Saturday, November 29, 2008

I am a very proud bargain-hunter

I did it! I picked a bridesmaids' dress!

Whew. That's been a long road. Initially, my "vision" was to find a nice line of bridesmaids' dresses and tell my ladies to pick anything they liked in navy. This sounded simple, but it wasn't. First off, several of the styles I liked didn't come in navy (I know - what?). Second, I'm a fabric snob. I didn't want to ask my bridesmaids to pay $200 for a dress that looked and felt like cheap polyester -- which meant most traditional bridesmaids lines (Dessy, I'm looking at you) were out of the question. Third, I wanted to find a line with at least one dress that would let the girls wear a regular bra. Nothing but spaghetti straps, halters and strapless for miles around, let me tell you.

I flirted briefly with Aria Bridesmaids, but I ordered one of their dresses to try on and just wasn't impressed with the quality. J. Crew had one cute dress in navy and was planning to sell more navy dresses in their spring collection, but was that too long to wait? Melissa Sweet and Priscilla of Boston had several cute bridesmaids' dresses but nothing that quite worked. I loved the photos on the Jenny Yoo website of their newest silk shantung collection, but was a little worried about the cost, and I wasn't in love with their particular shade of navy.

I had just made an appointment to visit the Jenny Yoo boutique in NYC when one of my frequent visits to the J. Crew bridesmaids website paid off. The dress I'd always liked, the Sophia short silk dress in navy, was on sale for $125. And when I visited the J. Crew homepage, I learned they were running a Black Friday sale ... 30% off orders over $250!

Like Miss Hot Cocoa, I hadn't planned for all of my ladies to wear identical dresses. But faced with such a great bargain, I realized that my bridesmaids would probably rather save money than pay $200 for a dress that they kind of picked out themselves but probably still wouldn't wear again. Plus, this dress was super bra-friendly (it even has lingerie straps to secure the bra under the dress!).

So yesterday I called all of my bridesmaids and got their sizes (one of the great things about ordering from J. Crew: they all owned at least 1 item of J. Crew clothing and knew their size!), went online, punched in the coupon code, and ordered the dresses! Here she is: the J. Crew silk Sophia dress in navy.

The final price? $87.50 per dress. Heck yeah! (Fellow bargain-hunters: the J. Crew sale expires at midnight EST tonight. But even if you miss out on the Black Friday discounts, there are still many cute dresses on sale at J. Crew. I often feel that J. Crew clothes are a bit overpriced, but I'll say this: when they put something on sale they mean business!)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wine Wednesday 2: Cabernets

My taste in wine was (and still is) very strongly influenced by my father. We both disdain sweet wines in favor of dry, bold, complex ones -- usually reds.* I grew up hearing my dad extol the unique virtues of Cabernet Sauvignon, and I have to say I agree with him. A good Cab is hard to beat, and when I'm shopping for a special red, I often find myself heading for the Cabernet aisle.

The Annabella 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet, from Michael Pozzan, is a recent bargain find. It runs around $12-$15 a bottle, and it's wonderful -- rich, bold, and slightly fruity without being syrupy. At this price it's hard to beat.

Image from

If you're going for a major splurge, on the other hand ... allow me to suggest the best Cab I've ever had. Introducing: the 2004 Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet.

Yes, I know this is the 2005 label,
but I couldn't find the 2004.
Image from

At $65 a bottle, this is by far the most expensive wine I've ever purchased -- and I didn't even buy it for myself! I tried it while wine-tasting with friends in Napa several years ago, and knew immediately that it was something special. A couple of months later, as my brother and I combed the wine store looking for something to give our dad for Christmas, we happened upon this. I jumped for joy and insisted that this was the one we should get him.

In January, I asked my dad how he'd liked the wine. Now, my dad has never been shy about telling us that the wines we give him are "just OK" when he doesn't like them. But this time, his eyes widened with remembered bliss. "That was probably the best wine I've ever had. It was absolutely amazing." At last! Success! We had finally managed to get something that my dad not only liked, but loved.

Despite my fondness for this wine, I've never splurged on a bottle for myself -- $65 is a bit hard to justify on our budget. But I think when I finish my PhD, I'll track down a bottle of Cakebread Cabernet to celebrate my triumph. It's that special.

