Friday, September 14, 2012

Wedding: The Dress

Our society is wedding dress crazy.

Seriously crazy.

The average wedding dress will run a bride anywhere from $800 to $5000, depending on what she's looking to obtain. Talk about sticker shock for the woman who hadn't given much thought to what kind of dress she'd wear on her wedding day.

As it seems to have gone with everything I've planned for the wedding so far, I spent hours upon hours oogling Pinterest and The Knot's dress directory before I even set up an appointment anywhere. By the time I had scheduled an actual appointment at a bridal salon, these two dresses were my favorites:
Left: Paloma Blanca 4623
Right: Allure Bridals: 8953
My first appointment was at Pronuptia in Worcester, where I was promptly told that it wasn't likely I would find very much near my budget point at their salon. At first, the saleswoman brought me a dress similar to the Paloma Blanca above on the left just so I could see if I would actually like the illusion neckline. The dress was pretty and fit perfectly off the rack, but was well over double what I wanted to pay for a dress that I'd only wear once. She then proceeded to bring me several more dresses that were very much not what I wanted. I left the appointment agonizing over whether I should ask if they would sell me the sample of the Paloma Blanca I had tried on.  I resolved that I wouldn't do anything more until I'd settled down and really thought it over.

A couple days later, calmer and feeling more reasonable, I realized I didn't want to spend a fortune on the dress. In fact, I wanted to spend less than $1K. I did some research, contemplating the possibility of wearing a white floor length bridesmaid gown. I poked around Dessy, looking at the gowns and found this one:
After Six 6588
I loved the style and realized that it could also work as a simple, but elegant, bridal gown. I checked to see what salons in the area carried Dessy.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the salon in the center of town was a Dessy retailer and set up an appointment (alone, no entourage) on a Thursday before Zumba class. Upon arrival, Veralyn (the store owner and my saleswoman) greeted me, gave me a handful of plastic clothespins and told me to put a clothespin on anything I wanted to try on. I was a little surprised by this, given my previous experience with Pronuptia, but happily started pawing through the racks. Towards the end of my searching, I came upon a size six petite dress that I hesitated at. I loved the detailing and the style, but I wasn't sure it would fit me. I shrugged, said what the heck and stuck a clothespin on it.

Having finished my search through the rack, I started trying on the dresses I'd picked out. The first one, while very lovely, had far more intricate and sparkly beading than I wanted.

The next dress I tried on happened to be that petite six.

I stepped into it, zipped myself up and looked in the mirror. I loved it, adored it even. The detailing, the train, the fabric, the fit, it was all just right. Despite that, I took it off hung it up and tried on the rest of the dresses I'd picked out.

Once I'd finished, I realized I wanted to try on that petite dress again. So I did, and I realized how giddy and pretty it made me feel. You'll note, there were no tears shed and I knew I'd found the right dress.

I knew I wanted it but I needed to know how much it would cost. Veralyn told me that the only way the dress could be purchased was as is because it was the last of its kind and that it would cost me a little under $300. I was pretty much decided at that point but I wanted to have my mom come and give me an opinion before I bought it.

So, I dragged my mom to the salon two days later and purchased the dress. And now? Now you'll all have to wait until April to see the pictures of it. :)

Did you buy a sample? How did you know it was the right dress?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies

When I get stressed out, I bake. Last summer, I baked something to bring in every single week. My job didn't provide me with a great summer. I haven't been quite so stressed lately but something about this weekend has me feeling a little stressed. I'm not sure what has me so unsettled exactly, but I do know that I channeled that extra energy into some pretty tasty cookies.
Peanut Butter Cookies
Source: Baking Illustrated

Yield: 54 cookies

2 1/2 cups (12 oz.) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. (3g) baking soda
1/2 tsp. (3g) baking powder
1 tsp. (5g) salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 cup (7 oz.) white granulated sugar
1 cup (7 oz.) light brown sugar
1 cup (256g) crunchy peanut butter
2 large eggs
2 tsp. (10g) vanilla extract
1 cup (~150g) dry-rosted, salted peanuts, finely chopped via food processor

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and cover your baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the first four ingredients with a whisk and set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugars and beat until combined, then beat in the peanut butter.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated. Stir the vanilla in.

5. Pour in half of the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Repeat with the second half of the flour mixture.

6. Fold in the chopped peanuts.

7. Using a small cookie scoop (2 tsp.), scoop some dough and roll it into a ball. Place the balls 1.5" apart on the cookie sheet. Using a fork dipped in cold water, gently press the criss cross pattern into the cookies.

8. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350°F. The cookies won't look completely done when they come out, but they will be. If they do look completely done, they're overcooked!

