catalyst: for change


I am thrilled to introduce my readers to catalyst wedding magazine, the wedding magazine “for wedding space disrupters,” and to share that my essay, “Making a Together Home,” appears in volume two of this beautiful publication!

I love, love, love the impetus behind catalyst. The editors recognized that there was a certain sameness to wedding magazines: the brides featured in the style shoots were invariably young, thin, white, and heterosexual, and most of the articles seemed to presume a lavish budget and slavish devotion to trend as well as tradition. As a bride who failed to fit into a number of these categories—starting with “young”—I often found myself somewhere between amused and horrified at the wedding industry vision of the “ideal bride.” The real-life brides I knew, and celebrations I’d attended, were quirky, authentic, and lovely. The “real wedding” sections of some bridal magazines do feature unconventional couples and approaches, but where were the gorgeous styled photo-shoots featuring older brides and plus-size brides? Or wedding planning advice from and for same-sex couples, or stories of ceremonies that blended faith and cultural traditions? Where were the perspectives of couples who embraced love and marriage but eschewed the conventions and pressures of the wedding-industrial complex?

Enter catalyst, which editor Liz Susong has described as “a wedding magazine that value[s] diverse representation, challenge[s] gender roles, and [is] tireless in advocating for equality.” From the perspective of applied feminism, catalyst explores what “it mean(s) to choose marriage and plan a wedding in this moment in time–in this political and historical context.”

Clearly, the magazine struck a chord: since its debut last year, it’s received national media attention and has been picked up for distribution by Barnes and Noble. Check out this list of the Barnes and Noble bookstores around the country where you can find catalyst. One of them, I’m glad to report, is right here in my home of Roanoke!

It was exciting to find the magazine on the shelf and especially fun to peruse my essay—a humorous chronicle of the challenges encountered when two middle-aged people with full lives and fuller homes blend households—at the local Barnes and Noble in Valley View Mall.

Bonus: Barnes and Noble is also currently stocking the spring issue of bridebook, which features a brief story about our big day, along with those of a number of other area celebrations, in its substantial real wedding stories section.

When I first visited the bridal magazine aisle looking for inspiration shortly after Steve and I got engaged, I felt overwhelmed and under-represented. It matters, seeing faces, bodies, lives that look like yours, reflecting back at you from the pages and pixels of the media. I’m so glad and grateful catalyst is leading the charge, and I’m honored to have my work be a part of the change.

If you see a copy of catalyst in your local Barnes and Noble, snap a pic with it and share it below, and/or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @catalystwedco @40firstimebride.


Hooray, We’re Hitched! (Raise a Glass!)

We're hitched!We did it!

Steve and I are now officially a Mr. and Mrs.! It was a beautiful day in every way (even the weather—it rained early on but cleared before the ceremony!), full of family, friends, and joy.

I took a week off from blogging (and the office) for the wedding festivities, and now I think I need another week to recover…. I’ll be back soon with some reflections on our big day (and how it flew by), a few behind-the-scenes stories (you’ll never guess who almost got arrested), and descriptions of the elements we kept a surprise (everybody loves a parade!).

In the meantime, kick back and enjoy one of our “Quite a Pair/Pear” signature cocktails (recipe follows below), and check out our wonderful “next day album” provided by photographer Noah Magnifico, who brought us hard book copies the morning after the wedding so we could enjoy and share immediately!

Sandee and Steve’s Next Day Wedding Album, Magnifico Photography

Enjoy with a Quite a Pair/Pear and Elderflower Martini (from Barinacraft):

  • 1 oz. pear-infused vodka
  • 1 oz. elderflower liqueur (St. Germain)
  • 1/4 oz. dry vermouth
  • Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a glass. Garnish with a pear slice as desired.

    Raise a glass and stay tuned for more tales from FsFTB!

    So-True-Love Tuesday (& Wednesday & the next day &…)

    Steve and I have been preparing some slide shows for the wedding reception, so we’ve had the joy (and occasional agony) of going back through years of photos. Despite my general skepticism regarding things like pre-determined plans and fated soulmates, it’s been hard to resist the idea that, at the very least, Steve and I have been traveling parallel paths all these years—paths that, once they finally intersected, would naturally funnel into a single trail we’d keep walking together.

