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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

7 Tips to Make Your Wedding More Socially Conscious

Even though my wedding journey is over and I've stopped regularly writing 'Engaged with a Cause,' I've missed sharing socially conscious wedding tips and ideas with everyone. In light of my blog's appearance in a recent Buzz Feed post and in hopes of leaving behind an easy "cheat sheet," here are a few tips on how you can give back with your wedding.

1. The Plan & The Planner During the early engagement enthusiasm when you are mapping out your budget and guest list, it is also the time for you and your partner to discuss priorities for how you can give back or make the day "greener."  Want to donate in lieu of favors? Don't care about flowers? If you are hiring a wedding planner, make sure they share your vision and are excited about it. Looking for vendors affiliated with Wish Upon A Wedding is a great place to start. Read about our wedding planner here.

2. Location! With your guest list in place, budget set and charitable goals in mind, you can find the perfect place for the big day. You can pick a location where your tourist dollars will make a difference in recovery — like the Jersey Shore or New Orleans. Staying close to home? Whether the ceremony is in a church or a public space like a museum or park, your fees can make a big impact. Don't be afraid to ask where your dollar goes. For the reception, open up your search to zoos, aquariums, museums, botanical gardens and parks. Many of these organizations are not-for-profit and survive as a result of rental revenue. Here's some more info on my own search and the venue we ultimately chose.

Our ceremony was held at the Peristyle in New Orleans' City Park, which was flooded in Hurricane Katrina. Rental fees go toward restoring the historic park. Photo Fine Arts Exposure.
3. Saying Yes to the Dress There are several fantastic and affordable options for finding dresses that are eco-friendly, charitable or both! A few of my favorites are the Brides Against Cancer Tour of Gowns and New York City's charitable shop, the Bridal Garden. You can also commission a gown from a designer who gives back. Remember, it doesn't have to stop with your attire either, there are some great options that give back for the groom, groomsmen, flower girls and bridesmaids. Also, it's not over until it's over — donate your dress and give it a second home. Here are some options for finding a socially conscious dress or donating your own.

4. Food (& Spirit) with Thought When looking for a caterer or baker ask them about their sustainable practices. Can you donate leftover reception food or cake to a local shelter? Is the food sourced locally? Can they provide vegetarian and vegan options? Culinary training programs, like DC's Fresh Start Catering or ProStart give future chefs the chance to sharpen their skills.  You get excellent food for what is often a much lower cost than a traditional caterer. Additionally, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of charitable wines, beers and liquors to get you in the 'spirit" of giving.

5. Smile & Say Charity! Modern weddings involve lots of photo-ops. There are engagement photos, bridal portraits, rehearsal dinner pictures and of course, the wedding day shots. And don't forget videography too. Share your socially conscious mission with prospective vendors and see what ideas they come up with. Our engagement photographer did our session in exchange for a donation to the charity of our choice.   Our rehearsal photographers, Dear New Orleans (now Dear World), had a for-benefit model in which 10% of their fee went to The wedding photographer decided to donate 1/5 of her fee to SmileTrain, and our videographer produced a PSA for New Orleans' Women's Shelter with the money we paid for their services. We didn't set out to ask anyone to go above and beyond, but by sharing our mission, we found lots of inspiring people who were excited to get on board.
This "Pinterest Famous" picture of my bridesmaids was taken at our rehearsal dinner by Dear New Orleans, who donated part of their fee to
6. Flowers, Invites & Music - oh my! These are the big three that can sneak up on you! You get the other basics down — venue, dress, photographer and there's still more to do. 
  • When meeting with your florist, ask about what flowers are in season, this will lower your cost and your footprint. When possible, reuse bouquets as decor and think of re-useable ideas for centerpieces. If you do go with flowers, you can opt for potted plants. Also, work with your florist to see if they will assist you in transporting your arrangements to a hospital, nursing home or hospice after the wedding is over. 
  • Between the save-the-dates and the invitations, weddings can use a lot of paper. Consider video save-the-dates or ones that have dual purposes (magnets), etc. You can also inquire with your printer about recycled paper options. If you don't mind limiting the amount of paper sent with the invite (rsvp card, directions, etc.), you can do a digital rsvp (email) or go digital altogether. There are also shops that sell charitable paper products. Click here to learn about my charitable designer.