* My brother, on the other hand, has somehow developed a taste for ultra-sweet Rieslings. We're not sure where we went wrong.

Friday, November 21, 2008

It begins ...

"Time to add gifts," says my Crate and Barrel registry helpfully. "There are only 7 items left on your gift registry."

"Cram it, C&B," I respond grumpily. "Just back off, we'll get to it. Someday."

Econo Boy and I recently, and very tentatively, began the process of registering for wedding gifts. 8 months out is pretty early, I think, but the process got accelerated because my maid of honor is throwing me a shower over Christmas. We're mostly doing it so we can have an excuse to bake things and play silly games, but my MOH encouraged me to build at least a small list for people who couldn't imagine showing up to a shower empty-handed. So I opened registries on and Crate and Barrel, and threw together a list of things I knew I could fit in my suitcase -- a digital meat thermometer, a couple of cookbooks, a butter dish, and an AeroLatte milk frother for making homemade lattes.
The amazing AeroLatte milk frother!

Putting together a registry, I realized, is weirdly tricky. Econo Boy and I will almost certainly be moving to a new state after the wedding. Will we have a house? Another apartment? A condo? We have no idea. Also in the "we have no idea" column: how much storage space our new kitchen will have and whether it will be easy or hard to transport wedding gifts to our new home. Econo Boy has applied to jobs all over the country -- this time next year, we could be almost anywhere! And it's more than likely that we'll be moving again a year or two after that when I start looking for jobs.*

"Milk frother? Meat thermometer? Potholders?! What is this?!" cries my C&B registry. "Where is the china? The crystal champagne flutes? The $400 KitchenAid standing mixer?" (The registry is not nearly so judgmental.)

"Give it up," I tell the registry. "In our transient state, registering for ten china place settings just doesn't make sense. Plus, we already have nice wine glasses. You'll get what we give you and be happy with it. Here, I'll add a wine decanter to make you feel better."
I decide not to tell the registry that I never wanted china in the first place. Having china just makes me nervous about breaking it. I'd rather have sturdy but affordable stoneware in pretty colors and interesting designs. And Econo Boy is opposed on principle to anything that costs more than he thinks it should. Needless to say he is not a fan of $50 plates, no matter how delicate and pretty.

The wine decanter does not appease the registry. "Why did you even bother opening me?" it asks unhappily. "If you're going to be semi-homeless wandering scholars with no use for china, why register at all?"

"We have our reasons," I tell the registry.

And, indeed, we do have our reasons. Two reasons, in fact. The first, nobler one, is to save our guests hassle. When I'm invited to a wedding, I really want to give my friends something to celebrate their union, preferably something they can use and enjoy as a couple. But I don't really want to spend an entire weekend searching every department store and cute kitchen boutique for the "perfect" gift. Registries take the guesswork out of wedding gift-giving. I can buy a coffee pot or a set of dishes for the couple knowing that it's *exactly* what they want and that they'll use it over and over again. I like that, and I know many of our guests will too.

The second reason is less noble. We want to register because we don't want people to give us things we don't want or can't use (follow the link for an advice column from Tomato Nation on this dilemma). Of course, this may happen whether or not we register for anything. Every family has some variation on Crazy Aunt Phyllis who will give you life-sized hand-decorated lawn flamingos no matter what you put on your wish list. But I think the risk that anyone will try to get us a 40-pound crystal punch bowl or a giant tie-dyed painting of jazz musicians does go down a bit if our loved ones see that our registry is small and filled with easily-transportable items.

Did you register for gifts? Was your registry tiny like ours, or bigger and more traditional? As a guest, do you prefer shopping from a registry? Or do you like selecting something more personal?

* Assuming, of course, that there are jobs, and that anyone wants to hire me. This economy is really depressing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wine Wednesday 1: Cline Cellars Viognier

I've decided to try out a new semi-regular feature on this blog. Introducing: Wine Wednesdays!

This may seem weird in a blog about wedding planning, but it's actually not entirely unrelated. Econo Boy and I spend a wonderful, romantic weekend together in Sonoma visiting various wineries, and ever since we've had a blast trying new wines together. (I even bought a wine log app for my iPod touch that lets me keep a database of everything we try and how much we like it.)

