Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Grooms on Film

This week, we are interviewing the final candidates for photographer. I wouldn't have predicted that we'd need to interview them--looking at their work and their rate cards would seem sufficient. But as I read somewhere, "Other than your mother, the photographer is the person you're going to be talking to most on your wedding day. Make sure it's someone you get along with."

Both our photographers tend toward the "journalistic" style that's become very popular (and very expensive) these days. Both do a good deal of sports photography, and have a good eye for movement--few static poses here. Andrew has done some beautiful nature and fashion photography, and I think he brings a fresh eye to even the most conventional family grouping. Leslie composes beautiful pictures that show a good sense of space and textures, as well as "in-between" moments that give you a feel for the flow of an event.

Not four weeks ago, I was determined to go with a non-professional photographer, such as a student. Turns out, not even the most thrifty bargain brides eschew the professional photographer. Friends are problematic, students are unreliable, disposable cameras on the tables are just a ridiculous idea. Photography is as important as music, apparently, and is meant to take up about the same amount of the budget.

What really converted my thinking, though, was when I calculated how photographers make a living. I imagine that no photographer does more than 25 weddings in a good year. If that's supposed to add up to a living wage, what is the unit cost? Not cheap!


Ain't Too Proud To Beg

Registering for gifts is reputedly the most fun thing about wedding planning, although it is a custom that bumps against every taboo about generosity. It sure is awkward to ask people for very specific (and sometimes very expensive) things you want, when the purpose of a wedding is meant to be more high-minded. And, of course, you can count on us to make the whole process more stressful than it ought to be. I've mentioned before that I'm a "maximizer"; the simple way of putting that is: Worst. Shopper. Ever.

Nonetheless, we buckled down this weekend to choose the material things that we want most as part of the home we make together. And, I hope you'll indulge our asking, and know that we are deeply grateful for anything you might choose to give us on the occasion of our marriage, including your well wishes and prayers.

We are probably most excited about Heath Ceramics, where we registered for enough dinnerware to fulfill our dream of hosting many Thanksgivings to come. Heath is a pottery studio in Sausalito, California that has been operating continuously since the 1940s, and it is renowned for the remarkable quality of its products and boldness of its designs. Every piece is finished by hand, and the factory adheres to the strictest possible environmental standards and respect for workers.

Only one place carried a variety of affordable flatware stylish enough to complement Heath's plates and bowls, and that was Crate & Barrel, where we also registered for high-quality organic cotton bed and bath linens at reasonable prices.

Sorry, Mr. W. Sonoma, but you simply couldn't compete on selection, price, or convenience with Amazon where we registered for kitchen items, including cookware, bakeware, small appliances, cutlery, and tools.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Everyone Has a Limit

If I were really the environmentalist I pretend to be, we'd be using an evite, right?


Friday, February 22, 2008

The Holy Land of Pork

We are dreaming of a honeymoon in Portugal. It has everything we could want from a destination: good weather in October, beautiful scenery, fine wine, and the world's greatest roast pork.

As we looked at possibilities (Montenegro, Italy, California), this article in Travel + Leisure convinced us that Portugal was just the spot. Coincidentally, Michael and I postponed our first date back in 2003 because I was called to Lisbon for work. I never made it outside the city, but that visit gave me a taste for more--especially my last night.

Lisbon was lovely and friendly, but I had struck out with expensive hotel food, inexpensive hotel food, and concierge-recommended touristy restaurants. On my final stroll around the city, I found a place near the Palacio de Sao Bento, Espirito dos Tachos--which I believe is still there because I found it on Google Earth--was modern and cool and inexpensive, and had the most succulent roast pork I'd ever put a fork into. I must have started with sweet breads and had wine and liquor too, and I'm sure my bill came to around $25. The dollar was stronger then . . .

Portugal is also famous for its salt-cod dishes, which are a Christmas favorite of ours, and go way back with Michael's family. The Portuguese make a hash of bacalao and potatoes that's quite rich. Portugal is a very maritime country and has unsalted fish aplenty. We'd love to spend a few days on the coast, enjoying the gorgeous beaches (sunset over the Atlantic!) and all the wonderful seafood.

