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Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again

It's interesting how wedding planning has prompted me to reach out in directions I never would have imagined. In trying to decide on an appropriate song for the father-daughter dance, I thought about one of my dad's favorite musicians, Stan Rogers, whose albums made up a good part of the soundtrack of my childhood. I hadn't thought about Stan Rogers in a long time, but I remembered his deep, rich voice and some of his songs, particularly a tune called "Northwest Passage," about journeying through Canada in the footsteps of the great early explorers. 

My dad's Stan Rogers collection is all on records, so after he suggested a few songs that he thought might make good dance songs, I went to my usual online sources to review Stan Rogers' discography. It was fascinating, because it made me realize how little I knew about him previously - to me he was a beautiful voice from my childhood, someone I thought maybe only my dad knew about, but in fact, Stan Rogers was one of the most famous singer-songwriters in Canada! And according to Wikipedia, "Northwest Passage" is one of the classic songs in Canadian music history - the Canadian Prime Minister even quoted the lyrics in a 2006 speech! 
Intrigued, I found myself at the excellent official website for Stan Rogers, which allowed me to listen to many of the old songs I hadn't heard in years, a truly wonderful experience - I was particularly excited by my rediscovery of "The Mary Ellen Carter," an uplifting tune about salvaging a sunken ship that speaks to overcoming difficult circumstances, always one of my favorite musical themes. Wikipedia tells a great story about how this song actually helped someone survive after a shipwreck - how's that for the power of music?! 

Returning to my search for the father-daughter dance, I decided that I wanted to ask the opinion of Stan Rogers fans about what song might be most appropriate, but the fan message board was down. I had read that Stan's widow, Ariel Rogers, was still involved in their record company, and I found that her email was readily available on the website, so I decided to ask her if she had any recommendations. I wasn't sure if she would email me back, but I decided that it was worth a try, and how cool would it be for a music geek like me if I actually heard back from her?! Well, I wouldn't be sharing this story if I hadn't heard back from her, and in fact, she responded very quickly, with a couple of song suggestions and good wishes for our marriage - I was so touched! I'm still undecided about the song, but you can bet that email from Ariel Rogers will be going in the wedding planning scrapbook once this is all over.

And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Rise again, rise again - though your heart it be broken
And life about to end
No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

- "The Mary Ellen Carter", Stan Rogers


In Freehold

Steve and I have been on a huge Springsteen kick since his new album Magic was released in early October. Each of us went through a phase of listening to the album nonstop. Then, we were really excited to hear that Bruce had played with Win and Regine from Arcade Fire when he was on tour in Canada - it's not often that you get to see your musical heroes collaborate with one of your new favorite bands. Then, we rocked out with Bruce and the E Street Band (and my mom) at the United Center on October 22. Tunnel of Love, really?! Thunder Road?! Wish they would have played another hour, and that we had another day or two to recover after two nights of Panic in Milwaukee - but otherwise, the show was awesome. I hope that I still have this much energy thirty years from now when I'm Bruce's age!

Clarence, Max and Bruce in Auburn Hills, MI, 11/5/07, from backstreets.com

When Steve hung out with his friends from New Jersey at a wedding in LA last month, they turned him onto an unrecorded Bruce song that he'd never heard, about the town where Bruce was born, called "In Freehold." I sort of tried to track it down when he first mentioned it - I'm firmly convinced that you can find just about anything on the internet if you look long enough - but obviously I didn't make that much of an effort to find this song, because once I did, it was pretty easy to find. This past Friday, I hit the jackpot - I finally found my way to the Bruce site of my dreams. Wow! What a catalog. Not only did it have a few different versions of "In Freehold", but it also had a huge list of live versions of most of Bruce's original songs, plus lots of random cool covers, and it also had a bunch of full shows that I didn't even explore. 

The funny thing is, I would know exactly where to look for a Widespread Panic song that I had never heard before, but since I'm not  nearly as familiar with the Springsteen fan community, I wasn't sure where to go. We were relaxing on the couch with a bottle of wine on Friday night, and we had the best time just downloading interesting-looking Bruce mp3's and then listening to them. Hey, Bruce covered "Run Through the Jungle" and "Ring of Fire"?  But the highlight was listening to "In Freehold" several times - it's a very intimate, personal song, a direct narrative about growing up in this town, but it's also raucous and dirty and hilarious and wonderful. Usually artists construct some kind of a character between themselves and the audience, and their songs are about those characters - often the characters have a lot of the artist in them, but they're still characters in some way - so it's really disarming and touching when you hear a musician just singing about his real life, with all its challenges and setbacks and occasional small triumphs.     

