Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You Better Shop Around

After complaining bitterly about our vendors, I had lovely conversations today with two of them. How annoying! Where is my righteous indignation now?!

Even though I hadn't ever spoken to either of these vendors, they were totally familiar with our wedding. One told me she knows our farmers/hosts and they are all excited about our celebration, and the other said she's planning to visit our site tomorrow. What an unexpectedly high level of customer service . . .

In other vendor-twilight-zone moments, I received these five quotes for our remaining printing needs: $492, $320, $286, $251, $161. Those are five radically different prices for the exact same print job! What gives?

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Just As Unique As You Are

I'll admit to reading wedding blogs and watching wedding shows and skimming wedding magazines in the check-out line. It's a fun thing that one is only allowed to do (justifiably) for a few months. It's as if you only get one Christmas in your whole life - you maximize and exploit the opportunity.

In the spirit of over-doing it, it's great to try to get wedding ideas from the mainstream, heterosexual-dominated Matrimonial Industrial Complex. Our wedding will be a lot like straight people's weddings, with the flowers and the music and catering and stuff. Why not take some cues from their awesome celebrations?

But this morning, I learned from a particularly bizarre forum on Weddingbee that apparently many straight people don't want to share their wedding media with us, and they certainly don't want to highlight gay people's experiences on their websites. Apparently bandwidth - and compassion and justice - are in short supply.

But we need our space on those websites and magazines and TV shows - and it's not just to make a political point. Until there is enough gay-specific wedding media out there, you awesome/crazy brides have got to share with us!

Their "cover" argument is that highlighting gay weddings creates a "separate but equal" situation - that since gay people's weddings are just like straight people's weddings, there's no need to give them their own online space. Obviously, this is a strawman. It doesn't take a minute's thought to see why a gay bride or groom might specifically want to look at pictures of a gay wedding.

Here are some of the tricky questions that we have had to navigate, with little guidance from the Knot or Martha Stewart or those ridiculous shows on Oxygen and We:

What do two grooms wear? Should they match or contrast or complement each other? What have other grooms done, and what looks good? Where on earth can we find enough good pictures of enough beautiful weddings to get some ideas?

How do two grooms dance together? Should we play it up, or play it down? Choreography? Just boogie around like a couple of fools? What does a two-groom foxtrot look like? Beautiful or ridiculous? Where can we see examples?

How do two grooms walk up the aisle? How can we capture the traditional spirit of the wedding procession, while acknowledging what's different, but doing it in a simple and subtle way? What have other couples - male and female - done? Who has the pictures and who can explain their line of reasoning?

What are some "new traditions" to replace or supplement the old (but fun!) hetero-normative ones, like the bouquet and garter tosses and the classic Midwestern Shot Line? There must be hundreds of stories of what worked and what didn't - we need to see options that fit our style and our celebration. Show us!

So, we're not being greedy or "political" when we ask for something like Queer Wedding Wednesdays. Maybe there's a money-making idea out there for me to establish my own Queer Weddings version of the Knot (hey - I'm patenting that right this second).

I can't deny that looking at pictures of same-sex and other queer weddings brings the political issues of marriage equality and justice right to the forefront, right in front of your face as you're trying to do something as light-hearted as choose a letterpress printer or a cake flavor. But that's exactly the point - letting us share in the fun in a way that works for everybody will quickly and finally lay all these tensions and debates to rest.

Where are my awesome brides at? LOVE YOU LADIES!

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Nightmare on Charlotte Street

It is very common for me, and many other people, to have anxiety dreams when they are stressed. And while Emerson and I have thrown our fair share of large parties, this is by far the biggest and most expensive and thus it is obviously a cause for a fair bit of stress. And the lack of any real responsiveness from the vendors has done nothing to east that anxiety. Consequently I haven't gotten a good night's sleep in weeks. Every night (and I am not exaggerating about the "every") I have had a wedding-related nightmare. In my dream world, everything that can possibly go wrong has.

Some were simple. I have forgotten to arrange shuttle buses and so no one comes. The DJ didn't have any of the music we want to play. The brass quintet didn't show up.

Some were more complex. The cat got loose and we had to find her; why the cat was at the wedding is still unknown. Emerson and I and a small entourage left early in search of a bar because we needed to find a particular beer JLaw had once in Brooklyn four years ago. Oh, and it was snowing.

But by far my favorite nightmare was the one in which we forgot to have a) the cocktail hour, b) the first dance, c) the toasts, and d) the dessert. Everyone was done so quickly that the wedding only lasted 30 min. And yet we somehow still managed to run out of alcohol.

Yet what freaks me out the most is that I have yet to have the mother of all nightmares, the only event that is, unlike my missing cat, actually likely to screw us over: the nightmare in which it rains.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Frendors and Venemies - Pick Up Your Phones!

