Wedding Wrap-Up, Part 2

September 16, 2011

Casual Dress. Local Food. Good Times.

When our event designer saw the venue for our wedding celebration, he said, “I feel like I’m at summer camp.” I know this is not the mood everyone wants to set for their wedding reception, but for us, it was perfect.

We chose the Walker Nature Center as the venue for our party primarily because it felt like Reston—nestled in trees off Glade Drive and walking distance from our house. It also reflects our values. According to its website, the center’s mission is “to foster good environmental stewardship through the use of direct experiences and interpretive media. The center enhances people’s awareness, knowledge, appreciation, and enjoyment of the environment.” Right on!

The Nature House, which opened in November 2009, is a LEED Gold–certified building with a ground-source geothermal heat pump system for heating and cooling, regionally and sustainably harvested cypress siding, and low-flow and dual-flow plumbing fixtures. The porch posts are made from wood salvaged from a nearby construction site and the flooring is natural marmoleum and recycled carpet. We rented not only the multipurpose room in the Nature House but also the picnic pavilion just outside. Guests were able to walk outdoors to enjoy the landscaping (primarily native plants), the trees, a few raindrops now and again, and of course, the second bar.

That bar and the bar in the multipurpose room were stocked and manned by Main Event Caterers, who provided what was by all accounts a downright delicious buffet of food and beverage.* Our event designer, Spencer, won us over with his attention to detail and some freaking amazing chocolate truffles. Because Spencer knew highlighting regional meat and produce was important to me, he included a list of local sources in his initial menu proposal. We had meat from Polyface, dairy from Trickling Springs Creamery, and produce from Virginia Green Grocer, to name only a few on the list. We also had some delectable short-smoked salmon (served with peach chutney—oh my!), which, though not locally caught, came from a sustainable source—or at least a source more environmentally responsible than unregulated ocean aquaculture.

But it wasn’t the menu that set Main Event apart—in fact, our second-choice caterer also proposed a mouth-watering menu full of local foods. Rather it was their commitment to doing business in an eco-friendly way. Main Event Caterers purchases electricity from Dominion Power, but offsets their usage by purchasing an equal amount of energy from a wind farm. This energy is then funneled to the electric grid to reduce reliance on unsustainable power sources. Over the past few years, the company has reduced its landfilled waste by 70 percent by recycling plastics, aluminum, glass, and cardboard; composting food waste; and using only biodegradable, compostable disposables made with corn, palm, balsa, and bagasse. Most recently, the catering company installed a water purification and filtration system that allows them to bottle their own still and sparkling water in handsome, reusable glass vessels, so they no longer rely on water from plastic bottles. Heck, even Main Event’s website is hosted by a green web-hosting company, AISO.

As a sort-of side note, I’ll mention one of the biggest perks of working with Spencer and Main Event. Two or three weeks before the party date, I approached Spencer with a request that the bars serve only craft beers, not just because they generally taste better than the domestic standards but also because I would feel better supporting, say, Starr Hill than, say, Budweiser. Neither Channing nor I had any specific beers in mind when I made this request, so Spencer took it upon himself to consult Main Event’s beverage director. The two of them came up with a fantastic idea. Main Event had in storage a whole variety of cases and half cases of microbrews that other parties had requested. For the same price it would have cost us to serve their usual trio (one domestic, one import, one craft), we could serve a grab bag of eight to ten different varieties of beer. Make use of leftovers and offer our friends and family more options? Yes, please! (Of course, I drank bellinis all night—but, hey, it was August and peach season is only so long.)

For dessert we had fresh-baked blueberry, cherry, and peach pies from Albemarle Baking Company, thanks to my generous friend Nan. And then there was the cake: three tiers of greatness brought to us by Buzz Bakery. Buzz is a member of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (NRG), which, for the benefit of the locals out there, includes Vermilion, Rustico, Tallula, and Evening Star Café, among others. Last fall NRG launched the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture at Woodlawn Plantation in Alexandria. The center’s programs include an educational farm, a wholesale local food outlet, a mobile market, and the D.C. Farm to School Network, all with the mission to “improve the health of our community, the viability of local farmers, and preserve our environment for future generations by combining education about healthy food and its sources with better logistical connections between local farmers and the urban and suburban core of the region.” Clearly Buzz is part of a happy, well-meaning family.

