Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Carols

I've been feeling pretty Grinch-like this holiday season, for a number of reasons. One of those reasons was that I had to miss my family's annual Christmas Caroling party. Even though I generally refuse to sing, I really enjoy the whole spirit of the day, and I'm always a sucker for family rituals and traditions. I'm also a sucker for well-done a capella. That's alright, take a moment to giggle. I understand why earnest pop-song vocals set to choreography and performed in matching outfits can make the more jaded roll their eyes. I can be as snarky as the next girl with my arty elitism but it doesn't matter: when a capella is done right, it gives me chills. Listening to a perfectly blended cascade of sound is mindblowing, especially when it suddenly hits you that there are no instruments or autotune*.

This version of "All I Want For Christmas" from Nota (the group that won The Sing Off last season - yes, I watched) is an incredible example of how a capella can be complex and gorgeous. It even managed to elicit a smile or two, despite the Bah Humbug stormcloud I've been grumping under this week. So I thought I'd put aside all my holiday stress and snark to share a cheesy but beautifully done Christmas song.



Happy holidays.

*Do you hear me Glee?  You have talent like this, so just let them shine already.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Stuff I Really Like: Win a Free SoCal Wedding

I'm generally leery of "win a wedding" contests, possibly because many of them ask you to submit a heart-wrenchingly feel good story (ours wasn't a fancy how-we-met story), submit a photo (which makes me think they'll only choose publicity-worthily pretty couples) or allow a camera to follow you around for a reality show (um, gross, and kinda defeats the purpose of a wedding for me). But this contest is none of those things. And frankly, this contest opportunity sounds 100% awesome, so I'm happy to share:

The South Coast Winery Resort and Spa in Temecula, California is is giving away a Valentine's Day 2011 wedding. The winning couple will get married under their rose arbor, overlooking the vineyard. The couple and 100 of their family and friends will then get treated to an hors d'oeuvres, sparkling wine, and a three tiered wedding cake reception. Best of all, the only thing you need to do is fill out a form with your contact info by December 31. Really, that's it. No photos, no essays, no anything but your name and contact info.

I just want to take a moment to daydream about how amazing this would be, if we were in the early stages of wedding planning, the let's elope stage of wedding planning, or the tear-our-hair-out-I-hate-So-Cal-venue-prices stage of wedding planning. In other words, if I didn't have a bazillion contracts in place and family members with booked flights, I'd be all over this, particularly because the South Coast Winery actually holds a very special place in my heart: Jason and I stayed here for our first weekend-away trip and we genuinely love the low-key vibe of So Cal's Temecula Valley vineyards. If you don't have a firm plan yet for your wedding and you're willing to kick bum throughout January and February to make this happen, you should enter this contest. Here's how I picture it could go:

The winner will be announced on January 2, 2011. The wedding will have to take place on Monday, February 14, 2011. This gives you time to: call all your guests and invite them, send out an email invitation (eff the stress and cost of printed invitations), find a dress from a department store and rent a suit, load up some ipod songs, find an officiant or get a friend ordained in California to perform the service, write your vows, find a friend or last minute photographer to take photos, and done. It doesn't give you time to stress about extraneous wedding cr*p like centerpieces, bouquets, bridesmaid dresses and other things you won't care about 30 years from now. But it will give you time to get your family and friends in town to celebrate your wedding. You could absolutely make this happen in six weeks. Add on a DJ and some regular wine or plated food if you want. Or not. Regardless, this is a truly great opportunity to end the stress of wedding planning in one fell swoop at a fraction of the normal SoCal cost, at a location that would be truly beautiful and worth it.

So what are you waiting for? Go and enter the contest!



This is not a sponsored post. This is just an opportunity I might have liked for myself a year ago, so I thought I'd share. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Presents

A box that I wasn't expecting arrived from Amazon yesterday. I got very excited, thinking maybe our first registry item had arrived and I used every ounce of willpower to not look at our Amazon registry to see if anything had been purchased before I ripped into the box. As I pulled out a Kitchen Aid Mixer catalogue, I then proceeded to have a jaw-dropping freakout moment. Despite the fact that we didn't register for a Kitchen Aid Mixer, I've been secretly lusting after one but only because a) they're very pretty and b) I have a fantasy in which high end kitchen toys magically turn me into a baked goods goddess (in this fantasy, flour all over the kitchen is sexy instead of being a big old mess).  Logically, I know the mixer stand doesn't make sense for our limited countertop space and cooking time right now. But logic didn't matter once my brain flashed to baked goods, mashed potatoes, and sexy flour fights.

