Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Guest Post: Avoiding the Easy Narrative

Emily Mills Burkett Photography

By Amanda

I just got back home to Starkville, MS after spending the weekend in Tennessee with my mom. My mom… she taught me empowerment and independence from my earliest memory. Our mother-daughter mantra was “do not get married or have kids until you finish school.” This desire for me stems from the fact that she married at eighteen, had me at nineteen, and divorced at twenty one. At that time she was the single mother of two with only a high school education. She chose the nursing career because, as she told me this weekend, she needed to learn something fast that would allow her to care for my brother and me. She has since become a nurse practitioner, owns a beautiful home, and is finally able to have some grownup fun now that her children have flown the coop, and I could not be more grateful for the role model she has been for me.

I’m telling this story to contextualize my own feminist ideology. I have always believed that women are strong, capable, and awesome. I knew that I could do anything that I put my mind to, and I always imaged that I would find my future self being totally independent, successful, and in some interesting, rewarding career. But…

I met my fiancé Matt when I was eighteen. I am now twenty four, and we have been together ever since (that’s six, long years, people) and will be married on May 7, 2011(yay!). I will also finish my master’s degree in English exactly one week before we wed (thanks, mom). I am thrilled to spend my life with Matt, but our engagement has been challenging for me because it is taking me down a very different road than the one I imagined as a girl. I’m having to wrap my mind around a lot of big issues that have nothing to do with flowers or dresses or cake flavors (although I’m dealing with those too).

Matt will be the bread winner of our family because, let’s face it, America just doesn’t really prioritize its teachers, and he’s an electrical engineer. Therefore, when we move from our little college town, it will be to wherever Matt finds the best job. I am also choosing not to go for my ph.d right now because our mini-family needs the flexibility of being able to relocate anywhere.

And here’s the kicker: I recently realized that I really want a baby sooner rather than later now that I have found the person with whom I want to raise it.

With that shocker comes other, still more mind-spinning realizations. I know that, if possible, I want to be with our child during its early years which means staying home from work for a year or two. That puts me square into Mad Men territory, folks and seriously challenges my ideas about what a modern woman should be and do. I can’t be a housewife, dammit! I’m a feminist who went to a women’s college and is writing a paper on Jeanette Winterson’s application of second and third wave feminism for my Irish women’s lit class this semester.

I’ve cried a lot and have felt so conflicted over what being a wife and a feminist woman means to me. Then, I would feel so wrong and guilty for being so sad about getting married and living a life that I was in other ways passionately yearning for. It feels like I have literally been on a roller coaster ride of emotions these past seven months since getting engaged. Some days I want to walk around with my left hand acting as a banner that says, “Hey! Something incredible is happening to me!” and other days I want to sit on that hand and wear really long sleeves because I’m confused about what that attached banner really says about me.

Then this weekend I was reading an old More magazine that my mom had lying around, and in it was an article called “What the new feminists look like.” The women interviewed were between the ages of seventeen and thirty-ish, and I was blown away by how different every one of their ideas about feminism are. Why they label themselves that way, what they do to participate socially and politically, and their race, age, and ethnicity were all completely different. Yet, they were still a group. This realization helped me contextualize another experience from my week in Tennessee.

On Saturday, Mom, her two friends, and I went to lunch then shopping. One of the women is recently divorced, and the other has been married for thirty six years. Over lunch, my wedding was a topic of conversation, and this transitioned into a discussion on marriage and their differing ideas of what that means. I didn’t really see myself in any of their definitions, but what really stuck out was the sense of oneness I felt being a part of the conversation with these older women at a tiny table in a crowded restaurant. I felt like no matter what my marriage will look like, I have a voice at the table. I am entering into a club of sorts. I will be a wife, and this ties me to all the women who have filled that role before me. I felt like a woman, not a girl for the first time in my engagement period. Instead of being unsure and insecure, I felt analytical and confident. I feel like my engagement has acted as a sort of rite of passage into this new community where I am finally an adult to other women, and this was a powerful moment for me because instead of feeling like I was breaking ties to the strong, awesome women of the world, I realized that I am becoming something just as interesting, complex, and wonderful.

One of the women in the More article, Tracy Clark-Flory, said her goal is “to resist the easy narrative and think critically.” This statement resonates with me as I think about my future. The easy narrative of my life is: young woman marries early and fills stereotypical role of southern wife, but I’m resisting that. My life may look traditional, but it is the life that I am choosing and creating for myself. I am not losing anything by this choice. I am gaining happiness and a family, and that is finally starting to feel like a compromise with, not a sacrifice of, the other life I had once imagined.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

First Comes Love, Then Comes Link: 2/24/11

Hello out there in Blog Land!

If you’re having a destination wedding or a good number of guests traveling for your big day, you may have considered welcome bags to greet friends and family. Here are a few ideas to help them show off your wedding location and a couple to make them eco-friendly.


Whether you’re a fan of Austin or LA, this site features totes and bandanas from two dozen locations nationwide and around the world.

Regional Wedding Favors

From Michigan cherries to maple sugar candy, here are a few ideas for where you’re from or where you’ll wed.

Burt’s Bees Herbal Insect Repellent and Chemical Free Sunscreen

If you’re marrying in an outdoor locale, the last thing you want your guests to worry about is direct sun during the day and bug bites at dusk. Here are two ways to forget about both, minus many of the usual chemicals.

