Monday, November 30, 2009

And Speaking of Colors....

I remember exactly when I realized that I'd be really into the idea of a non-diamond engagement ring. Mr. Octopus and I were in the midst of a four-day vacation to San Francisco to celebrate the end of my first year of teaching (and any teacher could tell you it really is something to celebrate!). We were poking around an antique shop in the Castro when I spotted it: a display case of antique gemstone rings.

I basically reacted like this:

but without the diaper. (Source.)

Mr. O and I really weren't talking marriage at all yet then, but I even said something like, "if you're ever thinking about asking me to marry you, I want a ring like that!"

Fast forward two years, and we had both realized that marriage was indeed in the cards for us. Mr. Octopus was super-nervous about choosing the right engagement ring, and asked for some guidance, which I was more than happy to provide. After some research, my requests were: aquamarine, white gold, squarish-shaped, with a diamond halo.

Here's what he came up with:

Please forgive this utterly non-artsy photography.

I basically fainted and died when he presented me with this ring. It is exactly what I had dreamed of, and I love it to (maybe) a slightly scary degree. It means so much to me that he took the time to save his money, research his options, and choose something that was exactly what I wanted.

Mostly, I've gotten lots of really kind compliments on my left finger jewelry. Unfortunately, though, I've also discovered that not everybody reacts with the googly eyes that I got upon seeing my not-quite-traditional ring. I've gotten comments that have ranged from a barely-disguised-as-polite "Oh. Well, that's.......pretty" all the way up to a burst of incredulous laughter, followed by, "do you like that?!"

At first, I felt really insulted when people made rude remarks, but you know what? Their problem, and their bad manners, not mine. This ring was an incredibly generous gift from the man who loves me, and it's a symbol of the lifelong commitment we're preparing to make to each other. Nothing anybody says could diminish what this ring means to me.

So here's what I've learned from my non-diamond-engagement-ring-having experience:
A big diamond ring is a legitimate engagement ring.
A small diamond ring is a legitimate engagement ring.
A gemstone ring is a legitimate engagement ring.
An unadorned metal band is a legitimate engagement ring.

A twisty tie can be an engagement ring, a rubber band can be an engagement ring, or (as I sometimes told Mr. O when I was waiting not-very-patiently for him to propose), a Ring Pop can be an engagement ring. Heck, you don't need an engagement ring at all. Whatever you and your fiance choose to symbolize the love, commitment, and partnership between the two of you is all you need to be engaged. If you want a big ol' diamond, that's fine! If you want nothing, that's cool too! Rock whatever you want to symbolize your commitment, and rock it proudly. Don't let anyone else's judgments get you down. The only people who get to assign a meaning to your ring are you and your future spouse.

How did you choose your engagement ring? What does it mean to you? Any other non-traditional rings out there?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Heart Colors

I'm currently a full-time grad student, but in the three years before this, I was a seventh grade English teacher. I don't know if you remember this from your own time as a seventh grader, but twelve-to-thirteen-year-olds are truly ridiculous creatures. Among the many (many, many) funny stories I have from those three years, one of my favorites involves the time all the girls in my third period decided to give each other, and me, nicknames. My new alias was Rainbow, based on the wide variety of brightly-colored shirts I wore to school; my wardrobe was, according to the girls' helpful analysis, especially heavy on red, pink, purple, and blue.

Point being? I really like bright colors, and when it came time to think about ideas for the wedding, my brain went straight towards vibrant shades. I checked with my groom, and to my non-surprise, this was a wedding issue where he had virtually no opinion. His only requests? "No pink and no pastels." No problem!

Now, a confession: in addition to my passion for the stronger shades of the spectrum, I am also a lifelong wedding enthusiast. I've been an eager consumer of wedding photos for as long as I can remember. Lots and lots has changed since my high school days of discussing fantasy weddings with my friends, but the one thing that has remained a constant through all these years is the idea of a dark red bridal bouquet. Something about the contrast with a white gown is just so dramatic and striking to me!

