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!

    The Long Dance: Beginnings & Endings

    On the Eastern Shore

    On the Eastern Shore

    In the midst of moving, Steve and I broke away from the fray to attend a destination wedding on the Eastern Shore. The ceremony and reception were scheduled for Sunday, part of a weekend-long event spanning Saturday through Monday, as the bride and groom and their families are Jewish. Steve’s former graduate student, Pamela, had gotten engaged to her boyfriend Alex the May before last on commencement day, and Steve, as her primary advisor, had attended a graduation dinner with her family that evening. Steve and I had gotten engaged ourselves only a week or so before the young couple did, so as Pamela wrapped up some additional research that summer, she and Steve traded talk of wedding plans, and he often shared their conversations with me.

    After those early moments of comparing notes, we were really looking forward to celebrating the start of Pamela and Alex’s lives as married folk, especially so close to our own nuptials. We booked a room at a charming B&B, packed up suit, tie, and fancy dress, and headed toward the Chesapeake Bay. We drove partway Saturday evening, and around 9 pm or so we stopped for a bathroom break and a Frosty at Wendy’s. While I waited on line in the restroom, I pulled out my phone and called up Facebook. The first post in my feed was from a woman in my high school class, and it read simply “Sad news: my brother David passed away.”

    Homecoming with David

    Homecoming with David

    It took me a moment to register the import of the news, and when I did, I bent forward, the breath physically knocked out of me, trying not to hyperventilate. Her brother was David, one of my dearest high school friends. We’d been in drama club together, and he’d played my husband in L’il Abner when I was in tenth grade. After I left the next year to study abroad in Germany, he wrote me long newsy letters from home. David had already graduated when I returned for my senior year, but he escorted me to my senior Homecoming dance, and he came back and built the sets for our spring production of The Miracle Worker. Another night, we met up with friends, played fifties music, and cut a rug in their living room until the wee hours. David and I never dated, but his was a consistent, solid friendship that spanned most of my high school days and several years beyond.

    His death was a shock—he was so young, and hadn’t, to my knowledge, been ill. Our contact in recent years had been limited to Facebook, and I knew there’d been some tough times: a move across the country, the dissolution of a marriage, custody battles. In the past year, though, things seemed good: he was dating a woman he adored, spending time with his daughter, regularly expressing gratitude for all the beauty in his world. What had happened? I’d imagined the weekend as a celebration of beginnings, and suddenly there was this terrible, unexpected, too-soon ending. I returned to Steve shaken and unnerved.

    Chuppah overlooking the bay

    Chuppah overlooking the bay

    We arrived in Cape Charles the next day a little after lunch, found some deli sandwiches, and set about getting ready for the wedding. The ceremony was held outside in a grassy area overlooking the bay. It was hot and humid, but beautiful, the occasional light sea breeze fluttering the white fabric draping the Chuppah. The sun slowly began to drop as the wedding party made their entrances. I choked up when the string quartet played Pachelbel’s Canon, the music I plan to walk in to. The bride and groom looked so happy, so young, as each walked down the aisle arm in arm with their respective sets of parents.

    The traditional Jewish ceremony was lovely. I got a little tickled when I realized the rabbi was using hand signals to help Pamela and Alex keep track of the number of circles they’d walked around one another: the bride and groom circle one another seven times before they reach the Chuppah, a ritual believed to represent the intertwining of their lives together. As the rabbi blessed the couple, I was deeply moved by the exhortation that they always remain “startled” by the depth of their love for one another.

    Enjoying the cocktail hour

    Enjoying the cocktail hour

    I cried only once, after the groom’s grandparents followed the newlyweds’ first dance with a dance celebrating their 62nd wedding anniversary, occurring that same date. When grandpa dipped grandma to conclude the dance (more tilt than dip, but the intention was clear), the gesture clutched at my heart. I’d have to live to 107 (Steve to 119) to dance with my beloved on our 62nd wedding anniversary. But seeing the fresh faces and careful steps of the newlyweds followed by the familiar ease and enduring romance of the long-married couple painted a poignant kind of “before and after” of lasting love. It was a strange sort of time warp, the newlyweds both themselves and a memory of their grandparents, the grandparents themselves and a projection of Pamela and Alex’s future. I, too, wanted to be all of them, all at once.

