Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Moment in Song, v. 4

Sure, some songs are going to always take you back to the first time you heard them, or that summer they were ubiquitous (see previous Moment in Song posts...). But sometimes, if you're really lucky, a song you loved for old reasons gets repurposed into a song you love for all time.

Back on the Chain Gang, The Pretenders:

This song originally took me to a sad old place. I first learned The Pretenders with Brandes, we had the Best Of CD so he could learn "Brass in Pocket" as a cover song for his band. There are very few low points in the Pretenders best-of catalog, and certainly the highlight is "Back on the Chain Gang." On the Pretenders episode of Unplugged, she says she cribbed the song from "Working in a Coal Mine," and if you hear her tell it, it makes sense. I mean, is Chryssie Hynde the coolest woman on earth? She might be. Tracy and I saw them at the Ryman a few years back, and Chrissie was in white leather pants. She was like fifty-five. Truly a rock star.

After Brandes and I split, before things were easier between us, I saw Guilty Pleasures play "Back on the Chain Gang" (Kat sang it, of course). Suddenly that line came to life for me: "I found a picture of you, those were the happiest days of my life." At that time, it was a punch to my gut. I'd just packed up our formerly shared home and stored boxes of pictures, what do you do with all the pictures after it all goes to hell? I still come across them, and am shocked by how young we were. And maybe in the fall of 2002, I heard the song and the past would have seemed like the happiest days of my life. Certainly not the present, and the future was not just foggy but blank.

That was eight years ago. Longer than we were together. And as these years scroll onward, I'm glad he is my friend, and glad he is not my husband (he shares these sentiments). It certainly seemed like it at the time, but those weren't the happiest days of my life. The happiest days are everywhere, they aren't crammed into the good times of a seven-year relationship. We certainly were happy, sometimes, just as we were sometimes contentious, and sometimes deceitful, and sometimes selfish, and sometimes just fools.

Fast-forward to May 2010, the month I marry the man I didn't know existed way back then. It's Wedding Week, and it's a blur, although not so much a frantic one as a smiling one. The day before the wedding, we've got a crew of helpers coming to the venue to set up tables and chairs, put out the plates, hang decorations. I spend the morning running errands with my sisters: mani-pedis, a quick lunch and then we head to Sylvan Park to pick up the flowers for our bouquets. There are plenty of people I will be glad to see and spend time with over the weekend, but just for these few hours, I'm so, so happy that it's just me and my sisters, how it's always been. I'm driving us around, and the car is chock full of party paraphernalia. As we're riding down Murphy Road, "Back on the Chain Gang" comes on the radio, and we take a break from the constant flow of conversation that has always existed in our three-sided circle, and we sing along at the top of our lungs, "Those were the happiest days of my life..."

P.S. I've spent this week going back through the history of this blog adding tags. Now, if you want to browse through all the food-related posts (don't worry, there's a lot of them), you can do that here. Or if you're wanting to start at the beginning of the Wedding Story, now that's easy! Was that the best use of my spare time this week? Nope. Am I glad it's done? I am.

Monday, December 6, 2010

lost the plot

I feel like at least once a week, an apology blog comes up on my Reader. You know the drill: "Wow, I can't believe it's been xx days since I've posted last. I've been busy, the weather is cold, I have a social life, blah. I'm definitely going to start writing more." I think we all just have to put some kind of anonymous external pressure on ourselves to write, and then some of us (like me, the kind who did the same thing with schoolwork) use that as a reason NOT to write. I'm writing in my head, all the time. But since the wedding especially, I'm trying to apply a structure to the blog that doesn't exist, and, in the case of my cooking blog that I haven't even started yet, have all my ideas in place ahead of time. That isn't a blog, it's a novel. I'm not writing a novel; I'm never going to write a novel. I just need to keep coming back to this place.

So why haven't I been transcribing the wedding details, the honeymoon tales, the cooking triumphs? I am addicted to word puzzles. I've loved to do them since I was a kid, and it was always especially a treat for vacation travel. I'd pick out a fat paper book of Penny Press Word Games and work through it over the course of a trip, or during school breaks. Over the last few years, though, it's become my default before-bed activity, cutting heavily (okay, almost entirely) into my book reading. I occasionally justify the timewasting on these puzzles as a way to ward off early Alzheimer's. I've heard and read that keeping the brain nimble with word games can help prevent the disease from taking hold, but the truth is, it didn't help my Grandma, who worked crosswords religiously with her morning toast and coffee, and of course she is the reason I am morbidly obsessed with my own failing memory. I really just do these puzzles because I like them. It's quick, gratifying work, suits my diminishing attention span and somehow seems to actually take less brain energy than simply reading. I particularly love the puzzles like Places Please and Fill-Ins, the ones that are the written word equivalent of packing a suitcase (this fits here, this fits there, done!).

So there's my apology blog. I'm not writing on Sundays. I'm doing logic problems. And baking peanut butter cookies. And wrapping Mischa up in blankets with me on the couch. It's wintertime in the Gray household, complete with logs burning merrily in the fireplace, a new 12-quart stock pot purchased specifically for a big batch of chicken and dumplings, and plenty of quiet and peace in the company of my handsome and funny husband. Okay then, I'm not really apologizing. I'll just get there, and I'll keep trying.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

and now for the rest of the story...

