Sunday, September 25, 2011

1,000 Cranes

One thing I've wanted to do for my wedding for years and years is to fold 1,000 paper cranes. Why would someone do this, you ask? The explanation lies somewhere in the murky depths of Japanese folklore. Depending on who you ask, folding 1,000 cranes can:
  1.     grant the folder a wish.
  2.     bring peace.
  3.     bring happiness to a marriage.
Many people know the story of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who suffered from leukemia after surviving the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. Sadako had just turned 12 when she was given one year to live. She began folding cranes with the hope to receive one simple wish: to live. Using all the paper she could--medicine labels and gum wrappers were fair game--Sadako folded crane after crane. She fell short of her goal, having folded just 644 when she passed away. Afterwords her friends and family took up the banner. They completed the cranes and also set up a memorial, which is always overflowing with cranes folded in her honor. Since her passing, the message of the cranes has morphed from wish granting to world peace and healing. 
A photo I snapped of a few thousand cranes at Sadako's memorial in Hiroshima. 
The message reads: "Peace is our deepest wish."

This brings us to the third meaning: a happy marriage. The first time I was made aware of this was when I was in college. A friend was getting married right after graduation, and she was determined to fold 1,000 cranes for the wedding. (I guess graduating college, having her senior recital, and getting married in the same week wasn't enough!) At an all-hands-on-deck event one night near the wedding, a dozen of us sat in a dorm lounge and folded crane after crane late into the evening. I'm sure it was stressful for the bride but it sure was fun for the rest of us! (And yes, they are still happily married 8 years later, with 2 kids!) 

So why do people fold cranes for a happy marriage? I've read at least half a dozen explanations, so I will merely touch on the ones that hold meaning for me. First, it is a sign of patience and industry in a bride-to-be. (Or possibly stupidity and tenacity. Whatever.) Second, cranes have long life spans. Third, and most important, cranes are one of those rare animals that mate long-term. Therefore, folding 1,000 cranes shows determination for the marriage, and symbolizes longevity and fidelity. The Japanese long ago embraced these meanings, making crane imagery a traditional aspect of the Japanese wedding.

Two brides wear uchikake--a formal coat worn over a kimono--decorated with crane motifs.

Needless to say, since the beginning of this process, I knew I would be folding 1,000 cranes. Once we reached the 4 month mark, I knew I had to get going. I ordered a set of 1000 sheets of origami paper off Amazon and, after a quick refresher lesson on folding cranes courtesy of youtube, I got started. I had absolutely no idea how long it was going to take me to fold my cranes. (I have to admit that I had visions of spending the weeks before the wedding holed up in my apartment, folding like a madwoman.) But once I got started, I found it difficult to stop. It was the perfect thing to do while watching TV and movies, but I have to admit I did the majority of them at work. Since most of my team works in Columbus, Ohio (how ironic, I know!), I'm often stuck on conference calls for several hours a day. I found that folding origami kept the floaty part of my mind occupied so I could actually concentrate on the calls better! So after just 2 months, they were all folded, and I could check off the first item of my to-do list. 

Then I had to figure out what to do with them.

As with many things, the Internet once again came to my rescue. I'm not the only girl who loved the paper crane idea, and brides have integrated them into their weddings in many different ways. Here are just a few examples:

Use them as escort cards

Use them as boutonnières

Heck, put them on your cake

But to me, the most beautiful way to display the cranes is to string them and hang them like a gigantic  curtain. Behold:

Clearly the curtain is the winner here. Thankfully, after confirming it with the event coordinator at the reception space, my crane curtain is a go! Now I just have to finish stringing the damn things on fishing wire... but for someone like me with proven patience and industry, I say, bring it on!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Stationery Journey

Wedding stationery is one of those things that I never really saw myself getting too invested in. Sure, its pretty, and I've always enjoyed flipping through those gigantic wedding stationery folders at fancy boutiques, but it's an awful lot of money to spend on things that pretty much go straight in the trash. (Think about it. How many wedding invitations have *you* ever saved? Hmmm?) When the time came for me to begin my stationery journey, I was perfectly content to troll etsy for a design I liked. I searched, I found some stuff, and I waited until time got closer to make a final decision. And that's when my friends intervened.

One very cute tandem bike design I considered, from Paper and Pinafore.

You see, I have a lot of awfully talented friends. Friends who write books, design magazines, bake delicious confections, give me free legal advice . . . well, you get the idea. And when it comes to my wedding, I have the benefit of lots of talented married friends. "You MUST get Amie to do your invitations," they said. "She is amazing. And she LOVES it." 

