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Friday, December 31, 2010

Tie One On

Check out Dale Irvin’s Tittle and Jots column in the print edition of the January 2011 Wedding Issue of Country Roads Magazine where my blog is featured! Special Thanks to Caroline Gerdes for helping make the interview happen! The January 2011 issue isn't up on the website yet, but I'll put up a link as soon as it is!

Tonight is New Year’s Eve, an evening that is often celebrated with a glass of champagne.  In addition to being associated with drinking, New Year’s Eve is also a night to get dressed to the nines and sport a stylish new outfit.  When the fireworks go off and the crowd begins to sing auld lang syne most ladies picture themselves in sparkly new dresses. Well, what about the guys?

As with weddings, often times the man’s wardrobe is overlooked.  A tux is a tux, right? Well, not exactly- nowadays there are tons of options. Many grooms are opting for a more casual look and wearing suits instead of the more formal tux.  Still, even suits can look a bit uniform, especially when in the standard black. Luckily, bow and neck tie designers have taken note and launched lines of unique ties. In some cases, the ties even serve a higher purpose - giving back to those in need.

FIGS is an upscale online store that sells both bowties and ties that can be customized for the big day. They offer a large variety of ties in a multitude of colors and patterns and even sell a line of ties at the Whitney Museum. The main reason that they are being featured here, however, is FIGS’s “Threads for Threads” mission. Basically, for every tie that is purchased, FIGS donates a school uniform to a child in need! While the ties and bow ties are a bit pricey, you are essentially buying a tie for yourself and a school uniform for a child in Eastern Africa.  This option is great for people with a larger budget, for weddings with fewer groomsmen or when tux/suit rental is not required.

I was also excited to find out that a similar concept was in play closer to home. NOLA Couture, a New Orleans based tie maker, features New Orleans themed ties that benefit various local charities. For example, NOLA Couture is donating $5 from each sale of their Pelican Ties to the Audubon Institute's Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program and when someone purchases the Shrimp Cocktail or Gulf OysterTies, $5 is donated to the Gulf Oil Spill Cleanup Fund.  The website also encourages people to submit charities aiding the Louisiana wetlands that could also benefit from NOLA Couture’s unique tie philanthropy.
NOLA Couture's featured Gulf Oyster Tie

Here are a few of the charities that benefit from NOLA Couture's creative philanthropy:

I'd love to find out more unique ways that the groom and groomsmen can show their personalities and also help others.  Looking forward to your emails and comments! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gifts That Can Change the World

My apologies for the delay in posting! Like many of you, I was caught in a whirlwind of Christmas activities and travel.  Since our flight from DC to New Orleans, my fiancĂ© and I have spent our time criss-crossing southern Louisiana, trying to split our time between our two families and share our good news.

After over a thousand miles of travel, four Christmases and at least two more to go, we also still have  New Year’s Eve and our engagement party ahead of us.  During all this celebrating we have been so grateful for the time with family, but we have also been accumulating a lot of stuff- and I mean A LOT of stuff.  Not just presents, but stocking knock-knacks, and prizes from my family’s holiday schnecke  (A German party game). 

When surveying what to ship and what to schlep back to DC, I got to thinking about wedding related gift giving- registries, bridal party gifts and wedding favors.  All too often, particularly with favors, we give people things we wouldn’t want ourselves- like a coozie or magnet with other people’s names on it.  Sure, these knick-knacks can be cute and even useful, but often times they just end up collecting dust or in the trash.

One of my favorite Christmas gifts that I received this year was a necklace from my best friend Christin, who is also one of my lovely bridesmaids.  She did a large portion of her Christmas shopping at online sites that benefited charities and causes. My gift from Christin, a Falling Whistle, is a necklace that looks like a whistle, which it is in a sense, but even more importantly, it is a replica of the whistles used by child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Children who are still too young to carry a gun are given whistles to alert of the approaching enemy. 

The Falling Whistle necklace

Over the last decade more than six million people have died in the Congo, and nearly 1,500 lose their lives daily. Sexual violence is more rampant in the Congo than anywhere else in the world, and thousands of children are forced into the war. 100% of the profits from the sales of the Falling Whistle necklaces go to helping war-affected kids through rehabilitation programs and stateside advocacy.

This is just one example of many fantastic social entrepreneurship type programs that use the sale of goods to benefit a cause.  Recently, my friend Beth (who is also engaged) sent me a fantastic article from CNN about buying gifts that help others. 

