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Changing Your Name Is a Choice

February 12th, 2012 by Melia

Yesterday I found myself in a dinner conversation with three other women, all in different stages of a relationship with a man: one recently married, one engaged, and the third in a long-term partnership. We began talking about whether each of us had changed, or planned to change, our names upon marriage. I felt my heart rate quicken a little when the subject came up, because this is a topic that brings up strong feelings for me, and for many other people.

As a young romantic, I used to doodle the name of my latest crush in my school notebook in flowery cursive. Occasionally, I would write, “Mrs. Melia ____“, filling in the blank with the last name of the object of my affection. I wanted to know how our names sounded together, and I took it for granted that one day, my dream guy would fill in that blank permanently.

Part of my expectation came from the fact that I didn’t like my last name, Dicker, at all when I was growing up. Other kids would snicker at it when they heard it for the first time. Some would even say with genuine disbelief, “Is that really your last name?” (I’m sure the Woodcocks and the Hardwicks of the modern world sympathize with me here.) I hoped that I’d get married early in life so I could take my husband’s name and make people quit it with the penis jokes, already.

But I didn’t end up getting married early in life. I got married at age 30, and by that time, I’d made peace with my last name. It felt comfortable, like a funky sweater that I’d worn awkwardly as a kid but had grown into as an adult. Most of my peers had matured enough that they didn’t need to stifle a laugh when I introduced myself. When the occasional douchebag at a party would say, “Haha, Dicker?” (yes, this actually happened in my 20’s), I’d just roll my eyes and reply, “Dude, I’ve heard ’em all,” before turning to find someone else to talk with.

By age 30, I’d established myself professionally and had worked hard to do so. I had made major personal sacrifices to co-found two nonprofit organizations. I’d put in many hours to build my byline as a freelance writer. I had done those things as Melia Dicker, and I didn’t want to destroy my credentials by changing my name. But still, I didn’t find the decision easy to make. The romantic part of me wanted to share a name with my husband to symbolize our becoming an official, lifelong team.

After I’d given it a lot of thought, I decided to keep my name, at least for the time being. The choice was half purposeful, half practical. Purposefully, I wanted to avoid being absorbed into my husband’s identity (the origin of women’s name-changing upon marriage is coverture, in which a woman’s legal rights were subsumed by her husband). Practically, “Melia Schwindaman” simply does not roll off the tongue. In my ideal world, Darren and I would combine our names to form a new one, but sadly, “Dicker-Schwindaman” and “Dickaman” sound pretty ri-dick-ulous. We jokingly call ourselves “The Schwindickermans” but would never legally impose such a mouthful on ourselves, and certainly not on our future children.

So, my husband remains Darren Schwindaman, and I’m still Melia Dicker. Together, we’re The Schwindickermans. We’re a team. And neither of us gave up a name that has defined us since the day we were born.

I want to be clear that my choice to keep my name doesn’t mean that I judge women who take their husband’s. I deeply respect my sister, Gill, and several of my closest friends, who thought carefully about their options before they decided to change their names. They acknowledged mixed feelings about it, and they recognized the emotional impact of saying goodbye to a name that they’d had for at least a couple of decades (Gill has written beautifully about how challenging this process was for her). They had their reasons: they liked their husband’s name better; they wanted to become a clear family unit; or they wanted to simplify matters for their future children. They didn’t change their names because that’s what women do when they get married.

What bothers me is the widespread expectation that women will take their husbands’ names. I could stomach the fact that 90 to 95 percent of women take their husbands names if I knew that it was a choice that they were making consciously and freely. But for many women and their husbands, it’s an action that’s taken for granted. It raises my blood pressure to know that 50 percent of 815 respondents in a 2011 survey believed that women should be legally required to take their husbands’ names (published in the journal Gender & Society, reported by LiveScience). What really sends me through the roof is a common response by survey participants when asked if it were OK for a man to take his wife’s last name. “They were incredulous,” said Brian Powell, one of the Indiana University sociologists behind the survey. “They would laugh at it. One quote was, ‘Sure, if he wants to be a woman.'” To me, seeing this kind of sexism in the 21st century is absolutely maddening.

There seems to be a resurgence of traditional practices in marriage even among those who consider themselves liberal. Over the past 10 years, it’s actually become less common for women to keep their own names than in previous years. The Huffington Post reported that the practice peaked in the 1990s at 23 percent and declined to 18 percent in the 2000s. Last year, in a survey of 19,000 women by, only 8 percent reported keeping their own names. (Granted, brides who use may be more traditional than those who don’t.)

At the same time, however, more women are writing about their decision to keep their names, more couples are combining their last names to form a new one, and more men are stepping up and taking their wives’ last names. In fact, a California man fought successfully in 2008 for a new state law that guarantees the right of either partner in a marriage or domestic partnership to choose the name they prefer. Stunningly, there are fewer than 10 states with laws like this.

Before I read up on the subject, I was only partially convinced that keeping my name was right for me. Now, I’m sure of it. As Anna Quindlen writes in one of my favorite essays, “The name is mine.”

Changing your name is a choice. Please don’t assume that a woman will change her name when she gets married, and certainly don’t assume that she should. If you believe that women and men should have equal rights, then you can’t expect a woman to take a man’s name just because she marries him. No one would expect the reverse of a man.

Last night at dinner, as I felt myself tensing up during the name-change conversation, I began to relax when I learned that all three women at the table had given plenty of thought to what they would do with their names upon marriage and why. They had reasons that guided their decisions, and they had conflicting feelings about them. It didn’t matter as much to me what these women had decided as it did to know that they’d recognized their power to make a choice in the first place, a choice that was right for them.

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4 Things I’ve Learned from 4 Years Together

February 3rd, 2012 by Melia

February 3rd is one of my favorite days of the year. It’s the day I began dating the man who would become my husband. And it’s the day he proposed to me, two years later. It’s a pretty darn special day.

