Recent Battles with the Wedding-Industrial Complex

(Just for fun)

Early in the wedding-planning process, I stumbled on the blog of a kindred spirit: 2000 Dollar Wedding. Although M.L. and I will not be throwing our nuptial shindig quite so economically, we have picked up on the author’s attempts to thwart what she terms the “wedding-industrial complex.” We have, then, tried to steer away from the advertising, tools, and general consumerism thrown our way by the likes of the American wedding industry. That means a minimal budget for usually big-ticket items (i.e., wedding gowns) and more funds invested in the things that really matter, like a thoughtful worship service to begin life together and the food, beverages, and space that we hope will make for a fabulous party for our closest friends and family following the ceremony.

We’re trying to be attentive in little ways too and this week managed to score two major (if slightly imperfect) victories over the commercialized, cookie-cutter wedding beast.

First, we’re doing a wedding blog instead of a wedding website. The latter are great for many people; the tools are handy and it’s great to have all of your information (invites, registry, rsvps, checklists) in one place. We just happened to want to avoid the websites that usually host these options. The biggest draw for setting up a site through Wedding Wire or The Knot was, originally, the online RSVP option. I don’t know which way is up when it comes to html, so initially despaired of creating an non-Knot option. However, it turned out that some of the tech tools I used as an AmeriCorps VISTA finally came into play again! Google Docs (now Drive) allows users to embed survey forms into their websites and blog pages. Visitors to the web page can then input their info into the form, all of which is then saved into an easy-to-use spreadsheet. Fantastic. Score number one for Team Bride and Groom.

The second victory is a little more messy. The fiancé and I are including an option for charitable giving in our gifting options and we want to be able to recognize the generosity of our guests. (Not because we’re particularly righteous people, but because this is a practice we’re still learning to be intentional about.) Initially, we began setting up giving options through the I Do Foundation, connected with the Knot’s Gift Registry 360.

The process seemed simple enough and the set-up was easy. Alas, just as I prepared to click “submit,” I noticed a tiny link labeled “cost” or “fees” (something to that effect). As it turns out, I Do tacks on a twelve percent processing/transaction fee on every donation. Every donation! Just for perspective, most non-profits include a three to five percent fee for credit card donations directly through their site. This was too much. Other fundraising sites do have lower rates, but none so low as the non-profits.

Our solution, for the moment, is a PayPal fund connected to our wedding email account and linked into the registry page of our wedding blog. (WordPress mercifully provides clear step-by-step instructions in their support section.) PayPal’s transaction fee is only 2.9% + .30, which is a steal compared to other options. Unfortunately, this means that M.L. and I will be acting as the middle people between donors and the charities. Still, it will allow us to recognize the charity of our friends and family and to thank them thoroughly.

This is an imperfect solution, so suggestions are definitely welcome. Even so, I count this as score number two for M.L. and me. Huzzah for the victory, however partial it might be.


‘Tis the Season: A Grad Student’s Bracket for March Madness

Alas, this is a too small to read the font! But it preserves a little mystery. Just click to enlarge.

In honor of the ever-contagious March Madness, and inspired by the quirks and shenanigans of M.L. and his Singapore colleagues, I’ve created a bracket. One that unabashedly exposes my own biases and will, with any luck, generate controversy among the intellectual historians, philosophers, and brainy men and women I’m fortunate enough to call friends.

Said bracket is a tournament of the intellectuals. Composed of sixty-four European intellectuals from the 19th and 20th centuries, it’s one possible way of exploring the levels of influence each thinker has had on our lives in the 21st century.

The intellectuals are grouped by birthplace. (I attempted to organize it by language of writing, but it was too hard to limit the French and German lists that way.) I tried to choose a wide range of trends by including leftists, conservatives, phenomenologists, existentialists, feminists, and people who are simply defy categorization. I also sought to make sure, at least in the first round, that the two thinkers going head to head were as equal in influence as possible. Putting Kant or Hegel, for example, up against anyone except one another would have been an unfair fight right from the start.

Although the decisions as to who won each round were largely arbitrary, I did have a few criteria in mind:

  • Did this person’s ideas cause a war? (If so, s/he will not advance to the next round.)
  • How much influence did this thinker have on future intellectuals? (The greater the influence, the better the chance of advancing.)
  • Is this intellectual’s name “common currency” outside a philosophy or history department? Or have the been a major influence on a popular social movement? (Bonus points for popular appeal
  • How much influence has this person exerted on my perception of the world? (Yes. In the end, it’s just personal.)