Across the wine country and the north of Portugal, numerous monasteries have been converted into design hotels like this one called pousadas. Portugal's wines are growing very popular now. I was surprised to learn that Portugal has Europe's oldest "DOC" system. And colheita port, though prohibitively expensive here, would be worth the travel. Fish, booze, and pork: doesn't Portugal sound like a land of sensory delights? It's like Eden for the epicure.

The oustanding question remains: can we afford it? How "simply" can we travel and still make it romantic? Michael's parents (with a note of regret in their voices) were adamant when we asked: the honeymoon is not a cost to cut.


Country Roads

We took Michael's parents out to the farm on Monday, which turned out to be a gorgeous, sunny, 70-degree day. I could tell they had misgivings before we left. Perhaps because we had forewarned his mother and sister that they should wear closed-toe shoes to the wedding on account of the goat poo. But when Michael's dad stepped out of the car, he said, "It is gorgeous out here!" One parent down, three to go!

Elodie Farms is a real, working goat farm. It's not a stage-set for rural fantasies like le Petit Hameau or this place in Apex. That means there are live animals and they poo right where they're standing. They also make noise and smell . . . um, earthy. It may be a bit too rustic for some tastes, but I find it irresistable.

The family warmed up to the rustic setting very quickly. Thanks undoubtedly to the lovely weather and the pretty drive through the hills of Durham County's old tobacco country. Thanks as well to the abundance of adorable baby goats, stumbling all over the property.

This is an exciting time of year because February is kidding time. Anne, who operates the farm along with its owner Dave, says that they expect 75 kids this month. That means lots of nursing mothers, which means lots of goat milk, which means marathon hours of cheese making. Hopefully some of that cheese will end up on the buffet at our wedding. We are nuts for the stuff, and it is hard to come by. Last fall we tasted their Goat Gruyere melted over French onion soup--divinity in a bowl.

We are also hoping that the new barn will be built in plenty of time for the big day. The old barn is coming down now, though its half-demolished skeleton looks no worse than the shambles it was. Dave and Anne are assembling the financing they need for the new construction, which will be able to accomodate more guests for their renowned monthly dinners and weddings like ours, as well as meetings and retreats. It will also have a new dairy and a cheese kitchen. I hope that our commitment to them and the guarantee of future business earns them points on their loan application!

After cooing and admiring the kids, and watching Gunndi gleefully run around with the farm dogs, Michael's mother and I took a look at the farmhouse porch where we plan to have the rehearsal dinner and the cocktail hour. It's a 100-year-old house with graceful proportions and lanterns that hang from the eaves in front. A bit run-down but undeniably quaint. One of the dogs had left a rather mutilated carcass--some kind of mammal--right on the step. I think that tops the list of unwanted wedding gifts. Michael's mom may require a little more persuasion than his dad.

Wear those closed-toe shoes, ladies!


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

And we want to be clean young men....

We recently decided to go on a twelve day ayurvedic cleanse, where you gradually eliminate various kinds of food until you are consuming nothing but clear vegetable broth and parsley tea. Now I like parsley as much as the next guy, but it does not make for a satiating meal. And every time we decide to do something like this (can anyone say "cabbage soup diet"?) we end up drawing undue attention to our meals to the point where it becomes so stressful that we wind up buying a leather coat off the back of the truck of an Italian albino with a glass eye outside of the 63rd St. Starbucks because milk and bananas are not the foodstuffs upon which to build rational judgment.

Also, we are busy people during the week and our weekends, when we were scheduled to be consuming nothing, we like to be active. The puppy needs running and her daddies need to get off their fat asses and exercise (well, I speak only for myself; Emerson still manages to run 4 or 5 miles nearly every day). And the cat needs some precious alone time. Oh man, does the cat need some frickin' alone time.

