Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Comforting Thought

I was sitting on the couch this evening, drinking my first cup of hot cocoa of the season (yes I know it's still September, but this is how much I love hot cocoa) when I started thinking about why it is that I love this steaming mug of chocolate so much. Yes, the huge pile of marshmallows that I loaded on top certainly added to the experience, and the fact that I'm drinking CHOCOLATE should be a dead give away as to why I love it, but there was something more.

Hot chocolate is a comfort thing, just like a warm fuzzy blanket, a roaring fireplace, the smell of fresh baked cookies, and the flicker of a candle. It makes you feel safe, blissful, and gives peace of mind. But comfort is so much more . . .

Comfort is knowing that someone will be there for you through thick and thin.

Comfort is knowing that someone is there to dry your tears when you're sad and make you laugh till the tears flow for an entirely different reason.

Comfort is being wrapped in a hug so special that you feel like you have just come home.

Comfort is waking up to someone and saying a silent thank you that the love you share was, in fact, not just a dream.

Comfort is being able to have an entire conversation with someone, without ever uttering a word.

Comfort is being able to be a complete goof around someone, and they will be the ball.

Comfort is imagining your life 40, 50, 60 years from now, when the wrinkles run deep with a life well lived, your hair is variant shades of grey and it takes you a little longer in the morning to get the "kinks" worked out of your joints. Imagine yourself then, and then realize that the person who promised to stand by you decades ago, is sitting in the rocking chair right next to you, their eyes, framed with wrinkles to match your own, are filled with more love and devotion to you than ever before.

I look forward to our wedding for so many reasons. The joy of the day and the time spent with family and friends, the beautiful flowers, and probably the most amazing dress I will ever wear.

Beyond all these things, however, there is the realization that I am saying "I do" and "I will" to my best friend and the one who knows me more than I know myself. We are making a commitment to be there for each other for whatever life throws our way. I will never have to look back and wonder if there is someone there to support me if I stumble.

As I finish the remains of my chocolate treat, long cold as I always take too long to drink it, I think about what our marriage will be like and I smile, because I know it will be an even better version of the love we share right now. More real, more lasting, more powerful. "Us" will still be "Us" in 50 years,  just add wrinkles and wisdom.


What a comforting thought. . .

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Searching for our piece of "I do" turf: Part Two

After we said goodbye to  the dream of a Biltmore wedding, I had to sit down and re-evaluate our lists of wants versus the hard realities of our budget and, equally important, picking a place that we knew would reflect our personalities. There were just so many options out there on the Internet, it was almost overwhelming!

As a couple we would discuss the issue, think about it for a few days, then sit down and discuss it some more. I am one of those people who loves to sit down and solve all of the world's problems in one sitting. Nate is not one of those people. He needs to hear an idea, then let it simmer and marinate in his mind for a few days (hmm I wonder if I am hungry). If I give him that time (which really took some getting used to) then our discussions and brainstorming sessions are MUCH more productive. Talk about a major lesson in patience.

One of the ideas that we had was to choose a venue that was a lot closer to home; a Georgia wedding! That way we could visit the venue often and be a big part of the process. We also thought it would be easier on out of town guests as we knew the area well, could help them find reasonable accommodations and would have lots of great ideas for things to do while they were in town (other than attend the wedding of course!) Also, it would make it so easy for me to visit with local vendors rather than having to make decisions solely based off of pictures on their website. I mean, it's hard to know if what you see is what you get sometimes

O.k. so if a Georgia wedding was what we wanted, we needed to narrow it down. City venues weren't for us, although the nighttime skyline of Atlanta is something to see! No, what we wanted was a beautiful outdoor reception with a garden feel and lots of southern charm. So I took my google searching north of the city in search of a beautiful venue with an amazing outdoor ceremony site. I don't want anyone falling asleep on me, so let's just get to the major contenders shall we?

First up: Chateau Elan
This place is the hidden gem of  Georgia. A world class spa, golf course, and winery make Chateau Elan a HUGE wedding destination. I'm telling you, these people have weddings down to an art. The grounds are beautiful and the whole concept of Elan is that you never have to leave the resort area; so we could be rest assured that people would have plenty to do. The cons: unless people want to do a lot of driving, there are no alternate lodging options except to stay at the resort, which could really be a problem for some of our guests who don't want to spend an arm and a leg for a room.