Sure, sure, sure, I'd say, thinking in the back of my head that the last thing this busy woman needs is to design an invitation suite for me. But over and over I heard the same words of praise, the same reassurances that it's her passion. And so I asked her to help me out, and she graciously accepted.

A very cool suite that is held together with grommets, by Ruff House Art.

Now you'd think that once you bring a professional on board, that's when things get easy. Well, you'd be wrong. At our first meeting, Amie took me to Paper Source, aka pretty paper mecca, where she patiently explained all of the various pieces and parts of a wedding invitation. There's the enclosure. There's the invitation card. There's the info card, the rsvp card, the map, the directions, and the return envelope. She walked me through the various types of enclosures (what the hell is an enclosure, anyway?!), at which point I overloaded. Who knew there was so much that went into an invitation? 

But after several months of emails and a few more meetings, we had a design. We had a layout. We had copy. We had enclosures. We had colors. And finally, we had the invitations.

Pieces of our stationery waiting to be assembled.

Last weekend several of my girlfriends came over and helped me put all of the invitations together. They helped me glue, fold, cut, tape, stamp, and address. It was amazing. I have such awesome friends! :') 

Everyone hard at work. 

One little detail that I came up with myself was to integrate a touch of Japanese through washi paper and mizuhiki cords. In Japan, people often use paper "belts" and mizuhiki cord tied in elaborate knots to secure their cards and letters. 

Examples of mizuhiki knots on wedding cards. (Photo from Monique Monteverde.)

Working with the mizuhiki turned out to be much more of a challenge than I anticipated. More than one of my girls quickly found other tasks to keep them busy once it was time to tie the mizuhiki knots! But they turned out absolutely beautifully, and I'm really glad I incorporated them into the invitations. (Spoiler alert: This is not the last you will see of the mizuhiki!)

A completed invitation secured with washi and mizuhiki.

In the end, I am so happy that I asked Amie to help me create wedding stationery from scratch. It was definitely overwhelming at first, but when I saw all the pieces come together, and I knew all of the input that I had in every detail, well, it was a wonderful feeling. 

The final product--absolutely perfect!

There you have it folks! It was a long journey but totally worth it. By the way, Amie is thinking about starting up her own independent service soon. When she does, you MUST get her to do your invitations. She is amazing. And she LOVES it!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mapping It Out

During my frequent perusings of wedding blogs and shops I couldn't help but notice the adorableness that are hand-drawn wedding maps. Just look at this amazing map by Stephannie Barba of Couture Maps:
Or this one by the aptly named "Hand Drawn Maps":

But by far the cutest maps come from the studio of Laura Condouris: Trial by Cupcakes:

I mean come on! The Adirondack chairs? The light house? The happy little whale?! Friggen adorable.

Now, few people know this, but I actually aspired to be an art teacher once upon a time. I took art lessons for years and years from a painter the street over, and have lots of good memories of mid-summer sketch fests in gardens around Lincoln. So when I saw the hand-drawn maps, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to use all of those art skillz that have been lying dormant all these years. 

It seemed easy enough to begin with; all I had to do was print off some google maps, trace them, and voila! There's a map! But I realized very quickly that things were not so simple. To begin with, google maps were never in the dimensions I need (11" x 5.5") and, duh, you can't trace a map through nice watercolor paper. So how did I manage? First I printed off a map of the Chicagoland area and cut out the shoreline and traced that onto my pre-cut watercolor paper. Then I simply started free-hand sketching the major roadways into/around Chicagoland, being careful to include both airports. 

Since our church and reception are so near to each other, it made perfect sense to include a close-up of the neighborhood as well to give people a rough guide of where the venues sit in the city. Drawing out the streets took a little while, but the biggest challenge was drawing the venues themselves. It took several tries for me to remember all the tricks to nailing dimension properly, but in the end I think I succeeded. Once the essential info was there, I started adding little embellishments (the loop, the train, etc), and then traced all of my pencil lines in ink. Finally came the fun part: painting! I ultimately decided to use watercolor, which is the medium used by Trial by Cupcakes, and I'm so glad I did. I finished the map tonight and I'm really pleased with the results! Check it out:

Click the picture for a larger image.

I now have my very own personalized, hand-drawn wedding map. It certainly isn't anything overly fancy, but that suits me and my non-fancy wedding just fine. :)

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Kind of Town

When Austin and I decided to get married in Chicago, we knew it would more-or-less be a destination wedding for the majority of our guests. While I'm sure I will touch on do's and don't's at a later date for those of you traveling from out of town, I wanted to pass along this great article I found with 10 tips on touring the Windy City.