Bottled Water in Bioplastic

Bottled water is a popular choice for out-of-town bags, and for good reason; travel, particularly by air, can be dehydrating. Of course the best option is a reusable bottle, but to offset the toll on the planet, consider a brand that uses bioplastic, like Green Planet.

Vintage State Postcards

These 1950s-style postcards bring state-specific charm, and help celebrate where you’re having your wedding.


When Anna-Marie isn’t searching the blogs, she’s writing romance stories, cooking for her wife, or freelancing as a cake decorator and floral designer.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Guest Post: Why I Stopped Weighing Myself Before My Wedding

By Virginia Sole-Smith of Beauty Schooled

Over on Beauty Schooled, I write about all the ways women pay for pretty in our daily lives: the pressure to be thin, the pressure to look younger, the pressure to be sexy, the pressure to buy lots of products that might not work and may well contain toxic ingredients. To be clear: I also talk about how there are a lot of pleasures to be found in beauty...but when I started thinking about beauty and weddings I realized, wow — is there any other day of your life that comes with a higher pretty price tag?

I don't mean this to sound entirely negative. I was completely delighted to pay a serious amount of cash for my wedding dress because it was made (in the USA) by a designer I adore, who pays her workers a living wage — and because it was so fricking pretty, I wanted to eat it with a spoon. I was also super excited to order a pretty, pretty necklace and lovely knit wrap to match said pretty dress from some wonderful Etsy folk.

And in case I now sound like such a conscientious consumer, it's making you want to throw things at my head, let me also say that I had an awfully fun time running through Sephora, picking out makeup to wear on the big day.

But there were times during my 14 months of pre-wedding excitement when I realized I was paying for pretty in ways I didn't feel so great about. So I thought I would tell you about three of those moments, starting today with the big one: My weight.

I was in pretty good shape the year before my wedding. You wouldn't confuse me with any Hollywood starlets (and I don't want you to) but I hike and do yoga a lot. Most of the time, my body and I are good friends. But something, or somebody (it couldn't be all of the wedding porn I encountered on the 5,000 wedding blogs I was reading daily, now could it?) flicked a switch in my brain about six months beforehand, and I thought: Good LORD. I need to lose ten pounds for this wedding to really work out. Or at the very least, whittle my waist down (yes I really used the phrase "whittle my waist," you are welcome to throw things at my head for that starting now) so it looks really teensy in my dress.

But I didn't tell anyone I was having these thoughts. Because I didn't want to be talked out of them. And at the same time, because I didn't want to be One Of Those Brides. Who go on crazy crash diets or jump into serious Buff Bride workouts in the months before their wedding. All those tricep reps so you'll avoid armpit fat in your strapless gown? They make me tired. As you can see above, I picked a dress with straps and left it at that.

But then I found myself in the completely absurd position of trying to secretly diet and increase my workouts, while externally maintaining the stance that brides don't need to lose weight to enjoy their wedding day. And, I started hopping on the scale every other day or so, watching the number jump up and down based on what I ate for breakfast, my menstrual cycle, the alignment of the stars, and whatever else it is that causes our weight to fluctuate those two or three mystery pounds pretty much all the time.

And then, thank goodness, about two months before the wedding, something or someone (I think it was my very sane best friend Amy, who had picked up on some of my secret weight loss vibes) flicked the switch back and said: STOP.

Just, stop.
Step away from the scale.

Because here's the secret that the WIC and the Beauty Industrial Complex don't want you to know: Every bride is beautiful.

In fact, if there was ever a day to NOT worry about your weight, this is the one. You've got a free pass! Because you're the bride. You're wearing a fabulous/possibly white dress/outfit of your choosing. And if you're marrying the right person, for the right reasons (whatever that means to you), you're going to be radiating joy and excitement out of every pore. Not in that cheesy bridal glow way that the magazines talk about. Just in a straight-up, honestly goddamn happy way.

And everyone who looks at you, sees this: Happy, Pretty Bride. It's a completely free perk. They don't zero in on your armpit fat or your triceps or wonder why you chose a dress that's long or short or poufy or not poufy or with this style of embroidery, not that style of embroidery that they saw in a magazine some place. They don't think that hard about it. They're just happy for you. And that means? They think you look great.

Then I realized something else: I didn't want to look at my wedding pictures in a year or five years or thirty years and think, "Why can't I get back to my wedding weight?" I wanted to look at them and see me. Eventually, I'll see a younger me, sure, but the Younger Wedding Me should match all the other pictures of Younger Me that I'll look back on when I'm old and want to remember the time I pet a llama in Peru, or ate 30 grapes at midnight on New Year's Eve with my best friends, or any of the other amazing memories I'll have because (as 2000 Dollar Wedding-ers know so well!) your wedding day is just one particularly wonderful day, but not the very best day of your whole life. Why try to make it the skinniest day of your whole life, too?

So, I stopped weighing myself.

I have absolutely no idea whether I gained or lost weight in the last two months before my wedding. I have no clue what I weigh in the picture above. I didn't worry too much about what I was eating — I like wine and chocolate and pasta and I kept on liking those things, while also eating lots of vegetables (because I like them too) and going to yoga and hiking in the hills around our house. I figure, it probably all evened itself out, without me having to keep tabs on the scale or the state of my triceps. And if it didn't — who cares? I had the Bridal Free Pass to Looking Great. And by "Looking Great," I mean happy.

And it was hugely freeing.

Because there were a lot of things I ended up feeling like I absolutely had to do in the weeks before my wedding, not all of which were entirely sane, like convincing the one 98-year-old typewriter repairman in my tri-state area to fix my antique typewriter in less than two weeks so I could use it at a guest book. Yes. That was a choice.