Also, the chateau is beautiful, but it's also out in the country somewhat in the middle of nowhere. If we wanted people to really experience something new and make a big fun weekend out of our wedding, would this really be the best choice? Unless they really had a hankering to stare at cows, there would be a lack of places to go outside of the resort. Lastly for the negatives, PRICE. Yep, once again I fell in love with a venue that would put me in debt until I'm 90. Crap. . .

Next possibility: Barnsley Gardens (or as Nate mistakenly continues to call it, Beardsley Gardens)
The main manor house was built in the mid 1860's and was the center of a beautiful but tragic love story of Godfrey Barnsley and his wife Julia. Today, the manor house ruins are surrounded by a resort, expansive gardens that feature hundreds of varieties of roses, and beautiful vistas of the North Georgia foothills. Ya'll it is a gorgeous place and combined with it's romantic history; what a hauntingly beautiful setting to hold a wedding. I seem to be establishing a pattern with my cons for venues so you can probably guess what I'm about to tell you: it was just too dang expensive for the kind of wedding that we wanted, it was really out in the middle of nowhere, and along with that, no lodging options for our guests!! Arghh the frustration!

Clearly I wasn't searching in the right places, I needed to switch gears yet again to find something that fit everything that we wanted. What did I learn from this searching?

Well first I needed to find a venue that wasn't all inclusive; we want out guests to have control over how much they spend on our wedding weekend.

I also learned that, although we loved the feel of the historic manor houses set out in the country, we weren't willing to sacrifice the amenities that come with having a wedding in a city.

Third, I needed to find a place that fit my champagne taste on a beer budget!

O.k. so we have historic, don't like the modern city, but not crazy about the rustic country, and really needed to stay on the cheap side for the venue price. I was beginning to think our piece of "I do" turf was just a figment of my imagination . . .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Searching for our piece of "I do" turf: Part one

Choosing a location for our wedding and reception was certainly an evolution. This most likely places us in the majority category, as most do not find there venue on the very first try. I imagine this has a lot to do with "getting the feeling" and has very little to do with anything else. This is not to say that money and logistics do not play a role in the decision. In fact, our choice was based on influences from all three. Yet if you don't have the feeling of "this is it" then it's a lot harder to make a choice.

Even before we were officially engaged, Nate and I had picked out exactly where we wanted to say our vows and celebrate with family and friends. Nate is from a town called Asheville in western North Carolina. It's a very popular vacation city for people from all over the country. The mountain climate is so perfect for outdoor activities in the spring and fall. A fairly liberal minded town set in the very much republican south, Asheville is known for its amazing non-chain restuarants, numerous art galleries, drum circles and birkenstock wearing residents (don't believe me? look it up). Asheville is also very well known because of this place:

Nicknamed "America's Largest Home" the 250 room Biltmore Estate was built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt as a relaxing country home for entertaining and activities out on the grounds. He and his wife Cornelia, hosted guests from all around the world for weeks at a time. Nate was the lucky duck who actually had his prom at Biltmore, and although I was not bestowed that privelege ;) I have been there many times over the years and see something new everytime I go. Today, the estate grounds include a winery, extensive gardens, shopping and restaurants located in the old stable yard, and a world class Inn boasting beautiful vistas of the Appalachian mountains. This brings us to Venue choice #1.

The Inn at Biltmore

hmm, when I think Inn I don't exactly think something like this sprawling french style chateau of a gem. Isn't it picturesque though? On a trip to Asheville following my college graduation, Nate and I made a stop at the inn because we heard it was really a great addition to the other attractions at the estate. Both of us had seen the main house many times before, so we thought it would be great to see something new. The decor on the inside was so similar to that of the house and had some beautiful ball rooms for events. There was plenty of light pouring in through all the windows and there was even a wedding going on in one of the rooms when we arrived. Not wanting to crash a wedding, we slipped out the side door and worked out way around to the back patio area.