Ten tips for Chicago tourists
Whether you're coming to Chicago for the first time or you're a veteran visitor, take heed of the following tips to make the most of your trip.

1. Take the el. It's not only picturesque — as those lumbering elevated mass transit trains ring the Loop at second-story height — it's convenient, and cheap too. Three el or L lines are especially important to consider. From a transportation point of view the Orange Line and the Blue Line link downtown with Midway and O'Hare International Airports, respectively. For sightseeing, loop the Loop aboard the Brown Line, ride it over the Chicago River (digital camera alert: great bridge views) and as far north as you have time for, peering into the backyards, patios and porches en route. Overhead stairways cross the tracks and allow you to return without paying the fare twice. For train buffs, voyeurs, nostalgics or anyone who needs to get off their feet, the el is a great tour.

2. Mind the seasons, but don't let them stop you. Chicagoans regard February as the telling month, the one that keeps the wimps from moving to town for our glorious springs, summers and falls. But life in the heart of winter darkness goes on in every other way unchanged. Bad weather also means good deals at hotels, open tables at restaurants, better theater tickets and cheaper flights to town. Pack for it and consider an offseason trip.

3. Get out into the neighborhoods. The city officially lists 198 neighborhoods. In practice there are thousands of mini-communities around town that make Chicago dynamic. Downtown may employ many of them, but the outlying corner taverns, street-front shops and local restaurants are where they live. From gentrified-bohemian (Andersonville, Wicker Park, Bucktown) to ethnic pockets where English is a second language (Devon Avenue, Chinatown, Argyle Street), there is a great variety from which to experience a lively day the local way. For a guided outing, check out the city-sponsored Chicago Neighborhood Tours.

4. Beware Navy Pier. Navy Pier, the former shipping-dock-turned-amusement-pier is the biggest tourist attraction in the city, drawing 8.6 million visitors annually. That's 5.6 million more than its closest competitor, the Lincoln Park Zoo. So while I wouldn't advise any visitor to avoid Navy Pier, you should know what you're getting into: crowds, of course. But also lots and lots of families, especially in summer and during school breaks, so if you don't like kids, go somewhere else. Finally, it's very expensive, from the parking (rarely less than $20) to the food (which, compounding the price problem, is not very good). But there are ways to enjoy the Pier and avoid the crunch: take the free trolley or go early in the day or early in the week.

5. Bring the kids. Chicago's biggest attractions – Navy Pier, Lincoln Park Zoo, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Alder Planetarium — are truly all-ages friendly. Even the Art Institute of Chicago offers innovative kid's tours. Combine the sights with el train and boat rides, Lake Michigan beaches, romps in the Millennium Park Crown Fountain and warm-hearted Midwestern hospitality and there's nothing to prevent a child from enjoying the best of the city.

6. Pack mindfully. The seasonal range in Chicago runs from bone-chilling winters to sweltering summers. Other than maybe the mildest of transitional spring and fall days, packing for Chicago is not a no-brainer. In winter, hat and boots are a must. Ditto sunhat and sun block in summer. Complicating generalizations, the vast Lake Michigan holds sway over the local climate in ways visitors don't expect, often producing days cooler near the lake in summer and warmer in winter. You can't predict a 60-degree August afternoon, but the best way to plan for it is to pack layers.

7. Show-go. Chicago's renowned for its sports and restaurants and music. But I'd argue the liveliest entertainment quarter is in the theater. Chicago sends hits to Broadway (Steppenwolf Theater's August: Osage County this year) and keeps Broadway playing here indefinitely (Wicked and Jersey Boys will stay as long as demand holds). And it's not just the big stages (Goodman, Court, Chicago Shakespeare, Lookingglass, Victory Gardens, Second City and Steppenwolf), but the little ones – the off-Loop storefront theaters with a coupla dozen seats – where creativity is nurtured as in few other cities. Top choices include Actor's Workshop Theatre, House Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, Profiles Theatre, Redmoon Theater, Steep Theatre, Timelineand dozens of others whose artistic directors will now flame me for not including them.

