Wedding Planning 101: Lessons from Kim and Kanye

I don’t usually follow celebrity gossip, but whenever I visit my hairstylist or the doctor’s office, I enjoy flipping through a cheesy magazine or two. After all, it would be un-American of me not to maintain at least a basic knowledge of the intimate details of vast numbers of people I’ll never meet and rarely respect. While getting my hair done not long ago, I was perusing my stylist’s back-stash of celebrity rags and saw a magazine headline from fall 2013, something along the lines of “Kim leaves wedding planning to Kanye.” Along with most of the rest of the internet, I’ve seen a bit more of Kim Kardashian lately than I ever really needed or wanted to, though truth be told, I only know who she or any of the Kardashians is because their antics get so much press coverage (if coverage is the right word…). Sans cable or satellite, I don’t get E! and have never seen the family’s reality show. In fact, I’m proud to report I had to look up which network even carries it; as further proof of our compatibility, Steve didn’t know either!

The part of the headline that caught my eye was not “Kim” nor “Kanye” (the musician who railed at Taylor Swift for winning a Grammy he thought someone else deserved, yes?). The words I latched onto were, no surprise, “wedding planning.” Steve and I are, relatively speaking, still in the early stages of corralling the vast compendium of activities that innocent-sounding phrase describes, but I continue to feel amazed and overwhelmed at the seemingly infinite reach of this thing called the “wedding industry.”

So, when I read the headline, I had three thoughts, in this order: (1) Wow, there are times when I wish I could hand it all off to Steve. (2) I could never hand it all off to Steve—I’ve waited years to plan my wedding! And finally, (3): Bullshit. Kanye’s idea of wedding planning probably means making a list of extravagant ideas, picking up a phone to hire a wedding planner, and then telling his staff to get busy. Methinks–as I have texted back and forth with my mom about fabric choices, spent hours perusing photographers’ websites, and sent yet another email to our chosen venue, asking, again, when can we, please, sign a contract?—Mr. West’s dreaming up ever more grandiose ideas with nary a worry of how to finance any of them does not count as “planning.”

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This is the Place!

We have a venue! Welcome to the Rooftop Garden at the Center in the Square.

A little backstory: Steve and I started dating in February of 2013, and one evening that May, we headed downtown, as we often did. It was a warm spring night, and after dinner at Table 50, we walked to Billy’s for a cocktail. You know how in every relationship there are those watershed moments, key conversations or experiences when everything seems to shift, either stall out or leap forward? Maybe the martinis were particularly strong, but as we sat at a high-top near the bar, our conversation turned, for the first time, to past relationships. We shared stories of dashed hopes and talked frankly about some of the painful and pivotal events that had led us to where we were. There were a few tears, tightly held hands, kisses of acceptance and promise. When we left Billy’s, my heart felt light and sure. I hadn’t yet told Steve I loved him, but the feeling had taken firm root.

On our way to dinner, we’d seen a number of dressed-up folks, women in evening gowns, men in tuxedos and sharp black suits. The party-goers were too mature for prom, so when we spotted a large white tent on the corner of the market, we’d figured there was a ball or fundraiser going on. By the time we left Billy’s to stroll around and enjoy the weather, the party was in full swing. The tent was lit up, and we  heard the unmistakable sound of my all-time favorite 80s-cover band, Superhold.

People were sitting at round tables scattered under the tent, and more were just outside it, dancing on the parking lot dance floor. Now that it was dark, we could see the atrium of the Center in the Square filled with the festively-dressed folks we’d passed earlier. The party was in celebration of the grand re-opening of the newly remodeled Center, which had been closed for several years for renovations. The spaces that housed Mill Mountain Theatre, the History Museum, the Harrison Museum of African-American Culture, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia had all been redesigned and upgraded; the atrium now featured several aquariums, and there was a new butterfly garden upstairs. Crowning it all was a two-story rooftop garden. Continue reading

Steve with post-it

Choosing a Venue, 2: If You Liked It, Then You Shoulda Put A Label On It… ?

I love labels. I own a label-maker and love the feeling of clarity and control that comes with designating a spot for a particular set of objects or items, labeling said shelf or drawer or basket, and knowing ever-after exactly where those objects do (or at least should) live. My love of labels actually derives from a tendency toward disorganization, the result of an over-extended brain combined with a bit of laziness: using labels means I only have to think about where to put or find something once, and after that, all I have to do is read the signs. Lest you are picturing an entire house decorated with narrow strips of white tape, I should hasten to add that my labeling is confined to those places where, sans a defined organizational system, contents tend to accumulate, disappear, and/or multiply with mysterious rapidity: the basement, the closet, the craft room.

labels3As much as I find comfort in their conspicuous certainty, however, not everything needs a label. It’s pretty obvious that bookshelves are intended for books, and I can usually remember where I last left, say, the sofa.

What does any of this have to do with wedding venues?  And why is Steve wearing a post-it with “Fiancé” stuck to his chest?  Funny you should ask. Continue reading


Choosing a Venue, 1: Not-so-Dirty Dancing


The cats joined us. Any man who will pull a rickety wagon piled with three cat carriers and their shrilly questioning inhabitants on a path through the woods is a keeper!

The first wedding venue Steve and I looked at, if somewhat accidentally, was Mountain Lake, a destination resort high in the hills of southwest Virginia. We spent a week there not long after our engagement on a kind of working vacation. I’d been contemplating doing a nature piece about the area, so I wanted to hike some trails and take photos to see what, if anything, might surface as a focal point. Steve used the time we weren’t hiking to make progress on a major project he had underway.

