told them to come. Now they are fussing that they didn't receive our printed invitations. No shit, I want to tell them, because you weren't actually invited. People are also fussing that I want to serve my guests our own cake, fussing because I don't want to save cake for a year, fussing because we are getting married in a park.

I think we get so absorbed in these blogs to the point where we really believe that all that matters is the love. And I do believe that. But remember that your Great Aunt Norma might not. For her, its about the invitations and the pearl necklaces and the formal first dance.
You have to be really strong to stand up to your entire clan and say I want to do things my way.
I think we all are this strong, but it is not easy, and sometimes it feels very hurtful. Hurtful because you are hurting the elders' feelings. They expect things a certain way and think you are rebelling against what they taught you. And hurtful because you wish people would realize it is all about the love, so who cares if I didn't rent formal china for 100 people to eat from and do you have to scowl like that every time I tell you about my unusual wedding?
It's one of those emails where I wish I had some great advice to make it all go away. Or where I could wave my magical wedding wand and get everyone to look past their own preconceptions about what a wedding is and isn't and towards the love and joy at the heart of it all. But there isn't any advice that can make it go away. You can find ways to manage the arguments, but many of us have a Great Aunt Norma muttering in the background and wreaking havoc on our emotional equilibrium. And, not only is she wreaking havoc because her words are hurtful, but also because we love her and want her to love our wedding plans as much as we do. We want her to love us for us and not just because of bloodlines and habit. She's important and our wedding is important and it's so heart-wrenchingly awful when our loved ones don't respect and value the wedding choices that are so meaningful to us and our true selves. 

But I don't think there's a completely satisfactory answer for that besides picking our battles and relying on our strength. Cupcake Wedding said "I think we are all this strong, but it's not easy." I'd actually amend that to say: I know we are all this strong. In fact, I think the wedding helps make us this strong, and working through the hurt is part of what makes this wedding planning process worthwhile. 

If you'd given me a choice a year ago between an engagement period punctuated with familial challenges, hurt feelings, and midnight tears of frustrations versus an engagement period supported by parents who handed over a blank check and world with no judgment whatsoever, door number two would have been the obvious choice.  But now, after nearly a year of managing the complications of an imperfect reality, I'd choose these complications, hurtful conversations, and mini-heartbreaks. Because somehow, via this complicated engagement journey, we've ended up closer to being married than ever before. At this point, marriage really is just a piece of paper and the wedding has become a chance to publicly bless what has already privately happened. Because we've had to become strong together in order to manage the challenges of wedding planning in a way that we never needed before. Yes, life had already thrown us a few curveballs and yes, we'd already learned to rely on each other to make it through. But, somehow, there was a subtle shift that came with the engagement as we said Yes to a life together and then learned how to jointly say No to everyone else's expectations about that life. 

No, none of this is easy. But it's worth it, and perhaps that's something even more important. And it's something that keeps us strong when Great Aunt Norma rants about pearls and missing details and tradition. And it's how we'll overlook any hurtful comments that attempt to mar our wedding day as we cling to the joint definitions of meaning and joy that we've developed together during the engagement. It's how we know, in our core, that this is really about love and nothing else.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Importance of Now

I have been very angry at my wedding lately. In between all the genuine excitement about crafting a wedding (and wedding team) that feels right and all the worthwhile conversations we're working through together, has been a serious undercurrent of resentment. Because damn you wedding, you're stealing all my time, spare energy and money.

I'm the first person to admit that this process of wedding and marriage planning has been both enjoyable and enlightening, in surprising ways. But I've been equally surprised by the real frustrations of this process, and the ways in which this Big Important Conversations and the Big Important Goals have been limiting my enjoyment of the here-and-now. I can't spend that: I'm saving for the wedding. I don't need a big vacation this summer: we're taking a honeymoon in a year. We can't take a week off this summer: we need all our precious (and limited) vacation days for the wedding and honeymoon.

But you know what? I'm burnt out. I'm tired of 10 hour work days (minimally) and relentless deadlines. I'm tired of wedding planning. And, more importantly, I'm tired of waiting. Waiting until the wedding to have money again. Waiting until after the wedding to travel internationally. Waiting and worrying and counting pennies.

