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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Topping It All Off

During the planning process when I was feeling stressed my recently married friend Rach sat me down and explained the importance of delegating. “Your friends love you and want to help – you just have to let them,” she explained. She was right - I was stressed and I needed to delegate, but I wasn’t sure how to - especially when I had such a specific focus on finding all things charitable. After some thinking, I realized that it was more important to let my friends help me than for every single detail to be socially conscious.

One of the tasks that I decided to delegate was the wedding cake topper. My best friends Rach & Christin took on the task. Rach found a handmade nest made with recycled materials and Christin was tasked with finding two birds to go in the nest.

In her search, Christin discovered the BirdProject. Founded by Tippy Tippens, BirdProject grew from Tippy's desire to help the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of the BP Oil Spill. So, she moved down from New York to see how she could use her design background to make a difference. She then began the bird project- sculpting birds from Louisiana clay, and then covering them in black soap made by Sweet Olive Soap Works. The premise being that as you clean your clay bird, your little bird helps to clean you.

 Not only does the bird help you get clean- you can have a clean conscience too- 50% of the proceeds from the bird project go to the Gulf Restoration Network and International Bird Rescue. Also, the soap is vegan friendly and made with fair trade olive oil, glycerin, aloe, cypress scent, and activated black charcoal.

Once the soap is washed away, a small sculpture remains to “remind you of the natural world that still needs our help post-oil spill.” Sooo creative, right? I was super impressed by the concept and by the fact that my bestie Christin was able to find the BirdProject and even more impressed that she realized that the birds (minus the soap) would be great cake toppers!

Christin contacted Tippy because she wanted to buy just the birds and she didn’t feel right buying and wasting the soap. Tippy was eager to help with the charitable cake topper mission and actually donated two of her “prototype birds.” Since they were originals, I’m sure they were near and dear to Tippy’s heart, so I’d like to extend an extra big thanks to her. They've found a good home with us now :)
The little birds fit absolutely perfectly into the nest Rach bought and they will be keepsakes in our home for years to come.  Christin also bought some BirdProject temporary tattoos and an uber soft BirdProject bamboo wash cloth featuring the project's trademark blue and black birds, which I carried as my something blue. All these items would make great bridesmaid and hostess gifts too!

The tattoos were a big hit at the wedding...

 especially among the bridal party!

You can buy your own lovebirds, soaps, tattoos, and more online or at participating retailers in New Orleans, New York and beyond. More details are also available at Matter Design for Social Change, the parent company of the Bird Project.

Tippy launched Matter Design For Social Change as a low-profit limited liability company (L3C). L3C’s are a legal form of business entity in the United States that were created to bridge the gap between non-profit and for-profit investing by providing a structure that facilitates investments in socially beneficial, for-profit ventures while simplifying compliance with IRS rules for program related investments. In other words, L3C’s are small businesses that give back with creative solutions and projects. There are currently only 10 L3C's in Louisiana. Matter has just launched Rabbits for Reading, like the Bird Project, Rabbits for Reading uses tiny critters to promote a cause- only this time it’s literacy.

The Rabbits for Reading product is a napkin that folds into a Rabbit Puppet, or a “Rabbkin.” Twenty percent of profits from this project go to STAIR, a New Orleans based tutoring group that helps elementary school students succeed. The students involved with STAIR are in danger of academic failure and need this extra help to succeed. New Orleans' literacy rate is startling at a rate near 50%, with 1 out of 10 students graduating high school.

For this new product for social change, Tippy has teamed up with C├ęcile Thalmann and Adel Kassem, friends and designers based in Milano, Italy. Matter will create an initial “herd” of 500 Rabbkins in New Orleans, printed by Purple Monkey with eco-inks on fair trade cotton. If these sell well, the project will expand across the Atlantic and 20% will be donated to a correlating group in Italy as well.