But worrying about my weight — and whether it measured up to some completely arbitrary external standard that equates thinness with beauty whether I agree with that internally or not — was something I could cross off the list.

What about you? Is your wedding weight stressing you out — or have you set yourself free?

Virginia Sole-Smith is a freelance writer and author of the blog Beauty Schooled, where she chronicles her adventures in (you guessed it) beauty school and explores all the ways women pay for pretty every day. You might remember her from this little debate-spurring essay on AOL. She thanks you again for all of your nice comments about that. xo

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Flashback: Past Posts from Our Wedding Planning Process

Here's what Matt and I were up to during our wedding planning three years ago this week:
  • February 21: I share an anecdote about how my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders have already internalized societal messages about what a wedding is SUPPOSED TO BE.
  • February 23: I explain how Matt and I wrote personalized messages on each of our wedding invitations. I know it sounds crazy, but it was actually fun.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Guest Post: DIY Edible Favors

by Nora Hennesy

My husband I have been married for almost 8 months now (June 12th 2010) and it already feels like it's been a year! The planning for our wedding was a really enjoyable process for Ben and me and was actually one we started even before we were engaged. We started talking about getting married six months into dating and once I felt like I was in the free and clear to start gushing about plans and details, I knew the first thing I wanted to do was make jam as favors.

We were discussing a date one day (again before we were engaged) and realized that June was really the only month we could have the wedding without having to wait another six months. By this time it was the end of August and summer was coming to a close, as well as the summer fruit harvest! Peaches would be our last chance at a summer fruit jam since the next harvest wouldn't be until strawberries in late May/early June (which are also 2-3 times more per pound than peaches), and I sure as heck wasn't going to be canning 125-150 half pints of steaming hot jam a few weeks before my wedding (though I did think about it, until Ben figuratively slapped me back to reality)

So we went, along with my parents, and caught the LAST weekend available for peach picking at my favorite pick-your-own orchard. We picked 45 lbs of peaches. They weren't the most attractive peaches, but just as long as they tasted good and weren't rotting, they were good enough for jam. That's the beauty of jam and canning; you are giving unattractive produce a second life.

I spent the next two days peeling, slicing, bagging and freezing. It was a little overwhelming, but it had to be done otherwise those tree-ripened, end-of-summer peaches could have ended their lives in the trash bin. Over the next five months, we canned, and canned, and canned. It was definitely a labor of love. The end result, however, was totally and completely worth it. Our guests had something yummy to enjoy for weeks after the wedding.

I feel like jam, local honey or other edible items have become a popular favor to have at weddings and I wanted to share our experience, the process, and tips for anyone who was considering canning. Like Sara, I LOVE lists:

  • When you decide on making jam visit, your local pick-your-own farm's website, or if you have never visited such a place visit this website for a list of farms and orchards. When you find, one check out their harvest calender and then call to make sure that it is accurate for this season (sometimes weather or drought can affect the times of harvest). Bring some friends and get picking!
  • If you are picking stone fruit, wait until they are ripe to process. When they are ready to be peeled, bring a pot of water to boil, cut a cross on the bottom with a sharp knife while trying not to cut the flesh too much, blanch for two minutes, transfer with a slotted spoon into a bowl of ice water, once they are cool the skins should be able to be rubbed off, if not, then put back into boiling water for another minute or so.
  • If you are picking berries, you have to freeze them immediately. Wash, gently towel dry and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet in one layer, freeze, then bag (you do this so they don't all stick together in one big ice block). When you go to freeze I recommend either weighing or measuring out before you put into bags so you know how much you have in each bag so you can make in batches without having to guess, thaw and then refreeze the unused fruit.
  • You will see a lot recipes on line for jam that don't use pectin. I've tried a few and wouldn't recommend going without. I feel like it doesn't last as long and it definitely doesn't firm up. I just use the recipe that Ball provides in their pectin box. If you already have pectin but no recipes, visit Ball's website to see their recipes.
  • Make sure you only use white sugar. I tried with a batch using organic raw cane sugar and it ends up giving the jam a dark hue. Otherwise, it doesn't change the flavor at all.
  • Don't try to skimp on the sugar either. In order for the pectin to work properly, it needs the right amount of sugar (the amount given in the recipe). If you want to go with a low sugar jam, Certo (another pectin brand) makes pectin for sugar free recipes.
  • When you process the jars after you have filled them, make sure you have a large enough pot--one that will cover the jars with at least an inch of water. We didn't have a traditional canner (a big enameled pot with a rack inside for the jars to rest on) but they are available at Walmart or Target for under $20. If you are not going to use a canner, just make sure you don't use a nice stainless steel pot because when you process the jars, the metal from the lids seemed to darken the metal inside the pot.
  • Ben and I used 8 oz jars, but I kind of wish we used 4 oz jars. It just made a lot more work for us and the portion was more than generous. Several people commented on how big they were for favors, and I think they were right.
  • I had a lot of left over scraps of fabric, or you could go to the fabric store and get some fat quarters of a few different types of fabric to decorate the lids. Tying them on can be a big pain and you need another person to help you, so I just unscrewed the band (after the jars have been processed, which means sealed), placed the fabric on the lid, and screwed the band back on.
  • Lastly, don't try to conquer 100+ jars of jam in one day. It's impossible, and you will hate every second of it after jar 30. Do them in batches. One batch every other weekend. That's why you freeze the fruit, so there is no rush. You do not want to feel trapped, stirring and ladling over a hot stove...it's a labor of love, but not one of blood, sweat and tears (nothing's that important, yes, even your wedding favors!)