There you have it. I’d be really curious to hear how other people might have worked this. Are there intellectuals you would have included that I have not? Would you have chosen other winners in different rounds? How would you rank the influence of these women and men?

Alternatively you can play along yourself using this Google Doc. Please download or copy the document to change it. And then do share your own!

Ice Cream Birthday Cake!

I made this ice cream cake for my friend’s birthday party last week and was pleased as punch with how it turned out.

I actually followed a recipe for this one (I’m not usually great at that…), which made the process relatively easy. See the full post (and one very lovely cake) on Julie’s Sweet Shack for recipe and instructions.


Two layers of yellow cake, black raspberry ice cream filling, and vanilla ice cream frosting. Brilliant.

Roasted Vegetable and Chicken Soup

Eating seasonal can be a drag in the winter. Much as I love the roots, potatoes and carrots (with the occasional golden beets or frozen zucchini) can get a bit hum-drum. Thank goodness for chicken soup though. There are so many ways to change it up and it’s a fantastic mid-week meal after a hearty roasted chicken Sunday dinner. So here’s my latest winter creation and recipe:


Not much to look at, but oh so tasty.

Roasted Vegetable and Chicken Soup


Chicken carcass or leftover cooked, bone-in pieces
Drippings from Sunday dinner (These can be skimmed off the top later if you prefer a less oil soup, but provide a great base for the broth.)
Black Pepper, Salt, Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Basil (to taste)
2 tbsp. Soy sauce
3 Medium Red Potatoes
6-8 Carrots
2 Medium Yellow Onions


1.) Fill soup pot with water and pop in the carcass. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer for two or three hours. (Or longer if you like. No harm in it.)

2.) Preheat oven to 425. Remove carcass from pot and allow to cool while you chop potatoes and carrots into chunky cubes and slices. Slice onions into thin rounds. Toss all vegetables in a large baking pan with olive oil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally for more even browning.

3.) While vegetables bake, pull off any chicken that has not fallen from the bones and return meat to soup.

4.) When vegetables finish, add to the pot and serve.

For some variation, top with parmesan or asiago cheese. The soup could also take another starch, like Great Northern Beans or barley or some egg noodles. I may also try adding just a little bit of a kick next time with some red pepper.


I Cook Better Than I Sew.

Because cooking encourages, forgives, even rewards improvisation.

No white sugar for the cookies? No problem. Throw in some honey or brown sugar or agave nectar. No fresh serrano pepper?  Okay. Toss in a bit of crushed red pepper and chili powder for that slow and spicy heat. Short on small egg noodles for the cabbage dish? No worries. You can cut up some of the big ones or use chopped spaghetti instead.

No recipe at all?

Step 1. Throw all your vegetables in a pot with some oil, onion, and garlic. Step 2. Heat and serve. Utterly simple.

Sewing is another matter all together. It mandates careful preparation, specific materials, and absolute precision. Which is a problem when all you have is a skirt that you’d like to be a dress, only half a good idea, and the wrong color thread. Then the process goes something like this:

1. Take body measurements. With a piece of ribbon because you discover that your tape measure has gone missing. Then estimate based on the only ruler you have: the MacBook that you know is only 13 inches long.

2. Use said ribbon to measure out fabric for top half of dress. Measure twice in fact. Cut once.

2. Test to make sure upper half will in fact fit around your upper half. Discover that you’ve either miraculously gained an extra six inches in circumference in the last ten minutes or your measurements were all wrong. Sigh with relief that it’s probably only the latter. Figure out how to patch on an extra six inches of fabric.

3. Measure body for bottom half, again with the handy ribbon. Try praying this time that your measurements are correct before you cut.

4. Check that this piece does fit around the waist (it does). Sew to upper half.

5. Remove the seam just sewn because you attached the upper half of the dress in such a way that the patched together portion (with white thread. on a purple dress) is facing outward.

6. Sew the blasted seam again.

7. Attempt to sew a single seam along the open side of the dress. Notice that this comes out in a nice zig-zag effect because you were over ambitious about the speed at which you should send the fabric through the needle.

8. Contemplate redoing the seam.

9. Decide that no one will see it on the inside. Good enough.

10. Attempt to sew two very small rectangles of fabric into straps for the dress.

11. After you’ve sewn the rectangles shut so they can’t be turned inside out like you’d hoped, give up and use some left over ribbon or the drawstring from the skirt.

