Friday, November 26, 2010

Simple Math: A Beginner's Guide to Turkey

"It's simple math dear."

Words not to be uttered in our house again.  I will also never reveal who said them.

How hard can roasting a Thanksgiving turkey be, really?

I mean, it is really just a big chicken, right?

My Thanksgiving holiday preparation was rolling along at an almost perfect clip.    Menu planned carefully in advance.   Shopping divided among stores and days.   Completed in a timely and organized manner.   Turkey ordered (early!) and picked up to rest gently in a chilled setting until it was time.

I even had a beautiful new roasting pan (thanks Aunt Bev and Uncle Frank!).    Graduated from the kind you have to pick up last minute at the grocery store.

My recipes carefully organized.    Cranberry sauce completed Tuesday night.   Green beans and brussell sprouts washed and trimmed.   Stuffing prepared.   Sweet potato casserole awaiting its final topping.  

All I had to do was flip on the Macy's Day parade, finalize my fantastic sides and dessert and whip out a fabulous turkey.   Really, how hard could it be?

I enlisted John to wash our new friend (we named him, but he shall remain nameless), remove the neck and gizzards (what are these anyway?) and pat him down and lay him to rest in his new pan.    Meanwhile, I chopped fresh herbs and rubbed them lovingly all over "him" (don't worry, the turkey... not John).

"So how long does this thing need to roast anyway?   Do we have a plan?"

"I don't know.   Couple hours.   Maybe 3 - 4.  We'll just keep checking the temperature.   With our new thermometer."

Forty five minutes in, our friend receives a sweet little turkey bath and a fine shield of tinfoil.    Feeling pretty good at this point.    Santa has made his appearance and we are rounding into Eukanuba dog show territory (am I the only one who actually watches this)?

Sides are positioned for final baking/sauteing/mashing.    Looking good.

"Do you think we should check the temperature?   You know,  just to make sure we're on track?"

"Sure.   Let's do that."

"Does this really say 190?"

Enter freak out panic mode.   Turkey overdone.   Nothing else ready.   First Thanksgiving as a married couple.   Ruined.  Forever.   Did I mention RUINED?   FOREVER!

"It's simple math dear.   Didn't we calculate the total time it would take based on the weight of our turkey?"

Fighting words.   Math was never a strong suit.   I rely on data.

"Well, I rely on data AND math. It's pretty simple."

Rapid change in plans.    We are no longer speaking.    We will finish the sides, clean up and sit down to a meal of cold turkey.    We proceed.

"I think it is time to carve the turkey now.   It has been resting for like, an hour and a half."

"Does this look pink to you?"

"Is that blood?"

"Stop poking it.  You are letting out all of the good juices."

"Does it really matter at this point?"

Unbelievably annoying.    We break out the red wine.   Things begin to look a little more promising.   No worries.   We'll just stick it back in the oven and hang out by the fire for a bit.    It is what it is.  

Dinner, when it finally all came together, some hours later, was unbelievably good.   Yes, we had a few starts and stops and moments of escalating tension, but in the end, it was a lovely meal.    We gave thanks for many things.   The turkey and (crack-like) dressing even made it into our post meal top three ranking of Thanksgiving dishes.

My advice for those preparing turkey for the first time (solo or with another non-expert) - It is never that simple.   There are so many factors involved.

I am convinced that this is another one of those situations where practice makes perfect.   I am looking forward to many more years of practice.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving weekend!  Filled with love, good food, good friends and family and whatever else your heart desires!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Wedding Dress Shopping Experience

"Say Yes to the Dress"  What's not to love?   I think John even secretly likes it.   

I did not cry.   No tears of joy, jumping up and down and hugging of friends and family.   

So how did I know it was "The One"?

I just knew.  It took me an overnight of lost sleep and another round of trying on dresses to be really sure, but after all was said and done I knew.    (Admission - there was another round of doubt after the dress came home with me, but that was just nerves in disguise.   Totally normal.)
                                                                                      My dress! ---->
                                                                 (Priscilla of Boston website)

I went shopping by myself.    I like shopping by myself.   No pressure.   (I did drag in my friends at the very end of the day, for a second set of eyes and to add a little fun to the process.)

I went to one store.    I did this over the course of two visits, probably could have done it in one if it weren't such a big decision. 
I tried on ten dresses.    Four the first day.  My dress was the third I tried on. 