Buzz itself doesn’t claim to use local or sustainable ingredients, but they do have “reverence for great ingredients, a passion for careful baking, and a steadfast dedication to serving only the freshest items.” Hear, hear! Our cake coordinator, Dawn, insisted on seasonally inspired tiers, which was obviously fine with me. I chose lemon cake filled with lemon curd, almond cake filled with cherry curd, and vanilla cake with both lemon and cherry. The whole thing was covered in buttercream and studded with fresh, organic flowers (the same flowers I picked up from Potomac Vegetable Farms). Stunning.

And that, my friends, ends the story of our low-stuff wedding. It goes to show you can get hitched in style without fancy dresses and multiple fittings, pricey photographers, florists, DJs, inspiration notebooks, wedding websites, gift registries, bridesmaids and groomsmen, save-the-date cards, reply cards, place cards, tents, programs, limousines, rehearsals, churches, speeches, and jordan almonds. I know this kind of casual affair does not appeal to everyone, and that’s OK by me (I like formal events as much as anyone else does). Still, I think a traditional wedding could take some environmentally minded cues from our more simple celebration. The focus of our event was on what was most important to us: gathering our family and friends, all together in one place at one time, to celebrate the start of our new life together.

*And I mean seriously delicious. We have a ton of positive feedback about the food. Thank you so much, Main Event!

Wedding Wrap-Up, Part 1

September 14, 2011

Exceptions (Or, One Month of Justifying Purchases with “It’s for the Wedding”; Or, Enjoying an Influx of Generosity)

Aside from the occasional rain shower on party day, Wedding Weekend 2011 went off without a hitch. The ceremony was short, sweet, and included a surprise guest—Channing’s brother Chip (we thought he was flying in from Austin later that evening). Our first dinner as newlyweds, at the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm four hours after the ceremony, was pretty darn amazing. On Friday we had brunch with Channing’s family, caught up on some in-theater movie viewing, and attended a cookout with my family. And then, of course, there was the party—but I’ll cover that in part 2.

First, the exceptions: I’ve already confessed to buying the wedding band and the invitations. I’m hoping to avoid buying thank-you cards. Channing claims he has “seventeen thousand” notecards lying around here somewhere. If he doesn’t, I think we’ll create our own thank-you postcards with the card stock I have among my crafting supplies.

Despite my new aunt-in-law’s generous offer of fresh lilies and black-eyed Susans from her garden, I ended up buying a few organic bouquets from Potomac Vegetable Farms. Actually, Channing bought my wedding-day bouquet from the PVF farm stand when he went to pick up our CSA share for the week, and I picked up flowers for the party at the PVF booth at the Reston farmers market on Saturday morning. Talk about convenient! Plus, my cousin Paige, an expert florist, did our flower arranging, using vases my parents had stored in their garage.

Among the unexpected exceptions were a pair of bridal flip-flops, a gift from my friend Nan. My witness, Sarah, took some great photos of Channing and me on our wedding day, and I had a couple shots printed to display at the party (in frames from my personal collection). I bought four bottles of citronella spray to help party guests fend off mosquitoes (my dad also rented fans for this purpose). And, last but certainly not least (on the guilt-o-meter, I mean), I purchased some makeup.

Makeup! I wear very little makeup, and in December, when Helene, Melissa, and I met to set the rules for the Experiment, I was adamant about not including makeup on the essential toiletries list. But then, after receiving some generous gift certificates from the new in-laws, I found myself in the Red Door Spa for a facial. After the facial, I was offered a complimentary makeup refresher, during which their in-house makeup expert convinced me (with very little prodding, I might add) to buy some eye shadow along with some “primer” for my eyelids. Who knew they had such a thing? I’m such a sucker.

Then there were the gifts. As I’ve mentioned before, Channing and I decided not to register, even though people had us convinced that not registering would prompt a deluge of unwanted stuff from our well-meaning wedding guests. Happily for me, these people were wrong. In fact, very few of our wedding gifts fell into the “stuff” category. I received some (awesome) bike gear and the greatest pair of sunglasses ever, and together Channing and I accepted a few household items, like a photo album and a glass cake stand and dome. Oh, we also received a super sleek and handy compost pail, which is going to cut down our food waste so much that I hate to even list it among the “stuff.” And that’s pretty much it.