    Happy baby days…

    Smiling with our big brothers…

    Posing for the requisite Olan Mills family portrait…

    We each cherished holidays with the next generation…

    and loved our furry friends…

    We spent time in the woods…

    And on the water…

    We rode…

    And we ran…

    And we found our happy places…

    And then, at last, we found each other:


    magnifico photography

    I’m not one to believe in some automatic “happily ever after” either—talk about a gloss on the good (and the hard) stuff.  But I believe in us, and our commitment to create a happy life together.

    I’m so grateful our paths crossed, and I can’t wait to join hands and travel forward together.

    A Picture is Worth…

    We’re one month away from our wedding day now, which is hard to believe! Here, a re-telling of our love story in pictures, from our summer photo shoot with wedding photographer Noah Magnifico.

    Once upon a time, there was a set up, followed by a brunch date…


    The Art of Moving — or, Paws, Claws, and Compromise

    We hear the moving truck before we see it: the tell-tale whoosh and squawk of air-brakes. Wait—air brakes? I step outside onto the porch, Steve right behind me, as a tractor trailer filled with all my fiancé’s worldly belongings pulls up to the curb in front of our new home. The truck must be over fifty feet long, so tall it takes out a branch from a full-grown maple as the driver backs it up.

    moving_truckI glance at Steve with a raised eyebrow. “Um, they didn’t fill the whole truck, did they, honey?”

    Day one of our multi-part move-in, and I don’t know if my heart is beating so fast out of love, excitement, or fear.

    A bit of all three, I suspect.

    ♥ ♥ ♥

    Navigating a mid-life marriage brings a number of challenges, not the least of which is figuring out whose sofa stays, and whose goes. The biggest challenge for most folks who marry (or re-marry) later in life is the blending of families with young children. On the whole, Steve and I have it easy in that regard: his two sons are grown, college-age and just-post-college, the same age as the students I interact with regularly in my job as a professor. In contrast, when my brother and sister-in-law married twelve years ago, each brought two children to the household, all four under the age of thirteen. If that sounds intimidating, do the math. For one parent living full-time with two children, there are 4 possible total relationship combinations, 3 for each individual: all three together, parent and child 1, parent and child 2, and child to child. Six people, however, share 57 total possible relationship combinations, 30 for each individual. Merging a family of three with another family of three doesn’t merely double the relationships—it multiplies them ten-fold.

    It multiplies the love, too. Still, the sheer thought of navigating that many relationships in my own house sends my inner introvert into the corner, trembling.

    Steve’s sons are each settled into their own places now, and hanging out with them means sharing good wine and lively conversation, not Sippy cups and alphabet songs. The bigger challenge in merging our households? Our three fur kids.



    Steve is owned by Imoh, a sweet-natured Jack Russell terrier/beagle cross. Imoh has a big bark but zero bite, his most notable feature (aside from adoring and adorable brown eyes) a penchant for giving hugs. His snuggles are melt-your-heart cute.

    I am owned by felines Charlie Kate, a bossy if big-hearted Norwegian Forest cat, and Lola, a solid black love-bug. Both adopted me as strays, and both adore Steve. They are, we were not entirely surprised to learn, less fond of Steve’s dog.

    Charlie and Lola

    Charlie and Lola

    We had a great plan for introducing the animals. They would meet for the first time in neutral territory, maybe outside, Imoh safely leashed, the cats in carriers or on the other side of some kind of sniff-through barrier. They would meet and greet a few times for short stretches, with the hopes that curiosity would outweigh any territorialism or threat. As they got used to each others’ presence and scents (already somewhat familiar, from sharing their humans), they would grow more relaxed, easing the final transition when we all moved into a new home (more neutral territory) together.

    The best laid plans o’ dogs, cats, and humans gang aft agley.

    With Steve in a town an hour away, finding a way for the animals to hang in a neutral space for fifteen minutes at a time proved impossible. When his house sold, the pressure grew to get not only him but both his sons packed and re-settled, so the animals took a back seat. Then, our closing was delayed when the seller didn’t finish some key repairs. Granted occupancy for stuff but not humans or pets, Steve had to move in with me while we waited for things to sort themselves out. Imoh came with him.