  • When looking for a DJ or band, it's great to think local. There are some great artists out there who also work as music educators and offer up their time to help others. Some artists who are more established are open to having gratuity delivered in the way of a donation to charities that benefit fellow artists, as well as music educators

My bouquet featured local flowers & cruelty-feathers (from my cousin's chickens) by Les Deux Soeurs, who picked up all the remaining arrangements and brought them to St. Francis Villa. Tree trunk cake stand made by my father from a neighbor's fallen tree. Photo by Fine Arts Exposure.
7. Making it About You — Do's & Dont's No, I'm not saying go all bridezilla, but the day should reflect you and yours. Don't get bent out of shape making everything perfect and socially conscious. Do get creative and look for things that are uniquely you and say something about how you as a couple hope to make a difference. By giving in a way that represents your love for each other, you will inspire others to have an impact too. So, whether it's a charitable registry or buying bridesmaid gifts that benefit a good cause, even small gestures can really make a difference.

If you would like to stay in touch and get tips on socially conscious living, from the honeymoon to home products, as well as a host of my other loves — journey over to The Little Rouge Hen ( coming later in 2014 (along with the Engaged with a Cause eguide)! If you have any questions on want more info on how to make your wedding more "green" or socially conscious, email us at 

Happy planning!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shop Small Business for Sandy Relief

As a lot of you know, I am no stranger to hurricanes. In fact I’m no stranger to planning an event in a hurricane. ( Which you might have learned from my  post on for Dance USA’s From the Green Room.)  Growing up in the New Orleans area meant that hurricane evacuations were as common for us as snow days are for our friends in the north. Brides along the Gulf Coast often avoid summer dates in hopes of their big day being spared from the deluge hurricanes bring. While I had my wedding at the tail-end of hurricane season, I was still lucky to be spared a major storm during the season. Had a hurricane hit, even months before my wedding day, my plans might have been sunk.

Recently, I had lunch with my friend Lauren who is from coastal New Jersey, which was one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. Both Lauren's sister and mother were deeply affected by the storm. Lauren's sister Julie, who lives in lower Manhattan, was just days a way from her wedding when Sandy barreled into New York.  With her apartment completely flooded, Julie still managed to make the walk down the aisle, despite last minute venue changes and hotel block cancellations. To learn more about Julie's ordeal you can check out her story in The New York Times. 

Still even harder hit, was Lauren's mother, Janie Feldman. Janie owns Paper Chase, a small wedding/gift shop located just two blocks from the Jersey shore.  Janie works personally with couples on their wedding paper needs, including shower and wedding invitations, save-the-dates, thank you cards, place cards, etc. While she doesn't make the invitations, (she retails products from a number of stationery/invitation companies), she does do in-house printing of programs and place cards. The store even includes a“cozy” invitation studio” where couples can select and personalize invites.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, the shop was completely flooded. Janie lost tens of thousands of dollars in inventory, as well as all fixtures and furniture in her store. She had very little flood insurance; so, the damage was not covered. Following the storm, the structure of the building itself had to be restored (the walls had to be cut so that moisture and mold could be removed, and then repaired and the carpet ripped up). 

During the clean-up process, there was an amazing outpouring of help and support from the community. Some were customers, some were just caring strangers. People came in off the streets to lend a hand and volunteer their time. Her employees, many of whom worked for her for over a decade, worked tirelessly on a volunteer basis to clean up the store and get it ready to reopen. Her manager made house calls so that they could continue to serve the needs of their wedding and other invitation customers.

Because of the extent of the damage, Janie was unsure as to whether she would be able to reopen the store. However, after seeing the outpouring of support and a true desire from the community for her store to continue and flourish, she decided she couldn't walk away. After being closed for more than six weeks, she re-opened a little over a week ago. 