I hope I have offered a little inspiration and diffused any fears about the labor and process of making jam favors. It turned out to be a fantastic bonding experience for Ben and me, so have fun with it...you may just get addicted to canning!

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Quick Tip: Labeling Presents at Showers

I love this strategy from Martha Stewart, the guru of organization.

To make it easier to write thank you cards after a shower, you can have someone write each gift giver's name on a label and stick it to the gift. That way, you don't have to worry about later matching gifts to their descriptions on a centralized list.

Simple and brilliant!

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Guest Post: Giving Back Through Your Wedding

By Jessica

My fiance and I are big time animal lovers - we volunteer almost all of our spare time to help animals, and I work at our local Humane Society. We knew that when we got married that animals would have to be involved.

We reasoned that our wedding would provide a captive audience for causes that were important to us and would provide a wonderful opportunity to help animals. We also believed that if we were going to spend a good chunk of money (our budget was under $5K), that it might as well benefit someone else. We began our planning process by looking for an animal friendly ceremony and reception site - we found a great restaurant in downtown Indy off of the canal that allowed animals on their patio (we had plans to include our dog in the ceremony-more on that later).

I believe that many of the details are where your values can really shine through. My now husband and I brainstormed ways that we could incorporate animal welfare into our ceremony and reception. Here's what we came up with and reasoning for each detail:

1) Our beloved pit bull, Angel, was in our wedding as the ring bearer. She was even dressed in a wedding dress and veil! Besides the fact that we love her TONS, we also wanted to include her because we wanted to show others how well behaved and wonderful pit bulls are. We help advocate for the breed and participate in events that promote spaying/neutering, rallies against dog-fighting, etc. She made a very lovely dog bride don't you think?

2) Our centerpieces featured adoptable animals' pictures and descriptions. We chose animals strategically based upon who was sitting at the table. My husband's grandparents have a rat terrier, and they are from Florida, so it was no surprise to them that they had a photo and description of an adoptable rat terrier from Florida at their table! Another friend loves Siamese cats, so of course, she had a Siamese cat's information.

3) We made donating to one of our favorite non-profits an option for gift giving. We asked for specific items for a group in Indianapolis who helps spay and neuter stray and feral cats (indyferal.org)
4) We served a vegan meal - my husband and I are vegetarian and did not want to include meat in our wedding because we felt it would go against our views (we oppose factory farming), so we opted for a really tasty lasagna dish that was appealing to meat eaters as well. Our cake was even vegan!

5) We decided to volunteer for our honeymoon at a rabbit rescue and sanctuary. After buying a house and spending the money on having a wedding, we chose an economical honeymoon in beautiful Ann Arbor, Michigan and volunteered for a week at the Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary. After we volunteered each day, we went out to dinner, movies, comedy shows, museums, and more. It didn't matter that we weren't on a beach - we just enjoyed being alone and celebrating
our wedded bliss!

6) Instead of giving out wedding favors, we made a donation to the rabbit sanctuary and left a note for our guests explaining the gift. We even found a napkin fold in the shape of a rabbit for each table setting as a nod to our honeymoon.

7) In our picture slideshow, we included information about the different non-profits that we volunteer for.

8) We also included some other cutsey details: I had a paw print painted on my fingernails, I wore a bracelet that featured a paw print and said "save a stray," and my husband and I made our own wedding rings in a jewelry making class that had paw prints on them.

Incorporating a cause we valued was extremely rewarding to us, and we highly recommend it to others. Using your wedding as a way to help out another group of people (or animals in our case) is a wonderful way to help out your community and local non-profits that are on tight budgets. In addition, it is a great way to showcase your values and personality to family and friends. Lastly, including a charitable cause into your wedding is also a wonderful ice-breaker. The adoptable animals bios on each table got people talking about their own pets.

Above all, if you feel passionately about including a non-profit in your wedding, then you should definitely go for it. We had friends and family hesitate hat the idea of our veg-tastic, animal-centered wedding while we were planning it, but after it was all over, so many people commented on how perfect the wedding was for us.

As a grand finale - here are a couple of pictures from our honeymoon. This is a photo of me holding one of my favorite bunnies at the sanctuary - Tito! The photo of my husband shows him feeding one of the pot belly pigs who calls the sanctuary home.


**Photos courtesy of Bungalow Photography

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Monday, February 14, 2011

The "You'll See" Prophesy

I have to be honest and say that I wasn't really looking forward to my third trimester of pregnancy. I have heard all kinds of horror stories about how tired I would be, how much my back would ache, how I wouldn't be able to sleep, how heavy I would be--the list goes on and on. I was also told that I would be tired of being pregnant and that I would just want the baby to come.

Well, tomorrow is my due date and my back hasn't yet ached. Yes, I have to pee all night long, but I fall right back asleep super-quickly. My belly doesn't feel very heavy at all. And, I'm not tired of being pregnant. I simply look at each day as another opportunity to savor my freedom and my spontaneity and my alone time with Matt.