9. Allow the cookies to rest on the pan for five minutes before moving them on a wire rack to cool completely

Are you a crunchy peanut butter person or a smooth peanut butter person? I'm definitely a bigger fan of smooth but the crunchy in this recipe definitely added to it!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wedding: The Venue, Part 2

A couple of days later, I started looking into The Saphire Estates in South Eastern, MA. I put in an inquiry and set up a tour before I'd even found out that the minimum capacity for their smallest ballroom was 200 people. I suspected that meant their minimums for that day were probably outrageous. They were. The number I was provided was 80% of our budget. Disheartened yet again, I canceled my tour.

It was about this time that I finally gave the information I received from Wedgewood Pines more than a cursory glance. The package seemed reasonable and the photos made the location seem pretty, so I set up a tour for the next Saturday. It was only a half an hour from our place in Northborough so Eric decided to come along. Upon arrival we met with the event director, Kerri, who blew us both away. She sat us down and went through a slideshow of several weddings that had been previously held at Wedgewood. She gave me a copy of the latest Knot Boston magazine (score!) and then took us for a tour of the facility.

The moment I stepped around the corner where the ceremony would be held, I knew that it was the right place. The package was great and the location was perfect. The whole place satisfied the major criteria that each of us were looking for in a venue. However, not wanting to make a rash decision, we decided to think it over and get back to Kerri the following week. We discussed it in the car on the way home and then both decided that it was the place we wanted by Sunday night. We booked for April 13th, 2013 on July 13th, leaving us with nine months to plan the whole wedding. I'm completely thrilled to be working with Kerri as the event director and I'm thrilled to see what the place will look like come wedding day.

The Venue: Part One

If you're married or getting married, how long did it take you to find your venue? Did you have to sift through a lot of wrong places to find the right one?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wedding: The Venue, Part 1

Within 24 hours of our engagement, Eric and I had completed the list of guest names and a rough head count of 85-100 people.

What can I say? We both have our overachieving moments.

Our next step was to determine a list of eligible dates, which for us, was constrained by his eldest sister's availability. Within couple of weeks, we'd narrowed down the list to exactly four Saturdays, two in April, one at the end of October and one at the beginning of November. It may seem restrictive but I was quite happy with such a small list. It's much easier to make a decision quickly when you don't have that many options, or at least that's what my experiences at Wooberry have taught me.

Eric and I discussed where we thought we'd want to have the wedding and he suggested New Hampshire. Since I'm from NH and it will always have a place in my heart, I set about finding acceptable locations. After much research on The Knot and Wedding Wire, I came up with four places that I wanted to know more about: The Inns and Spa at Mill Falls, The Wolfeboro Inn, The Bedford Village Inn and the Sheraton in Portsmouth.  I obtained wedding information packages from all of them and started poring over the research material. I quickly determined that the Bedford Village Inn and the Wolfeboro Inn weren't suitable, but the other two merited visits.

More than that, I'd fallen a little head over heels in love with The Inns and Spa at Mill Falls. Thus, with great excitement, my mom and I set out to tour the place one Saturday morning in June. Unfortunately, even before we met with the event director, I knew it wasn't right. The decor was a little too rustic and the room we'd have to rent smelled of grease. And to top it off, they didn't even have our preferred date available.

Disheartened, my mom and I obtained lunch from a Dunkin' Donuts and headed for Portsmouth. The Sheraton in Portsmouth is a lovely place but I wanted windows in the venue, so again I struck out.  After nearly 8 hours of driving, I arrived home in MA disheartened and weary. I spent a few moments poking around The Knot again, looking at the 2011 picks in MA then half-heartedly requested information from Wedgewood Pines Country Club in Stow, MA. Upon receiving the information, I gave it a cursory glance and set it aside. I just wasn't in the mindset to care.

The Venue: Part Two

Monday, September 3, 2012

Shoe Review: Altra Zero Drops

Ever since I started running six years ago, I've been searching for the perfect shoe.

In particular, I wanted a shoe that I wouldn't have to lace specially because it squeezed my forefoot so tightly that my little toe would go numb. Is that really so difficult? You'd think not, but it was.

And then, as I was reading my Runner's World from March this year, I came across the shoe to end all of my running shoe woes.
Altra Zero Drop
After reading about them in Runner's World, I knew I had to check out their website. Gender specific shoe? Um, heck yes! Actually designed for the anatomy of a foot? Sold. I bought a pair on the first visit to the website.

I received my first pair of Altras within five days of ordering it and they've gone with me everywhere, every day since then. I took them to Arizona, I wore them for Zumba and I wear them to lift weights. They are the most comfortable shoe that I have ever purchased. In fact, I love them so much that when a coworker found a deal on LeftLane sports to get them at 50% off, I bought two more pairs. My only gripe is that the laces are particularly slick and have a tendency to occasionally come undone during a run. It's a pretty minor flaw and one that a little creativity easily overcomes.

I would definitely recommend that anyone who is considering a less traditional running shoe give these a try. Just as a word of warning, as with any minimalist shoe, if you haven't been running barefoot or in another pair of zero drops before, rotate these in slowly so your body can adjust without injury.

Have you tried Altra? What's your favorite running shoe?