We had grand plans to take a trip to Guatemala this past winter. When Jason lost his job (and found another) and I got sick, we both lost access to the vacation days we would have needed for a week-long vacation. And with the job loss, fear crept in, and we both felt too shaky to make any plans that required large expenditures. The sensible what-ifs took hold, and I cut back my expenses to the bone, worried about emergency funds, wedding budgets, retirement planning, and future children's college funds as my concept of job security and secure healthcare crumbled around me.  The trip fell by the wayside and we went to San Fransicso for a long weekend instead.

While you'll never hear me complain about a weekend in San Francisco, as we started planing for another sensible domestic mini-break this summer, a part of me finally revolted. The part of me that spent childhood summers in Scotland with my mother's family, that studied abroad in Kenya, that worked for two years in Madrid and who used to spend every spare penny on crazy last minute trips to far off places finally grabbed me by the shoulders to talk some sense into the sensible. A different set of what-ifs started to take hold. What if the honeymoon is our last chance at unencumbered (ie childfree) international travel before my biological clock explodes? What if we miss our chance to wander the back streets of a foreign capital, intoxicated with wine and adventure? What if we miss our chance to be stupid and young and travel the backroads in a chicken bus and sleep in a $3 hostel in South America (that's not a steroetyped vision of South America, it's an actual trip a girlfriend took.) What if we miss our chance to hit the European countries I haven't seen yet - primarily in the North - because plane tickets and lodging for a family would be just too exorbitant whereas for two we could manage?

I'm tired of dreams deferred. I'm tired of waiting until after the wedding. I nearly have a year to go before we get married, so eff this waiting for life to begin again. We're taking a trip this year. It's somewhat silly (though not disastrous) from a long-term financial standpoint, but I don't care. I can't care and I won't care. I need to see something amazing today, to squeeze every last bit of single-and-healthy life that we can before kids arrive. I'm turning 30 in a few weeks. We want babies before I'm 35. Once those babies arrive, we're looking forward to years of frugal camping and hosteling vacations within a drivable distance. Which is great, but I want something else now. While we can. And I need something to look forward to that doesn't involve pretty dresses and Important Emotional Conversations. I just need to be me and I need us to actually live our life-dreams instead of daydreaming about them and waiting until after the wedding for everything to begin again. I need it now. Not next year, but now.

So, if anyone has any semi-affordable, week-long, international vacation ideas that don't steal more than 8 hours (ish) of flight time from LA, I'm all ears. Help us out here. Because for our honeymoon, we're going to Guatemala but for this summer (and the Guatemalan rainy season) we need help.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sanity Check From the Other Side: It's Almost All Small Stuff

I'm so excited to share today's guest post with you all.  I first found A.Marigold's blog when I was looking around for other local women facing down the challenge of planning a sane Los Angeles based wedding. When I received her after-the-wedding guest post last week, I was hoping to find some Los Angeles-specific wisdom in her recap.  Instead, I received a post-wedding sanity-check that didn't discuss Los Angeles, vendors, or helpful how-tos at all.  And it was perfect. It was just what I needed to read. I read it over and over again, just hoping it would properly sink in and stay with me for when I need to recall it most. It's about what really mattered in the end, from a woman who spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the details and pretties and multi-cultural challenges along the way.  So please join me in welcoming a woman you may already know from her own blog or as Mrs Spaniel from Weddingbee. 

I think, if you're reading this blog, you already believe that your wedding should reflect your values, and not just because it's "your day." I thought that my wedding reflected my values, because I carefully chose where to spend and where to rein in expenses as much as I could, and where else are preferences revealed than in your actual budget? I hate to say I have regrets about my wedding, but very shortly after coming back from my honeymoon, I finally opened my eyes: my values and priorities were WRONG. I am going to tell you my experience and give you some advice. I know you won't listen to me, and that's okay, because I wouldn't have paid attention to this at all either.

I tend to think I am very smart, but I'm usually walking pretty blindly through life, smashing into the sharp corners of the hallway without really thinking about what I'm doing. Maybe you are smarter than me and can learn from watching me walk into walls. Or maybe you can laugh at what I thought was important because you already know that it isn't. Or maybe you can come back here after your wedding and say that you should have listened to me. Or maybe you won't come back here and say that, because invitations are totally worth half a month's rent to you.