The truth is, we have a lot of power to shape our own experiences, regardless of what well-meaning friends, family members, colleagues, and random strangers tell us. By walking 4-5 days a week, going to yoga once a week, religiously eating a healthy diet, napping every single day, minimizing my commitments personally and professionally, staying hydrated, and focusing on all the positives of being pregnant, I've been able to create a different reality for myself. That's not to say that we can control everything--I can't control the fact that my liver is starting to malfunction and my blood pressure is rising, but I can control my response to those problems.
Unfortunately, the same "You'll See" mentality affects wedding planning, too. There are so many cultural assumptions around what happens when you plan a wedding. We hear that your wedding will inevitably cost more than you think it will. We hear that you will inevitably have to make decisions to please other people--the list goes on and on.

But the truth is, each of our planning experiences is unique. We can have the kind of weddings we want for ourselves (and the kinds of pregancies we want and the kinds of careers we want). We can make decisions and cultivate our attitudes in ways that align with what we want for ourselves. Nothing is set in stone; nothing is inevitable. The choice is ours.

Of course it helps to hear about others' experiences, but we should be careful about whom we turn to for advice. The choices we make for ourselves definitely affect the outcome. By being intentional and mindful with our decisions, we can greatly influence our realities.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

First Comes Love, Then Comes Links: 2/10/11

E.E. Cummings Valentine from poets.org

Anna-Marie, here, with some hearts-inspired inspiration and some ideas for a romantic, sustainable Valentine’s Day.

Love Food

Recipes for historically aphrodisiac foods from almonds to avocados. Placebo effect? Maybe, but who cares? Imagine a romantic meal in or a wedding menu based entirely on foods meant to stir the passions.

Dagoba Organic Chocolate

Flavors like lavender blueberry, “roseberry” (raspberries and rose hips), and mint aren’t the only sweet thing about this Ashland, Oregon-based company: they’re also committed to full circle sustainability. I’m looking forward to incorporating their “xocolatl” bar (cacao nibs and chilies) into a ganache.

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex

Like we needed another reason, but here are ten good-to-know ones.

20 Organic Wines Under $20 and 5 Eco-Friendly Wines $25 and Under

Considering cancelling the reservation and opening a bottle for a night in? Try one from a vineyard with sustainable growing practices, and you might find a new favorite (not to mention cut down on red wine headaches).

Poetry Valentines

Greet friends and loved ones with a few lines of E.E. Cummings, Emily Dickinson, or Andrew Marvell.

Valentine’s Day Big Day

An adorable wedding featuring vintage valentines and a visit from Cupid.

Wishing you all a lovely Valentine's weekend!


When Anna-Marie isn’t searching the blogs, she’s writing romance stories, cooking for her wife, or freelancing as a cake decorator and floral designer.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Guest Post: The Ring Thing Part II

By Sanyamakadi
In addition to the ‘no diamond’ rule, I also wanted only one ring. My fiancé and I both felt it was important to get a ring when we got engaged; with our engagement began our commitment to each other and we wanted everyone to know it. For our wedding I took the ring off and put it back on during the ceremony. Many women have since told me, “I wish I had known that you could do that! I love my engagement ring and would love to wear it all the time!” In case you were wondering, there are no rules about what you can or cannot do. It’s your hand, and your marriage. If you want to wear a twist-tie on your finger no one can tell you not to!

In deciding where to get our rings, we thought about Green Karat and wanted to support their business model. But they still do craft new jewelery, which creates pollution, plus we knew our families would not be able to donate enough gold to make rings, and buying rings without the gold trade-in was too expensive. What I really wanted was an antique ring. I loved the delicate, elegant styles, and liked the idea of not supporting the modern jewelry industry. In the end I found a 1930’s art deco sapphire ring on Ebay. The stone is in a flat setting that lies against my hand, making it as unlikely as possible that i will somehow clumsily knock the stone out. We payed $160 plus $45 to have it sized. It’s small and simple and I adore it.

We wanted an antique ring for my fiance as well, but it is pretty much impossible to find antique men’s rings that do not have giant stones or Masonic insignias. Running out of ideas we started hitting up all the big jewelry stores, but were put off by the high pressure environment and the attitudes, including the sidelong looks the salespeople would exchange when I said I was not looking for a wedding band. Finally we found a small local jeweler, and talked to a salesman who was perfectly uninterested in pressuring us to buy anything, He left us with a stack of catalogues and said he could order in samples of anything we wanted for free. My fiance also wanted something simple and low key, so we looked at 14 karat gold, and 4mm bands instead of the traditional men’s 6mm. This is not only more eco-friendly as it uses less gold, but saved us hundreds of dollars. One of the samples we requested was just what he was looking for, and fit perfectly, so we got his ring with a whole week to spare before the wedding.

Sanyamakadi means “eyes blinking in the sky” and is the Malinké word for “lightening”, which was one of the first she learned as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea. She loves to travel, create adventurous food, and fly kites. After 5 years overseas she returned to the US and happened to meet the love of her life at a swing dancing class, and now spends many happy evenings dancing around the living room with him and her new son. (photo by her rockstar photographer and Peace Corps buddy Tina de la Rosa)

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Guest Post: The Ring Thing Part I

By Sanyamakadi

As an international development worker, I have lived and worked in some of the poorest, most volatile, and most culturally fascinating parts of the world. When I got engaged, it was very important to me to get a functional, responsible--and yet still beautiful--ring. I knew one thing immediately--I did not want a diamond.

US jewelers will not sell diamonds unless they have been “Kimberley certified” as not coming from a conflict zone. The only problem with this is that the Kimberly Process doesn’t work all that well. It is very easy to smuggle diamonds across porous borders from conflict countries to peaceful ones. A brief overview of the situation can be found here. The article even mentions a country close to my heart, Guinea, where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer for three years. At that time Guinea was not a conflict country, but it bordered war-torn Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, both large diamond producing countries. In the years since the Kimberly Process was implemented in 2003, Guinea’s diamond production has gone up 500%, which, as they say in the article, raises some eyebrows. Having a jeweler show you a certificate to prove your diamond is not financing war or human rights abuses unfortunately doesn’t mean very much.

