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.