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.

Wedding Crawl, Revisited

Last weekend, held their annual Wedding Crawl. Each year five downtown venues, working with local wedding professionals, pull out all the stops to create mock weddings in each space, featuring ceremony and/or reception set-ups complete with food, flowers, photographers and photo booths, music, lighting, and models dressed as brides, grooms, and wedding party. It’s rare opportunity to see the spaces fully decked out and filled with people, as they would be during an actual celebration. And it always benefits a good cause: this year, the Roanoke Valley SPCA.

Hubby Steve and I decided to revisit the Crawl this year. We’d attended the 2015 Crawl as then-prospective bride and groom and had so much fun: dancing in the Corinthian Ballroom, tasting cake at the Taubman. I even caught the bouquet in a prize-giveaway toss at Center in the Square. Even though we already had most of our vendors sewn up by then, the Crawl gave us a chance to see examples of their fully realized visions, which made us look forward to their creations for our own wedding day all the more.

This time was not about looking forward, but looking back. At our first stop, Charter Hall, Steve and I picked up the most recent copy of bridebook, which features our wedding story. At the Taubman, our next venue, we lingered in the ethereal ceremony space (created by Lighting Ninja and Gloriosa) as an RSO harpist began to play. Steve smiled and took my hand: it was Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” the music I’d walked in to at our ceremony.

At the Patrick Henry Hotel Ballroom, our photographer Noah Magnifico had some of our photos in his display, and we admired the lush elegance of the bouquets and centerpieces crafted by Mark Frye of Creative Occasions, who’d done such a beautiful job with our flowers.

We saved the Center in Square Rooftop, where we got married, for last. It was hopping. Creative Entertainment had fashioned a Vegas theme, complete with game tables, a bride who doubled as a mobile hors d’oeuvres table, showgirls, and Elvis. We picked up information on honeymoon travel–we still hope to take a romantic trip somewhere tropical–from Rose of the Winds Travels, and said hello to my stylist, the awesome Brandy Moorman of Bliss Studio. After tasting brunch menu samplings from Chanticleer Catering and delicious mini-cupcakes from For the Lsove of Sweets, we headed outside.

The view from the roof, as always, was breathtaking. It was sunny, if a little windy, with the clear, bright blue skies I’d hoped for on our big day. We attempted a selfie in the same spot on the upper deck where Noah had taken our wedding pictures, but we couldn’t stop squinting—maybe those dramatic rolling clouds had been a blessing in disguise? We walked down the staircase to the spot where we’d said our “I do’s.” We held hands and shared a happy kiss. Operation Newlywed Nostalgia was complete.

We missed the last featured venue, the White Room at Blue 5, where we’d been told a real wedding would take place as part of the crawl. Sadly, that meant we also missed the opportunity to taste delectations from our favorite baker, Evie’s Wildflour Wedding Cakes. Coconut cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache… mmmmm.

The Wedding Crawl felt different this year, minus the anticipation of our own nuptials and all the excitement (and anxiety!) that comes with waiting and wondering. But we were more than satisfied. It was a lovely day filled with beautiful sights and bountiful treats, and we’d already celebrated the real wedding that mattered most: ours.

My amazing vendors!

With two of our wonderful vendors, Noah Magnifico and Mark Frye, and our -bridebook- feature!

Nothing else, a lack of chocolate ganache notwithstanding, will ever compare.

Snow Day Like Today

“Work is good. No one seriously doubts this truth…. But work is not the only good thing in the world; it is not a fetish to be adored; neither is it to be judged, like a sum in addition, by its outward and immediate results. The god of labor does not abide exclusively in the rolling-mill, the law courts, or the corn field. He has a twin sister whose name is leisure, and in her society he lingers now and then to the lasting gain of both.”

–Agnes Repplier, “Leisure”

Snowy park laneIt probably goes without saying that we folk in Southwest Virginia are snowed in. The white stuff rolled in early yesterday morning, a good inch already on the ground when Steve and I got up around eight. Friday’s classes had been called off for both of us by late Thursday afternoon, so we could enjoy a leisurely morning, lingering over a shared breakfast, sipping our respective cups of tea and coffee, watching the white flakes outside pile higher and higher while we remained snug inside, cats and dog cuddled close, the day stretching out before us. What to do with this unexpected gift of unscheduled time?

Both of us soon agreed—admitted to?—our morning plans: catching up on emails and work.