So we modified our plan. We are going non-grain vegan for a couple weeks to clean out the system. I am, of course, terribly incredulous about the value of fasting and the dubious prospect of not eating any animal products for the next two weeks. But we are using it as a jumping off point for a year of healthy eating so both of us can drop a few inches off our waists so we look good in pictures on the big day.

At least that's why I'm doing it. It has nothing to do with the massive beef recall, since the chance of non-organic meat crossing my palate are equal to or less than the chance I will end up with a successful modeling career. Regardless, it does make sense to give your body a break every now and then. I am under no illusions that I will be clearing out an "toxins" or some such nonsense, but given that we spent the first three months in Durham eating every meal off the grill (and hanger steak is a lot easier to grill than mung beans), a little non-grain vegan might be just what the holistic doctor ordered...


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Durham Is Hospitable but Low on Hotels

The Triangle has a handful of truly cool hotels. We spent New Year's Eve at a luxury golf resort at Duke University, but the room rates will be out of reach for most of our guests. Nearer to the farm there is a charming inn called the Arrowhead. Our recent crew of New York visitors stayed there and proclaimed it lovely! tidy! and friendly! But it, too, is very expensive.

We tried to work on a group rate at the Durham Marriott-Civic Center. Fall is the "high season" for Durham, and block reservations are not being accomodated. But we still want our guests to stay there! According to the sales manager, it's going to be a Huge Weekend. Right now, rooms are still $129, but they will continue to rise as the date grows nearer. Reserve soon, please! The Marriott reservation number is 800-228-9290.

We believe that the Marriott is fully booked for the weekend. Please see this post for updates and alternatives.

The Marriott is located downtown, a straight 15-minute drive to the farm, and within a few blocks of some of our favorite restaurants, including The Federal, Piedmont, and Pop's. It should also be a fun place to have an after-party.

If you are looking for a Bargain and don't care about walking to good restaurants and bars (except one), we have arranged a Group Rate of $78 at the Courtyard Durham. The reservation number is 800-321-2211. The Courtyard is within a 10-minute drive or cab ride of downtown Durham and very near to Duke.


Friday, February 15, 2008


A seemingly simple task, right? Unless, like us, you're somewhat obsessed with being unique. We just don't feel like any of you want a picture of us on your 'fridge. Right? So what are we going to do that feels custom and costs . . . um, nothing? Keep an eye on your p.o. boxes, folks, something cool is on the way.

Not that we have any idea what that's gonna be, at this point.

Oh, here's the essential information you need: October 11, 2008. RDU. It's a lock.

UPDATE: We bought the save-the-date postcards last weekend at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. The gift-shop ladies were a little surprised that we would buy 60 of the same postcard, and they asked us "What for?" We both hesitated, as if they wouldn't understand, and it wouldn't be worth explaining. Michael said, "Invitations," and I said, "Save-the-date cards." I would think that this tentative, compound answer was somehow perfectly clear. But I still don't know why we were so hesitant about saying it.

Anyhow, the important piece of information here is that we plan to mail these cards on March 1. That means we have two weeks to finalize the hotel room rate and to register for gifts. Holy crap!


Large is the Fun Format

Choosing the right wines to serve with dinner is going to be a big challenge. There are apparently two possible directions: serve the best available wine because of the importance of the occasion, or serve the cheapest available wine that will pass muster with your guests (knowing as you do their level of discrimination).

Quality and price are the obvious axes of wine buying, but I would add two more factors: festivity and sustainability. By festivity I mean that the wine ought to look and taste and seem fun and add to the cheerfulness of the day--the "best" wine may be too serious. By sustainability, of course, I mean that the choice ought not to niggle one's conscience by being wasteful of resources.

These factors and my valences as a maximizer (not a satisficer) lead me into a morass of decision-making anxiety and paralysis. I have consulted Jancis, perhaps the world's most respected critic, though her expertise in the highest tier of the luxury market makes me a little distrustful of her bargain selections. Dottie and John are my constant companions at the wine store, but I am woefully forgetful about archiving their columns. All these and many more wine writers responsibly advocate for the reader to cultivate his or her own idiosyncratic taste in unique and surprising wines. Inarguable advice, but it doesn't get us what we need for a wedding reception, and that is a crowd pleaser!