I raise money for a living. I have done so for several years. Some parts of my job are difficult - writing long proposals, organizing big events, preparing complicated budgets. But perhaps the easiest and most important part of my job is returning phone calls. It is often the tiny, crucial difference between yes and no from a donor. I want to teach our vendors the why and how of using telephones to make money.

To assess their current competence with regard to telephony, I have created this short quiz:

1. Let's say you are the manager of a transportation company. You receive an email from a customer confirming coach service for a date four weeks from today. You reply with a terse email demanding a phone call and immediate payment. The customer quickly dials the number you have provided. What do you do? Do you a.) answer the phone or b.) let it go to voicemail? If you answered b.), do you ignore the message or reply?

2. Let's say you are the manager of a wine store. An engaged couple has visited your store to talk about wine selections for their upcoming wedding. Of course, you are extremely courteous and helpful in discussing their preferences and their budget. You send them home with a few bottles to taste, and tell them to email you with their entire order within a week. You provide the store's email address and emphasize that they should write, "Attn: Manager" in the subject line. They send you an order amounting to almost $2,000 of wine - a major and serious purchase for this young couple. Do you reply to thank them and confirm their order and arrange for payment? Or, do you leave them hanging with no response for 5, 6, 7 days???

3. Let's say you are the menswear manager of a small, posh boutique. An engaged couple has ordered custom formalwear for their wedding. They are prepared to spend more on these garments than they have ever spent for anything other than their car. After they place their order, let's say you make a little forgivable mistake, and forget to send it along to the workshop. But, that's okay! You fix the problem in plenty of time. Later, one of the grooms phones you to check on the delivery date. You say, "They have not arrived yet, but I'll check on them, and call you right back!" What do you do? Do you check on it and call back right away? Or do you ignore the question and never call back at all???

I know some of these questions may be tricky for neophytes, luddites and (apparently) people who make their living through sales. But try your best! There could be a career in it!

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Pints Go Marzen In

A few days ago we realized that, while we had spent a fair amount of time trying to choose wines to serve, we had spent relatively little time thinking about beer. We didn't want to be lazy and serve Corona or some crap like that. And while my love and admiration for Yuengling is greater than should be allowable for a mass-produced domestic lager, the committee voted it down. And by "committee" I mean Emerson.

So we toyed around with the idea of serving local craft brews, which fits in very well with our focus on locally produced and sustainable food choices. But while the Triangle actually has a great selection and variety of microbrews, they tend to run close to 10 bucks a six-pack. Add the 75c "corking" fee per bottle if we choose not to get Heinekens from the caterer (like that would even be a choice) and we have another case of the committee voting in the negative. And by "committee" I mean me.

So if you can't go with the oldest beer in the country, and you can't go local, what's left? Seasonal! We're both suckers for Oktoberfestbiers, and a pale lager that's not over-hopped seemed perfect for a late summer / early fall wedding. But with so many craft beers as well as major labels making a beer they call "Oktoberfest", exactly how do you choose?...

Beer tasting! Last weekend Emerson I and trucked our way over to the beer store (a chore, I know), and snatched up every beer labeled "Oktoberfest" or that had some sort of visual aid on the bottle that implied we should be drinking it in October, such as an orange leaf or a scarecrow. And then we sat down in front of the Mets game (watched them kick the Phillies' collected asses, but I digress) and tasted away. With notes!

Almost every beer we tried would have sufficed, since we culled the obvious losers at the store, but we pretty much landed on two. First, Spaten. Made in the traditional Marzen style, it's pale with just enough sweetness to balance out the light hops. It's truly refreshing and a quintessential Oktoberfestbier. (Of course, nothing else in this wedding is German and importing twelve-ounce bottles from across the Atlantic isn't exactly sustainable, but I refuse to dwell upon this fact any longer than this parenthetical statement). Our second choice isn't technically an Oktoberfestbier, though to it's credit it doesn't claim to be: Redhook Late Harvest. A classic American red ale, it was full flavored yet smooth; should be a great choice to go with dinner, especially if the weather is on the cooler side. Also, it's from New Hampshire; the connection should be obvious.

Now, I suppose this also an appropriate time to wax nostalgic over my halcyon days as a study abroad student and my October excursion to Munich and the Hofbrauhaus, a madcap adventure that I'm sure was entirely unique to me and my buddy Adam and that no other college student experienced in the years leading up to, or the years following, that fateful trip where I drank beer out of comically gigantic glasses with 2,000 other American and English college students and which is undeniably the most authentic experience one can possibly have in a foreign country. But I won't mention it, because it has little to do with my big gay wedding 12 years later. Although I am now vaguely inspired to start a new blog all about the utterly unique and unprecedented experiences I had in college...

