Thank you President Trump

Dear Mr. Trump,

By all accounts this has not been a good month for you. The witch-hunt, the memos, the press secretaries hiding in bushes, Comey disguising himself as a curtain, the persistent fake news, and, of course, those pesky Russians—it really must have taken a toll. My British heritage taught me that etiquette and kindness matters, and I thought you might appreciate some praise and thanks amongst all this “American carnage.”

I hear you only read information with your name in, which, although perhaps a little narcissistic, is also a potentially a useful tool to get my thanks directly to you.  Being president, I doubt you ever have any downtime to aimlessly peruse the Internet, but if you do find yourself googling terms like “Trump,” “great job,” and “tremendous praise,” I hope this letter finds its way to you.

As a green card holder I can’t vote, and unlike those thousands of people who, you’ve told us, engaged in voter fraud in November, I didn’t. I have to admit I didn’t support your rise to power. I went to a Hillary rally the day before the election, while my husband stayed at home and made hours of phone calls for her. The night of the election, I held my husband as the nation he loved slid away to a man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.

For your inauguration, I was not part of the “largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period.” Although, congratulations on this remarkable achievement. Instead I was listening to a lecture with a group of distinguished historians at Cambridge University. The dark January evening hung thick with dismay, and we awaited your ascension like students at Hogwarts waiting for the final battle.

Two months later I spent a nervous six-hour flight over the Atlantic Ocean worrying whether I would be allowed to enter my country of residence in light of your travel ban and acerbic attitude to foreigners.

As a foreign female academic who cares about facts and studies cultural diplomacy, I was perhaps understandably fearful of your self-certain rejection of experts and penchant for diplomacy via Tweet. And yet less than 6 months in I find myself writing this letter of praise.

On the campaign, I never understood “Make America Great Again.” It seemed an ill-timed slogan for a nation experiencing economic boom and falling unemployment. America didn’t need fixing, it already was great. While I still stand by this assertion, I am forced to admit that in important ways you have made this country greater, and for this, and this alone, I thank you.

Your ascent to power forced me to question the entire basis of American democracy and its cherished checks and balances, which now seem like little more than gentleman’s agreements. You’ve shown that the Oval Office needs a gentleman who respects the office, and without one the presidency is dangerously fragile. Your office highlights how much gesture, goodwill, and morality matter, and reminds us all that the letter and the spirit of the law are often two different things. But you also reminded me of the power of a single voice—for good or evil—and your ascent inspires me to use that voice.

While I study American history, I’ve rarely studied Washington. With you, all this changed. In the last few months I’ve been involved and actively engaged in politics in new and exciting ways. I look forward to discussing events with my husband, family, and friends, and I find great pleasure in being informed.

Your assault on fake news has inspired some of the best journalism I’ve ever read. The fierce rivalry between the New York Times and the Washington Post only serves to benefit the American people, as both institutions strive to dig deeper and break bigger stories. Both have hired more writers and devoted more resources to finding the truth hidden behind the arsenal of press conferences and tweets your administration relies on.

Like the fourth estate, the judiciary and the FBI also stepped up to make America great again. They’ve made bold statements and held you accountable for the hate filled anti-Muslim rhetoric you were so fond of brandishing on the campaign trail.

But your biggest success is with the people. Thanks to you, thousands of women knitted pink hats, New York lawyers rushed to JFK to assist in pro bono work for victims of your travel ban, people donated to fund Planned Parenthood and public art programs, guerilla crafters placed Sean Spicer cutouts in bushes, and all around the world millions have marched in support of democratic principles of knowledge, equality, and freedom.

Thank you 45, for you have indeed made America great again, but not in any of the ways you intended. You’ve provided Alec Baldwin with full-time employment, you’ve encouraged people to run for office, and you’ve made a marcher out of me. You reminded me of the power of my voice, and made me use it.

Maybe one day when you are out of the Oval Office, and a safe distance from the nuclear codes, this is how we will remember your legacy. I doubt it, but as your presidency demonstrates—anything can happen…

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Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

phdpfej2.jpgI-95 meanders along America’s East Coast, bringing drivers from the Maine/Canada border to the Southern tip of mainland Florida. Although it follows the path of the Atlantic Ocean, I-95 offers few scenic views. These belong to US Route 1, which hugs the coastline more closely. Instead, I-95 is bedecked with the remains of burned out tires, the occasional “Welcome Home US Marine_______” banner, and overly complex construction projects.

I-95 and I are old friends. There is no road in the US that I know better. I know when to move lanes, how to avoid the potholes, and where to slow for waiting State Troopers. If ever I feel down, the battered highway restores my faith. Every Monday I drive north on I-95 for chorus practice, and in this hour with an open highway and a Honda Civic stereo, I am reminded of the possibilities of America.

My travel companions are numerous. I’ve shouted at Donald Trump during the Presidential Debates, celebrated with Big Papi as the Sox won the World Series. I’ve joined the cast of Jersey Boys, and climbed on the back of Springsteen’s motorbike. But the person who spends the most time on the road with me is not an American. It’s Elton.

I went to my first Elton John concert when I was six years old. I drew a picture of him, complete with his Diet Coke can in an ice bucket. My Dad was so impressed that he had a color photocopy made—it was the pinnacle of my young artistic career. I had a The One album poster on my bedroom wall, and dressed up in novelty pink sunglasses and my Dad’s giant red Converse to watch Top of the Pops. Understandably, neither of my parents ever corrected my version of The Bitch Is Back, and for years I happily sang, “I’m a Bisc, I’m a Bisc, I’m a Biscuit Bag”…

I’m lucky enough to have lost count of how many Elton shows I’ve been to. I’ve seen him play at Madison Square Garden for his 60th birthday, I’ve danced on stage at the Million Dollar Piano in Vegas, and I’ve heard Philadelphia Freedom in Philadelphia. In the week leading up to my wedding last year, my Mum and I danced arm in arm, wearing wellies and Niagara Falls ponchos at a rain-soaked concert in Bath, England. A Tiny Dancer Marryoke followed at my wedding a week later.Tessa and Aaron's wedding at St Nicholas; Church, Pyrford and Ham Polo ClubWhile Elton is well known for his giant shoes, eclectic eye wear, and a penchant for both flowers and Donald Duck costumes, there is a depth and richness to the Taupin/John partnership than many underestimate. Although resolutely British, they both belong in the great American songbook.