So, if you are looking for the perfect invitations or maybe another wedding related item, you can visit Paper Chase online. The store also offers a bridal gift registry and has great options for bridesmaid/groomsmen gifts. Still have some last minute Christmas shopping to do? Well, the store is not limited to wedding items, as it sells a little bit of everything, including greeting cards children's toys, art, jewelry, handbags, housewares, etc. There's even a large selection of eco-friendly gift options.

What better way to shop for a cause than to help a local business get back on its feet! You still have time to make a big difference - after all there are still six shopping days til Christmas!

Here are a few of my favorite gift (or registry) ideas from Paper Chase online:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Books for A Better World

Some of you are probably all done with your holiday shopping.  I wish I was that organized. When we visited Louisiana in mid-November, my my mother-in-law already has all her presents bought, wrapped and awaiting their spot under the Christmas tree. Meanwhile, I had not begun my shopping. While I wish I was as on-top of the shopping as Ms. Donna and some of my more organized friends, my endless browsing has led me to find some exciting charitable ways to give this holiday season.

My nieces love books. Instead of toys, they are asking for - in no particular order - bubble wrap, pistachios, light bulbs and books. Yup, I wish everyone was as easy to please. While the first three items would surely make the girls squeal with delight, I'm opting to get them books. Andrew and I are avid readers ands books have played a big role in our lives, so I'm excited to share some of my old favorites and some new ones with the girls.

You might remember my nieces from this post.
 Photo Credit Fine Arts Exposure
During a recent chat with my friend Manda, I mentioned the items that I was looking for some Angelina Ballerina books for my niece Anna. Manda recommended that I check out Better World Books. Better World Book's concept is as simple as this - if you buy a book, they donate a book. The project, called Book for Book has led to the donation of over 6.4 million books! This number astounded me. 

 So, how can you support Better World Books? Every time you purchase a book from
, they donate a book to someone in need. The books they donate go through non-profit partners, including Books for Africa and Feed the Children

In addition to the Book for Book program, Books for a Better World has raised over $13 million for literacy including over $6 million for 80+ literacy and education nonprofits and $6.3 million for libraries nationwide. The site has contributed more than $2.7 million to college service clubs who have run book drives. A few of their other beneficiaries include Room to Read, the National Center for Family Literacy, Worldfund, the Robinson Community Learning Center and the New Orleans Public Library Foundation.
Students in Africa who received books through Books for Africa. 
Not only is the company charitably minded, but they are eco-conscious as well. As part of Better World Book's commitment to environmental sustainability, they never throw away a book. Any book they are not able to sell or donate is recycled. They have re-used or recycled over 93 million books. And yes- they have ebooks for sale too!

Better World Books has also reclaimed more than 900,000 pounds of metal shelving from libraries across the United States and as further proof of their eco-friendly practices, for just a few extra cents buyers have the option to be shipped carbon balanced. To date they have reached 33,000 tons of carbon offsets.

The organization also partners with 3Degrees, a leading green power and carbon balancing firm in order to ensure the carbon offsets and renewable energy credits (RECs) from wind farms. The carbon offsets support the Tatanka Wind Farm, a renewable-energy project in the Dakotas, which could potentially generate enough clean energy to power more than 60,000 homes according to

You can also donate your own used books to Book for A Better World. They will even reimburse you for the shipping you incur when sending them the books!

I couldn't be happier with my Books for a Better World experience. I know Anna will love her Angelina Ballerina books and that because of my purchase, three more children will have new books too. 

So, what does all this have to do with weddings? Well, it just so happens that as my attendant's gift for the last wedding I was involved in, I received a book. (You might remember Leah, the DIY bride, from my previous post.) Leah bought all of us Grace Bonney of Design Sponge's Design Sponge at Home - a DIY bible of sorts (available at here). It's full of fun and helpful DIY tips and every time I look through it not only will I be inspired, but I will think of Leah and her wedding day.