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The Real Meaning of Nonplussed

We are now projecting attendance in the 80-88 range. Down from 105 last week (and as many as 115 earlier this summer). I guess this is the double-edged sword of a "destination" wedding. It's plenty of people to have a good time - but still feels a little disappointing.

The upside is, I am no longer the least bit stressed about the budget. The downside is, I'm worried that the scale of some of our choices (especially the tent) is too big for this party now.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Loosen Your Belts, Visitors

The primary reason we wanted to get married in Durham is that we live here - being the control freaks we are, we couldn't imagine planning a distant wedding (even though it might have benefited our mental health). The second reason is that we could stretch our money much, much farther here than we could in New York or Connecticut.

The third reason - almost as important as the first two - is that Durham is a food mecca, one of the real centers of the farm-to-table movement. Not only have we striven to make our wedding embody those principles (most of the food will have traveled only a few miles, and much of it only a few yards), but we really want to encourage our out-of-town guests to experience some of the culinary treasures that Durham and Chapel Hill have to offer.

But you don't have to take our word for it! Bon Appetit is calling Durham-Chapel Hill "America's Foodiest Small Town!"

We included a big guide to our favorite Durham food-and-drink spots with the invitation, so that guests could plan their dining itinerary in advance. (How many times have you arrived in an unfamiliar town for a wedding only to end up eating in the hotel or at the diner across the street?)

I have reproduced our guide below (with links!) and added some more suggestions that couldn't fit in the print version. It's going to be a busy weekend, so plan and call ahead!

Piedmont is our favorite restaurant. Local, fresh, seasonal food inspired by French and Italian country cuisine. Superb wine and cocktail list. Also great for brunch. Reservations required 919-683-1213.

Brightleaf Square. This tobacco warehouse was one of the first turned into a shopping and dining destination. On Friday evenings there is live music in the picturesque courtyard, and locals are really raving about newly opened Piazza Italia, especially the gelato. However, do not fail to cross the street to The Federal for the best fries and French-Mexican-pub-grub in Durham and a terrific selection of local brews. Or, go around the corner to Pop’s (919-956-7677) on Peabody Street, a trattoria and pizzeria focused on local ingredients and housed in an old laundry.

Rue Cler is a new and very popular French restaurant and bakery just steps away from the Marriott, great for lunch, dinner or just an espresso. Reservations suggested 919-682-8844.

American Tobacco Campus. Across from the Durham Bulls park, the ATC has several restaurants with comfortable outdoor seating. We like Tyler’s Taproom with its extensive beer list, good pub food and always-crowded poolroom.

Pizza Palace is our local pizza joint in an old barn with a huge picture of Elvis in the window and some of the best New York pizza outside the boroughs. No, seriously.

Front Street. There are several restaurants right across the street from the Courtyard including cheap Chinese and Mexican, should you have a craving. For something very nice, we recommend Papa’s Grille, an upscale Greek-influenced restaurant for dinner or drinks in its elegant bar (Reservations suggested 919-383-8502). The Front Street Café serves excellent salads and panini at lunch time and delicious cinnamon rolls in the morning.

Ninth Street. Choices abound in this pedestrian-friendly old-fashioned shopping neighborhood. For breakfast try Elmo’s Diner for eggs and country ham or the Mad Hatter’s Bakeshop for croissants and pastries. For lunch or dinner we recommend Vin Rouge (Reservations required 919-416-0406), a classic French bistro, Blu Seafood & Bar (919-286-9777), or Dain’s Place for some of the best burgers in town. The newest addition to the neighborhood is Ox & Rabbit, a soda shop straight out of the 1950s.

Ninth Street is also home to probably Durham's most famous restaurant, the Magnolia Grill, the temple - if not the birthplace - of New Southern Cuisine. This place has been listed on countless "Best Of" lists since the 1980s, and the restaurant and its owners are multiple James Beard Award nominees and winners.

Watts Grocery. The restaurant owned by the chef catering our wedding, also featuring new interpretations of Southern classics and Southern twists on bistro favorites. Great for brunch or dinner. Stop by late night for some hushpuppies or red velvet cake at the bar (Reservations suggested 919-416-5040). And when you’re finished, head next door to the Green Room, the dive bar from “Bull Durham.”

In the Forest Hills neighborhood just south of downtown (nothing is far in our little city), is the small culinary empire of Scott Howell. The flagship restaurant is Nana's, where Howell's years of apprenticeship under David Bouley are really evident. Next door, Howell has recently opened an excellent and interesting wood-fired pizzeria called Rockwood Filling Station. On the same block, Howell runs an unimpressive Texas-style barbecue shop, for unknown reasons.

