We aren’t bragging or anything — well, I obviously am, although the rest of this group is much better behaved — but a group of friends and I have pretty much perfected party-hostessing. Seems as if every year one of our children is getting married or getting engaged or graduating or having a baby, and naturally each of these occasions calls for a celebration. We can plan a party at the drop of a (wide-brimmed, ribbon-decorated white straw) hat and check off half of our to-do lists before the men in our lives — who, even after all these years, still do not understand the difference between “tea” and “brunch” — can ask “Tell me again why you pay so much for flowers when the side of the road is full of them?” Take, for example, the bridal shower a few weeks ago that we hosted in an old bank in the once-thriving and now-quiet Sweetwater business district of Florence, Ala. Recently the space had been a restaurant and the owner now rents it for events. We originally thought “rustic,” “vintage” and “weathered” were appropriate decor themes to coordinate with the exposed brick walls, tin ceilings and original woodwork. However, a professional we consulted — we’re always up for a second opinion — suggested we go sleek, sophisticated and girly instead for a visually intriguing contrast. And she was correct. The light and airy silver “bamboo” chairs paired with snowy white linens and stunningly tall tropical-flower centerpieces were the perfect touches. Add a steady supply of mimosas, good times and good friends and you’ve got a party. I told you we are good!
After being inspired by these completely cool table coverings at Nellie Mae, in Tuscumbia, Ala., I am immediately ditching all the matching and carefully pressed contents of my linen
closet shelf drawer and going for joyously eclectic creativity. I mean, how sweet are these? I love the ethereal layering of the neutral-toned tablecloths on the left and then the cheerful fabric garlands, rosettes, bows and flowers decorating the one on the right with the netting underskirt. I think these would be perfect for a bridal shower or even an informal outdoors wedding — you know, those oh-so-fun weddings that are really just parties in disguise, where the bride wears cowboy boots and everybody’s kids are running around and there’s beer and barbecue for all (except the kids, of course). On the other hand, I’ll always love the simple elegance of crisp white napkins paired with Grandmother’s linen tablecloth. And the retro fun of colorful vintage table squares that demand place settings of Fiesta ware. Of course, the way Husband JP and I usually eat is out. Or on the couch watching basketball. But I just like to know that I COULD set a nice table if I were inclined to.
I love weddings of couples who already have been there and done that and have no need to try to impress anybody. Such as the recent wedding of our friends Ted and Elayne, in Brentwood, Tennessee. It was simple and elegant and completely who they are, all at the same time. For the ceremony, family and friends gathered at Owen Chapel, on Franklin Road near Nashville — a 140-year-old brick church that was elegant and dignified all on its own without added frills. Everybody was joyful and relaxed, which is the only way to run a wedding, I think. Then we made our way over to their house — Elayne has lived there for years and Ted was moving in right after the wedding — for the outdoor reception, which was fantastic. We’d spent Wedding Eve in their kitchen, drinking wine and eating pizza and I was amazed at the couple’s calm — if I were having 65 people over to my house the next day I think I’d be bouncing off the walls. But Ted and Elayne are those kind of low-keyed folks who believe that everything will turn out OK, and they were right. It did. Even the threat of rain — which tends to make Nashvillians extra nervous these post-flood days — didn’t matter. We sat under a tent and talked and drank and dined on the fantastic reception menu that Ted had created: Bacon-wrapped shrimp, little sandwiches of Canadian bacon and fried green tomatoes, smoked salmon and bruschetta with excellent pesto were my favorites. And the cake! Oh, that cake!!! I’ve had some marvelous wedding cake at some great weddings, but I’m telling you this was the best. Ever. It was a rich and moist yellow buttercream and white-chocolate fondant and raspberry filling. It was gorgeous inside and out, and those flowers decorating it were rolled fondant. Beautiful! And dear husband and I had a part, too. We begged Ted to let us do something to help and feel useful, so our assignment on wedding day was to decorate their mailbox with balloons. Honestly, I was afraid that metallic lavender (OK, they actually are pink but the color theme was lavender so that’s what we’re calling it here) and white hearts might be a bit much, but Ted said it was “spectacular” and everybody said they looked good. Mainly, they said that when I asked them, but I’ll take it. So now I believe that Dear Husband and I could go into the mailbox-decorating business. Call us.