I should say that I absolutely loved my wedding, and people tell me it was beautiful and they had a great time. I believe them. But if I could do it over, without the bright wedding blog lights in my eyes making me veer off track, it would still be beautiful, but it would look very, very different.

Starting with the most inconsequential, I put a premium on invitations. If I were to try to explain my obsession with invitations, I could say that more brides probably feel about their dress the way I did about my invitations, so you can substitute "dress" for "invitation" here, and you might understand. I will admit: I went a little nuts. I don't think I could have done more research on invitations if I tried. I loved them. I still love them. I have never seen a more beautiful piece of paper anywhere in my entire life than my own wedding invitation. Sure, most people throw them out, but I had a love affair with paper that wouldn't allow me to cheap out (though I did score a great deal for letterpress invitations... but "great deal" is all relative, isn't it?). But now, when I hear people obsessing about invitation details and getting upset that they can't have the paper of their dreams, it's all I can do to keep my advice to myself: your invitations don't matter. They may impress some people, and people may tell you that they are beautiful, and that will make you feel good. You may have the coolest, most creative invitations the world has ever known. But after the wedding, you will never think about your invitations again. They just aren't that important in the larger scheme of things. The important thing is that your guests know where to go and when to get there, and the weight of the paper you tell them on will not make or break your wedding day.

...And neither will your dress. It's not unreasonable to want to feel beautiful in your wedding dress. You'll probably be photographed more on your wedding day than any other day of your life, so why not wear something that looks amazing and fabulous? I couldn't possibly justify a high-end designer dress, but I was picky, and spent a pretty penny on my dress. I went with a mid-range designer that didn't exceed my budget, but I'm still not sure what possessed me to think $1,200 was a good amount to budget for a one-use dress. If my time machine were operational and I could redo my wedding, I would still have spent too much on my dress. But too much would have been way, way less. It is still just a piece of fabric, and you are going to look beautiful and amazing and fabulous because you are the bride (yes, that's actually true). It's actually not possible to be a non-beautiful bride, even if you're 20 pounds heavier than you want to be, your hair and makeup aren't professionally done, and someone spills a soda on your white gown. (Did I mention someone spilled a soda on my gown? It actually didn't upset me at all—much to my own astonishment—because I am never wearing it again anyway. Maybe I shouldn't have spent $1,200 on it!)

A few things stick out in my memory when I reflect on the best parts of my wedding. The toasts that our friends and family gave were meaningful and heartfelt, and I couldn't have planned or paid for them. Dancing with my new husband (the non-staged, non-choreographed, unrehearsed time on the dance floor) was my favorite part of the night. Sharing a table and a meal with some of my favorite people in the world, and knowing that they were putting out fires for me that night that I could never have delegated to a coordinator was priceless.

I think the details were beautiful, and I know that people noticed (some of) them. It was great to have a DOC who took phone calls from lost vendors so that I could attempt to "be present" (oh yeah, I failed. Don't sweat that either, because it probably won't happen). But it's not the stuff that I'll remember when I think of my wedding day in fifty—or even five—years. I probably won't go back to look at the pictures of my shoes or our rings, even though they are pretty pictures. I doubt I'll go back to pictures of my dress hanging in front of a window. Instead, I think I will remember the excitement, the nerves, the drama (oh god the drama), but mostly the love and support we received from the people whose love and support meant the most to us. And they would have loved and supported us if we'd invited them over the phone (though they might forget the date), if I'd worn an off-the-rack dress from the mall, if we didn't invite our extremely extended families and their closest friends to celebrate with us (even though they'd be angry about it for awhile).

