Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Pittsburgh Tradition

Pittsburgh is a stronghold of a particular wedding tradition that I believe (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is exclusive to the southwestern Pennsylvania/eastern Ohio region: the cookie table.


I had never heard of this custom until I started planning my own Pittsburgh wedding, at which point I realized what a big deal it is; cookie tables are standard wedding operating procedure in good ol' PGH. It's basically exactly what it sounds like. At wedding receptions, in addition to wedding cake, a table is loaded up with dozens and dozens and dozens of cookies, of all different varieties, for guests to enjoy.


Now, I have made no secret of the fact that I am crazy for desserts, so I would welcome the prospect of having an enormous table full of additional sugar at my wedding, but there's an issue with the execution.

Traditionally, cookie tables are a family affair, usually a group effort by the female relatives of the bride and groom. My friends who are Pittsburgh natives report that in their own families, as soon as an engagement is announced, all the various aunts and grandmothers start baking and freezing batches of their specialty cookies in preparation. Adorable, right? The problem, for us, is that we are not Pittsburgh natives, and none of our family members have ever heard of such a thing.

I am lucky enough to be the niece of a batch of glorious aunts who would do anything for me, so I know that if I ASKED them to whip up hundreds of cookies for me pre-wedding, they would. I feel weird about it, though. Like I said, none of my female relatives have ever seen nor heard of a cookie table, and I'd feel kind of like a big jerk requesting that they do a ton of work (including hauling all the cookies down to the wedding from our home region of upstate New York!) in order to participate in a tradition that has nothing to do with them. I think foisting this off on them is pretty much not an option.

Pittsburgh bakeries have seized upon this niche market, of course, so I always have the option of buying a gigantic stash of cookies to stock the table. I don't love this choice either, because my budget is exploding at the seams already. Also, again, I feel weird running out and buying a huge pile of pre-made cookies when they're typically a homemade gift from family members. It seems sort of.....corporate, you know?

The most obvious and logical solution is to scrap the cookie table. I don't want to ask anyone to make the cookies, I don't want to buy the cookies, and 95% of our guests are not Pittsburghers, so no one will know the difference anyway. So why am I hesitating? Oh, because of Crazy Bride Brain, of course. Normal Logical Brain makes the very persuasive points I've listed and caps it off with, "duh, seriously, stop thinking about this." Crazy Bride Brain says, "But this wedding is supposed to CELEBRATE PITTSBURGH and our LOVE of Pittsburgh and this is the PITTSBURGHIEST THING EVER! Also, the New York Times published this article about cookie tables in December, and like, six guests have mentioned it since then, SO OBVIOUSLY PEOPLE ARE EXPECTING IT NOW!!!!"


So, Hive, I turn to you: who should I listen to, Normal Logical Brain or Crazy Bride Brain? (Although I think Crazy Bride Brain is fighting a losing battle already.)

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Coolest Wedding I Ever Accidentally Crashed

I am really, really, emphatically NOT into camping. I like being out in the wilderness, I like seeing outdoor sights, and I even like a little hiking here and there, but at the end of the day, I want to go back to my running water and my electricity and my real bed, you know what I mean? However, Mr. Octopus enjoys camping a lot, and a lot of our friends in Vegas were big-time outdoorsy types. So one weekend last year, when our closest "couple friends" invited us to go camping in Tuweep, Arizona, I knew I couldn't say no.

Tuweep is on the rim of the Grand Canyon, but it isn't the developed park area that you think of when you hear "Grand Canyon." It's on the northern edge of the Canyon, and it's one of the most incredibly rural, middle-of-nowhere places I've ever been in my life.

It's also absolutely stunningly beautiful.

And when we pulled up to our campsite for the weekend, we found ourselves neighboring one of the coolest, most unconventional weddings I've ever seen. Obviously, I was not a wedding blogger at the time, so I didn't have the foresight to stalk and photograph them, paparazzi-style. However, my friend and I WERE keeping a pretty close eye on the proceedings, so let me set the scene for you.

As we set up our camp for the weekend, we also saw the wedding group setting up for their ceremony and reception. There were about twenty or thirty people, total, in attendance, and they had brought one large RV trailer, and a whole bunch of tents.

(Sources: here and here.)

They spread linens on the picnic tables, and decorated their group campsite with simple bunches of flowers in mason jars and tealights. They also set up a picnic-style buffet.