As promised (long ago), I've got the photos of the invites sorted here. They aren't great photos but you get the idea (and you saw the copy in detail here).

Aaaaand so many more photos up as well. The best of them are here, and I'll share on the blog as I go along as well. Where shall I start?

Obviously, we'll start with the food! How did we choose our caterer? Well, that was easy. I've enjoyed B&C BBQ at the Nashville Farmers Market for a couple of years now, and was eating it (mmm, brisket) the day we had lunch in the Market House and decided that's where our wedding would be. Of course, we know now that wasn't meant to be. But after doing a bit of research I learned that B&C is short for Bacon & Caviar, and they do much, much more than BBQ catering. Luckily for us (and our budget), barbecue was right in line with our vision for our wedding dinner, so it all worked out awesomely, and I came out of it with a good buddy as well. Paul was a champion for us throughout the entire process. He answered the phone when I called, his demeanor was always warm and helpful and he totally "got" the atmosphere we were trying to cultivate without ever pushing back at our budgetary limitations.

What do I mean by that, the atmosphere we were trying to cultivate? Well, for the entire planning process, we really worked hard to eliminate every wedding "requirement" that had no meaning to us. This is pretty much explained in list format here. Instead of going through all the traditional paces, we were hoping to recreate the dinner parties that we love to host in our home. They start with visiting, usually over snacks while we finish cooking, then we have a big feast, then we end up dancing in the kitchen. That's a standard night in our home, for serious. Our friend Nick told Austin during the reception, "It's like you guys eschewed everything that sucks about weddings, and only kept the awesome parts!" Thanks, Nick! That pretty much sums it up. In reading back over that list from November, we pretty much got away with it! The only thing we didn't do is take a cab home. My car was at the venue, so we drove it home at the end of the night. Very romantic and very "us."

So, back to Paul. As I mentioned before, he was the one who finally made the call that Plan A was a no-go. His voice of sanity and reason was so appreciated and reassuring. He didn't blink an eye when we plowed through Plan B and right onto Plan C, and honestly I don't remember if I even went through the new venue with him before the wedding. I just knew he'd be fine. He handled the entire transaction with our rental company, Liberty Party Rentals; all I had to do was provide basic direction (white chairs, white linens, clear glass plates and glasses, simple silverware). I didn't go through a catalog, I didn't even have to think about it. It was handled, and beautifully.

Throughout the planning process, one of the ideas I was majorly hung-up on was of a seated, family style dinner. From a catering perspective, I know this is a nightmare. Buffets are the easiest thing for parties over 100, and we had 240 guests expected for our shindig. Early on in our discussions, Paul encouraged me to consider a buffet, and had wonderful suggestions on how to make it user-friendly for our guests (I was adamant that no one should have to wait in line for food). As soon as he could tell how important the family-style supper was to my vision of our party, he completely went along and, obviously, pulled it off incredibly well.

One of my ideas for how to ease the process of serving that many people at one time was to have a plated salad already laid out before folks sat down. 20100522-7300 We alternated at each seat, a spinach salad with a black-bean cake or a spring greens salad with a salmon cake. I love the idea of alternating plates, it sparks conversation and sharing (I hope). I'm allergic to raw spinach, but that's the salad I got, so Austin traded with me (our first act of shared property rights). He wanted the salmon cake, so we switched cakes and both LOVED our salads. Ali poured some of the white barbecue sauce on hers, thinking it was ranch dressing, and said it was awesome (ha!). There were already baskets of corn muffins and tubs of whipped honey butter on the tables as folks were sitting down, so it felt very much like family supper; just sit down and dig in!
I think this picture captures it best (and I love that I'm running my mouth right in the middle of it). The incredibly cheerful and warm staff of servers that Paul brought in kept the goodies coming all throughout supper. We passed big glass bowls of pulled pork, pulled chicken, cole slaw, baked beans, marinated cucumber salad, baked macaroni and cheese (easily the hit of the night) and chipotle corn salad. We brought home a big vat of the leftover corn salad and I swear Austin ate it every day for the next week. We had dozens of wedding guests tell us, that night and since then, that it was the best wedding food they'd ever had. Seriously, that's music to this foodie girl's ears!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

okay, for real

I know. It's been four long months since I've posted. And I left off right in the middle of the Big Wedding Dissection. I swear it, I swear, there is a good reason. And no, I'm not pregnant (knock on wood). I've just been waiting for this:

Today, we're the Featured Real Wedding on MarthaStewartWeddings.com.

If you've been following all along, you know that, for me, this is pretty much it. I've been (emotionally) planning my wedding day since I was six years old. I know it's not fair to call it "my" wedding day, it was OUR wedding, through and through. But the truth is, I've been fixating on this day, on the details, on the dream, way before this man turned up and turned out to be the answer, the very clear picture of a man to finally fit in that blurry spot where a groom would be.