In the end, I think that was really all that mattered. I guess food and drinks are still important because you want to be a good host at one of the biggest parties you'll ever throw, and I wouldn't trade in my photographer no matter what kind of event I would have hosted with the benefit of hindsight, because I love seeing this visible record and affirmation of everything I felt that day. But everything else? It was small stuff. It doesn't mean that I think you should ignore it, because wedding planning can be a lot of fun, and I don't think it's wrong to spend time or money on things you enjoy. I guess the takeaway is that if you don't love the way you're spending your time and money, then opt for keeping it simple, because those details (from the dress to the flowers, from the moment you wake up that morning until you leave your reception—everything except the part where you promise to spend your life with the person you chose above all others) are just that: details. When it's not fun? It means it probably doesn't matter. Don't sweat it. Let go. Let someone else make the decision, even, if you can, because it will make you both happier. Okay, now I know you won't listen to me. But at least I tried.

I'm listening, and I'm going to re-read this post on Saturday, just before I go shopping for a dress that I  really want to love, even if it might get spilled on. Thank you.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Dessert is for Eating

I care about aesthetics. I admit to myself that (some of) the details matter. But that doesn't mean that the important details matter aesthetically.  In fact, it only matters that they're right, whatever that means to you.

Case in point: dessert.

We all know that wedding cake is held up as the epitome of wedding dessert. And this makes sense. It's an impressive architectural achievement.  It can be stunningly pretty and even artistic. And, when not made with fondant, it can be darn tasty. Mmm buttercream.

Wedding Cake-as-Art by Fantasy Frostings

Wedding cake with fresh blueberries that I want to EAT RIGHT NOW via Fantasy Frostings

However, for those of us without a yen (or budget) for architectural cake-art who still want to serve dessert, the wedding world isn't always helpful. We know that cake alternatives exist, put they're still generally treated as second class citizens by our parents, friends and communities. For some reason, cupcakes generally get a stamp of approval (though the wedding blogosphere continues on with its absolutely silly debate about whether these particular dessert trends are overdone), but we're less likely to see the humble brownie or cookie extolled.

And I think I know why: It's because brownies and cookies aren't "pretty enough." It's because a platter of brownies aren't nearly as stylistically stunning as a table of cake (in either its tiered or cake buffet forms). That ooey gooey chocolate may taste delicious, but it looks like a lump of brown on a plate. Cookies may be scrumptious, but a pile of chocolate chip cookies versus a pile of oatmeal raisin cookies doesn't send planners and blog editors (and therefore engaged folks) into spasms of oh-my-freaking-goodness-that's-so-cuuuuuute-I-must-have-it-at-my-weeeeeeeeeding. Cute desserts, even if made cute by the simple-but-stylish buffet, get a pass. Compare:

Cupcakes by Sweet Emilia Jane, photos by Corbin Gurkin

Stylish dessert buffet by Sweet Emilia Jane

Bundt cake buffet via Stephanie Williams Photography

Cookie buffet via New York Times

For comparison's sake, go to Google Images and type in "brownie." You'll end up with pages of images of ooey gooey deliciousness but, despite the opportunity to get rich fudgy chocolate all over your fingers and bellies, as "wedding inspiration", they don't seem to be as aspirational (the fools).

Instead, if you Google "wedding brownie," this is the first thing you get:

Brownie-covered favors from beau-coup

No? You wanted something to actually eat? TOO BAD. Brownies aren't cute enough for weddings. Unless they're shaped like wedding cakes

This picture's floating all over the internet

This is ridiculous. Dessert is for eating, not display. Yes, you can have both, but there's no shame in meh-looking-but-overwhelmingly-tasty brownie and cookie mishmashes on meh-looking platters. None. The point is that they should taste delicious. End of story. Eff fondant, eff needing succulent sprigs in your bundt cakes, and eff the necessary cuteness in dessert.

Perhaps I'm a bit sensitive about this right now, but it's only because we just discovered the mostfreakingamazingdessertofalltime. Yes, really, the mostfreakingamazingdessertofalltime (or at least until I get one of those gooey brownies.) And, luckily for us, these incredible desserts are the singular creation of our front-runner mobile truck caterer option, the Border Grill Truck (gourmet, sustainable, modern Mexican food from the absolutely incredible chefs and restaurateurs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger). They are melt-in-your-mouth-amazing. And we could easily have them at our wedding for very little additional cost.

