about bliss

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

daily bliss: the dress

I remember sunny summer afternoons, before or perhaps after blueberry picking season, when I toted my red plastic briefcase of art supplies to the backyard. Our canvas tent, airing out after one of our family vacations spent at Michigan state parks, made a perfect work space. I flipped the pages in my drawing tablet and selected my pencils and began to sketch. It was always the same: a woman's body, with little detail on face or hands, the emphasis on the dress. My favorite dress was inspired by Anne of Green Gables' early obsession with puff sleeves, as well as the contemporary fashion trends of big shoulders and sleeves that bespoke empowerment. I still remember the white dress, with big puffed short sleeves, adorned with bows. The fitted bodice erupted into a ballgown skirt, and the dress was embellished with pastel floral and swirl embroidery. I loved this dress. I wanted this dress. 

And, a few years later, when I was a sophomore in college, I tacked up my favorite Estee Lauder Beautiful ad, featuring a bride in a puff sleeved confection of a dress. I would, according to the elaborate timelines my friends and I created, marry at age 24, in such a dress. I also imagined the romantic repartee between myself  (J) and my future suitor (FS):

FS: What scent are you wearing?
J: Beautiful.
FS: How fitting, because you are beautiful. 
J: (beaming, rapturously in love)

Clearly I was in college, and soon to be majoring in English literature, for a reason. I needed better  romantic repartee (hello, Mr. Darcy!).

Fast forward some decades, to early August 2011, when my beloved boyfriend G and I have just become engaged. Within two weeks, I was wedding dress shopping. While my fashionista tendencies have ebbed and flowed depending on paychecks and student loan payoffs, as well as proximity to shopping centers, I still love clothing, especially fancy dress clothes. The kind of gowns that have a limited use, that stun with well-cut lines and sensual fabrics. The kind of clothes I have worn, well, almost never in my life. This was my chance. 

I previously blogged about the first wedding dress shopping trip here, and these first two photos show my interest in tea-length gowns and lace. I dreamed of a tea-length, fitted bodice and floofy skirted 1950s vintage style. I even had one such dress, purchased on eBay long before our engagement. This bargain dress featured a pink taffeta underlayer and lace overlay, with a pink chiffon embellished bustline. Somehow, though, this look wasn't flattering, and while I loved the party feel of a short dress, I didn't feel sufficiently bridal

Bridal. What does that mean? I knew what it meant in the 1990s when my friends and I had a strict, conventional timeline to adhere to: graduate, marry, wait two years, have kids. The bridal phase would truly be one of transition, from the newly minted independence of recent college grad to a wife, soon-to-be mother. This narrative alluded all of us, in one way or another, and I think we're all better, stronger, truer selves because of it. But what does bridal mean when you're engaged at 38, in your first serious relationship, cohabiting, and sporting enough degrees to justify your student loan payments? What does is mean when your plan, post-marriage is to move to a bigger (rented) home, earn tenure, and consider a canine "child"? 

This question, and the corresponding question of what a wife is when you follow a more progressive, feminist, deeply spiritual but not religious, ethical model, accompanied me throughout our engagement. 

I realized that I wanted the long gown. I wanted the sweep of some kind of train. I wanted a dress that would trail romantically across the beach, where our wedding would be. I wanted a gown with some kind of sleeves, and I hoped for a gown made in America. I found Premiere Couture, a perfect bridal shop in Madison, Wisconsin. When I told Laura what I wanted, she pulled several dresses, including one that met all of my wishes. 

Since strapless dresses are so ubiquitous, I tried a few here, and loved the previous dress, an airy silk dress by Canadian designer Lea-Ann Belter. As rivulets of sweat manifested everywhere during our ceremony, I thought back to this dress and had a moment where I wished I was wearing one lightweight layer instead of double-faced satin with a double lace overlay. 

Alas, that gown, nor this classic, elegant strapless lace couldn't compete with the gown that felt perfectly me. 

With a flattering v-neck line, a ruched satin waistband trimmed with satin covered buttons in the back, to the a-line skirt and short train, from the scalloped edges of the Italian re-embroidered lace, my gown, Amber by New York designer Janet Nelson Kumar, was everything I could hope for. I felt bridal, but most importantly, I felt me. 

The dress was hot on a 90 degree day when the reliable Lake Michigan breeze had apparently absconded, but was keeping the white reception tent, some five miles inland, relatively cool. Still, I had no trouble lifting the dress and traipsing into the chilly waters post-ceremony before greeting and hugging family and friends. 

My dress was one of the clearest links to bridal and wedding tradition, as the color, style, fabrics neatly fit into conventional trends. And while G and I eschewed many wedding traditions, we agreed that the dress would be secret until that moment he saw me crest the dune, walking with both of my parents. A little mystery creates a greater allure around the dress. 

Later, my mom helped bustle my dress for the dancing hours to come. And, yes, I was true to the claim I made to post-college roommate K that I would dance all night at my wedding. And, yes, I can be added to the long list of brides whose bustle falls out with an errant step. The ribbon tie came loose, but my dress is just fine. 