I love holiday weddings! It probably goes back to my own parents’ wedding on Dec. 18, 1955. I wasn’t there but I’ve always been entranced by my mom’s description of her bridesmaids carrying muffs with holly sprigs pinned to them — how romantic and lovely is that? So I was tickled when Younger Daughter asked me to go with her to a friend’s wedding that was the weekend before Christmas. Her friends had so many sweet touches to the ceremony — a processional of guitar music, simple and classic knee-length bridesmaids’ dresses, a swirly logo on the invitations and programs — that I should have known the reception would be equally classic. It was at Locust Hill, an outstanding historic house in Tuscumbia, Alabama — a town full of outstanding historic houses. I especially was enthralled with the entryway, where a holiday-decorated antique sidebar held scrapbook pages for guests to sign plus photos of the couple. And the groom’s cake was fun with its fishing theme. Now, I can hear some of you non-Southern folks scratching your heads and wondering what a “groom’s cake” is. While it’s true that this tradition of honoring the groom with his own cake is no longer confined to states that consider Jefferson Davis’ birthday an official holiday, it’s still not a common tradition outside of the South. And I’m not even sure why it’s such a Southern thing, sort of like cheese straws and using the word “tea” to mean “a tall glass of cold iced sweet goodness.” But I’m glad weddings are celebrated everywhere. Even where nobody knows what a groom’s cake is.
When friends and I stepped into The Brick House in Lake Charles, Louisiana, for a Cajun wedding reception, we immediately fell in love with the Mardi Gras-themed decorations. I mean, does this say “Louisiana” or what? Every table was different, and it all added to the festive family-party vibe that made us not want to leave. This building is a former warehouse now put to use as a catering center — a perfect solution to old downtown spaces I wish more property owners would consider instead of letting their buildings just sit there. But there was hardly any sitting at this wedding reception, as the zydeco music got folks up and dancing and the buffet line beckoned with andouille-stuffed mushrooms, fried eggplant, crawfish pasta salad and other yummy Cajun dishes. And this wedding king cake! Oh my goodness! Have you ever seen such a fun wedding cake? And it tasted delicious, too. The top tier was deep chocolate. Then the middle layer was a rich cream-cheese pastry and the bottom layer was raspberry — and we had samples (Oh, OK, actual real pieces. Big pieces, in fact. Actually, I think that was just me.) of each one. Even though we had driven 12 hours and hardly knew anybody but a handful of people, we had a blast — Cajun folks are wonderfully friendly and hospitable and we instantly felt like we were family. And, by the way, don’t my friends and I look stunning? We spent a lot of time and effort trying to look good so we wouldn’t embarrass our friend, the mother of the bride — the one who’s smiling so big in the center. After this experience, I can highly recommend Cajun weddings. In fact, if you ever get an invitation to one, do not hesitate: RSVP immediately! You won’t be sorry. And come back here tomorrow for more Cajun Week.
Today I’m kicking off Cajun Week for no other reason than this past weekend some friends and I drove a looooonngg way to Cajun country for the wedding of another friend’s daughter — and had such a blast we’d turn around and do it again in a second, despite the seemingly endless marathon of driving on the Natchez Trace. Since I still can hear the zydeco music and taste the andouille sausage, I’m sharing with you all. First, can you guess where we were? This is the view out of our eighth-story casino-hotel window, looking toward the lake for which this town is named — or maybe it’s the other way around. Anyway, the restaurant pictured is a very cool and tasty downtown eatery just around the corner from the breathtakingly beautiful Catholic church where the wedding was held. Sadly, I don’t have any Cajun prizes to give away to the winner, but you’ll have the satisfaction of proving you know your Louisiana geography. And please come back all week — I’ve got upcoming posts on Cajun food, decorating and wedding styles along with all the gambling tips I picked up in my (brief) career as a high-roller. You don’t want to miss it!
Thank you all for the kind fifth-anniversary thoughts. You are so sweet! My husband John Pitts and I had a super weekend of looking back at our oh-so-wonderful wedding (and all the friends and family who made it so) and looking ahead to what new adventures await — a nice mixture of nostalgia and optimism! We do make a good team. In fact, he helped me with my newspaper column this week. You can read the whole thing at http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20090612/ARTICLES/906125000, but the best part is the advice he gave — my husband’s five things he’s learned from five years of marriage:
1. Just like Einstein, you spend a lot of energy grappling with issues of time and space. In our busy lives, of course, we have to make time for each other while also giving each other the space to breathe. But I also have learned not to call home when it’s time for “Survivor” or “So You Think You Can Dance,” and not to complain too much when she takes up “my space” in the closet. Einstein would tell you, if he were here: it’s all relative.