Books make great gifts and can be very personal ways to say thank you. In fact, we used Edward Monkton's A Lovely Love Story as our guest book. I've seen couples use a host of books as guest books - from books about art to books about French culture. One of my favorite shower gifts was the Bride & Groom; First & Forever Cookbook. My shower hostesses used the gorgeous hardcover cookbook as a Guest Book at my bridal shower. Instead of being a Guest Book that was stowed away after the wedding, the cookbook is a living part of our household, one that we use to cook together regularly.  You could buy this lovely book as a gift - and help others! There are a whole host of wedding books available on Better World Books for anyone planning a wedding or looking for a gift for someone who is.  There are still 15 days til Christmas, so happy shopping!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Doing Good by DIY

Last week I dished on the delicious and charitably minded food at my dear friend Leah's wedding reception. As promised, here is my mini-interview with the fabulously eco-friendly bride, who also happens to be a talented interior designer and DIY master. 

All photos by Bonnie Sen.
Can you tell me about some of the eco/charitable elements of your wedding? 
A large percentage of the decor was made from recycled or found materials.  A family friend cut all of the bottles to use as candleholders for the table centerpieces. I think the wine bottles turned out amazing. Our friends and family really  pitched in to drink up for the sake of the wedding decor.

What about flowers? How did you ensure your flowers were eco-friendly?
We used succulents and mums (which were in season too)  instead of cut flowers throughout. The idea was that guests could take a piece of the wedding home, instead of using fresh cut flowers that don't usually last more than a week.

What were your three  favorite DIY items that were eco-friendly or reusable?
The string balloons, which were a labor of love. We redid them about three times. The formulas for the glue I found did not take into account Louisiana humidity. We ended up adding cornstarch to the mixture the third time they collapsed and that did the trick. The wood circles were a favorite too, a neighbor had been meaning to get rid of an old fallen tree for some time, and donated the woodcuts. Instead of plastic we used the wood to catch the candle wax.

Homemade globes provide a great photo backdrop that's also reusable.
I really loved the Huppah! Family friends donated weekends to help with everything, and this was something that ended up being a wonderful group effort. Some of the fabric was new, and a good bit was salvaged material from thrift stores around Baton Rouge. 

The Huppah in daylight- still gorgeous!

Any other reusable favorites that other brides could reuse?
The mason jars for the signature cocktail added a nice touch to the overall feel of the backyard affair, and will be reusable for the next party. We also decided on beer kegs instead of bottled or canned beer to cut down on waste.

How did you limit paper products?
 The chalkboards not only added a nice tone to the backyard feeling, but we saved paper by not having to print programs and menus, etc. There was also a huge monetary savings to not having to design and print all the programs and menus that just end up as landfill later. We did not send reply cards with the invitations. Instead we asked that guest reply to our wedding online. We were able to reduce our footprint a little further by doing so.  

Now for some more great closing shots for your own DIY inspiration... 

Yup, more food - even after last week's post was dedicated to food...
it was a Louisiana wedding after all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Food for Thought

I recently had the pleasure of attending my dear friend Leah’s wedding. Leah is another Louisiana transplant living in DC. We met via our hubbies who were childhood best friends. I knew Leah & Adam’s wedding would be picture perfect. As an interior designer, Leah has impeccable taste. Anyone can tell you she is also a DIY Queen with a big heart – two things that were apparent in all aspects of the wedding.
Adam & Leah and their Oskar! 
Oh yeah...and she's gorgeous too.

There were so many beautiful, unique and personal elements to Leah's wedding, I can't fit everything into one post! So, in light of the Thanksgiving holiday being just around the corner, I thought I'd start off with a post on the charitable and DIY food elements from Adam & Leah's big day.

The appetizer spread. Photos Bonnie Sen. 
Saying that the food was phenomenal would be an understatement. In truth, the praline catfish was downright addictive. Having good food at a Louisiana wedding is not out of the ordinary, but what made Adam & Leah’s wedding buffet extraordinary was that it was prepared by students from the ProStart Culinary Program.

The ProStart Culinary Program is a nationwide, two year program that trains high school students for professional work in the food service industry. Essentially, the program aims to "bring the industry and the classroom together" to facilitate hands-on learning and training. Students in the program learn culinary techniques and management skills through real-world educational opportunities. ProStart is supported by the National Restaurant Association and state chapters. Currently, there are over 50 high school programs and more than 1,200 students enrolled across the country. For many students who are not pursuing the traditional college track, the ProStart Program gives them real world experience and transferable skills.