I wore my dress to the hotel, and reluctantly took it off, hanging it in the closet after inspecting the hem for beach and grass stains. The mystery was gone, the dress worn, sweat-slicked, and a little frayed and dirty around the hem. Soon it will be cleaned, then I'll hang it in a muslin bag in my closet, in our new home, and in subsequent homes to come. I'll slip into it on random occasions and twirl around my bedroom, remembering a day of such great happiness, such beauty, so perfectly me and G and us. 

Will I trash my dress, wading deeper into the lake for soulful, artful photographs? Doubtful. Will I throw a wedding gown and other fancy dress party? Perhaps. 

G is packing some of his wedding garb for our honeymoon to Seattle, and I'm envious on one level. Will he wear the clothes and relive the memories? Will the linen shirt and purple Chuck Taylors bring him back to a marriage of water and sand, of smiling faces, and swirling dances? Or will they lose their allure in the everyday? I can see both outcomes.

A wedding gown holds dreams, desires, intentions, and mostly, the woman who is moving between fiance and bride to wife. Ultimately, through all my questioning of what these roles are, I've found that the answer has always been to be, well, me. To live and love in the ways I know, and some ways I've yet to learn. And that is as, nay, more beautiful than a once-in-a-lifetime gown. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

daily bliss: diy multi-themed homespun dream wedding

A few days before our wedding, I fretted: "We don't have a unifying theme! We have beach, DIY, vintage, homemade, literary, local...what would the magazines and blogs say?" My family and friends assured me that our amalgamation of themes would be united by love.

And they were right. It is also no surprise to anyone who knows me that our wedding themes were several. I am, after all, the same person who begrudgingly gave up art classes in high school to add a foreign language, along with my other elective, orchestra. I am, after all, the same person whose professional development plan at work includes creative writing across the genres, scholarship of teaching and learning, undergraduate research, and dibble-dabbles into literary analysis. I am the same person who would go back to school in an instant, and study geology, art history, gastronomy, gender studies, history, creative writing, yoga, AND enology...

So, yes, multiple themes. United by pink, and love.

We made so much ourselves, from the invitations and programs (glued onto craft sticks, doubling as fans, genius for a 90 degree day), to the endless cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies, folded into glassine bags sealed with our custom, homemade labels. We designed and printed signs for every table, named after authors, and made library cards for escort cards, stowed in a vintage library drawer. We commissioned not one but two original poems from poet friends, to be read in our wedding ceremony.

I took a letterpress printing workshop at the Hamilton Woodtype Museum and created signs for our wedding in our favorite colors.

We purchased beautiful flowers from local farmers, and my best women and I filled (borrowed) blue mason jars, twisted corsages and boutonnieres, and hand-tied bouquets.

We selected and purchased our own beers, favorite microbrews from Wisconsin and Michigan (New Glarus Moon Man and New Holland Full Circle, respectively). And we sampled and selected wines, including the delicious Michigan sparkling wine from L. Mawby (Sandpiper, with custom labels made just for us).

On the days leading up to the wedding, we worked together, my best women and best men, family and friends, to piece everything together, from setting up chairs and decorating the outside of the royal restroom, to decorating the tables and frosting the cupcakes, to crafting and assembling a birch wood arch.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to throw a DIY, multi-themed, original wedding celebration.

And some of my favorite memories, just over a week later, are those moments of creation and preparation, the deep connections made while picking up flowers and wandering hardware stores in search of galvanized tubs for icing wine. I will cherish those moments, hours, days, weeks, and months for a lifetime, as I remember all of those family and friends, but especially my Mom, Dad, Groom, Brother, and Brother's girlfriend K, who tirelessly and joyfully worked by my side to make a beautiful, amazing day to cherish.

photo credits: RM, SG, LP

Saturday, July 14, 2012

daily bliss: epithalamium

"An epithalamium... is a poem written specifically for the bride on the way to her marital chamber" (source: wikipedia (yes, i know this is not an authoritative source, but it's what i have to work with now).

Since poetry has shaped so much of our beginnings and settling-ins, I wanted to try my hand at this ancient form, for Gregg, on this, our wedding day. This is a rough, rough draft that I will polish for the next 50+ years of our life together. I love you Gregg, and I can't wait to be married.