And throughout the years, since high school, this wedding obsession has been fostered and furthered by my dear friend, Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine. I've mentioned this before; I have every issue since the inception of this publication. It is the World Cup of weddings. It is, quite literally, my dream come true to have our celebration featured by this esteemed establishment. I didn't know how it would ever come about, but way back in January of this year, I clicked the link to "Submit Your Wedding" on the MSW site. The wording of the little form seemed to imply that you would submit after your wedding was over, but I figured, Why not just go ahead and try now? I filled it out, including all the DIY details and mentioning the role that Hatch Show Print played in both our courtship and our wedding planning, because I know those folks at MSW love that kind of stuff. To my great surprise, I almost immediately got a response from the Real Weddings editor, asking for more details. Thus began an eight-month process of continuing the conversation, exchanging emails, links and photos, all the while knowing that it meant our event could possibly be featured.

I admit this: once it was all said and done, I knew that the flood, the saga of how we triumphed over this giant roadblock, made for one heck of a story. When I was finished panicking and scrambling and shrugging and sighing, after the whole party came off more beautiful and fun and meaningful than we could have ever hoped, I sat back and thought, "Well, if THAT doesn't get us on MSW, nothing will..."

A few months later, I got an email saying that our wedding had been chosen to be a Featured Real Wedding Gallery on the MSW website. That was the night that I posted "...doing the happy dance on Sandy Drive" as my Facebook status, prompting many suppositions (still not pregnant). I've told so many people about this possibility, more than I should have, really, if I was going to be superstitious about it, and I always am. But I didn't want to WRITE about it until it was literally A GO. I also didn't want to scoop Martha's people. So I stopped with my wedding-rehash posts and dropped off the face of the (blogger) earth. In the downtime, I found out I have followers other than my immediate sphere of friends and family (HI! to Kathleen and Mike in MA!).

What else happened in the interim? We went to Ireland! Mischa's sweet face swelled up to twice its normal size and took a few days to recover (she go to go to work with Austin in the meantime, so she was pretty happy about that). My handsome husband (boy, is that word still new!) turned 30. I fell in love with Glee and Sookie Stackhouse, as well as with the majority of the New York Jets (we watched Hard Knocks). We said a temporary goodbye to Brandes, who moved up to Long Island for grad school, and will soon be saying farewell to Badness as well, as she is moving to Oregon this weekend. Not going to let myself think about that too hard. We welcomed the newest Book Club member on Sunday night when Kat (finally!) brought Molly Kathleen Wright into the world (yay!). And I cooked up a storm, all summer long (grilled whole bluefish!), and have lots more to report on the foodie side of things.

So that's all to say, so much more to come. One (surprising) bonus to being so sucked into the Sookie books is that I'm writing in my head now, all the time, which means I'm bound to start actually typing those words, sooner or later. I'll get back into the wedding details, now that our story is out there in the world. I've got photos from Ireland, really lovely ones, and summertime stories to unwind as the warm weather comes to an end for 2010. And in case you missed it, here's the full photo gallery that is linked in the MSW blog post.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Invites

As with most of our wedding plans, we knew we didn't want to do anything particularly traditional for our invitations. I've always been a fan of the long, thin business-sized #10 format, and Austin had a vision for a stacked tag-shaped invite that was held together at the top and fanned out. I knew the basic information that needed to be communicated, but was really struggling with the wording. I tried a thousand different versions of "Together with their families..." and it was never exactly what I wanted.

Then one night in February I woke straight up and had the entire copy for the invite written out in my brain. I got out of bed, wrote it all down, and went back to sleep.

It went like this:

Dearest Family and Friends
After six charmed years
pre-wedded bliss
Delaney Mae Gill
& William Austin Gray
have determined that
this has worked out.
We would be honored
if you would join us for our
wedding celebration
in downtown Nashville
on May 22, 2010
(page 2)
Here's the deal
at 6:30 pm
on the stage of the amphitheatre of the
Bicentennial Mall Capitol Hill State Park
We will be wed.
After the ceremony
we'll all gather on the adjacent lawn to visit
with lemonade and refreshments in hand.
Pace yourselves
because at 8 pm we'll all walk across the street together to
the Market House of the Nashville Farmers' Market
We'll feast on barbecue
a bounty of libations and homemade sweets
and then we'll dance
until we can dance no more.

On the RSVP (page three), we referenced our website for travel and event information, and then gave folks the option of telling us they "Wouldn't miss it for the wide, wide world" or "sending our sorrowful regrets." For the fourth page, Austin did a gorgeous map of the Bicentennial Mall, with helpful indications for where to park, where there is a giant map of Tennessee and where you might find some fountains.

Austin designed them (beautifully, of course), as well as a sticker label for the envelopes. We found the envelopes at Paper Presentation, which was both fast and reasonably priced (two thumbs up!). We had originally talked about getting envelopes with a string-and-button closure, but holy cow those are expensive! Totally ended up not mattering. We had the invites printed at Advocate Printing in Cummins Station, and they also get our enthusiastic positive review. Austin printed the labels on crack-and-peel paper.