Leah's mother, Susan, had the brilliant idea to use the ProStart program to cater Leah and Adam's wedding. Susan is an art teacher at Woodlawn High School in Baton Rouge Louisiana and many of her talented art students are in the ProStart program. The students often brought Susan delicious things they cooked from across the hall. So, she got to thinking and asked Mr. Steve Oubre, the culinary teacher at Woodlawn, if the students would be up to the challenge of catering a real wedding. Prior to his teaching career, Mr. Oubre had a small catering business and he was sure his students would be up to the challenge. So, Leah, Adam and her mom talked about the option and thought it would be wonderful to make a donation to the school’s program. Not only did the student participants gain some real world industry experience, but Adam and Leah were able to create their very own custom menu along with the chef and the kids in the program.

Some of the Woodlawn High ProStart students having fun in the Red Eye photobooth. 
Another fantastic foodie element from Adam and Leah's wedding was their dessert table. Adam and Leah opted out of the huge expense of a traditional wedding cake and instead they ordered several little (and very delicious) cakes from a local bakery. The cakes they ordered were small, so they decided to add a few pies to the mix. To make things even more personal, they asked their friends and family to bake their favorites.
Leah was delighted with the variety and the fact that people got to share a little piece of themselves, saying"Everyone brought something unique and special that represented them. My Gigi made her apple pie, of course your chai spice pie - so unique and delicious (I made a pie with my sister, for the recipe click here), we had pumpkin, and pecan, and raspberry, and even a lemon tarte. My best friend Alice's father made his famous blackberry pie with blackberries from his own backyard vine. It felt very personal I think, having so many wonderful friends and family members contribute."

The pies were just the tip of the DIY iceberg at Leah & Adam's wedding. Stay tuned next week for DIY design & decor tips from my interview with Leah and more amazing pictures by her photographer, Bonnie Sen- including some cute pics of the oh-so-photogenic Oskar (below). Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricanes, Halloween & Weddings: Getting in the Spirit

With Halloween just around the corner and Sandy (aka Frankenstorm) looming, there is definitely an eerie, albeit mixed mood about. Some people are stocking up on staples like toilet paper, jugs of water and batteries, while others in my neighborhood are buying Halloween decorations, pumpkins and candy corn. One thing both groups are buying up is alcohol, lots and lots of alcohol.

Like any good Louisianian, I know that a cocktail or two or five is the perfect way to pass the time during a storm. After all, one of New Orleans' most famous drinks is the Hurricane. (Click here for my sister's delicious Hurricane recipe). To be honest, New Orleanians don't really need an excuse to imbibe, it's a pretty regular occurrence- especially during a Saints' season like the current one, but aside from Mardi Gras and Hurricanes, New Orleans weddings often take the cake or er...bottle.

I've blogged on charitable wines and beers, but this got me thinking- are there any charitable liquors out there? Well, it just so happens there is at least one boozy way to give back via your big day (or at your Hurricane Party).

Heroes Vodka was founded by Veteran Marine Travis McVey and buisnessman R.S. Lipman and is billed as the "Official Spirit of a Grateful Nation." Bottled on 11.11.11 (Veteran's Day), a portion of proceeds from all sales of the vodka go to support veterans and other service organizations. In keeping with McVey's mission, The Heroes Giveback program aims to honor veterans and service organizations based in the US. Every year on Veterans Day, Heroes Vodka announces it "Giveback Partners" for the year. Heroes vodka supports these partners with direct contributions and in-kind donations for events and fundraisers.

