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Wedding Planning: The Venue

Mon May 18, 2009

I always made fun of those girls who talked incessantly about their weddings, swore up and down and backwards that I wouldn’t be one of them. Even if you’re perfectly fine being the single girl, it’s hard to pretend you give a shit about centerpieces. And save the dates. And whether or not you’re going to have your guests ride around on a decommissioned Disneyland steam train. But I’ll get to that later.

I didn’t get it, ultimately, because I hadn’t planned my own wedding, I’d like to think, not because I was jealous or insensitive. I just had absolutely no idea how time-consuming the whole process could be. But it’s like a full time job, especially when you’re not exactly sure what you want. It took four months to find a venue and nearly a month to deal with the contracts. But now, nearly five months after Neal and I got engaged, we’re just one wedding insurance plan and a couple of signatures shy of having nailed down our venue and our date: April 24, 2010.

When we first started talking about getting married, we knew we didn’t want to get married in the summer. Definitely not the summer. All I had to do was think back to the half dozen summer weddings I’d been to over the past couple of years, the sweat rolling down the back of my thighs like raindrops on windowpanes, slowly racing toward my ankles and then pooling in the heels of my now-too-tight dress shoes, which were ridiculously uncomfortable to begin with. A fall wedding would be ideal—it’s my favorite season, even in seasonless SoCal—but I’d be happy with springtime too.

So we started looking for venues. Or should I say I started looking for venues. Neal was still working night and day to get CuteAsHell.com launched, so I decided to “preview” places for us. Bad idea girls. Don’t do it. If your fiancé is too tied with work to participate, wait. He may say that, “whatever you find is fine,” but he doesn’t mean it. I had nearly talked myself into the funky former Smog Shop on La Cienega called, well, Smog Shoppe. I took my parents to see it and then, finally Neal, who said it was a little too funky. And, of course, it was. I had decided to overlook the pin-ups in the men’s room, and the painted handicap sign on the ground. And that it was, well, a Smog Shop, however nicely it was decorated. It might have been right for some other urbanites, but we definitely weren’t that cool.

My only L.A. idea kaibashed, I found myself at a loss. As much as I’d managed to make L.A. home, it wasn’t me. It was dressed up or beach-y and I pictured rustic, elegant and personal, like an oversized dinner party. So my mom and I went up to Northern California, to tour my old Sonoma County stomping grounds. With the help of my L.A. wedding planner, Emily, and some suggestions from Sonoma County “Eco-Chic” event planner Vanessa from Clemetine Eco-Events, my mother and I spent two whirlwind days listening to the red-neck voice on my dad’s GPS tell us we’d “done got where we’re going” all over Sonoma County before we’d gotten there. There were cool barns and pretty gardens and some plastic grass, which I really didn’t understand because the plastic grass was at a garden. There were vineyard views and rolling hills with cows and, finally, a cozy backyard with a vineyard view, called Vine Hill House. It was reasonably priced, included tables and chairs and heat lamps, and the owner would let us choose or own caterer and bring in our own wine (as long as we bought a couple cases of his).

I thought we’d finally gotten somewhere, but when I sat down at home with Neal to show him all the pictures, he seemed unimpressed. It’s all outside, he said. What if it’s cold? What if it rains? Will people be comfortable? Good points, I conceded. And then the kicker, “I really can’t tell anything from photos anyway.”

I can’t remember if I screamed. I probably did. But I know I cried. This wasn’t fun. I felt alone instead of together. And that was that. I wouldn’t look at another venue without him, work be damned.

Like finally deciding to move somewhere to be near family rather than picking my new home based on a job or the landscape, realizing that I just needed to wait for Neal was the best thing I could have done. A month later we drove up to the Central Coast, albeit slightly begrudgingly (it’s a long three-hour drive for East Coast guests who’ve already traveled cross-country), and finally started finding places that suited us. There was a beautiful barn in a lemon grove in Nipomo and a more garage-like barn with crazy neon signs and the most stunning ceremony site overlooking rock outcroppings and a lush, green valley floor in the Edna Valley to choose from. Nothing was perfect, of course, but we both were happy. And, at the risk of being cliché, it felt like us. So we went home.

Just days later, Emily called to tell us she’d turned up one more venue, and this one, she thought, was perfect. And it was available at the end of October. So we cleared our schedule for another quick trip, called my best friend in New York to tell her the dates we were thinking and called Neal’s best friend Charlie, who we wanted to officiate for us. And that’s when things got interesting. Charlie is a pediatric hospitalist in upstate New York, and he’s a busy guy. So when he told us that he didn’t think he’d be able to get out of a commitment the second half of October and pretty much all of November, we believed him. We were frustrated and disappointed, but we decided to change the date. Not having Charlie there was a deal-breaker.

A few weeks later we went back up north, this time with my folks and Emily, to see the aforementioned barn-in-a-lemon-grove, garage-barn and the potentially perfect unseen venue, Santa Margarita Ranch. It didn’t take long to realize she was right. The ceremony site was on a lawn, under a giant old oak tree. And the reception site was a barn built around a half-completed California mission made of stone. It was surrounded by newly planted grape vines, and had lush green rolling hills in the distance. There was an old movie marquis. And a decommissioned Disneyland steam train that people could tour the property on (not really our jam, but it looked cool). It was rustic and funky and earthy and elegant all at once. It was affordable. We could bring our own caterer. We could bring our own wine. We could be ourselves.

We could get married.

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4 Responses to “Wedding Planning: The Venue”

  1. brian Says:

    funny how things work themselves out… well, not so funny, i guess.

    It sounds like there is a sense of freedom accompanying you in this process. congratulations!

  2. foodwoolf Says:

    Remember that scene in Jerry Maguire when the little kid is hanging out late night with Jerry on the couch and Jerry drops the F bomb? And the little kid, half asleep and eyes drooping says “you said f…”

    Well that’s kind of what I felt like when I read your first “s” bomb. Woah. “You said shit!”

    A great story and wonderful wrap up to what is becoming an amazing story of what happens when you decide to have a wedding.


  3. White On Rice Couple Says:

    I’m glued to your wedding planning and following your saga has opened up a whole new world for me.
    Maybe once you’re finished with your wedding, I’ll put you on my list to be my wedding planner!
    I want a wedding just like yours!
    Too funny, “what ever you like is fine”. I think I’ve heard that one before too!

  4. White On Rice Couple Says:

    BTW- Love that picture!

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