♥ ♥ ♥

One of the benefits of being an academic: when an epic blizzard comes through, you usually get (unlike, say, nurses, or police officers, or those who work for the power company) a snow day. One of the drawbacks: like your students, you perpetually have homework. There’s always something you could be doing–planning for upcoming classes, reading up on research, grading papers. A “day off” is a relative concept, as are “free” evenings and weekends (not to mention those famously “free” summers). You have to choose to be “free.” You have to claim your time, decide you will, on this day, for this hour, prioritize family or fun, love or leisure.

As a rule, I’d say we’re pretty bad at it. Continue reading

Ripples and Reflections

Wading in Great Salt Lake

brine shrimp lay eggsIMG_5995

that lie dormant through drought

ten years suspended—

a few drops of water,

and they hatch

without a hitch


no wonder they dance

in whole body jazz hands

sometimes the wait

is worth the miracle


Travel to a conference in Utah this week re-set my posting schedule along with my alarm clock. Faced with a decision between staying in and writing or seizing a new adventure, well: sometimes it’s necessary to stop and breathe the brine. My visit to this natural wonder was only too brief, maybe half an hour. But for those minutes of walking an ethereal landscape, my sense of being so baldly exposed and sized to scale left me feeling both insignificant and strangely empowered. I am small, but I am seen.

For those spending the weekend in Southwest Virginia parts, I want to give a shout out to the OneLove Wedding Expo set for today, Sunday, November 8th, at the Sheraton Roanoke Hotel and Conference Center. Readers might recall my April post on the Weddings for Equality Vendor Showcase. The OneLove Expo is organized by the same great folks, and it promises to be a fun day and an excellent resource to find gay-friendly wedding vendors.

marina 2For love’s arrival, for its acceptance: so glad, for so many of us, that the wait is finally over.

The Countdown

initial S'sSoooo, you might have noticed I was absent from these parts last Friday. Things have gotten pretty overwhelming now that school’s back in session and we’re rapidly heading toward the “days away” mark, a situation not made easier by the fact that almost every other item one of us seeks requires a search through at least three as-yet-unpacked boxes.

This too shall pass.

And only too fast, I fear.

I don’t want these days to be so blurry and harried, though perhaps that’s inevitable. I’ve been frantically trying to put the finishing touches on a number of almost-there DIY projects, a process that includes deciding which ones just aren’t going to happen. We’re finalizing details with our vendors, going last-minute shoe-shopping, testing possible signature cocktail recipes (that last one wasn’t so bad…).

Projects in process

Projects in process

We’ve also been joking more and more frequently about the virtues of elopement.

A couple of nights ago, we tried to slow the momentum and enjoy the moment by practicing for our first dance. We’d thought at one time we’d take a dance lesson or two, but we just flat ran out of time. And a wise family friend who’s seen us dance together had actually cautioned against it, saying that we moved together so naturally, why complicate or even interfere with that ease? It’s a tricky balance, though, wanting to do something special, at least a little planned, but also not wanting to set ourselves up to be so concerned about getting steps “right” that we can’t be fully present. It’s not like either of us is a choreographer, either, so the only language we have to communicate with each other about dance is just, well, dancing.

We decided our bottom line is that we’d like to avoid falling.

malletsThe surprises and slip-ups—assuming they don’t result in bodily harm—are the stories that stick, of course. Everyone keeps reminding me of that, and even I, years ago, wrote a poem after my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding that recounted all the funny things that had not gone as planned, suggesting those were the most real, most memorable moments. I’m wondering now if there will be some karmic return on that observation. I mean, it’s not necessary for things to go wrong to have a wedding with great stories to tell, is it? It will still be wonderful and memorable even if everything goes off without a hitch, right? Universe? Please?

Stay tuned. After all, when things go awry, there’s writing material aplenty.

Stand On Ceremony…

ceremony planningLast Sunday Steve and I sat down to chat about the contents of our actual wedding ceremony (oh, that). We’d had the pleasure of meeting with our officiant, my former youth minister Paul, back in the spring. He’d given us some information about the traditional order of service and vows, and we’d chatted about some of our plans for readings and ceremony music then. But we’d had yet to sit down and look at his notes and our notes and really think about what we wanted to say to each other, word by word, other than “I do.”

