You're Invited!

There are two elements of our wedding that have my fiance all hyped up: the band and the invitations.  The band, I totally get.  He's a music geek, and it's crucial to him that we get a fabulous ensemble that can do Springsteen and Beyonce as well as the "Hava Nagila."  But the invitation interest caught me by surprise.  Sure, I'm a paper-phile, but I was more than willing to scrimp on invitations, since I am convinced that most people will toss their invitation into the trash soon after the wedding.  Mr. HC, however, keeps all of his wedding invitations . . . in an air-tight box.  It's rather cute, no?

Well, given that Mr. HC is as persuasive as he is sentimental, the invitation has been our big project over the last month or so.  I'm keeping the outside of the design a mystery for now (a girl's gotta have some secrets), but I thought I'd give the hive a special sneak peek of the inside. 

Because we wanted to give our guests a flavor of the wedding, which will represent the fusion of Jewish, Chinese, and American cultures, we decided on a trifold invitation, with Hebrew on the left, English in the middle, and Chinese on the right.  Here's a close up of the individual panels, with some whited-out areas for privacy:

The Chinese panel text was created by our Hong Kong-based printers, WedImage (unfortunately, they don't have a website), in Adobe Illustrator.  It's a fairly conventional Chinese text, and I like the fact that it gives the date of the wedding according to both the Chinese and the western calendar. To Mr. HC's chagrin, my mom wouldn't allow him to use the Chinese name that my grandmother gave him when he visited her in Hong Kong because it wasn't, in her words, "his real name."  So he unfortunately had to make do with his English name.  I,  however, got to use my Chinese name, which means "great beauty" . . . but sounds like "large rear end."  Seriously.
I put together the English panel in Illustrator, using a combination of Zapfino and Perpetua Titling fonts.  I asked the Chinese typesetter to use Perpetua Titling for the English in the Chinese panel as well, so hopefully the panels won't look completely unrelated to one another.
Our favorite panel is the Hebrew.  Since I didn't own any Hebrew fonts that I liked, I asked Cohen Printing, a printer in New Jersey, to typeset the Hebrew panel for us.  We chose a traditional banner motif to amp up the invitation. The banner text, "kol sasson ve-kol simha, kol hatan ve-kol kalah" ("the voice of mirth and gladness, the voice of groom and bride"), is from the Sheva Berachot (the seven blessings said at a Jewish wedding) and echoes my Hebrew name, Ahava Kolia.  

Ruth Cohen, my contact at Cohen Printing, couldn't have been more responsive or easier to work with. She transliterated or translated all of the English text into Hebrew, and worked with us to find the phrasing, format, and font that we liked. And once we were settled on the text and look of the invitation, Ruth had it typeset for us almost immediately; I think we sent Ruth the text on Friday and the first draft was done by Monday.

Creating a trilingual invitation was definitely a challenge, but we're pleased with the end result, and hopefully our guests will appreciate the symbolism of the three languages united onto one document.

Are you putting together a bilingual or trilingual invitation?  Are you a post-wedding invitation keeper or shredder?


Site Seeing

By the time we got through the debacle that was setting a date for the wedding, it was already less than 10 months until said date.  That put a lot of pressure on us to reserve a wedding location, stat.  Since I was planning a wedding in L.A. from Boston, our expedited schedule meant that I had to book a venue, sight unseen.  Well, this week I finally got a chance to visit our venue with wedding planner extraordinaire Angel Swanson, and we were giddy to discover that it's lovely.  Check out this postcard-worthy view of Marina del Rey:

The only part of the venue that's kind of blah is the ceremony space.  Since our wedding is large (about 300 people), we couldn't use the venue's usual ceremony location, which is a beautiful and intimate garden area.  Instead, our ceremony will take place in "Marina Court," which is an euphemism for a converted tennis court facing the marina.  

The space is basically a blank canvas, which is both exciting and scary, especially when one is worried about budget.  Luckily, our wedding is after sunset, so we'll be able to use lighting to direct attention to the items worth focusing on (the chuppah) and away from the ugly bits (the adjacent tennis court and anyone practicing his or her backhand at 6:30 on a Saturday evening).

My thought upon seeing the space was to have the ceremony in the round, which focuses attention on the chuppah and brings an intimate, surrounded-by-friends-and-family feel to the event.  Plus there's nice symbolism behind circular configurations, right?  I haven't attended a wedding in the round before, but I'm guessing it'd be charming for the guests to be able to get a different vantage point on the ceremony.  And it'd also reduce the number of persons staring at my badonkadonk -- I got big butt and I cannot lie -- for half an hour.

I leave you with a photo of Angel and me with our "this venue kind of rocks" face on.

Did you book your venue without visiting it in person?  Does your space require an unusual configuration or creative jiggling?