The wide staircase on the back patio area was flanked by stacked stone pillars, which really made for a grand descent. The back of the Inn wasn't all that pretty, but it sure was big! I need to clarify that, at this moment, neither of us were looking at anything with wedding goggles (similar to beer goggles, but without the awkward hookup at the end of the night). In our minds, we were still far away from venue hunting and talk of weddings. Then we turned around and saw this.

Um, wow. . .Can't you just imagine it? The altar right in the middle with the breathtaking view of the mountains as the backdrop? The guest craning their heads to see as the bride descends the steps and makes her way through the grass. The soft breeze that carries with it smell of the mountains: laurel, moss, and pine. We didn't say a word to each other; we just looked at each other and new exactly what the other was thinking. This was the place that we wanted to commit to each other and pledge our love. How could it get any better? We both had connections to the mountains and to Biltmore and an outdoor wedding would be so so us.

As you can probably guess, with a name like Biltmore comes a price tag to match. It only took a few hours of preliminary research to discover that this mountain vista location was going to be far beyond our budget constraints. This was in the days before we had even established a budget, so when I say the price tag was high, I mean sitting on a cloud with the angels high.

The other big thing I noticed: I saw five brides the day we were there, FIVE, in one day. Several were out on the main lawn in front of the house getting their portraits taken. It was obvious they could see one another. This may be something that would not bother another bride in the slightest, but I came to the quick conclusion that I would be so upset if I saw another bride on my wedding day.

I was actually quite surprised to see the brides in the same place. You could see the planner standing in the wings for both of them. It was curious as to why the planner wasn't trying to keep the brides from seeing one another. Maybe no big deal for them? For me, it chips away at that glowing thought that the day is all about you and your new husband. I know that ultimately if this did happen, I would get over it, but I'll avoid the situation if possible. The idea of not seeing another bride on your wedding day can be a tall order in popular venues such as hotels and yes, even Biltmore. Sadly, for both reasons of budget and a desire for bridal monopoly, the dream of a wedding at Biltmore got shelved.

Not to be discouraged, the hunt continued! I have to give pause and credit to this moment of seeing this grassy lawn, because thinking back on it, this was when the desire to plan our wedding truly began.

Up next: moving the venue choices a little closer to home.

*Personal photos unless otherwise noted

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Waiting Period

You only have to talk to me for five minutes to know that I am a planner. Yes, I cuddle with check lists, excel spreadsheets give me the warm fuzzies, and I would never think of diving straight into something without mapping it out first. Spur of the moment, fly by the seat of her pants kinda girl? Sooo not who I am. I'm not an action packed, good at sports, musical genius or anything of that sort. Nope, what I am folks, is an organization loving, concept creating, perfectionist of a planner.

So, as I alluded to in my last post, I was channeling all that planning energy into planning our wedding. Only. . wait, there was no wedding yet. . . because he hadn't even proposed yet. Ha, yeah sounds so ridiculous now. I don't think I'm the only one out there who has done this though. In fact, I KNOW I'm not the only one who has done this. You meet someone, you fall in love, and then one day you wake up and that sneaky little wedding gremlin is sitting on your shoulder, telling you that things are getting serious, and you should PLAN PLAN PLAN.

Before you know it, you are the girl who is talking about possible venues, color schemes, and oh yes, the ring. People look at you quizzically and ask, "oh, are you engaged? I must have missed that, Congratulations!"

(Cue sheepish stance, complete with uncomfortable squirming)
"Um, well, no not technically, but, it's coming soon! So I'm just planning ahead. . "

I can look back on it now and laugh at that awkward period of "almost engaged but not quite" or as many choose to refer to it as "the waiting period". But I wasn't laughing at the time.

Nate and I had talked about it many times before. After everything we had been through, we had come to the black and white conclusion that we were meant to be together. I wanted to grow old with him, and he wanted to grow old with me. Having come to that conclusion, I surmised that the next logical step would be for us to get engaged pronto so we could get married and start this growing old together business. Funny thing about relationships, and life in general for that matter, is that it is not all about what you want.

There were so many other things at play in our lives at the time; hunting for new jobs and starting those jobs, picking up and moving to another state, and the lovely lovely recent state of the economy all took a front seat to my ants in the pants mantra of the super fast engagement. I am a traditionalist to the core, so the "Will you?" was all on him and the "of course I will" was all on me. I knew that I just needed to be patient and wait for the right time for him to ask me and all would be well.