I was born right here on Randolph street in Freehold......
here right behind that big red maple in Freehold....
well I went to school right here....
got laid and had my first beer.......in Freehold

-Bruce Springsteen


Movement of the people

Sometimes I just have to laugh at the way my brain works. I left my office building at ten minutes before noon today to get to Crunch Fitness for a 12:00 Power Yoga class. As I walked through the lobby, I noticed several streams of people coming from the other elevators – everyone was heading out for lunch! Although the crowds make it harder to walk around the downtown area, I love the solidarity I feel with other office workers when it’s clear that we’re all doing the same thing – walking in to work, running out for lunch, trying to escape the rain, heading to the gym, whatever. So what began playing on the jukebox in my head when I saw these folks walking out of the building today?  “Exodus” by Bob Marley. Ah, Bob Marley, the one and only. How about a random gratuitous photo just because Bob Marley makes me happy?

My favorite pictures are the ones where he's laughing. Anyway, although an exodus is usually no laughing matter, I found it amusing to juxtapose a more historical, serious idea of “exodus” with the stream of office-workers on their way to lunch. It occurs to me now, as it often has before, that while Bob Marley can be party music, many if not most of his songs address some pretty serious issues (last night I happened to listen to "Concrete Jungle") - but the reggae sound just makes me smile!

While I’m talking about people walking downtown, may I just say that Michigan Avenue is both one of my favorite and one of my least favorite aspects of working downtown. I try to come in on the early side these days, and I love walking down Michigan between 7-8 a.m., before the tourists are out and the main crowd is rushing to work. I’ve been continuously delighted by the special gardens and creatively attired dress forms along the “Magnificent Mile” this summer – in fact, they might warrant a whole separate post – but I don’t think it’s so magnificent when I’m trying to sprint back to work after my hour at the gym and everyone seems to be walking at this lackadaisical pace. Move along, people! Then I feel unkind because of course the tourists want to take their time and look around – but don’t they know that lots of people work in this area too?! This is why I pretty much try to avoid walking on Michigan except in the mornings. 

Exodus: movement of jah people...
Open your eyes and look within:
Are you satisfied with the life you're living?
We know where we're going!
We know where we're from.
We're leaving Babylon,
We're going to our Father land.

- "Exodus", Bob Marley

One Time, One Night

Steve and I got engaged on August 24, 2006, one year ago yesterday. It was a magical night that I’ve wanted to capture in writing for awhile, that is, in a more permanent way than the emails I sent to friends in the following days. I thought that one year later I would be able to remember every moment of my engagement night, but I realized that certain details were already slipping away when Steve was retelling the story to V, his close friend from high school with whom we had a lovely evening last week when he was in town for work. Perhaps a few too many rum punches for a Thursday night, but I digress.

Anyway, since I recognized that I was starting to lose details, I decided to go back to an email I sent to my closest friends from college a week after our engagement. I knew I kept all my sent mail for a reason! Haha. But anyway, here is the story of our romantic engagement night, told in part from my perspective soon after the fact…

First of all, I was completely surprised by the proposal, but it turned out that Steve had been planning it for months, and everyone knew except me – most of our friends, our families, and even some of my coworkers! I thought it was so perfect, because he proposed at the spot where we first met – Ravinia Park before a Los Lobos concert – and the fact that it was linked to live music, which means so much to both of us, was so appropriate. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Ravinia, it’s a beautiful park in the north suburbs of Chicago where they have an outdoor music festival every summer – everything from symphony concerts to world music to jazz greats to rock groups. The first time Steve and I met was in a group of mutual friends at Ravinia in 2001 when Los Lobos played. We didn't actually get together until 2002, but each of us made an impression on the other that night. Fast forward four years, when we learned that Los Lobos would be returning to Ravinia in August, and we got tickets because they are one of my favorite bands, and Steve always liked them too but became a real fan after we got together. Steve’s boss is on the Ravinia board, so she ordered pavilion seats for us when they went on sale. We usually sit on the lawn at Ravinia, but the way it's set up you really can't see the band from the lawn, and I wanted to be up close so that we could actually see the guys in Los Lobos. A few weeks before the concert, Steve told me that his boss also got us a reservation at Mirabelle, the fancy restaurant at Ravinia, although I later found out he made that up – he made the reservation himself because he was planning to propose over dinner! I should have been suspicious then, because going to Ravinia is all about the picnic on the lawn – but I guess since we had pavilion seats we wouldn’t have brought a picnic anyway.

We left work early the day of the concert, which was a Thursday, and we took the Metra out to Ravinia. Steve met me at the train station with three lovely dark pink calla lilies – again, I should have been suspicious, and I was a little confused, like where was I going to put these while I was dancing during the concert? But I didn’t think about it for very long. When we got to Ravinia, we stopped at a little bench surrounded by trees not far from the train tracks so that I could change from flip-flops into restaurant-appropriate shoes: my favorite pink ballet flats with little bows on the toes. We had a little time before our reservation, so we were just sitting on the bench, enjoying being outside in a more natural environment than downtown Chicago and as we were getting ready to walk down the path to the restaurant for dinner, Steve told me to wait a minute, he had something to give me, and then all of a sudden he was down on one knee with a ring in his hand asking me to marry him! Honestly, I was so surprised, my first reaction was almost shock, and I froze for a second – is this really happening?! – but then I smiled and said, “of course”, because really I had been waiting for this from Steve for awhile, but I was so surprised that it happened right then! But it was wonderful. The ring he gave me was his mom's engagement ring, which I think is so sweet and personal – apparently a couple of months before when he was home, his mom and dad sat him down and told him they wanted him to have the ring to give to me, which I found really touching. I know nothing about diamonds, but I have since learned that it’s a marquis cut, and it has an unusual band – I’ve always been a little different, so I like that it doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen on other girls.