Sole Mates

Living in Massachusetts, my shoe wardrobe, particularly this time of year, is utilitarian and decidedly unsexy: a pair of Dansko clogs (my dog-walking shoe of choice) and a pair of Hunter boots (designed for rain, but awesome for snow).  I think this is why in my wedding fantasies, I am tottering around in a pair of saucy stilettos, comfort be damned.

Well, I am excited to report that Mr. Blahnik and Nordstrom have made my dream into a reality.  Behold the gorgeous Sedaraby D'orsays that will deck my gnomish feet -- I'm a size 5 -- on my wedding day:

The Sedaraby is a classic Manolo style.  Remember that hilarious SATC episode where Carrie loses her silver pair when she's forced to take off her shoes at a baby shower?  But lately Manolo (yeah, we're totes on a first-name basis now) has been amping up the style in new fabric treatments.  The ones I got are the perfect shade of purple -- a dusky, irridescent amethyst that complements the color of the bridesmaid dresses and (as you can see in the next photo) changes hues depending on the light.  And they are strangely comfortable!  Sure, I'll be eating ramen for a month to pay for them, but I figure that in terms of wearability, they were a better "investment" than my wedding gown, which I had gotten on the cheap precisely to make room in the budget for a pair of hot shoes.

I love them so much that instead of wearing a long formal gown at the end of the evening (Chinese brides change three times!), I'm thinking of showing off the shoes by rocking this short little Badgley Mischka number (originally my rehearsal dinner dress):

Badgley Mischka via Gilt Groupe

I'd pair the dress with a flirty, quirky hairpiece, maybe something like this one by Etsy seller LoBoheme (formerly Sweetsnlo), and be ready to dance all night.

Brides and grooms, do you have a wedding outfit indulgence, be it a pair of shoes or a fab veil? Brides, are you a dress gal or a shoe gal?


Maid to Perfection - Part II

In yesterday's post, I wrote about our initial efforts at finding the perfect dresses for the six lovely ladies in my bridal party.  Just to review the criteria, the dress(es) had to be appropriate for a black-tie-optional wedding, be stylish and fun, and be affordable (i.e., under $200).

As a reminder, here are our favorite choices from our visit to Bridal Reflections

While these Alfred Angelo dresses were lovely, I had some reservations.  First, I had difficulty conceptualizing what the dresses would look like in the lilac color we chose; after all, we only had a tiny swatch of fabric to work with.  Second, I wasn't sure whether the dresses would be formal enough.  They would be beautiful in the context of an outdoor or daytime wedding, but would they be too understated for a formal wedding?

While I was pondering these deep, incredibly important questions, I got an email from Bluefly about a 15% off sale they were having.  And there, hidden in plain site amongst dozens of overpriced and overly embellished gowns, was the perfect dress.  It came in the most exquisite shade of mauvish, silverish purple.  It was chic, sexy, and resembled the cut of my dress.  It was just the right level of formality.  And, best of all, it was on sale.


[Photo Source]

The gown is satin and made by Amsale.  It's pretty in the photo, but it's even more flattering in person.  Here is a picture of R trying on the dress:

I hadn't anticipated outfitting all four of my "friends of honor" in the same dress.  I had always planned on allowing them to choose a different style dress in the same color.  But it turns out that all four really loved this Amsale gown.  And why wouldn't they?  They looked muy caliente in them!

To tone down the matchy-matchiness of the bridal party, I decided to ask my two "sisters of honor" to wear gowns in similar, though not identical silhouettes in silver satin.  Here is the Jim Hjelm dress that Sister Hot Cocoa will be wearing:

And here is the gown that FSIL Hot Cocoa will be wearing.  The Jim Hjelm website, unfortunately, doesn't have a picture of the front of the dress, but it's a simple and lovely deep v-neck.

[Jim Hjelm 5680]

From the front, the dresses are very different, but I love how they are nearly identical from the back and how they echo the shape of the Amsale dress.  I ended up ordering the two Jim Hjelm dresses from Pearl's Place, and each was under $200.

After many weeks of scouring through stores online and in person, I've finally outfitted my bridal party.  Woo hoo!  Now, I can shift my attention to what Mr. HC and his groomspersons will be wearing.  (Is it just me or is the work of a bride never done?!)

Will your bridal party be wearing identical dresses?  Did you find it hard to accommodate the different aesthetics and body shapes of all of your attendants?


Maid to Perfection - Part I

There are six lovely ladies in my bridal party: my sister, my FSIL, and four of my friends from graduate school and law school.  Let me just say that Team Hot Cocoa is pretty hot.  And if I were a jealous bride, I'd outfit them in these masterpieces from the Hong Kong wedding mall:

The gold number on the left is spectacular.  I mean, nothing gives off mixed signals like an extra panel of frilliness in the crotch area.  It's like Scarlett O'Hara meets Eve in her fig-leaf days. And the silver lamĂ© gown would be perfect for a jaunt down the yellow brick road with the Tin Man.