I was hoping to mail them 10 weeks before the wedding, and we got pretty close. We picked the printed & trimmed invites up on Friday, March 12th, and Casey, Agnes, Ali, Anna & Brad came over that night to help us assemble everything. Austin and Brad set up shop cutting and trimming the labels in the living room. All the ladies gathered around the kitchen table to attach brass brads to each invite stack, fan the pages out so that the back of page 3 (the RSVP card) was exposed, rubber stamp our return address on the back of that page and apply a postage stamp to the corner. Then we hand-addressed every label, and then labeled, stuffed and applied postage to each envelope.

Monday morning, we were told by a very chipper fellow at our neighborhood post office that a single first-class stamp was not sufficient for our invites. Apparently a brad, a simple office supply, counts as an "object" to the USPS, so we were charged extra for that, as well as the whole thing being just slightly over one ounce in weight. So I doubled our postage investment and sat down on the floor of my office with some other girls (who will remain nameless because I'm sure they had other things they were supposed to be doing...) to get those suckers ready to MAIL.

I've got pics of the invite-stuffing party here, and am hoping, hoping, hoping that Jonathan took some shots of the finished invite when he was capturing the details of our wedding pre-ceremony. If not, we'll take some shots soon and share them, because they came out simply gorgeous!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Things that kept me happy during the wedding planning process

1. How I Met Your Mother: I had never watched it before this spring, but started taping syndicated episodes off of Lifetime and eventually started back at the beginning. I love Barney Stinson. Love him. Austin does not participate in this guiltiest of pleasure.

2. Patient coworkers: I work at the coolest company in the world, where no one ever once said, "Are you sure you need to take that 9,000th personal call?" in the midst of the planning and re-planning frenzy. Jesse especially was so, so awesome about never giving me a hard time when I was constantly having to leave early, step out for calls or just gripe.

3. (On a related note) Anna Talley: Not only do I work at the coolest company in the world, but I get to work with some of the nicest, smartest, most clever people on the planet. One of them is Anna Talley, who is so crafty, patient and generous that I'm not sure anybody, except her lovely husband Brad, deserves to be in her presence. Anna listened to every one of my crazy ideas, went crafty shopping with me, gave me advice and did independent research on projects. She made all of our fabric boutonnieres, made 15 six-foot-long table runners out of brown burlap fabric, and painted window shutters (from her own house) for our place card display. So many other coworkers helped with so many other things (Emily, Jake, Kelli, Elizabeth, Jennifer, Heather, I'm sure I'm forgetting others) but Anna was just such an asset to an event planning roster. She's a jewel.

4. Bowling: While it seemed crazy originally, Austin and I signed up for a bowling league (ok, once again, this is through my work, so seriously) that started three weeks before the wedding. I thought, "We won't have time to bowl!" but I'm glad I was wrong. I know it's not exactly exercise, but at least moving around and being competitive felt so good every week, even when I was just a ball of stress. And Austin's been learning how to do the spin bowl move where the ball curves, so he's pretty much obsessed with bowling right now. It was a good choice.

5. Sistie trip to NYC: As I previously mentioned, Casey and I got up to Brooklyn for a weekend visit to see Jenny in March. Sister time is the best time.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Plan C

So here it was, Tuesday morning, May 11, eleven days before our wedding. In eleven days, 240 people were going to be ready to celebrate and dine and boogie with us, and damned if I knew where we could make that happen.

Then at work, Kelli IMs me and I can tell she's feeling me out. Was I going to cry if anyone else tried to make vaguely encouraging suggestions about the wedding venue situation? Yes. Yes I was. She sends me a link to a blog post on Ashley's Bride Guide, a local wedding site. It's an article about local event venues with availabilities during the next few weeks, for any weddings that had been displaced by the flood. Mostly the places mentioned in this post are barns in Franklin, nothing we'd really be interested in, but then, in one of the comments, a mother-of-the-bride is talking about her daughter's wedding, which was originally scheduled for the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall on May 22 (that poor girl. My heart goes out to you, whoever you are...). The mom says they've looked at three places as possible alternatives: the Parthenon, the Opera building, and Houston Station. She says that Jeff with Houston Station was wonderfully helpful and supportive even though they ended up going with the Parthenon. I quickly googled Houston Station and was flabbergasted. My heart was pounding when I called Jeff to ask how soon we could come take a look. Emily and I went over there right after lunch and I was completely smitten.

Houston Station is a renovated hosiery factory, located near the Fugitive Art studios, between the baseball park and the fairgrounds. I had no idea this place existed until that morning. They only finished their renovations and started hosting events in October. It is HUGE. We would be able to comfortably transport our entire wedding (ceremony, popcorn hour AND reception) into this space just as we'd planned without having to change a single thing. Basically it was everything we'd hoped the Farmers' Market would be, except with nicer bathrooms, a bridal suite and valet parking. Exposed brick, hardwood floors, burlap lining the interior walls, a long wall full of French doors opening out onto a terrace just a few yards from the railroad tracks.