As you can see, I underestimated my friends! It turns out that one of the most delightful (and unexpected) parts of the wedding experience was seeing how our nearest and dearest worked to support our mission.  I never would have had such a perfect cake topper if it hadn't been for Rachael's sage advice or Christin's awesomeness and endless creativity. So, if you are feeling like you are the only one who can do it all, I hope you'll remember my happy helper birds :) 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sweet Success

Our wedding was amazing. Honestly the whole weekend felt magical.  As Andrew put it " it was one of the best days of my [his] life."  I can’t even begin to describe how much joy we felt the entire time and how loved and supported the event made us feel. My only complaint is that it all went by much too fast. There are still a few reminders that the day actually happened – the photos on facebook, the new wedding rings on our fingers, and of course the delicious leftover cake in our fridge. (It made it all the way from New Orleans to DC through airport security!)

While I'd love to share every single detail with you right away - I figured I should take my time and not spill all the beans right away. So, in hopes of thanking and honoring the vendors, family and friends I didn't get to thank before the wedding, I'm going to take my time and thank and recognize them now - starting with the mastermind behind our delicious wedding cake.  

Sneak Peek of the Dress during our first dance! Photo by Duc Vu.
So, as you can see the cake was beautiful and I’m told by reliable sources (my friend who is a pastry chef) that it was also very tasty and very unique. Clearly the pistachio and raspberry layers and the marzipan paste exterior were not uber typical, but what made the cake even more special was that it was made by Maurice French Pastries. We chose this bakery, not just for their delicious confections, but for their work in the New Orleans community.

When you go into Maurice’s, two things are immediately apparent: 1) the delicious smells of warm bread and cakes are making your mouth water and 2) this is a bakery owned by someone who cares for his fellow man (and animal).
Breast Cancer Awareness Cupcakes at Maurice French Pastries.
The bakery is filled with signs advertising various raffles and many opportunities to donate to causes ranging from animal rescue to breast cancer awareness. Run by expert French baker Jean-Luc Albin, Maurice's is a south Louisiana staple. While they are well known for their treats, the service they do for others is done under the radar.
A raffle basket of goodies at Maurice's for a good cause!
When I approached Jean Luc to discuss our wedding cake, he was warm and engaging and happy to share every detail from how to make pistachio European butter cream to how well different fresh fruits hold up unrefrigerated. Yet when asked about his charitable work, he is a bit more tight-lipped. You see, Jean-Luc is extremely humble about his giving and as he put it “he doesn’t want to brag.”

In hopes of honoring his wishes, but also letting people know a bit about the behind the scenes at Maurice’s, I thought I’d mention just a few of the things the bakery does for others. Maurice's helps in many ways, from making cakes and pastries free-of-charge for schools, churches and non-profits to donating the day’s unsold desserts to various organizations that help the needy and the homeless. An added bonus is that I was thrilled to learn that the leftovers from the cakes are often re-purposed, baked, and used to help feed those in need. It was an honor to work with Jean-Luc and his staff and I'm very glad we were able to support a great business that helps others every day.
Our wedding cake! Cake by: Jean-Luc Albin, Photo by: Fine Arts Exposure
Now all I have to do is stop myself from eating all of the leftover cake! We know we need to save a slice for next October 15, but that seems so far away and the cake is just so good! Luckily we left some back home with my parents. We’re hoping they’ll have the willpower to freeze us our anniversary slice!

Stay tuned for more wedding highlights! Next up: To Top It All Off – our charitable cake topper.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Final Countdown: Checking Off Our Charitable To-Do's (Part III)

I’m sitting on the 27th floor of Canal Place – the Westin Hotel actually. Overlooking the Mississippi River in New Orleans. I just got back from an a.m. jog and my sister and I are going out for breakfast. I’m enjoying the calm. Savoring the moment. At 10:30 a.m. everything will change, and I’m pretty sure the pace of the day will shift and things will get crazier. That’s when the bridesmaids and photographer arrive.

I can’t believe it’s finally October 15th and that by the end of day we will be married.

So, for my last three count down items –keeping with the fact that time is a bit limited, I’m going to give three more wedding to do’s to keep your stress level down during your socially conscious wedding.