Even if diamonds (and precious stones and metals in general) really are conflict free, that doesn’t guarantee that they were mined in humane conditions. Living in a small village in Guinea I saw many men leave their families to strike it rich in the diamond mines...they would funnel their family’s meager resources into mining, leaving women struggling to feed their families, and children pulled out of school because they were unable to pay their fees or were forced to work to bring some money into the household. In the communities surrounding the mines, women turned to, or in the case of young girls, were forced into, prostitution, a lucrative business with so many men so far from home. There was a Peace Corps guesthouse in a ‘town’ nearby, across from which often stayed a European diamond trader known only as “The Lion.” We would sit outside under the mango trees and watch the line of patient, desperate men as they waited to make their pitch to The Lion, in hopes that he would buy their stones. The prices he paid would feed families for weeks, but would be nothing compared to the profit he would make reselling the stones in Europe. The pictures are of The Lion, and the surrounding town, and were taken by my friend Erin.

To give the whole picture I should mention that there were some parts of Africa, such as Botswana, where diamond mines do meet minimum labor and human rights standards and represent an important part of the economy. And stores like Tiffany’s pride themselves on having true ‘conflict free’ diamonds, coming from their own mines in Canada. While this may alleviate human rights concerns, it does not negate the toll from mining on the environment. Nor, for me, did it change the most basic argument--I could not do what I do, going into tiny villages in rural Congo, or Sierra Leone, or wherever, with a ring on my finger valued at more money than the inhabitants of those villages would ever see.

Sanyamakadi means “eyes blinking in the sky” and is the Malinké word for “lightening”, which was one of the first she learned as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea. She loves to travel, create adventurous food, and fly kites. After 5 years overseas she returned to the US and happened to meet the love of her life at a swing dancing class, and now spends many happy evenings dancing around the living room with him and her new son.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

The Name-Changing Dilemma Continued

As some of you might have read in last week's post, I've really been struggling with the name thing as we creep closer and closer to the moment when we have to be decisive and bestow a name upon another living being.

The thing about the name dilemma when you're getting married is that you don't actually have to make a decision right away. Of course other people might make the decision for you when they address wedding cards and presents to you, but there actually isn't a specific deadline for making the decision about names when it comes to marriage. You can keep your maiden name for years and then decide to hyphenate, change both of your last names to a new last name, or have one partner take the other partner's name. There really isn't a deadline, and the decision can take as long as you need it to.

Making the decision can be stressful for a lot of us (both emotionally and logistically!), so it can definitely help to put it off until you're done with the maelstrom of wedding planning.

For me, it was easy to keep my name. I had pretty much made the decision as a women and gender studies minor in college. I just couldn't subscribe to the whole woman-gives-up-her-name mandate. My name was (and is) an integral part of my identity, both professionally and personally. Because my name (Sara) is so common, I am often referred to by my last name (Cotner). Plus, having a unique last name has helped me combat the annoyances of having such a popular first name.

That's not to say that I judge people who decide to take their partners' names. We each have to do what feels right for us. For me, keeping my name was a statement about my feminist values and my recognition that the world has a long tradition of oppressing women. It was a celebration of my ability to choose for myself what name I wanted, without feeling obligated by societal expectations.

As Matt and I puzzle through what we're going to do with our baby's name, these same desires are coming up. I had pretty much resigned myself to using my last name for the baby's middle name and Matt's for the last name. But when I tried to communicate that to Matt, I started crying. There was something about it that felt like a huge, terrible loss.

The digger I deep, the more I realize I want to hold fast to my feminist values, and I want our son to be aware of those values. If we give him my maiden name as a middle name, I can't help but feel like it sends the wrong kind of message. I feel like we would be saying, "Your dad's lineage is dominant, that's why you have his surname. Your mom's lineage matters too--that's why it's in your name at all--but it's not as important as your dad's, as evidenced by the fact that most people don't even know your middle name."

I guess I don't like the default option: if you want to incorporate your maiden name into your child's name without hyphenating, then it becomes the middle name, while your husband's name is the last name. We could buck this trend by making Matt's name the middle one and mine the last, but honestly, I like the aesthetics of "Cotner Bradford" over "Bradford Cotner." Aesthetics are yet another reason why the name-changing dilemma varies so much from couple to couple.

I should say that Matt has been advocating for a hyphenated name the entire time. I've been the one resisting it, primarily due to logistics. I don't want to create a lifetime of annoyance for our sweet little boy.

But in the end, I'm feeling like the hyphenated route is the best way for us to communicate our commitment to equality and partnership. It puts our two names together--equally--for our child and the whole world to see. I do think we're lucky that Cotner-Bradford isn't too long and it sounds pretty smooth together. I do think the societal annoyances around hyphenated names will start to disappear as they become more and more popular.

And, honestly, if our little boy decides for himself that he doesn't want a hyphenated name, later down the line, we can support his decision by helping him change it officially.

I'm feeling more at peace with this decision for now, but I reserve the right to change my mind in the next week or so! There's one more parent (of one of my students) with whom I would like to talk. She's a self-proclaimed feminist, and she kept her name when she married. Now her daughter has her husband's last name and her maiden name as a middle name. I'd like to hear her perspective.