Sadly, the box did not contain a Kitchen Aid Mixer. Instead, it contained half of a Christmas present I had bought for someone else that had shipped from a kitchen store that also sells Kitchen Aid Mixers. But my ridiculous disappointment for something I don't even need or truly want showed me that Christmas, Amazon, and my wedding are all conspiring to uncover my latent greed for things ranging from fancy knives to melon ballers to countertop mixers. I've begun second guessing our decision to keep our perfectly serviceable and matching plates because new white plates would be so pretty. It's almost made me forget that all I really and truly need is this:


Love captured while we weren't posing for the camera. A moment of finding comfort and strength in each others' hug. That's it. I know it sounds sappy and cliche after talking about greed and cookies and sexy time baking escapades (which is all a bit cliche too) but this week, it's just very much true.

Right after receiving the Amazon box, I also received tragic news from one of my oldest friends in the world, and the pile of gift items and registry hopes suddenly became painfully meaningless. I still very much appreciate the intent and love behind the gifts, of course. But it hit me that I can relax about plates and presents and stuff because all I really want is time with my loved ones, both over the holidays and at our wedding. It's been so easy to lose sight of that with all the registry and holiday excitement, despite knowing, really knowing, what matters to me about Christmas morning and the wedding weekend. And so today, I'm reminding myself to pull back from all the gift giving to focus on the reasons I'm working so hard to find meaningful gifts: because the people in my world matter deeply to me and I love them. And I feel so lucky that I get to spend Christmas with some of them and the wedding with so many of them.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Silver Linings

You may have heard that Gawker Media got hacked. Because I have a commenter account for Gawker and the hackers posted commenter information over on Pirate Bay, I spent a lot of time making sure all my online user names, email logins, and passwords were still secure. First I updated my email, financial, and social media accounts. Then I remembered I had Amazon, Etsy, and Ebay accounts I needed to check. My mess of three emails, five user names, and four password options meant I was pretty safe, despite the security breach (here's some tips on building stronger passwords and tips on how to manage your mass of online passwords).

And then, a few hours later, it hit me that I still have a few random online dating profiles out in the internet ether. I haven't logged in* or paid for an account since I met Jason, but my inactive accounts still exist and my profiles are still searchable (though someone would have to be pretty desperate to send an email to someone who hadn't logged into Jdate in over four years). But I'd genuinely forgotten about those profiles since hey, it's been over four years since I've cared about dating anyone aside from Jason. So I'm finding a silver linking in this Gawker hacking irritation: it reminded me that there's no better way to welcome in married life than by permanently deleting old dating profiles.

So, in tribute to the woman who was brave enough to consider meeting a stranger on the internet and who is more than ready to marry him, a snippet from the Becca of five years ago:
"The first thing people notice about me: I'm 5'9" without heels. And I've been known to wear heels.

The six things I could never do without: a sense of adventure, a moment of alone time, a few heartfelt laughs shared with friends, an appreciation for the absurd, a swiss army knife, and cold drinks on perfectly hot summer days. 

You should message me if: you love the banter of a great argument; you stand at the airport newsstand debating for 15 minutes and then eventually decide to buy both the Economist and something trashy; you've stopped whining about how plastic and fake LA is because you're too busy enjoying a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains; you prefer a smoky dive bar with a dart board to standing around and looking cool; you go to the gym because you want to feel healthy and not because you adore your biceps; you know how to cook up a great tofu dish and a mean steak; you love the occasional pajama Sunday; you laugh out loud at yourself on a regular basis."
It's nice to have this reminder that my relationship hasn't changed the parts at my core: I've just matured and grown stronger with Jason. And even better, it's incredible to realize that he was attracted to that core and that he actually fit the description of the person I was hoping to find (minus the tofu, though he's definitely mastered some delicious vegetarian meals over the last few years). But the best part is that I'm ready to say goodbye now to who we were because I'm much more focused on building our future.



*Ok, fine. I've logged into OK Cupid a few times because that's where I met Jason. But I feel like nostalgia-schmooping over my fiance's old profile doesn't really count as problematic use of online dating sites.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Love/Hate Relationship with My Wedding Dress

I love my wedding dress.. It's simple, elegant, and just feels right when I put it on. And by "feels right" I mean it suits our location, our wedding vibe, my own personal style, and it's ridiculously comfortable. I'm still amazed that I bought all this dress magic for a mere $200.

