Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Telling stories

When I started teaching, I was alarmed to learn that a female student had been dissuaded from particular areas of study by a senior professor who suggested that women were too enmeshed in the pragmatics of daily life to do the abstract theorizing necessary for higher scholarship.  All my years of egalitarian experience slammed into the brick wall of outmoded attitudes about bodies and gender.  As if living back in the Renaissance, scholars were supposed to be disembodied minds, removed from the material world, while women were consigned to the material world through the necessity of their bodies.

Apparently, this professor hadn't heard of the theorizing that arises from personal experience.  Somehow, the notion that the personal is political had not infiltrated that particular ivory tower.

Fortunately, though, the blogosphere gives us a broad platform for telling women's stories - not only of weddings, but of marriages, careers and daily lives - and showing,through concrete example, how the personal and political intersect and shape one another.  Telling stories is a concrete form of activism, a way of taking up space, giving voice to our experience, and saying that it matters.

Today, there are two spectacular stories about power, and change, and women's lives.  You must read How Love Can Heal and Anna (of Accordians and Lace) on Idiosyncratic Skills.  These are stories of the hardscrabble lives of women who probably have more useful, world-changing wisdom and insight in their little fingers than that ivory tower professor accumulated in countless years of theorizing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What a difference a year makes!

Psyche!  This is not a wedding anniversary post.  For that, you'll have to wait a couple more months.

This is a doctorate anniversary post.  Equally significant in my mind.*  The last academic hurdle: now I get to learn to be the expert.  Sure, there are other hoops to jump through:  tenure/ contract renewal, The Book, this #@$)~*%# article that's been torturing me all summer.  For now, it's nice to know that I've got the Seal of Approval, entitling me to take on such projects.

Last year, I didn't even know it was summer.  The only evidence of change was the creep of the afternoon sun up my office walls, where I was cloistered, 12-18 hours a day, pounding away at the dissertation that I had rashly promised my future employers I could complete in a year.

That hasty promise, made months before I began writing, before I even began analyzing the data, while I was, in fact, still in the field collecting data, came back to bite me in the butt** last summer as I typed furiously to meet a deadline that my advisor had initially said was impossible.  I met it without a day to spare.

As 18th century author and lexiographer Samuel Johnson said, the prospect of a hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully.  Indeed.  I've always been deadline driven, and the biggest writing project of my life was no exception.

But, I missed some of my favorite things in life: ice cream on warm evenings, chatting with friends over cold drinks, travel, mountain hikes.  All was put on hold for the tyranny of my final academic deadline.  The constant panic and anxiety I felt spurred me on to work harder - when it didn't paralyze me. I was happy to have wedding planning as a constructive distraction when the dissertation felt just too weighty.

This summer, though, this summer... it's SUMMER!***  Though Eric had his own major deadline this summer, we've made the most of our freedom from strict schedules.  We started out here, in May, following a work-gig that took Eric to Milan:
Bonus points if you know the locale.
Hint.  (They clearly have great taste!)

By early June, we were soaking in art in Florence.

On a tour of a Tuscan castle winery, surrounded by a bunch of 20-something honeymooners from the States, we realized that it wasn't too late to consider our trip Part III of Multi-part Global Honeymoon Tour.
Former family home to the namesake of the Verrazzano Bridge

Next stop on the Global Honeymoon Tour was Seward, Alaska, where the food didn't exactly live up to that of Italy.
 The best and biggest dinner around.

We earned our dinner by hunting the ever-elusive Loch Ness Monster...
(Ok, you got me.  It's really a mother and baby humpback whale playing.  Nessie prefers the Atlantic.)

....communing with friendly marmots (which apparently could grow to super-size with climate change)...

and visiting yet another receding glacier****...
Where it was in 1926
The Seward Exit Glacier today.
One of my work projects this summer took me to this spectacular spot, where people live off the grid, dependent on the sun for all their energy, and the mountain snowmelt for their all their water, including for the organic gardens. I was able to unplug from internet and gaze at the Milky Way each night for an entire blissful week.  What a treat to have work that requires being in these beautiful mountains!
Lama Foundation, New Mexico
Finally, back home, we took in some local nature, at the awesome National Seashore just north of our wedding site.... more on that tomorrow.