Bernie Taupin and Elton John were among the many voices that inspired my love of America. As I began my life here, it was their words—“Boston at last, and the plane’s touching down,” that echoed through my thoughts. I still hear this lyric whenever I land at Logan. From 1971’s Holiday Inn, the Taupin/John love affair with America has grown from a passing motel room to a deep understanding of this land, its peoples, its strengths, and its foibles.

Their work touches all facets of American life—heroes and hidden stories, highways and back roads. In Empty Garden they stood outside the Dakota building contemplating the loss of John Lennon. With I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford) they used the death of Jesse James to explore the pain of break up. Equally adept at discussing celebrated figures as commonplace folk, the Taupin/John songbook gives plentiful attention to everyday Americans—from the Monalisas and Madhatters navigating daily life in Manhattan, to the unnamed Indian warrior hurling a tomahawk in 1971’s Indian Sunset.phdpfej5phdpfej6Having sat on the swing in Elvis’ Tupelo home, I can almost taste the Mississippi heat as I listen to Porch Swing in Tupelo. The lilting delay as Elton sings “Tennessee” and “Mississippi” in the second verse, perfectly captures the slow inaction of summer in the South. Delving further back into Southern history, the heavy percussive beat of Gone to Shiloh (2010) paints the reluctant dread of a Union soldier marching into battle. Their music moves across states and centuries, equally adept at bringing to life Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins, a seventeenth century savant, as the tragic Norma Jean.

Taupin’s knowledge of American culture and history is encyclopedic, and his lyrics find as much fascination in Roy Rogers cartoons as the war of 1812. With the dexterity of the best intellectual scholars, he blends high and low culture, attack and praise. On 2006’s Postcards from Richard Nixon, for example, he describes the wonders of “Brian Wilson’s promised land, where Disney’s God” and Steve McQueen drives down Sunset, while also criticizing Nixon’s Vietnam policy.

With time, the partnership moved from historical reflection to political action. Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes, on 2001’s critically acclaimed Songs From the West Coast, lambasted President Reagan, “the old man [who] wouldn’t listen,” and his refusal to fund research and fight AIDS. Fourteen years later, Sir Elton addressed the US Congress urging them to do more to fight the disease.phdej3.jpgThis year, Bernie and Elton celebrate 50 years of musical collaboration. Two boys raised on Westerns in rural England grew to be the superheroes they always dreamed of being. Living in a dude ranch in California, Taupin, the brown dirt cowboy from Lincolnshire raises cutting horses. The young pianist from Pinner, now a Knight, has always been Captain Fantastic.

Travelling back from chorus, I-95 is empty. With years of practice on this stretch of open road, my ability to drive, sing, and dance at the same time is unmatched. In the dark I hit the hillside with Roy and Trigger, I sit with Elvis on that Tupelo porch swing, and I join George Michael in introducing, “Ladies and Gentleman, Mr. Elton John.” For the captain, the kid, and me, together on our stretch of I-95, all is well.    phdpfej4

 

A Beauty But A Funny Girl

phdpfbelle4.jpgI can still picture the exact spot where I was sitting when I opened my Belle Barbie. It was Christmas Day, 1991 and a sea of wrapping paper floated atop the golden oak floorboards of our lounge, where I sat next to the fireplace. Belle was one of the last gifts I opened that day. I had never owned a Barbie before and I could not believe she was mine. She came with her blue peasant dress and apron, a sparking gold ball gown with long gold gloves, two pairs of Barbie shoes, and an enchanted mirror. It was one of the best Christmas gifts I have ever received.

Beauty and the Beast became an instant hit in my family. We delighted in calling my mum Mrs. Potts, and howled with laughter when she told us that “it’s time to get in the cupboard, Chip.” My sister and I acted out the part of Gaston’s three bimbette admirers, using our staircase to swoon on.

Many academics and parents warn about the dangers of princess culture. For example, Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter considers the rise of the princess, the dominance of pink and purple merchandising, and the deleterious effect of the princess on young girls. Lego bricks need not be pink and purple, and the word princess does not need to slapped across all girls toys. But by focusing on young children and the Disney Princess brand, scholars ignored those girls who grew up with the princess movies. Girls like me, who grew up to follow their dreams first, and men second. It is these girls, the original Disney princess generation that I study.phdpfbelle2In teaching Disney, I encourage my students to think about their own relationship to the company. Most enter my classroom die-hard fans or dedicated skeptics, with strong opinions on the Disney princesses. Schooled in literature on unrealistic body expectations, and the limited choices available to princess characters, students today are well versed in the dangers of princess movies, even if they themselves like the movies.

As one of my course requirements, I assign a research paper posing the following question, “should Disney princess movies of the 1990s be seen as feminist?” My students always ask me what I think, however, I rarely divulge my opinion, and instead challenge them to reach their own conclusions. However, as Disney fans around the world excitedly head to the cinema to see the new Beauty and the Beast, I’ve decided to answer my own assignment. And my answer is yes.phdpfbelle3I grew up with a long line of positive female role models, who taught me that I could do anything. My mother was the leader of this group, but it also included the dancers in my beloved Noel Streatfield books, Judith Kerr’s courageous Anna and her flight from Nazi Germany, Scarlett O’Hara’s faith in tomorrow, and even Elle Woods’ determination to succeed at Harvard. Disney’s women were part of this world. They taught me that girls could be feminine but also intelligent. Like third wave feminists of the 1990s, Disney taught me that you could have brains and beauty; you did not have to choose.

With the 1989 release of The Little Mermaid, the Walt Disney Company entered a new period of prosperity under the direction of Michael Eisner. It was the first princess movie since Walt’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty, and there were marked differences between the two eras of princess films. Unlike Cinderella or Snow White, Ariel had interests and ambition of her own. She dreamed of adventure and life beyond her ocean world. Her body, while still unnaturally proportioned, was newly athletic. She swam, dove, and, in time, danced and ran. Unlike Walt’s princesses she was also defined as a teenager, and acted like one. She defied her father, had secrets, and found her own ways to get what she wanted.