Though my own interest in the area is ecological, Mountain Lake is most famous for being the primary location where the 1987 romantic sleeper hit Dirty Dancing, starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, was filmed. In one scene Swayze’s character Johnny, a dance instructor at “Kellerman’s” resort, is trying to teach Grey’s Baby, who is visiting with her family, a dramatic lift, and they practice the move in the lake. The area looks a bit different these days, as most of the lake has somewhat mysteriously drained away in the past five or six years. Scientists believe that varying rainfall and run-off levels in combination with shifting plates beneath the lake are to blame, and there is evidence that the phenomenon is cyclical, having occurred at least once before in the late 1800s. The resort is still beautiful, and it was fun, too, to visit a place that has been permanently infused with a sense of romance since I first saw and loved Dirty Dancing at age sixteen. I never really had a thing for Swayze (though he certainly showed the world why women love a man who dances). More exciting than finding and falling in love with a man possessed of such mad skills was the fantasy I could learn to dance like that myself. I wanted to be Baby, not just because Johnny loved her (and I did want to be loved), but because I wanted the experience of waking something up in myself I didn’t know was there, of defying and breaking free from conventional expectations I sometimes felt boxed me in. Shedding the role of dutiful good girl to become a passionate artist: that was the film’s real appeal.

Though I must confess, I’ve always thought the moment when Baby shows up to Johnny’s quarters and they dance to “Cry to Me” to be one of the sexiest, most romantic seduction scenes ever. When she drops back into that first long, slow dip, it leaves me breathless.

Spring 2014 392

The lake in spring 2014

I wouldn’t describe myself as a Dirty Dancing “fan,” however, and Steve and I weren’t seriously considering Mountain Lake as a wedding venue. But they were hosting a bridal open house the Friday we were there, and we thought attending would be a good way to get a sense of venue packages and pricing. It was my first official event as a “bride,” and I felt a little like I had standing in the wedding book aisle in the bookstore: it was fun to claim that identity publicly. The onsite event planner greeted us warmly on the lodge porch, and Steve and I sipped complimentary sangria as we perused photo albums of on-site weddings. We sampled some to-die-for shrimp and grits while the chef shared his secret (sourcing from a mill in North Carolina and soaking the grits in milk), then tasted several desserts, including chocolate covered strawberries and a divine strawberry mousse. As we toured different types of lodging, a big cabin with the wrap-around porch and cozy fireplace made us start dreaming. What if we did get married there?

Then, we went back to the main lodge and asked to see the packages. You know that moment in the movie when Baby’s sister Lisa marches up to the aspiring med student Robbie’s place, having decided to sleep with him, then sees another woman emerging from his quarters? How her face shifts from hope to amazement and shock? Yeah.

The night before the open house, Steve and I had been sharing some wine in the lodge bar, eavesdropping on a rather entertaining conversation the youthful-looking bartender was having with two fifty-something women patrons. He was searching for a wedding venue himself; his long-term Venezuelan girlfriend’s visa was about to expire, and they had decided to get married. She wanted a carnival theme, but they couldn’t afford Mountain Lake, he reported, to the delight of the ladies, who apparently owned a B&B themselves where they hosted weddings, among other interesting ventures: after one of their neighbors had come and done laundry at their place, her ghost-hunter brother decided to do some filming there, and they had just hosted 36 people in one month who were searching for Sasquatch. One, or maybe both, of the women (there was wine involved) had gotten married at Mountain Lake some years before, and they were planning an anniversary party at the resort later in the summer. I was thinking their B&B sounded much more intriguing. And assuredly less expensive.

Mountain Lake

The dock extending from the movie’s famous gazebo, May 2014

Don’t get me wrong: Mountain Lake is a spectacular venue, even with the lake level low, and I’m certain the staff would work with us if we wanted to celebrate our wedding there. But aside from an early date when we’d shared our first hike (and first photo) on one of the resort’s trails, Steve and I just didn’t have enough personal connection to the place to make the investment worth it.

Besides, any Dirty Dancing fantasies I had have already come true, or close enough. I still don’t know how to do the mambo like Baby (and probably never will–though dance lessons are on our agenda). But I long ago learned how to seize opportunities to venture beyond my comfort zone, to let go of others’ expectations and focus on discovering new possibilities within myself.

And one afternoon during our stay, after playing a few rounds of ping-pong and pool in the Mountain Lake barn’s loft-area game room, I turned to Steve as we headed down the stairs and asked, “So, just how much do you love me?”

He hesitated, thinking I’d decided Mountain Lake was the place after all, that I was about to ask if we could break our budget to tie the knot there on the property.

“Do you have a dollar for the jukebox?” I said and grinned.

Relief washed over Steve’s face as he pulled a crumpled bill from his wallet. I punched in the Dirty Dancing theme song, “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” and alone in the middle of the empty barn, in the middle of the afternoon, we danced. He did look a little panicked when I backed up and jokingly threatened to run at him for the famous lift. Instead, I slowed as I reached him and folded myself into his arms for a kiss. Making beautiful memories needn’t cost thousands of dollars; more often than not, happiness can be had for less than the cost of a cup of coffee. Steve grasped my hand tightly, spun me out and around, and we kept right on dancing.