* And all the sweeter (and way more bearable) for having someone to share it with.  I cover my ears when he makes noises about getting a PhD.  Does he really want to enter that special hell???

**Quite literally. I developed a tailbone injury from spending so much time sitting!  My one break from the desk chair was to see the physical therapist who insisted that I get more exercise.

*** You'd never know it from the foggy, chilly weather here in the Bay, though.

**** The cynical among you may be asking what my contribution to climate change is, with all this flying around.  This issue continues to vex me.  My work and family life are both international in scope, and it's hard to reconcile keeping up with my family and my field while being worried about climate change.  When I'm home, I rely on my bike and hope that it offsets my plane travel a little.

Friday, August 20, 2010

From the land and back again: A Virginia farm wedding

Let me present Exhibit A in my case that weddings can be gorgeous, green and environmentally-conscious.  Marisa, who blogs at Park & Belmont,  responded to my call for stories and inspiration about planning a consciously sustainable and eco-friendly wedding.  Oh boy, did she ever succeed!  The flowers for the wedding, and much of the food, were grown on her family's farm, where the wedding was held.  Even better, the biodegradable cutlery and plates went back into the land as compost after the wedding.  Talk about coming full circle.

We spent about $12,000 on our wedding for 250 people which took place on my family's farm in Rappahannock County, Virginia.

The Place:  A family tradition

Padua is an extremely important place to our family. It originally was owned my great-grandmother and my grandmother, and though my parents are the primary "owners" of the house and the fields, when I refer to "our family" I'm also including my father's 8 brothers and sisters and their children (my cousins). It is an important and wonderful place to all of us, and I hope a few of my cousins will decide to get married at Padua as well.

While the venue was taken care of, it look a lot of sweat to get the farm in order. We spent many weekend planting and seeding the garden and building rock walls. Getting the farm in order was hard, but it was also a moving experience as both sides of the extended family came to help on several work days.
Jon and I are up there quite a bit (though not as much as we were prior to the wedding).  It is a small farm, but it is functioning. My mother sells her produce, flowers and pies at the Charlottesville farmers market every weekend and we have six cows which roam the numerous acres at their leisure and which will eventually become organic grass fed beef.

The Wedding Vision: "Local, seasonal and beautiful" [and clearly a ton of fun!]
Our primary goal, was that our wedding be local, seasonal and beautiful. We also wanted a wedding that was laid back, fun and inviting.  

My dress was J. Crew and came from OnceWed. It was a steal ($58!!!!).  

My mother, her two best friends and my maid of honor created all 11 bridal bouquets, all 28 table centerpieces, and "aisle" flowers for the wedding. 

All of the flowers were seasonal and were grown locally by our family or my mother's friends.  They were absolutely stunning.

The Food:  Regional delicacies
We have large families and good food is important to both sets of relatives.  Having good food was definitely the most important aspect of our wedding. Jon's family is from Wisconsin and so our appetizers were Kewaskum cheese and summer sausagues, driven down from Kewaskum, Wisconsin by Jon's amazing aunts and uncles three days before the wedding. 

We hooked up with a local county caterer who used lots of veggies from our late August harvest in her recipes, thus discounting the total fee and ensuring the food was local.  Rather than serve one main course, we had pulled pork barbque and 20 different salads.  We had pie for dessert, all baked by my amazing and awesome mother, made with apples from Nelson County, Virginia.  

Seriously, so much love went into the food - it was the best part of the wedding and there was more than enough food for everyone.  The beer was Starr Hill, brewed an hour and a half away in Crozet, Virginia, (the brewery provided biodegradable cups), and the Wine was Gabrielle Rausse, a Virginia vinter (and luckily a family friend) located just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Special Touches:  Edible, Reusable, Decomposable
We had clearly labled [composting] bins that were obvious to even the tipsiest of guests.  The day after the wedding was spent properly composting the plates and cutlery with my brother in our family's garden. [Eds. note:  Call me a green geek, but this is my absolute favorite detail of the wedding!  I love the idea of the party leftovers returning to the ground to enrich the soil at the family farm.]

Our wedding would have been squat if it wasn't for our family and friends.  They helped us so much- our DJ was a dear friend, and his wife (one of my bridesmaids) made chocolate covered pretzel favors for guests.