So then we went to dinner at Mirabelle, and it was funny because Steve had originally planned to propose in the restaurant, and he had told them that and asked for a private table near a window – so then the waitstaff were all expecting it to happen there and when I went to the bathroom between courses our waiter asked my new fiance, “Have you done it yet?” and he explained that we had already "done it". He really didn't like the idea of proposing in a public setting like that anyway, especially the going down on one knee part – and I liked the private setting better too.

I thought we were going to the concert on our own, but it turned out that Steve had invited many of our friends to join us on the lawn to celebrate! So after dinner we walked into the lawn and there were our closest friends, clapping and pouring champagne, and it was awesome. Here are a few pictures:

Oh my gosh, we're engaged!

With a couple of my girls: Stacey, Jess and April. (And five-month Malia in Stacey's tummy!)

Steve with best friends and former roomates Bruce (left) and Travis (right)

Steve with Coco (Bruce's wife) and Hannah (Travis's girlfriend)

We never went down to our pavilion seats, but just hung out with our friends and enjoyed the night. It had been pouring for most of the day but it cleared up in time for the show and it was a really beautiful night at Ravinia – and it was especially enjoyable because we hadn't been out there all summer.

After Ravinia we went to Black Rock, one of our regular bars, and celebrated some more with another group of friends. As you can see, everyone was having a good old time!

One of my favorite pictures of us

With our friend Claire

With our good buddy and best man, Bruce

With Bruce and Coco (who just recently had a beautiful baby boy, Graham!)

People are getting silly...

Luckily Steve had thought of everything, and called my manager in advance to get me the next day off so I didn't have to go into work after staying out late on my engagement night. I also found out that he had called my father in advance to ask his permission, and for some reason my dear dad didn’t quite understand why Steve was asking him – he said something like, “Well it’s really Sarah’s decision, isn’t it?” which I think rattled Steve a bit. Of course, it is my decision, but I still think it was really sweet that he asked my dad’s permission!

I'm pleased to report that I actually made it home with my calla lilies, which lasted a really long time in a vase, but unfortunately I also lost a couple of things that night: my favorite pink ballet flats, because I had changed back into flip-flops on the lawn and my flats must have fallen out of my bag - and I also lost a cute pink umbrella from LL Bean that Steve had just given me for my birthday a few weeks before! I felt terrible about that, and a few weeks later we started getting a lot of rain, so I just ordered an identical replacement. I may have lost a few personal items, but that was minor in the overall scheme of things, since I gained a fiance!

The title of this post is taken from one of my favorite Los Lobos songs, which I had assumed would be one of the songs we play at the wedding – oh yes, the music spreadsheet was started soon after spreadsheet with the first draft of the invitation list – until I was listening to it earlier today and realized that the lyrics related to marriage aren’t all that positive! I’ve been thinking about this question lately anyway – does every song we play at the wedding have to be wedding-related or at least happy, or can we play some songs just because we like them or because they make people dance? The more I think about it, the more I suspect that no one will pay as much attention to the “messages” of the songs as I will. Also, I think this question falls under a certain rule I’m trying to follow, and that is, “it's our wedding, it only happens once and we should do it the way we want to as much as possible without worrying about the way other people would like us to do things” – and I think that means we get to play the songs we want to play. Within reason, of course, and we are trying to create certain moods at certain times – like during the cocktail hour, we’d like things to feel classy and classic with music by Sinatra, jazz standards, swing tunes, etc. When the dancing starts after dinner, we’ll start with music that appeals to a wider age range, and then really start rocking a little later in the evening, when we’ll also provide coffee out in the lobby of the Newberry for anyone who finds the music too loud.

Anyway, that’s the story of our wonderful engagement night. I was so impressed with the way that Steve had planned everything in advance and kept it all a secret from me! And the setting of the proposal was just perfectly appropriate for us and our relationship. I will treasure the memory forever, and if I need to remind myself of the details…they will be here.

A quiet voice is singing something to me
An age old song about the home of the brave
In this land here of the free
One time one night in America

- "One Time, One Night", Los Lobos

Pretty maids all in a row

I’ve never had a lot of close girlfriends. Most of my friends in high school were boys – the band guys and the Dungeons and Dragons set – and with a few notable exceptions, I felt that I had very little in common with most of my female classmates. In fact, there was a time in my life when I had decided that I just didn’t really like girls.