3) Get by with a little help from your friends.  I can honestly say that today would not be possible without the support from our friends. Last night, at the rehearsal dinner, I was reminded how wonderful our friends are and how supportive they have been of our charitable mission. My friend Christin has bought me charitable gifts – falling whistle necklace and even picked out the charitable cake topper for our cake (more on that in another post). My friend Liz even made a donation to the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge (an arts non-profit) in our name. In fact, my entire Hen Party has chipped in – from a book drive to purchasing charitable chocolate. As I watched them line up to write us messages and well wishes last night at the Dear New Orleans Photo Booth (which benefits, I was touched by their generosity, love and creativity. I just want to tell them all THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

2) Keep your family close (but not always too close). Yes, it can be challenging to get along at all times, especially in times of stress, but you need to rely on them. Without my parents – and Andrew’s parents, our big day would not have happened (obviously). Their continued support has made it possible. My mom has bent over backwards to find ways to make the wedding charitable because she knows it matters to me – searching for a bakery that gives back or a bridal robe made out of socially conscious materials. My dad has written a lot of checks and a lot of them have been to charities – both for the wedding and because that is how he is. I really attribute my values and desire to help others to them. My sister has also been amazing- finding charitable favors and leading my hen party throughout the past year. Her guest blogs have helped me keep the blog going even when I was extremely busy with planning and work. She has been my constant. I also think about my extended family and the eco-conscious shower my cousins threw me – with the tiny succulent favors and the recycled paper invitations.

1) Finally, spend time with "the one." I’m not even sure where to start. The past year has been a whirlwind for Andrew and I. Our once quiet evenings have been taken over by wedding related phone calls, constant updates to the guest list and thank you note writing. While this could be a stressful process – and it has been at times- Andrew has always kept me grounded and I hope I have done the same for him. I can say that without a doubt –without him – I would not have been able to make my dreams come true – my dream of marrying him of course, but also my dream of using this day to give back. He has given me what I didn’t think existed absolute 100% support and unconditional love. The perspective he’s given has been instrumental. When I get lost in thinking we haven’t made enough of an impact, he points out that the important thing is that we’ve made some impact. He reminds me that our goal is to help people see the little ways things can be made better – not to do it all ourselves. I feel unbelieveably lucky to have Andrew. He is my rock. Thank you Andrew for scoping out charitable musicians, for setting up our charitable website and also for just being you.

Wish us luck- it’s almost time to walk down the aisle. On a final note, happy 61st anniversary to my Oma – who would have been married 61 years today.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Final Countdown: Checking Off Our Charitable To-Do's (Part II)

So the wedding is getting close-really close. I’ll admit I’m stressing more than just a little. I can’t believe its only days away. So, here are three more important charitable to-do's to help take the wedding edge off.

6.) Get Moving! Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and to shed a few pre-wedding pounds. I’ve been working out at Results Gym pretty regularly for the past couple of years, but with the wedding just around the corner, I decided to try a few new classes.  During one of my Saturday morning classes, I noticed a sign at the gym for Mission: Results. Thinking it was a new class I took a closer look. Well, I discovered that the mission was not a better booty - it was actually a relief project for the people of Haiti.

The Results team in Haiti.
Results Gym and STROGA teamed with the Global Volunteer Network to send three teams of volunteers to Haiti to work with a group of orphans outside Port au Prince, Haiti. Mission Results is committed to making a difference in the lives of these children by providing adequate shelter, sanitary living conditions and education. Together the group worked to build a new site for the children so they could be safe and live in sanitary conditions. 

I’d heard of races for a cause, but never a gym with a cause. I’m happy to be a member of such a great organization.

5.) Get out!  It’s easy to get bogged down writing thank you notes and triple-checking the guest list. It’s important to maintain some sort of social like for you and your fiance’s sanity though. It’s especially nice when you can attend an event that helps others too. Living in DC there are tons and I mean tons of events that benefit non-profits. It just so happens that this Friday (during my rehearsal dinner) Nest, an organization that is near and dear to my heart, will be hosting their annual Nestination event. 

The event, which will be held at Indique Heights Restaurant in DC, will weave a combination of cultural activities such as traditional artisan demonstrations (ikat, block printing and beading), henna station, welcome traditions including bindis and marigold strands, Bollywood Dancers, a sitar player, samplings of Indian cuisine and a special speech delivered by The Indian Ambassador or appointed Indian Embassy Representative. You will also be able to walk through a re-created Bazaar, which will feature over 400 products that have been hand-made by the women of India. Click on these links to learn more about Nest or to purchase Tickets, click here. While I’ll be in New Orleans for my rehearsal dinner – I really wish I could be at both things. It’s sure to be a fun night full of wonderful food and fascinating culture.