In fact, here's the first photo that really gave me the warm-and-fuzzies when I was starting to actually plan our wedding:

Mrs. Cookie's bouquet: YUMMMMMMM.

The fact that I fell into a swoon at the sight of red bouquets, combined with our wedding date being set for late September, made dark cranberry red an easy choice for the main color. Then, I set to figuring out how to accent that choice. Rather than continuing to talk about it, I'll just show you what I came up with.

Cranberry red...

Bouquet, centerpieces, cake, cranberries, and dress.

...jewel-toned shades of purple...

Wine, beads, plum, everything else.

...with liberal helpings of chocolate brown and gold.

Cake, necklace, reception room, champagne, candles, programs, and hot chocolate.

I'm going for a vibrant, rich, jewel-toned palette. Since these are such strong, dark colors, though, I feel like I may occasionally be walking a fine line between "cozy and rich" and "kinda goth and intense." Just something to check myself on, I guess!

What does everyone else think? Any suggestions?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reception Venue Hunting

As Pitt alums, Mr. Octopus and I never had a doubt in our minds where our ceremony would be: Heinz Chapel, the chapel affiliated with the University.



Gorrrrrrgeous, huh?! It's extra-special to us, because Mr. O performed in the university chorus here several times every year, and I was his number-one fan out in the audience. Booking Heinz Chapel was our very first wedding decision.

That left us to find a reception venue, and Mom Octopus, MOH/sister Lauren, Mr. O and I took a whirlwind three-day tour of potential places. We visited seven, but ruled out four immediately. Two were at the high end of the price range and were very neutral palettes (meaning they'd cost a lot to decorate), one just didn't have sparks for any of us, and one was great....for someone else. Think cement floors, white walls, exposed pipes....very funky-industrial-urban-loft style. To quote my MOH/sister: "you are not cool or hip enough to have your wedding in this place." 100% true. That left us with three heavyweight contenders:

Contender #1: The Mansion at Maple Heights
This venue is an old mansion from back when Pittsburgh was in the midst of the the robber baron days. It's now been purchased and renovated into an event space.



  • Very private--the house itself is tucked away in a secluded, residential area in a gorgeous neighborhood (Shadyside, for you Pittsburghers). You rent out the entire house and backyard for your event; you really have it all to yourself.
  • A five-minute drive from our ceremony location.
  • Also doubles as a bed-and-breakfast, and the upstairs is to die for. You can rent out the whole thing for yourselves and your bridal party, and it comes with a kitchen stocked with snacks and drinks, a giant theater room with video game systems and DVDs, and big, luxurious suites. Amazing co-ed bridal party sleepover! MOH Lauren--whose taste runs toward the finer things in life--was smitten.

I could just see all our groomsmen playing video games in here after the wedding is over. Source.

  • Completely all-inclusive; they partner with a whole team of vendors. By choosing the Mansion, the caterer, florist, linens, and other rentals are all locked in as well. If you're not that into coordinating vendors or doing a lot of planning, this might be a pro for you, but it was a con for me. I wanted more choice than that.
  • I didn't want to split our guests up into different rooms in the house for dinner, so we'd have to rent a tent in the backyard to accommodate them all. Spendy.
  • This venue is brand new; when I visited, they hadn't actually hosted a wedding yet. I was kind of nervous about their lack of experience.
  • Only has one single-stall bathroom for guests to use!
Contender #2: The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh
Here, you host the cocktail hour in the lobby of the museum, and the reception follows in the Grand Hall.

The exterior, lobby, and Great Hall of the Children's Museum. All the stuff gets cleared out of the Great Hall--but the glowing balloons stay! (Found here, here, and here.)

  • Coordinator here was very knowledgeable, flexible, and helpful.
  • When you see the space all at once, it looks whimsical, fun, and striking, but also doesn't read as childish, especially when set up for an event. Also, has a giant Foucault pendulum that separates the dinner area from the dancing area. Awesome.
  • Tables and chairs included in the rental fee.
  • Does not have a liquor license, meaning that you provide your own alcohol. CHA-CHING!!!!
  • MOH/sister's sage opinion once again: "this is very you."
  • I had an ideal, dream caterer, and the exclusive partner here isn't it. Their partner caterer has a reputation floating around the Internet for being delicious, but expensive.
  • Definitely the farthest (and potentially most confusing) drive from the ceremony for guests to make.
Contender #3: Heinz History Center
This is a museum about the history of Pittsburgh, located in my favorite of all Pittsburgh neighborhoods, the Strip District. (As in a strip of markets and specialty food shops. Don't be saucy.)