    Dancing into the evening

    Dancing into the evening

    Watching the dancers, it occurred to me that even without the tragic and unwelcome news of David’s death the night before, it wouldn’t have been possible for the weekend to be only about beginnings, because beginnings are also always endings, just as endings are always also beginnings. As T. S. Eliot writes, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” Sometimes a beginning/ending is the result of a loss, a subtraction—a death, a divorce; sometimes, an addition—a move to a new home, marriage to a partner. Whichever element is foremost, beginnings/endings encompass both gratitude and grief. Even the hardest hits bring gifts we could not, in the depths, anticipate; even the greatest gains, strange mourning.

    Sunset on the bay

    Sunset on the bay

    Dramatic dip or gentle tilt, the dancers must rise back up together to complete the step, and the recovery usually involves a half-spin, a circling back. Eliot again: “…the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

    Perhaps the best we can ask for is to stay out on the dance floor, as Grandpa Simon did that night, until the band stops playing. As long as there’s music, there’s always time for one more dance.

    The Problem of the “Perfect”

    When I went in for a dental check-up and cleaning not long ago, my hygienist, “Christina,” told me her daughter had gotten married last spring, right around the time Steve and I had gotten engaged. Since she’d recently planned and carried out a wedding locally, I thought she might be a good resource for vendors, and she was eager to offer advice. In between bite-wing x-rays, I asked about planners and photographers, and she shared a couple of names. By the time she started telling me about her daughter’s venue and describing the day, I was tilted back in the chair, various instruments scraping and splooshing and polishing my teeth, a captive audience unable to speak.

    Which was okay, because Christina had plenty to say.

    She told me about her daughter’s wedding dress. When they found “the one,” it was a tiny bit over their budget, but she decided it was worth the couple hundred dollar splurge. Then they’d driven to Richmond and spent four times the amount of that splurge on alterations to ensure the dress was “perfect.” “The dress matters so much,” Christina said, as she handed me the suction. A bridal portrait of her daughter sat on a nearby shelf, and the dress was flattering. Still, interviewing multiple cleaners all over town, and stressing out the poor woman they’d selected so much she swore she hadn’t slept the night before she was to press it? It seemed a little extreme.

    Then, Christina told me about her daughter’s wedding party, the bridesmaids’ dresses they’d chosen. “I was worried about one of my daughter’s attendants,” she said, lowering her voice confidentially. “You know, worried about her figure.”

    I was glad my mouth was already open. What on earth?

    “And she’s sort of this shy, quiet type, too, a librarian, so I was worried about whether she’d even have a good time,” she continued.

    I blinked rapidly in defense of introverts everywhere.

    “But—” Christina turned away to check the x-rays of my mouth splayed across the computer screen behind her. “Her dress looked lovely, and she was fine.” She descended on my mouth again. “In fact, she came up to me at the end of the wedding and said ‘This wedding has ruined all other weddings for me in the future—it was perfect.’ And that—” she paused and pointed the polisher at me “—is what your mother wants to hear.”

    I’m thinking: after 45 years, my mother just wants to hear me say I do.

    “It wasn’t perfect,” Christina added, a bit wistfully. “But, it was fun.”

    Fun is good. Fun is great. It’s not a Broadway production competing for a Tony; it’s a wedding celebration. We say our vows, we have a party, everyone eats, drinks, dances until the shoes come off and the conga line rolls. Legal, fun, and done: those are my criteria.

    Don’t get me wrong—I want the flowers to be exquisite, the wedding party to be radiant, my dress to float just-so as I descend the stairs against the backdrop of robin’s-egg-blue sky. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t pictured this or that moment, in this or that ideal way. But aspiring for everything to be “perfect”—a word Christina kept repeating, a standard she seemed to think attainable—is, in my experience, mostly a recipe for trouble.