In 2012 Heroes Vodka Giveback partnered with Operation Troop Aid, which provides care packages to service members with funds generated through concert promotions and donations. Since 2005, Troop Aid has sent over two million dollars in goods to soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Heroes Vodka also partnered with Nashville based organization, Operation Stand Down (OSDN), which provides social services for veterans.  OSDN offers a full complement of services to veterans. The four major components of the program include: a Service Center, employment services, transitional housing and the annual stand down event. Since 1993, every fall a coalition of over 50 Nashville organizations has worked together to hold a three-day event that provides outreach, information and services for the region's homeless veterans.  
John Daly's at our reception. Photo credit: Fine Arts Exposure
If you're choosing to serve alcohol at your wedding, keep Heroes Vodka in mind. Ask your vendor if they can stock it or if you can bring it in to use for a signature cocktail. Our signature cocktail at our wedding reception was a John Daly (aka a vodka spiked Arnold Palmer). It's a simple recipe and perfect for a late summer or early fall wedding. The mason jars give the perfect (eco-friendly) touch too.

Here's the recipe:

1 1/2 ounce Heroes Vodka
1 Part Iced Tea
1 Part Lemonade
1 lemon wedge

In the "spirit" of the Halloween season with the backdrop of Hurricane Sandy's relentless rain, I hope everyone enjoys a nice (charitable) cocktail and stays safe and dry. Drink charitably & responsibly!

Monday, October 15, 2012

One Year Later

Today is our one year wedding anniversary. In some ways, I can't believe it has already been one year and in others- it feels like much longer than that. Maybe because we've been together about six!
With this milestone anniversary, there comes a certain nostalgia for the wedding day and other things of the past, but it is also a nice time to look ahead and think of what is in store for us and all the adventures we want to take together.
As you all know, philanthropy was a big aspect of our wedding day- it touched all aspects of planning from the cake to the bridesmaid dresses to the photography. 
Our first dance to George Harrison's "If Not For You." Photo: Fine Arts Exposure
Unlike the last slice of wedding cake we plan to eat tonight or the wedding accessories that have already achieved heirloom status, the charitable element of our wedding is very much alive and well. In fact, it is a defining aspect of our marriage. 
My husband is the kindest man I know and that is saying a lot- because we are blessed with many wonderful and thoughtful family members and friends. His patience and big heart encourage me to be a better person. Just as my passion for helping others and getting the word out on important causes has influenced him.
So, it is only fitting that for our first anniversary- our "paper" anniversary, we decided together to make a small donation to a very special cause. If there is one issue that pulls our heart strings more than any other it is education, particularly the education of young girls.
Two weeks ago, we caught the end of Nicholas Kristof's documentary Half the Sky, which was based on Kristof's book with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. The film confronted a host of issues addressing women across the globe ranging from women's health issues to gender based violence to sex trafficking.

All the organizations featured were unbelievably inspiring. The Somaly Mam Foundation in particular really struck us. Co-founded by sex slavery survivor and ardent activist, Somaly Mam, the Foundation works to eradicate sex slavery by liberating, empowering and educating survivors. Many of the survivors go on to become change agents themselves, thus furthering the non-profit's mission.
With the multi-billion dollar human trafficking industry growing stronger and stronger (it's the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world), it is vital that this global crisis be stopped. Some estimates have suggested that around two million women and children are sold into sex-slavery each year. The Foundation supports rescue operations, shelter services and rehabilitation programs in Southeast Asia. Additionally, the Somaly Mam Foundation runs advocacy campaigns to bring awareness of the issue.
Somaly Mam and her girls. Photo found online.
Together we decided that the best paper gift we could give would be a charitable receipt from The Somaly Mam Foundation. Looking ahead, we know this is just the beginning of our involvement and dedication to supporting those combatting this troubling and difficult issue. 
Yes, I know this is a rather heavy topic to write about on my wedding anniversary, but when I think of all the happiness and good fortune we have had in our lives, it only feels right to focus on those who have not had the chances we have had. This is not to say that we didn't get each other little gifts as well. 
As I sit here and typing and looking at the beautiful orange flowers Andrew surprised me with, I'm reminded of the thoughtful little gestures that make up our life together. Tonight, we will enjoy a bottle of champagne from a dear friend, a cheap sushi dinner, and a slice of year old wedding cake as well as the knowledge that we are making a small difference- together. While our donation is not a large one and our wedding day was just one day- we hope the sentiment of it all strikes a cord with others and that as a result, more weddings and anniversaries will celebrate the love of others just as they celebrate the love between two people.