Lucky for Team HC, I'm not so into the Marie-Antoinette-meets-Rampage aesthetic.  I  just wanted them to wear something that would make them feel beautiful and special, so long as it was appropriate for an evening black-tie-optional wedding.  And since I was going to be purchasing the dresses, I was hoping to find something relatively affordable too.

We started out with the cotton cady dresses from JCrew.  They came in a few styles that would work well on a variety of body shapes (sweet!), arrived quickly (sweeter!), and were on clearance sale (sweetest!).  The only drawbacks were that the "royal purple" of the cady dresses didn't really go with the more sedate purples in my wedding palette, and the cady fabric seemed a bit too casual.  The JCrew wedding reps bent over backward to help me locate sizes/styles appropriate for all six ladies, which was difficult to do given that the dresses were on clearance. Unfortunately, JCrew wasn't able to locate dresses for the whole party.  But how's this for good service?  They kindly allowed me to return the dresses I had in my possession (even though they were on final sale).

Our next stop was Bridal Reflections, a boutique in Watertown, MA.  Owner Anita runs the business out of her home, and her second floor is crammed with hundreds of bridesmaid dresses from most of the major lines, including B2, Watters & Watters, and Alfred Angelo. Because of her low overhead costs, she passes on major savings to her clients.  So you get the prices of a discount retailer (like Netbride) with the opportunity to try on a number of gowns under the discerning eye of a patient and attentive expert.

Two members of my bridal party, L and A, came with me to scope out the gowns.  A tried on the B2 gown above, which we liked on the hanger.  Once it was on, though, we saw that it had a strangely high neckline for a strapless dress.  Seriously, the dress looked like it was trying to throttle her.

A also tried on the above Dessy, which was okay, but it left us a bit uninspired.

We liked the Alfred Angelo gown above on L.  The empire waist was flattering on most body types, and the loose shape of the gown meant that the ladies could partake heartily in our dessert bar without worrying about a muffin-top (or should I say cupcake-top) effect.

But we loved this adorable lace dress from Alfred Angelo.  The lace had metallic threading, which amped it up for a formal wedding, and it came in two delicious shapes -- a chic empire waist number (modeled by A above) and a sweet tank style dress (modeled by -- holy cupcake tops -- me below).  The dress came in a mauvy-lilac shade that seemed to go well with the color palette of the wedding.

The plan, upon leaving Bridal Reflections, was to have the six ladies choose from the two lace dresses, as well as a satin strapless style (modeled by L above).  All three styles of dresses would be in the same color, but each woman could pick the style that went best with their aesthetic and their body type.

We were all set to place the order when I found something even better!  To be continued . . . .

Was finding the perfect dress for your bridal party even more difficult than finding a dress for yourself?  Did you change your mind a million times over like me?


Scanner-induced hysteria and other registry hijinks

This a public health announcement about a condition of increasing prevalence known as scanner-induced hysteria. SIH can strike, without warning, grooms and brides. The etiology is thus far unclear, but the afflicted have been known to enter a state of untempered excitement brought on by holding onto and using a scanner device, and then to fall into a state of confusion and anxiety brought on by having to use the device for its intended purpose. Other symptoms of SIH include the scanning of stupid items -- such as a birch moose

-- as well as unscannable entities, such as fiances.

[Mr. HC acts scandalized by my realization that the scanner vibrates when you successfully scan an item.  Here I am trying to scan him.]

This weekend, Mr. HC and I, along with our engaged friends R and M, went to an indescribably large Crate & Barrel in West Hartford, CT, to begin our wedding gift registry.  It was a hilariously unproductive experience.  As soon as they were handed a scanner -- literally before the sales associate had even finished describing how to use said scanner -- the menfolk disappeared.  By the time R and I found these guys, Mr. HC had already scanned in dozens of useless items, including the aforementioned birch moose.  By the time R and I finished deleting all of these useless items from the scanner and found ourselves standing in front of a giant display of seemingly identical and not-ideal silverware, we were pretty much pooped and overwhelmed.  I spent the rest of the time lounging on a fleecy daybed in the furniture section upstairs, while the rest of the team valiantly conquered the wall o' similar-looking-stuff-you-eat-on.

Two hours later, Mr. HC and I we emerged from Crate and Barrel with a list of random stuff we don't need and no real registry. SIH claimed two more victims.

I think a lot of my anxiety at Crate and Barrel had to do with the fact that Mr. HC and I don't know where we'll be living after the wedding.  He doesn't match to a medicine residency program until two weeks before our wedding, which means that we'll certainly be moving to a new place post-wedding.  But not only do we not know what our new home will look like, we don't even know the city in which it will be located.