I bet you're wondering what they are, right? Well, before I reveal anything, I have to warn you that these are possibly the ugliest freaking desserts of all time. No, really, they are balls ugly. Yes, balls ugly. Because they are little literally balls of dulce de leche infused churros, fried and coated in cinnamon and sugar.  And they are hideous looking. Behold:

 Border Grill Truck churro tots, courtesy of Gourmet Pigs

Balls ugly. And yet, I've never had a more heavenly bite of fried sweet deliciousness. Ever. They were doughy and warm on the inside, and the dulce de leche flavor literally melted in my mouth. But of course, there was prefect fried crisp coated in cinnamon and sugar on the outside to wrap this contained bit of churro perfection.

And yes, as much as Jason and I loved the Border Grill Truck food as a wedding catering option, it took a moment to wrap our head around the possibility of the churro tots as our wedding dessert option too. Why? You only need to see the picture above to figure out why: Balls. Ugly brown balls. Ugly brown balls best served warm and not on a buffet. But you know what? I don't care anymore. If we hire Border Grill Truck, we're getting churro balls, pretty buffet be damned. And I can tell you right now, my guests would definitely loooooove them. They would be a detail that matters: because they would be right, and they would be delicious. And that's all that really matters.

(Obviously this does not mean that pretty desserts aren't tasty or worthwhile. I'm having a tough time deciding between a buffet-of-amazingness baked or styled by Emilia Jane or the churro balls. Both are incredible options, obviously. And I know which one my mother would vote for. But she hasn't tried the churros. And I just like good dessert. Decisions decisions.)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hi. My Name is Becca. I'm not a Bride

I need a break from the wedding. I need a break from (ongoing) venue drama, budgetary worries, dress search freakouts, marriage conversations, hairflowers, and everything else. I need a break from writing about the wedding and caring about the wedding and discussing the wedding and looking over excel sheets about the wedding.

So today, it's just me. Because it turns out there's a lot in my life that's not related to weddings, thank god. And it turns out that I generally think these things are more exciting than weddings. THANK GOD.  So today, here's a list of this week's musings that are entirely unrelated to weddings. Currently, I'm:
  • preparing to present at my first conference ever. I've moderated panels, but never presented before. This should be terrifying and fun, all at the same time. 
  • daydreaming about a trip to Guatemala, and thinking we should go this summer. Trying not to be resentful that the layoff stole our trip to Guatemala this past winter.
  • obsessing about the BBC three-part documentary on Yellowstone and wondering why it took an overseas media effort to do this national park justice. Actually, I probably know why and I don't like the answers.
  • determining that, if I were empress of the world, it would be mandatory for children (and moronic adults) to watch BBC nature documentaries, particularly those about Yellowstone or narrated by David Attenborough. 
  • daydreaming about the international unicorns and ice cream amazingness I were in fact, empress of the world.
  • procrastinating on my 30th birthday party planning. Which is unfortunate, since my birthday is this month. 
  • wondering what I should wear to the 30th birthday soiree, especially since none of my clothes fit well anymore and I don't have time or money to go shopping. Hmm.
  • wondering about which wines to buy when we visit my absolute favorite local(ish) vineyard for (part) of said birthday celebration and deciding I want them all.  
  • wishing I had TV, but only on Tuesday nights, because I'm that anxious to see the new episode of Glee now, instead of waiting for Hulu on Wednesday.
  • wishing that Glee weren't so autotuned, but loving it anyhow.
  • wishing I could still afford my Economist subscription.
  • wondering if it's improper to try and network with the gentleman whose car I rear-ended on Monday morning. (what? he could totally be a great connection.)
  • swooning over pictures of my friend's newborn baby and my other friend's ring-pop proposal and wishing they both lived nearby so I could squee with them in person.
  • wishing more of my close friends lived nearby (move back! come here in the first place! I'll show you around!)
  • searching for good recipes that use kale, swiss chard or beets and trying to figure out if our new CSA box is worth it instead of farmer's market shopping
  • searching unsuccessfully for non-toxic sheer foundation that actually looks right with my skin tone and isn't a mineral powder
  • realizing that living my ethics is a lot more expensive than I'd like it to be (and no, that musing wasn't about makeup. At least, not specifically.)
  • looking forward to learning more about home composting and buying a subsidized composter. Possibly at one of these workshops.
  • wishing I had time for a museum day with my dad some weekend before mid-June. 
  • wishing I had time for anything before some weekend in mid-June.
  • happy I finally turned on my (Christmas present) kindle and downloaded some guilty pleasure books to get me through the crazy stress, since I haven't found time to get to the library lately.
  • wishing I could come up with a better description of my number one guilty pleasure reading than Time-Traveling Scottish Historical Romance Novels
  • wondering if I will ever have time or energy for serious novels and non-work, non-wedding related thinking ever again.
  • trying to find three nearby weekend-getaway camping options for summer fun.
  • getting excited about summer fun.
So for all you folks who frequent this blog, I'm also wondering about you. About the people behind the blogs, comments, and silent readership here. Who are you, aside from the damn weddings? What's really on your mind this week/month/year? What's your biggest non-wedding related goal? Worry? Hope? What's the best non-wedding-related thing going on in your life right now? The best youtube link you've found in the last month? your favorite non-wedding related blog? Anything about who we all are, apart from this singular focus on our weddings.