The following list of a few of the organizations from the article is hardly exhaustive, but it provides links to a sampling of some of my favorite websites that offer great gift ideas that also benefit charity and/or the third world artisans making them:

Heifer International  works to end world hunger by donating farm animals, seeds, trees and educational training to families. (Note: I'm thinking about making a donation to Heifer International in lieu of favors).

Nest is a nonprofit that provides micro-loans to female artists and then sells their artwork. (Great site for Bridesmaid gifts).

A Nest Artisan and a super cute Nest clutch.
Ten Thousand Villages is a fair trade retailer that promotes handmade artwork from all over the world.

Global Goods Partners is a nonprofit that helps women in Asia, Africa and the Americas that sells eco-friendly bracelets made of recycled papers and earrings made of seeds. (Also great for bridesmaid gifts, as well as wedding day jewelery). 

Housing Works is a site that offers bargains on second-hand designer items and benefits a community-based service organization that works to assist HIV/AIDS patients in New York.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Put on your dancing shoes!

Today's guest post is brought to you by my ever-sassy and stylish little sister Caroline.  In addition to being my Maid of Honor, Caroline is a journalist and the Editor in chief of LSU's Legacy Magazine

I do not enjoy Katherine Heigl movies.  But, somehow I am living in one.  Next year, I am in three weddings and I am only twenty-one – and nowhere near matrimony. 

My bridesmaid dress (just kidding). Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses
 How does this happen? My sister, cousin and family friend are all in their mid-20s, of age and monogamous.

I am serving as Maid of Honor in my sister Julie’s wedding and I am very excited!  I am doubly excited because Julie, true to form, is planning a fabulous wedding and giving back while doing it.  St. Julie is the best big sister anyone can ask for, so I want to do whatever I can to help her day be special: including guest blogging on her site. 

It should be noted that while this is my first blog, these are my second, third and fourth weddings as a bridesmaid.  So, now that I know the lay of bridesmaid land, I can help Julie find ways for her bridal party to give back. 

One way the bridal party can give back is with reception shoes.

What are reception shoes you may ask?  Growing up in Louisiana, when high heels hurt on the dance floor, you groove barefoot.  But in other places, where public barefootedness is frowned upon, brides supply their maids with a comfortable change. 

Don’t be embarrassed for not knowing, I didn’t either when I served as bridesmaid for a cousin a few years back.  I was the only barefoot bridesmaid without sparkly pink flip-flops on – very embarrassing.  But, I digress. 

TOMS could be a great idea for a reception shoe!  For those of you who aren’t familiar with TOMS shoes, they are an eco-friendly shoe with the slogan “one for one.” This means every one pair of shoes you buy, another goes to a child in a developing country!  Pretty cool, huh?  And they come in a rainbow of colors (some even in sassy glitter), perfect for any wedding palette. 

And, TOMS actually is a big promoter of weddings.  If you go to their website you can find a whole wedding section! Here, you can shop (white sparkly bridal TOMS available) or find other ideas for how to incorporate TOMS into your wedding!

Editor's note: TOMS shoes are a great alternative for groomsmen who loathe dress shoes.  Alicia McDonald of The Charity Wedding has a great blog about how her fiance chose TOMS for their big day.


Please enjoy this TOMS video by the very talented Kristina Perkins- photographer, philanthropist and all around cool chick.  TOMS were Kristina's "official travel shoe" for her Greyhound trip across the country.  Find out more on her website.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Helping Others by Saying Yes to the Dress!

I spent my Thanksgiving in New York City- yes, there was shopping involved, but it was also a great time with family and old friends.  It was the first time I got to spend time with my mom and two of my bridesmaids since I got engaged.

Our main shopping destination was a very unique bridal boutique in Manhattan’s Garment District. No, not the famous Kleinfeld’s from TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress,” but a smaller shop just a block over on 21st street.  The boutique is New York’s only non-profit bridal salon, The Bridal Garden

The Bridal Garden is a non-profit boutique where 100% of the profits go to helping fund education programs at the Brooklyn Charter School.  The concept is actually pretty simple, buy a designer dress at a discounted price and instead of paying the designer, your check goes directly to charity.  Hard to believe, right?