    In my cats’ eyes, one morning, life was normal. By afternoon, there was this creature, this dog-thing, hanging out on the sidewalk in front of their house. Why was their Steve attached to it by a string? Why did it wiggle around and sniff at them? And—wait—why was it on the porch now? Why was it coming inside? Sitting on the sofa? What was this insufferable indignity?

    Imoh and Lola


    To be fair, Lola was content to express her disapproval with a disdainful stare, an arched back, and sideways hops accompanied by a well-timed hiss. Charlie Kate, well.

    Imoh is pretty much terrified of her. I can’t say I blame him.

    Charlie likes to park herself in Imoh’s path and stare at him while he attempts to look anywhere but her direction. If he moves too quickly for her liking, she takes a swipe. We don’t think claws have made contact more than once or twice, but as Steve says, ‘Moh seems to recognize that “those things come loaded.” He yelps just the same.

    For days we took ‘Moh with us every place we went, or one of us stayed home to keep a watch on the beasts. The constant vigilance was exhausting. If that’s what it’s like to have toddlers, I’m not sure I could have survived raising human children. Enduring the cats’ accusing looks was hard enough. And felines know from punishment: denial of affection, refusal to purr.

    ♥ ♥ ♥

    Now we’re half in (Steve’s half) the new house. With Imoh mostly there and my kitties mostly at my house, the critters have achieved a temporary détente.

    We thought it was tough to get the animals to play well together. What about the furniture?

    Somehow, I never noticed that Steve had an end table fetish. Every chair has at least one. Sofas, two. We haven’t even moved my furniture yet, and there’s a surplus. Then there’s the double dining tables. I don’t care much about mine—I bought it used and don’t mind selling it. The problem: I’m not crazy about his either, especially the uncomfortable matching chairs.

    Steve dislikes my grandma’s porcelain swan lamp. If I were a guy, I would too, especially the insanely frilly shade with pink roses and ivory frou-frou I made for it. His giant flat-screen television looks like a big black hole. If we put them in the same room, will the TV swallow the swans?

    Perhaps there are advantages to getting married young and, between the two of you, owning barely a pot to p— in at the start.

    We own so many books. And I have two beautiful barrister bookcases purchased with an inheritance from my maternal grandmother. Steve loves them too, and we both want to feature them in our early 1900s, Federal-style home. If we showcase them in his front parlor study, should they house only his books? If they hold some of mine, too, will his study not feel entirely his?

    Daunting, but doable

    Steep learning curve: daunting, but doable.

    It takes a few days, then: what if we combined all of our fiction, arranged it all alphabetically, put it all in the bookcases, together? We are, after all, fashioning a new life, together.

    Of course, books, unlike dogs and cats, don’t bark or bare claws.

    Fear gnaws, but rarely bites.

    I’ve lived alone—except for cats—for over twenty years.

    One day at a time. One day at a time.

    Music to My Ears

    Much of mine and Steve’s courtship has had a musical soundtrack. We went to a Suzanne Vega concert on our second date and heard John Gorka play not long after that. We’ve held hands at indie house concerts, kicked up our heels to 80s-cover bands, slow-danced in the woods to Norah Jones on an iPod, and slogged through mud to sway under the stars at FloydFest.

    Dancing to the beat of our own drummer...

    Dancing to the beat of our own drummer…

    Music matters. One night a few months ago, we started talking about wedding tunes. Sitting side by side at my dinner table with laptop and iPad, we each took turns calling up songs we loved on YouTube, exploring possibilities for our playlist, ceremony music, and the first-dance song.

    My first nomination was “Amazed” by Lonestar. I’m not a fan of country music, but I clearly remember when I first heard the song, on an early morning when I was in grad school in Ohio. Lying in bed listening to the radio alarm I’d tuned to a top-forty/pop station, I absorbed the lyrics: “I’ve never been this close to anyone or anything…I wanna spent the whole night in your eyes…Every little thing that you do, baby, I’m amazed by you.” In that moment, I thought, I’d like to dance to that song at my wedding. I’d like to feel that way about someone, have someone feel that way about me.