For a mix of local seafood and flown-in fish prepared in local styles, a funky Durham spot is Bennett Point Grill. A bit out of the way, but well worth it for the good, inexpensive food and relaxed vibe. Nearby is Bennett Place, historic farmhouse and site of the largest surrender of the Civil War. Bennett Point and Bennett Place juxtapose important, interesting elements of Carolina culture. Make it a daytrip!

Chapel Hill also has enough destination dining to fill an entire blog of its own. Sticking near to the Franklin Street corridor (the main axis through town), you'll encounter A Southern Season, the Angkor Wat of food shops, and its cafe The Weathervane; the Lantern, dedicated to local ingredients but adding an uncommon Asian flare and speakeasy-like lounge in the back; and Crook's Corner, a true Southern classic as evidenced by the constant crowds.

Some of you will not be satisfied with tasting only the barbecue we serve you at the reception, and we hope some will take this trip to North Carolina as a porcine pilgrimage. There are countless mediocre barbecue joints claiming to be authentic, but only two we really recommend. Allen & Son serves archetypal eastern barbecue done perfectly along with delicious Brunswick Stew in Chapel Hill. Dillard's serves an amazing kind of barbecue that is unique to Durham and found nowhere else - absolutely memorable, but closed on Sunday.

Once you have eaten your way through all these suggestions, you will be ready to move down here and live by us. That's when we'll start talking about the best Indian, Thai, Japanese and Mexican food in the area!

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Crafty!


For each weekend left until the wedding, we have little projects, mostly arts and crafts. Thankfully, we know that all the really big stuff is covered (catering, venue, music, ceremony). I'm glad we got those things out of the way so we could feel free to try some slightly outlandish (for us) things that might fail, knowing they are of minor importance.

Our first project was actually rather successful. We are using the very traditional two-card seating system. Each guest will pick up an "escort card" upon entering the reception tent, and then at each seat will be a "place card." I believe that giving people specific seating assignments helps alleviate the awkwardness of choosing your spot at a "mixed" table of friends and strangers.

It only came to mind recently that this system doesn't exactly lend itself to an outdoor wedding. Lots of little pieces of paper flying around is neither charming nor particularly "green." Fortunately, we are not the first people to seek a way to hold those little cards down.

Somewhere in my obsessive scouring of the internet's matrimonial treasures, I found a picture of an escort table crisscrossed with ribbon. It looked quite lovely – very formal, and a bit more interesting than some of the simpler options. I filed it away in my mind, but later – couldn't remember where I had seen it.

Fortunately, this project is more popular as a bulletin board than as a tabletop, so applicable examples and instructions were widely available. Also, Michael and I – although not artsy/craftsy – are also not total idiots. Thanks to the crafts store that bears my fiancé's name, we were able to assemble enough ribbon, scrap booking supplies and double-sided tape (no hot glue guns - that's a serious level of commitment) to make this happen.

The downside of this project is that I spent hours looking for the escort-table idea that I had remembered but failed to bookmark. In doing so, I saw so many - dozens upon dozens! - of great place card ideas. I felt so inferior to all these creative folks! I realized how many cool, creative projects we hadn't even tried. But I didn't want to change course. A simple, utilitarian display is infinitely more "our style" than any cool deployment of corks, pine cones, seashells or origami.

And I am sure that no one will show up to our wedding having just spent hours clicking through galleries at The Knot or MS Weddings. I hope not, anyway!

Update: Look what somebody else posted today (!): http://tinyurl.com/682455

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No Postage Required if Mailed in the United States


I started to worry about seating charts. As in many things, I wanted to get a head start on what I know from experience can be a complicated and tedious task.

So, we developed a system. Using color-coded Post-It notes, we began arranging guests at 13 tables. It was fun at first. Give me a yellow! (Confirmed attendee.) Give me a blue! (Expected, but not confirmed). We need two purples over here! (Seat fillers, like at the Oscars.)

Unfortunately, fun turned to frustrating quickly. Do you want to know why - and how you can help?

Because we are waiting for 98 RSVPs! I know, I know - you have 9 days still to reply. But why wait?! Give us a hand people, send them in - especially if we don't know if we are holding 0, 2, 4 or 6 seats for you!

So, we tried and tried to figure out a seating chart and all the possible permutations of classmates, distant relatives and political confederates. As you can see from the visual evidence on the right, we eventually hit a wall and - shamefully! - resorted to drowning our sorrows in fruity cocktails.

Keep us out of rehab! Send your postage-paid RSVP cards today!

(n.b., These fruity cocktails are not a preview of what will be served at our wedding reception.)

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