We might not have much time left! Our official "due date" is February 15, which puts us one week and one day away from the decision. Then again, it's completely normal to deliver within the 38-42-week range, so I may have more (or less!) time than I think...

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

First Comes Love, Then Comes Links: 2/3/11

Photo from Bakerella

Anna-Marie here, with part one of a hyperlink homage to one of my very favorite holidays. This week, a few ways to add heart to your kitchen, wardrobe, and wedding.

Heart Measuring Spoons

For favors or just for the baking drawer, these add a little extra love to recipes.

Vintage Graphics for Valentine’s Day

What’s more romantic than a handmade valentine? I’m revisiting the Graphics Fairy to direct you to her collection of Valentine-themed clip art. So break out the construction paper and make like it’s second grade.

How to Make a Floral Fascinator

Fascinators have taken the wedding world by storm (and satin, and silk…); if they’re giving you sticker shock, here’s a DIY tutorial. For weddings, I’m more of a veil girl (blame the lace mantillas in old family photographs), but this one might steal my heart.

‘I Love You’ Ballet Flats

These cream-colored ballet flats would be perfect with an off-white wedding dress, and would see you through countless dates after. Plus, you can’t beat the price. (Note: TopShop seems to be out of these at the moment, but I’m keeping an eye on the site.)

Organic Bouquet

All organic and sustainably grown, Organic Bouquet offers a wide selection of cut flowers, as well as potted plants and wreaths for every season. My picks: Lavender Roses, the Mini Blood Orange Tree, and the Rustic Rose Wreath.

Single-Girl Things to Do Before You Marry

If Valentine’s Day gives you couples’ overload, check out this tongue-in-cheek list. I object to a couple (the suggestion to use a lot of water; the assumption that all women have their weddings paid for by their parents), but I also have a couple favorites (painting the walls pink; naming a cat Snowflake).

Valentine’s Day Cake Chocolates

Valentine’s desserts don’t get more beautiful than this. Just as wonderful: Bakerella’s detailed instructions.


When Anna-Marie isn’t searching the blogs, she’s writing romance stories, cooking for her wife, or freelancing as a cake decorator and floral designer.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Planning Our Weddings, Reclaiming Our Selves

I have conflicting views about wedding planning. On the one hand, I think we tend to take the whole thing too seriously. I mean, it's a one-day party with our friends and family. Why obsess about the color of the invitation envelopes?

On the other hand, I believe that weddings are important rites of passage in our lives. Even if we already feel committed to our loved one in our hearts, there's something so transformative about formalizing that commitment. It's a public declaration. It's an important community celebration.

It can also force us to clarify who we are as a new family unit. The process of planning a wedding within a complex web of family, friends, and societal pressures can force us to face truly difficult questions about who we are, what we value, and what we're willing to compromise.

And sometimes, it's really difficult to tell whether or not you're on the right path when you're in the throes of the planning process. Sometimes everything feels right and other times it feels oh-so-wrong.

And sometimes, like this letter from a 2000 Dollar Wedding kindred spirit reminds me, you can make decisions that you regret. You can compromise too much, relinquish too much, and lose too much of yourself along the way.

But this letter also reminds me that it's never too late to reclaim who you are and what matters to you. I can't wait to hear all about Latrice's vow renewal next year!

Without further ado, here's Latrice with her story:

When my husband and I first decided to get married, all we wanted was a small wedding, a meaningful ceremony and family and friends to be involved. Unfortunately, I let my mom get involved with the planning and let her help financially (that was not the original plan, we were to do it ourselves).

Then she took over. The bossiness came as sincerity at first. She convinced me that all she wanted was the best for me, since she was unable to pay for my prom a few years before my wedding and because she felt I deserved more than I was giving myself.

By the end of the planning process, I was so disgusted with everyone and everything that I lost focus of what the day was really about. My husband had also lost focus. My mother had turned my wedding into the wedding she had never had and she used my wedding as a showpiece to prove that she had class (she believes she is the blacksheep of the family--it's all in her head though). It was a spectacle that I wasnt even completely a part of. I remember being utterly miserable at the altar.

I did not enjoy getting married, I did not enjoy being in the warmth and love of my family and friends and I did not enjoy the uniting of two families. My oldest son (who was 3 at the time of the wedding) was adorable as our ring bearer and my husband looked so handsome (the first time I had seen him in a suit, even though we had been together for 5 years by this time!) and I was absolutely gorgeous, but I did not enjoy one bit!!

I began looking into a vow renewal to gain what we missed that day and to strengthen our family bonds. We have had an awesome marriage so I do not regret the day that we were married, I just want something that will create a stronger, more loving bond for us and our families. We have family members that have not met each other and we ourselves have not met all of each other's family (sad, I know, because we have been together 14 years this year in March, married for 9 years, and have 3 children (12, 8 and 4)).

That's when I found your blog and the wedding weekend, all for under 2000 dollars! I thought to myself WOW, I can do an anniversary weekend and I can probably keep it down to a couple thousand....

So that is where the inspiration began. We are currently planning an anniversary weekend. We have a little over a year to get all the details together, so I feel more than confident that this time it will be exactly what we want!