In the “redeemable for stuff” category, we received a couple gift cards for Target and Crate and Barrel. I figured we could just hold off on using them until 2012, maybe after we’ve moved into whatever house we end up purchasing. Channing disagreed. He ran out to Target without me a couple Fridays ago because he thought we desperately needed a copy of It’s Complicated on DVD for the home library. (It turns out he was right—we’ve already watched it twice.)

The majority of the gifts we received were generous donations to the Kimmelhorn Townhouse Fund (thank you!). Some folks gave food or beverage gifts, donations in our names to charitable organizations, and movie theater passes. And, lastly, there were the homemade gems: a homegrown garlic bulb (yum!), a photo on canvas, and a mini antique chest of drawers filled with date ideas, quotes, and cash for our first year of marriage. I love the creativity.

We’re pretty lucky to have such loving, caring, munificent friends and family. I certainly did not expect this outpouring of generosity. I was actually naive enough to think people would forgo the gift-giving custom; I did, after all, tell more than one guest that I wasn’t interested in gifts. To be frank, I was overwhelmed—in a good way, of course. And I appreciate everyone coming here to celebrate with us so very much. More about the celebration—and the food, bev, and venue in particular—to come on Friday.

Finally, for the record, despite the abovementioned brazen violations of the original rules of the No Stuff Experiment and despite my husband’s best efforts to dissuade me, I have been sticking to my guns since August 7. For Mom’s birthday last month, the two of us went to the movies and out for ice cream cones. I sated my back-to-school clothes shopping urge with an impromptu stop at a new consignment shop in Fairfax. I’ve become so dependent on the surprise and excitement of my weekly CSA share that I braved flooded parking lots and highways and three hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic in an attempt to reach the farm last Thursday (the farm, by the way, is about five miles from my house and office). I’m still commuting on foot and by bike as often as possible, and since the wedding, I’ve been appreciating the quiet and fun that just happen when my mind and schedule are open.

Six-Month Re-Up

June 30, 2011

Inspired by a trip to Mint Condition in Old Town Alexandria this weekend, I have decided to go whole hog: I’m opting in for six more months of not buying anything new.* For one thing, I’m convinced there is enough lightly used stuff out there to fill nearly all of my shopping needs (with the possible exception of underroos). For another, the obstacles that the second half of the year will throw at me—namely, the wedding, my birthday, and the Christmas season—just might make the lessons of the No Stuff Experiment sink in a little deeper.

I’ll confess up front that I anticipate having to make a few exceptions:

1. Wedding stuff: I found a perfect white linen dress at Mint Condition, so hooray! No new wedding dress for me. However, Channing and I do still plan to buy wedding bands (brand new from Brilliant Earth) and I’m also considering decorating the buffet and bars at the party with cut flowers, which I’d like to pick myself at a local farm. All the other stuff at the party (we’ve started calling it the “unity celebration”—makes me laugh every time) will either be a rental or food, so I’m expecting rings and flowers to be the extent of my wedding-related cheats. Well, except for . . .

2. Gifts: Much to my chagrin, I’m going to have to relax my rules on gifts. As many times as I politely request that people not buy us anything, I can’t control the generous whims of our friends and family. Channing and I will probably have to accept a few new material goods into our homes come August. We will do so graciously.

3. Trash bags: Ugh. Channing bought kitchen trash bags a couple of days ago. I didn’t stop him because, frankly, I have not had the time to think up a mutually agreeable alternative. (Is it just me, or are time and convenience the biggest obstacles to living in an environmentally responsible manner?) We use reusable bags whenever we head to the store—grocery or otherwise—so we don’t generally have on hand paper or plastic bags large enough for the kitchen receptacle. Regardless, the damage is done; the bags have been purchased. We started the year with fewer than twenty bags, and we ran out the last week of June. Not too shabby. I figure we can make this recent purchase last equally long, and maybe I’ll come up with a nonplastic or repurposed alternative in the meantime.