Steve refilled his coffee, I my tea, and we sat across from one another at the dining room table, with a view of the park across the street from our new home. The sun shone through the window where a cat had taken up residence, and the dog lay on the floor between our feet. I was prepared for lots of mushy sentiments and maybe even some teariness. What could be more romantic than spending a Sunday morning planning your wedding ceremony with the love of your life?

Actually, it turned out to be kind of like writing a syllabus.

Those outside of academia may not relate to the comparison, so allow me to borrow from my father’s description (he taught chemistry for over 40 years): writing a syllabus is kind of like putting together a puzzle. You have goals for the course, and you have all these pieces that need to be part of the course to help students reach the goals (readings, papers, etc.). You have to figure out how to fit all those pieces together in a logical order that will engage students and “flow.”

Both Steve and I are equal parts traditional and unconventional, so we want our ceremony to reflect that balance, honoring tradition while also making things our own. We debated where it made the most sense to insert the unity flower ceremony—before or after the readings? Close to or far removed from the vows? As we discussed edits and possible orders of the readings we’ve selected, we realized we had to consider where people would stand and traffic patterns, too. We even drew a map to help us figure it out.mapping the ceremony

We’re not academics for nothing.

We did have some fun thinking about our music selections, though much of that was for the reception rather than the ceremony. Who knew you could Google “good cake-cutting songs” (well, who knew you needed one?) and actually get multiple top-20 lists? I wasn’t sure whether to be more amused or horrified that Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” was not only a popular choice for cake-cutting but also bouquet-tossing. Um, ouch?

I’d originally thought Steve and I might write our own vows, having recalled that my brother and sister-in-law had done so. I recalled one phrase from theirs I liked in particular: instead of claiming “until death do us part” (so morbid), they’d said “until the stars fall from the sky.” I offered that phrasing to Steve, but he wasn’t buying it.

“I can’t say that,” he said.

His outright rejection surprised me. “Why not? It’s so poetic.”

“I’m too much of a realist to say that. I don’t think I’ll still be around when the stars fall from the sky, so I can’t promise that.”

PerseidsI kind of hope our world doesn’t implode in my lifetime either, so I understood his reasoning—though I still love the metaphor. In retrospect, I suppose I could have reminded him that the stars (again, metaphorically speaking) just fell from the sky last week during the Perseids meteor shower. Then again, maybe an annual event isn’t the best image to evoke for a lifetime promise.

We hadn’t known, until we perused the materials from our officiant, that there were four or five sets of traditional vows from which to choose. Some didn’t suit us, but several had language we found appealing. Instead of composing our own vows from scratch, we’ve selected one of the traditional sets, with a minor tweak or two. We’re writing something ourselves for our unity ceremony (and lest you’re wondering, it does NOT include sand). We were also quite taken with something we saw at the wedding we attended a few weeks ago: the bride and groom each wrote a brief letter to one another prior to the wedding, and the rabbi read the statements aloud as part of the ceremony. We’re hoping to incorporate a similar ritual if possible, though the key to doing so will be having our officiant participate, because if I tried to read a letter myself, I’d dissolve into a blubbering mess.

Our morning meeting wasn’t absent romance altogether: we shared some sweet smiles and hand squeezes as we talked about what to say in our unity ceremony, and I did get a little teary as Steve and I read bits of the passages about love we’ve chosen aloud to one another. The truth is I choke up, some days, merely thinking about a moment in our ceremony—walking down the aisle with my dad, exchanging rings with Steve, saying our vows. I have no idea how I’m going to get through the day itself without multiple iterations of tears.

I’m headed out later today to do a trial run with my makeup artist. Guess I’d better ask her about that industrial-strength waterproof mascara.

We're licensed to wed!

We’re licensed to wed!

Weddings and the Interwebs

More than once I have wondered, as a 21st-century bride who lived the first third of my life in the 20th-century, what it would have been like to plan a wedding before the advent of the internet.

Easier in some ways, no doubt. For one thing, the sheer volume of wedding ideas on Pinterest alone is near-paralyzing. The more choices you have, the harder it is to make a decision. Malcolm Gladwell illustrates this phenomenon in his bestseller Blink when he describes psychologist Sheena Iyengar’s jam experiment: consumers who had 24 jams to choose from purchased one 3% of the time, but when offered only 6 choices, 30% bought a jar. Other studies have shown how people get caught in an endless loop of serial online dating, seduced by a sense of endless possibilities. The same phenomenon occurs when faced with an apparently endless array of wedding dress or bouquet styles.