Luckily, I was quickly disabused of this rather unhealthy notion upon meeting some really cool girls in college. I never would have imagined myself choosing to live with other women, but I spent my final year as a college student living with four unique, lovely ladies, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Then, after I graduated, I met another group of interesting, fun, down-to-earth girls when I started hanging out with a group of music fans who I found through the Chicago Widespread Panic listserv. I’ve also encountered many strong, open-minded, socially conscious women though my work in nonprofit development, a career path dominated by females. Ten years after my high school graduation, I was surrounded by fabulous women, and my attitude about others of my own gender had completely changed.

Yet, as my relationship with my fiance became more serious, and our friends started getting married, and their weddings inevitably made me think about the possibilities for our wedding, I wondered if I really had enough close girlfriends to be my bridesmaids. My fiance has three brothers and a lot of close male friends, so I knew he would have no trouble finding groomsmen, but I wasn’t sure I could produce enough bridesmaids to create an even wedding party. This was such “cart before the horse” thinking – I mean, we weren’t even engaged – but I’m the kind of person who worries in advance. Many of my girlfriends are several years older than I am, and I felt like most of them already had their own circles of close girlfriends when we met, so I wasn’t sure whether they considered me among their close friends, as I considered them. Thinking about it after the fact, a lot of my anxiety was due to my own insecurity. All four of the girlfriends I asked to be my bridesmaids were delighted to accept. Since I have no sisters, and we would have such family representation on the groomsmen side – we asked my younger brother, along with my fiance’s three younger brothers – I also asked my one female cousin if she would be a bridesmaid, and I think she also was pleased to be asked. Coincidentally and conveniently, my cousin met three of the other four girls when we were down in Nashville for one of their bachelorette parties a few years ago, so she won’t feel completely out of the loop.

It just so happens that only two of my five bridesmaids live in Chicago – the others are in Louisville, Kansas City, and Atlanta – and one of the two Chicago girls did a lot of traveling this summer, so it wasn’t until two weeks ago that we had an opportunity to try on bridesmaids’ dresses. I actually was lucky enough to have three bridesmaids in town at once, since my Louisville girl drove up to Chicago with her boyfriend for Lollapalooza. So on Saturday morning, we got together for the "Biker Brunch" at one of our favorite places, Twisted Spoke, and then went to the Ann Taylor store on Michigan Avenue so that they could try on bridesmaids’ dresses.

I really didn’t do a lot of looking around for bridesmaids’ dresses. I ripped some pictures out of wedding magazines, but I already knew that I liked the dresses in Ann Taylor’s Celebrations collection, so once I decided that I liked their “meadow green” as our primary wedding color, and I visited the store myself to see the color in person, and I even showed the dresses to my fiance to make sure that he liked the color too, I looked no further than the multiple styles offered in meadow green. I really wanted to find dresses that my girls actually liked, that weren’t too expensive, and that they could wear again. I told my girls that I preferred the idea of different dress styles in the same color to everyone wearing the exact same dress, so we went to see which dresses looked best on them, and how various dresses looked in combination with each other.

We had some trouble finding parking downtown, but otherwise it was a fairly quick and painless process. I had connected with the “Celebrations specialist” a few times and let her know that we were coming in that morning, and she was very helpful – she shared her opinions on various dresses without being pushy, let my petite girl know which dresses came in petite, and found additional sizes for us when necessary.

Here’s what we ended up with – two Daphne’s (left), and one Averie (right).

Images courtesy of Ann Taylor

I hadn’t considered the possibility that two girls might choose the same dress, but I quickly decided that was fine as long as nobody else wore that dress – we just won’t put the two dresses next to each other when we line up and take pictures. The biggest question in my mind going in had been whether the styles in different fabrics looked good together – would the dresses in satin back dupioni look good beside the dresses in silk georgette? The Celebrations specialist advised me that having all the dresses in the same fabric would produce more of a “unified” look, but I decided that I liked the different fabrics together, that the color was enough of a “unifying” feature, and anyway, it was most important to me that my girls chose the dresses that made them feel really beautiful! Besides, I knew that my cousin favored Chloe, which would give us another dress in the satin back dupioni, and when I talked to my MOH a few days later, she said that she probably would order Daisy, which gave us another silk georgette – and then we would also have the balance of two strapless and three with straps. I hope this mix is actually what we get!  Daisy is on the left, Chloe on the right.