This makes it difficult to register for items . . . and it creates a logistical nightmare about where to have gifts shipped.  Both of us live in tiny apartments crammed full of stuff, and neither of us have room for fifty boxes from Crate and Barrel.  Nor do we want to deal with having to move or ship those fifty boxes from our current home to the next.  I asked Crate and Barrel and Williams and Sonoma whether they'd be able to hold off on shipping our registry items until we moved to a new place, but neither were able to do that.

In the end, I ended up deleting all of the items off our Crate and Barrel registry, save for gift cards.  We added a few All-Clad pots and pans to the Williams and Sonoma registry, and we added some fine china to a registry at Michael C. Fina, which has a consolidated delivery program. We plan to explain our logistical difficulties on the registry page on our website as a hint to our friends and family that if they were to be so generous as to give us presents, gift cards or cash would be most welcomed.

Fellow grooms and brides who are also dealing with the logistics of moving to a new place post-wedding, could you give us some advice on how to deal with this situation?  Are there places other than Michael C. Fina that offer a consolidated delivery program or a hold on shipping?


Love, unlabored

Remember my friends Lauren and Michael's beautiful wedding, which I blogged about a few weeks ago? Their awesome photographers, Whitney and Jesse, from Our Labor of Love just put up a set of teaser photos on their blog.

Here's some wedding porn for your weekend:

This was situation in which the photographers and the couple were really perfectly matched. These pictures are honest, emotional, with a touch of rawness and edge -- just like Lauren and Michael.

The above photo is my favorite, because it captures the essence of their ceremony so perfectly.

And who doesn't love a parade?!

Want more?  Check out Our Labor of Love's blog.

How would you describe your photographer's style?  Does it mesh well with yours?


Choosing Judaism - Part II

Yesterday, I wrote about my decision to convert to Judaism.  Today, I thought I'd share a bit about what the process entails, for those of you who are interested in conversion*, who are intellectually curious, or who are just eager to relive those hilarious episodes of "Sex in the City" in which Charlotte goes through the conversion process.  This is another loooong post.  Sorry!

*A quick caveat: Modern Judaism is divided into a few movements (Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, etc.), which differ from one another in their level of observance, their liturgy, their approach to textual interpretation, etc.  My conversion is through the Conservative movement, so I can't really speak to what the conversion process is like in the other movements.

[Image source.]

So I guess I should begin where Charlotte begins!  Do you remember the episode where Charlotte knocks on the rabbi's door and says (in that dear, sweet Charlotte way): "Hello, my name is Charlotte York, and I'm interested in joining the Jewish faith"?  And then the rabbi says (in that dear, sweet old rabbi way): "Sorry, we're not interested" and slams the door in her face?  

It's kind of true!  

Okay, not literally -- no rabbi actually turned me away at the door or made me approach him three times.  But rabbis traditionally do insist that those interested in conversion go through a substantial period of reflection and study before making the decision to convert.  My understanding is this is not because the Jewish faith is unwelcoming.  Instead, because the Jewish people have at various times been discriminated against, persecuted, or coerced into converting to other religions, rabbis want to make sure that those who seek to join the faith are doing so with free will, intention, and knowledge of the benefits and hardships that come with being Jewish.  This is the reason why rabbis usually refer to people like me who convert to Judaism as "Jews by choice," which emphasizes personal agency and considered decisionmaking, rather than the noun"convert," which always seems to me like the result of some terrible brainwashing experiment.

Nowadays, rather than turning an interested party away three times, many rabbis require that you attend a course of study on Judaism, make a concerted effort to begin living according to Jewish laws (i.e., observing the sabbath, going to services, keeping Kosher), and make time for one-on-one conversations or intensive study with the rabbi who is sponsoring your conversion. Do all this for a certain period of time (there's no magic number), and at some point, your sponsoring rabbi will deem you ready to take the plunge (somewhat literally, as you'll see).

I started the conversion process this spring, just by chatting with rabbis in the area.  They referred me to the Jewish Discovery Institute, which is an organization that provides outreach to interfaith couples and runs a Jewish learning class geared toward those interested in conversion.  Through the JDI, I take a 2.5-hour course once a week, which is basically a primer on Jewish life.  The course covers everything from the very technical -- what is and isn't kosher -- to the more abstract -- why observe shabbat -- to the waaay more abstract -- Jewish attitudes toward God, prayer, death, etc.  Oh, we also learn a little bit of Hebrew (since conservative services are conducted in Hebrew).  There is nothing funnier or more pathetic than a bunch of us old people sounding out words like four year olds.  Hooked on phonics, geriatric style.