4) Get Pampered! My mom and I went to the spa today to get manicured and waxed. It was as delightful as it sounds. We had a great time and picked out some pretty snazzy polishes. While checking out, I was amazed to see the breadth of products out there that benefit breast cancer research. Yes, I know it’s October and that pink ribbons can be found everywhere, which is exactly what makes it easy to miss some of the great products out there.

One cool pink ribbon related product that I ran across was AHAVA's bath salts. The bath salts contain 21 different minerals straight from the Dead Sea, all of which are supposed to relieve stress, soothe tired muscles and leave your skin feeling moisturized. Sounds pretty great, right? For every container bought in October, the company will make a donation to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, to help promote education and early detection.  To buy these snazzy salts, visit

I also got to try out Aveda Breast Cancer Awareness Hand Relief today. The lotion smelled amazing and felt like silk – I kid you not. This limited edition hand lotion claims to “soften and smooth while diminishing signs of aging.” The company will donate $4 from the sale of each lotion to fund cruelty-free research through the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The lotion can be found at Aveda salons and on

On that note, I think it is the perfect time to draw a hot bath and call it a night. Stuffing favor bags will have to wait until the morning. Stay tuned for the final countdown!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Final Countdown: Checking Off Our Charitable To-Do's (Part I)

In the last weeks leading up to our wedding I've found it hard to take time to stop and smell the roses. There's a lot of whizzing around checking items on the to-do list and little time for reflection. It seems like the time right before getting married should be all about pausing to think and take a moment to appreciate what was and what will be. Maybe I'll get there next week...

Anyway, while I haven't been taking time to smell the roses, I have been enjoying seeing some of our work to make our wedding charitable and socially conscious paying off. It's been nice to know we're making an impact. I've also learned about quite a few organizations that are doing great things to help others. So, in true pre-wedding rush fashion, with nine days left until the wedding, I decided to make my readers a nine item to-do list of ways to cut stress and get wedding ready - in a charitable way.  Here are three important charitable to-do's:

9) Make Others Smile! Yes, I know this is cliche, but helping others smile will make you feel better. You'll also realize that your wedding woes are not the end of the world when you take a break and look at the big picture.  Just ask my wedding photographer Jessica Johanningmeier of Fine Arts Exposure. You might remember my June post, "Smile and Say Charity,"about Jessica's generosity.  For our wedding, Jessica decided to donate $500 of our photography payment to SmileTrain, an organization that provides free cleft palate surgery for
hundreds of thousands of poor children in third-world countries all across the globe. Well, it just so happens that Jessica just received a picture of a child who was helped by donations like hers. It really made my week. Here's the picture of the baby before and after!

He's so adorable. What an amazing organization!

8.) Find A Furry Friend There's something to be said about the therapy that comes from caring for a pet. Studies come out all the time about how having a pet makes you live longer and keeps you healthier. Well, what to do if you are a busy, stressed urban dweller like me? Borrow one and donate or volunteer to help animals in need! It will make you feel 10x better. In lieu of fancy favors, Andrew and I made a donation to the Gentle Barn this week. The Gentle Barn is currently home to 130 animals who were rescued from severe abuse, neglect or slaughter.  Once the animals are rehabilitated they stay at the barn for the rest of their lives and serve as ambassadors helping to heal abused children. A donation to the Gentle Barn helps animals help children. Pretty amazing stuff.
The "sticker" on our charitable favors...more details to come post-wedding :)
 7.) Get Some Sleep Easier said than done, right? Especially with so many last minute to-do's floating around. One way that I've found it easier to sleep is getting a comfy new mattress. Rather than buy each other wedding gifts, Andrew and I decided to buy the Autism Speaks "Compassion" plush mattress as our first major purchase together. It is one of three special edition Serta Autism Benefit Mattress that are available at over 150 Mattress Warehouse locations, as well as in their online store. For every Serta Naturale Comfort Autism Speaks mattress sold from now until December 31, 2011, $100 will be donated to Autism Speaks! So, even when I am lying awake trying to remember if I told the band not to play "YMCA," I'm still comfortable knowing that our bed is supporting us and a great cause.
A Mattress With A Mission!

Only nine days left to the big day.  Stay tuned for the next six to-do's!