The exterior of the museum, and some different angles of the reception location. (Found here and here.)

  • Gorgeous, and distinctly museum-y ambiance made our geeky hearts sing with joy. Warm lighting, brick walls, Pittsburgh memorabilia. Yum.
  • The best coordinator of all. Extremely professional, responsive, and prepared, with books upon books of inspiration photos.
  • Uses the same caterer as the Children's Museum--but this place DOES have a liquor license. You have to purchase your open bar from them. Gulp.
  • Includes nothing at all--you have to rent every table, chair, fork, and spoon.
Once we sat down and weighed all the pros and cons, the choice was actually pretty easy. We picked the Children's Museum! I am so, so, so excited to host our wedding reception here. I loved the Heinz History Center, but the price just wouldn't work for us. Even though it uses the same caterer as the Children's Museum, it's inclusive of fewer things. The savings was significant enough to basically make the choice for us.

Unfortunately, it also means that my very favorite caterer in all of Pittsburgh--Big Burrito--is out. That was a bit of a disappointment, but you win some and you lose some in wedding planning, I suppose.

Overall, I'd say our venue hunt went really smoothly. It was really helpful to have some different perspectives represented: YAY!!! WEDDING!!! (me), extremely practical (Mom Octopus), moderator between the two (MOH Lauren), and agreeable to whatever (Mr. O). Altogether, I think our questions and ideas were really able to cover all the bases, and we walked away with a good perspective of what each venue could provide.

What was important to you in choosing your reception venue? Did your search go pretty well, or was it a struggle?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I Ran With the Brides...

...and I lived to tell the tale.

Participating in the Running of the Brides was what you might call "a life experience." Another way to say it would be "absolutely ridonkulous." My running team and I did a lot of prep work in the weeks leading up to the big day--there may or may not have been PowerPoint presentations assembled--so I thought some personal experience might be helpful to any other running brides with dreams of a cheap dress and a healthy sense of bloodlust.

I wasn't running for myself--I was a foot soldier for one of my best friends, Erica. We are mutual bridesmaids--I'm going to be hers in April, and she'll be one of mine in September. I had to have her back! The team consisted of Erica, Erica's mom, MOH Kelly, bridesmaid Lauren, friend Jill, and myself. And guess what? We were one of the crazy groups of people camped out on the sidewalk for an entire night before the event (since 11 PM, to be exact. Ca. Razy.).

Setting up camp, and one last photo before settling down for the night!

Why was this such a big deal? Why did we build ourselves a little compound of sleeping bags and lawn chairs on the asphalt in the middle of the night in the summer in Washington DC?

Because of this:

Sources: here and here.

Do you hear the choir of angels singing? It's Monique Lhuillier's Scarlet! Fact: One of my beloved Erica's defining characteristics is her champagne taste. I am not kidding when I tell you it's like she has some kind of laser beam in her brain that zeroes in on the most expensive item in any given store. Naturally, this gorgeous dress was The One for her--but sadly, the price tag on that sucker was just not feasible. So we decided to make the run in hopes of finding it, or something like it.

Team LBB poses for one more (terrible) photo. LBB stood for "Low Budget B*tches" because we are klassy. Then, my fabulous bride friend made her sign.

When the doors opened at eight AM, we were among the first groups to make it inside the store; we had the full "sprinting and yanking dresses off the racks like a hungry lion" experience. I was seriously sweating bullets! But, to be honest with you, that wasn't the most insane part--the bartering, negotiating, and dress-trying-on follow-through was even more intense (for me, at least). The store was absolutely crammed to the gills with women running around with armfuls of wedding dresses, so it was crowded in an epic way. Crazy and fun, but not for the faint of heart!