Mr. HC is in med school in CT, while I live in MA most of the week, so he doesn't come to class with me.  But most people who are converting for marriage attend the class with their partners. It's a nice diverse group.  There are a few thirty-something professional couples like Mr. HC and me, some people who are just out of college, as well as some older folks.  There are opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples.  There are people who are converting because their partners are Jewish, and others who came to Judaism for very different reasons.  One woman, for example, is converting because her godchildren are Jewish, and she wanted to be able to be a part of their Jewish upbringing.

In addition to the course, I try to go to services once a week, usually on Friday evenings.  I found an awesome, hippie dippie shabbat service that I really enjoy -- suffice to say, there are bongo drums.  (Mr. HC, who at one time was quite observant, but is now pretty much a "high holiday Jew" (meaning he only goes to services on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah), is amused by my new SuperJew status and my dragging him to services and insisting on shabbat dinner.)  I also really enjoy the study of Jewish texts, so as a bonus, I take an Intro to Judaism class run my sponsoring rabbi, who like me is totally geek for Jew lit.

You can do all of this Jewish learning without committing to conversion, as my rabbi reminds me all the time.  In fact, even if I weren't converting, I think I would really enjoy the whole preparatory experience.  The actual conversion, at least for women*, involves two things beyond the whole program of study and reflection.

* Male converts have -- um, how do I say this gently? -- a little extra something something they have to go through.  (But those who are already circumcised only need to go through a ritual circumcision, which is just the letting of a single drop of blood.)  Ouchy.

First, my sponsoring rabbi will bring me before the beit din, which is a rabbinical court.  I keep picturing the beit din as a tribunal of old dudes in black robes and yarmulkes, but I think most of the rabbis around here are actually quite young and often female.  It's the beit din's job to figure out whether I'm ready for conversion.  I'm told that this isn't an interrogation, but more of a conversation about how it is that I came to Judaism, whether I'm interested in conversion for the right reasons, and whether I'm joining the faith willingly and with due consideration of what it means to be joining a minority religion and culture.

Assuming that the beit din approves, I then go to the mikveh.  The mikveh is a ceremonial immersion in a pool of "living water" (usually a bit of rain water mixed in with heated and treated tap water).  The immersion ritual is the most profound part of the experience and signifies one's rebirth as a Jew.  I was initially a little anxious about the experience -- I'm not so into ritual . . . or water -- but then I did a bit of research into the mikveh I'll be going to and am now really excited.  I mean, look at this place -- isn't it beautiful?

[Photo of the gorgeous mikveh at Mayyim Hayyim.]

If anyone is interested, I'll post again on this topic once I actually finish the conversion process. But for now I'll just say that this process has been the highlight of my "wedding planning journey" thus far.  It's intellectually exciting to learn more about Judaism and to have an occasion for pondering the BIG, metaphysical questions.  Also, it feels, for lack of a better word, anchoring to be doing something that is related to the wedding but much more permanent and significant than picking out the perfect shade of purple for our save the dates.  And it's wonderful to be able to bond with Mr. HC over a culture that will soon be ours rather than his. And let me also say that it's awesome to find certain areas in which I've now done enough studying to out-Jew Mr. HC.  Ah yes, my dear, the student has become the teacher.  ;-P

For those of you who have converted to a different religion for your partner, how was your experience?


Choosing Judaism - Part I

I've mentioned before that I'm in the process of converting to Judaism, and I've promised to write a longer post about my decision to convert and what the conversion process entails.  So here goes a loooong two-part post . . . .

The popular assumption is that anyone who converts to Judaism for marriage does so only after being pressured into it (usually by a naggy future mother-in-law, whom I'll call "Estelle," after George Costanza's mother).  "My darling baby boy.  You can't marry a shiksa!" kvetches Estelle.  "Did you eat?  Are you eating?  Vy are you so thin?  Is that shiksa not feeding you?" But Mr. HC's family has never expressed any concern about his marrying "outside of the tribe" or put any pressure on me to go Jew.  To the contrary, they're to this day incredulous that I'd want to do such a thing!

What led me to convert was this: Judaism has played a very important role in Mr. HC's life. His closest friends are those he made in Hebrew school, who bunked with him in the "dork tent" in Jewish summer camp, and who traveled with him to Israel.  He wanted our future children to have these experiences as much as I wanted our children to be celebrate their Chinese heritage. He hopes that our children will feel "at home" in both cultures.  I, on the other hand, hope that our children will inhabit a corporate identity, such that they are not sometimes Jewish and sometimes Chinese, but rather always a union of both.  But however our children choose to deal with the identity question, we know that we want them to be truly bicultural, to be Chinese and Jewish.  

The Chinese part is easy: I'm as chinky as they come.  FOP, yo (that's "fresh off the plane" for those of you not hip to the immigrant child lingo).  The Jewish part, however, is harder. Since Judaism is matrilineal, in order for our children to be Jewish, I'd have to be Jewish.