However, I also hate my wedding dress because, right now, it's currently one size too small. When I bought it, it was perfectly sized, no alterations necessary.  I'm not sure how this sucker managed to shrink so much while sitting in the closet for the last four months (la la la denial), but it's clearly an evil item of clothing that is using the holiday season calorie fest to further tant me. It whispers to me about how I'll never recover from my normal five pound (...plus) weight gain from Thanksgiving to New Years in time for our April 3 wedding, since I'm already starting from five pounds more than looks decent. The dress is cajoling me to eat salad - salad! - during the hearty soup months and to say no to appetizers and drinks at the 18 holiday parties we have scheduled. It's taunting me because it knows I can't let it out with alterations and that I have zero interest in shopping for a new dress and new set of accessories in February and March.

Long time readers will remember I wrote about how I reconcile my post-holiday weight gain with wedding-related pressures to be beautiful. In any normal year, I'd still be in complete agreement with that post. But this isn't a normal year because I currently have a too-small wedding dress to fit into. And so, I am cursed with trying to lose weight over the weight-gainiest season of all. Instead of nonchalantly stuffing my face with my favorite seasonal treats, I'll have to actually exercise restraint. And exercise a lot. And think way too much about this stupid wedding when I'd prefer to be thinking about gingerbread and mulled wine. This stupid wedding dress is ruining my holiday season.

Bah. I'm stressed enough to start nibbling nonstop from the box of cookies our clients sent as a holiday gift. I won't, but I'll definitely be thinking about those d*mn cookies all day because, as much as I appreciate my newfound commitment to yoga, yoga =/= cookies.

@$^#$^!#$^% wedding and %$&(@(^ wedding dress.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Our Save the Date

When we decided on our list of wedding priorities, save the dates barely registered. Of course we intended on informing people about the wedding six months out (or maybe more like five...) but the idea of spending money on creating and mailing these announcements was less important than spending money on wine. Or programs. Or our ketubah. Or my new shoes/his new tie. You get the picture. Instead, our save the date priorities were the following:
  • free/exceedingly cheap
  • get people to put the date on their calendar
  • direct guests to our website for more information
  • request a pre-wedding questionnaire to collect address/mailing info
  • simplify our event management process
  • attractive
  • easy to use
With this list of priorities, we were pretty much left with email options. I looked into constant contact or vertical response, which I've used to create professional newsletters, but I didn't love their templates. I looked into mailchimp, which allowed for free emails to email lists under 1000 people, but I needed better photoshop skills to make their templates sing. And so I revisited a New York Times article on evite alternatives (because I despite evite) and discovered Pingg.com. Thank g-d. Because Pingg honestly saved me from a save the date DIY meltdown.

Meltdowns are what happen when a) you're cheap b) you're incredibly strapped for time c) you're very particular about your aesthetic, d) you don't have the design skills to create your vision without serious help, and e) you are entirely unwilling to budge on any of the above listed points.

Enter Pingg, which offers a range of attractive wedding invitation and save the date templates that were simple to personalize. After deciding we didn't want to upload our own design, we gleefully explored all their gorgeous and varied save the dates and found a template with succulents. Succulents! And space to add our own photos! In about five minutes I'd uploaded a few photos (from our engagement shoot and from general adventuring) and finalized our save the date design.


Aside from chic, easy, and entirely free email invitations, Pingg also provides several other features that made it extremely attractive to us:
  • Privacy settings that only allow invited guests to view and respond to our invitation and limit everyone from seeing who else was invited (you can also open the invitation to all of facebook, twitter, and your email address book, if you wanted to go that route.)
  • Ability to import your address book and export RSVPs
  • Management page where we can manage all communications, track emails sent, emails openned, invites forwarded, RSVPs, guest messages, total headcount and more (having done large-scale events, this sort of functionality was critical to me)
  • Ability to send reminder messages
  • For less tech-savvy invited guests, you can order printed copies of the invitation or save the date that Pingg will mail via USPS, for about $3 per card.
  • Private messages (guests can message you or you can message your guests)
You could even theoretically use Pingg as your full wedding wedsite (though it was a bit limited for our needs), since it allows you to integrate gift and charity registry information, add google maps, and post photos.