The run began just a few minutes after this photo was taken!

Here are a few tips I'd recommend. There's lots of good advice out there already, so check out those suggestions as well!

Bring water and wear layers. Like I said, the store was packed, it was July, and lots of people were either running around or frantically changing in and out of dresses. It got REALLY FLIPPIN' HOT in there. After awhile, I had stripped down to the skimpy camisole I was wearing under my team t-shirt, which was rather indecent, but better than sweating my face off. You will feel much better if someone manages to cram some fresh water into a fanny pack somewhere.

If you are looking for a specific dress by a specific designer, this may not be the event for you. Sadly, things did not work out for Erica! We scoured every corner of that store, and I am one hundred percent confident that the Scarlet wasn't there anywhere. Erica very gamely tried on lots of other beautiful dresses, but The One is The One. We left dress-less. (She did eventually find a gorgeous pre-owned Monique online though!)

Be nice to the dresses. A few times I saw girls changing dresses so hurriedly that they put their foot through the tulle/ripped a seam open/tore the lacy overlay (and so on), which destroys a perfectly good dress. Can you imagine finding a dress you love and being so frantic that you wreck it?! No matter how much adrenaline is rushing through your veins, the dresses are not on fire, so remember to take a deep breath and slooowwww down.

Be methodical. Take your time and remember who you've talked to, who has dresses your bride might like, and where they are. If you run around like a chicken with its head cut off, you will put yourself into a tizzy and forget everything. Very counterproductive. Not like I'm speaking from direct experience or anything.

Finally, one last piece of information: I saw lots of ballgown silhouettes, and very few mermaid/trumpet/fit-and-flares. I saw lots of beaded and/or ruched styles, but not much lace. I saw a lot of mid-range designers (Pronovias, La Sposa, Melissa Sweet, Amsale, Junko Yoshioka) and absolutely none of the big guns (Vera and Monique).

Who else has survived the Running? Any tips to share?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Great Location Debate, Part 2

So, when I last left off, the Steel City Groom and I had our hearts set on a Pittsburgh wedding, but the Steel City Parents were not exactly over the moon about it. As you can see, though, a Pittsburgh wedding it did indeed turn out to be. Why?

Well, this is one of the reasons:

Folks, this is the assortment of Pittsburgh paraphernalia you will find in a quick ten-minute sweep of our apartment. And our apartment ain't big. We seriously, seriously love it there. My groom and I were undeniably, totally, nonstop excited by the prospect of getting married in our favorite city, and my parents felt pretty swayed by how enthusiastic we were.

The real clincher, though, is this place:

Sources: here, here, and here.

Heinz Chapel. This site is the chapel affiliated with our alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh. Holy smokes, is it gorgeous or what?! It's special, too; you have to be linked to the University to hold your wedding ceremony there. And not only are we linked to the University, we are linked to this chapel like WHOA. Steel City Groom was a singer in the Heinz Chapel Choir for all four years of our college career, and performed in the chapel several times per year. Since I have been dating him since approximately five minutes after the beginning of our freshman year, I therefore attended every single concert he ever performed in there. We have spent a lot of time in Heinz Chapel together, and we (and especially him) desperately wanted to get married there.

So when we were still hashing out the big details of where and when, my parents asked us to explain, definitively, why this location was so important to us. And the Steel City Groom told them, very sweetly and thoughtfully, "Well, it's basically because this is the only thing I've ever dreamed of as far as a wedding is concerned. I don't really care about almost any of the details, but I always hoped I could get married in Heinz Chapel."

........COME ON. Who wouldn't be convinced by THAT?! And Pittsburgh it was.

Oh, by the way. Still don't believe me about how much my groom loves Heinz Chapel? Exhibit A:

He already owns a miniature ceramic version of it.
I rest my case.

What does the wedding location you chose mean to you and your fiance?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Great Location Debate, Part 1

My hometown is in a really, really beautiful part of western New York. I grew up in the Finger Lakes region, home to wineries a-plenty, fabulous state parks featuring gorges and waterfalls, hills and forests that would be getting extra-scenic just in time for our September wedding, and a wide assortment of picturesque locales (vineyards! farms! artsy little towns!). I love it there.