While that is my primary impetus for converting, I've always been drawn to Judaism.  I grew up in a part of L.A. that had a sizeable Jewish population.  I have probably sipped more Shirley Temples at bar and bat mitzvahs than many Jews-by-birth.  In fact, here's a picture of me leaving for my first bar mitzvah.  No, young un's, that is not a lampshade around my ass; that was actually a trendy dress style back in the day.  Also check out my sad attempt at teased bangs.  And my super long faux pearl earrings from Claires.  Clearly, I thought I was awesome.

[Hot Cocoa, circa 1990, all ready to slow dance to Belinda Carlisle.]

Anyway, this is all to say that Judaism has never really felt foreign to me.  Since Mr. HC and I started dating when I was sixteen (and I dated two Jewish boys before him!), I was always surrounded by Jewish culture, and have been struck by how the values of Judaism -- the respect for one's ancestors, the love of family, the focus on education -- were so similar to those of my Chinese family.  

Then in college I took a class on the Parable in the Western Tradition, which looked at influence of Jewish writings on modern literature.  And I figured out that the approach of Judaism toward texts -- the whole culture is focused around interpretation and debate of texts -- was completely suited to my worldview.  I'm a lawyer and a literature scholar -- could there be any religion more appropriate?!

[Image source.]

To say that I felt an affinity with Judaism, though, is not to say that I didn't have some doubts. Quite often, the thing that is difficult for those who convert is the taking on of a minority consciousness and identity.  Objectively speaking, it's pretty weird to want to become a part of a group that has been marginalized, shunned, and persecuted since time immemorial. 

That aspect of it was not so hard for me.  As a Chinese-American and an immigrant, I have always had a minority, diasporic consciousness and identity.  This is not to say that being Jewish is like being any other minority. Indeed, one of the tough questions I’ve been working out is what it means to be both Jewish and Chinese and American – how these identities interact, complicate, challenge, and enrich one another. But it is to say that I don’t expect to wake up the day after my conversion and be inhabiting a marginalized status that I never understood before.

What was -- is -- difficult for me, though, is the God thing.  While my family is Buddhist, I've always been agnostic -- not bold enough to be atheist, but too humble to insist that no higher entity exists.  Mr. HC is agnostic, as are most of our Jewish friends and family.  But it's one thing to be agnostic when one is born into a religion, and quite another to embrace a monotheistic religion while struggling with the concept of one God.  

I'm still struggling.  Mightily.  But here's what makes me think Judaism is a right fit for me: the rabbis with whom I'm studying are not only okay with my struggling, they welcome it -- encourage it.  My sponsoring rabbi (*more about this tomorrow, when I write about the conversion process) encourages me to be open to the concept of holiness, is careful not to characterize God as "He" or to anthropomorphize God, and allows me to ask the big, difficult, head-hurting questions. I don't think I would be converting if Judaism were a religion that insists on blind faith.  It just wouldn't make sense to me if a group of people who have suffered a Holocaust can have an unvexed relationship with God.

Do you and your fiance/e come from different religious or cultural backgrounds?  Are you considering converting?  How are you melding your respective religions or cultures into a family identity?

P.S. For more about the process of converting, see my next post.


Picking a Date

The very first item on our agenda after getting engaged was picking out a date for the wedding. The process was such an ordeal though that I just couldn't bring myself to blog about it until now. But I thought I'd write about it today just to test out my theory that there ain't no trauma that a box of Trader Joe's chocolate raspberry sticks can't fix.

As you might know, Mr. HC's family is Jewish and mine is Buddhist.  Although the two of us are quite secular, we both wanted to be respectful of our families' beliefs, as well as to honor the cultures from which we came.  Still giddy from being engaged and totally naive as to the ways in which wedding planning can be one ginormous pain in our collectively large buttocks, we started looking into dates that would be auspicious for both cultures.  "There's 365 days in a year," we stupidly observed.  "How difficult could this be?"  Idiots!
[Jew-Bu: cute on t-shirts, but much tougher in reality.]

We thought about getting married in April or May, but in the Jewish calendar, the period between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot is a time of sadness and mourning known as the "counting of the Omer."  Weddings are prohibited during at least 33 days out of this seven week period, and even rabbis with fairly liberal attitudes about Jewish law refrain from officiating at weddings during the prohibited days.  So this knocked out a few of our possible weekends.

The Chinese calendar, however, was even less accommodating.  Many people are content to use a Chinese almanac called the Tung Tsing to pick an auspicious wedding date.  Curious?  You can test out your wedding date here. (Hot Mama Cocoa disapprovingly warns that the internet almanacs aren't properly calibrated to the real Tung Tsing.)