Other than these three exceptions, the rules will remain the same: no new unessential stuff. I’m doing just fine without the aluminum foil, parchment paper, freezer bags, and cotton balls. And, I have a new Northern Virginia consignment shop circuit and charitable friends and family to rely on if I find myself needing clothes, shoes, or kitchenware. (My wish list, by the way, has dwindled to only two items: (1) a bike jersey with pockets or a little saddle bag and (2) fingerless bike gloves. If you know anyone looking to unload these items, please send them my way.)

I also have about a dozen ideas for posts bouncing around my noggin and a couple interested guest writers. So, here’s to six more stuff-free months—and a more lively blog in the coming weeks!

*And you all thought this was going to be a wrap-up post. Ha!

Channing and I headed to the courthouse on Monday this week to get our marriage license. We are now legally obligated to get hitched in the next sixty days. Hooray!

The plan is to get married in a small ceremony in early August and have a party for all our family and friends the following weekend. August is coming up quick, so with Melissa and Helene’s permission, a couple weeks ago I bent the rules a tad by buying party invitations.

I didn’t make the decision to violate the rules (yet again) lightly. Channing and I even toyed with the idea of sending an Evite to party guests in order to avoid the numerous environmental costs of shipping paper via the U.S. mail. But, the thing is, we love invitations by mail. Whenever we throw a party, we send homemade invites to all our potential guests. Unfortunately, Channing’s family is gigantic (relative to mine, anyway), and I didn’t have enough card stock on hand to make wedding invites by hand. So, remembering the plantable Christmas card Nan gave me last December, I began a search for eco-friendly invitations embedded with seeds.

My search led me to a company called Botanical PaperWorks, which sells a variety of paper products made from postconsumer paper waste and wildflower, herb, or vegetable seeds.* They have several attractive wedding invitation designs, nearly all of which were perfect for us, given the venue of our party (the local nature center). Once our guests have marked the pertinent details of the event on their calendars, they can plant the invitation and watch a variety of wildflowers grow. Oh, and we have asked them all to RSVP by e-mail, which should cut our wedding’s carbon footprint a bit.

I don’t anticipate having to buy anything else for the wedding during these last few days of the Experiment—that is, I don’t anticipate buying anything new. I am hoping to find a vintage white dress to wear to both the ceremony and the party (and whenever I want thereafter). I finally started looking for this dress last weekend while I was in Maryland checking out a master’s program at the Tai Sophia Institute. I visited three consignment shops and came up with nothing—well, except the realization that there are consignment shops nearby with a pretty great selection of lightly worn everyday clothes. That’ll be good to know next time I want to replenish my wardrobe.

So, I haven’t had luck in brick-and-mortar stores yet (I’m planning to visit another three in Virginia this coming weekend), but I have found a couple of possibilities on Etsy. Not only does Etsy offer a pretty amazing selection of vintage dresses, it also hosts a few vendors who make clothes from repurposed fabric. It’s amazing what you can find on the Internet. I have my eye on this one dress in particular, but it’s made to order and I’m not sure the vendor can finish and ship it in my six-week timeframe. Better, earth-wise, to find something off-the-rack at a store nearby (or in a friend’s closet) anyway, right?

Once July rolls around, and the Experiment is officially over, Channing and I will be purchasing wedding bands. (The wedding band purchase is actually the primary reason I wanted to wait until August to get married.) This week I found an ethical jewelry vendor online: Brilliant Earth. All of their wedding bands are made with recycled metals and conflict-free stones. I have to say I’m pretty jazzed about this find.

Other than the invitations, the dress, and the ring, I don’t anticipate having to purchase anything for the wedding outside of the No Stuff Experiment’s parameters (stay tuned for the lowdown on our fabulous caterer, though). And, we are asking our family and friends not to give us gifts—our kitchen is well stocked with appliances already, we have plenty of linens, and honestly, our condo is so small, we couldn’t fit much else in it anyway. (To appease the insistent gift-givers, we have set up a registry. The only item on it is help with a down payment on our first home—mostly because I have not yet figured out how to register for sparkling wine or donations to charity.)

*Is it buying something new if the product is made from waste?