While she ultimately still married the handsome prince, the movie showed partnership and teamwork between the leading figures, as Eric and Ariel worked together to defeat Ursula. Moreover the prince, Eric, also had personality. He too refused to settle down when told to, and he mocked his older advisor, Grimsby. Disney animation now focused on character development and three-dimensionality. Eisner princes—Eric, the beast, and Aladdin—looked distinct, whereas Walt’s Prince Charmings were vapidly interchangeable. Developing the prince created heroes worthy of a new more adventurous heroine.phdpfbelle5Two years later, the studio released Beauty and the Beast, a film more consciously pro-feminist than The Little Mermaid. Beauty was the first princess film to be written by a woman, Linda Woolverton. With Beauty, Woolverton became the first woman to write an animation film at the Walt Disney Company. Woolverton pushed to make Belle interested in books. She made Belle adventurous, defiant, intelligent, inquisitive, and imperfect—a lone strand of hair repeatedly falls into her eyes, taking her from a picture perfect princess to fallible woman.

Unlike Ariel who had to physically gain legs for marriage, Belle does not change. Marriage is not inevitable and she does not spend the film pining for a distant price. Indeed, the film does not end with a marriage scene. It is the Beast that has to learn the meaning of true beauty and love. He must win her mind before he wins her heart. Sacrifice and compromise cements their relationship. When they forgo etiquette and sip soup from a bowl, they create their own traditions and norms together. In letting Belle go, the Beast makes the ultimate sacrifice, recognizing that Belle’s happiness is more important than his own. This is an entirely new type of prince.

Beauty and the Beast is the first Disney princess film to contain a male villain, and it is his preposterous masculinity that makes him villainous. The femme fetale villains of Walt’s era obsessed over beauty, and Gaston is similarly fixated with his own looks. He displays traditional symbols of masculinity—strength, rugged good looks, and hunting ability—but is mocked for this. Indeed, his hyper masculinity becomes camp.

In rejecting Gaston, Disney’s Belle rejects the expectation of marriage and happily ever after. She mocks Gaston’s visions of domestic idyll as “positively primeval.” She finds happiness in her herself, and her books, and neither needs nor seeks the approval of those around her.

This wasn’t tale as old as time, for Disney this was a radically new tale.

One of the many sources I show in my class is Traci Hines’ Disney Chickz video, which combines classic Eisner era princess songs with those of the Spice Girls. Hines imagines what would happen if the princes dumped their princesses, concluding that with friends and girl power they would be just fine. In worrying about the possible dangers of princess culture, we’ve overlooked the positive messages given in Disney’s princess films. Girls of the 1990s, like Hines and me, appropriated the princesses on their own terms. They longed for the library, not the beast, they saw the dangers of mob mentality through the actions of the townsfolk, and they saw an outsider figure who ultimately found the place she fitted.

While I envy my parents for witnessing Beatlemania and the rise of Rock and Roll, I consider myself lucky to have grown up in the 1990s. I was part of a generation of girls that grew up with Disney’s princess movies, entered their teenage years at the dawn of the Spice Girls, and went to college with the Gilmore Girls. A brown haired book lover, I followed my dreams and found adventure. Eventually, I married a man who loves my brain, and we danced to Spice Girls songs at our wedding.

As people all over the world rush to see the new Beauty and the Beast, I remain hesitant—I don’t think it can be done any better than the 1991 original. I heard the message loud and clear the first time. And for that, I am forever grateful.phdpfbelle1

O-Bam-A! O-Bam-A!

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On a crisp blue day, the sun shone bright and low in the November sky. New England’s yellow and orange leaves crunched underfoot, as I navigated the twisting wooded paths of my new campus. Unable to vote, I felt a twinge of embarrassment whenever people approached me and asked if I had cast my ballot. That night I gathered with my new American friends, and watched the beginning of a new era in American life. Tears fell as the hopes and dreams of a nation were encapsulated in the figures of an African-American family standing on the stage in Chicago.

I began my life in the United States on a student visa, three months before Barack Hussein Obama became president. His presidency transformed America from the international embarrassment of the Bush era, and once again recast the US as the Promised Land. His presidency has been an example of decency, diplomacy, and possibility throughout my American life.

Eight years later, in the potentially crucial swing state of New Hampshire, Obama spent the last day of the election campaign rallying for Hillary Clinton at the University of New Hampshire.  And so on a similarly bright blue day, I found myself back on campus—this time a green card holder with an American husband—waiting in line to see the president speak.

Parking in a distant car park, I waited for a shuttle bus to take me on to the campus. The air seemed thick with possibility. Students, many of them first time voters, spoke excitedly about the significance of the UNH community to the election. In front of me, I met a journalist taking a day off from his usual local crime and obituary work, and behind me a seasoned protestor who regaled me with tales of her international Eco-protests.

Scores of people lined the streets in queues that snaked all over the campus. We found ourselves enveloped into the waiting line, and soon were passing through metal detectors, and discarding all our food and drink at security.

In the brilliant sunshine, I sat on the ground outside the Whittemore center and listened to the UNH band perform. Last time I had stood there it was at my graduation.

At 12 o’clock the doors opened and we were herded into the arena and offered a choice of seats or floor. With a long wait ahead I chose seats, my seasoned companions chose the floor.DSCN7059.jpgIn the hours that followed, neighbors were friends. People saved seats, and shared pretzels, Sour Patch Kids, and anecdotes of elections and rallies past. Springsteen’s We Take Care of Our Own blared across the arena, and a sea of “Stronger Together” posters tiled the floors and walls.dscn7067Excitement grew with each entrant to the stage—from local politicians to local choirs. Representative Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly reminded people of the importance of common sense gun law and universal health care, while Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan talked about local concerns, pleading with voters to vote not just for Hillary but for Democrats up and down the ballot ticket.

After several hours of waiting, a secret service agent took to the stage and ceremoniously placed the seal of the president on the front of the lectern. And then the crowd went wild.

The president ran in from the side of the stage, shirtsleeves rolled up and arms waving. The atmosphere was euphoric. I have never felt the excitement of politics in this way before, never felt part of something so much bigger than me, or part of a force for such good. My heart raced and tears streamed down my face.

Chants of “O-Bam-A” and “Four More Years” thundered through the arena, amidst the deafening applause. The president graciously accepted this thanks, but channeled the passion into support for Hillary. He spoke of the democratic possibilities afforded by Clinton, and of her experience and superiority as a candidate. When the crowd booed at mention of Donald Trump, Obama shouted “Don’t Boo, Vote.”