Today, I wanted to recognize our anniversary with a reflection on how our relationship has changed me. What came to mind are four things I’ve learned from our four years together:

1. I didn’t have to “fix” myself before being with Darren, because he brings out my best self.

I’d hoped to work out all my issues before meeting my husband (ha!), so I could be the best partner possible for him. I knew the many ways in which I was broken, and all of the fixes I wanted to make before I would make a worthy wife. What I didn’t expect is that being with Darren would help me become my best self. Darren brings out my silly side, and he recognizes my strengths in ways that help me recognize them, too. On my part, I think I’ve gotten him to take himself less seriously; he says that I’ve also unlocked his love of fresh food and creative cooking. Together, we have a creative synergy, a way of generating better ideas together than either of us would have had on our own. As the wise Fabolous and Neyo once said, “I’m a movement by myself, but I’m a force when we’re together.”

2. When life feels unsettling, my relationship is a fixed star in my universe.

For whatever reason, I don’t tend to take the easy road in life. I’m very hard on myself, and I’ve made career choices that mean a lot of work for very little pay. There have been a great many times in my four years with Darren when I felt upset or confused or even hopeless. Even when I’m crying or my thoughts are spiraling out of control, I take a moment to stop and remind myself, “Darren and I have each other.” Our partnership is the signpost in the ground that I can return to again and again, the north star I can find when I’ve lost my way. I know that Darren loves me even when I’m at my worst, and that no matter what obstacles arise, we’ll figure out a way past them together.

3. The exceptional moments and the day-to-day moments together are both precious.

Darren and I have been fortunate to have shared many peak moments together: watching the sun rise from a riverboat on the Yangtze River; sipping wine from the rooftop of a fancy hotel at San Francisco’s Union Square; looking up in awe at the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel in Vatican City; and walking barefoot on a Hawaiian beach under the stars. We’ve enjoyed all of those exceptional times together and hope to have a great many more. But we also enjoy sitting together on our comfy sectional couch and watching our favorite shows. That’s pretty much where you can find us every night at home. I’d say that we enjoy these quiet day-to-day moments together as much the ones that are worthy of a highlights reel.

4. There’s nothing like laughing together.

One of the things I love best about Darren is that he makes me laugh, really laugh, every day. Every day! Someone once told me that the most important key to a lasting marriage is being able to laugh together. At the time, I thought, “Well, what about shared values and goals? What about being able to have heart-to-heart talks, and challenging each other to grow?” Now, I think that while there are many important little things that contribute to a healthy marriage, laughing together — even during a conflict — is one of the most essential.

And with that, I toast the love of my life in celebration of our anniversary. I look forward to many more!

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As Long As We Both Shall Live

July 13th, 2011 by Melia

This post picks up where “Gearing Up to Get Hitched” left off.

The wedding party, my parents, and I were lined up in the room adjacent to the Union Station foyer, ready to process up the aisle. I heard the opening bars of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The wedding was beginning. Darren’s and my dear friends Jamie Weems and Johnny Bertram, two of the most talented musicians in Jackson (and really, anywhere), were playing an instrumental version of the song on mandolin and guitar. Janet Lee, the day-of event coordinator, had lined up members of the wedding party single-file — girl, boy, girl, boy — and gently nudged each when it was time for them to walk between the two white wooden partitions and up the aisle.

My parents linked arms with me, my six-foot-two dad on my left and my five-foot-two mom on my right. They smiled at me as we inched forward, watching my bridesmaids and Darren’s groomsmen leave one by one. Janet gestured to us to approach her. We waited for a few moments until Jamie and Johnny ended the opening song, paused, and began to play “Sea of Love.” The guests stood and turned to face my parents and me. Suddenly, I got butterflies in my stomach. This was really happening! Janet gave us our cue, and we began walking slowly up the aisle.

I couldn’t stop grinning as I swept my gaze from row to row, looking as many guests in the eye as possible. I saw my Chinese cousins and their parents, who had flown in from Maryland; my Dad’s side of the family from California; my coworkers from around the country; Darren’s college classmates; his extended family on his mom’s side and his dad’s; and our closest friends from Jackson, the Bay Area, and a few other places. I felt an overwhelming sense of love emanating from all of these people, and a deep gratitude that they had come from near and far to celebrate my marriage. I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, this convening of loved ones from each phase of my life, and I savored every moment of it.

As my parents and I approached the front of the aisle, I turned my attention straight ahead. Darren was facing me, smiling, with his brothers on one side and our officiants, David and Debo Dykes, on the other. Darren and the officiants stood under the incredibly beautiful bottle tree arbor that our friend Stephanie Dwyer had created for the wedding, its iron tendrils curling up toward the ceiling. “Darren” and “Melia” were engraved in its leaves.

I felt grateful that I’d already cried at the rehearsal so I wouldn’t be a hot mess when all eyes were on me. I turned to hug my dad and my mom, and they took their seats as I approached Darren and took his hand. We smiled at each other, with a look that said, “Wow, we’re really doing this!”

David and Debo, a long-married couple who are both clients and friends and also happen to be ordained ministers (Methodist and Episcopal, respectively), said, “Welcome to you all. Melia and Darren wish to welcome you with these words.” Darren’s mom, Jill, stood and read a poem, “To Love Is Not to Possess,” by James Kavanaugh. Among the stanzas was this:

Love only endures when it moves like waves,
Receding and returning gently or passionately,
Or moving lovingly like the tide
In the moon’s own predictable harmony.

David and Debo then asked for the declaration of consent, which precedes the actual vows. They asked if we would love and comfort each other, keep each other in sickness and in health, and be faithful to one another. “I will,” each of us said. The officiants turned to each of our families. “To Melia’s family, will you accept Darren as part of your family and support this marriage?” They replied, “We will.”