I got opinions from the consultants at the store.    (Priscilla of Boston, by the way, brand new in Raleigh and highly recommend.   They were so much fun to work with and always made me feel like a special bride).     

They asked me questions about my vision.    I explained that I wanted elegant, sophisticated a little romantic, a little European.    We used these keywords as questions to "test" the dress.

"Do you feel elegant, sophisticated... etc?"   Sounds silly, but it was a helpful double check. 

We added fashion forward after I tried on a very traditional cinderella-y dress that made me cringe.    Sometimes things are better on paper than they are on your body.   

<--- Me, in "The Dress" just minutes before the ceremony.  Looking incredibly nervous! 
(Visio Photography)

In the end, there were a couple that I liked, but only one that was really me.     It was the one I felt most comfortable in.  Not in the comfort sense, but in the dress feels like a natural extension of me.    Me, but better.   Me, getting married.     

So, that's what it came down to.   In the end, I loved my dress and know that I made the right decision.   

My advice for any brides who may just be starting this process - 
  • Bookmark images in magazines and on-line, but do not get overly hung up on a particular style. 
  • Try on all kinds of styles when you first start looking.   You will figure out right away what does not work and what you like most.    
  • Be completely open.   You may be surprised but what type of dress you prefer. 
  • Trust your instinct.    You may not be overwhelmed with emotion and cry tears of joy, but you may just feel content,  like yourself, only better.    
  • Have fun!    It is an experience like no other.   
  • Start early if you can.  I was in a serious time crunch and luckily had a wonderful new store to work with, but this is probably not typical.    Ordering the dress and alterations will take more time than you think. 
  • Oh, and keep the fiance in mind as well.   You'll want him to like the dress too!
For any already marrieds, I'd love to hear your stories...   

How did you find your dress?   How did you know that it was "The One"?   
Any other advice that you would add?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Interview with a Wedding Planner - Occasions by Emily

I am so very excited about today's post!   The lovely Emily has agreed to stop by and answers some burning questions I had while sharing some of her wedding wisdom with all of us on this Happy Friday.

For purposes of this dialogue, since we share such a fabulous name, I will hereby refer to us in the manner that John did during our wedding planning sessions.    He called us E squared.   I was E1 and Emily was E2.  

<--- E2.  Photos of Emily and her team by Nick Breedlove

And now you can imagine E1 and E2 sitting in a sweet little cafe in Paris, sipping drinks and eating perfect little pastries.  The weather has chilled up a bit, but we sit outside anyway, wrapped up in pretty little scarves, chatting while the rest of the world passes by.

We'd love for you to join us.   Grab a cup and pull up a chair.

E1: So Emily, tell me, how did you get into the wedding planning business? 
E2:   Event planning seems to be part of my genetic makeup.   As a child I dreamed of joining the foreign service, living at the Biltmore House and planning parties for all of my friends and random strangers.   I now speak French, plan weddings and occasionally get to work at the Biltmore House.   Does it get any better?

E1:  I'd say that is pretty great!   I'd love to hear what makes a wedding by Occasions by Emily unique and special?    I've experienced it first hand, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. 
E2:   Details, details, details.   We are very organized about the details, big and small, which takes stress off our clients.   However, we're also "touchy feely" when it comes to the details.   We like to help our clients think of ways to make everything unique to their personality and vision.

E1:  What has been your favorite wedding or moment that stands out to you and why?   I love hearing stories about different weddings!
E2:   I planned a wedding this summer that was mainly family and a few close friends.   It was a second marriage for both the bride and groom and they each had a set of children.   The bride had asked her young teenage son to sing "It's a Wonderful World" during the ceremony, but he got nervous and a little choked up when he began singing.   He made a desperate plea to the audience to sing along.  The minister (same one you had, by the way), began to sing out whole heartedly, the audience joined in and the violinist picked up the accompaniment without being asked.   I had tears in my eyes watching such a sweet family, friends and relative strangers join together to create a happy moment that the bride and groom will remember forever.   It's fun to have yummy cake, gorgeous flowers and a great band, but the really important things is the covenant being made the the people who share the moment.

E1:   Now I'm a little teary eyed, which, as you know, is not that difficult to make happen with me lately, but what a touching story!     I will certainly never forget that one.    Let's change topics slightly, I'd like my readers to get to know a little about you.   What do you like to do when you are not planning weddings?
E2:  Read, read, read.   It's one of the few things I can do to make me stop thinking about weddings for half a minute.   Can't help it.  :)   I also love being with my three kiddos, but I seem unable to divide work and family life.   Case in point:  My four and six year old daughters were recently worried about an upcoming family wedding where there is no assigned seating as it is a dessert reception.   The six year old wanted to know how people would know where to sit without place cards.   I may have ruined my children....