It was so much fun watching my girls try on the dresses – and they all looked so good in them! I can’t wait to see how our bridal party attire comes together.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

– Mother Goose

This must be the place, part II

When my fiance and I started investigating potential wedding venues, we weren’t really sure what we were looking for.  We knew that we wanted something more unique and less sterile than most hotels and banquet halls, but once we had eliminated the Park West and Garfield Park Conservatory, our venue hunt was stalled because we ran out of ideas.  We did realize that we wanted a venue where we could hold both the ceremony and reception though – we’ve been to too many weddings where the guests had to kill a couple of hours between the ceremony and reception, and that’s just no fun.  (Well, sometimes we’ve gotten rollicking drunk in those few hours, so fun has definitely been had during that interval, but we would have preferred to celebrate with the rest of the wedding guests immediately!  Plus, as the bride, I wouldn’t be too amused to see my friends stumbling into the reception because we’d given them too much time to drink on their own after the ceremony.)  So, back to the internet I went for a second round of research!  

The Knot was actually quite useful as a springboard for venue research – if nothing else, it was instructive to see that when I tried to search for Chicago venues in the “one dollar sign” price range, I found nothing. And there wasn’t a whole lot in the “two dollar sign” price range either.  Note to self:  Planning a wedding in Chicago is expensive.  (Duh, Sarah!) 

One of the most unique places I discovered was Catalyst Ranch, in Chicago’s West Loop.  It’s technically a meeting conference center, but as they say on their website, it’s definitely “the funkiest conference center you’ve ever seen.”  Catalyst Ranch is full of vintage furniture in bright colors, neat oriental rugs, and retro art and collectibles, including a collection of vintage hats and wigs!  

Their rooms are named after dances – Polka, Tango, Cha Cha, Mambo, Jitterbug – how cute is that?!  We had to check it out.  I showed up at the end of a long day at work, and was immediately endeared to the place by the fact that their staff directed me to a refrigerator full of complimentary soft drinks.  Hey, it’s the little things.  I loved the general look and feel of the place, and they have thrown some cool weddings there in the past...but on the one hand, it was hard for us to imagine our wedding there, especially the ceremony, which we felt should happen in a place with a certain solemnity, despite the fact that we aren’t having a church wedding.  On the other hand, it almost seemed like too obvious of a choice for us – like being the casual, quirky people we are, of course we would choose the funky venue that most of our older relatives probably wouldn’t appreciate.  We didn’t particularly care what those relatives thought, but we certainly didn’t want to be predictable.  So in the end, we moved on, although I will jump at any excuse I might find in the future to have a party at Catalyst Ranch!

The last two venues we visited became our finalists.  The Grand Piazza, aka the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Little Italy, was a fabulous surprise.  I was immediately drawn to it when I saw this picture:

What Chicago bride wouldn’t want that spectacular skyline view in her wedding photos?  We wanted somehow to incorporate the city into our wedding anyway, and a rooftop ceremony with a view of the skyline seemed like a great way to do it!  We visited the Grand Piazza in December, after the weather had gotten pretty chilly, but we were still impressed with the view from the rooftop.  We also loved the people who gave us the tour – Danielle from the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame, and Becky from Levy Events.  They wee young and energetic, but also knowledgeable and professional.  It was the first time that we sort of “clicked” with venue staff, and we were confident that they would do an excellent job helping to plan our wedding.  

Before we even went in, my fiance was struck by the statue of Joe DiMaggio across the street:

“How cool would it be to have some wedding pictures in front of this statue?”  Hmm, maybe for you and the groomsmen, honey – I actually love baseball, but I didn’t see myself hanging with Joltin’ Joe before the wedding.

The venue has three floors, plus the rooftop terrace, and each floor is rented separately.  The ground level is the exhibit gallery, full of lots of interesting paraphernalia from Italian-American sports heroes, and they offer the option of making your own “exhibits” in their cases for your wedding. The second floor or “Sports Room” contains more sports paraphernalia; the third floor is a great ballroom with a built-in dance floor and AV capabilities – they had a table set as it would be for the wedding, which I thought was a nice touch for our first tour – and of course the fourth floor is the rooftop terrace. 

First floor gallery:

Third floor ballroom:

We figured that we would want at least two floors – the terrace for the ceremony, and the ballroom for the reception.  However, the rooftop didn’t really offer a backup plan in case of inclement weather, which made me a little nervous.

Around the same time, we visited the Newberry Library.  Despite the fact that I’ve always been an avid reader, I had only been to the Newberry once during my nine years living in Chicago, and that was for a work-related charity Christmas sale.  I really didn’t even remember that when I visited with my fiance, so it felt like the first time I had seen this place:

I was immediately impressed by the exterior of the building, and the grand marble staircase coming down into the lobby when we walked in!  This would be the "aisle" I would walk down to the ceremony:

Pictures courtesy of the Newberry Library.  None of these shots truly captures the grandeur of the staircase, but at least you get an idea.

We met with Karen Skubish, who has been working in their Special Events department forever.  It was funny, because we had discussed the fact that we liked the young staff at Grand Piazza because they weren’t jaded from working a million weddings – and then we met Karen, who has worked a million weddings but still seems enchanted by her work. 