My mom stood and read my favorite Pablo Neruda sonnet, XVII. It ends:

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

After Jamie and Johnny played a lovely instrumental interlude of “Simple Gifts,” David and Debo gave a brief homily. They said:

We wish for Melia and Darren the kind of love that is generous of spirit when nerves are frayed, energies depleted, and life’s pressures and burdens are intense and heavy. We’re wishing for them love that gives comfort and assurance when every other energy and resource is spent. We’re wishing them love that rejoices in truth and nurtures the courage to spea kthe truth to each other always.

Toward the end of the homily, they gave this advice:

Be unwilling to give up love and hope and joy! Insist on sharing your thoughts and feelings and dreams; your frustrations and difficulties, together. Be bold in risking the truth. Be vigilant in your honesty. Trust beyond common sense. Don’t fix each other. You can’t! Don’t reform each other. You won’t. Don’t perfect each other. You never will. You can only love each other.

Then came the vows. David began to speak, and Debo nudged him and pointed to the program they were following. Apparently, it was her turn to speak. David deadpanned to the crowd, “Didn’t you just say, ‘Don’t perfect each other’?” We all laughed, Debo most of all.

Given that the wedding was interfaith and somewhat non-traditional, it was important to me to exchange traditional vows. I wanted the ceremony to feel sacred to us and our guests; I wanted it to be recognizable as a rite of passage. Darren and I faced each other and joined our hands. Repeating after the officiants, Darren said:

Melia, I take you to be my wife,
To have and to hold,
For better or for worse,
In sickness and in health,
To love and to cherish,
my constant friend,
my faithful partner,
As long as we both shall live.

I spoke the same vows to Darren, making sure that I meant every word and understood the lifetime commitment that they signified. Darren’s brother and Co-Best Man, Greg, presented the rings. Darren placed the simple gold band on my left ring finger and repeated after David:

Melia, wish all that I am, and all that I have, I give you this ring as a symbol of our vows.

I slipped Darren’s silver band onto his ring finger and said those words back to him. Darren and I then stepped to the right side of the arbor to light the unity candle. Because our families are both Catholic, I had wanted to weave a Christian tradition into the ceremony. I liked the symbolism of two individual flames continuing to burn brightly but also creating a new flame together.

There had been one little glitch in the setup of the unity candle. The thick, red candle that I’d bought for the occasion had vanished into thin air (I suspect that it’s still in the shopping cart at Target), so Darren had grabbed a large white candle from our house that we had burned more than a few times already. As we each dipped our lit taper candles toward the very low wick of the unity candle, Debo said, “This flame symbolizes your eternal love for each other. Never let the flame of your marriage go out.”

At that moment, on cue, my flame went out. The wick was just too low to catch fire, and by turning my taper upside down, I had extinguished the flame. Everyone, Darren and I included, burst out laughing. Fortunately, Darren’s taper was still lit and he rescued me by lighting mine again. I liked the symbolism of this spontaneous act: When one of us is down and out, the other will be there to replenish our spirits. The comic relief didn’t undermine the sacred nature of the ceremony, but it did bring a cathartic feeling of lightness and ease into the room.

David and Debo concluded the ceremony with a marriage blessing, and then said to us:

Now you will feel no rain, For each of you will be shelter to the other. Now you will feel no cold, For each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there is no more loneliness, For each of you will be companion to the other. Go now, to enter into the days of your togetherness, And may your days be good and long upon the earth.

To the audience, Debo said:

Live without fear; protect and love one another. Go in peace to follow the good road, and live in the joy that you have been given.

We stood there for a moment, and Darren turned to David to ask, “Do we kiss now?” Clearly, he was waiting for the words, “You may kiss the bride.” Before David could answer, I pulled Darren to me and said, “Just kiss me!” He obliged. The audience laughed and cheered.

Darren and I turned to face our guests. Debo said, “I now present to you Darren Schwindaman and Melia Dicker.” I’d decided to keep my name (for reasons that I share in another post), and while it didn’t have the novelty of “Darren and Melia Schwindaman,” it still felt great.

Everyone applauded, and Johnny and Jamie began playing one of our favorite songs, “Cinnamon” by the Long Winters. Darren and I walked down the center aisle together, smiling with every step, and I looked again at the faces of the people I loved the most. It was the most all-encompassing feeling of joy that I’d ever had in my life. We were married!


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Love’s Little Sacrifices

June 24th, 2011 by Melia

Fortunately for Darren and me, we generally agree on how to spend our free time together. We have friends over for regular potluck dinners, travel to places near and far, go to music and art events around town, and customize our living spaces to suit our needs. We also watch an embarrassing amount of TV, having a regular lineup of shows that range from the educational (“Master Chef”) to the entertaining (“Fringe”).

There’s also the TV that we tolerate for each other’s sake: Darren watches “Grey’s Anatomy” for my benefit, and I’ll occasionally watch “Sons of Anarchy” because he loves it so much. Marriage expert John Gottman calls this practice “accepting your partner’s influence” and holds it as one of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. In successful relationships, people take their partner’s opinions and feelings into account before making decisions, and they’re open to one another’s interests.

Darren and I apply this principle regularly and intentionally, doing our best to get excited about something the other person is excited about. Darren matters to me, so I respect what matters to him. When possible, we ease the burden on each other: He talks fantasy baseball with his brothers, and I talk relationships with my girlfriends; he goes to see superhero movies with his guy friends and I see romantic comedies with my girls. Sometimes, though, we have to make little sacrifices for each other, and this past weekend was one of those times.

The Schwinda-men (Darren, his brothers, and his dad) are super-fans of the Atlanta Braves, and it’s a summertime tradition for them to convene in the ATL for “Braves weekend.” Last year Darren’s younger brothers, Greg and Jeff, brought their girlfriends, Meghan and Julie, but I couldn’t go because of a work commitment. This year, I was glad that I’d be available.

“Which day are we going to the Braves game?” I asked Darren.

“Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,” he said.

It was only then that I grasped the full meaning of “Braves weekend.”