E1:  That is hilarious.  I see a future planner in your family!   Now for the 20 questions part.   Favorite part of job?   Most rewarding?   Most terrifying?
E2:  I love helping clients define their vision and then orchestrating it for them.   This can happen through the invitations, florals, lighting and even things like glassware.   It's fun to look through the photographer's photos a few weeks later and think about how we helped the bride and groom take a vision from concept to reality.

I am most terrified when trying to send a processional down the aisle.   There are all these people whom I've never met before in my life who need to be seated by ushers I've only just met at rehearsal.   The order of the processional is so important that I can't bear to mess it up, and of course the rest of the guests are watching the whole thing.   It's very nerve wracking and there's no do-over button!   Thankfully the nerves keep me on my game and I can't remember ever messing this up too badly.   No comments, please...

E1:   Well, I'm very happy to report, that my little mini processional was absolutely perfect (Thanks, Liz!).   Now, getting my dad to loosen the grip on my arm as we walked down the stairs is another story... :)     Okay, how about some advice for anyone who may be interested in event planning as a future career?
E2:   Go to college and get a degree in something, anything.   Assist with the events for whatever social groups you join or jobs you hold.   The more you do, the better prepared you'll be for the future.   If you're ready to pursue a career in events, start by getting a job in food service, particularly special event catering.   It's a perfect place to learn about customer service, timing and the ins and outs of making a great event happen.

E1:  Great advice!   What about advice for brides who are just starting the planning process?   Any particular words of wisdom for where they should focus their time and/or money?
E2:  Make a list of priorities with your fiance.   This will help you know how to set your budget.   Seek out a planner early to help you have a realistic expectation for costs.   A planner will also help you know all of the categories you need to consider.

<--- That's Liz, on the left!

E1:  Any interesting trends in the industry that you love or conversely would love to see brides leave behind? 
E2:  Yikes.  This is true confessions!  I'm not a fan of the garter toss, mainly because it seems to embarrass people and my goal as a planner is to help people feel as comfortable as possible at the wedding.   I suppose the groom needs something to balance out the bouquet toss.   Hmmmm... I need to think of a new tradition to suggest here.   Maybe a shoe toss?

E1:  Another non-fan of the garter toss here.  On the other hand, a shoe toss could be a little dangerous.   I'm sure you'll come up with something!    Okay, one last, but very important question before we end today.   Many brides consider going on their own when it comes to planning their wedding.   What value does a wedding planner bring that the bride may not be thinking of when she is making this decision? 

         E1, very happy to have worked with E2, 
photo by her wonderful Aunt Lori----->

E2:   I'm so glad you asked this.   Brides normally want to go it on their own for two reasons:   1. They think they have enough time and skill that they don't need help.   2.  They think they don't have enough money to get help.   In response to the first reason, I think no matter how much time or skill in design/event planning a bride may have, if she's never planned a wedding, then she is in for a stressful surprise.  Weddings are a really big deal and like no other event known to mankind.   For this bride, it's best to consider the planner a partner.   The planner will support the bride through the planning process, allowing the bride to do as little or as much as she pleases.   Then the planner will be there on the big day to make sure the plans are carried out while the bride just enjoys.   For the bride with a small budget, a planner can save money--really.   I tell the truth.   A planner knows where to "shop" for vendors in all different price ranges, and can suggest ways to cut budget to make way for items that are more important to the bride and groom.

E1:   You know, I couldn't agree more with what you've said.    As a (self confessed) 'minor' control freak, while hard to let go, it was a huge relief for me to have someone else running the show so I could just totally be in the moment, enjoying my new husband and spending my time with family.     And I lied, I do have one more question.   How should interested brides get in touch with you for more information? 
E2:   Just give me a call at 828.808.8888 or email   I love to talk about weddings and get excited about each new client because every bride is unique and has fun, new ideas.   Oh, and I'm a HUGE facebooker.   Please join the fan page "Occasions by Emily".   I post new ideas, photos and more almost every day, sometimes several times a day!

E1:   This has been so fun getting to know a little more about you and the business!     I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk with us.   It truly has been a pleasure.  

I hope everyone enjoyed our chat today!   I know that Emily would love your comments and / or questions.    Feel free to post them here or send directly to her.   