 So, how does this work? Many of the dresses in the shops are designer samples and others are lightly worn, aka donated by brides after their weddings. Yet, some of the dresses available at the Bridal Garden are donated directly from the designer and have never even been worn. Their website features a laundry list of designers that they might be carrying at any given time.

The shop accepts clients on an appointment only basis.  I made my appointment well in advance, thinking that there might be a lot of brides doing their shopping in New York City during Thanksgiving.  My appointment was at 1 pm. After a ride up the rickety elevator to the ninth floor, I found myself in a hallway that more resembled a school hallway than one at a bridal salon. At first I wondered if I was in the right place, but I followed the sounds of laughter and chatter and quickly found the showroom.

When I entered, I was greeted by Gina, the salon’s resident style expert, who showed me how the room was organized. She explained that the dress racks were separated by sleeves/sleeveless, and that size eight dresses and below were to the left and size 10 dresses and up were to the right.  Then she invited us to pull what we wanted and get started. It was not your typical bridal salon experience.  To me, it was more like a treasure hunt.

During my appointment (which went way over the allotted time) I easily tried on thirty dresses! I did find one that I really liked, but I wasn’t sure it was the one.  Gina and Corrinne, the resident seamstress, showed me how they could fix minor flaws in the beading and also how the back could be altered for more of a dramatic plunge.  The discounted price of the gown was $1,100, but Gina was quick to cut the price to just $750!

Still, I wasn’t 100% sure that this was the dress.  I went into the shopping experience not expecting to care much about what I was wearing, but I realized that it did matter, at least a little bit, to me. Needing time to think, I put down a $35 deposit, which I was told would go directly to Brooklyn Charter School if I didn’t buy the dress. I was relieved to know that no matter what, I would be making at least some contribution to this great cause!

In the end, I decided not to go back for the dress. I think the trip made me realize that while the dress isn’t everything- it is important to feel comfortable and confident while wearing it.  In my case I didn’t find a dress at Bridal Garden that fit the bill, but there were other brides there who seemed beyond happy with the results of their scavenger hunt.  I plan to return to the Bridal Garden and look again in February if I don’t find a dress before then. I’m also hoping to go to a Brides Against Cancer (BAC) charity dress sale in Pittsburgh in January. I’ll save information on this great organization for another post.

Above all this was a fantastic experience to share with my family.  My sister was a lifesaver- she helped me in and out of the dozens of dresses while my mom was on hanger duty.  Knowing that my family got to be there and that my deposit went to a good cause, made the whole thing worthwhile.  I can’t say enough about how inspiring the trip was and I encourage any bride-to-be to check out the Bridal Garden. You never know what you might find, but you can be sure that even if you don’t find “the one,” you can help others- either via a cash donation or by donating your dress after the wedding. 

The next post will come from my lovely sister, who in addition to being a superb helper in the dressing room, is also an accomplished editor, writer, journalist and my Maid of Honor.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Where's the Party? (Part II)

Since my reception venue search was primarily downtown, I’ll continue from there.  First I'd like to note that there are tons of sites in the Warehouse District that are not to be missed, including the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, dozens of chic galleries featuring local artists, and some great historic spaces.  Rather than gloss over them, I’d like to save them for a later post. 

It’s hard to talk about the riverfront in New Orleans without mentioning the stunning Aquarium of the Americas.  Even though the downtown riverfront was largely spared during Katrina because it is the “high ground” of New Orleans, the Aquarium took a big hit, losing fish and other marine animals when the generators failed. Zoos and aquariums rallied around the Aquarium and today it is again a thriving eco-system and one of the top aquariums in the country.  It also just so happens that the aquarium is a fantastic site for a wedding or reception.  Run by the Audubon Institute, sales from the facility rentals go to helping the zoo and aquarium.  Your dollars give back to New Orleans and the Aquarium itself- and there is a fantastic view of the Mississippi.  My fiancĂ© and I are not fish fanatics, but we gave this serious consideration.

Sharks! At the Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans, LA.
 Next, there is the Louisiana Children’s Museum (LCM). This quirky, non-traditional space comes complete with toys, games and a state-of-the art performance space.  It could be the perfect place for a funky, off beat couple or someone expecting a lot of kids at their reception. Sales and rentals of the facility help fund the not-for-profit museum that reaches thousands of kids via its outreach programs

An event at the LCM
 Now, for the big reveal.  After visiting a ton of great spaces, both for-profit and not-for-profit, we decided to have our reception at The Foundry.  The building dates all the way back to 1719 and has been used as everything from an actual foundry to a brewery to an event hall.  So, why after so many great non-profits did we choose to go with an event venue? Personally we struggled with this decision, but planning a wedding from out-of-state made an all-inclusive package like the one offered by The Foundry too good to pass up.  