He understood the crowd, and combined chants and interactivity with careful reasoned rhetoric. Obama is a natural orator with incredible command of a stage. His was more than just a speech for Clinton, it was a rally for American democracy. Talking about the importance of grass roots campaigning and getting out there to meet people, he spoke with such prescience and understanding about the state of America and its politics. He understood the divides, and worked to fire up the next generation to get involved and believe.dscn7193He spoke for about 35 minutes, and then almost as quickly as he arrived, the president left in a sea of black-suited agents. In a daze of excitement and Springsteen songs, the crowds exited the arena, carefully clutching their “Stronger Together” posters.

Standing outside in the dark, we were “fired up and ready to go.” As the spectacular presidential cavalcade sped through the campus, election day seemed simply a formality. Among the crowds of people–of all races, genders, and ages–the first female president seemed the inevitable heir of the first African-American president.

For the next twenty-four hours the world was full of promises. Of Yes We Cans and shattered glass ceilings.  Of “I voted” stickers, SNL impressions, and pantsuits.

Then the dream shattered, not the ceiling.

In the hazy light of our new reality, life looked different the next day. Yet somehow leaves still crunched under my feet, people still squished in together on the subway, and red brake lights still painted the gray I-93 corridor. The smoke still rose from the Holocaust memorial and curled into the sun, which too, still set. Everything and nothing had changed.

As the sun sets on this our second Camelot, there will be no glittering smiles, no little girls in J Crew coats watching their father shatter glass ceilings, no speeches with promises to protect democracy, and no belief in the “patchwork heritage” of the United States. Instead there is fear and America First, the promise to end health care for millions, to curtail minority rights, a partnership with Russia, a destabilized Anglo-American alliance, and, perhaps most importantly, inaction on climate change.

While there is no longer a President Obama, now more than ever, there must still be yes we cans.

God Bless the USA.

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I Found The Gown

vows8.jpgSeveral years ago I was in New Jersey for the wedding of one of my dearest friends. The day before the wedding, a hurricane hit the Eastern corridor and so our 5-hour journey took us nearly 11 hours. When we finally reached our hotel, we found the largest bed I have ever seen and a welcome box from our wonderful hosts filled with personalized cookies. After hours in the car, it was such a relief to put on a dressing gown and relax.

While channel hoping, I landed on TLC and saw a wedding show was on. Usually I skip over Say Yes to the Dress but I noticed that this show had a different name—I  Found the Gown —and kept watching. Within minutes I was hooked. While Say Yes to the Dress featured expensive gowns in the gleaming decadence of Kleinfeld’s New York boutique, I Found the Gown took place at Vows salon in Massachusetts and showcased bargain designer wedding dresses. And so together with my then-boyfriend, I sat on the giant bed, eating cookies in the shape of New Jersey state, and watched episodes of I Found the Gown till I fell asleep.

Being, frankly, quite cheap by nature, I was overjoyed to consider the possibility of one day getting a bargain when purchasing a wedding dress. Not only did I witness the wedding of one of my favorite couples that weekend, but I knew where my first stop would be when I got engaged. And so, two years later when my then-boyfriend became my husband, it was time to call Vows. Vows1Reviews of the store described the experience at Vows as rushed and harried. However, as someone who previously sat on dirty floors at both Michaels and Target in order to reach bottom shelf bargains, this did not phase me—if anything it made the challenge all the more exciting. With my Mum in tow, we headed to Watertown ready to use elbows if necessary to get a dress. On arrival however, Vows could not have been more serene. We parked in the “engaged” parking spots and went into the store where our assistant met us.vows6While Vows is an authorized retailer for a handful of designers whose gowns can be custom ordered, the real attraction of the store is the sample sale designer gowns. As they are samples, there is often just one of each gown in the store and the inventory changes often. Each gown in stored in a clear garment bag and the shop is arranged by style–mermaids to the left, ball gowns to the right, etc. You are given time to peruse the floor and select the gowns you think you might like to try on. However, with all the dresses are stored in garment bags it can be hard to really tell what a dress is like. On two occasions dresses sprang out like jack-in-the-boxes when I unzipped the bag, revealing far more bling and poof than I was looking for.vows3Bit-by-bit we narrowed our options down, and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to dress up and try different styles. There were only two other brides in the store, and we stayed much longer than the allotted one-hour appointment time. I imagine the weekend appointments are likely more crowded, but our Thursday morning appointment was bliss.  vows7I came to the store looking for a ball gown with short sleeves, so how I came to leave with a strapless trumpet style remains one of the great magical mysteries of the bridal salon. While looking for dresses, the ruching on a Romona Keveza gown had caught my eye, and so I added it to my sleeved selections. As I took it out of the bag the beautiful French silk tulle puffed out, and I felt a little rush of excitement. There was no bling just acres of delicate tulle and English net. When I put the dress on, I knew it was a contender. As I walked out into the viewing area and saw my Mum’s face I understood this was something special. With a veil on, I let out the audible gasp I had heard so many times on bridal shows. This was my gown.

vows5 copyAfter several moments parading up and down, taking photos and staring into the mirror, we had to decide what to do. With only one dress in the store, I did not want to let it go, yet I have never been one for quick decisions. We opted to put a deposit down to hold the gown for 5 days. During that time I went to another salon and tried on the sleeved ball gown I had originally been interested in, and by sending photos to my friends and family crowd sourced opinion on the gown. Romona got the most votes. Five days later, Vows kindly let me come in and try the gown with heels. It was still my gown.

And so I found a gown that was $400 under my budget and $3000 less than it originally retailed for. It was the first step in my wedding bargain hunting, and I cannot think of a better gown or place for me. The staff at Vows were incredibly helpful, and I went on to order my bridesmaids dresses with them too. There is a further discount if you order both wedding dress and bridesmaids gown at the store.VowsCome January when it was time to begin dress alterations, I finally collected my gown and went to see Anahit, the seamstress Vows recommended. The world of the seamstress is a timeless, female-dominated empire. In an age of mechanization, it is one of the few arenas in which handcraft remains king. It is a world I would have been entirely unaware if if not for the wedding dress. I felt privileged to have entered it, if only for a few brief hours.