I don’t hate baseball, but I don’t love it, either. I’m pretty lukewarm about all spectator sports; there are probably 20 activities that I’d prefer to do than watch them. So naturally, I wasn’t crazy about driving six hours each way to Atlanta and spending a full weekend watching three games in the Southern heat. On the other hand, I wanted to see the family — Meghan and Julie, who are awesome, are most certainly included in “family” — and I was looking forward to shopping at Trader Joe’s and IKEA, neither of which we have anywhere near Jackson. The investment of time and energy were sacrifices that I was prepared to make.

My outlook brightened when I decided to buy tickets for the NKOTBSB concert in Memphis, which happened to fall on the day after Braves weekend. NKOTBSB is the ingenious combination of New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys, 90’s boy bands that have reunited and are touring together this summer. It’s a boy band extravaganza.

Darren smiled when he saw how over-the-moon excited I was about the concert. “Who are you going with?” he asked.

I smiled back at him. “You, of course!”

The look on his face was priceless. “Ohhhhhh!” he said with mock excitement. He knew that I’d go with a girlfriend if I could, but no one I knew in Jackson was a big enough NKOTBSB fan to drive three and a half hours to see the show on a Monday night. Being the good sport he is, he agreed to be my date.

And so it was settled. I would go Braves weekend for Darren, and he would go to the NKOTBSB concert for me.

The trek to Atlanta wasn’t bad. Darren’s dad drove, and he and Darren chatted and listened to the radio while I sat in the back seat and finished reading “The Happiness Project.” We drove straight to the evening game at Turner Field, which meant by the time it ended around 11 pm, I was falling asleep in the bleachers. The next day’s game, which began at 4 pm, paused in the middle of the fifth inning due to heavy storms. We waited under an overhang for two hours for the game to resume, and once it did, it went into extra innings. Darren calls this “free baseball.” I call it “someone better freaking score so we can go home already.”

The Schwinda-men: Jeff, Greg, Darren, & Dale

The ladies: Meghan, Julie, and me

For me, the best part about the weekend was hanging out with Darren’s family. He and his brothers rag on each other constantly and turn everything into a competition, which makes everyone laugh uncontrollably. On Sunday, the girls and I sat together, which made the game fly by. We talked about our plans for the summer and joked about how 2nd baseman Dan Uggla is, unfortunately, kind of uggla. The game ended around 5 pm, and the drive back to Atlanta was the most brutal part of the whole event. When Darren and I finally arrived in Jackson close to 11 pm, I fell into bed.

Darren and I spent the next morning working hard so we could leave again that afternoon for Memphis. We arrived in time to check into our hotel and eat dinner at a classy restaurant, Flight. It was as close as I’d ever come to eating in my dream restaurant, The Sampler Platter, in which every item on the menu is a sampler. Flight offers amazing three-item flights for each course and allows you to mix and match them. The Elvis was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had: petite French toast triangles, peanut butter fluff, and warm bourbon banana sauce. Whether or not Darren would enjoy the concert, the meal alone had clearly made the trip worthwhile for both of us.

We walked from the hotel to the FedEx Forum on Beale Street and were greeted by several thousand chattering, squealing women between the ages of 20 and 50. Some had dressed in outstanding 80’s and early 90’s outfits: crimped hair, fluorescent oversized t-shirts, and bright leggings. I had briefly entertained the idea of dressing up in baggy overalls and a sideways cap splattered with puff paint, but I didn’t want to embarrass Darren any more than I already would be by bringing him to see two 90’s boy bands.

Because the concert hadn’t sold out, we were relocated from the cheapest nosebleed seats to two sections above the floor, which gave us a close view of the catwalk that extended out into the audience. The arena went dark as the show began, and the big screens around the venue lit up with a flashy video introduction to each member of NKOTBSB. The crowd screamed, and Darren and I popped in the earplugs that I happened to have in my purse. Among puffs of smoke and colorful beams of light, the curtain came up slowly, revealing nine silhouettes standing onstage. As the lights came up during the opening number, a cover of Colplay’s “Viva La Vida,” I saw Joey, Jordan, Jon, Danny, and Donnie and screamed like the 10-year-old I was when I first discovered the New Kids. I cheered for the Backstreet Boys, too, even though I know their hits better than I know them as performers. “I Want It That Way” is a go-to karaoke song of mine, but I wouldn’t recognize A.J. or Howie walking down the street.

The “New Kids dance” during “(You Got It) The Right Stuff”

The boys put on a great show, full of choreographed dancing and crowd participation. The rest of the audience and I waved one hand in the air during “Hangin’ Tough,” and when Jordan prompted us, “Step One,” we sang back, “We can have lots of fun.” During the concert, I glanced at Darren regularly to see how he was doing. He seemed to be enjoying the show about as much as I’d enjoyed the Braves games: he was moderately engaged, with wandering attention. He clapped a bit after each song but didn’t cheer, and I caught him checking his fantasy baseball score on his phone a few times. At one point, the New Kids joked about how few guys there were in the audience and pointed the spotlight onto one guy they dubbed their “Cover Boy.” (Fans will get the reference to the song “Cover Girl.”)

Earplugs, beer, and fantasy baseball make the NKOTBSB show bearable for Darren.

Joey McIntyre points out the “Cover Boy” in the audience

Toward the end of the two-hour show, Brian from Backstreet called out, “Who’s having fun?” (“WOOOOO!” the crowd answered.) “Who’s ready to go home?” (“BOOOOO!” yelled the crowd.) I said to myself, “I kinda am.” My feet hurt from standing in my flats, and my 11 pm bedtime was creeping up. I no longer had the energy of a 10-year-old. Luckily, the show ended shortly with a high-energy mashup of “Hangin’ Tough” and “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” confetti flying, lights flashing, and smoke shooting up from the catwalk. The show was everything I’d hoped it would be: a nostalgic greatest hits spectacle all in good fun. And Joey McIntyre is still dreamy.

The best part of the concert and the Braves weekend was the opportunity for Darren and me demonstrate the little sacrifices we’re willing to make for each other’s happiness. There will be other Braves weekends, and there will be other concerts (Taylor Swift is coming to Memphis in October!). If we’re able to keep accepting each other’s influence with a smile, I know that our future together will be bright.