One thing is certain: we can maximize festivity and sustainability (and maybe price) by choosing wine in Magnums. Because Magnums (1.5 liter bottles) have a higher ratio of wine to glass, they are relatively lighter to transport--saving fuel and reducing emissions--and use less materials overall. And isn't there something especially merry about the Magnum? You see that unpretentious big bottle and you think, "There is gonna be some drinkin'!"

And here is one more helpful certainty: political economist and wine expert Dr. Tyler Colman has determined that on the East Coast, it is more "carbon efficient" to drink wine shipped from Europe rather than trucked across the continent from California.

It is good for a maximizer to place boundaries on the seemingly limitless (and therefore oppressive) array of choices. It allows him to focus on such confounding questions as, "Is the Cotes du Roussillon really the world's most exciting wine region today?" and "Can I serve a creamy Chardonnay without losing my wine cred?"

Of course, the one boundary I really need is a deadline.


Break Bread/Cut Rug

Both of us grew up in the apparatus of Catholic education--some combination of Catholic schools and CCD--during a time when the so-called Baltimore Catechism was no longer taught and had not yet been replaced. Our religious education was somewhat unbounded and had a very different flavor from that which our parents received, which was quite classical and involved the memorization of many definitions and rules. But we were, like our parents, made to memorize something specific that stays with me:

"A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace."

These days, it's far more common to hear sacraments described as milemarkers, ceremonies that highlight and bless certain passages in life. This is a grace, for sure. But in planning our wedding, we have hoped to retain some of the old-fashioned sense of "giving grace." It is not merely describing an event, but it is bringing about a fundamental change. It might be doing something, dare I say it, supernatural.

We also hope to retain the role of Christ. There is no shortage of people who think it odd that we remain committed and practicing Catholics. There are many who assume we are the "wink-and-a-nudge" kind of Christians--that we are in it for the showbiz. Speaking for myself, if not for Michael, it's not the "outward sign" part that keeps me practicing the sacraments. It's the Christ, and the grace.

This sacramental sense should be felt in every part of our wedding day. From the ceremony to the dinner to the dance party. There's a reason why this wedding-day structure is the norm: because it fits the way we humans experience encounters with grace. We pray, we share, we celebrate. We are not going to water it down by replacing the scriptures with love poems, or substituting speeches for prayers. We have selected readings that are so full of revelation that they blow my mind every time I read them. We have been scouring the missal and Book of Common Prayer for the right words and the right order of parts. And when the disco music starts, we may turn into a different sense of ceremony, but it ought still to be elevating of the soul!


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Shall We Dance?

We are both torn on the idea of "special" dances at the wedding. We have both been to many a wedding where the guests sit quietly, politely, growing hungrier by the minute, while various relations of the bride and groom swap dances, awkwardly swaying flatfooted to all five and half minutes of "Butterfly Kisses". Needless to say we are against it.

We will dance with our mothers and we will dance with each other. That's it. And now, I'm even having second thoughts about the latter. I always thought of it as unavoidable. But this week brought some news that should give any would-be spouse cause for alarm. While the chance that our rhythm-less attempts at harmonious coupling on the dance floor will embarrass us remains the same, the chance that one of us will keel over mid-two-step has become infinitely* greater! That's right. In Florida, a bride died in the middle of her first dance!

Granted she had a heart condition brought about by childhood diabetes, and I'm pretty sure that my non-alcoholic steatohepatitis carries no acute threat of fatality. However, as if I didn't have enough to think about planning this thing, now I have to worry about Ira Gershwin killing me with a thirty-two bar song structure....

* In order to determine the -fold increase in a phenomenon, one simply takes the current number of instances of the occurrence and divides by the previous number of instances. In this case, there were previously zero (0) reported deaths during wedding first-dances; now there is at least one (1) reported death. And everyone knows that any number divided by zero is infinity!