But honestly, I wasn't very good at waiting. In fact, I really stunk at it. I was constantly talking about getting married, or shoving ring pics in his face, and whining (Yes, I whined, I was a 5 year old, what can I say?). In my most dramatic of moments, I sometimes felt like I was going to grow old just waiting on him to ask me that one freaking question. We fought often during this time. I think he felt pressured to ask me because I talked about it so often, but he wanted to do it when I wasn't expecting it: in his own way and own time. And there I was on the other side of things feeling like our relationship had stalled and feeling a slight bitterness for the gender roles (he asks, I answer) that I had promised myself I would stick to.

A funny thing happens when you love someone. You are able to step outside of your own feelings, wants, and needs, and put the emotions and happiness of your partner above your own. It took me a while, but boy did I have a lightbulb moment. I realized that each time I pressured him about buying a ring or where or when he was going to ask, I was stealing some of the joy that he deserved to have while planning the proposal. He needed time and space to think about the where, when, and most importantly, the how. I wasn't allowing him that chance. I was making the proposal a stressful and negative thing, when it was supposed to be a happy and romantic thing. Worst of all, I was putting a strain on the wonderful relationship that we shared. I was letting the need to know everything, stick to a timeline planner in me get in the way of being a good partner. Not cool me! Not cool!

So I backed off, I enjoyed our time together, I stopped asking about the rings, we stopped looking at rings, we went back to just doing the things we always did, being a couple goofballs who drink way too much coffee and I was able to, once again, look forward to our engagement with a positive outlook. No more, "when is it going to happen?!" and lots more, "when it happens that will be great". Was I able to completely stop thinking about weddings? No, not even close. The constant perusing for wedding insiration?, yeah that didn't change one bit :)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

and now. . .the Y

I guess the next biggest question beyond "who we are" is "why am I doing this?" Well, keep your shorts on I'll tell you.

Months back, when I was just the wannabe engaged girl pouring over wedding website after wedding website, wedding blog after wedding blog looking for inspiration for when my planning time came, then quickly minimizing the screens when Nate came into the room (Cause seriously, what guy who hasn't even proposed yet wants to see his girlfriend on a wedding website?), I realized something. It wasn't the pretty pictures and the inspiration shoots that inspired me the most. Of course, they are fun to look at and can be a wealth of help when it comes time to decide on "the look". It wasn't the helpful countdown checklists and the budget calculators that inspired me the most. Well alright, a budget is never inspiring, it just sucks.

What inspired me the most were the honest, real, heartwarming, frustrating, silly, joyous, and yes sometimes even angry and sad accounts from real brides who have gone before me. They wrote of the trials and tribulations of establishing (and sticking to!) the budget, the excitement of carefully crafting and later participating in the ceremony with their new hubby, the fights that almost inevitably occur when one is planning something that impacts so so many people, and the happiness that occurred when they worked out a resolution. They wrote of the details, oh the details, the many many little things that no one who has never planned a wedding will ever understand. Yet to the bride, each little decision was so special and so meaningful, because they did it all for the joyous celebration that was their wedding. The napkins, the flowers, the venue choice, the invites, they wrote of it all.

And when it was all over they wrote about the happy moments of the day, the frustrating "why is our timeline so off?!" moments, and the tender moments that will stay close to their hearts for years to come.

That right there, folks, THAT is inspiration. I am comforted by the fact that so many have gone before me into this world of wedding planning and come out on the other end fairly unscathed. I am humored by the mishaps that occurred along their journey and I am impressed at how they overcame them. The words of advice that so many list give me a mental arsenal for planning my big day and allow me be real with myself and know that no, not everything will go right, but YES!, it will be a beautiful, wonderful, imperfect day indeed.

So now its my turn to pay it forward. I hope to write about the good, the bad, the ugly, and yes, the details in the hopes that some other soon to be engaged gal will find my words and think, "hey I'm not the only one going through this" or "hey! that's exactly what I needed to know." If that happens only once, then I have succeeded. So, with my definition of inspiration in mind, prepare to be inspired . . .