Although Pingg can be free, we decided to spend the $10 to upgrade to Pingg Plus, which means our guests experience an ad-free save the date, we got a customized URL for the website and RSVPs, and we got to include a fancy interactive envelope with our email invitations. I appreciate that Pingg offers an affordable way to class up even email invitations.
This is what arrived in our invited guests' inboxes

When invited guests click the image, it opens to reveal the save the date. 

When guests click on the save the date, they're taken to our Pingg website

At our unique Pingg URL, guests can see more event details, send us a private message, click through to our official wedding wedsite (which we created for free in a wordpress blog), click through to our questionnaire (which we created and published for free in google forms), or RSVP.  It makes everything easy and streamlined. We can send out reminder notices as the wedding approaches. We can track all our RSVPs in one place. We can see if anyone hasn't received/opened their email and follow up by phone. And, for invited guests who are less tech-savvy, you can even order printed copies of our invitation that pingg will send in the mail. 

Although I am convinced this was the best $10 we've spent so far on maintaining our wedding sanity, I should note a few drawbacks.
  • Pingg includes an RSVP option, which is great for normal invitations but slightly confusing for save the dates. However, I appreciate that many people are already eager to reply.
  • Since we decided to sidestep the Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr. issues for emails, we imported everyone with first names only. We now have three yes replies from various Janes, which is difficult to manage without last names in our Pingg system. If I had to do it again, I'd probably import everyone's actual full names and titles.
  • We were careful to address the emails carefully, noting that people in serious relationships were addressed as "John and Guest" But because email is informal, many people without the "and guest" designation have simply assumed they all get a plus one. Ouch. We've had to send some awkward emails about that.
Overall though, I am entirely in love with the ease, style, and functionality of Pingg. I'm sure our online invitation process would have been simpler if we had used a designed-for-weddings, visually coordinated online event invitation, wedsite, and guest management program like Glosite. But Glosite would have cost us $119, and we found a way to cheaply recreate its functionality with a combination of Pingg, Wordpress, and Google Forms. And even if our online items aren't visually coordinated, I'm really happy with how our save the date looks. It fits our event needs, our aesthetic, our design skills, and our chock-full schedules, all for a tiny $10 investment


This is not a sponsored post. I'm just sharing the results of our wedding experience so it can hopefully assist someone else.  

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thanksgiving Giveaway Winner!

Thank you so much for entering the giveaway last week and sharing your stories. All of your comments truly warmed my heart and felt very Thanksgiving-appropriate. Which is nice, because sometimes wedding planning doesn't feel like there's much to be grateful for.

Sadly, I can only pick one winner. To to be entirely fair, I used Random.org to pick a number and, counting down, it was Lira's comment that won:
"Finally, FINALLY, we saw a venue that just might work with our micro-budget and that very night I looked into my fiance's eyes and said, "I've gone from heartburn to excitement now, just thinking about getting to marry you." 

Congratulations on finding a venue (I know how hard that can be) and finally getting the chance to get excited about your wedding!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Checklists

Even if the blog's been quiet for the last few weeks, it doesn't mean I've been avoiding wedding stuff. In fact, I've probably been more productive in the last two weeks than during any other single time during this wedding process. Of course, all that doing has left very little time for writing. And somehow I'm still behind on the doing (it really never ends. I swear I end up adding two items for every item I cross off the to-do list.) So I hope you'll forgive me for a cursory check-in post as I try to sort out the jumble of accomplishments, DIY projects, silly-but-important freakouts, ceremony thoughts, and joining-family joys that I've been grappling with lately. Because here's a fraction of the wedding jumble, as it currently stands:

We ordered our invitations. Hmm. It sounds so deceptively easy when you say it like that. "Oh, we ordered our invitations" doesn't hint at the hours of angst that went into this checklist accomplishment. I may have spent several days pouring through every recycled paper invitation option on etsy (again), every option on Printable Press, every option on Hello Lucky, and every option I'd previously bookmarked for invitation inspiration. Didn't I mention at some point that I didn't care about invitations? Why yes, I did. Well, I gave up. I admitted that I wanted something that made my soul sing a teensy bit, and soul-songs on recycled paper don't seem to happen with the $1.50-$2.00 range invitations. And I admitted that if I had to think about finding a good printer (ours is terrible) and cutting paper and gluing little pieces of paper to make invitations, I would have screamed and thrown a wedding tantrum. So I sucked up the extra dollar per invitation and made my aesthetic soul and my to-do list happy. Sometimes, mini fortunes are oh-so worth it. (wheee money! whee wedding!)