Like the business it houses, the unassuming storefront seems to belie age. Faux ferns adorn the entranceway, and aging plastic wedding bouquets with faded glittered petals sit in delicate gold vases on the store counter. There is no website or email, no credit cards are accepted, and all bills are calculated by hand on carbon paper. The rows of thank you cards showing pictures of smiling brides are the only nod to the contemporary world outside.vows4For my first fitting, my husband helped to carry the garment bag into the store and was almost instantly sent away. An assistant whisked the dress out of my hands, and directed me to remove my shoes and stand on the towel in front of me. Walking along a carpet of white towels, I moved to the seating area and watched as Anahit pinned and repositioned the lace applique onto another bride’s intricate gown. Like many Vows customers, the bride had purchased a dress, which was too big for her. Anahit had altered it to her size and now begun the painstaking work of reapplying lace details along the seams. As the seamstress worked her magic, kneeling on the floor with a mouth full of pins, the bride offered frequent suggestions as to other alterations she felt could be done to the back of the gown. With my limited knowledge of sewing, I could see that her suggestions were impossible. The seamstress’ task, I suspect, is not always an easy one.

When it came time for my fitting, Anahit welcomed me with enthusiastic greetings and congratulations in her lilting Eastern European prose. She ohhed and ahhed as I took my dress out of the bag, and knew it was a Romona Keveza straight away. “Honey,” she said as I put on my gown, “you have the butt my previous bride wishes she had.” And instantly I loved her.

During our next three fittings Anahit continued to call me Honey. Despite the thousands of dresses she has altered she still delighted in beautiful gowns and exquisite fabrics. She seemed genuinely excited to be working on my gown and confided that she was glad to work with tulle as the royal wedding created a surge in lace. Together we designed a removable shawl to add to the top of the dress. As she put it, “we will add Oscar De La Renta to this Romona Keveza.” When it came time to cut the dress she said a wedding blessing as her scissors snipped away at the tulle. On more than one occasion she grabbed my phone and took pictures of my dress, with instructions that I must send the photos to my mother. At the final appointment, Anahit made the previous bride wait to see me in my finished gown. She was, quite simply, a supremely talented, reassuring eccentric.Tessa and Aaron's wedding at St Nicholas; Church, Pyrford and Ham Polo ClubOn the day of my wedding I accessorized my Romona Keveza dress with the tiara my Mum wore when she married my father, as well as pearls given to me by my Mum and aunt. I wanted a ball gown for a classic look, but I found it in a strapless trumpet gown of English net and French tulle. My husband cried as I walked down the aisle, and when we got outside he said the dress was Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly all in one, making my every dress dream come true.

In a blush pink gown, that bride from New Jersey three years ago now looked exquisite as one of my bridesmaids, unaware of what an important role her personalized wedding cookies played in my dress selection. Because of her, I found the gown.vows2

Ikea Bar Stool Hack

phdikeahack2If there is one thing my wedding prep taught me, it is that everything in life can be improved with gold spray paint.

We returned home post-wedding to find a wonderful array of new grown-up furniture, glassware, cutlery, and cake stands awaiting us. Amongst the Pottery Barn adulthood, our student Ikea bar stools suddenly looked especially nineties. Ten years ago, before I developed my own tastes and sense of style, Ikea’s plentiful birch effect and dull chrome hardware worked—now it ruined the aesthetic. Being in grad school our budgets have not improved in the last decade, but thankfully my creativity has. Rather than replacing the stools we hacked them. From nineties drab, our Franklin stools are now more mid-century fab.

Tools Needed:

  • Ikea Franklin stools
  • Screw Driver
  • Sandpaper
  • Spray Paint (Krylon Gold Metallic)
  • Wood Stain (Miniwax Wood Finish in Red Mahogany 225)

phdikeahack3First, take the chair apart so that all wooden parts are removed from the metal frame.

Remove the black plastic foot rest. This is a little tricky as there are little plastic prongs inside which you need to break off before you can remove the foot rest. Rotate the plastic bar until you hear a snap—that is the sound of the prongs breaking off. Now prize the plastic bar off of the metal frame, (we used scissors at first to get some purchase).

Cover the black plastic feet with painters tape and then spray paint the entire frame, front and back, and also the brackets. It took a couple of sprays before we got totally even coverage. Leave the frame to dry completely.

For the wooden chair parts, first, sand them down to remove the existing varnish. Make sure you sand front and back, top and bottom, as all areas will be seen. Once you have a rough surface, apply wood stain with a brush in the direction of the grain. We did a couple of coats to get the desired dark finish and left the stain on for near an hour rather than the suggested twenty minutes. Remove the excess stain and leave the chairs to dry. It was humid, so our chairs took a good twenty-four hours to dry.

Finally reassemble the chair and enjoy your handy work.

This was a very easy project, especially as we already had all the equipment in the house. While, in time, we will likely want to get new furniture for our kitchen, these chairs work well in our current space. Proof again, that spray paint really is a girl’s best friend.phdikeahack4

Our Wedding Invites

DSCN5978I love Black Friday. I love watching the sunrise over Boston as we return home at 6am after a night of shopping. I love turning on Christmas music for the first time, as our household maintains a strict no-Christmas music until after Thanksgiving rule. In its own way, I even enjoy the 2-hour journey to move the last 3 miles at the entrance to our local outlet malls. Black Friday is very much part of our holiday calendar.

This year, however, we did something we have never done before—a pre-Friday reconnaissance mission. Having received the Michaels’ Black Friday flyer in the mail, I found out the Heidi Swapp’s Minc machine was going to be a Doorbuster deal. The Minc is a foil applicator, akin to a laminator but instead it adds metallic foil to toner print. I have lusted after this machine for months—I watched it in action on YouTube, I read reviews of it on Amazon, and I daydreamed about how much better my wedding invites would look if they were foiled.

At half price, I could no longer resist the call of Minc. I was determined that it would be mine, and I knew other crafters would feel the same. Doorbusters are low priced, limited supply deals designed to entice customers into the store. To be victorious on Black Friday I realized I could not waste time the morning of—I needed to know the store layout in advance so I could make a beeline for the Mincs. And thus, a week before Thanksgiving we found ourselves in Michaels working out the best route. After four years together, my husband did not really even bat an eyelid.

The research paid off, Black Friday arrived and I joined the crowds outside Michaels. When the doors opened at 6am, in we ran. There was no messing about with Christmas décor, or getting distracted by the pull of adult coloring books—oh no, not me. As others fell by the wayside, I kept my focus, striding with purpose to the Minc machines at the back of the store. Victory was mine! As others ran around like headless chickens, I picked up my Minc and several packets of half priced colored foil. Eye of the Tiger playing in my head, I calmly strutted back across the store towards the checkout, fully appreciating how Rocky felt upon reaching the top of the steps.