Emily and I sat down with Jeff after walking around and talked through details. It was pretty clear that everything was going to work perfectly, but we still hadn't talked price. He showed me a ballpark quote that was three times what we had been scheduled to pay at the original venues. My heart just about collapsed. I went back to the office and wrote out an email response to the price quote in which I basically begged, pleaded, wallowed and beseeched Jeff to take less than half of his named price. I have never been comfortable with bargaining but with this wedding I apparently had no qualms about offering an insultingly low fee to vendors who I respected and was dying to work with. And it was totally working! After a particularly heartracing bout of phone tag (remember, my phone wasn't ringing this whole time, just voicemail alerts), Jeff, after checking with his business partners, said YES.

Austin and I (okay, plus a smallish entourage of Shan, Casey, Trent, Brandes, Bethany, Anna and Tracy) went back the next day, Wednesday, so Austin could see the place (okay, I wasn't very well going to broker a contract without his approval) and so we could sign on the dotted line. Everyone was so excited and encouraged about this new plan, and so were we. I left the venue with an endless To Do list and boundless energy. I was a woman possessed. Ten days out, and we had a wedding to plan!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Plan B

To backtrack just a bit, during that week when we were sticking to Plan A, I got one of the sweetest and most generous phone calls of my life. Mike & Mindy Grimes, two of my favorite people on the planet, called me (on a three-way call so that they could both talk) to offer us The Basement as a potential wedding venue. The Basement is a wonderful music venue (underneath Grimey's Record Shop), and it's definitely one of our special places. I thanked them both so much and said I hoped that we wouldn't need to take them up on their offer.

So after I got off the phone with Paul the caterer, fourteen days before the wedding, we sat on the couch in a daze and started to brainstorm Plan B. The Basement was easily at the top of that list. We tried to picture it, the party we'd originally planned, transplanted to this (admittedly small) venue, and it just could almost work. We talked through the possibilities: ceremony on the porch, dinner in the parking lot, dancing on the patio. Casey and Trent drove straight over there to give us an estimate of the size of the parking lot. It seemed like enough room. I called Grimey and he said we could make this happen, that we'd meet on Monday and go through the details.

I called an emergency summit at Shan's house the next day (on her birthday, bless you, Shan...) and all the best ladies gathered around to brainstorm. Everyone left with newly assigned duties and the hope that we were going to pull this plan off. There were some details that were going to be a stretch, for sure. We'd have to hire parking shuttles and try to find a nearby parking lot to borrow for the evening. There would no longer be a traditional processional; most likely we'd just walk down the fire escape from the back door of the record shop. Space was going to be tight for the dessert buffet and the bars. We kept reasoning, people will be understanding, they'll be forgiving if it isn't very convenient or graceful.

Sunday night I went to bed feeling overwhelmed but hopeful. Monday afternoon I met with Mike at the Basement, and it was clear that we had an uphill battle ahead of us. I measured the parking lot and it was just never, ever going to fit 240 guests seated family style. We tossed around ideas for bistro tables or benches. Maybe some tables could go in the (gravel) alley? I started to realize how much of our original vision for the wedding would fall by the wayside if we had the party here. I went back to work after taking some pictures of the parking lot and pretty much fell apart.

I've said that between 4 pm that day and 11 am the next morning was my worst time of the entire wedding-planning process. I was despondent. If someone had poked me gently in the shoulder I would have burst into tears. I was trying so hard to not be a drama queen, to not waste a generously offered last-minute venue when that was what we needed most. That night we went bowling with our Emma league and I tried to shake off my big black cloud, kept telling myself that we'd work it out, that whatever we ended up doing, it would be okay. But in my heart I knew, if someone had told us a year ago that we'd pay $20,000 for a crowded buffet wedding in a parking lot, we'd have walked away.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Wedding Story

The truth is, it was all coming together beautifully. The details, the plans, the vision, all there. So much work and time had already gone into the whole process. Many hours of manual crafty labor from so many generous and clever people. There were some days when there was so much to do that I couldn’t even start. And other days where we were in such good shape, I could just waste time.

And then, on Saturday, May 1, it started to rain. Nashville in May is a generally rainy place, but I’d never seen anything like this. None of us had. Ever. It rained all day and all night and on Sunday morning, Digby walked through the living room leaving wet paw prints behind him. This was because our basement was filling with water, groundwater, soaking in through the walls, under the fireplace, around the pipe that leads to the water heater. Water everywhere. We were lucky, it was simply flowing out of the basement through the garage door, so we never got more than a few inches. Some worthless old furniture was soaked; boxes of family keepsakes made it up to the attic without any important losses.

The rest of the city was not so lucky. Thousands of homes were damaged or ruined. The Opryland Hotel sustained destruction at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. And both the Bicentennial Mall State Park and the Nashville Farmers' Market were under water. A lot of water.

I just scanned back through my blog history and I guess I never really confirmed this: our wedding ceremony was going to be on stage in the amphitheatre of the Bicentennial Mall, and the reception right next door in the Market House of the Farmers' Market. It was a done deal. We'd paid for the venues, had a solid plan for the setup and the decorations, etc. I'd walked through both locations with the photographer, the video dudes, Tracy (our coordinator and dear friend), Agnes, etc. We'd sent the invitations. There was a vision. It was gonna work.