Because it's something we enjoy so much as a couple, we really want to put together a special wine list for our wedding. One of my requirements of our venue was that they let us bring our own alcohol so we could do exactly that. So really, Wine Wednesday is just as much a part of the planning process as me complaining about bridesmaids' dresses. :-)

A few disclaimers before we get started:
  1. I am not a wine expert. I do not pretend to be a wine expert. I enjoy wine, I try lots of different ones, but I have a long way to go in my "wine education" before I know the right vocabulary to describe the tannins in a Cabernet. (If you want a real expert take, read the Wall Street Journal's fabulous Tastings column, written by the dynamic married duo of Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher.)
  2. The vast majority of wines I will talk about cost under $15 a bottle. I may mention some of the really special wines we tried and bought on our trip to Sonoma, but in general this is our poor-grad-student price range for wine.
  3. Special mention will go to eco-friendly wines by sustainable producers or small wineries.
All right! On to our first selection for Wine Wednesday: the Cline Cellars 2007 Viognier.

It took me a while to start enjoying white wines. I blame California Chardonnay for this failing. 90% of the wines you'll be served at parties are Chardonnays, and many of them are too oaky, too buttery, too heavy, or too sweet. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you get the ultra-sharp, ultra-dry whites that taste like paint thinner. Ick.

The Cline Cellars Viognier, which Econo Boy and I tried together in Sonoma, was the white wine that opened my eyes. This wine is fruity and refreshing, but not overly sweet. It's light and crisp without being too thin or dry. I could see myself drinking it at a barbeque on a hot summer day, serving it at a dinner party with spicy Mexican food, or sipping it all on its own just because I felt like a glass of wine.

Best of all? It's reasonably priced. The vineyard sells it for $16 a bottle. It's a bit hard to find outside of California (Cline is a fairly small vineyard), but if you see it on the shelf in your local wine store, snap it up. Trust me, you'll thank me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I have a secret ...

I've tried to keep my secret quietly so I don't hurt anyone. But I can't take it anymore. I have to confess.

I hate wedding cakes.

There, I said it!

I hate how over-decorated they are. I hate how they get gunked up with flowers and ribbons and pearls (PEARLS?!) and icing in colors that no sensible human being would actually consume. I hate how they're made in cutesy ridiculous shapes. Let me give you some examples:

Images from

See what I mean? The bright blue icing! The squiggly metallic gold flowers! The elaborate shape! The $1000+ price tag! Aaargh!

Please don't confuse this with a hatred for cakes in general. I actually love cake. If I could figure out how to live on nothing but cake, believe me, I'd do it. My dislike for wedding cakes comes in part from the fact that they look nothing like real cakes. They're pretty, and there's clearly a lot of hard work and talent that goes into a cake like the ones above, but they don't make my mouth water like a real cake should. Generally speaking, they also taste nothing like real cakes. Fondant is pretty, but taste- and texture-wise it's the work of the devil.

My dislike for wedding cakes also won't prevent us from having cake at our wedding. I think what Econo Boy and I will do is order 1 or 2 sheet cakes for the caterers to serve, and then have a smaller two- or three-tiered cake for cake-cutting purposes. My dream cake would probably look like a cross between these two -- simple and yummy-looking, and decorated with lush summer berries. And buttercream icing only -- NO FONDANT!

Images from Gateaux
is a Denver-based bakery and will definitely be one of
my cake-tasting stops this December!

Am I insane? Am I a cake-hating philistine with no style or taste? Or am I just a purist, yearning for a simpler time when wedding cakes looked and tasted delicious rather than being contorted into elaborate dessert sculptures? I leave the verdict to you. Also, if you haven't already, check out the hilarious blog Cake Wrecks for amusingly misspelled, hideously ugly, or just plain ill-conceived cake disasters.

Uber Amazing Blogs!

Sweet T, the stylish, snarky, socially conscious blogger behind Cats, Cheese and a Wedding, Please! just named me the recipient of an Uber Amazing Blog award! Thanks, Sweet T!