The Minc is better than I could have ever imagined. I’ve invented wedding projects just so that I can foil things. Martha Stewart, patron saint of all things wedding, says that a logo gives cohesion to the day, so I’ve taken this as encouragement to add our initials to every item I can. And I have to agree, Martha, there is indeed an air of cohesion about our big day…

Rather than using a designer, I wanted to design all our wedding stationery myself. It certainly saved a lot of money, and I really enjoyed writing zero in the invite design column of my wedding cost spreadsheet. More importantly, apart from time the computer crashed and lost everything, and the other time that I missed a typo and had to begin all over again, it was a lot of fun.phdinvites8As we got engaged on the Cape, where hydrangeas line the beach paths, ice cream parlors, and whitewashed picket fences of wealthy Republican driveways, I knew I wanted to incorporate hydrangeas into our stationery. After image searching online, I could not find a hydrangea that met my approval, but I did find a rubber stamp on eBay that fit the bill. Once the stamp arrived I loaded it up with black ink, and scanned the stamped image at high resolution. After cropping and editing the image so that the background was transparent, I was ready for the designing.

For the invite design I used the online photo editor, picmonkey.com. It is easy to use, but I won’t lie, the invites took hours, and if I’m being honest, days. In part this was because I am a craft perfectionist with  strong opinions on fonts and paper types. For any Archers listeners in England, you will understand that I’ve really sympathized with Lynda Snell and her quandary over font choice for the “Resurgam”garden. Thankfully, I faced no such dilemma having decided long ago that Ecuyer Dax was the font for us, and I have used it for all our wedding stationery and signage. As our wedding colors are gold and blush pink, I wanted to use the same colors in our invites and website. After many hours spent rotating hydrangea images, moving things a millimeter to the left and right, and copious proofreading from my mum and husband, the invites were finally ready.

Having been ambushed with questions during the design process—“do you like option A or B, best?,” “what about C or D?,” “Do you like this pink or this pink?,” “ Does this pink match the bridesmaids dresses?”—I suspect my husband breathed a sigh of relief that it was finished. However, moving from designing to printing spawned a new frontier of questions regarding print quality and paper thickness. For several weeks we seemed to get new paper samples in the mail every day, and I spent considerable time waving them back and forward looking for the perfect paper thickness.phdinvites9Once it came time for printing, I ended up ordering from three companies, Vistaprint, Tinyprints, and Shutterfly. In the first batch my husband was missing eyes, and a yellow splodge ruined my perfectly positioned hydrangeas. On the second, the pink background looked too white. While we now affectionately refer to the incident as “Splodge-gate,” tensions were rather high at the time. Thankfully my mother is a master of the complaint letter, and passed this skill on to me. The third batch, just as Goldilocks found with baby bears’ porridge, were perfect.

Being a firm believer in the importance of first impressions, with invites done I turned my attention to envelopes. I wanted to gold foil the addresses using the Minc machine, but ran into problems when my printer did not have a 5 by 7 envelope setting. While some people might have abandoned ship at this point, I refused to be beaten by a laser printer. After a little bit of thought, I realized that I could stick the envelope to a standard piece of paper and fool the printer into printing on the envelope. And so I painstakingly stuck each individual envelope to a paper template using washi tape, and then gold foiled each one. In retrospect, given that there were 130 envelopes, this was mad—but well worth it.phdinvites7When it came to decorating the inside of the envelopes, all my years of couponing and post-valentines sales purchases really paid off as I raided my ever-growing scrapbook paper collection, and selected all the pink and gold hued paper. I cut out envelope inserts and stuck them inside the envelopes. With envelopes filled and stamped, I took my batch of pink and gold beauties to the post office, and felt a little apprehensive about letting them go. However, within days we started to receive RSVP cards with messages from our friends and family, and with each pink hydrangea card that arrives in the mail box we get more excited about the big day.

Inspired by the success of the invites, I have used Picmonkey for bridal shower and rehearsal dinner invites, wedding signage, menus, and order of services. The Minc rarely gets put away and is a regular fixture on our dining room table—I’ve yet to find anything that can’t be improved with foil. Our carpet, for example, is now permanently flecked with foil remnants. What I will do when our wedding is over and there are no craft projects left, I dread to think. Until then I am going to enjoy every minute of my little gold foiling factory and maybe begin to plan for next Black Friday… phdinvite3.JPG

 

 

Ode to the Target Dollar Spot

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The Daily Mail expressed surprise this week at spotting Adele shopping in a California Target despite “being a multimillionaire.” I felt no such shock. Although I am mildly ashamed to admit it, #targetdoesitagain and #targetdollarspot are always among my top Instagram searches. These tags provide carefully staged photos of pencils, notepads, chalk markers, and cake stands, choreographed by Instagram users with names like Plannergirl59 and MacaronMagic. (Macarons and the Eiffel Tower are very popular with American crafters, most of whom I suspect have never visited Europe).

To understand the allure of these hashtags, you need to understand a little about the Target dollar spot, or to use its official name, Bulleye’s Playground. The dollar spot greets you as soon as you walk into any Target store. Everything in the section is either $1 or $3 (although there are also $5 items now), and the items change seasonally. From Halloween window clings to hot dog baskets, glitter glue to heart-shaped paper clips, mason jars to US maps, Dr Suess erasers to Frozen hairbrushes, the dollar spot knows no bounds.

Consistency, however, is not the spot’s strong point—one day it will be fully stocked with seasonal gems, then, almost instantly the shelves will be empty for weeks on end. The dollar spot is a cruel mistress.

It is this unpredictability that feeds the Target Instagram frenzy. “Hit the jackpot at Target today!” reads the caption on bountiful images of stickers, rubber stamps, dish cloths, and the occasional wire pumpkin or Easter Egg tree. Hitting the jackpot at Target does not mean goods were on clearance, or that the store offered free gift cards, but rather that the dollar spot was fully stocked, and you were able to part with your hard earned cash. This is success to a dollar spot fan.

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While they might not recognize themselves as a fandom, Target dollar spot enthusiasts share many characteristics with other well-known fandoms such Potterheads or Trekkies. For example, there is a shared jargon—every item offered at the dollar spot is unfailingly described as “cute,” or, for real emphasis, “so cute” in Instagram comments.

