Wednesday, November 11, 2015

More on Preparing for Our Wedding

I can't believe it but it's now been nearly two months since our wedding. And since I didn't document any of it in real time, as is my way, I thought I'd share a little of the planning process with you now. We got married just outside of Barcelona, in a beach town called Sitges known for it's gay friendliness. Leading up to the wedding and even post wedding, probably the most asked question we receive about the event was/is not regarding the dress or the cake flavor, but why Spain?  For years people have been asking when and where we would get married. I always said it would be difficult to decide where, but I really had no idea what a challenge it would be. Oklahoma is quite out of the way for our European and African based friends and family, plus it's not exactly a tourist destination, so it was ruled out early in the game, but then was back on the table at some point midway through the process. The UK was originally not considered due to its tendency towards inclement weather, but like all global destinations and Mars, was at some point contemplated and discussed as a viable option.  Ideally, we would find a location that was appealing not only because our wedding would be there, but also nice for a vacation since most of our guests would be traveling great distances. The venue would also be able to host the ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner and dancing all outdoors in gorgeous weather. Most importantly to Phil, the event would not have a strict time limit as it often does in the US, starting not a minute before 5 (or even 7 at many venues) and ending at 12 (or sometimes 11) and not a second later, as you will be financially penalized.

Originally, we thought we would be able to find all this in New York City or very nearby. We were engaged in New York and it's about as midway as you can find, besides Bermuda, between Stillwater, Oklahoma and Manchester, England. Everyone wants a holiday to New York and supposedly it's the city that never sleeps, so it seemed ideal. However, finding this perfect venue proved impossible. After tons of searching and seriously considering Alder Manor in Yonkers and The Foundry in Long Island City, we settled on the Boathouse in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. It's a beautiful old building on a rather green and slimy pond but it has a lot of charm, from the pictures online. I never saw any of the venues in person as it seemed absurd to me at the time to travel all the way to New York for the second time in one year to plan a fancy dinner party.  In hindsight, if you too are planning a destination wedding, just go there and pick everything in person. You can't really get a feel for spaces properly on the internet and it will give you such a greater peace of mind if you know exactly what you're getting into. The Boathouse held 120 people, ceremony and dancing outside, dinner inside. We booked it and then tried to narrow down the guest list, as it was over 200 and we thought a good chunk would be able to make it to a wedding in late August in New York. We were engaged in July and booked the Boathouse in September as most of the dates for venues in New York were already filling up for summer 2015. We failed to narrow down the list and as result didn't send out my very well planned and beautifully designed Save the Dates. I guess I can share them with you here (I don't think either of these were the final, but I deleted a lot of files, but you get the idea):

I even had made the whole wedding website with lists of the places we like to eat and things we like to do in New York. So why didn't this wedding happen, you ask...well, we had an engagement party in October at our house in Kampala. It started at 7:30pm and went until 3:30am and then only stopped because the booze ran out (a little bit about that here). The Boathouse with the additional purchase of two hours only runs 7 hour events. Our engagement party flew by and was 8 hours without any formal pictures, a ceremony, first dance, cutting of the cake, etc. So we thought we had to find place for a longer period of time, plus, cutting down the guest list was horrible and we didn't want to do it.

The search began again, back through New York City but also now encompassing the whole of New York state. Did you know the state of New York is the most expensive place to get married? We didn't in the beginning but we certainly do now. I spent a million hours online looking at venue after venue. Looking to see if you could take a train from New York to get there, how long would the drive be if you rented a car? Searching and searching and nothing fit the bill. So then I looked in Oklahoma, North Carolina (apparently the biggest place for destinations in the US right now), Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California. Nothing. Then the UK and then the idea of Italy, Spain or France came up. Spain had the best flight rates from the US and the most direct routes plus it's known for late night parties. Next I had narrow it down to a place in Spain. I tried for a venue in Seville but it was all booked up (by now it was December and we definitely wanted to be married in the summer/fall of 2015) and then I tried a few other places.  Barcelona seemed really cool. I had never been and Phil had gone only for one weekend during university, but it was a young and happening city with a coast. I started looking for wedding planners and found one with decent taste online. I arranged to meet with her in January after spending Christmas in the UK and skiing in France for New Years (you can read more about that here). She was based in Sitges, not Barcelona city, so that's where the venues she knew and showed us were. It turned out to be really ideal as the town is very quaint, manageable and beautiful. You can take a train or bus easily from Barcelona or the international airport and it's ideal for spending a few days relaxing on the beach with lots of access to lovely restaurants, boutiques, bars and a bear festivals (if you happen to be there over the dates of wedding).