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Gearing Up to Get Hitched

June 15th, 2011 by Melia

I woke up on my wedding day feeling surprisingly calm. The clock read 7:05 am, which meant I had 40 minutes before my hairstylist and makeup artist knocked on the door of my suite at the King Edward Hotel. I freshened up and tidied the suite, which was awesomely large. It had a spacious living room area with a desk and an adjacent bathroom. Through a doorway was the bedroom and master bathroom. I’d been looking forward to spending the morning getting pretty with my seven bridesmaids, who would be arriving at 8 am to have their hair and makeup done.

The hairstylist, David Browman, and his raven-haired assistant, Antoinique arrived. She looked so much like a runway model that I was intimidated by her, but she turned out to be soft-spoken and kind. David and Antoinique lugged their extensive gear into the small bathroom, where they began plugging in hot rollers and filling the counters with bobby pins and bottles of hairspray. Crystal Tullos, the makeup artist, arrived, and I helped her set up in the master bathroom.

Gill was next to show up, bearing gifts of coffee. “The boys are getting bagels and orange juice,” she said. Before her own wedding, her bridal party had sipped mimosas in her suite while getting our hair and makeup done, and I’d learned that mimosas are the secret ingredient to a happy wedding day. Several bottles of champagne, courtesy of Gill’s husband, Brian, were already chilling in the mini-fridge. Brian, a lieutenant in the Navy and one of Darren’s groomsmen, was exactly the kind of leader we needed during wedding madness. He spent the morning delegating tasks to the guys and running errands himself to keep the event running smoothly.

I propped open the door of my suite as my bridesmaids began to arrive, all wearing button-down shirts so they wouldn’t mess up their hair when they changed into their dresses later. They hugged me and squealed, “How do you feel?” I told them I felt really good, slightly jittery about the event itself, but excited about the getting married part. It felt wonderful to have my closest girlfriends surrounding me, sitting on the couch chattering with each other and flipping through the Real Simple and Oprah magazines that I’d left out for them.

The hair and makeup extravaganza began. As much as I usually don’t like to be told what to do, I make exceptions for hair and makeup. I wasn’t a girl who grew up painting her face with her mom’s makeup, because my mom hardly wore any. I’m 30 and still barely know how to use eyeliner, much less create those “smoky eyes” that Cosmo is always raving about. For reasons half practical, half lazy, I pull my hair into a ponytail instead of investing any time into styling it. It’s thick and takes ages to blow dry.

Given my total lack of beauty school skills, I was glad that David, in the sassy manner only a gay stylist can pull off, nixed the hairstyle I had in mind for the wedding. I’d sent him a photo of my go-to up-do: curls pinned on top of my head, with a couple of ringlets loose around my face. “It’s kind of dated,” he said. I thought for a minute and realized that I’d first gotten this hairstyle before my Homecoming dance in 1995 and had stuck with it ever since. Touché. “I’m thinking more of a soft Taylor Swift look, with curls loosely gathered at the nape of your neck,” David said. He’d said the magic words. I love me some Tay Swift. I let him do his job.

After sitting for David and Antoinique and then for Crystal, I had Taylor Swift hair and red lips and was ready to put on my dress. Gill helped me into it, and my photographers, Adam and Allison Hudson — who had arrived around noon — took pictures of Gill zipping me into my snug strapless dress and fastening the clasp of my necklace. I loved that my sister was helping me get ready, as I’d helped her two years before.

Adam and Allison swept me away for pictures, starting with their signature “first look” shots. It’s their policy to break tradition and let the groom see the bride before the wedding, so they can capture the couple first seeing each other dressed for the wedding. They led me right outside the hotel onto Mill Street, where I saw Darren dressed in his new black suit, his back to me. Adam and Allison snapped photos as I snuck up on him and tapped him on the shoulder so he turned around. “You look great!” I said, grinning, and he replied, “YOU look great.”

Looking at Darren in his suit and me in my white dress, I realized, “Wow, we’re really doing this.” People passing by on the street smiled at us as we posed for pictures. Adam waited for the wind to catch my red satin sash and unfurl it behind me, and he captured the moment in what became one of my favorite photos. The weather had been stormy a couple of nights before, but it was now a breezy 70 degrees.

One of the best things about our venue, Union Station, was its convenience. Directly across the street from the King Edward hotel, the brick building is split into a functioning Amtrak station and a banquet hall. The ceremony would take place in the sunny foyer, followed by a reception right through the double doors. Our talented caterer and florist, Wendy Putt, was already setting up the space with her crew.

Darren’s extended family and mine met in front of Union Station to take pictures in every permutation: Darren and me with my parents, then with his parents. Me with each one of my bridesmaids, then the whole group. Taking a cue from Darren, I started barking out orders (in the nicest way possible) like, “Mau family!” “Dickers and Hamiltons!” and shuffling people in and out of the frame.

The Hudsons created one of the coolest shots inside the train depot, where the wedding party arranged themselves in various poses on the wooden benches and then turned to smile at me and Darren. The wedding party looked classy, each bridesmaid wearing her own black dress and each groomsmen wearing his own dark suit. We’d planned it that way so our friends could wear something they already owned or buy something they’d wear again. The red rose bouquets and boutonnieres looked striking against the black background.

Finally, pictures were done, and we all had a little breather before the ceremony began. The wedding party, minus Darren and his brothers/Best Men, clustered in the lobby that separated the depot from the wedding space. Janet Lee, our day-of event coordinator, bustled around answering questions, offering tissues, and lining up the wedding party in the order they would process up the aisle at 4:30 pm. And then, just like that, it was go time.

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The Wedding Week

June 6th, 2011 by Melia

Hello, friends. It’s been a while. This week I’ve been injecting new life into projects that have been overcome by inertia, so it’s only fitting that I update this bliggity blog, too. After all, Darren and I got married three months ago, on Saturday, February 26, 2011 here in Jackson, Mississippi. So it’s about time.