The catch, of course, is that now I must nominate 5 blogs to receive this prestigious honor :-) So in no particular order, they are:

1. Manolo for the Brides. I was reading this one before I even got engaged (in my defense, I started reading it because I was a bridesmaid). Blogger Never teh Bride is like a free-spirited, awesomely supportive older sister. And I'm pretty sure I share a brain with weekend blogger and etiquette maven Twistie -- what I hate, she hates, and what she loves, I love.

2. Doubly Happy Too. Miss Hot Cocoa also posts over at Weddingbee, which is how I found her blog. Her account of her conversion to Judaism has been fascinating and moving, and she also has an amazing sense of style. I was blown away when she convinced me that feathers in a bouquet not only work, but can be stunning.

3. A Practical Wedding. It never fails -- whenever I'm stressing about something wedding-related (my bridal party, wedding favors, the horrible economy), along Meg comes with a post that puts everything into perspective. I'm also in awe of the amazing wedding photos she posts -- Meg, where do you find this gorgeousness?

4. Introverted Bride. Want to read about a fun, quirky, totally unique wedding? Tired of hearing from brides who say things like "I've been planning my wedding since I was 5!"? This is the blog for you!

And at #5, we have a 3-way tie between blogs who have already received the Uber Amazing Blogs award from other admirers:
The Broke-Ass Bride
Our Little Haus
and, of course, Cats, Cheese and a Wedding, Please!

If you want to nominate some Uber Amazing blogs, steal this icon and nominate away!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Guests in exile, or, is brunch worth a plane ticket?

Econo Boy and I tend to be of one mind on almost everything. It's actually kind of disturbing. Sometimes I worry that we'll end up like those couples who dress alike and speak in unison and basically freak everyone out with their scary identical-ness.

Because we're so similar, it tends to take us aback when we discover a point of disagreement. For example, what kind of wedding we should have.

I can't remember where I read this, but I remember reading at some point that Sunday brunch receptions tend to be much less expensive than Saturday night dinner receptions. I love brunch, so I immediately pictured us saying our vows at 11am and heading in to a scrumptious buffet.

Hello, delicious! Image from

But when I floated this idea by Econo Boy, he was less than enthusiastic. Actually, he was appalled. "We can't ask people to come to Colorado just for BRUNCH!" he said, his eyes wide with horror.

I could see he had his heart on Saturday night dinner and dancing and I gave way, but I remained completely baffled by his insistence that a brunch reception was an unacceptable slight to our guests. (This is a man who thought it would be "no big deal" to choose a ceremony site that didn't have enough seats for everyone!)

Today, Meg at A Practical Wedding (one of my two favorite wedding blogs -- if you haven't, definitely check it out!) wrote a post about a 1927 wedding that elicited much commentary about how much simpler weddings were before World War II. It's true, most of them were! And I think the shift has been in large part due to the increasing number of out of town guests at most weddings. Back In The Day, more people spent their entire lives in the same area, if not the same town. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friends almost certainly lived nearby. Since few had to travel a great distance to the wedding, I think there was less pressure to do anything beyond cake and punch or a wedding breakfast.

But now, with so many people who go to college out-of-state and/or move far from their parents, it's much likelier that our friends and family are scattered all over the country, if not the world. The idea that your nearest and dearest are plunking down a big chunk of change for airfare and hotels in order to be with you definitely ratchets up the pressure to "go big."

Personally, and I say this as an airport-hating out-of-town-guest veteran, I think a lot of couples (and, apparently, Econo Boy) put too much weight on "making it worth the trip." "Will the party be big enough to justify the cost of my plane ticket?" has honestly never entered into my decision about whether to attend a wedding.

But I do think if your guest list contains many people who are coming from out of town, it's good to be thoughtful about the fact that travel is a hassle and do what you can to make it easier for them. Some of my favorite out-of-town-guest gestures are:
  1. Maps. I have no sense of direction, so I love it when couples include Mapquest directions with the invitations, on the website, or in out-of-town guest bags.
  2. Booking blocks of hotel rooms. This is so much easier than researching dozens of hotels in an unfamiliar city and trying to figure out which ones are closest to the reception site.
  3. Inviting OOT guests to the rehearsal dinner. This one's a bit controversial, and I'd never be offended if I wasn't invited to a rehearsal dinner, but I usually fly in the day before the wedding and it's lovely to have a meal already planned and people to talk to!
Some things I think aren't necessary:
  1. "Activities" to fill the time. I'm a grownup. I don't need you to book me a bus tour of San Francisco in order to keep me entertained.
  2. Out of town guest bags. They're a lovely gesture, and I do like it when maps are included, but if putting them together means lots of extra expense and stress, skip it!
  3. Putting yourself into debt to throw a party you can't afford.
What does everyone else think? Does inviting out of town guests obligate you to throw a huge party? Or will people be happy to be there regardless?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mmmm, shoe porn