An event at The Foundry, New Orleans, LA
Also, with a wedding of our size, the Foundry’s large capacity was a relief.  The final reason we chose The Foundry though, were the people who worked their, including the owner Chef Horst Pfeifer, who was honored in 2009 as a Culinary Humanitarian for his actions following Hurricane Katrina.  After Katrina, Horst provided food and shelter for first responders at The Foundry. He also provided a complimentary Thanksgiving Dinner after Katrina with the help of the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff's Office, feeding 10,000 people.  

Today, The Foundry also serves many non-profit groups throughout the city, providing the venue to many local schools, auction houses, city organizations, business councils and other organizations in need, offering discount or waived rental rates for those hosting fundraisers.   This giving spirit made us feel that choosing The Foundry for our reception was in fact very true to our mission and a great way to support a venue that helps so many non-profits in the city.

So, having chosen our reception venue and covered some other great ones in the blog, it is important to note that there are even more out there! New Orleans is full of absolutely fabulous places to have a wedding.  My list is by no means exhaustive and I would love, love, love to hear from others who got married in New Orleans and have them share info about where they said “I do.” I'd also love to hear about other "venues for a cause" and culinary humanitarians all over the world. So, please share if you know of any.  I'll have more information on The Foundry and other venues to come!

But, up next: Did I Say Yes to the Dress In NYC?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Where's the Party? (Part I)

The ceremony should be beautiful- after all it is a heartfelt reflection of you and your beloved’s commitment to one another. The reception, on the other hand, is where you throw the party of a lifetime- the one you’ve always wanted to go to- plus it has all your closest friends and family, favorite foods and music. 

So, where to start? Well, we knew we wanted to start in New Orleans, so we looked at tons of amazing sites all over the city. Yet we were restricted because we needed to find a venue that was large enough for at least 250 people!

We decided to focus our search to the New Orleans downtown area- basically the French Quarter and the Warehouse District.  While the Quarter is notorious for a good time and full of great hotels, restaurants and venues, we found that our large guest list prohibited us from using certain venues, particularly courtyards.

The Warehouse District ended up being a perfect fit.  It runs alongside the Mississippi river between New Orleans’ Central Business District (CBD) and the Lower Garden District.  It is full of old grain storage facilities and other industrial buildings that once thrived when the city was in its hey-day as a bustling port city.  Today, many of these buildings have been renovated to meet New Orleans' modern #1 industry: tourism.

The Warehouse District is full of museums, like the National D-Day Museum and the Contemporary Arts Center, as well as numerous hotels, event facilities and art galleries.   In keeping with our mission to give back via our wedding, we immediately began researching the available venue spaces.  These are just three of the great venues that we found that also benefit great causes.  Click on them to find out more:

The National D-Day Museum is host to many events, but almost no weddings. We checked it out because my grandfather was one of the original carpenters for the Higgins’ boats that landed in Normandy during the invasion.  The decor wasn't quite our style, but it could be the perfect venue for a couple of history buffs who want their wedding reception to help preserve the past by providing funds for the nation’s largest WW2 museum.

The D-Day Museum

Preservation Hall has served as a venue for some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time and it also doubles as a tavern, inn, photo studio and an art gallery.  While not a not-for-profit, Preservation Hall serves an important mission: preserving New Orleans’ rich musical history, while educating a new generation of young musicians.  In the end, its 125-person capacity was just too small to accommodate us, but it could be a great venue for a smaller wedding.

Preservation Hall

 The Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) has awarded $350,000 in grants since Hurricane Katrina to individual New Orleans' artists who were affected by Hurricane Katrina through the CAC Theatre Arts Fund and the SweetArts Katrina Fund. The CAC's education department also helps over 10,000 children and adults annually, including those with special needs and those from economically deprived backgrounds. We loved the CAC, but unfortunately they were unavailable for rent the weekend of our wedding because of their annual gala.  

Since this post is a tad on the long side, I'll leave it as a cliffhanger. In the next post, I'll provide even more information on other great venues and finally reveal our reception site :)