The Newberry Library was founded in 1887, and it houses a fascinating collection of old books, manuscripts and maps related to the history and culture of Western Europe and America.  I’ve never browsed the collection, which includes illuminated medieval manuscripts, historical sheet music, and the personal papers of Midwest literary figures and Chicago politicians, among other things.  I did become more interested in the Newberry when I read The Time Traveler’s Wife – one of my favorite books of the past few years – because one of the main characters works at the library.

Karen showed us around while describing the décor that they usually provide for weddings and the function of the different spaces.  She painted a beautiful picture of a tasteful, romantic wedding that we could easily personalize.  The ceremony is often held on the stairs, and I just love the idea of coming down a grand staircase instead of walking down an aisle!  And then the guests move down a hall to Ruggles Hall for the reception.  Ruggles Hall is beautiful.  Wood paneled floors, lovely chandeliers, nice opera chairs, and tall windows along two sides of the room, one side looking over the park in front of the library. Here are a couple of photos of Ruggles set up for weddings:

 by Tricia Koning Photography

by Peter Thurin Photography

And here are a few pictures of the park in from our return visit with my future in-laws this weekend - we can only hope it looks close to this beautiful in April!


We were attracted to the Grand Piazza and the Newberry for different reasons, but once we had seen those venues, we knew that we would be happy having our wedding at either one, and it just became a matter of comparing value for money.  The Newberry rental fee included some nice amenities, like a private parking lot, security, and some décor, including lots of votive candles for every nook and cranny, and a garland for the banister.  All of those things would cost extra at Grand Piazza, making the total venue rental expense fairly comparable.   

I had no idea when we started looking at venues that we needed to be thinking about caterers at the same time, but our final decision pretty much revolved around the catering situation.  At the Newberry, we had a choice of any caterer, and even the option to bring in our own alcohol.  On the other hand, Grand Piazza is exclusively catered Levy Events.  Although I’ve read good things about Levy, and I absolutely adore Spiaggia, which is a Levy restaurant, we weren’t that excited about their event menus.  Well, we weren’t impressed by the selection of appetizers – we thought their chef stations looked awesome, but we quickly learned that buffets and/or stations can quickly add up to cost more than a plated dinner.  Who knew?  It made sense after it was explained that the caterer has to provide more food at stations or a buffet, but we just had this idea that buffets must be cheaper – one of the many misconceptions shattered in my first few months of researching the details of planning a wedding in Chicago

So the Newberry definitely had the catering advantage, and a few other nice features – by its very nature, the Newberry would require less additional décor than Grand Piazza, and the location was more central.  Finally, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if we planned an outdoor ceremony I would be anxious about the weather up until the wedding day.  So we’ll be inside at the Newberry, but as I mentioned, there’s a nice park out front, so I hope to have some wedding pictures with trees in them! 

So finally, almost six months after our engagement, the first crucial decisions were made: our wedding would be on April 26, 2008, at the Newberry Library.  Hooray for decisions!

I can't tell one from another
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this where I'll be . . . where I'll be

Talking Heads, "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)"


This must be the place, part I

My fiance and I got engaged at the end of August, 2006 (I can't believe it's been almost a year!), and we didn’t rush to start making any wedding plans, because we knew we would have a longer engagement than most. I’ve seen a couple of former coworkers planning weddings in less than a year, and it seemed really stressful to me. Plus, we are taking on much of the wedding expenses ourselves, and we needed some time to save! 

However, once we were engaged, I found that I couldn’t help thinking about the wedding. I was pretty sure that I wanted a spring wedding, and once we realized our April 26 anniversary fell on a Saturday in 2008, that became our tentative date. About six weeks after our engagement, we drafted wedding invitation list to see what size wedding we were talking about – we had guessed around 200, and we were amazed when the first draft of our Excel invitation spreadsheet turned out to be right around that number. Armed with this information, we started thinking about potential venues.

Despite the higher cost implications, we knew that we wanted our wedding to be in the city of Chicago. Both of us are very attached to the city, and we’ve been living here for many years. We’ve also been to a few downtown weddings that we loved – it’s just so cool to see the city from a terrace, through a window or even when you step outside for a breath of fresh air. That said, our first thought as huge fans of live music was one of our favorite venues, the Park West in Lincoln Park. The Park West is a beautiful historic theatre, built in the 1920s, and we’ve seen quite a few concerts there over the years. We loved the idea of having our wedding at one of our favorite concert venues, and we were attracted to the built-in audio-visual capabilities, since we knew that we wanted to do the wedding music ourselves if we could. The few pictures I found online make it look like they can do almost anything with the space:

Park West 1

Love the candlelit tables...

Hmm, not sure what sort of events would inspire the decor in that picture...

We met with their special events person, who we liked, and we thought about it a lot, but it was out of our original price range, and in the end we found other places that we liked more and offered better value for their rental fee.