Until the flood. And I know we got off so lucky here. I heard flood war stories about weddings that were cut short when guests had to be rescued off the roof of the church. Or where the groom had to drive through three feet of water to get to the ceremony, where neither the officiant or the musicians arrived. At least we didn't try to get married on May 1.

So for the week of May 3-8, we didn't know quite what was going to happen. My boss sent me a photo of the Bicentennial Mall Amphitheatre, filled with water like a giant pond. We (just barely) weighed some options for Plan B. We were temporarily distracted from even remotely considering the wedding on the Monday after the rain when I got a call that our street was being evacuated. We rushed home to find the water still steadily rising, all the way up to the stop sign at the end of our street. Our house is on a hill and we were very much out of any immediate danger, but so many in our neighborhood were not safe. People were taking boats down Cooper Lane, helping people out of their houses. It was like another world.

We heard many conflicting reports and opinions about whether or not either of our chosen wedding venues were going to be clean and ready by May 22. I went and walked around Bicentennial one morning, and cleanup crews were spread out throughout the park, and it just didn't look that bad. The grass in the amphitheatre was dying, but they were pumping out the last of the water and it was just not clear when everything would be normal again. The Market House was still chained up tight, waiting for Metro Health officials to prescribe a cleanup regimen. But we were holding out for Plan A. Surely in three weeks everything would be back to normal.

Something I'll always remember about the weeks following the flood: Apparently Sprint lost a tower in the Berry Hill area, because for several days, my phone wouldn't ring if I got a call when I was at work. It would direct straight to voicemail. So while we're rushing around trying to figure everything out, trying to confirm that our home and family are safe, and then planning and re-planning every detail of the wedding, I would just get a benign little chime indicating that I had a new message. Each time I almost had a heart attack.

Another (more pleasant memory): on the Wednesday night of that long uncertain week, we snuck out and saw The Losers at the movie theater. It was terrible. And the perfect distraction. For two explosive, streaking bullet-in-slo-mo hours I didn't think once about the flood or the wedding. Bliss.

So after a week of (stubbornly) optimistically sticking with Plan A, I got the call on Saturday night, May 8th, that changed everything. It was Paul, our dear and wonderful and patient and encouraging caterer, who also runs a restaurant located in the Farmers Market. He said he'd spent the day attempting cleanup in the Market House, and flat out told us to find a new venue, stat. He explained how slowly everything was moving under Metro government and that he saw zero likelihood that the space would be ready in two weeks.

So that's how it came about that, two weeks before our wedding, we had to move the whole damn thing. On to Plan B...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Save the Date

Except not really, because the date already happened.

Here's what our Save the Dates looked like. Once I figure out how to do that thing where we blur over the line that shows our mailing address, I'll show the nifty sticker that sealed the cards for mailing.

Thus begins my month-long recap of May 22, aka Best. Wedding. Ever!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Before I get around to Starting at the Beginning

I know, I know. The wedding already happened and I'm still not spilling the lush details. I swear, it's close, I'm going to tackle the daily blogging for the month of June and slowly dole out the whole wedding story, every bit of it. We're still waiting for the majority of the photos to come in and I'll just keep rolling it all out as we go along.

But today, I just want to say goodbye to my old friend Ingrid. She's been gone for a week now and it's very sad. We all knew this was probably her last summer. Summer was never her best time. She was 12 years old, which is very old for a 140 lb. dog with bad hips and bad teeth. In fact, every summer for the last couple of years, there has come a point where Dad has mournfully predicted that she wouldn't make it through to the fall. We certainly didn't think she'd make it through all the way to twelve, which is a conservative assumption of her actual age. The adoption flyer said she was three when I brought her home in December of 2001. And that flyer had been hanging up at Petsmart for a year, so maybe she was already four by the time she joined our family.

Some observations about Ingrid: she was never, ever mad at me. She was always happy to see me (and pretty much everybody else) and she had a great sense of humor. Sometimes she'd run across the yard to me and I would think, "Oh god, she's not going to stop," and my life would flash before my eyes. But she always stopped, and always wanted to give me her big heavy paw. She hated helicopters, sirens and municipal vehicles with flashing lights. And bicycles (sorry, Patrick...). She didn't like strange men or kids walking past our house on Eastside Avenue (that's why she eventually went to live with Dad out in the country).

When she first came to live with me, we tried having her be an inside dog. She even slept in my bed, where she snored heavily and tried to spoon me. That lasted exactly one day. Brandes and Dad built her a pen (this was when I was the sole occupant of the little house out on Ashland City Highway) and it was woefully small. Eventually, after a couple of years of trial and error, we determined that the only fence that would hold Ingrid was one she didn't *want* to breach. If she could lay up against the foundation (or, ideally, the door) of the house where I lived, she would never try to leave. That's when it really worked.