The American Dream

I'm happy that this election year dovetails so well with the wedding "theme" we established back when we got engaged in '06 (and which is also the title of this here blog). At the very least, there will be a guaranteed topic for table conversations at dinner!

Of course, "united" is probably a poor description of our country today. I think that since 1991 when it was abruptly decided that culture is a set of wars and cable news networks should be the battlefields, our political and civil society has had an unhealthy fixation on winning at any cost. The necessarily combative structures of a democracy are supposed to create good outcomes, not merely victorious ones.

That said, I have my own unhealthy fixation on winning, and there's no excluding this wedding from my competitiveness. When we reserved our caterer a couple of weeks ago, she told us that October 11 may be the biggest wedding day of 2008. So we won the race to book perhaps the most presitigious caterer in Durham! The early bird gets the worm and all that.

On the downside, it's important to remember that we are not quickly winning the fight to expand marriage equality, and none of the three viable candidates for President is going to show any leadership on that issue. Still, going ahead with a meaningful and beautiful wedding that consecrates our marriage in front of family and community? That feels a lot like winning.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Set It Off

Today I caught myself boasting about the small carbon footprint of our wedding, when I realized that dozens of people will be flying to RDU to attend. That will make for a very substantial footprint indeed!

"Offsets" are ways to neutralize the impacts of our purchases by investing in projects that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Offsets are controversial, because it is not always clear that the money is effectively reducing GHG pollution in the reported amount or in the specified way.

Fortunately, there is enough interest in offsets today that you can get good information and make good decisions that really will neutralize your travel to our wedding--so you can come celebrate with no guilt at all!

We recommend that you purchase offsets from e-BlueHorizons LLC, a company that captures GHGs from landfills in New England and uses them to produce (renewable) energy. We know that they have been thoroughly scrutinized, and they really do offset as much pollution as they say they will. Additionally, they use a portion of their profits to plant trees in the Mississippi Valley--which further sequesters carbon dioxide from the air. And, we like that they are specially helping New England, a part of the country that is dear to us and where many of our guests live.

Most of our guests only need to offset one metric ton of carbon to make up for their round-trip flight to North Carolina. But, e-BlueHorizons only sells offsets in multiples of 10. What to do? Here are three suggestions:

1. Pool your money with other wedding guests--a batch of 10 offset tons only costs $50.
2. Give the excess as a gift to someone who loves to travel.
2. Come visit us more!

If you want to learn more about Offsets, visit fightglobalwarming.com. There are also other "certified" providers there, including companies in Illinois and California.

An even better thing to do for the environment is to eschew air travel altogether. Rail travel will save 90% of the CO2 emissions caused by air travel, and some people actually enjoy the opportunity to enjoy a little wine and cheese, watch the countryside go by, and avoid the security line hassle. The Carolinian will take you from Penn Station to downtown Durham in 10-1/2 hours for $158 round trip, or $236 business class.

Finding in our wedding an opportunity to fight global warming makes it a happier occasion, I hope you will agree!


Monday, February 4, 2008

I Love an Itinerary

On Saturday, Gunndi, the aggressively affectionate puppy, and I went for a short hike on the Eno River. I thought it might be a nice activity for the wedding weekend, and it got me thinking about organizing activities for our out-of-town guests--which is to say, the majority of our guests. Since it's a long weekend, we might even have a little extra time. Then again, we're trying to save money the DIY way, so the only activities may involve flower arranging and gift-bag preparation.

I had some other ideas, including a golf outing, seeing as how the Piedmont is the golf center of the universe. On "Whose Wedding Is It Anyway" the grooms always are late for their weddings because they're out golfing. Neither Michael nor I will be golfing. And since we'll probably be driving to the farm together early in the morning with a trunk full of flowers and gift bags, I doubt that either of us will be late.

Maybe we could combine our fun-making with good-doing, in the form of a charity run. There is also a "Tobacco Heritage Walk" on that Saturday morning in downtown Durham.

My inclination as always will be to try to squeeze too much in. Gunndi and I had this past weekend fully scheduled in half-hour increments. Help me help you have fun instead of feeling rushed!