We decided on our ketubah. I fell shell-shock in love with the first ketubah I found over Thanksgiving weekend. Although I've been lazily researching and bookmarking over the last year, I never found anything that made me think "Yes, absolutely YES."  But then I finally got serious about our four-month-out wedding needs (side note: HOLY CRAP FOUR MONTHS), typed something about modern art ketubahs into Google, got directed to a random blog, and gasped. I then showed it to Jason and his jaw dropped. I then spent the next day scrolling through all 800 ketubahs on ketubah.com because I simply couldn't believe that we found our ketubah with my first browser click. Well... it turns out we found our ketubah with my first browser click.  But I had to work through the shock and doubt to really believe my gut.  I think there's a lesson in here somewhere, but if previous wedding lessons have taught me anything, it's that I haven't learned my lesson yet.

We met with our rabbi again, we're re-reading the New Jewish Wedding, and we're starting to talk about the pre-wedding rituals and ceremony ideas that resonate with both of us. This is the raw, momentous, joyful, and bone-achingly important part. This is the part of the wedding that's connecting me to thousands of years of family history, to our present values and relationship, and to our future plans for an ethical Jewish life. We're talking about the beauty and deep wisdom in how our tradition approaches so many aspects of the wedding, and we're talking about which traditions we want to choose and the ways in which we can truly make those traditions ours. It's the part of the wedding that I curl up with at the end of the night, when the rest of it is sending me spinning in headless chicken circles.

We planned out a rough honeymoon itinerary for our Guatemala honeymoon, with the help of our new Lonely Planet guidebook, some of your comments and emails (thank you!) and some internet searches. I can now buy our plane tickets, make a honeymoon registry, and dream about a new camera. Mine broke a year ago and now, after looking through photos of Guatemala, I need a camera. It's been a long time since I had a good excuse to take great travel photos, and I'm itching for it already. I wish I had money to get a DSLR and learn how to use it, but oh well. That can be a post-honeymoon goal. I'm okay with my nice point-and-shoot interim goal because I'm going to Guatemala.

I bought a necklace and a pair of wedding shoes. I returned the shoes and bought a second necklace and earrings. I then ordered another necklace and pair of earrings. (I told you there was a silly-but-important freakout in there. More to come on this particular bout of the wedding crazies in an upcoming post.)

I had my first wedding shower. Jason's mother and their family friend organized and hosted a shower over Thanksgiving. I spend a lot of time before the shower feeling bad about all these women spending money on shower presents and just asking them to host a girl's afternoon. But I get it now. After being overwhelmed with generosity and love from all the women who love Jason, I get it. This deserves its own post too.

I wrote half my shower thank you cards before running out of stationary. Jason then discovered an insane Black Friday (Sunday?) deal on thank you cards at Target: $2.00 for a box of 25 cards. And they're perfectly nice! They aren't as nice as the Paper Source cards I just used up, but they're nice! And given that I'll probably need to write about 150 cards in the near future (showers, holiday, wedding) I'm thrilled with "$2.00 and nice," especially if it's dressed up with the content of heartfelt gratitude.

We ordered rubber stamps: one with our return address (for those 150 thank you cards and 100 invitations) and one with a succulent-looking flower that we can use to accent our table numbers, escort cards, and random paper goods. I decided I couldn't stomach trying to print our return address on envelopes. I also decided that a well-designed self-inking address stamp was far prettier than labels, just as easy to use, and inexpensive when ordered via vistaprint.  And heck, if we say eff it to the floral design stamping (which is a real last minute eff-it possibility), I lost a whole $7 in the transaction. Big whoop.

We decided on our wedding centerpiece idea. For real this time. And while it won't be cheap-cheap, we get to use the pasta sauce jars we've been saving for the last year mixed in with some inexpensive Ikea pieces, succulents, and whatever flowers are in season the day before our wedding.  Now, we just need to prepare ourselves for our biggest DIY wedding endeavor, which will involve goo gone, spray paint, dirt under our fingernails, a last minute trip to buy flowers, and some wine to ease me into a proper "eff it" approach when something surely goes haywire.

There's more. Oh goodness, there's more. But maybe I'll wait to relate that until after our trip to Costco and Ikea this weekend. And until after I actually put in our rental order (I know, I know. I'm procrastinating and still haven't made up my mind on the stupid glasses.) But the point is, there's been a whirlwind of forward motion that caught me up and left me without time or perspective to write. And it feels good to whittle away at this darn checklist.