On the Saturday before the wedding, my sister and Matron of Honor, Gill, arrived in Jackson to help Darren and me take care of last-minute preparations. We did our hair and makeup trials together, ran errands to the tailor and the caterer/florist, and checked a few dozen items off the last-minute to-do list. I couldn’t have been more grateful to have her there to talk me down when the stress started rising.

One of my favorite pre-wedding tasks was making table assignments. I taped four sheets of 11 x 17 paper together and drew 15 round tables on them. Then I printed out the names of all the guests on tiny strips of paper, and Gill and I began arranging them where we thought they belonged. It felt like a game, anticipating which groups of friends would have the most in common with each other, and which single people we could seat together in hopes of a love connection. If I do say so myself, I think we did an excellent job.

Bachelor/Bachelorette Party

The wedding party came into town by Thursday night for the joint bachelor/bachelorette party. I had made it clear to Darren when we started planning the wedding that I would be pretty upset if any kind of skeeziness were part of his bachelor party. To me, the “Lust after other women before you’re shackled to just one forever” idea at the core of traditional bachelor parties would conflict with the idea that we were committing each other because we both wanted to. Also, the other guys attending the bachelor party all had wives and girlfriends, none of whom wanted their men all up on some other ladies. After pushing back a little, Darren shrugged and agreed. He seemed more concerned about  disappointing his friends than missing out on the experience himself.

The ladies enjoyed an elegant meal at Bravo! restaurant.

Katie and I have been friends since we were 13 years old. Now we’re all growns up!

So we did a separate girls’ dinner (at a classy Italian restaurant) and guys’ dinner (at a steakhouse) and met up at the Irish pub near our house afterward. Toward the end of the meal, the skies opened up and it poured. I will never forget watching Gill and my dear friend Jamie, who had both volunteered to drive that night, dash out into the dark, rainy parking lot without umbrellas to bring their cars around for the rest of us. That’s love.

When the girls and I showed up at Fenian’s Pub, the guys were already there and feelin’ no pain. Right away, it felt great to have a party all together, sans secrets or sleaze. And thanks to a guy named Ronnie who just happened to be at the pub that night, we had the best time ever. Ronnie (whom most of us called Shy Ronnie, the character from a SNL Digital Short) kept buying us round after round. I think he deserves an award for his philanthropy.

Shy Ronnie is a saint for treating the whole group to drinks.

Brian was a groomsman and Gill was Matron of Honor.

Darren’s brothers, Greg and Jeff, and their lovely ladies, Meghan and Julie, are most awesome.

The Day Before the Wedding

The next morning Darren and I had scheduled a 10 a.m. coffee date to introduce our parents to each other, so we dragged ourselves out of bed and drove downtown to the cafe in the King Edward Hotel. We knew that our parents would like each other, and they did. As they chatted in one of the lobby’s seating areas, Darren and I fueled up on coffee — it would be a long day — and jumped up to greet the guests who happened to be arriving at the hotel at that time. It was a uniquely awesome feeling to have people from all different periods of my life walk through the door unexpectedly.

Darren and I had chosen Two Sisters Kitchen as our Friday lunch spot so we could introduce non-Southerners to a buffet that included fried chicken, cornbread, collard greens, and sweet tea. It was a big hit, both because of the incredible food and because of the charming location in an old, two-story Southern style house with a porch and rocking chairs.

After lunch, the guys went off to run errands, and the ladies went to get mani-pedis. I’d chosen Magnolia College of Cosmetology because a) there were enough stations to accommodate eight women, and b) it was reasonably priced enough for me to treat my bridal party to a little pampering. While it didn’t have the ambiance of a high-end salon, it was plenty comfortable, and the students did an excellent job with our nails.

The Rehearsal and Rehearsal Dinner

Friday night was the rehearsal at the train station. The ministers, David and Debo Dykes, were sweet enough to help set up the folding chairs to create an aisle big enough for both my parents to escort me. As I walked up the aisle during the trial run, my arms linked with my parents, several of my bridesmaids started tearing up, which set me off, too. “If I’m crying now, I’m going to be a mess tomorrow,” someone said.

My own tears would flow freely later that night, at our rehearsal dinner at Pan-Asia. The owner had warned me that squeezing 47 people into a room meant for 40 would be tight, and when I saw how crowded the room was, I felt terrible. The tables were packed in so tightly that the guests could barely pull their chairs back to stand up. On the way to the buffet for appetizers, people were bumping into each other left and right.

I tried to soothe my nerves by drinking wine and eating eggrolls, but I ended up spilling orange sauce on my ivory chiffon dress. That pushed me over the edge, and I felt tears welling up. All of the stress and lack of sleep surrounding the wedding, and all the emotion of tending to my guests, came to a head — and I power-walked to the bathroom to have a good cry. Although I felt like an angsty teenager as I sobbed in the stall for ten minutes, I felt a little relieved that my meltdown was happening before the wedding day. I hoped that I was just getting it out of the way.

This picture makes me laugh because it looks like my friend Chuck, who happened to be seated next to my family, is my groom-to-be.

When I finally pulled myself together and came back to my table, I had an idea: Why not ask the staff to serve the meal family style instead of buffet style? They agreed, and once guests were passing heaping plates of drunken noodles and broccoli beef down the table, all was well. Everyone had plenty to eat and drink, and several people reassured me that being in cozy quarters helped them get to know some new folks.

After dinner, everyone headed back to the King Edward Hotel in downtown Jackson. Darren and I greeted our guests who had arrived that night and were chatting in the lobby, then retired to our respective suites to rest up for the big day.

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Engagement Photos Featured on Lemon & Lavender

June 4th, 2011 by Melia

Last week our awesome photographers at Adam Hudson Photography gave us a heads up that our engagement pictures were featured on the Lemon and Lavender blog. Lemon and Lavender is a wedding invitation design and fine paper shop, and its readers left some lovely comments about our pictures:


This made my day.


