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Budget Bride V: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Potlucks are a classic loaves-and-fishes trick to feeding lots of people on a budget, though buffet-style meals are, for sad reasons, quickly going out of fashion in the 2020s. Cue the food trucks! Food trucks can be a great alternative to a buffet because they're mobile, they can serve personally customized meals on-demand, and they come at a variety of price points. "Healthy" food doesn't just mean fiber and vegetables or avoiding fat and sugar. (What fun is that at a wedding anyway?) "Healthy" can also refer to safety from contamination. Plagues and food poisoning can really poop on a party, so I'd err on the side of hot, made-fresh, even fried foods. It's a special occasion, after all!  Heavily spiced foods also lend safety in feeding large numbers of people due to the antimicrobial properties of many herbs and spices. Complex, bold dishes can offer a balance of special-night flair, comfort, safety, nutrition, and price. Check out your local Lati

It's BEAN a Long Time

The days are lengthening, and hope is returning to humankind! I feel like starting something new--something that will complement the slow, gradual fade-out of the pandemic rather than put me and my family at premature risk. Instead of making travel plans or even party plans beyond distant daydreams, I'm confidently moving ahead on plans to grow a new and improved vegetable garden this spring. I'll use compost and wisdom that I've collected over the past 15 years on the ol' homestead, and I'll re-start my veggie garden using a mix of tried-and-true and new techniques. Over the years, I've learned which edible plants grow best on my suburban Michigan property: beans, peas, corn, cabbage, onions, garlic, sunflowers, potatoes, tomatoes. This year, I'll continue tending to my fruit and nut trees and only plant a few seasonal veggies that I can trust to thrive--unless a fun opportunity comes along, like when someone gives me a plant as a gift or my daughter brings

The Book List of Champions

I don't always read nonfiction by male authors. But when I do... I read self-help comedy by true champions. After a decade in which I enjoyed reading stacks of great fiction by mostly women and also gulped down a sickening load of nonfiction texts by authors of assorted genders for social justice education and historical research purposes, I made a fresh literary start in the 2020s with three comedic "self-help" books that are hilarious, yet legitimately inspiring. I've always said that a spoonful of humor helps the knowledge darts go down (or something to that effect), and these three quarantine reads helped me to sort out a lot of thoughts and feelings. They also caused me and my husband to choke a few times when we tried to read passages out loud to each other. I haven't had this much fun with words since Amy Sedaris taught me how to keep house. For whatever reason, the books that resonated most with me over the past year have all been written by men. I have gr

Budget Bride III: Location, Location, Location

Today's Budget Bride post affirms that a wedding isn't just about providing a cool photo backdrop for the star couple. The location and venue create the environment that shapes the whole experience. Location determines who can attend, how much and what kinds of fun everyone can have, and how everyone feels throughout the ceremony and reception. In addition to accessibility, aesthetics, and amenities offered at the site, there's also the general aura the place gives off. Is the site associated with historic events? Legendary romance? Is there anything ugly associated with it, like bigoted owners who refuse to support unions between people who are not of their preferred race or gender combinations? If your guests can possibly know the answers to those questions, your choice of venue will send a message that includes the values associated with it. A blank slate is just fine, but take care to avoid obvious stinkers like gay-hating orchards and slavery-stained plantations (that

The Incredible Lightness of Loss

We Americans are losing so much right now: loved ones to death, other relationships to political violence and conspiracy theories. Americans are losing touch with reality, losing beliefs, losing real freedom and trust and patience and hope. Some of that loss comes with searing pain, but every loss can also give us a new lightness, if we know how to sense it--the unburdening of worry, shame, failure, obligation, terror, naivety, delusion. Even when we lose what we desperately wanted to keep, we find our hands and eyes and hearts left open to new sources of light. I am reminded of the first time I traveled abroad without family or personal friends--when I went to study abroad in Rome, and upon landing was robbed of my baggage. (What a funny metaphor, right? But it wasn't funny to me at the time--it was terrifying.) I was, to put it nicely, not one of the rich kids on that trip. Not only could I not afford to replace the belongings I needed, I was already running up a deficit in the p

Budget Bride II: Dress for a Mess

Something marked down, something askew, something old, something like-new--anything but a pretentious designer outfit you'll only wear once, with a four-figure price tag! Since my own wedding at age 24, I've attended many weddings of friends and family and seen many different styles of wedding dress--formal, casual, homemade, upcycled, discounted, and haute couture. At all of those different weddings, I have only ever heard family and friends of the bride throw shade on one gown--a very expensive, custom-made, imported piece of couture with a whole fussy and dramatic backstory. There was nothing objectionable about the dress per se, but the rumors of how much money, time, and effort it required sort of elicited snark and disgust among the practical Midwestern guests. Ouch!  I don't recommend that anyone choose their wedding attire primarily to avoid criticism or to people-please the whole guest list. Your big-day drag should celebrate you and your partner, and it should ref

Living the House Cat Life

Please allow me to introduce my household familiar, Gretchen MurderMittens Miernik. She is a wonderful member of our family and generally easygoing, but she does make this face if you accidentally walk in on her human bed nap and turn on the light. Well, who wouldn't? At this point in the pandemic / insurrection / zombie apocalypse happening outside in the world, I seek to follow Gretchen's lead in gently setting boundaries around healthy amounts of rest--and playtime, and sharp sense, and ferocity. As coronavirus vaccinations roll out slowly, I am also rolling out my spine and sinews, all catlike, and feeling a new balance of relaxation and strength, well-rested chill and pilot-lit alertness. I am feeling more certain that the end of the pandemic is nigh, so I have let go of some anxiety over how long this will all drag out. And at the same time, I am comfortably certain that our civilization won't roar back to pre-Covid activity levels for another few months at least, so

Budget Bride I: Put Your Friends and Family to Work

Welcome to the Budget Bride series, in which I share wisdom from my "recessionista" wedding in 2007 on how to treat a small budget as a creative opportunity rather than an obstacle to the beginning of a shared lifetime of gorgeous memories. Over ten Thursdays, I am sharing updated tips on how to use the friction of financial restriction to spark the kind of light, warmth, joy, and graciousness in a wedding that money can't buy anyway. My husband and I have enjoyed almost 15 years of happy marriage (not without ups and downs but with the tools to handle challenges while remaining best buds with benefits), and we'll always have our wonderful memories of our wedding day to look back on--not just in shiny, retouched photographs but in the visceral reliving of the actual experience. Whether you've struck it rich in the stock market or you're just grateful to have survived the past year, there is timeless wisdom in starting a marriage by setting an intentional rhyt