Hi. I'm Becca. Thanks for reading my blog. Usually, I'm not planning a wedding. And I generally like it that way.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

24 Hour Wedding Blog Cycle

"Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to."

Eff this obsession with completely unique weddings that are perfect reflections of us and our unique partnership and our unique love. Eff this obsession with wedding trends and worrying about whether we can really have cupcakes at our weddings because we're not sure if they're "tired or trendy". Eff these concerns about whether birdcage veils are last year's style or this year's style. If you like cupcakes, have them at your wedding. If you like the birdcage veil style, go for it. Because really, any other option you could possibly dream up has been done before by someone, somewhere getting married.

My unmarried, unengaged girlfriend recently went to a wedding and came back giddy with a-ma-zing ideas for my wedding that were just going to blow my mind. What was her I-simply-must-do-this-or-my-wedding-will-fail-brand-new-idea? A DIY photobooth. Yeah. It's been on my reception list for about a year now. Old hat. But the important part is that it wasn't old hat to her. She hasn't been mainlining wedding bullsh*t for the last year. She just went to a wedding hoping to have a blast, and she did.

It put the blogland obsession with trends in perspective. Back when bridal magazines were the go-to source for inspiration, they would recycle trend pieces each year, for the next crop of brides. Styles might shift somewhat with fashion, but the May issue would probably repeat a lot from issues the year before. If the market turns over entirely every 9-18 months (depending on the length of your engagement) there's no real need to strive for wholly original content. But, with the internet now driving the wedding industry, we've seen both an explosion in creativity from non-traditional sources and content churn as 700 blogs rush to repost, reinterpret and create the Newest Best Must Have Wedding Ideas of the Week.

Because the truth is that there's nothing new in the world that hasn't already been done. But the blogs need to breathlessly sell you on the idea of the amazing newness, or why would you bother reading their site over any of the 700 other options? And so, we end up with asinine pieces entitled "10 Wedding Ideas You've Never Seen Before"  from the Knot, which is itself struggling against the inroads made by more "trendsetting" wedding blogs and communities. But, even beyond being entirely incorrect in its title (really, I've seen some of these ideas before, possibly done better) it's also ridiculously misguided and even downright awful. Because in its attempt to set new wedding trend standards, it's again selling us on unnecessary products and concepts about the meaning of weddings themselves. Let's look a bit more closely at what I mean by examining that list of "10 Ideas You've Never Seen Before: Think You've Seen It All? Here are 10 Genius Ideas Your Guests Will Never See Coming!"*

1. Stop-Motion Lego Save the Date Video (with convenient link for videographer vendors!). Ok, so I'd never seen this particular save-the-date video before receiving the Knot's list. But I've seen others elsewhere, and, while they're pretty darn rad, save the date postcards are panic inducing enough for us (design compromise, lack of time, lack of necessity, where else do we cut the budget to afford these things... arg!) For some couples, it makes sense to invest in this - it's a fun project, they both work in film, whatever. But it's a SAVE THE DATE, not even an invitation, and hardly a darn reflection on the wedding. You know what would be unique at this point? A weddingblog that advocated picking up the d*mn phone and calling your guest list to let them know the wedding date and details six months out. "Hi grandma, could you save the date? Awesome. Now I can get back to crafting garlands made out of newspaper clippings from the day we got engaged."