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DIY Nesting

January 24th, 2011 by Melia

Darren and I fell in love with our townhouse apartment the moment we set foot in it. It was only five blocks from our previous place, was twice as big, and had everything we were looking for: a great location, a dishwasher, a washing machine, space for a home office, and hardwood floors. (OK, it didn’t have a garden, but we were willing to sacrifice it.)

The apartment also had two features that we wanted to change: wallpaper in two rooms, and outdated light fixtures. “We’ll just change them,” we thought.

Easy, right? Wrong. But with a lot of time and elbow grease, we did it.

A friend pointed out that we were nesting before we got married. I liked that idea: nesting, DIY style. It certainly helped Darren and me to work together as a team, and to take pride in the home we’re creating for ourselves. Here’s the process we went through.

First, let me say that wallpaper is evil. There is no quick and easy way to remove wallpaper, especially if you avoid using chemicals. I don’t know who invented the process of gluing paper to the wall, but I shake my fist hard at that person.

Last March, one month after we moved in, we spent an entire weekend stripping the old-fashioned, flowered wallpaper from the office.

We scored the paper, making hundreds of tiny holes in it, sprayed it with warm, soapy water and tore it down, piece by piece.

Then we hit a period of inertia. We cleaned up the floor, of course, but for nine months, bits of paper – the underside of the vinyl layer – remained on the walls. I looked at them often, with disdain.

Over the December holidays, Darren and I committed ourselves to finishing the office project. First, we got rid of the old-fashioned gold chandelier and put up modern, fixed track lighting. Fixed track lighting has only one base and is much easier to install than regular track lighting.

Installing the track lighting was difficult, because the guts of the existing fixture were so old. The instruction manual told us what to do with the red and white wires, but ours were yellow and black. We searched online for instructions and prayed that we wouldn’t burn down the house.

The junction box (the metal box inside the ceiling) was also smaller than the track lighting instruction manual said it would be. We had to get creative with fitting everything into the ceiling. My arms ached after holding the fixture above my head during the installation.

Look at the improvement in decor and use of space.

We then bought primer and paint and spent an afternoon cleaning the walls with a heavy-duty solution to clear them of wallpaper glue.

We repaired the holes and uneven places in the walls with purple putty that dried white.

Darren’s younger brother, Jeff, took time out of his holiday break from college to help with the home improvement. Below, he is sanding the dried putty down evenly.

A layer of white dust covered the house. We foolishly hadn’t bought masks, so I wrapped my face in a pink pashmina. I looked like a stylish Bedouin.

Next, we wiped the dust from the walls, let them dry, and primed the walls with white paint. We had bought zero V.O.C. (Volatile Organic Compound) paint, which is less toxic to breathe than regular paint. We left the windows open for a while, but it got too cold to do that for long. Luckily, the paint hardly smelled at all.

You can see the paint swatches for the accent walls taped up below.

Et voila! We painted the walls a slate gray, satin finish (midway between matte and glossy). I had a mini-quarrel over with Darren about whether the gray would turn the office into a prison cell, but he was right that it wouldn’t. It looks sleek and professional. The accent walls separating the office from the kitchen are espresso and orange, on brand with our agency, Creative Distillery.

You can see the accent walls better below. For the orange wall we ordered Whitey Board, an innovative product that’s like contact paper with a white board surface. Unfortunately, it didn’t stick well, so Darren and I are waiting for the company to send a replacement.

Determined to get the house in shape before the new year, we tackled the bathroom next. If you can believe it, the wallpaper was even uglier than the stuff in the office.

What is this pattern supposed to be?!?

One wall was really uneven in parts, so Darren layered “drywall mud” (a thick, white substance) onto it and sanded it down. We bought a mask this time.

The process was messy, as per usual. By the end, our socks were caked with gluey wallpaper bits, and my fingers were raw from scraping the walls.

We chose Aloe Green for the walls, which matched the rose-colored tile. The beauty of the glass and chrome shower is much more apparent without the hideous wallpaper hogging the spotlight.

Finally, I painted the stairs that had bothered me every time I’d walked up them. Someone had removed the carpet runner without removing the staples and remnants of carpet. The drips of wood finisher on the off-white stairs looked like bird droppings. Ew.

Much better below. It’s amazing what a coat or two of white paint can do. I also touched up little nicks in the doors, window frames, and banisters as well, and it made the house look much more updated.

We haven’t repainted the living room yet, but we’ll get to it eventually. We both like the yellow color but want to fix the chips in the paint.

For now, after clearing out our Christmas tree, we made better use of the space behind the sectional couch. For Christmas, Darren’s mom generously funded our table for two, made in Mississippi of solid wood. I.O. Metro, a local furniture store, is most awesome and reasonably priced. (In the photo, Darren is playing XBox with Righty on his lap, which is a common sight to see in the evenings.)

From what I’ve seen on HGTV, I’d say that doing the home improvements ourselves saved us at least $1500. We invested our entire holiday break in customizing the space to our liking, but now we get the satisfaction of seeing our success every day.

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The Ring That Binds

January 9th, 2011 by Melia

When we first got engaged, Darren and I had hoped to make our own wedding rings like my sister and brother-in-law did for their wedding. They did the most awesome Wedding Ring Workshop, a one-day private class with a jeweler who guided them through the step-by-step process of welding, shaping, and polishing precious metals. Darren and I had thought about scheduling a wedding ring workshop in the Bay Area when we visited last summer, driving six hours to Atlanta to do it.

Unfortunately, when I called the very nice British gentleman who’s in charge of workshops around the country, he told me that it would cost just under $1,000 to do the workshop. The price fluctuates with the value of precious metals, and at the moment it was too high for Darren’s and my modest budget.

We checked out, which features many different types of artisan-made wedding rings at reasonable prices. I was partial to the gold wedding ring sets, and Darren liked the titanium rings. Ultimately, however, we decided to try on the rings that we’d be wearing for the rest of our lives, so we went into a brick-and-mortar jewelry store here in Jackson. We liked the idea of supporting a local business, as well.