Sources: here, here, and here.

Here's the thing, though: Steel City Groom and I have never planned on getting married in the place I was raised. For as long as we've been discussing marriage, the location in our minds has been Pittsburgh. We met there, we fell in love and spent four years of our relationship there, and in a few years, we want to move back, buy a house, start a family, and live our lives there. Plus, the ceremony location has a lot of sentimental value to both of us, which I'll get to later.

Steel City Groom's parents were a-okay with our plan; as the groom's parents, I think they were anticipating just going along with whatever we decided. My parents, on the other hand, were pretty reluctant in coming around to the idea of a Pittsburgh wedding. Their rationale for wanting us to choose New York was solid. Holding the event in Pittsburgh would essentially make this a destination wedding, as 95% of our guest list would have to travel to be there. It wouldn't be insignificant travel, area is a five-hour drive from Pittsburgh, and my mom's entire (enormous) family lives in Albany, which is a good eight or nine hour drive away.

All of that was not lost on us, and I fully recognized the time and money we'd be asking our guests to spend in order to celebrate our marriage. On the other hand, Pittsburgh had its own list of pros. While both sides of my family would have an easier time traveling to my hometown, Steel City Groom's family would fare much better going to Pittsburgh. My family is very big and his is very small, but I didn't think it was fair to disregard what would be good for him and his loved ones just because he's outnumbered. Another big factor was the fact that Pittsburgh has an airport, while the nearest major airport serving my area is almost a two-hour drive away. Nearly all of our friends live in Pittsburgh, near Pittsburgh, or somewhere so far away that they'd need airport access.

That wasn't enough to convince my parents that a Pittsburgh wedding was the best choice, though. Want to know what was? You'll have to stick around!

How did you decide where to get married? Did you encounter any resistance from your families, and how did you handle it?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Meet the Steel City Couple!

HI INTERNET! I am very excited to be here, starting my wedding blog. I think a few introductions are in order.

Barely a month into my freshman year of college, my best friend dragged me to a grimy frat party, insisting that there was a guy there that she was absolutely sure I would like. She had met him in the university marching band (he was a tenor saxophonist, incidentally)and had been telling me about him for weeks, swearing up and down that he was just my type. I really didn't want to go to the party--I had to change out of my sweatpants first, a major sacrifice--but she was persuasive. I went. Unbeknownst to us, it was a toga party, and I showed up in a pink polo shirt. I felt pretty awkward, but my best friend was insistent, and she made the introduction between us.

Well, seven years later, I'm marrying the toga-clad wonder I met that night (and the friend who introduced us is a bridesmaid!). Although neither of us are from southwestern Pennsylvania, we met at our beloved University of Pittsburgh, dated there for four years, and hope to live there permanently in the not-very-distant future, so getting married there was a natural choice. We're having a wedding that I hope will be fun, whimsical, joyful, and beautiful!

We have had an adventurous life together so far--after college in Pittsburgh, we moved to Las Vegas for three years, then moved back to the East Coast. We are now currently living in fabulous Boston!

I love random facts, so here are a few pieces of trivia to help you get to know my groom and me: He loves The Simpsons, the Steelers, video games, microbrewed beer, hot dogs, and any kind of pirate mythology. His two greatest fears are Bigfoot and natural disasters. He has a scar on his abdomen, and the first time I saw it, he told me it was from being bitten by an alligator in Florida (it was actually from a stomach surgery he had as an infant). As for me, I have a crippling sweet tooth and take a lot of guilty pleasure in celebrity gossip magazines. My all-time favorite television show is My So-Called Life (holla, 90s children!). I am so compulsively organized that I can't eat M&Ms until I put them in rainbow order and I'm a sucker for top 40 pop music.

Finally, a few pictures:

These were taken in the midst of the second cross-country move we've undertaken together, when we stopped for a few days in Chicago! (source: me.)

I'm so excited to be blogging here!