    Strangely, on mine and Steve’s second date, as we said goodnight in the parking lot, he looked at me with those intense blue eyes and said, “You amaze me.” I don’t know what look passed over my face—I must have looked spooked, because he stepped back and started reassuring me that he was just so thrilled at how much we had in common. I was spooked: had I actually met someone who genuinely was amazed by me, whom I could be amazed by in return? It was big stuff for a few weeks in.

    I still love the song, but it’s a bit twangy for us, so—maybe.

    Steve played The Eurythmics’ “When Tomorrow Comes.” I’d never gotten into Annie Lennox for some reason, but as I listened to the lyrics, I understood why Steve loved the song: “And you know I’m going to be the one who’ll be there when you need someone to depend upon…I wanna be with you when tomorrow comes.” It celebrated commitment, being there through the tough times. It was up-tempo, though, and even with lessons, I wasn’t sure we could be coordinated enough to want everyone watching us dance to it. As if he’d read my mind, Steve said, “I know it wouldn’t work for a first dance, too fast. I always loved the song, but couldn’t find anyone for so long I felt that way about.”

    My heart beat a little faster, and the song went on the playlist.

    I shared my second nomination, John Denver’s “Annie’s Song.” I’ve long thought it one of the most romantic songs I’ve ever heard. “You fill up my senses….” I’d forgotten that the first line referenced a forest. Then rain, mountains, the ocean—all places we’d been together and shared and loved (FloydFest mud included). We both sat perfectly still for a long moment at the end.

    “I’d forgotten how beautiful the lyrics were,” Steve said. Another yes.

    Dancing with Steve

    May I have this dance?

    Steve searched for Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time.” I’d loved the entire Innocent Man album (and yes, I had it on vinyl) when it first came out. “That’s another one that’s probably too fast for a first dance song,” he said, “But I love the lyrics.” Our love has felt like the “greatest miracle of all,” so: yes.

    Then we started thinking about ceremony music. I’d read somewhere about a bride walking in to an instrumental version of Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly,” which sounded like a cool idea. I loved the guitar on that song, and we thought it might be something a friend of ours could strum for us. The first version we listened to sounded like an over-processed karaoke score. It took a few tries to find a guy playing a live cover instrumental on a guitar. It sounded nice, but looked complicated.

    “There’s always ‘Here Comes the Bride,'” I said, glancing at Steve, who wore the same “ick” expression I suspected was on my face. On the same page there.

    “Or there’s Pachelbel’s Canon,” I said. “I kind of always thought I might like to walk in to that.”

    We called up a version titled “the ultimate best version” of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” I don’t know who decided that particular version was the best, but it was stunning. Steve started air-conducting along with the music, which I’d never seen him do. Then he began naming instruments as each joined in. I hadn’t known he had classical music knowledge. Turns out he’d played the violin and guitar during his school days.

    When the music reached the first dramatic crescendo, we looked at each other with the same thought and said simultaneously, “That’s when the bride should enter!”

    We listened through to the end, trying to figure out if the piece was too long to use all of it for entering. We played it again. At each shift in the music, we identified who would “go” at that moment: “First bridesmaid…second…maid-of-honor…ring bearer…bride!”

    I felt myself getting choked up, but I tried to ignore the emotion rising in my chest at the picture in my head. I attempted talking myself past it. “Then, you’d have the parents getting a kiss, sitting down, maybe lighting a candle or something…”

    Suddenly, Steve sat back in his chair, let out a big breath, and swiped at his eyes.

    I started to laugh and cry at the same time. “I’m glad I’m not the only one!” I brushed my own tears away. “This is why we have to do this now.”

    “That’s what I’m going to do then if you walk in like that,” he said, taking another swipe and glancing at me sheepishly. I leaned in to share a tender kiss.

    What a lucky, lucky woman I am.

    And—maybe we should consider trading that pretty pocket square for a couple of extra-large hankies.

    Happy tears--Love wins!

    Happy tears: Love wins!

    Marriage equality–now that’s music to my ears!

    Thrilled by the Supreme Court’s decision today:

    cue “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang!

    Photos by Noah Magnifico, Wedding Photographer