Carter Jewelers worked well for us, because it’s close to where we live and offers an amazing deal through a site called Half-Off Depot. We paid $50 per voucher for $100 value; according to the website, we could have used up to 10 vouchers, but we didn’t need that many.

On top of its standing Half-Off Depot deal, Carter was having a storewide New Year’s sale, so each of our rings was 50 percent off. Several of the Carter staff were unfriendly, especially about using the vouchers (I felt like Julia Roberts going clothes shopping in “Pretty Woman”) but Darren and I got such a great deal that we brushed off the unpleasantness.

Darren chose silver for his ring, and I chose yellow gold to match my engagement ring. It was more important to us to choose something that we’d each enjoy wearing than to match the rings exactly.

The smallest 3mm gold ring that Carter had was size 7 and a half, several sizes bigger than I wear, so the jeweler said she’d size it down. She used a device shaped like a giant finger to measure my engagement ring.  I asked her to size the wedding ring accordingly, which seemed to make sense. The engagement ring fit perfectly, so why wouldn’t the wedding ring?

Well, it didn’t. I had to push the newly sized wedding ring down hard over my joint, but I kept at it because I always had to do the same with my engagement ring. Bad idea. When the wedding ring hit the base of my finger, it wouldn’t come off again.

“Come over here,” said the jeweler. “I’ve got a trick to get that off pretty easily.” She brought out a bottle of Windex from behind the counter and sprayed my hand, mentioning something about the ammonia it contains.

The Windex made me smile a little as I thought of the Greek dad in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” But it didn’t work.

“I don’t understand,” I told the jeweler. “My engagement ring is the same size, and it doesn’t get stuck like this.”

“Your wedding ring is 1mm bigger than the engagement ring,” she said. “That affects the tightness on the finger.”

It would have been helpful if she’d shared this with me before sizing the ring so small.

“It’ll come off,” the jeweler reassured me. “Go home and let your hand rest, because your finger is swollen now. You can come back and I’ll resize it, no problem.”

That night I Googled “how to remove a stuck ring” and tried cold water to shrink the finger, olive oil to lubricate it, and Windex for whatever the heck it’s supposed to do. Still the ring wouldn’t move past the fleshy part before the joint. I repeated this twice the next day, to the point where my finger had a red abrasion on it and I was afraid of dislocating it. I was near tears and was almost ready to go back to Carter and ask the jeweler to cut the thing off (the ring, not the finger).

“Well, I guess our eternal bond starts now,” I said to Darren, only half-joking. He was sweet enough to wear his own ring in solidarity.

On the third day, I finally decided to a technique recommended by WikiHow: winding a long strand of dental floss under the ring and tightly up the finger, then pulling the strand from the bottom up so the ring moves up the bound area. Darren helped. I had one moment of panic when the length of floss ran out right before the ring went over my joint, but I gave one final tug…and was finally free.

Now that the swelling of my finger has gone down, I’ll be heading back to Carter to get the ring increased by at least half a size.

On the outline for the wedding ceremony, right before the exchanging of the rings, the officiants have written, “Words are offered to note the importance of these rings as a ‘binding’ symbol for Melia and Darren.”

Let’s hope that by the wedding day, the rings won’t be literally binding, too.

On the upside, the rings looked beautiful on Darren’s hand and mine, and getting to wear them for a few days made me a little giddy. In less than two months, we’ll be wearing them for real!

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Our First Grown-Up Christmas in Jackson

December 20th, 2010 by Melia

Last year marked the first time I spent Christmas away from home in 29 years. Instead of convening in Sonoma, California, where I grew up, my family met in Kailua, Hawaii. My sister, Gill, was living there with her husband, Brian, who is in the Navy.

This year will be the first Christmas that I don’t spend with my family, because Gill and Brian have moved to Naples, Italy (lucky ducks), and it would have cost over $1,000 for Darren and me to fly to California to see my parents. We’re saving for the wedding and the honeymoon, so it’s just not doable this time around.

Last year I didn’t feel homesick because Christmas felt like a tropical vacation with my family. This year I do, because although I’m surrounded by the wintry trappings of Christmas, they feel…different.

I miss my family’s traditions: Driving to Petaluma shoulder to shoulder in my dad’s green truck to cut down our own Christmas tree, then decorating it together with Bing Crosby and New Kids on the Block playing on cassette tape. Lighting the Advent candles at the dinner table every Sunday and giggling at the Bible reading that says, “And Jesus leapt in Mary’s womb.” Hanging stockings by the fireplace. Helping my mom make her grandmother’s Butter Dream cookies and eating one every time I walk by the cookie tin.

As the holidays approached, Darren was sweet to realize that I was missing these traditions, so together we made a point of creating our own. We went to the High Street farmer’s market and picked out a great-smelling, 7′ 8″ Douglas fir tree, which the salesmen carefully tied to the roof of my Jetta. At Walgreens, we filled a shopping cart full of lights and ornaments and red felt stockings, and a sparkly star for the stop of the tree. Darren even let me buy an ornament of a bichon frisé to represent our imaginary purse dog, Mr. Prancywaggles. He’s playing with a baseball, so he’s manly, right? (wink)

After we laboriously dragged the tree into the house and bolted it into the stand, I downloaded the “Glee” Christmas album and the “Elf” soundtrack and sang along as we decorated. Later, I made gingerbread cookies with buttercream icing, rocky road with homemade marshmallows, and saltine toffee. None of the music or the treats has been part of the Schwindaman or Dicker family traditions. But if we like them, we’ll make them part of the Schwindickerman family tradition.

The holidays still feel different to me. But they’re starting to feel more comfortable.

I’m not yet sure what Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will hold, but I’m grateful that Darren’s mom and dad each live nearby, and that his brothers will be coming into town to celebrate the holidays. That way, even though Darren and I are still figuring out what our own Christmas traditions will be, we’ll have his family traditions to make us feel at home.

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