There is a shared sense of purpose—a common belief that only like-minded stationery and home goods addicts can understand their plight. For example, next to an image of a lone novelty Easter pencil, user ilovemakeup laments, “I’ve only been able to find one pen out of the four from the target dollar spot,” accompanied with a range of sad-faced emojis.

In online forums, shoppers share pictures of Target trucks and cardboard boxes of dollar spot merchandising awaiting the shelves. Stories of women patiently pacing the aisles waiting for shelves to be restocked are not uncommon. The oft-cited idiom that “the dollar spot struggle is real” provides unity to shoppers dispersed all over the United States.

Indeed, the dollar spot’s fanbase is not limited to the USA. On the pages of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook’s “dollar spot swap” group, crafters the world over lament the paucity of Targets in their countries, and plead for volunteers to buy Target’s list pads, post-its, and gel pens and mail them internationally. PayPal makes such transactions easy.

phdpftarget4Planner girls—women who approach a weekly planner with the same tenacity as a Midwestern scrapbooker—find particular delight in the Target dollar spot and its ever changing range of seasonal list pads and labels. The most sought after items are the page flags—decorated miniature post-it notes, which rarely stick due to the cheap adhesive. Such a design flaw, however, does not deter a committed planner. Instead, they swap tips on how to redo the glue and laminate the flags. Like any self-respecting fandom, Target fans assign their own values on dollar spot products, most especially the hallowed page flags. I recently sold a “rare” set of $1 page flags for over $20 on eBay. The coveted teal polka dot and pink striped page flag set can go for upwards of $75.

This frenzied economy explains the shelf-lifting craze of 2015. Target shoppers realized that older merchandise occasionally fell underneath the stores’ shelving units, and thus advocated taking apart the metal merchandise displays to see what hidden gems could be found amongst the dust. After people began posting images of injuries they sustained in the process, online communities began to advocate against the practice.

At the end of 2015, Target rebranded the dollar spot. When shelving displays disappeared from stores, chatrooms feared the end of the Spot. Following the rebrand announcement, fears were instantly allayed and instead communities speculated about Target’s new bargain bins with the ferocity of a teenager waiting for a favorite boy band to come to town.

Along with other Target aficionados, I now dutifully add #bullseyesplayground to my Instagram searches. I tell myself I have my standards. I won’t shelf-lift or risk any bodily injury in the pursuit of bargains. I refuse to buy the multipack pencils, however “cute,” because they never sharpen. I will never buy page flags on eBay, or use the phrase “the struggle is real.”

And yet, yesterday I hit the Target jackpot. I took a photo of the rows of dollar spot merchandise and sent it to my husband. I sat on the shop floor to reach merchandise stuck at the back of the shelf. I left the store with 50 paper straws, a water carafe, two yards of glittery ribbon, 40 ice cream cups, and a packet of novelty erasers. Target did it again…

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Mission Impossible in a Sofa Store

Strange as it sounds, furniture stores remind me of home. A Christmas at home in England wouldn’t be Christmas without watching the plethora of sofa ads, preferably with a glass of mulled wine in hand, and asking out loud who buys these terrible products. “There’s not one there, I would buy” is a frequent outburst in our house, often accompanied by “I wouldn’t give it house-room”—one of my late grandmother’s famed phrases.

When I first saw Jordan’s Furniture ads, I knew I had found the American equivalent. Jordan’s is a large New England furniture company that takes its local links seriously. The store’s owner is a dedicated Red Sox fan, and watching him promise free furniture if the Sox win the World Series is now part of the ritual of the New England Spring. An enthusiastic balding man with a silver ponytail, Jordan boasts about his stores’ current offers with great gusto in low budget local tv commercials. He is also not really called Jordan, I recently discovered his name is Eliot. However, to me, and I expect most of New England, he will always be Jordan.

The mysterious allure of Jordan’s Furniture deepened last Christmas when I heard Jordan (ok, Eliot) on the radio inviting people to come to the store to purchase the famous Jordan’s blueberry muffins! As I was driving at the time, I had to wait till I got home to investigate this properly. I suspect the powers that be at Jordan’s were inspired by Rowan Atkinson’s observation that “this is so much more that a bag” in Love Actually, as Jordan’s really appeared to be “so much more than a store.” In addition to the famed blueberry muffins, the store website promised an enchanted village for Christmas, and a light and water spectacular with over 9,000 water nozzles.

Having spent most of my childhood holidays in the Isle of Wight where we stoically eschewed Waltzing Waters as a matter of principle, my natural instinct was to avoid Jordan’s at all cost, however, a final attraction caught my attention: the IMAX cinema. I know this sounds like I made it up, but I swear it’s real. Our local furniture store contains an IMAX cinema!

Further investigation revealed that the 8 Story-high screen offered 12,000 watts of “mind boggling surround sound,” all brought to you while in the comfort of a memory foam Tempur-Pedic seat. I would love to have been in the marketing meetings when they dreamed this idea up. I can picture the conversation at which two executives said if we could get people to watch a movie in a memory foam chair then surely they will buy a memory foam mattress. The logic almost works, and yet somehow it doesn’t.

By this point, however, I was hooked; I had no choice but to experience this cinema for myself. Hearing that the new Mission Impossible film was playing, we decided that this would be suitably epic for the Jordan’s big screen. We drove to the store, parked in the ginormous car park and entered the revolving glass doors.

Nothing, not even my careful consultation of Jordan’s website, prepared me for the sight that met us. To our left was a Jelly Bean factory, to our right a trapeze school, and straight-ahead a giant mechanical moving statue of Wally, the Red Sox mascot (a cleaner version of Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch). Alarmingly the green creature seemed to have taken a Yankees player hostage in his giant hand, rather like King Kong and Fay Wray.phdpiefillingjordans1With some understandable trepidation, we passed under the mascot’s giant arm and found ourselves in a very normal looking furniture store. We followed small signs for the IMAX through rooms of beds, patio furniture displays, living room set-ups, sofas, and vases. The walk seemed to go on forever, and we both really doubted whether the IMAX would ever materialize. However, eventually we passed our final settee and found ourselves at a popcorn stand. We purchased tickets and entered into the cinema.phdpiefillingjordans4Utterly bemused, we discussed what had just happened. Why was there a Jelly Bean factory in a furniture store? Had Michael Jackson designed this bizarre play land? How were people walking through rooms of furniture to get to a cinema like it was a perfectly normal thing to do?