Even though she spent the last few years as the galloping snowbear of Leiper's Fork, where she was doted upon by Dad and Lynn, she remained my big dog. We just went out to visit Dad in April and got to spend some quality time with the Biggest. I'm glad for that. I'm grateful that she was loved and fussed over up until the end. Thanks to Dad and Lynn for that.

RIP Biggy Bigrid, the Biggest Ingrid. Missing you today, my happy happiest.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Austin has pointed out that I shouldn't talk about the wedding details in case some of my readers aren't invited to the wedding. That seems to assume a lot about my readership (as in, it's more than just my mother, and you know she's totally invited), but he's probably right. Instead I'll overshare when it's all over and just say that the invites have gone out, the rvsps are flooding in (boy is THAT aspect of wedding planning gratifying!) and we bought our wedding rings today. So I guess we really HAVE to get married now.

Just kidding. I'm so excited about getting married. I'm excited about the party, I'm excited about our families and friends coming to visit, I'm excited about the dress and the paper flowers and the place cards and the corn muffins and the playlists and the pizza party the night before. But mostly I'm excited about BEING MARRIED! It seems like the whole time we've been together, I've known this is where we were heading, and it's finally here, and it partially feels like we've been married for years, and it partially feels like the big step that it legitimately is. I'm going to share his name. He's going to be my guardian. It's big. And it's exciting. And it's lovely.

How's that for non-wedding wedding talk? I know, weddingweddingwedding, right? I'm trying not to be that girl. What else is going on? Charlie Murphy is still peeing on things in our home. Like the dog beds, if we leave them on the floor unoccupied. Or a stack of papers in the office that needed to be filed. Or my brown boots (dammit). Austin's done plenty of research into possible causes. The vet suggested that we let him go outside, which is of course never going to happen. Instead we started letting him go into the basement unsupervised, which he'd been vocally begging to do since we bought the house. We've also tried giving him ample doses of catnip, with the hopes that he'd chill out. Oh, he chills out alright, laid out spread eagle on the kitchen counter in a patch of sun, drooling.
And then he pees on the green blanket when it falls off the bed. The apparent conclusion is that we have too many pets and he's being territorial, although damned if I know why this suddenly came on when we've been a 6 pet household for over two years. And we're not about to start getting rid of the others just because Charlie Murphy thinks he needs to assert himself. In the meantime, I have to figure out how to get cat urine out of leather. Which is awesome.

The troubling thing is that he doesn't act like he's having a hard time at all. He gets along fine with the other pets, except for when he pushes Mackenzie's buttons, which can be done pretty much by breathing. He and Mischa wrestle and chase each other, and he's very patient with her. He'll rub his head under Bridgey's chin and it's too sweet. On the weekends or sometimes in the evenings he comes and snuggles us on the couch, and it's the most gratifying feeling in the world. I don't want him to be mad at us, or at war (inside his head) with the rest of the pets or our home. Because that's what it feels like: piss warfare.

In other news, Casey and I went to NYC for a long weekend to visit Jenny. It was gorgeous and delicious and we shopped and ate until our faces fell off (nearly). I loved just walking around with my sisters, that immediate natural flow of conversation and interaction that kicks in whenever it's the three of us. Some things I observed: My sisters still think of me as being a terrible traveler. That is fair, because I truly was, for years. I overpacked, I lost shit, I got lost, I procrastinated, I got flustered. I'd like to thank Austin (and also just traveling a whole, whole lot in my mid 20s) for having made me a better traveler. I still get nervous during takeoff and landing. I also still have to compulsively repack every time I take something out of my suitcase. But I've managed to plan ahead for this quirk and try not let it affect anyone else that I might be traveling with. Still, my sisters wanted to make sure I woke up early enough every day to be ready to leave the house at the same time as they were, and I ended up just waiting on them a lot and feeling smug. I also observed that my sisters' patience and stamina for shopping has gone inversely up in relation to my own decline. They used to refuse to shop with me because I'd take so long, liked to be thorough and look at everything. They were always On A Mission. This trip to New York, I ran out of steam in the first 10 minutes of each new store we visited, and wound up sitting on the floor by the front door of H&M, totally over throwing elbows in the name of cheap clothes. I bought six shirts, only because I didn't have to try them on (I refused to enter that hellhole of a dressing room) and figured that if they didn't fit I'd give them to someone they would. The girls completely racked up, happily for them.

I'm running out of steam and thoughts tonight. Remember when Myspace would play a song when someone visited your page? Mine was Fake Palindromes by Andrew Bird for forever. If my life were a song tonight, it would be this: Young Folks by Peter Bjorn and John. It's the new dancing-in-pajamas song in the Gill-Gray kitchen. Mom, you'll like it! Be ready to dance to it with me and my groom in 6 short weeks and two even shorter days...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Commemorating the End of February

Things I want to do this afternoon:
1. Take a nap
2. Watch My So-Called Life
3. Read The Help
4. Reread Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Things I need to do this afternoon:
1. Trial of the tapas dishes I'm making for the beer-and-tapas throwdown next weekend.
2. Send an email to all the wedding guests letting them know that we've got the website updated.