[Tung Tsing, courtesy of Mrs. Cherry Blossom]

[The inside of the Tung Tsing.  Is this straightforward or what?]

But if you are super hardcore, like my family, you don't just rely on a book to find a good date. You call up your personal fortuneteller (what?  you don't have one of those?) and ask him to find you not just any run of the mill lucky date, but a date that is particularly auspicious for you and your family.  To find such a date for us, the fortuneteller needed to have the date and time of birth for not only Mr. HC and me, but also our parents, grandparents, and siblings.  If a date was inauspicious for any one member of the family, it was a no go.

To give you a picture of how seriously my family took all this, let me repeat a typical conversation I had with my mother during this period:
Hot Mama Cocoa: "July X is a good day."
Me: "But Mr. HC starts his residency in mid-June.  If we have the wedding on July X, he won't be able to show up to our wedding!"
HMC: Silence.
Me: "How about June X?"
HMC (in a voice reserved for matters of fact, like the sky is blue): "You can't get married on that date.  July X is a good day."
Me: Silence.
Iterations of this conversation went on for weeks.  My sister was threatening to buy me a life-sized cut-out of Mr. HC that I could "marry" on my wedding day, since it didn't seem like the rest of my family were too concerned about Mr. HC's presence.  Meanwhile, Mr. HC and I were getting increasingly frustrated . . . with each other, with our families, with wedding planning. We both knew that my family meant well, that they only wanted us to have a lucky wedding day and a good marriage.  But it was looking like we couldn't even get married because there wasn't going to be a weekend that worked.

Eventually, Mr. HC and I decided that even if we had to get married much earlier than we anticipated, we'd rather accommodate the Chinese calendar than go into our marriage with my family believing that we were doomed.  Thankfully, we were able to find a weekend in March that happened to be okay according to the Jewish calendar and propitious according to the Chinese fortuneteller.  

Lest you go thinking that this is one of those super cheery blog posts with a magically delicious ending, let me confess that the reason this experience is on my mind is because the ordeal is beginning anew with the time of our ceremony.  A Saturday evening Jewish wedding can't begin until after sunset (and the official end of the sabbath), which on our wedding date will be around 6:45 pm.  Of course, Hot Mama Cocoa tells us this week that 7 pm is a "dark hour" according to the Chinese calendar. 

I have no words.  None.  And I just ate 10 chocolate raspberry sticks.

Family/cultural requirements driving you to chocolate?  Kvetch here.


Luxe for Rent

I grew up in Hong Kong, where pretty much all brides rent their wedding dresses.  I attribute this phenomenon to two things: First, it's customary for brides to change at least three times during the course of the wedding banquet, and buying a wedding gown in addition to two other formal dresses is quite an expensive proposition.  Second, people tend to live in tiny apartments with not very much closet space, so it doesn't make sense for brides to keep their gowns post-wedding.  

As a result, bridal boutiques in Hong Kong usually have special deals where you can rent a Chinese qi pao, a "western" bridal gown, and one or two additional formal gowns for a "special" price (we in Hong Kong are really into "special prices"!) -- usually a fraction of what it costs to buy one gown here in the U.S.  Brides willing to shell out the big bucks usually pay extra for "first wear rights," which means they get to be the first wearer of a particular gown, but on balance, people generally don't feel weird wearing a "used" gown.

This system sounds great in theory, but it's not so fab when the gowns often look like they were designed by a six-year-old girl with a passion for glitter puffy paint and a My Little Pony color palette:

[Image source.]

Mrs. Pinot Noir has posted about the difficulty she experienced finding gowns for rent here in the States.  The other day, though, I came across a relatively new boutique in NY that rents high-end, in-season designer gowns for those of us with a budget more Target than Saks.  The boutique is called Ilus, and they have all of their gowns up on their website.  While they don't have any "wedding gowns," they do have a few dresses that could function quite beautifully as such, such as this goddessy Marc Bouwer:

The gown isn't cheap: $145 for a three-night rental (+ $10 cleaning fee), but it retails for close to $1000 at Saks, so I suppose one could consider it a deal.  How about pairing it with this BE & D beaded evening bag, which you can rent for $20 from Bag Borrow or Steal?
A far more fabulous bargain is this Badgley Mischka dress, which would make a chic bridesmaid dress and rents for a mere $10 (+ $10 cleaning fee) :

And you could pair it with the longer version of the gown, which would be great for your MOH:

Weirdly, the long version rents for $185.  But I suppose you could think of it as getting two beautiful Badgley Mischka dresses for $190.

So you lucky New York ladies, would you rent a gown for your wedding or next fancypants event?