Wishing everyone a fabulous weekend!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Wedding Planner

If there is one thing I learned in business it is that great ideas really don't matter until they are successfully implemented.

If there are two things I learned in business, it would be the above followed by the understanding that implementation of these great ideas is often best delegated to those with expertise over and beyond your own.  

All resulting in learning that the most important job I had was to find the talent to make the great ideas happen.   Challenging, but also very rewarding when you get it right.

I found that skill, while certainly a must have requirement, is definitely not the most important factor.    I look for a spark, a passion, a drive that not only indicates a strong work ethic, but also a joyous pursuit of success.     Hard to find, but oh so worth it.

In my own pursuit of a successful wedding, applying the same principle, I realized I couldn't go it alone.   I needed someone who could understand my vision and partner with me to make it happen in a way that I could only dream of.  

Another small sneak peak, courtesy of Visio Photography

I needed a Wedding Planner.

My initial requirements were straightforward.   I wanted someone with experience, based locally in Asheville,  since we were not overly familiar with the area.   Beyond that, I went with my gut, seeking out that special spark and passion, someone I could truly partner with and have a little fun with during the process.

I can't recall exactly how I found Emily at Occasions by Emily.    It was pretty early on in the process, even before I found my venue.    Was looking in Asheville and came across a random blog post with gorgeous pictures from a wedding they had done.     Which somehow led me to her blog and website, which led me to this little tidbit:

"Emily earned a BA in French from UNC Asheville and a Master of Public Affairs from Western Carolina University.   As a student of culture and people, Emily enjoys multi-cultural events and traveling abroad."

Just the spark, the unique angle, the connection, I was seeking.    I reached out to see if she was available.     She promptly responded (a non-negotiable criteria) and we proceeded to have a wonderful discussion.     It was like I was talking to an old friend.      I had a good feeling which was confirmed by the time we traveled to Asheville again to meet both her and her Director,  Elizabeth, in person.     My instinct was right.

I'd love for you to meet her!     I think you'll agree she is just as fabulous as I think she is!

Emily and her team did such a fantastic job with our wedding.   They were a dream to work with.   Fun, knowledgeable, amazingly responsive and kept us completely on track.   They knew exactly what we were looking for and how to work with us, together, but also as individuals.  When I reiterated my goal of a near flawless wedding, they didn't even flinch (at least publicly), but just made it happen.

All right... it has been so long since my last post, I at least owe you one more! (Visio Photography)

And for any prospective brides who might be reading this, I highly (highly) encourage the services of a planner.    The peace of mind and day of coordination is worth every single penny.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wedding Inspiration (aka "The Vision")

One of the first things I did after deciding on our venue at the Biltmore in Asheville was to begin to fine tune the vision for the wedding.

I learned by default that I really needed to figure this out asap, as the first question from anyone I worked with after inquiring about location was always...

"So tell me about your 'Vision'...."

(And, Yes, if I must confess, I was stumped the first time I was asked this.... luckily I am pretty good at making stuff up as I go, but I didn't want my answer to come back and haunt me at a later date!)

Since we decided not to have the wedding overseas, I knew I wanted to bring a little bit of Europe to the even and bring in a classic, elegant, formal ambiance.   We had a small guest list, 28 people in total, immediate family members.   I wanted the event to feel like an intimate formal dinner party filled with romance, candlelight, music and a touch of glamour.    

This image was one of the first I found that really captured the essence of the vision.     We decided fairly early on that the dinner would have both an Italian and French feel, places that John and I had visited together and held a special place in our hearts.   (More on the menu later...   Can't wait to share!)

I picked my colors on the day that I first tried on my wedding dress.    Champagne, ivory, blush and gold accents.   I wanted the colors to carry out that romantic, Parisian feel that is so soft and elegant.    I found a number of images early on that helped to provide a more tangible view into our thoughts.

When I was first engaged, I panicked a little bit.   I didn't know where to begin.  One of my friends and former co-workers gave me the best advice, reminding me that a wedding is just one big project.   If you approach it like a project, it becomes manageable and achievable.    So I broke it down into chunks and everything flowed from there.

After we defined the initial requirements (the location, the vision, the inspiration), I knew that the next step was to select the project manager, or in this case the Wedding Planner.    Since John and I were planning from afar, we knew that we seriously needed some help on the ground and it was one of the best decisions we made.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Adventures in Wedding Planning...