I am gaining the strength to think and look outside the box and to take on new adventures. I was always different anyway and I've always personally embraced my differences but I often hid them from other people (the African American community does not like "different" especially if you are in the "lower financial" bracket). I have, however, been more open and not caring that I am crafty...Yes, I love to knit, I love to sew, I like to make things with my own two hands!! Yes, I am a sophomore in college and I'm a 29 year-old mother of three and wife to a wonderful man!! Yes, all three of my children are by my husband (you have no idea how often I get that question) and Yes I'm a natural curly headed (another not-so accepted trend in the African American community), Yes I am curvy, Yes I am wonderfully different and not only do I love it but so do my kids, husband, close friends and family!! That makes me happy.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Guest Post: When Compromise Means Compromising Your Beliefs

By Ellie

I am a Unitarian. I am also a vegetarian. And I can see how you might think these things have nothing in common. But when it came down to that One Issue that I had with my future in-laws, my beliefs were suddenly on display.

I find that others' religious beliefs make me uncomfortable. Really, really uncomfortable. Any time I go to an event and they make me pray in public, I vow to never return. (I mean Public, like at a 5k race.) I do not like it when people tell me they are praying for me. I don't like it when people talk about their relationship with God. It's not any of my business, I think, and I don't want to know.

I also do not share my religious beliefs. I was nervous about having a prayer in our wedding service because it means admitting I believe in God. Get it? In my opinion, Beliefs are Not For Sharing. My church does not pray together. We pray quietly, or we meditate, during a moment of silence. I am okay with this.

I became a vegetarian when I was 15 years old, for a lot of different reasons, but the biggest one was that it just felt wrong to keep eating meat. Eating meat was not, to me, respecting the interdependent web of which we are a part, which is one of the Unitarian Principles. (Your own interpretation of this tenant is up to you, but this was mine.)

Long ago, before we got engaged, I decided I wanted a vegetarian wedding. Although I did start eating fish five years ago, I originally wanted a truly vegetarian wedding. (I did not really have a good reason for this.) I compromised very early on and agreed to serve fish, at my fiance's (extremely reasonable) request. Most of the reactions we got were "oh, as long as you're serving fish, that's fine." (because you were going to walk out of my wedding in protest otherwise?) I got a few raised eyebrows, but I've been a vegetarian for 10 years and so our choice didn't really surprise anybody. A lot of people asked if we were having a vegetarian wedding, excitedly.

My fiance was completely, 100% on board with the meatless wedding. It is pretty much how we live now, and meant we would be serving food we both could eat, and that we both liked.

When we first told my future in laws that we were having a meatless wedding, they freaked out. They continued to freak out, and I couldn't reassure them. Well, I didn't. I couldn't reassure them because I felt that my choice to be a vegetarian was deeply personal, and Not For Sharing. If I believe eating meat is wrong, and you do not, I do not want to tell you that because you will think I am making a moral judgment on you.

But weddings are also deeply personal. And it turns out that all I needed to do was say, "this is what I believe". All I had to do was say, "I am genuinely and on a deeply personal level, grieved by the idea of serving meat." All I really had to do was say, "This is what I believe. Please respect that on my wedding day." I didn't say that though. I didn't say that because I was afraid it would seem like I was making a moral judgment on my future in-laws and they would forever be uncomfortable having meat at the table when I came to dinner.

What I said instead was, "people can suck it up." I said, "I don't want to serve anything that I can't eat." What I said was, "I'm worried that if we serve meat and vegetarian food, people will eat all the vegetarian food and there will be no food for the vegetarians." (This is totally true, by the way, and maybe something to think about when you order food. Order veggie servings for everybody, and less of the meat.) I whined about the environmental impact of our wedding. I mentioned briefly that I wanted people to experience how great vegetarian food would be.

But what I didn't say was what really mattered. That every time I thought about serving meat at the wedding, I saw the soulful eyes of a sad cow being slaughtered for my wedding. I saw the free range chickens our sustainable caterer would use fleeing for their lives. In my mind, I kept making a connection between animal sacrifice and our wedding, and while I could make my peace with the fish, I couldn't do it with the meat.

My in-laws were concerned about the impact on our guests - who were paying thousands of dollars to come to the wedding. They were concerned that it was rude to not serve them meat, and that our families didn't like vegetables. They were concerned that vegetarian food wouldn't be impressive enough to our guests - that they wouldn't feel properly treated at our wedding. We finally solved everything by inviting them down for a tasting with a caterer. The caterer served us an amazing meal of beautiful and impressive looking vegetarian fare that wasn't too vegetable-y. My mother-in-law made a last minute push for meat hors d'oeuvres, saying, "you wouldn't even have to see them." (Again, my failure to explain my actual problems at work here.) This was the point where I finally spoke up and said, "I've tried really hard to be okay with serving meat and I'm just not okay with it. It's not okay. What can I do to make you okay with the hors d'oeuvres?" So we agreed to make the hors d'oeuvres less vegetable-y and worked it out.

Several times, people reminded me that weddings were about compromise. I countered this with a few arguments - that if I kept kosher, and we had a kosher wedding, nobody would bat an eye (I've been to several). That serving fish was already a compromise. And that there was no reason we couldn't compromise on what vegetarian food wouldn't offend our guests. We didn't have to, and didn't, have a boring pasta reception. We had a crab cake station, a grilled cheese sandwich station, and served a delicious fish dish, pasta dish, and butternut squash risotto. Many people have told us that the food was delicious and they loved our wedding, so overall, it worked out. But I can't help think about how much easier it would have been if I had started off by saying, "This is what I believe."

Ellie is a recently married lawyer living in Baltimore with her husband Mark. She writes about weddings at Wedding for Two, and you can read more about her relationship with food at Barefoot and in the Kitchen, her cooking blog.

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