Things I have to do this afternoon:
1. Manually cancel about 100 Emma accounts.

Oh, procrastination, my lifelong frenemy. Just when I think I'm really and truly a grownup, I find myself playing Mind the Blox instead of just getting my damn work done. I blame Sunday.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Some exciting recent occurrences in the Gill/Gray (soon to be All Gray) household:

1. Wednesday night, in the midst of hosting a very lovely little dinner party, I managed to neatly slice off the end of my left thumbnail. About a half an inch in. Whilst slicing up a chiffonade of basil with my chef's knife. I managed to not freak out, since our dinner guests were watching me prep dinner. Just wrapped it up and quietly dug the piece of thumbnail out of the pile of basil and continued on with supper. But oh man, it hurts like a mofo. I can't put any pressure on that thumb at all, making me a single-finger texter and incapable of putting on my own necklaces.

2. Last night we installed the HDMI cord on our new Toshiba 32" HD 1080p flat-screen television. We'd put the tv in on Tuesday but didn't have the right cable to make the HD channels show up. Got it all set up last night and watched the NBC shows and it's just astonishing. It kind of gives me a headache to watch because the picture is so precise. I'm sure I'm the LAST person on the planet to come to this realization. But it's a fun treat and just in time for March Madness...

3. Honeymoon in Ireland: Booked! We bumped it ahead to a month after the wedding (so June 18-26). Initially I liked the romantic idea of heading straight off on this big adventure trip right after the wedding, but the more I thought about it, I've come to terms with the fact that I'm an OCD asshole right before a vacation. And this is the biggest trip we've ever taken, and I didn't want to transfer any of those nerves/preparations/chaos to the wedding week. This way we can get back to life as we know it, post-wedding, and then be ready to take off a few weeks later. To Ireland! Holy cow! We're doing two nights each in Galway, Kinsale and Dublin. Taking an (expensive) train from Cork to Dublin, and otherwise knocking around in a rental car. Flights in and out of JFK, so we can see Jenny and Patrick for a day before we leave. We'll be there during the World Cup, so we can watch some games in Irish pubs and bash England with the locals.

4. Save-the-Dates: Sent! Later than I had originally planned, but they look gorgeous, of course. Designed by my future husband, the most talented man I know. We've also set up our wedding website, with just a placeholder now and a spot to sign up to be alerted by email as we add more info. We need to get the hotel stuff finalized (I'm kind of horrified by how hard this part has been...) so we can share that info on the website and help our guests get their travel plans in place. It doesn't look like we're competing with any major events or conferences in Nashville the weekend of the wedding, which is a relief. Downtown can be a madhouse sometimes.

5. Last night, we were woken at about 4 am by the sound of an elephant herd in the front of the house. This turned out to be Corvinius, who had caught a MOUSE and was zooming around the house torturing it. Austin got up, chased the situation down the hall and eventually lost the mouse in the office closet. He gave up and came back to bed, figuring it had gotten into the ductwork and there wasn't anything to be done. The cats held their vigil, though, and I was woken up a half-hour later by squeaking, thumping and fluttering on top of me in the bed. Corvinius had found the mouse and brought it to us in bed. I flung the covers off and heard the mouse hit the wall, then leaped over to the other side of Austin and started shouting. Austin understands the basic principle of our relationship, which is that if it *might* be a mouse, he has to deal with it, so he finally managed to get the damaged-and-traumatized-but-still-alive mouse into a box and out the front door. Not the greatest night's sleep for either of us. Luckily the dogs had gone out at about 3 (yeah, that part is awesome too) so they weren't around to further complicate the animal kingdom showdown. Good GRIEF.


Okay, so I missed a month or two here. I missed talking about the absolutely amazing night when I came home from work to find 19 of my favorite ladies in the entire world wearing hideous bridesmaid dresses shouting "Surprise!" We feasted, we opened an obnoxious number of lingerie-related gifts, and we danced in the dining room until we were about to drop. It was pretty much the best thing ever.

I skipped the holidays, too. They were mostly low key; Mom and Kam were gone before Christmas and Jenny and Patrick left the day after. Austin and I laid around a lot and cooked a lot. It's been a particularly productive cooking month for us. I've been inventing a few recipes, which I don't do very often (Peppermint Panna Cotta! Spicy Sticky Asian Baby Back Ribs! Grapefruit-Vanilla Bean Sorbet!). Basically, I get a vision for a taste I want, and then research to see if the recipe already exists, and if it doesn't, I cobble together concepts from related recipes until it makes sense. No disasters yet!

And if it hasn't been clear before this, now is the time for my Wedding Brain to take hold and not let go for the next four months. Last Thursday, I woke up wide awake at 5 am with a specific vision of the text for our invitations. Got up, went to the living room, wrote it all down exactly as I pictured it, and went back to bed. It's sort of like wedding autism. My mind is constantly clicking with To Dos and ideas, I can't turn it off. I never wanted to be one of Those Brides, but I guess if I'm honest with myself, I know I have always been. I've got my big binder and my lists and my calendars and I'm ready to get this show on the road.