Bears = big, hairy gay guys!
In the short 6 days my mom and I were in Sitges in January, we managed to book the planner, the venue, the caterer, the florist, and the photographer, so I felt great about the planning process for several months and did basically nothing, except occasionally perusing wedding blogs for decoration ideas and wedding dresses since I hadn't actually purchased any in London or Spain. I also sent out this save the date since everything was booked and we didn't need to edit the invite list due to the new location:

Besides trips to India in February and Kenya in March, I didn't have any international travel planned until September for the wedding. With very few dress options in Kampala and none of them to my taste (think meringue cupcakes with sequins and tiaras), in June I began to realize that a trip would be necessary to ensure I had something to wear. Phil was also without a suit so he could join and hopefully we could tie it into a lovely holiday. By the end of June, we decided we would go to New York again. Phil might do some more helicopter flying, he was going to take some Krav Maga classes, I would do some yoga and we could see friends and family, plus find wedding clothes. A lot of dress shops want you to order your dress months in advance and then have a month or so for fittings and adjustments. We were in New York for about 3 weeks so I had to choose dress shops wisely. I found New York based designer, Saja, on about the 5th try and all of her dresses were amazing. Luckily with her, I could get the dress in less than a week and have it fitted before flying out.  Shoes were the easiest find for me - I think in the first shop we tried - and while hanging out with Katherine Ann on her lunch break, we found the perfect veil just down the street from her office. Phil found his very nice three piece suit at Hugo Boss and was able to have it fitted in a short time, ready to go. He found shoes as well, but decided they didn't fit the day before we left, so were returned and never replaced. His older black shoes looked great any way and it all came together with a tie I ordered that matched the color scheme.

Katie and Latasha were my bridesmaids. Katie is based in New York and Latasha in Instanbul, so I thought coordinating dresses might be impossible. I just gave them a color palette in the coral or sage families and said to pick something they liked and felt comfortable in. They both found super cute dresses and nearly matching nude/gold wedges that looked absolutely perfect. Katie found fascinators the week before the wedding while shopping in Barcelona that stylishly tied the looks together. I don't think we could have coordinated better with all three of us in the same city and access to all the shops in the world. They truly looked amazing. For the groomsmen, we just said grey or black suits and bought them sage ties to wear. They looked great, too, but as usual, dressing men is a piece of cake.

Over email, I was able to coordinate buses, the DJ, the Monday BBQ caterer, cupcake maker and rehearsal dinner and welcome drink details. Decorations we kept minimal as the venue and the view were so picturesque. I told the wedding planner that we'd like a light safari/Uganda theme to go with the coral and sage, nothing fancy but not rustic either, just laid back and beautiful with a nod to our Ugandan roots ;)  Surprisingly, she interpreted this quite well. I loved the decor she came up with for the tables paired with the Good Glass candle holders I brought.

Good Glass tea light holders drying at the workshop

The bridal bouquets were not at all what I asked for but they were still pretty. I ordered other bits and bobs we needed to my mom's house and she brought them all to Spain - ie ties for Phil, the dads and groomsmen, necklaces and earrings for the bridesmaids, and ring bearer pillows.  So with all of that taken care of via email and Skype, there was little left to do....until just about a month or so before the wedding. I like to make things difficult for myself. When the wedding planning began, I thought welcome bags were unnecessary. I thought it didn't matter what I or my bridesmaids wore while getting ready. While I had toyed with the idea of a slideshow, I hadn't gotten around to it and wasn't sure it was necessary and while I always knew we needed programs for the ceremony, I had yet to design or print them. So during the last month, the pace picked up significantly because I decided we needed all of that plus framed pictures of our parents and grandparents weddings to put by the guestbook.

luckily I was able to find these great frames in Kampala and
I'm excited to hang them alongside our wedding photos 

These ideas did take some extra time to execute in the run up to the wedding, but I really think that those little touches made a big difference, especially the slideshow. Even if we hadn't shown it at the wedding, I love it so much and would be happy just to have for our own personal viewing. My mom said while she is in her office at home, she sometimes hears the music from the slideshow coming in from the living room where my dad is watching it over and over again in his retirement.  If Sahara could speak, she'd say the same about me. It's on my Facebook page in case you missed it.

To handle the what to wear while getting ready issue, I went shopping in downtown Kampala for some fun kitenge fabric and had matching robes made for me, my mom, Camilla, Leyla, Katie, Latasha and Ann since we would all be getting ready at the house together and possibly having photos snapped. I also had some made for the wedding attendants as gifts for their help getting people seated, passing out programs and signing the guestbook. Our attendants were my cousins, Anna and Mary, my 'little sister', Danci, and Phil's niece, Savannah. They were a great help.

The welcome bags were probably the most time consuming, behind the slideshow, as they had multiple elements, however, I did have lots of extra help. I designed the bag and note and then had them printed locally. It took a few tries to get the words in the center of the bags, but they eventually worked it out. I purchased locally made lemongrass soaps from a project here in Uganda and also locally grown and dried pineapple. Good Glass made some cute little green glasses with wooden lids that we put the soap in and then wrapped with kitenge. We used the phrase 'You are most welcome' as that is a common way to greet people here in Uganda and is just warm and lovely. I think they were super personal and a great way to make sure people felt our love for Uganda, not to mention welcomed to Spain. If people are traveling great distances for your special day, it's nice to make sure they feel appreciated and thought about. Here are some photos of the welcome bag making process:

finishing the wooden tops

drying the glasses

cutting kitenge


everything just right

wrap it up

finished bags
And that was more or less the planning process for the best day of my life. I'm supposed to get the professional photos very soon and I'll be sure to share a selection of them here. To see more pictures, there a million nice ones on Facebook that guests took with their iPhones and they're incredible.

* 'We' is used very liberally in this post. While Phil supported all of my decisions, he wasn't overly involved in the planning process ;)

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