 The majority of our guests camped out, but those who chose not to were bused in and taken home at the end of the night, thus reducing the number of cars on the road and preventing DUIs and accidents.

Again, our wedding would have been nothing without the love and support of our family and friends.

The amount of effort that goes into creating a sustainable, practical, local wedding is huge.  Not only was September 5, 2009 the day that Jon and I promised to love and cherish each other for the rest of our days, it was the day that two families came together as one community, and had a rocking good time :).  The fact that everyone participated and enjoyed themselves  added even more value to this already important day. Jon and I felt so unbelievably loved it was incredible.

Our photographer, the wonderful and amazing Denny Henry, is a former co-worker of mine, and did a fantastic job capturing the mood of the wedding.

I asked Marisa what prompted her to plan her wedding with an eye to environmental sustainability.  She said:

I don't think anything really prompted us to take considerations for a green, local, sustainable wedding--it is just who we are, as a couple and as a family.  My parents have always tried to live and create a sustainable lifestyle and it has rubbed off on me...lucky I have married a man who embraces sustainability whole-heartedly. Growing up in Charlottesville, we had a large garden and chickens in our back yard (for eggs), we never had a dishwasher, always recycled, composted and always sun dried our clothes (my mother has never even owned a dryer, and I don't think even knows how to work one).  As a kid, I think I was sometimes embarrassed of how "into sustainability" my parents were, but now that I'm older I'm so grateful that their values have been ingrained in me! The wedding just was the way it was because that is how our family operates, we are frugal, like our food and flowers fresh and local, respect the earth, and are blessed with amazing and creative friends and family.  I don't think Jon and I could have had a wedding that was any other way. It was just us. We felt comfortable, we felt like ourselves. It was beautiful. 

Beautiful, indeed!  Thank you so much, Marisa, for taking the time to walk us through the details of your gorgeous wedding, and for sharing inspiration for other sustainability-minded brides and grooms!  

This wedding has so many wonderful sustainability-oriented principles and practices, not the least of which is giving the guests a place to camp overnight, so they don't have to worry about drinking and driving.  And, composting = love!   

I'm looking forward to sharing other examples of weddings planned with environmental sustainability in mind.  If you've got something to share, please send it my way.  
Green smooches to all!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sustainable wedding, sustaining marriages

Ever since a certain fancy inspiration blog got my dander up by being nominated for best "green" blog, and I wrote a post calling for a Green Revolution in weddings, I've been thinking about 1), why someone would take environmental and social responsibility into account in planning their wedding, and 2), what those terms, bandied about so freely these days, mean, or could mean, in relation to weddings.  These days you can find the labels 'sustainable', 'green' and 'eco-friendly' on the most unlikely of products - just another marketing tool - so it's worth trying to parse the meaning a bit.  There are some good tips around the internet (here and here), as well as many others, no doubt.

For now, I want to take on the first question: Why would someone plan an eco-conscious wedding?

Four reasons occur to me (chime in with more!):

1)  The economic reason:  Economists know that wasteful processes cost more, so businesses seek efficiency with materials and labor.  Applied to a wedding, the economic reason might mean cutting down on unnecessary or expensive items (inner envelopes with invitations, aisle runners, favors for guests, number of invitations, number of guests) to save money, and consequently create less environmental impact.  Cost-cutting measures that decrease the amount of stuff consumed at the wedding (one-time-use stuff - see, e.g. the wedding dress!) are essentially also eco-conscious measures.

2)  The outdoorsy reason:  It's fashionable these days to get married at a spectacular outdoor site that bears some connection to the couple's personal interests - skiing, hiking, swimming, being outdoors.  These outdoor sites often end up providing much of the decor through their own inherent beauty.  If the sites are remote or difficult to reach, it may mean that less 'wedding gear' is transported to the site.  Couples may choose these sites as a statement of their values and interest in enjoying and protecting the outdoors.  Of course, outdoorsy sites can still support the full-on splash-out, with imported flowers and decorations galore.