2. In a restaurant with a television, always sit with your back to the TV. This has brought as much harmony to our relationship as anything I can think of. I’m easily distracted, anyway, so this assures much better eye contact. Besides, it’s fun to hear my wife try to describe the action from a baseball game that’s playing behind me (“There’s a guy with the ball, then there’s a guy running and sliding and everyone is jumping up and down.”)
3. Be careful with the smart-alecky remarks when your wife is chopping something in the kitchen with a big knife and you’re standing nearby. I’m just sayin’.
4. It’s good to learn how to navigate in your spouse’s world. Even though I don’t like coffee, for instance, when we visit the coffee shop they can still make me something that I like: Steamed milk. Yum!
5. And the Biggest Lesson of All: Even though I want to, my wife is not always looking for me to make everything all right. Sometimes she just wants to vent, to cry, to have real emotions in the presence of a person who loves her and respects her and understands. Of course, sometimes she does want me to make everything all right. How to tell the difference? I’m working on it. Check back in another five years.
Friday is our fifth wedding anniversary, which is a pretty amazing thing. My husband John Pitts and I first met more than 30 years ago, when we were journalism students at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, his hometown. Our relationship timeline goes something like this: Dating, breakup, dating, breakup, Cathy wants to get married and John doesn’t, Cathy gets married to somebody else (pause here for 16 or so years until Cathy gets divorced), dating, breakup, dating, breakup, John wants to get married and Cathy doesn’t, dating, breakup, dating, breakup and then somehow both of us want to get married at the same time. Success! And the thing is, even through all the breakups (except for the 16-year married-to-somebody-else thing) we’ve been best friends. We argue, we laugh, we edit each other’s copy, he takes out the garbage and I remind him of family birthdays — what a team! Our wedding was so much fun, and I had the best bridesmaids ever in my two daughters. We had started out planning a surprise wedding — inviting folks for a party and then springing a ceremony on them — but the girls wisely talked us out of that idea so we had a wedding sort of squeezed in between two parties: We had a cocktail party first at this wonderful historic home in downtown Murfreesboro and then everybody walked over to the church for the ceremony and then walked back to the home for a reception. Bonus: We stayed in another historic house that was a bed-and-breakfast directly across the street — so convenient. One of my best memories from the wedding was looking out at the congregation and seeing all our dear family and friends gathered there for us. I don’t think younger brides realize how special that is. Or how special it is to marry the person you care about most in the world, the person who makes you laugh and doesn’t mind when you cry at movies and tells you how to make your writing better, even if that person does listen to Rush Limbaugh. Every day.
Younger Daughter was in town from her summer-school classes this weekend to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. I love all the hair and makeup and these-shoes-don’t-work chaos of getting ready — reminds me of the prom and party excitement from the girls’ high-school days. For the wedding-rehearsal dinner, YD went with simple black jazzed up with purple accents, although she switched these fantastic purple heels for black sandals before she left the house because her feet already were hurting. Then Saturday morning she got her hair done in this sweet sort of loose and messy half up-do that she and the stylist came up with based on a couple of photos and magazine pictures. Both of my daughters have great hair and know what to do with it — a skill they didn’t get from me but I wish I could pick up from them. I loved how it all came together — I thought the pink bridesmaid’s dresses and the orange bouquets were stunning together. The bride had picked out some wonderful metallic heels for the bridesmaids to wear, and after the wedding YD passed hers on to another friend who admired them and is getting married next, probably thereby starting the Tradition of the Traveling Wedding Shoes. I wonder where they’ll turn up next!
After being assailed by an e-mail from Anthropologie about harem pants being the new It trend this spring (gag), I was so glad to see some good news in my inbox today. Such as the wedding boutique at www.net-a-porter.com. Net-a-porter.com is an online retailer specializing in true designer and runway looks for less — still way beyond my budget but still fun to browse through. The editors’ picks at the new wedding boutique will have you scanning your mail for invitations. I love the pretty and feminine dresses paired with statement-making accessories, all organized according to wedding type: beach, evening, day, etc. If you’re like me, you pick your favorites, then head straight to TJ Maxx!
And then there was the e-newsletter from www.myhomeideas.com, the home-decor online arm of Southern Living, Southern Accents, Coastal Living and other must-have magazines. Featured today are spring-decorating trends, how to create spring bouquets and 10 new uses for old things. Did you know that filigree would be big this season? I love the light and lacy look, although it’s not quite manly enough for my husband, I’m sure. But I’ve noticed delicate ironwork pieces showing up in home-decor shops lately, so maybe I can sneak something small into the house to get the same effect. This room looks so calm and peaceful that I just want to camp out there — wearing a gorgeous pink silk dress, of course.