The Secret Life of Bees: Hot Cocoa Edition

I'm loving this "Secret Life of Bees" series.  Quirky, weird, or downright embarrassing details? How much time do you have?  'Coz I've got tons that I can overshare.  Here are just a few:

  • I have an irrational fear of dried fruit.  Dried apricot, prunes, and -- oh it makes me retch just to say the name -- raisins give me the creeps.  Foods that are in an in-between state -- neither fresh nor completely dry -- totally wig me out.  For similar reasons, I do not like pickles -- a trait that Mr. HC considers a character flaw and one that has me pretty convinced that I'm going to be expelled from the tribe before I even fully convert to Judaism.

  • I only like to wear socks with toes.  I like each individual toe to feel caressed and supported.  I do not like my socks to feel scrunched inside my shoes.  This started with pilates, when I discovered little toe socks with grips on the soles.  Then it took over my life.  I have not worn socks without toes for probably 2 years.
  • I am OCS about grammar.  To the point that I correct signs in bathrooms.  To the point that each time I write a blog post, I go back and deliberately make sentences ungrammatical and more talky.  My unedited style is a cross between a law review article and a magazine for sailors on shore leave -- either insistently boring or NC-17.  I am teaching constitutional law this semester; I leave it up to you to imagine what my classes are like.
  • Mr. HC and I have a sense of humor of a twelve-year-old boy.  Scratch that.  A nine-year-old boy.  We giggle for hours about farts, make elaborate songs about penises and vajayjays, make crass jokes about each other's families, and talk for an unhealthy amount of time about bodily functions.  What can I say?  We're one classy couple.  It's good for the world that we found each other and are not dragging others into our lives of bathroom humor and ill-repute.
  • Even though I grew up in Los Angeles, I didn't get my license until I was 29.  I tried driving once when I was 16, but I got as far as one block away from my house.  That's where I rammed the front tire into a corner grate while attempting to turn right, busted the front tire, and vowed never to drive again.  When Mr. HC finally set an ultimatum and forced me to get my license, in the first month, I managed to total Mr. HC's car just trying to back it out of a driveway.  I convinced myself -- and him -- that nothing was wrong with the car until we were driving down the street and the whole front bumper fell off the car. For realz.  I've been accident-free for almost a year, but if you see a blue Camry with a Princeton bumper sticker, I'd suggest you get out of the way.  
Ok, maybe I'll stop here.  I don't want to lay bare all my secrets just yet; I have to keep things interesting.  But now that I've shared with you a litany of bizarre traits, you'd better share your secrets.  Come on, tell me.  I won't judge.


Marriage is political

For me, our wedding has never been about one perfect day.  Don't get me wrong, I love shopping for a fabulous dress, crafting fun doodads, and throwing an awesome party.  But as I mentioned in a previous post, I think of our wedding as one special day in a continuing process of love, partnership, and negotiation.

BUT that's not to say that nothing will change on our wedding day.  Because when Mr. HC and I marry, we almost instantaneously get all of the privileges and immunities that come with a legally recognized marriage.  These benefits include:
  1. Estate planning benefits, including the ability to make financial and/or medical decision on my spouse's behalf as a conservator and to get the various protections under probate law that are reserved for spouses.
  2. Tax benefits, including the ability to file joint tax income returns.
  3. Government benefits, including the ability to receive Social Security, Medicare, and disability benefits in our spouse's name.
  4. Employment benefits, including the ability to take family leave to care for each other during an illness and to obtain insurance benefits through each other's employer.
  5. Misc. legal benefits, including the ability to claim spousal privilege.
In fact, according to a 2004 Government Accounting Office report, there are over 1000 laws in which marital status is a factor -- and that's just in the federal law alone (imagine how many more state regulations deal with marriage)!

As we plan our wedding, I never lose sight of the fact that Mr. HC (who is white) and I (who am Chinese) couldn't have gotten married in a number of states before 1967.  Nor do I forget that my aunt and her partner can only be legally married in three states, and that even if they were to wed in one of those states, their marriage would still not be recognized by the federal government because of Defense of Marriage Act.  Unfortunately, neither Obama/Biden nor McCain/Palin support legalization of same-sex marriage.  Still, tomorrow's election will still have important ramifications for equal access to marriage, especially for those with the opportunity to help defeat Prop. 8 in my home state of California.

If I had it my way, the state would get out of the marriage business entirely, and all of the above benefits would be disentangled from the status of marriage.  But until the day that happens, there is no doubt in my mind that marriage is political.  The state is the third partner in every marriage.  Which is one of the many reasons why I'll be in line bright and early at the polling station tomorrow and going home immediately after our engagement photo session to obsess over the poll results.

I'll be back to blogging about bridesmaid dresses and haute bargains in my next post.  Today, though, I beg you to VOTE VOTE VOTE tomorrow.

I'm Hot Cocoa, and I endorse this message.


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