In the beginning, I was highly enamored with the idea of an outdoor wedding – maybe it’s the hippie girl in me, but I loved the idea of being surrounded by the natural beauty of trees and flowers, and after all, part of the reason I wanted a spring wedding was the warmer weather and newly-blooming flowers. I had heard that the Chicago Park District rented their spaces at a relatively low cost, so I investigated their website and set off to check out a few of the spaces. We were firmly in the midst of autumn at that point, so I knew I wasn’t experiencing the gardens in their full glory, but I felt that I could still get some impression of the available spaces. 

Buckingham Fountain is fabulous...

And it looks awesome at night...

...but in my opinion, it's too much of an obvious choice for a Chicago wedding, and its central Grant Park location doesn’t offer much privacy from roaming tourists. It was also the most expensive of the Park District facilities to rent, and it appears that it’s become much more expensive since I first investigated – it’s now a whopping $30,000 just to rent the space!

I really liked the Lincoln Park Conservatory gardens though. I could see myself walking down the natural “aisle” between the large flowerbeds, and I could see us being married in front of the lovely fountain in the center of the garden.

But where would we have our reception? We weren’t sure it would be warm enough at the end of April for an outdoor reception – you just never know in Chicago – and we didn’t really like the idea of renting a tent and all of the necessary accoutrements anyway. The conservatory itself is very pretty inside...

...but there certainly isn’t a large enough open space for a reception. And anyway, where would people park? We'd almost definitely have to do valet.

The place I liked best was the Garfield Park Conservatory. I had only been to the conservatory once before I went to investigate it as a potential wedding venue, when they had a spectacular Chihuly exhibit several years ago... 

...and when I went back after our engagement, I was delighted to re-discover what I consider a real treasure. I love living in the big city, but sometimes I miss the more natural rural surroundings of my childhood, and I think it’s nice to have a place to immerse oneself in the natural beauty of plants and flowers. I find it both calming and rejuvenating...kind of like yoga that way. Anyway, your first steps into the Conservatory reveal the Palm House, an “idealized tropical landscape” of, well, lots of tall palm trees soaring up to a high glass ceiling, interspersed with lots of exotic tropical plants I didn’t recognize.

The Garfield Park Conservatory is much larger than its Lincoln Park cousin, and along with several display houses – the Palm House, the Aroid House, the Desert House, and the Fern Room, which fascinates me because it’s planted to show what Illinois might have looked like millions of years ago, and when I was in the edge of the indoor lagoon with nobody else in sight I almost felt like I had gone back in time.

It also has a perfect room for events, Horticulture Hall. Look how pretty!

And it has an outdoor patio surrounded by more gardens, which I thought could be a neat place for a ceremony. Unfortunately, my fiance wasn’t quite as excited about this place as I was – I think he appreciates flowers more than some guys, but he still wasn’t that excited about getting married at the Conservatory, although you could rent the entire space for $3,000! Honestly, it is a bit out of the way, and the surrounding neighborhood isn’t the greatest either. On top of that, it turned out that they already had something scheduled for April 26, and by the time we learned that, we had come across a couple of new places that we liked better, so we stopped considering it as a potential wedding venue.

Stay tuned for the second and final chapter in our wedding venue search, as we narrow it down to our two finalists…

Home - is where I want to be
But I guess I'm already there
I come home - she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place

Talking Heads, "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)"


What's in a name?

As those who remember their Romeo and Juliet may have noticed, I’ve already decided to use literary as well as lyric allusions in the titles of my posts. I think it’s appropriate since books and music are the two passions that have fed my soul since I was fairly young…and I’ve already found myself spending way too much time searching for the perfect lyrics to title future posts because that’s just the way I am.  

So, why “sarah_why”? Since I’m an English major, a writer, a thesaurus junkie, a Scrabble-lover and an all-around word geek, there’s almost always a reason behind my word choices. Whenever I’m asked to create a new username or password online, I’m delayed for a good 15 minutes while I think about what part of my personality I’m trying to express through this word or phrase. (Yes, I'm what we call an "over-thinker".) These days I just try to stick with variations of past usernames to keep it simple! In fact, I’ve used “sarah_why” in the past, but not for 5+ years, back when I was an active member of the Phunky Bitches community of female Phish fans. Ah, my neo-hippie days. Note to self: find picture in patchwork pants for historical purposes. (Really, I'm still kind of a hippie girl on the inside, but it's not as obvious on the outside as it used to be. I like going incognito, if you will.)

Anyway, I initially chose “sarah why” because I thought it was a clever play on the fact that I was often called “Sarah Y.” in elementary school because there was another Sarah in my class – “Sarah M.” as I recall. (I’m starting to become “Sarah Y.” again because there’s a Sara on my work team and I can’t help feeling like I’m back in first grade when people call me that!) But “sarah why” also fits because I’m a very curious person, and I like to ask questions – and of the five “W” questions, “why” is definitely my favorite, because it’s the question that gets beyond the bare facts of “who-what-when-where” and trys to stimulate an explanation. So there we are, “sarah_why”! At this point I’m laughing at myself because I’m pretty sure nobody else could possibly find this as interesting as I do. Ladies and gentlemen, a glimpse into the complex machinations of Sarah’s brain! This is why I need to still my mind with yoga, on a daily basis when possible.  