Our discussion was interrupted as the room went dark and Eliot’s giant face appeared on the 8-Story screen and his 12,000-Watt voice boomed through the cinema. This was, we were promised, the most comfortable seat we would ever sit in and the most impressive sound we would ever hear. Eliot proudly explained that our seats were not merely seats; they were “Butt Kickers” with built in subwoofers. The thought of Eliot’s voice so close to me was quite unnerving.phdpiefillingjordans3The film, however, was excellent, and fully deserving of the supersized screen and subwoofers. The storyline was gripping, I only had to close my eyes a couple of times, and the shots of London and its skyline were all the better for the 8-Story projection. As the credits rolled and the lights came up, we made our way out of the cinema and into a display of grey-striped armchairs before eventually returning to the entrance and the giant green monster. We exited the store by passing underneath a statue of George Washington on his horse made entirely out of Jelly Beans….phdpiefillingjordans2Blinking in the bright Boston sunlight we struggled to make sense of what we had just experienced. Suffice to say we will not be buying a subwoofer or a Tempur-Pedic mattress, but we might just be back to this most bizarre of institutions. If DFS or Land of Leather were to offer similar such experiences in England, maybe I would move from mocking their ads to visiting their stores. In the mean time, I watch Eliot’s ads with new appreciation, armed with the knowledge that behind the unassuming black clothes and greying ponytail there is a real American eccentric. I’m not convinced this fantasy world helps to sell furniture, but thank you for the show….

The Dress

phdpfwedding4Last month I thought I might drown in tulle. Having got engaged the month before, we were now preparing for our civil ceremony in Boston. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted my dress to be like, and as my vision was unavailable in stores I took it upon myself to make my wedding dress. For the duration of late June our apartment looked somewhat akin to Miss Havisham’s dining room, but instead spider webs, blush tulle draped every surface. Crossing the floor became a dangerous assault course of pin-dodging, and I even pulled tulle remnants out of the bathroom drain.

The project took 3 seasons of Madmen to complete. Whole days were lost to hemming and the high temperatures outside meant that I kept the curtains closed to try and keep the apartment cool. And there, alone in the darkened room, I sewed and cut, and pinned and unpicked, and wondered if I was in fact in danger of becoming Miss Havisham.

Thankfully, these fears were unwarranted: opening the curtains and vacuuming quickly removed all traces of the Dickensian spinster, and instead a happy bride with a fabulously fifties-inspired outfit emerged from the piles of tulle, thread, and pattern paper.

For the skirt I used Simplicity 1427 View C. I have never made a skirt before and this one was an ambitious start as it calls for nearly 14 yards of gathered tulle. The reviews I read online were not generally very complimentary about the pattern design and instructions, and it is certainly a complicated and time-consuming procedure. I actually think the design is rather clever as the skirt waistband is constructed of two separate yolk pieces each with approximately 7 yards of gathered tulle to ensure that there is not too much bulk around the waistline.phdpfwedding6

The tulle is sewn onto a circular underskirt requiring nearly 5 yards of fabric. The woman at the fabric store balked when I told her it was all for a skirt, and I should have responded to her hesitancy. After sewing 5 yards of rolled hem, (a process that took nearly 4 episodes of Madmen) I constructed the skirt and tried it on. You could easily have fitted 3 of me in the skirt. Foolishly I persevered, telling myself that once the elastic was added this three-person skirt would shrink to my size. However, elastic does not have magical powers. I tried on the skirt complete with the first seven yards of tulle and was horrified. There was extra fabric everywhere and it was clear that that my hips did not need another 7 yards of padding, as they already had quite enough.

After a rather tense day of wondering how I would ever get this skirt to work, I realized deconstruction was the key. I carefully unpicked all the tulle from the skirt so that I could attack the underskirt with scissors. I removed about 2 yards of the underskirt and felt a stab of pain as I cut apart my carefully rolled hem. I also abandoned the duel-yoke construction and opted instead for a mere 7 yards of tulle on my skirt. To those of you brave enough to tackle this skirt yourself, I would suggest ignoring the underskirt pattern and instead constructing a circular skirt based on your actual waist measurements- no one needs 5 yards of fabric on an underskirt.

With nearly half the underskirt removed, I once again sewed the tulle to the skirt and added the elastic to the waistband. With bated breath I looked in the mirror and felt much relief to see that I no longer looked liked the Michelin Man, and instead had achieved the Fifties silhouette I was seeking.

For the top I chose to make the bodice of one of my favorite dresses to make, the Emery Dress by Christine Haynes. As I have made this dress several times I knew it would fit, however, I had to add a couple of inches to the bodice so that I could tuck into the skirt. I also chose to shorten the sleeves by several inches to make cap sleeves. For the top I used Michael Miller’s Confetti Border in Confection, which is from the Glitz collection. Michael Miller is a dream to sew with, and every time I use his fabric I swear I will never sew with cheap cotton again. To accommodate the print, I had to cut on the cross grain even though the Emery pattern is supposed to be on the grain. It did not seem to effect the fit too much, it was just a smidgen tighter than if cut on the grain.

The Emery dress has an invisible zipper and I included this in my bodice. As invisible zippers are joined together at the bottom this did mean that the top had to go on over my head. I plan to add a skirt to this Emery bodice after the wedding so that I can continue to wear it.

phdpfwedding5For the dress sash, I went to M&J Trimmings in NYC. The store is a mecca of ribbon with floor to ceiling ribbon displays in every color and texture imaginable. I could happily have stayed there for hours. Exercising some restraint, I purchased three yards of blush and gold ribbon. I wore the gold during the day and the blush sash when we went for dinner the night of our wedding.

phdpfwedding1Unlike the hapless Miss Havisham, I was not left alone on my wedding day. Instead my groom cried when he first saw me in my dress. My sister sent me a beautiful gold and blush tote bag from England, and my husband bought me a blush Kate Spade handbag as a wedding gift, so I was well accessorized. The dress was a big undertaking, but when a little girl in our hotel ran towards her Mum and told her she had seen a princess, every pinprick was worth it. For one day, I was Jackie O, and Belle, and every cover girl of Life magazine rolled into one, and I absolutely loved it.phdpfwedding3