    Christina told me she’d dreamed for months about her daughter’s wedding day. She’d cried imagining that morning, how special sharing the preparations and getting ready together would be. “And then,” she said, “we just ended up fighting.” The plan was for her daughter to text her when she woke up, and mom would go in to snuggle her before they launched into the big day. “Well,” she said, shaking her head at the memory, “by the time she texted, I was already up and doing wedding stuff that had to be done. And somehow I missed the text.”

    And that’s the problem of the perfect: too many, too high, too exacting expectations. Not to mention misplaced priorities in pursuit of it. What “wedding stuff” was more important than that snuggle? Then again, attempting to script that kind of “perfect” moment is usually unwise, because no matter what happens, it rarely matches the fantasy.

    There is no such thing as “perfect,” not really. There are expectations, and people or events that meet those expectations—or don’t. We have a habit of calling whatever does meet (or exceed) our expectations “perfect”; what doesn’t is a disappointment. But “perfect” is an abstraction, a relative concept, a practical impossibility. “Perfect” is perception, not reality, and acting as if it is a clearly defined, achievable entity is more likely to lead to discontent than delight.

    “I learned my lesson,” Christina reassured me—or maybe herself. Later that morning, when she and her daughter were at the salon together getting hair and makeup done, the wedding planner called with an issue. Christina took a deep breath and decided to let go of trying to make the day “perfect.” She referred the call to her husband and went back to enjoying the moment with her daughter.

    I’m not sure my hygienist has fully overcome her perfectionist tendencies, but as a recovering perfectionist myself, I know it’s a tough addiction to crack. So whenever I start to worry about some little detail (What if we can’t get the right color daisies?) or some piece I can’t control (What if it’s pouring rain that day?), I remind myself that oftentimes the most memorable moments come from the minor mishaps and unexpected events, the things you couldn’t possibly have planned for but will never forget. I think back to how all the guests at my brother’s wedding were preparing to hum an impromptu wedding march in case the bagpiper, who was delayed, couldn’t make it in time. Or the moment when we realized we didn’t have rose petals readied for the flower girl, and my mother sat down with a basket in her lap and began to pluck petals. My brother knelt down in front of her, took a rose, and went to work.

    As we were scheduling my future check-ups, Christina asked about my wedding date.

    “September,” I said, happy to be sitting upright once again, my mouth appliance free.

    She clicked through her online calendar. “Oh, good,” she said. “That’ll be shortly after a cleaning, so your teeth will look great for pictures.” She turned to me and smiled. “Perfect.”


    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

    What (Not) to Expect When You’re Expecting (a Ring)

    A ring (not unlike a relationship…hmm) calls forth all kinds of expectations: deeply, sometimes even subconsciously, held ideas about how something should look or feel or be, how others should act or respond. The “unexpected” expectations are particularly tricky, since most of us don’t even realize we hold them until something we didn’t expect happens instead.

    For example, I didn’t realize how much I was looking forward to people asking to see my ring until a lot of folks didn’t. I suspect people refrain out of politeness: they don’t want their natural curiosity to be confused with nosiness (or judging the rock). I was equally hesitant to thrust my hand out uninvited, lest my excitement be misinterpreted as showing off or demanding admiration. But I quickly realized I had indeed expected most everyone to respond to my news the way the women in my office did: all three stood up, crowded around me, gave me congratulatory hugs, and then took my hand and gasped. Such moments were part of the dream for me, and I thrilled to the, well, thrill of it all. After all this time, announcing I was engaged did feel kind of miraculous.

    This is my "It's a miracle!" face.

    This is my “It’s a miracle!” face.

    I love my ring and the story it tells me. I chose it myself, sort of, and it’s the “sort of” piece that makes me cherish it all the more. The story of that “sort of” is itself a parable about expectations.

    Over drinks with Steve late one December night at Billy’s, the specter of marriage arose, and he hinted he’d want to know, at some point, what kind of ring I liked. I’ve always loved vintage clothes and jewelry, and some years ago at an antique show, I’d tried on and fallen hard for a filigree band set with a small diamond. Based on that, I told Steve I liked art deco styles. Later, it occurred to me that the filigree piece was the only diamond ring I’d ever given more than a passing glance. I had no idea what I liked. Continue reading