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, act 2, sc. 2, l. 43-4.

Somebody holds the key

First things first:  Before I launch into my observations about the wedding planning experience thus far, I wanted to share the story of our anniversary, April 26, which by lucky coincidence also happens to be our wedding date. We didn’t force it, but we already were thinking about a spring wedding, and our special day just happened to fall on a Saturday in 2008, so we took it as a sign. However, had April 26, 2008, not been a Saturday, we just would have picked a random Saturday in April, May, or June, and let it go at that.

April 26, 2002 is the day that my fiance and I count from. We had first met the previous summer at a Los Lobos concert, and we went out for our “first date” in mid-April, but I like to think that April 26 was the day that both of us truly realized we had found something worth exploring. It was also the date of a momentous Widespread Panic show at Oak Mountain in Pelham, Alabama, the first Panic show we attended together, and the last Panic show we attended together before the original lead guitarist, Mikey Houser, succumbed to pancreatic cancer. The two of us had attended some of the same shows in the past, but at this one we were alone together, away from our larger group of friends. We had traveled down to Oak Mountain separately – me at the last minute, having decided after two great shows in Raleigh the previous weekend that I needed to go to Oak Mountain too, because the rumors among the hardcore fanbase suggested that these might be Mikey’s last shows at Oak Mountain, and sadly, they were – but we ended up with extra tickets from a mutual friend that were right next to each other. There was a massive downpour right before showtime, which was alarming, especially for a girl who had thrown caution to the wind and "called in sick" from a parking lot in Pelham that morning, but the weather cleared up just in time, prompting the lead singer John Bell (usually and henceforth known as JB) to welcome the crowd with the words, “Bless all your soggy warm hearts for coming out tonight.” 

The concert was superb, with impassioned playing from all involved, and a fantastic setlist – a great mix of the light and uplifting and the dark and dirty, the classic originals and the new originals, the regular covers and the rare covers, including a bustout “Werewolves of London”, which hadn’t been played since 1996 and seemed particularly appropriate under the full moon. The encore featured a beautiful, heart-wrenching cover of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”, a song with lyrics that resonate with both me and my fiance, as we are wanderer-types who also have a deep appreciation for the comforts of home.  As our relationship blossomed in the following weeks and months, I kept thinking back to those lyrics…

You are the reason I’ve been waiting so long
Somebody holds the key

At that point in my life, I really hadn’t been “waiting” very long, as I was only 22, and I had ended a serious relationship of four years soon after I graduated college the previous summer. On the other hand, my fiance is five years older than I am, and he had never been in a really serious relationship, so the longer ours continued, the more I liked to flatter myself that perhaps I was the reason he had waited so long. Regardless, I love the idea of one significant other “holding the key” to the other’s mysteries – I suppose it’s not a particularly esoteric reference, but it’s a bit more subtle than Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” – which, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I loved as a child.   

Anyway, that's the story of our beginning. I gave my new boyfriend a framed fan poster from the concert for our first Christmas together, which will always have a special place wherever we live. I was delighted when we realized that April 26 is a Saturday in 2008, as I would be sorry to trade this anniversary for another day and lose the personal significance.


Let's Get Down to Business

I've decided that the time has finally come for me to start a blog. I'm a writer by training and profession, and I've journaled off and on during different periods of my life, but I've never been consistent about it, and whenever I find a random hour to write in my journal I have so much to say that my hand gets tired before I've nearly completed my thoughts. On the other hand, I'm a pretty quick typist. I've become notorious among my friends for ridiculously long but entertaining emails and heartfelt informal music reviews, and I've known for awhile that such ramblings might translate well into a blog, but I never got around to it. Now I'm in the midst of wedding planning, and I feel like there is so much going on in my life that I can't keep all of my friends and family updated. I've also realized that the wedding planning process is a unique period in time that I'd like to document, if only for my own enjoyment and lasting memories. Thus, this blog.

Being a music freak who appreciates a well-placed lyric reference, I've decided to at least try to title all of my posts with lyric snippets or song titles. We'll see how long this lasts. This first post is titled after one of my favorite Vic Chesnutt songs, recently covered by my favorite band, Widespread Panic, to open the third night of their incredible three-night run at the Chicago Theatre this past weekend. This night was my 75th concert with this band since my first show on April 18, 2000.

Let's get down to business, shall we?  It's time to stop playing games...

When Panic opens with this song, it tends to foreshadow a killer show, and Sunday night was no different. But that's a topic for another post. However, I just found the "let's get down to business" message appropriate for this experience of embarking on a personal project I've been procrastinating for years.  I hope everyone enjoys the reading as much as I enjoy the writing!