12. Survey your work. Realize that you could have created exactly what you did in two steps instead of twelve had you just given up at the beginning and simply sew straps onto the skirt.

13. Go bake something. You’ll feel better about life.

Note: Pictures to follow of said dress. It isn’t a complete disaster and it’s worth showing off a little. Just experiencing some difficulties with the camera…

For the Love of Beets

I don’t actually love eating beets. They taste pungent, earthy, and sticky-sweet to me. But they’re beautiful. It’s hard to resist their deep purple hue, their pinkish stems, or the summer-green of their leaves. So when four hearty beets turned up in my CSA share from Alstede Farms this week, I had to give them another shot.

Roasting the beets with asparagus, another co-op treat, and a leftover winter onion mellowed the flavor and allowed me to take advantage of Alstede’s oregano and thyme as well as some dried rosemary I’ve been itching to use. I also sautéed scallions, spinach, and arugula (would you believe all of that was in my little half-share?) just before pulling my veggies out of the oven. I layered the greens, asparagus, onions, and beets over brown rice and served it up with a simple salad, which allowed me to finish off last week’s lettuce and radishes, as well as the carrot my roommate bequeathed to me last month.

Well, hello summer vegetables.

Summer harvest...

Arugula, spinach, and scallions. In hindsight, I might have added in the beet greens as well.

The eating of the greens.

Some resilient rhododendron blooms, care of one Gloversville green thumb.

Throw Your Hands Up At Me.

Once upon a time, certain parenting manuals recommended good mothers and fathers keep their daughters away from high-minded books and strenuous physical activity. The former would rot girls’ brains; the latter would imperil their wombs. (I’m paraphrasing.) Let’s just say I wouldn’t necessarily have made great marriage material in mid-nineteenth century England.

For a start, I have philosophers, historians, critics and novelists from Matthew Arnold to Oscar Wilde sitting on my bookshelves, with heavy doses of Durkheim, Hobsbawm, Kierkegaard and Voltaire in between. My reading list for the summer includes some knock-outs too, like Holy Feast and Holy Fast by Caroline Walker Bynum and Foucault’s History of Sexuality.

And then there’s the annual moving adventure in which I cart, carry, haul, and heave my boxes, bags, and bric-a-brac from one apartment to another. This summer’s move (the fourth, and counting) across Madison, NJ held a new challenge: furniture assembly.

Challenge 1: The 27-step, full-size bed. It took me three hours and twenty-six minutes (if I had to estimate), after which my screwdriver needed a tune-up, my wrist needed a massage, and my new housemate was undoubtedly second-guessing my grasp of the English language. (There were plenty of “shoots” and “galldarns” emitting from the room, among other choice phrases…)  I could have sworn the pictures were in Swedish. By a minor miracle I only back-tracked twice and didn’t lose a single peg or screw or nut while I was at it. And the bed hasn’t fallen in on me yet.

Challenge 2: The “Craigslist-steal” desk. At nearly five-feet long, it was a feat to even transport the pieces in my Civic hatchback. (If you put both the back seats down and then tip the passenger seat back so it’s laying just about flat, a 1991 Honda Civic DX has almost 72″ of cargo space. Yes, I measured.) Safely back to the apartment, I had to unload the pieces that it had taken two people to put in the car. The legs, crossbeam, and drawers on wheels were no problem. The desktop, standing almost as tall as me, was another story.

Like the blackened pot I blogged about a few months ago, this was a multi-strategy operation. I tried walking with it on top of my feet, twisting it back and forth, sliding it, pushing it, lifting it…you name it, I gave it a shot. And, lo and behold, managed to inch it past the dining room table, through the living room, and into the bedroom which has become my study. (Did I breathe a prayer of thanks for first-floor living quarters? You bet I did.) I’ve reassembled the desk, too, and it hasn’t collapsed either, thank you very much. Even held my weight while I put up new brackets and rods for curtains this afternoon.

So, in good fun and celebration for my victories over instruction manuals, I blared “Independent Woman” while I finished unpacking this afternoon. Classy, yes?

I should qualify: I love interdependence and I definitely don’t just “depend on me.” I know I couldn’t have finished this move or any other without good friends, family members, and strangers helping me transport the material portions of my life from place to place. Pure independence is not only rather overrated, it’s impossible.

Still, sometimes it’s deeply satisfying to say, “I can do it myself.” And then prove I actually can.