3)  The values reason:  Though not necessarily separate from the other two reason, this one is the most interesting to me.  Traditionally, weddings were held in houses of worship that represented the couple's cultural and religious traditions.  Holding the wedding in such sacred space, and adhering to the traditions of that space honors the values represented by the religion: faith, hope and charity, and the like. The religious traditions also offer teachings about honoring and caring for Creation: stewardship for the Earth, tikkun olam, repairing the world.  So I'm wondering if any couples are planning sustainable weddings as an expression of their religious values?

4)  The future reason:  Along with meeting my darling nephews, getting married has been the rite-of-passage that has put me most in touch with time unrolling into a distant future.  Suddenly, rather than planning a day ahead (or a week at best), I was making a promise for the rest of my life.  And when I thought about the time stretching in front of us, I really, really wanted to know that the future world we and our families would live in would be just as gorgeous, diverse, vibrant and full-of-life (if not more so) than the one we inhabit now.  But I think we, or our parents' generation (maybe grandparents'?), were the first to have to contemplate that the glorious future we could imagine might not come to pass.  With the unleashing of the atom bomb in the 1940s, our parents and grandparents realized that absolute destruction of life was possible.  Now, with climate change (wacky weather suggests that it's already happening) and the global biodiversity crisis (species are going extinct at 100 to 10,000 times the usual rate in what scientists call the Sixth Mass Extinction), it appears that the world of the future might not be quite as rich and lively as the world of the present.

When I think about sustaining my marriage into that future - whatever it holds, richer or poorer, better or worse, on the local or global scale - I feel ever more called to do whatever I can do right now to make that future more positive.  This for me is the most compelling reason for planning a sustainable wedding: as a solid foundation, and a vote of optimism for a sustaining and sustainable marriage.

Just like I've become better about flossing my teeth since we got engaged - how embarrassing it would be to lose my pearly whites! - I've become better about riding my bike around town (the exercise will keep me around, and prevent the drowning of another polar bear) and seeking out local, organic, whole foods (let's eat our veggies now, rather than deal with a chronic illness in the future).  I realize that none of these steps is a guarantee against calamities that could happen in the future, but it feels better to do something positive than nothing.  And that's what I want my marriage to be about, too:  doing something positive and sustaining.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Notes from the field: Haven't we been here before?

A year ago, I went to Data Monkey and Mountain Man Mike's wedding at the gorgeous, redwood-clad Pema Ose Ling, in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Today, I go to another wedding in the same spot.  I've never been to the same wedding venue twice.  I'm so curious how it will be different.

It will be different for me:  I'm going stag, because Eric has to work.  I haven't gone solo to a wedding in quite a few years.  I thought that was over, now that I have a date-for-life. 

But I'm not about to miss a good party, where I'll get to see some of my wedding gear have a second (or third) life.  So happy to keep the wedding co-op going.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Quite a surprise

Apparently, my little piece o' blog-estate has been noticed readers and a panel of 5 judges*, who have determined that it is one of the Top 50 Wedding Blogs**.

Wow.  Thanks, folks.  I'm honored that someone took time to notice this little blog, and commend it... 'specially since I haven't been so on top of posting lately.

I've added a neat-o badge over there on the right to commemorate this auspicious day in the life of my blog. (We're growing up, honey.  Survived that first year, got past the post-wedding doldrums.  And now our persistence and pluckiness has been recognized. The sky's the limit!)

This is good motivation to get back onto a regular posting schedule, too.  After all, we can't rest on our laurels.  Got to live up to our new rep.  With that in mind, I've got an awesome oh-so-sustainable wedding to share with you, as well as some updates about my jaunts this summer (you can see a lot of the world when you're not obsessed with wedding planning!).

*This award is given by Online Schools, which appears to be a clearinghouse for information about what we in the academic world call "distance education," a topic about which I have mixed feelings, as my department considers how we might expand in this area.  Online Schools also sees "individual blogs as classes, and the posts as courses, and the bloggers as professors."  So, welcome to class!  Although academia doesn't tend to value this kind of informal writing (heaven forefend if my department knew I blogged about something as commonplace as weddings), the Intertubes do, and I'm glad to have this outlet.

**Yeah, even your personally-biased author here knows that's a bit of a stretch, but it's nice to be mentioned in the same breath with the big girls, like A Practical Wedding, Wedding Cabaret, Offbeat Bride and SMP. Holy cow!  Thanks again!