8. Plan ahead. Anything worth doing in Chicago is worth booking ahead. That goes for hot tables – give Alinea and Charlie Trotter's a call a month in advance of your visit; others like Blackbird and Sepia aren't as punishing but reservations are an unspoken essential, especially on weekends. This advice also applies to popular activities such as the Chicago Architecture Foundation's architectural boat tours, which allow you to book ahead (tip: avoid Sunday post-hotel-checkout noon-hour tours in summer which are the Foundation says are the most crowded). Even the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry allow you to pre-order tickets online, which can save you the aggravation of standing on line with the crowds.

9. Ask directions. Downtown Chicago is laid out on a grid, with the epicenter being Madison St., which runs east-west, and State St., which runs north-south. Street numbers then escalate in any direction 100 per block (10 N. State St., for example, would be on the block just north of Madison, 300 S. Dearborn would be three blocks south of Madison, and 215 W. Randolph St. would be two blocks west of State). Still confused? Ask a local. Chances are if you stand on a street corner with a map and a perplexed look someone will offer their help. It's that kinda town, Chicago is.

10. The great urban outdoors. Now that I've made a great argument for culture and dining, let me switch tracks and recommend that you spend at least part of your time in Chicago recreating. One of the things that makes Chicago such a livable city is its parks, beaches and its all-around regard for the outdoors. Many of my Chicago friends won't take vacations in summer because they consider it so perfect here then (these are the folks you meet in the Caribbean in February). Hit the lakefront and rent bikes or skates, take a walk, watch birds (fall and spring are particularly good for migrating birds along the Lake Michigan flyway), swim or join a sand volleyball game at North Avenue Beach (the last two are summer only, of course). Even in winter the ice shard stacks along Lake Michigan make pretty scenery, provided you're well-bundled.

Elaine Glusac is the author of USA TODAY's Chicago City Guide

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Search for Reception

Many apologies for the radio silence! Needless to say lots of plans have been solidified, vendors contracted, and deposits paid. Slowly but surely our (read: my) vision is coming together!

The biggest accomplishment by far was getting the reception space nailed down. We are SO SO happy that things worked out with Revolution Brewing. Austin is beloved by the entire staff and we both absolutely love their food and beer. Ever since Austin was privy to a private tour of the 2nd floor during Rev's soft opening last year, we knew it was a perfect place for a reception. As soon as we knew we were having a wedding, we called to reserve the space. Problem was, we were a little ahead of them. Like, 6 months ahead. So after months of waiting and hand wringing (on my part) and wildly different capacity estimates and city inspections, we FINALLY got things ironed out with them last week. We went to visit the newly finished space last week during their opening and it looks amazing. I think it will be a great spot for us all to celebrate.

The Brewers' Lounge at Revolution Brewing, Chicago, IL

With the big things out of the way, I am now learning the joys of attempting to plan wedding reception decorations in a venue with wood-paneled walls and freshly-painted ceilings. No matter, I am crafty and resourceful and every time I get told "no tapers!" or "no outlets!" or "no you cannot hang 150,000 lighted lanterns from the ceiling!" it's a challenge to my creative side. After all, there really are no end to wedding decoration options. At times it really feels like everything that could ever be done at a wedding has already been done, but in a way that's pretty freeing. It means I don't have to waste time reinventing the wheel and spend more time having fun and enjoying this process. 

Now THAT'S a good old-fashioned wedding!

I don't want to give TOO much away, but at this point I'm still very hopeful that my vision of a vintage-flavored/subtly Japanese-inspired/beer/bikes reception will be a reality. Because at the end of the day, I just want a wedding that is us, and integrating his passion (beer) with my passion (Japan) and our passion (bikes) is the perfect marriage of who we are and what we're all about. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

STDs You Actually Want to Receive

I, like everyone else, have received my fair share of Save the Dates and wedding invitations. I have kept precisely 0 of them. Now that I am planning my own wedding stationery, I am rather appalled at how insanely expensive this stuff is. A couple could easily spend thousands of dollars designing, printing, and sending out their stationery. That's a lot of scratch for stuff that inevitably ends up in the trash.

While I am planning on going a more traditional route for the invitations, I figured I'd have fun with the Save the Dates, because why the heck not? There are lots of amazing ideas floating around the internet for creative Save the Dates. 

Co-opted scene from "The Graduate" Save the Dates? Uh huh.

Crossword puzzle Save the Dates? 1 across: three letters; an affirmative answer
Insane indie-rock stop-motion animation Save the Dates? Got it.

Basically the possibilities are endless. But one day as I was perusing the internet (as I am wont to do), I ended up finding an artist on etsy who was advertising custom comic book Save the Dates. They were a fair price, we'd be directly supporting and working with the artist, and they were freaking awesome. I floated the idea by Austin, and we were sold. 