2. Paint can reception table lighting. Yeah, it's cool looking. And yeah, it's a larger-scale version of this idea I saw at 100 Layer Cake with tin cans. Which requires a lot of tin cans and a freaking drill. Yeah, the paint-can-lighting-scape would definitely require an army of event designers and craft elves. Which is why the Knot also offers a handy link to wedding planners. (Oh dear. I can't possibly imagine convincing Jason to help with tin can drilling night after night, week after week, or emailing Emilia Jane with my brilliant and original idea about tin can light installations)

3. Skis as your Guest Book. Yeah, have your guests sign your skis (records, hockey sticks, guitar or any other personal hobbyist item) for an keepsake-guest-book you'll display for all time! This is actually a cool idea, for people who want guest books and have a meaningful shared hobby. I saw this done recently with a surfboard and it was perfect for the couple. But for me, I can't imagine caring about a guestbook, let alone schlepping around a giant sporting good covered in signatures through our next few apartments. You know what would be unique? Admitting that most guest books are lame, primarily because we don't know what to say besides "congratulations!" Give us ideas that inspire creativity in our guests, and I'd be more impressed.

4. Custom Wedding Cake Table. Since I think $1000 cakes are silly enough already, I'm not even going to dignify this with a response.

5. Tree Planting Ceremony. "Sure, you could stick with the traditional candle or sand ceremony, but why not cap off your wedding ceremony with a tradition that really celebrates growth?" Um, Knot, the definition of tradition is that it's a belief, action or ritual that's been handed down through generations. You can create new rituals that may eventually become personal or family traditions, but you can't invent traditions. And anyhow, the candle and sand thing are pretty darn recent too (maybe back to the the 1930s for the unity candle). And the tree planting's been done before too.

6. Custom Illustrated Wedding Invitations.  I agree, they're pretty awesome. But "never seen before?" Meh. If you want original, make a wedding invitation stop motion video. Since everyone's expecting paper invitations, illustrations aren't really unique unless you make them into a stop-motion animation video. Right? Isn't that what you said six unique listings ago?

7.  Bathtub Reception Decor. "Reinvent the way your drinks are served." As far as I can tell, you're still putting drinks in a large ice bucket-type receptacle and not really serving them at all. No reinvention here. And if you were really unique, you'd use a urinal.

8.Phonograph Cocktail Hour. Oh eff me. Like we don't have enough on our plates with thrifting every d*mn candelabra, dish and mason jar, now you want me to thrift my MUSIC? I foresee disaster when you have a few warped Beatles records from the 70s and that new rad collector's edition hip hop sample vinyl option for the phonograph hour soundtrack as everyone hovers within two feet to properly hear it. Eff the "cool" aesthetics and go with the DJ you probably hired anyhow.

9. Big Time Branding. "Okay, it might seem a little egocentric, but today is your day, right?" No. It's really not. And it's really not the point. And your guests presumably already know your names (I hope) without them writ large in spray painted styrofoam. And your wedding isn't a brand or a marketing campaign - it's a celebration of a union and marriage. But since monograms and marketing-speak have been around a while, you're hardly the first article to sell us on the concept of "branded" weddings. Shudder.

10. A Boutonniere for Your "Trophy Groom" This "original" idea was stolen from the Postcards and Pretties blog (with a reference but without a linkback. Nice.) where it was presented as a fun DIY succulent project with succulents potted in a tiny trophy vase. But it took the Knot to make it totally hideous with the "trophy groom, ha ha" joking references. Way to play into the groom-has-no-role-besides-showing-up/she-only-got-married-for-the-party stereotypes. Disgusting and unoriginal. Nice job, Knot, as usual.

In conclusion, unique is bullsh*t. Someone's done it before anyhow. So just have fun with the choices that matter to you and shut out all the effing wedding noise.

*I think you have to be a member of the Knot to see some of these ridiculous links. But I figure some of you also-getting-marrieds have a fakey account or were too lazy to unsubscribe too. And if not, you get the picture anyhow.