for Gregg 

One plus One
is magically Three—
You and Me and
the Space in between:
the curve of the ampersand,
where everything conjoins
and expands; the shoreline, 
where water and sand reshape
one another...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

daily bliss: singleton

I remember one Christmas, in the late 90s, crying in my parents' kitchen that I was spending another holiday, alone. (Cue the Bridget Jones' soundtrack.) My dad very seriously and kindly told me that I wouldn't always be single. "You will get married. I know it." I wanted to believe him. But the years kept floating by. Good years. Great years. Finishing degrees and landing jobs and publishing articles and making amazing friends years. Learning to live comfortably in my skin years. Cooking and baking and writing and reading and yogaing and running and walking years. I dated some, but I was never, ever the kind of person to give myself easily. I needed deep meaning. I craved soul connection. It took me 35 years to find it. And then, suddenly, I was dating. And then I had a boyfriend. And then he moved in to my quaint, cozy second floor house apartment. We set up house. We delved in deeper. We made a cohabitory commitment to each other. And then, he asked me to marry him. And on Saturday, I will marry him. My heart soars, and my soul feels at home when I'm with him, or thinking about him. I think of all those years I pined after unsuitable suitors. All the hours fretting about my singleton-ness. All the wondering, hoping, despairing. I know now that it wasn't yet my time. I hadn't met G. Now, it's our time together, to say farewell to our single days...to the crooked paths that led us to each other. And time to say hello to a shared path. I can't wait to make the rest of life's journey with my best friend and love by my side.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

daily bliss: wedding baking

G and I co-write a monthly food column for the local weekly paper that G works for, and this month I wrote about our wedding cupcakes. I hope you enjoy! 

blossom, dressed in flour and chocolate

This week we're deviating from our usual he-ate, she-cooked format since Gregg is consumed with Groom duties as the wedding date approaches. I jest. I think. He's back in Wisconsin; I'm in Michigan helping with landscaping the reception site (my parents' home) and being showered by friends and family. 

On my last trip to Michigan a few weeks ago, I toted my trusty pink Kitchen Aid mixer (named Blossom); pounds of Pine River Dairy butter; bags of flour, sugar, nuts, and cocoa to my parents' house in Michigan for a baking extravaganza. I've dreamed about baking my own cupcakes for our wedding, and in three long morning baking sessions, I created 250 cupcakes for our special day.

Gregg and I taste tested recipes for the past six months, and finally settled on vanilla, chocolate, and carrot as our three flavors, and we selected recipes from some of my favorite cooks--Dorie Greenspan, Martha Stewart, and Deb from the Smitten Kitchen blog. We were looking for moist, flavorful cakes that would stand up well to a month in the freezer. 

Each baking morning, I tied on my favorite all-purpose apron and set out my ingredients. While I know all of the baking rules about room temperature ingredients and precise measurements, I often relax these standards in everyday baking. Not so for these cakes. I followed the recipes religiously, carefully rotating the pans in the oven as they baked for even temperature distribution. I nicked my hands on the hot oven racks once or twice, but the burns are already faded. 

As I creamed butter and sugar and roasted nuts and scraped vanilla beans, I also thought of Gregg and our celebration to come. I love baking recipes we previously enjoyed together, and I love the idea of sweetness and celebration. For what else is a wedding about? I thought of one of my favorite novels, Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate. Tita, the main character, infuses her emotions into the food she cooks. The wedding cake she created for her sister's wedding (to Tita's true love), causes the guests to sob and fall into a deep sadness over unfulfilled love. On the contrary, I want our guests to taste our love, and to feel joy, lightness and laughter with each bite. Thinking of my family and friends eating the cupcakes while happy music plays made the joy infusion even easier. 

The baking wasn't without some glitches. As the first batches of vanilla cupcakes cooled, they pulled away from the beautiful golden papers I had specially purchased for all of the cakes. Apparently grease-free also means quick-release, not ideal for neat, contained cupcakes. I plan on removing these cakes from the papers and placing them in new papers when it comes time to thaw and frost. For the rest of the baking, however, I used classic foil grocery store papers for a simple, elegant appearance, with no more mess. 

I baked all morning, three days that week, while my Mom was at work, and when she arrived home at noon to a house scented with sweet vanilla, cinnamon and spice, or warm chocolate, I was pulling the last cupcakes out of the oven and loading the dishwasher with bowls and spatulas and measuring cups and spoons. Each day, I offered her half of a cupcake--the leftover test cake I had previously sampled. Vetting the recipes ahead of time paid off, as each test cake met our expectations of moisture, crumb, flavor, and shape. 

chocolate cupcakes everywhere!

The kitchen table was filled with cupcakes until we packed them away for the freezer, sealing them in foil baking pans. Mom and Grandma generously moved around their stash of last year's berries and venison steaks to make room in their chest freezers for the cupcakes until it's time to frost, decorate, serve, and eat them under the stars on July 14. 

My wedding party and I will spend the day before the wedding carefully spreading frosting on the cakes. While I've seen gorgeous cupcake creations on the Food Network and in cooking magazines, I have a simpler, more realistic vision in mind: a generous spread of buttercream, topped with something that hints at the flavors inside, whether a carrot slice or chocolate covered espresso bean. 

I can't wait to set the cake table with my collection of vintage cake stands and depression glass plates in shades of pink, jade, milk glass, and clear glass. I also baked one six inch layer of each flavor, which I'll stack, fill and cover with cream cheese frosting (Gregg's favorite). Crowned with a vintage bride and groom cake topper, this will be our cake to take back to the hotel with us, to freeze and eat on another happy day when we celebrate our marriage, tasting the love in every bite.