I ended up contacting the artist, Mark Welser, in early February. We told him our story, interests, backgrounds, etc. I told him my hope to integrate Chicago, our dog, and Godzilla, and he was more than up for the challenge. After many emails, pictures, and sketches back and forth, we finally have our very own Save the Dates:

I think he did a pretty incredible job capturing us (and Godzilla), don't you? They're currently being made into magnets, and will start going out next month. I'm suuuuuuper excited! 

You can see more of Mark's very imaginative Save the Dates on his facebook album.

Monday, March 21, 2011

About the Dress(es)

Dresses, dresses. Clearly the most important decision a bride can make (besides her groom!) is her dress. This is a pretty important decision, since you (hopefully) only get one shot to get it right.

The most beautiful bride of them all, Grace Kelly.

I know many women dream of their wedding dress for years and years--I am not one of those women. But as soon as I got engaged I knew I had to get it into gear and figure out what I want. For months I have been tearing out pages from myriad bridal magazines and saving picture after picture from wedding sites. It became pretty clear that I like the following:

  • fit and flare (aka trumpet aka mermaid) silhouettes:
"Cincinnati" by Blue by Enzoani
  • structured, asymmetric gowns:
"Berta" by Carolina Herrera
  • vintage inspired gowns:
"Morgan" by Priscilla of Boston, Vineyard Collection (maybe the most perfect gown ever?)

Now, as nice as it would be to spend $4000 on a Priscilla of Boston gown, I just don't have that kind of scratch. I instead focused my search on the designers in the $1000-$1500 range, such as Allure, Justin Alexander, and Blue by Enzoani. There is a single store that I could find in Chicago that carries all of these designers, so it was a no brainer where I would head once the time came. As we just passed the 200 day mark, the time was this weekend. 

On Saturday, my two loyal Chicago bridesmaids accompanied me an hour outside the city to Tinley Park, IL, where the three of us embarked upon this adventure together. Since none of us had ever been on a wedding gown shopping trip before, we weren't entirely sure what to expect. What did we find? Lots and lots and lots of white, poofy dresses (and bored family members). 

Where to start?

With a consultant assigned to help me and the mantra "nothing in fashion, nothing out of style," I began pulling and nixing gowns to try on. The consultant was actually really good a pulling dresses that fit my sensibility, and I really did like almost all of the gowns I tried on. 

But one gown stood out. 

In fact, it was one of the very first gowns that caught my eye in the very first bridal gowns that I bought. I showed it to my 'maids on the way to the store and said I was hoping to try it on. When we walked into the store, guess what was hanging up behind the front desk? Yep, that dress. 

I tried it on, I loved it, my 'maids loved it, the consultant loved it, even the bored woman waiting for her niece loved it.  ("It's the best one," she said, slightly surly.) And the price? It fit my budget to the penny. So, I bought it. I did. I still can't believe it, and have kind of been freaking out since then. As soon as I bought it, doubt started creeping in. Can I really pull off a tea-length gown? I mean, I like how they look, but I always pictured myself in a dress with a train. I also worry that it's not "bridey" enough, and that I will miss my one-in-a-lifetime chance to wear a completely insanely stunning wedding dress.

The biggest sliver of doubt has been caused by a rogue contender:

The gown is originally $4000 but is being resold for a fraction of the price. It needs a cleaning and will most likely need a teeny bit of alteration, which placed it solidly outside of my budget. But THEN, when I told my mom about my predicament, she and my dad offered to help out so I could get the 2nd dress! Now what am I supposed to do?!

Honestly, every time I think about either gown I feel a little sick to my stomach. Who knows whether I will ever feel that I made the right decision, or if it's even possible to really feel that way. Talking to a recently married friend about the situation did help me feel a little better. Here's her advice:
I'm going to tell you two things: DON'T doubt your dress! If that means you return this for the other, OK. But the other thing I'm going to tell you is, at the end of the day, it's just a dress. I loved my dress, but part of me felt like I rushed into it just because I hated the whole dress buying process and was so super stressed about it. In reality I don't think I needed to spend as much as I did--but every time we see a bridal store, I think about how much I want another, different dress! You're not going to stop wanting a wedding dress just because you get married. You're always going to see pretty dresses and think, why didn't I find that? (Better to do that with dresses than grooms.) And you will look like a bride, because you'll BE the bride!
Sage advice, indeed. And now, dear readers, I ask for your advice. What the heck do you think I should do?