Sign here…or?

And then there’s the creepy factor: as soon as I search for, say, “jewelry with blue stones” on Etsy, the ads running down the side of my Facebook feed are filled with…jewelry featuring blue stones. Shortly thereafter, I receive an email on the same subject. I don’t know how much direct (paper) marketing wedding vendors did before the web, but my email inbox overflows with all things bridal. The internet brought with it more items on the bride’s to-do list:’s recently updated checklists added “Search for (flowers, dresses, centerpieces, etc).” And most couples these days create and maintain the near-requisite wedding website.

And then there are the social media pre-nuptial agreements.

You read that right.

With this Post, I Thee Contract

Shortly after Steve and I got engaged last year, ABC News and Time magazine reported on the rise of social media pre-nuptial agreements. Apparently couples are increasingly creating and signing on to contracts that detail “what they can and can’t post online” and, in many cases, imposing monetary fines for violations (more on that in a moment). Charlotte Alter captured the absurdity of this phenomenon nicely, I thought: “Dating a jerk who cares more about his Facebook than your feelings? Don’t worry! You can get a social media pre-nup to protect your online reputation while you continue to sleep with the callous twit of your dreams.”

Um, why would you want to do either of those things?

I know from experience a person’s online behavior offers considerable insight. I once dated a man whose political and religious beliefs contrasted mine. In person, he discussed those differences rationally, and indicated respect for my point of view. He also had an online avatar he thought was anonymous (not so much) which he used for commenting on articles and websites. Online, when he thought no one was looking, he was irrational, disrespectful, and full of vitriol. Hello—and good-bye—Mr. Hyde.

I’ve also lived the “don’t post any pictures of us together” relationship. A person who won’t claim you as a partner publicly is not a partner you want.

It’s a no-brainer. If you don’t like how your partner treats or represents you on social media while you’re dating or engaged, and you strongly suspect he or she would misrepresent or mistreat you online if the marriage dissolved, maybe you shouldn’t marry that person.

And then there’s those monetary fines: pay your partner $50,000 (choke) if you post an “unflattering photo.” Unless all your finances are completely separate, how is one spouse paying another not the equivalent of playing with Monopoly money? If you later draw upon that money for a mutual expense, haven’t you just created ill-will for no good reason?

Healthy couples don’t contract; they communicate. “Hey honey,” I said to Steve, when I got online to post some photos from one of our beach trips. “I’m going to post some pictures. Which ones do you like? Is this one okay? What about this one?” I thought he looked handsome in all of them, of course. But when he said yes to the first and frowned at the second, I respected his choice.

Beach together

This photo is mutually approved!

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Most people know airing dirty laundry or making passive-aggressive comments about a partner is a bad idea in any public forum, be it social media or a backyard social. If it’s an issue, instead of visiting a lawyer for a pre-nup, you might want to see a counselor for professional relationship guidance. Research has shown that couples who offer five positive statements—compliments, expressions of thanks, etc.—for every one critical piece of feedback are more likely to stay together.

World Wired Weird

Everything has its flip side. Planning a wedding sans the web would also be harder in some ways. There would be no wedding website, which–though time-consuming initially–allowed us to streamline our invitations, and relieved some pressure when they were slightly delayed. I’m a bit phone-phobic, so I’m thrilled to be able to communicate with vendors via email. I would miss having access to online craft tutorials and Etsy. And obviously, without the web, I wouldn’t have the opportunity or joy of chronicling this journey on a blog.

We’re gonna skip the social media pre-nup.

Yes, everything has its flip side. For many years I struggled to appreciate the boons of being single. My schedule was my own, I could decorate my home any way I liked, and adopt as many cats as I pleased. 🙂 But I was lonely (cats notwithstanding), and I wanted someone to laugh with, someone to hold me, someone to share my thoughts with, to ask, “How was your day?”

Steve and I haven’t yet walked down the aisle, but one of the gifts  our almost-marriage has already granted is perspective: the understanding it’s all a trade-off. I can more fully appreciate the gifts of the life I’ve led up to now, even as I thrill to the prospect of exchanging those gifts for others. I now, finally, see the whole of my life, as, well, whole.

Here at the crossroads, I look back and I look forward. And everything I see is a brave new world.