I try very hard not to torture myself with looking at items (wedding-related or otherwise) that I can't possibly afford. But for some reason, looking at insanely expensive designer shoes is just ... fun. Sort of like going to an art museum. You can't afford the Rembrandts, but that doesn't make it less fun to look.

If I had an unlimited budget (and if I could walk in 3-inch heels), these are the shoes I'd track down and try on for the big day.

1. Manolo Blahnik d'Orsay Pumps.

If I ever go totally nuts and decide to drop $600+ on a pair of shoes, they'll probably be Manolo Blahniks. I've heard that Manolos are the most comfortable of the crazy-expensive designer shoes, and they almost always make me swoon. Check out this gorgeousness:

I also love this peacock color. Something about the ivory dress just screams for brightly-colored shoes.

2. Kate Spade Mattie

I love Kate Spade shoes -- they're preppy and classic, exactly my style. And these 2" heels actually look like I could walk in them!

3. Stuart Weitzman Delovely

Simple, classic, delicate.

4. Christian Louboutin pink pumps

I have a soft spot for pink, and these are just stunning.

5. Rene Caovilla rhinestone sandals

4.25" heel. Rhinestone straps. Giant flower. How amazingly, gorgeously impractical can you get?!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Get that glue gun away from me!

With the stock market collapsing and so many people worried about losing their jobs, the wedding blogosphere is full of advice on how to trim wedding budgets. Econo Boy and I are both cautious about spending money, so I usually read these articles intently and think about how to incorporate the suggestions into our own wedding. Candle centerpieces instead of flowers? Great idea! Surf E-Bay for deals on tablecloths? Also a great idea! Forget the calla lilies and orchids and choose less expensive wildflower bouquets? Tell me more!

Candles are pretty! Image from

But there is one piece of advice that I don’t find particularly useful: save money through DIY projects. (DIY, for the uninitiated, stands for “Do It Yourself.”)

I am not a DIY believer. Even as a kid, I hated arts and crafts because my projects always turned out, well, crappy. I’m all thumbs when it comes to paint, clay, glue, and glitter. My projects never, ever looked like the perky illustrations in the how-to guide the teacher handed out. And since I’m a perfectionist, viewing the imperfect results of my efforts would reduce me to a stressed-out, unhappy mess. One of the great pleasures of adulthood is that no one makes me use a hot glue gun or an X-acto knife anymore.

So frankly, I would rather shave my head than devote several Saturdays to hand-painting an “Econo Boy and Bride in Exile” monogram on 150 hand-stitched wedding favor bags. (In fact, I’m mildly hostile to the entire concept of wedding favors, and I think wedding monograms are kind of weird, but that’s another post.) I’ll hand-write the addresses on my invitations and I’m perfectly willing to put my own candles in their candle holders for the table, but that’s it. If we can’t afford to pay someone else to do it, it ain’t happening at our wedding.

I’m not against DIY for everyone. I’ve encountered tons of blogs written by women who genuinely love handcrafting charming details for their weddings. If that’s you, go for it! (Also, if that’s you, I’m completely jealous of your talents.) Wedding planning should be something we enjoy at least a little bit, and if you have always been an arts-and-crafts goddess, it would be a crime not to indulge yourself in as many awesome DIY projects as you have time for.

But I feel like the “save money through DIY” advice is far more limited than Martha Stewart and Weddingbee would have us believe, because it really only works for people who don’t hate crafty projects. For some of us, the stress and frustration isn’t worth the savings.

Is anyone else annoyed by the constant call to “DIY”? What are some great money-saving tips that don’t involve sacrificing every evening and weekend before the wedding?