(Sources: here and here.)


Mr. O and I went for a hike with our friends, and when we came back, the couple was in the midst of their ceremony. The bride and groom were standing right at the edge of the Grand Canyon with their guests gathered around them, and it was sunset. The bride was wearing a simple white dress, and the groom was wearing khakis. I can't overstate to you how incredibly beautiful, peaceful, and intimate it looked, even from my perspective as a random hiker/wedding crasher who was 100 feet away.

You just have to imagine a wedding ceremony in the midst of this.

After the ceremony, I could see the bride and groom and their guests playing bocce and cards, building a campfire, having some drinks, and enjoying their picnic. We could hear them laughing and enjoying themselves all the way over at our campsite.

Obviously, that couple getting married on the edge of the Grand Canyon were strangers to me, but I'd bet fifty bucks that all twenty of their guests were telling them, "this is so YOU." I really hope that's what my wedding guests think at the end of our day, too. Doing what "feels like us" has been the guiding principle behind our wedding so far, and thinking about that amazing Grand Canyon wedding has been an inspiration to me in that. Our wedding couldn't be any more different from theirs in execution, but in feeling, I hope it's very similar.

What are you doing to make sure your wedding reflects the two of you? What's the most unconventional wedding you ever attended, either accidentally or on purpose?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Best (and Only) Bridal Shower Ever

Recently, I did two things for the first time: 1.) attended a bridal shower and 2.) co-hosted a bridal shower. Yes, the bridal shower I helped to throw was the only one I've ever been to! I was kind of nervous about how it was all going to come together, since I was total novice at the whole concept of showers, but I think it turned out beautifully. I want to share the fruits of our labor, so hopefully maybe some other newbie bridesmaids could get some ideas!

The shower was for Bridesmaid Erica (whose FRIGGIN AMAZING wedding has now come and gone!). MOH Kelly thought of a great theme: cherry blossoms. Erica loooooves cherry blossoms, because they represent both Washington DC (her hometown), and Japan (a place that is very significant to her, both personally and professionally). The theme and the forces of nature intersected perfectly that weekend, by the way, because the shower coincided with the first weekend that the cherry blossoms in DC were in full bloom!

MOH Kelly worked her butt off for months gathering decor items, and when it was all set up, voila! We had ourselves a cohesive, Asian-influenced, lavender-pink-and-silver-colored, cherry-blossom-themed event!

We set up a table for favors (fortune cookies and chopsticks with a cherry blossom print), which were packaged up in cute little take-out style boxes.

The gift table:

We also had a little raffle, with cherry-blossom-themed votives and scented candles as prizes.

We stuck with the Asian influence in planning the menu for the shower. We fancied up the start of the buffet line with some more decorations:

and then guests got to the good stuff. A cheese tray...

Brie, chevre, and Gouda. Drooooool.

Chicken potstickers, veggie eggrolls, panko-breaded shrimp (which you can barely see in the background), edamame....

...and we also set out bowls of wasabi snack mix and honey-sesame cashews around the room.

I'd never been to a bridal shower before, but even I knew that we had to have cute little desserts and champagne.

Chocolate mousse cups and cake pops. COULD YOU JUST DIE!

The cake pops deserve their own photo, they were so precious. MOH Kelly and her roommate baked them all, using the Bakerella recipe. Then we arranged them in little bouquets in the takeout boxes. These were EXTREMELY popular with the guests, because in addition to being adorable, they are SCRUMPTIOUS.

And here we all are with the fabulous bride herself!

We grabbed a quick photo op in between rounds of chicken-potsticker-eating.

Somehow I got assigned to create the ribbon bouquet as Erica opened her gifts. I think it's pretty safe to say that choosing me for this position was a tactical error.

WTF is that thing???

A close-up of my "handiwork."

I had a really great time getting to know Erica's other bridesmaids as we put her shower together, especially since the only one I really knew before her wedding planning started was MOH Kelly (as she, Erica, and I are all proud Pitt alums!). It was also so nice to have the chance to throw a party to show our love and appreciation of Erica, whose amazingness as a friend I could never do justice to in one little paragraph. As I wrote to her in the card from all her bridesmaids, in the eight glorious years of our friendship, being mutual bridesmaids is definitely a high point.

LOVE YOU GIRL! And sorry I made you such a jacked-up ribbon bouquet.

How did your first experience as a bridal shower co-hostess turn out?